Home  »  Skipper Worse  »  Chapter IV

Alexander L. Kielland (1849–1906). Skipper Worse.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Chapter IV

THE FOLLOWING evenings, Skipper Worse visited the club again, and enjoyed himself amazingly. It was only on the first evening, when he met with the two young captains from America, that things had been so contrary.

By-and-by, as his old friends rallied round him, he spun many a yarn about Rio. He also sang a couple of English songs with a Spanish refrain, which he had learnt from a very nice young lady whom he had met with, swinging in a grass hammock slung between two palm trees.

These two songs rather took at the club, where there was singing almost every evening; and when the company had mastered the Spanish refrain, their chorus made the spoons rattle again in the steaming tumblers of toddy.

There was Harbour-master Snell, the Exciseman Aarestrup, and the Custom-house Officer Preuss, the chief of the fire brigade, and several captains and shipowners.

Of course, it was soon noised about the town that Skipper Worse had been at the Haugian meeting, and he had to submit to a good deal of rallying in consequence.

He preferred to join in the laugh, for there was nothing to gain by losing his temper, and at last the reprobate even gave an imitation of Endre Egeland’s grace.

Moreover, he was not entirely displeased to find it the prevalent opinion in the club that Jacob Worse was a sly old dog, who had visited the sectaries for a certain young woman’s sake.

Madame Torvestad had not molested him of late. When they met, she merely invited him to look in whenever it was agreeable to him; and when he did not respond to these invitations, she manifested no annoyance.

When he got all his things on shore, he sent Lauritz to Sarah, with a box covered with shells. This was the greatest treasure which he had brought from Rio.

Madame Torvestad, on Sarah’s behalf, thanked the captain for the handsome present he had made, remarking at the same time, in a somewhat admonitory tone, that such fine things were calculated to arouse worldly thoughts and vanity in the young.

In the course of the summer he became reconciled to the absence of Randulf. The interval of tranquillity at home was not irksome to him; his business prospered, and his voyage to Rio procured him a certain amount of consideration among his fellowtownsmen.

He did not hear often from his son in Lübeck; but the bills he had to pay for him showed that he was alive, and apparently enjoying life pretty freely.

Their mutual relations had never been of a very intimate description, partly because the father had been so much away from home, and partly because the son had been much spoilt and indulged by the mother, who was an affected, sentimental sort of person, full of romantic notions, and whose thoughts ran only on knights and damsels, combats, moonlight, long tresses, trapdoors, and winding staircases.

Once upon a time she had fascinated Worse when he was a mate, during a certain boating excursion by moonlight. Such a fine lady, with such large bright eyes, and such long auburn hair, he had never seen, either in the Baltic or the Mediterranean.

She had consented to become his for life or death on that occasion, when, after the company had taken coffee on a little island, he bore her in his arms, and waded out to the boat with her, instead of waiting until it could be brought to the shore.

It reminded her a little of Romarino, who, encircling Miranda’s slender waist with his strong right arm, swung himself into the saddle with his gentle burden, and rode out through the castle gates upon his snorting steed.

It proved, however, a most unfortunate expedition for both of them. He was as little like a knight-errant as she was to a sea captain’s wife. When she had devoured all the romances in the lending library, she lapsed into a sickly dreaminess, from which she aroused herself only to lament and bewail her fate; and it was this which drove Jacob Worse to sail on long voyages.

On one occasion, when he was expected home from Lisbon, a child was born to him, and his wife hastened to have it christened “Romarino.”

This went to Worse’s heart. He could take no pleasure in the pale little creature in its cradle, on account of its name, which seemed to separate the child from him, and to remove it to the fantastic world of the mother. In fact, to hear Skipper Worse utter the word Romarino was one of the most ludicrous things imaginable.

When the feeble, querulous mother died, Romarino was fifteen years of age. He was then sent to Copenhagen to live in a family which received him at the request of Consul Garman. It was out of the question that he should remain in the great lonely house, his father being away so much at sea.

At the present time he was about twenty, and just before Jacob Worse had sailed on his long voyage to Rio, Romarino had paid a visit to his home.

He was a pale little creature, with light hair. He wore an olive green coat, yellow waistcoat, and light grey trousers, strapped over his boots. His extravagantly tall fluffy hat was so perched on the top of his head that it was a wonder it did not fall off more frequently.

In this costume he created a great sensation in the little fishing town, strutting about flourishing a thin cane, and surveying everybody and everything with disdain.

Moreover, he could not speak Norwegian properly.

His father’s feelings were divided between admiration and embarrassment; but the admiration received a serious blow when Thomas Randulf swore that Romarino used pomatum on his pocket-handkerchief.

However, Worse still thought a good deal of his son, although he could have wished that there was more of his own sailor spirit in him.

He often thought that if he could have resigned the Hope to a son, such a one as Lauritz Seehus that son ought to have been.

Romarino Worse was, however, what he seemed to be, an idler who spent his father’s money; while in his heart he despised the simple captain, as he had long since been taught to do by his mother.

When Skipper Worse had settled himself down to his life in the town, he often wondered what was the matter at Sandsgaard. It was not at all as it used to be; what in the world ailed the place?

Madame Garman’s death had, of course, made a great difference, but would hardly suffice to explain the dullness and constraint which prevailed there.

At last he began to feel uneasy. It was not only that Harbour-master Snell had, on the occasion of the first evening, hinted at the pecuniary difficulties of C.F. Garman, but the same story reached him from all sides. At first he ridiculed it; but little by little it began to make some impression on him.

Several times when he had gone in his boat to Sandsgaard, he had determined to speak to the Consul.

Heavens! if the firm of C.F. Garman really was in want of money, Jacob Worse had plenty at hand, and could procure more. But he never could muster up courage enough to put the question.

It was the established custom at Sandsgaard, that whenever Worse’s boat was seen entering the bay, Zacharias, the man at the wharf, was ordered to take a large cod out of the fish-tank; for this was Jacob Worse’s favourite dish.

The Consul’s two sisters-in-law, the spinsters Mette and Birgitte, were always delighted when he came, although they were prodigiously angry with him when he teased them, as he always did.

After paying his respects to the ladies, Jacob Worse always made for the office, which, with its door usually open, was close to the sitting-room. Here he conned the almanac and when he found that it was the day of Saint Crispin or Saint Hieronymus, or some such other saint, he used to rub his hands saying:

“Is it, indeed? I remember him when I was in Italy—one of the grandest of the lot. Yes, we must certainly have some toddy this evening.”

Consul Garman would smile, and the old book-keeper, Adam Kruse, seated behind his desk, would prick up his ears.

He was always invited to take a glass when the captain was there.

Worse, who was free of the house, would then take the keys of the office cupboard, and bring out certain old-fashioned square Dutch flasks.

In the evening, he played cards, with the spinsters, the Consul looking on and laughing heartily, whilst the captain played so unfairly, and so befooled the good ladies, that their very capstrings quivered with rage.

At other times, the Consul and Worse would talk politics, and discuss the Hamburg “Nachrichten,” whilst the old book-keeper, with his tumbler and his long clay pipe, sat in silence in his humble corner behind the big clock.

In the old sitting-room, which looked out upon the harbour, two tallow candles were placed every evening on the table near the sofa, where the Consul was wont to sit; and when there were guests, two more were placed on the toddy-table by the stove.

Above the white panelling, which was carried up as high as the tops of the straight-backed chairs, the walls were covered with canvas, painted green. The grey window-blinds which had lately come from Copenhagen, were decorated with representations of Christiansborg, Kronborg, and Frederiksborg. A tall wayfarer under a tree in the foreground gazed across the water at the castle, while three ladies with long shawls, and bonnets like the hoods of carriages, walked towards the right. In the corner by the stove stood a winder for yarn, which the two sisters used when they were not running after one another, looking after the household work.

After his wife’s death, the Consult had never succeeded in dividing this duty satisfactorily between them. When Birgitte had inspected the table linen and silver, and had looked over the washing, etc., she felt an uncontrollable desire to see that too much butter was not used in the kitchen; and when Mette, during her week, had controlled the household expenses and the cooking, she could not sleep until she had counted over the spoons and napkins.

This led to no little confusion in domestic matters, and to serious bickering between the sisters, of which, however, only distant echoes reached the Consul.

There was but one subject on which they were in accord, and that was the canary bird. In the course of years they had possessed many, and every time the cat took one they protested that never again would they expose themselves to such a calamity.

But, according to Captain Worse’s calculation, the period of court mourning for the canary bird lasted precisely three weeks, after which a new one was installed. They were always hens; for the sisters objected to males of every description; moreover, they objected to the singing.

Their present canary was quite the most delightful little creature they had ever possessed. In addition to all its other perfections, there was one which embarrassed them—it could lay an egg.

But the crafty little thing would not provide a nest, but laid its eggs in such places that they were soon destroyed.

This greatly distressed Birgitte and Mette, who devised many plans to induce the bird to act more circumspectly.

They placed cotton and fine wool all about the room, and even endeavoured to construct small nests of wool and horsehair. But the incorrigible little creature seemed to take an especial delight in eluding them, and in laying eggs in out-of-the-way places.

This grieved the sisters, and in moments of irritation they went so far as to blame one another.

One evening at the club, the harbour-master inquired maliciously: “Is old Adam gone to Bergen?”

“Yes; he went last week,” answered Worse.

“What in the world does he go there for?”

“Business, of course. C.F. Garman has many transactions in Bergen.”

“Borrow money, perhaps?”

“Come, harbour-master, we have had enough of this!” exclaimed Jacob Worse.

But the other, taking no notice of him, went on.

“No knowing; bad times for all. Spoke to Captain Andersen, Freya, just come from Bergen. Old Adam wanted two thousand dollars, they say, if he could only get them; but he could not, not a rap. No; those Bergensers are not to be taken in.”

This was too bad. Worse went home. It was in everybody’s mouth that things were going ill with the firm C.F. Garman, and if its credit was impaired, it was high time for him, Jacob Worse, to come to the rescue.

Next morning he presented himself at the office, and entering, shut the door towards the sitting-room, as well as that to the inner office. He desired to have a few words quite alone with the Consul.

His manner was so very strange that morning—a mixture of hesitation and craftiness—that it made the Consul lean back in his armchair, and inquire if anything had happened to him.

“No, nothing whatever, nothing,” answered Worse as he stood and shifted uneasily from one leg to another; “it was only something I wished to ask the Consul.”

“We are always ready to meet all the reasonable wishes of our old friends, as far as it lies in our power. Sit down, Captain Worse.”

“Well, it was just this. I was thinking of going to the fishing this winter on my own account, and—so—so—”

“I opine that Captain Worse knows that when he has been at home in the winter season we have never raised any objection to his trading on his own account at the herring fishery, nor do we now.”

“Yes, thank you; I am quite aware of it; many thanks, but that was not it. H’m! A deal of money will be wanted, Herr Consul.”

At these words a somewhat rigid expression stole over the Consul’s face; but Worse mustered up his courage, and fired off his big gun.

“Will the Consul lend me two thousand dollars on my note of hand?”

Morten Garman gave a start in his armchair. “What! does Jacob Worse also want to borrow money?”

“Yes. You see, Herr Consul, everybody wants money for the autumn fishing, and I particularly wish to cope on equal terms with Sivert Jespersen and the others up there.”

“Yes, that is just how it is,” exclaimed the Consul; “that is how it is nowadays! One wishes to outstrip the other, and so they borrow and speculate; but when the day of reckoning comes, then comes the pinch.”

“As for that, Herr Consul, the firm must be aware that Jacob Worse is good for two thousand dollars, and a little more besides.”

“No doubt, no doubt,” answered the Consul. “But now we have demands upon us for money from all sides, there seems no end to them; it is really more than we can do these bad times.”

Jacob Worse was beginning to be pleased with the success of his little comedy, and now proceeded farther with it.

“It is very sad,” said he, “that I should have to turn elsewhere. People will say that I have quarrelled with the firm, or, perhaps, they will believe some of the lies concerning C. F. Garman which are going about.”

“What do you mean? What do they say about the firm?” asked the Consul, quickly.

“Ah! well, for example, it was reported in the club yesterday that a certain person had gone to Bergen in order to borrow money for certain people.”

Consul Garman turned his face away and looked out into the garden, where the first yellow leaves of autumn were beginning to fall.

Never before had he seen danger so imminent; his easy disposition and his pride had never permitted him to realize that the firm C.F. Garman, the old Sandsgaard house, was hanging by a thread, and that it was possible for it to collapse in a vulgar insolvency.

“Yes,” he muttered, “it was a mistake, sending Kruse to Bergen; but—” And then all of a sudden, as if weary of bearing his burden alone, he turned full round upon Worse, and said: “Things are not so prosperous with C.F. Garman as you suppose, Jacob.”

He called him Jacob, as in the old days when Jacob Worse was a sailor lad, and he, Morten Garman, a schoolboy.

The cunning Skipper Worse had now reached the decisive point. He tore open his coat, produced a bundle of banknotes from his breast pocket, threw them on the table in front of the Consul, and said: “Five thousand dollars to begin with, Herr Consul, and twice as much more if necessary, when I have had time to scrape it together.”

His face beamed with pleasure, and he laughed with an internal chuckling sound; his joy, however, was suddenly damped when the Consul pushed the notes from him, and inquired in his iciest manner:

“What does all this mean? What do you wish me to do with this money?”

“Use it, borrow it, keep it as long as you will, Herr Consul.”

“Oh! that is what I am to understand, is it? You have allowed yourself a little diversion at our expense; very fine, indeed, Herr Captain Worse. Things are not come to such a pass with the firm that it must borrow of its own people.”

The crafty captain sat for a moment quite dumbfounded; but he could bear it no longer. His spirit was up, and bringing his fist down with a thump, he exclaimed: “Morten, you are a little too bad with your confounded airs! If the firm wants money, is it unreasonable to borrow it of me, I who have gained every farthing I possess in the service of your father and you?”

“But don’t you understand,” said the Consul, who was getting rather excited; “cannot you see how our credit would suffer, if it were known that one of our own captains had helped the firm out of difficulties?”

“Stuff and nonsense with your credit; cash beats credit any day. My money is as good as yours, Morten Garman; and if you won’t have it, you are not the man I take you for.”

Jacob Worse was now beside himself with eagerness, and, without either of them noticing it, the ceremonious style was dropped, and they talked in familiar language.

“Come, come, Jacob, don’t let us quarrel,” said the Consul, pulling up his neckcloth. It was the first time that any one had thus got the better of him.

He looked at the money, and then gazed out upon the garden. A long pause ensued.

Skipper Worse had got up and stood with his back to the table, examining a map on the wall. The old clock in the sitting-room ticked terribly slowly.

At last Consul Garman got up, and approaching him, said: “Listen, Jacob Worse. I will take your money if you will enter into partnership with me.”

“What! what do you say? Partnership? Are you mad, Herr Consul?”

“Listen to me. You invest your capital—that is to say, as much of it as you please—in the business, and to that extent you become a partner in the firm of Garman and Worse.

The rest we can arrange at leisure.”

“No, no, Herr Consul; I never intended this. Change the name of the firm indeed! It is out of the question, and you don’t mean it, either.”

“Yes, I do mean it. It is the only way in which the affair can be arranged. Let us sit down and examine the matter calmly. It is absolutely intolerable to me to borrow money of you; but, on the other hand, there is no reason, as far as my own feelings are concerned, or as regards the external relations of the firm, why we, at a busy and, shall I say, a critical moment, should not admit into the house, a man who for many years has worked with us, or why we should not, as a consequence of the agreement, add his name to ours, so that for the future the business should be carried on under the name of ‘Garman and Worse.’”

“Yes; but—but—all the rest is practicable; but the name—your father’s name!”

“Possibly my father would not have done it, but I will have it so. This arrangement is—h’m—the saving of the firm; I am bound to acknowledge it, and I therefore urge you to agree to my proposal.”

“But my good Herr Consul,” resumed Worse, who had suddenly come down again to his former position, and could not reconcile himself to the notion of entering into partnership with Morten W. Garman, the Consul himself.

The other, however, held firmly to his purpose; and as he made a request, there was nothing for it but to accept the offer.

They remained in conversation a long time, discussing future arrangements. The Consul said plainly that he did not expect Jacob Worse to mix himself up with the business, an idea which made him laugh outright, as it would never occur to him to interfere.

As he rowed back to the town, it seemed to him that he was quite a different Jacob Worse to the one who had rowed from it. Certain ambitious views of his new dignity began to assert themselves, and he sat repeating: “Garman and Worse,” wondering what sort of impression it would make on Randulf.

Nevertheless, he was not entirely happy; it was too much—it had come upon him too suddenly—and he did not care to talk about it.

Consul Garman, however, made no secret of the change in the firm, and the next day the news was announced in the two local papers, each about the size of an ordinary cabbage leaf.

It is easy to conceive what a welcome opportunity this event afforded for festive meetings, and for extra libations and singing at the club.

Jacob Worse was fêted at the club, speeches were made in his honour, and, as the drinking went on, was chaffed unmercifully. Envy is always very witty, and his elevation became by no means a source of unmixed pleasure to him.

And from Randulf, that old rascal who had written from Riga that he was on the point of sailing, came tidings that he had been in collision with a Rostock trader, and that he had put back to Bolderaa, where he must discharge and repair. It only required that he should be frozen up there for the winter to make the disappointment complete.

When Romarino heard of the arrangements that had been made, he wrote to his father, as if acknowledging him for the first time in his life.

Worse, however, was hurt when addressed in the following terms: “For a mere sailor, I must admit that on this occasion you have managed pretty well for yourself.”

Madame Torvestad redoubled her attentions; and when the autumn came, with its rain and bad weather, Jacob Worse found it pleasant enough to drink tea with madame and her daughters, when there was no meeting.

They bantered him so terribly at the club.