Home  »  Skipper Worse  »  Chapter IX

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

Chapter IX

FOR several years the fortunes of Garman and Worse prospered. Jacob Worse’s money ran like a stream of fresh blood in the business, spreading itself through the limbs and invigorating the whole body, and the firm soon recovered its own renown, both at home and abroad.

The Consul’s brow grew calm and unclouded, and his step was vigorous and youthful, as he mounted the great staircase to superintend the foreign workmen, who had come from Copenhagen to decorate the reception-rooms upstairs.

Christian Frederik was expected home in the spring; his education abroad was completed, and he had spend the last winter in Paris.

The Consul was delighted to have his son at home again, especially now that he could show him how prosperous the firm was and how the business flourished.

There was only one thing which troubled him, namely, Worse.

The Consul, in his heart, cursed the Haugians more than ever. It had happened as he feared—they had spoiled Skipper Worse as far as he was concerned.

His sisters-in-law, Birgitte and Mette, were of the same opinion. It was true that, after his marriage, Worse often visited Sandsgaard, and tried to show that he had not altered. But it was of no use; he could no longer adapt himself to the tone which prevailed there, and it was painfully apparent on both sides that the good old times had departed for ever.

On one occasion only had Sarah been to Sandsgaard, when the Consul gave a grand dinner in honour of the newly married pair. With downcast eyes she sat by his side in the brilliant dining-room, surrounded by grand ladies and gentlemen, whom she knew by sight in the streets or at church.

Jests, laughter, and mirth, the like of which she had never before encountered, reigned around, although the guests imagined that they put some restraint upon themselves that day, in deference to the well-known strictness of the young wife.

Jacob Worse, on the other hand, who was accustomed to it, and who was at his ease with them all, was well pleased, and nodded to her. She, however, scarcely raised her eyes during the whole of the dinner, and when they reached home, she announced to Worse that she felt as if they had visited the very purlieus of hell itself.

“Oh, Sarah! how can you say such things! they are all really good, kind people.”

“No;” she said, sharply. “I suppose you know what a butt they made of you?” This was the impression made upon her when the judge, or some one else, had begged the honour of drinking a glass of wine with the old captain and the young bridegroom.

She never went there again; from the first she was acute enough to perceive that she could never get a footing in such society. Moreover, these gay, light-hearted people, who laughed loudly and drank the perilous wine, seemed almost fiendish to one who, from her childhood, had been accustomed only to grave and serious conversation.

Consul Garman constantly upbraided his sisters-in-law for not having given him earlier information of Worse’s relations with the Haugians, for he fancied he could have cured him had he taken him in hand before the evil had gained the mastery.

In the mean time, Worse appeared to be content, which was very well so long as it lasted.

His loss was felt at Sandsgaard; and when he abandoned the sea and relinquished the Hope to others, the Consul gave him up as lost and useless.

The Consul was now more lonely than ever; absorbed in melancholy, he often paced up and down in the broad gravel paths by the pavilion in the garden.

It stood by a pond, round which grew a dense border of rushes. Formerly this pond must have been larger, for the Consul remembered that in his childhood there had been water on both sides of the building, and a bridge which could be drawn up. He had a dim recollection of ladies in a blue and white boat, and a tall man in a red silken jacket, who stood in the bow with an oar. Now, however, the pond was so small that a boat would have looked ridiculous. The Consul often wondered how it could have so diminished in size. It must, he thought, be the rushes which encroached upon it; and although he continually told the gardener to keep his eye upon them, it was of no use.

The garden had been originally laid out in the French fashion, with broad rectangular paths, high thick hedges, alleys, and borders of box.

There was a circular open space, where four paths met; seats were placed around it, and in the centre stood a sun-dial.

In the outer part of the garden, especially towards the north-west, a thick border of trees encircled it, as with a frame. They were common native trees, placed there to protect the fine French garden and the exotic plants and flowers from the cold sea wind.

The pavilion by the pond lay to the west of the mansion, and although only a few paces distant; it was looked upon in old times as a sort of Trianon. Here they assembled to drink coffee, or to listen to music. The Company, filing along by the most ingenious roundabout paths over the bridge and about the pond, embarked in the boat, and were ferried across with three strokes of the oar, amidst innumerable compliments and witticisms.

Morten Garman remembered all this from his youth. He himself had endeavoured, but with only partial success, to keep up the old customs and manners.

People were changed, the pond was filling up, and even his father’s stately garden seemed likely to become a wilderness.

On both sides of the gravel path leading to the pavilion there was a hedge, so thickly grown that, to the great disgust of the gardener, young ladies used to seat themselves on its top. At regular intervals the box bushes were clipped into pyramidal shapes, and it was here that the Consul delighted to pace up and down. Here, too, remained all that was left of the ancient grandeur.

The garden beyond was beginning to be somewhat irregular. The trees that had been planted to give shelter, now that their trunks were thick and their roots strong, spread on their own account; and as they could not face the northwest wind, their boughs stretched inwards upon the garden, over the rectangular paths and the winding dolls’ hedges of clipped box.

It was not the gardener’s fault that the plantation had so spread that it was now more of a park than a garden, and it would have been impossible to restore the former French model, except by cutting down the trees and planting anew.

When the Consul walked here in the calm summer evenings, he could, through the towering trees, catch a glimpse of the bright afterglow, which shed its light upon Sandsgaard Bay and westward over the sea, whose glassy surface heaved in long undulations.

He remembered the glorious view of the sea that in his youth could be obtained from the roof of the pavilion; it was, however, no longer visible, for it was with the garden as with the town, both growing and overgrowing, so that neither the one nor the other resembled its former self.

At the back of the pavilion there was a secret door in the panelling, the key of which the Consul always carried in his pocket. Many a light recollection of the gallantries of his youth rose up before him, when at rare intervals he now opened this small back door, from which a narrow spiral stair led to a chamber above, so narrow that it was now difficult for him to ascend it; but in his younger days—good Heavens!—how lightly he flew up and down it!

“Le nez, c’est la mémoire,” he said, as he inhaled the odour of old mahogany, and paced up and down in the small remnant of the garden of his youth, stepping daintily with his well-shaped legs and dreaming of the period of low shoes and silk stockings.

In the road outside stood a wayfarer, gazing upon the fjord. It was the well-known lay-preacher, Hans Nilsen Fennefos. Tall, gaunt, with bright searching eyes, he stood absorbed in thought, and leant against the post of the gate leading from the garden.

On his back he bore a large wallet, in which he carried his books and tracts. He was dusty and weary, with a long day’s tramp in the sun.

For three years he had not visited these parts, and much had happened in the mean time. When, at a distance, he had learnt that Sarah had married Skipper Worse, he felt as if he had received a stab, and he suffered bodily pain, which almost overcame him. He immediately realized that this woman had enthralled his affections, and that his love to the Brethren, nay, to the Almighty Himself, was as nothing in comparison.

He was terrified, and cast himself on the ground in an agony of remorse and prayer. It seemed to him as if no punishment or penance could atone for such deception and for so great a crime.

Bitter feelings towards others also took possession of him, and with fiery zeal he began to preach repentance, rebuking sinners in language far more severe than was customary.

For three years he had maintained this vehement crusade against sin, both in himself and in others, and during this period he succeeded in shaking off the sinful affection. It now became evident to him that both he and the Brethren had hitherto manifested insufficient austerity in life and doctrine.

He had, therefore, responded to the call, and had journeyed southwards. His feelings when he read Sarah’s letter were those of pity for her, and for all the Brethren in that part, who were wandering blindly in their sins and self-righteousness. But on his way south, travelling through friendly districts, among people who had known him of old and who received him with kindness, it could not but happen that his asperity should be mitigated; and as he passed through Sandsgaard, he stopped, overcome by memories which the sight of the familiar bay and of the church towers of the neighbouring town had revived.

Hans Nilsen searched his heart anew, but found nothing which should not be there. Sarah was as a sister or a brother to him; she was another man’s wife, and he hoped that she might be happy.

Before he went on he happened to look over the hedge, and, amidst the trees, he discovered Consul Garman, pacing up and down.

Fennefos recognized him, and his feelings were roused again by the sight of the old man, so unconcerned in his sins, surrounded by riches, and absorbed in worldly contemplation, whilst he was drawing near the depths of hell with open eyes.

He seized his staff and went on. They should soon feel in the town that Hans Nilsen Fennefos had come back.

In the mean time, the last gleam of the twilight faded away, and the sky paled along the horizon, the spreading boughs of the beech trees swayed to and fro in the cold wind, and Consul Garman re-entered his house.

The garden lay in repose, the tree tops waved overhead, and, in the struggle for life, either forced themselves upwards or perished, stunted by the shade and drip of their companions.

Above and below branches stretched out, ever encroaching on the narrow space around the pavilion, where the pond was growing smaller year by year.