Home  »  Skipper Worse  »  Chapter VIII

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

Chapter VIII

THE FIRST shadow which fell on Skipper Worse’s happiness was the meeting with Consul Garman, when he went to report his betrothal to him.

“Good morning, Worse,” said the Consul. “The Bremen captain has just been here; he will take you with the greatest pleasure, and as he is quite ready to go to sea, it might be as well if you drove out to Smörvigen to-day. Our carriage shall meet you in the town, and you will thus be ready to sail directly the wind is fair.

“Yes; thanks, Herr Consul; but—I’m——”

“Is there anything the matter?”

“Yes, unfortunately there is something the matter.”

“Anything gone wrong?”

“No; rather gone right,” said Worse, simpering. It seemed as if he was a little emboldened. “I am going to be married.”

“Good Heavens!” exclaimed the Consul, forgetting himself.

“H’m! going to marry. I never expected this. With whom, if I may venture to inquire?”

“With Madame Torvestad’s daughter; the Consul knows that she lives in a portion of my house.”

“Yes; but I did not know—I should hardly have thought that Madame Torvestad had a daughter of a suitable age.”

“She is rather young—rather younger than I am,” answered Worse, who was growing red in the face, “but otherwise a very sedate and serious girl.”

“Her family belongs to the Brethren. Does Captain Worse propose to join the Haugians?”

“No, indeed,” answered the other; and he would have smiled, but that the Consul’s manner did not give him any encouragement.

“Well, that is your own affair, my dear Jacob Worse,” said the Consul, rising up in order to give him his hand. “Accept my congratulations, and I hope you may never repent of the step you are taking. When is the wedding to take place?”

“On Sunday!”

“Well, that is rather sharp work. I trust you may never have to repent of it.”

When he left, the Consul thought for a moment of running after him, and of enlightening him thoroughly about the Haugians and all their hypocrisies—from his point of view. But on consideration he desisted.

Morten W. Garman was a prudent man, who never wasted words. He had seen enough of Jacob Worse in their brief conversation, and he was well versed in the various symptoms of persons who were enamoured.

Jacob Worse did not regain his equanimity until he got back to his own rooms, where there was a detestable turmoil of charwomen and all sorts of workpeople.

But he went about happy and contented, now and then visiting the back building, in order to get a glimpse of his Sarah. It was not much that he was able to see of her; for there, also, every one was busy with needles and thread and with marking-ink, and she sat bending over her work.

In this way he spent his time, restless from very happiness. He was quite unconscious of the fact that his friends ridiculed him, predicting all sorts of misfortunes. He also forgot the uncomfortable interview with the Consul.

As for the ship at Bremen, which had interested them both so much, not another word, strangely enough, was ever again spoken about it.

On Sunday, they were married in Madame Torvestad’s parlour, only a few intimate friends being present. In the afternoon, Sarah removed with Jacob Worse to his house.

At last Skipper Randulf returned, and Worse hastened to greet him. They plunged at once into conversation, narrating their mutual adventures; still it was not so pleasant as it might have been. The subject of Rio had grown rather out of date, and there was a certain constraint between them, until Randulf broke out: “Now, you old heathen! I hear you have married one of the eleven thousand wise virgins.”

“Yes, my boy; she is one of the right sort,” said Worse, winking at him.

“Well, take care that she does not make a fool of you, as Sivert Gesvint and the others did.”

“Thank you for nothing; Jacob Worse knows what women are before to-day.”

“Ah! do you know, Jacob, I sometimes think you were not very fortunate in your first wife.”

“Don’t talk about her, she was half mad. Mind you, Sarah is very different.” And then he began a long story about all her perfections, sometimes sinking his voice to a whisper, although they were quite alone in Randulf’s parlour.

Thomas Randulf, however, smiled incredulously, which secretly annoyed Worse; and the more earnest he became in describing his wife’s merits and his own happiness, the more suspiciously did Randulf’s long nose draw down towards the upturned corners of his mouth, until at last Worse, becoming bored with him, was about to leave.

“Oh, no! Come, just take a glass; there is no such hurry, Jacob.”

“Yes, I must go; it is half-past eleven, and we dine at twelve.”

“A-ha, it’s beginning already!” cried Randulf, triumphantly. “You are tied to your wife’s apron-strings. I suppose you don’t dare take another glass for fear she may notice it. Ha, ha! you have done for yourself, Jacob, while I was away.”

The result of this was that Worse remained until half-past twelve, and came home rather red in the face and with watery eyes.

His wife had waited dinner. She looked very grave, graver than usual; and when he essayed to tell her in a light airy way that Randulf was come, she added, to his great annoyance: “Yes, I can see that he has.”

It was worse, however, when, without saying a word, she removed the decanter from the table. He was always accustomed to a dram at dinner.

However, he made no objection. Randulf’s strong marsala had begun to work upon him, and he did not feel so confident of his powers of speech as to venture upon a remonstrance. They dined, therefore, in silence, and afterwards he laid himself down as usual on the sofa for a siesta.

Generally he took only a short nap, but on this occasion he did not wake up till five o’clock, when he was much surprised to find himself enveloped in a grey wrapper, and on a chair by his side a basin of gruel.

He lay still, and tried to collect his thoughts. His head throbbed, and his memory was neither clear nor perfect. He remembered that two boys had laughed at him when he jumped lightly over the doorstep outside the Brothers Egeland’s store, and that he had felt much inclined to complain of them to the police. He had also a vision of a decanter which moved away, and vanished in a cupboard.

He was about to get up; but at this moment Sarah entered the room. “No, no; you are ill. You must keep quiet.”

“Oh, nonsense, Sarah! there is nothing the matter with me. It was just—”

“I will go and fetch mother,” she said, moving towards the door.

“No, no! What do we want with her? I would rather remain lying here, as you insist upon it.”

He laid himself down again, and she reached him the gruel, which proved a great relief to his parched and fevered throat. He thanked her, and would have taken her hand but that he was unable to seize it.

She stood behind him, looking at his grey head, and it was well for him that he could not see her eyes.

Jacob Worse spent the rest of the day upon the sofa, and, after the lassitude caused by his morning excess, felt all the better for it. The next day he was all right again; but he did not dare ask for the decanter; it was gone, and it never reappeared.

From his son Romarino, Worse received a very disagreeable letter. This young gentleman pointed out to him the folly of taking a young wife at his advanced age, and, without the least compunction, bewailed the pecuniary loss which it might entail on him, Romarino.

Worse was very angry, and handed the letter to Sarah, who read it, whilst he walked up and down the room, fuming.

“Yes, you cannot expect it otherwise,” said Sarah. “The young man was never taught anything better, either by you or by his mother. As you sow, so will you reap. Shall I answer the letter?”

“Yes; I should be very grateful to you, if you would, Sarah,” said Jacob Worse. It was a great relief to him.

It was surprising to see how readily Sarah assumed her position, and how completely she changed everything, and put the house in order. It was, in fact, necessary; for there was much waste and mismanagement, as was natural where the head of the house was a man, who was, moreover, often absent from home.

During the first weeks after the marriage, Sarah took no interest in anything. When her half-developed youth, her dawning wishes and hopes were suddenly and unmercifully crushed, a thick cloud seemed to descend upon her, obscuring her life, and leaving no prospect of escape, except by a welcome death.

But one day a new feeling was awakened in her. Returning home from shopping in the town, she found her mother making a clearance in her rooms, placing chairs along the walls, and laying her small books about upon the tables.

As Sarah entered, her mother said, and in a voice not quite so resolute as was her wont: “I think we will hold the meeting here in your rooms; they are larger and lighter than mine.”

“Have you asked my husband?”

“My husband!” It was the first time, and there was such a stiffness and determination about these two words, that the widow unconsciously drew herself back.

Sarah quietly collected her mother’s small books in a heap, which she placed on a seat by the door, put a couple of chairs back into their proper places, and, without looking up, said: “I cannot have a meeting in my house without having consulted my husband.”

“You are quite right, dear Sarah,” said Madame Torvestad, in an affectionate tone, but with quivering lips; “and I ought to have thought of it. I hope you will come over to us in the evening.”

“If my husband will.”

Upon this her mother left, taking her books with her. Sarah pressed her hands upon her bosom; for, quietly as the affair had passed off, both felt that there had been a struggle, and that the daughter had remained the victor. She stood for some time looking at the solid mahogany furniture, the curtains, mirrors, and the key-cupboard, the key of which she carried in her pocket. She opened it, and looked at the numerous keys which hung inside.

It was true that her husband, in the first fulness of his happiness, had said: “See, all this is yours, and you can do what you will with it; if there be any thing wanting, and you desire to have it, only speak the word, and it shall be yours at once.”

She had never given much heed to these words. Of what good was it all to her? Could anything recompense her for her marred life?

It was the sight of her mother busying herself in her room that roused her, and henceforth she became alive to her position.

Before long the system of joint purchasing for the two households, which Madame Torvestad had at first managed, was brought to an end. Sarah undertook to manage her own affairs. Gently, but inexorably, the mother’s rule was restricted to her own apartments.

Sarah was intelligent and well trained: she inherited all her mother’s aptitude for rule and order. Hitherto she had never had an opportunity of manifesting it at home, her mother being always over her, and she had toiled like a servant girl, faithful and upright, yet with no other interest for the things under her charge than that they should not be injured.

Now, however, she had her own household, was her own mistress, and had, moreover, ampler means at her command than her mother had.

The rich Madame Worse, as people began to term her in the shops, was, in fact, a very different person, and much more important than the widow Torvestad. It was a consciousness of this that first gave Sarah a new interest in life, and tended to thaw some of that frigidity which had begun to settle upon her. When the first and the worst period was over, she buried her hopes and her youth as well as she could, giving herself up to prayer and study, whilst, at the same time, the management of her household affairs prevented her from sinking into melancholy.

This change was much to the advantage of Jacob Worse. The icy coldness with which she had treated him from the first had been occasionally apparent to him in the midst of his happiness; but now her behaviour was different—never indeed affectionate, scarcely even friendly, but she reconciled herself to him, made his home comfortable, and interested herself in his business affairs.

Jacob Worse explained them to her, and was never weary of expressing his surprise that women could show so much intelligence. It was not long before she was able to give him good advice, and it ended by his consulting her about everything.

In this way the year passed on, and the winter began. Sarah was as regular as formerly at the meetings, and, when at her mother’s she often sat in her old place by the Bible. Her comeliness increased, and her manner became more self-possessed, her dress also was improved; not that it was too conspicuous, for the most austere of the Haugians would not have been able to find fault with it; but the womenfolk, who understood such things, noticed that her linen was of the finest that could be procured, that the woollen stuffs she used were almost as costly as silk, and that when she wore a white collar round her neck, it was of real lace, worth a couple of dollars an ell.

The men, too, noticed something unusual about the young wife, and would say to their spouses: “Look at Sarah; you should dress like her; you should manage the house as she does.” The mother also received her meed of praise for having brought up her daughter so well.

Skipper Worse did not always attend the meetings. Whenever he manifested a preference for the club, or for a visit to Randulf, Sarah raised no objection.

But, in truth, he preferred his own house, and throughout the winter, when the candles were lit early, he sat at the table with his work. Jacob Worse was very neat-handed, and in his youth had learnt something of ship-building. He now applied himself to the construction of a model, an ell and a half long, which he intended to rig and equip after the pattern of the Hope of the Family down to the smallest detail.

Sarah read aloud to him, knitting the while. It was Scriver, Johan Arndt, Luther, or some such other. Worse did not listen very attentively; but her voice was pleasant to him; and she looked so well when the light fell on her clear forehead and dark smooth hair.

At the club, they were far too facetious; even Randulf rallied him in a disagreeable manner. I do not know how it was, but Randulf’s return had proved a disappointment; he was always making remarks about the marriage, he himself being a widower with grown-up children. His eldest son was a captain, and lived in the same town.

Another thing, too, annoyed him. Randulf was always speculating upon what sort of a fishing they might expect that year; and Worse remembered his promise to Madame Torvestad.

One day, however, Sarah let fall a few words, showing that she was prepared for his departure as usual.

“But I should tell you,” said Worse, “that before I married, I promised your mother that I would never——”

“I know it. Mother told me all about it; but as she exacted the promise on my account, so I now release you from it. You are free to go if you wish.”

Sarah had said as much to her mother when they talked the matter over. It was either because she had no objection to be rid of her husband for a time, or because in that respect also she wished to show herself independent of her mother.

At least this was the way in which the latter interpreted it, and it made her reflect more and more.

Worse now became very eager to talk of all that he would do at the fishing. Randulf thought to himself, “He has got leave.”

The fishing that year was bad; the fish were unevenly dispersed, and much on the move. The weather, also, was stormy and bad. Things did not go well with Skipper Worse, his former luck deserted him, and, as some thought his former daring. It was the universal opinion that Worse was growing old.

“Ah!” said Randulf, at the club, “when so old a man gets so young a wife, it is all up with him”; and saying this he made a movement, as if wringing a clout and casting it from him.

Jacob Worse returned from the fishing with rheumatism, and took to the chimney corner. It was best for him to remain at home; and in the spring, when the Hope was going on a long voyage, he himself proposed that one of the other captains in the employ of the firm should take command of her.

Lauritz Seehus was promoted to be mate; in the winter he had been up to Bergen, and had passed in navigation. Before he went, he obtained a promise for life or death from Henrietta.

Neither did Worse go to sea the next spring. He complained of rheumatism and of pains in his stomach. The doctor could not make out what it was, but fancied there was something wrong with his liver.

In the mean time, he became more than ever infatuated about his wife. When his infirmities began with rheumatism and bad digestion, she nursed him as if she had been his daughter. Her tenderness made him doubly grateful and happy. Besides this, all the singing and reading which went on around him produced, in the course of time and without his observing it, a considerable effect upon him.

Jacob Worse had always thought of the Almighty as he might of Consul Garman, as an exacting master, who was, however, forgiving and placable, if one only kept clear of deceit and downright wickedness.

But now he learnt something very different. It was of no avail that he had been an excellent seaman, that he had never deceived a fellow countryman—Germans and Swedes he did not take into reckoning—and that he was upright and just in his dealings. Much, much more than this was required of him.

Often when they talked and read of the obstacles to conversion, and of the perils of the hour of temptation, he thought to himself: “Can this, can all this be true?”

He had little trust in Sivert Gesvint, and he did not rely much on the spiritual strivings of Endre Egeland, for he knew the other side of him too well.

But Sarah, Sarah who in all respects was perfection itself, said, literally said, that every day he must combat the old Adam and strive against Satan.

This began to trouble him, and he inquired if she perceived much of the old Adam in him?

She did, indeed; and he learnt to know more of himself than was agreeable. First, he learnt that he swore. He could now see that that was wrong. He endeavoured to overcome the habit, but it was too thoroughly ingrained in him; still he fancied that he improved even in this respect. So much, however, of the old Adam, even of Satan’s self, remained in him, that he was ill at ease.

Sarah wished him to join in prayer and singing; but it was out of his power. He had not yet made such spiritual progress as was necessary, she said.

No, unfortunately, he had not; he wished he had. It would be the better for him.

When he observed how Sivert Jespersen handled sacred things at the meetings, when he listened to his fawning unctuous voice, and at the same time remembered how infamously he had cheated him in the affair of the salt, the desire for spiritual things evaporated, and Jacob Worse betook himself to his club.

The following day he was always treated as an invalid, and, in spite of all that he could say, whether in jest or earnest, he had to submit to gruel and the grey wrapper for a day, his wife sitting and knitting by his side.

At last he came to believe that he was ill whenever she said he was.

The letter which Sarah had written to her stepson had produced a good effect, and when Romarino, shortly after, came home, in order to set up in business on his own account, the relations between him and his young stepmother were perfectly amicable.

Romarino paid a little court to her in his frivolous way; but she did not observe it, or, at all events, took no notice of it. However, it brought a little of the spirit of youthfulness into the house.

Though Jacob Worse never took any step without consulting Sarah, it always seemed as if it was the old man who was difficult, whilst the two younger people agreed well enough.

But when Romarino set up for himself, and married a young lady, of whom all that was known was that she was gay and worldly minded, the mutual relations became more distant. The young and old Worses had no common interests, and seldom saw one another.

When Romarino bought a house and lived in grand style, old Worse shook his head.

It was some time before Madame Torvestad realized that she had completely misunderstood her daughter, but gradually she became conscious that there was no remedy. Ever since that look which she had noticed on the evening of the betrothal, Sarah had shaken off her authority, and had asserted herself as an equal.

Indeed, Madame Torvestad was soon nothing more than Madame Worse’s mother.

She was wise enough to conceal her disappointment, and she promised herself that it should not recur in the case of Henrietta, who should have a husband more amenable to control, while she, Henrietta, should be under stricter rule than before. As a beginning, the poor child should learn to sit in Sarah’s place by the Bible, when Sarah was not there.

For the last two years but scanty tidings had been received of Hans Nilsen Fennefos. He was said to be travelling in the north, farther north than he had ever been before, away up in the most benighted parts of Finmarken, as some declared.

Occasionally news of him reached the elders, but they did not communicate it at the meetings. Any one inquiring about Fennefos was recommended to mind his own business, or was told that the Lord’s ways are inscrutable.

The fact was, that what the Brethren round about had to report about Hans Nilsen was anything but satisfactory.

He who formerly had moved from place to place as a messenger of love and peace, now left confusion and terror behind him. It was said that he passed through the country like a hurricane, his speech was as of fire, many became crazy after hearing him, and one young girl was reported to have destroyed herself in consequence.

The clergy began to notice him in their reports. His former reputation for gentleness and moderation was injured; and scoffers cried triumphantly: “See, even he also!”

There was much consternation among the Friends when these tidings arrived, and it gradually became evident how much the elders had endeavoured to withhold from them.

Many wrote and urged Fennefos to come southwards again; they thought that when he met his old friends, his equanimity would be restored. But he did not come, and the country was full of reports about the infatuated preacher, who wandered singing from hut to hut through the snow, leading a band of haggard men and women with dishevelled hair, who wept and tore their clothes.

The elders then begged Madame Torvestad to write to him, and the next day she delivered to them a sealed letter. This was contrary to rules, but the circumstances were unusual, and no objection was raised. In the autumn the letter was despatched, and in the spring it was reported that Hans Nilsen was wending his way southwards.

It was Sarah, however, who had written the letter. It was done at her mother’s request.