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

Chapter XIV


“SINCE your lamented mother’s death, whose too early demise we ever deplore, I do not know when I have felt myself more contented or in such good spirits.

“In every man’s life there is a certain point where his character and inner nature undergo a change and become altered. His interests continue as before, the amount of energy with which he approaches his work need not lessen; and yet when he arrives at the turning-point, he sees with other eyes, and is, in some respects, actuated by other feelings.

“This transition, of which I can here give but a very imperfect description, is the inevitable result of the change from youth to old age, and this it is which of late years, ever since your mother’s death, has slowly and gradually manifested itself in me.

“With feelings of gratitude to a merciful Providence, I am able to say that I feel happy in having become an old man.

“But my heart is chiefly filled with gratitude when I consider how much bodily health and strength, and especially mental vigour, I still retain, so that nothing of what has hitherto occupied my thoughts has yet become alien or indifferent to me.

“I enjoy more peace of mind, the brain, undisturbed by passion, is better fitted to perform its functions, and the somewhat precipitate ardour of youth has given place to the circumspection of mature age.

“I write to you to-day, my dear son, more explicitly, and upon subjects different from those on which we usually correspond. I am led to do so, partly with a desire to inform you of what you are about to undertake, and partly because this letter may be one of the last which we shall exchange at a distance; for it is now my wish, and my paternal injunction, that you, in conformity with our prearranged understanding, should return home in the ensuing spring.

“I leave it to your choice to decide whether you will return from Paris by Copenhagen, or whether you will go to England, and come thence in one of the lobster-smacks.

“It will be a great joy to me to see you at home again, and in good health. I hope also that you, on your part, will be contented and happy, and prepared to take a part in the business.

“I have never forgotten that when I, in my youth, returned from a long absence in foreign parts, Sandsgaard seemed to me an out-of-the-way and neglected corner of the great world.

“But the experience of life has taught me that a man who is endowed with a philosophical spirit and high principles, will easily accommodate himself to whatever fate has prepared for him.

“I venture to hope that even if you should come direct from Paris, you will not deem Sandsgaard an entirely unworthy residence; for of late I have renovated and decorated the mansion, so that it seems only to want a throng of young and happy people to conjure up those times on which my memory loves to dwell, although clouded by bereavement and sorrow.

“However, why should I again recall a grief which must always cast its shadow on my life?

“Let us look forward to the future, which, for you younger people at all events, seems likely to bring happier days.

“Perhaps, also, in the contemplation of your felicity, I may find some compensation, and solace for many tears.

“Without doubt, you will have remarked that in our recent correspondence I have, with a definite purpose, endeavoured to impart to you such a general knowledge of our business as was practicable, without being too prolix.

“I look upon you already as my fellow-worker and associate in labours, for which your letters, and the accounts you have sent me, as well as the reports of your superiors during your residence abroad, encourage me to believe that you are not unfitted and still less unworthy.

“You are aware that the firm has prospered, a matter which a merchant does not care to talk of, but between us two, I may say that the firm has met with extraordinary success.

“You will, therefore, find—to your agreeable surprise, I trust—that many branches of the business which hitherto I had been unable to develop adequately, by reason of the want of funds, have now, like plants under a fertilizing shower, made auspicious growth, owing to the abundance of ready money.

“You will, therefore, on your arrival, find a wide field for your young energies, and you will be spared the anxiety and care which I, for many years, unknown to you or to any other person, have undergone.

“I now come to that point in my letter which may be termed the chief or cardinal point, namely, our relations with Worse.

“In our correspondence we have never treated particularly of this affair; nevertheless, I seem to have observed that it was only your filial respect which restrained you from criticising my conduct in admitting Jacob Worse into the firm.

“For this reason, my dear Christian Frederik, I will speak out once for all, and say that it was neither more nor less than the salvation of the firm.

“It may be that there is something humiliating in this avowal; but, for my part, I can only say that it would have been far more humiliating and more injurious to our credit to have secretly accepted a subvention from one of our own employés.

“It was I, therefore, who proposed the change in the firm; for I considered such an open proceeding, not only more in consonance with our reputation, but also with the highest commercial principles. I will not deny, however, that the change of the firm’s name cost me a struggle, and I am not blind to the complications to which it may lead.

“I have of late carefully considered all this, and it is my purpose to inform you in this letter of the present condition of affairs, and briefly to confide to you the plan which I propose to follow, and which I hope to carry out in the future.

“Our old Jacob Worse is very ill, and, after a visit which I paid to his sick-bed a few days since, I can have but little doubt—I regret to say—that his days are numbered. His marriage, as I both thought and predicted, has brought him little happiness.

“His wife, as you know, is one of the religious enthusiasts, and of late years she, in conjunction with her mother and the rest of the pious folks, have succeeded in spoiling our old Worse to such an extent that I do not care to sully this paper by a description of his lamentable decadence. I shall, therefore, restrain my grief and anger, and will confine myself to business matters.

“When Jacob Worse dies—and, considering his present condition, one can only wish him a speedy and painless departure—it will be necessary to divide his property between his widow and the son of his first marriage, which may entail complications as regards the firm.

“In order to avoid this as much as possible, I have made up my mind to offer to young Romarino Worse, when the time arrives, a sum of money in lieu of a position in the firm. I am inclined to think that he will acquiesce, partly because, according to my slight knowledge of his character, a considerable sum, either in cash or convertible security, will be much appreciated by him.

“As I have already said, I know but little of the young man, still I have formed an impression that young Worse is not a person with whom we should like to work.

“Although I believe that so long as Providence vouchsafes to me strength to continue at the head of the firm, we should know how to manage him, yet I would not embarrass you with a companion in whom we could not place entire confidence.

“I hope to accomplish this change by the time you arrive, and I hope, moreover, that it will meet with your approval.

“On the one hand, there is no doubt something decidedly unpleasant in our recent alliance with Worse, but, on the other, we must never forget that it was old Jacob Worse’s money that saved us, and I enjoin you herewith to keep an eye on the family; we ought to stand by them, both by word and deed.

“When this affair is arranged, my mind will be at ease; and I hope that we have yet before us a fair number of years in which to work together in the firm of Garman and Worse.

“If, as I suppose from your last letter, you have already reached Paris, you will, no doubt, have enjoyed the pleasure of meeting with your brother Richard at our legation, whither I send this letter.

“I am convinced that you will mutually derive much benefit and satisfaction from each other’s society in the great city.

“Your brother Richard, by reason of his connections, will be able to introduce you to circles which would otherwise be inaccessible to a stranger. On the other hand, I do not doubt that your presence may, in many respects, be advantageous to your younger brother.

“The career which Richard has adopted entails much greater expense and a more luxurious mode of life than is necessary or becoming to a merchant. Nevertheless, I would put it to you, whether you could not, by means of brotherly counsels impress upon Richard the propriety of greater economy. Do not misunderstand me, or suppose that it is my desire that you should mar your brief intercourse by lecturing him, nor do I wish that your communications should lead him to think that I am dissatisfied with him.

“On the contrary, I wish that you may both employ your time in Paris in acquiring those pleasant impressions for which that city affords such an excellent opportunity, to such an extent and with such moderation as befits gentlemen in our position, avoiding that useless extravagance which only testifies to a vain desire for ostentation unsuitable to persons of refinement.

“As your brother’s stay in Paris will apparently be of longer duration than yours, I will cause the letter of credit, which the firm sends by this post, to be made out in his name; and whilst I am on the subject of your younger brother, I will make a confidential announcement to you.

“After my death, you will find no reference to Richard in my accounts. His education has, for many reasons, been far more expensive than yours. Nevertheless, it is my desire that, like good brothers, you should share and share alike. I enjoin you, however, to deal out to your brother by degrees the portion which may appertain to him.

“For your brother Richard, with all his talents and excellent qualities, has, I fear, but little aptitude for acquiring and retaining this world’s goods. You, my dear Christian Frederik, who have been endowed with this facility, must, therefore, act as a guardian to your brother. Remember me kindly to the dear boy, and ask him to seek some musical friends who will assist you to purchase a good piano of Erard’s, which you will see carefully packed and sent off, or perhaps, you can bring it with you in the spring, when you return home.

“Our old piano does not satisfy modern requirements, and, moreover, ever since your mother’s death it is painful to hear tones which too sadly remind me of my great loss.

“For several weeks we have experienced severe and continuous storms, and we have heard of many wrecks and disasters along the coast. Happily none of our own vessels are in these waters; but people are anxiously awaiting news of many ships belonging to this town, which are on their way from the Baltic.

“You will be surprised to find how much the trade and shipping of the good town has increased during these last few years, and I fancy that much of what happens, or is attempted here, will seem as strange to you as it does to me.

“That which especially excites my wonder and anxiety is the religious enthusiasm which, in my youth, was confined to peasants and uneducated people.

“So far from disappearing or being cured, as one would expect and hope, it seems rather to expand, and to gain adherents amongst those whose intelligence should protect them from such folly.

“I have also heard that some of the younger clergy have approved of—nay, have actually joined—this absurd and hurtful revival. Every true patriot must greatly deplore this; for just as a judicious enlightenment is beneficial to the common people, so, on the other hand, is it injurious when hypocrites and ignorant persons devote themselves to the Holy Scriptures, which they can neither understand nor apply rightly.

“And if it really should happen—though I can scarcely credit it—that the clergy allow themselves to be dragged down by ignorance and enthusiasm, I should greatly fear that it will be to the detriment of our dear fatherland.

“In the meantime, you will understand that, in a certain sense, there is a great distance between Sandsgaard and the town, and I trust that you will find the atmosphere here as fresh and pure as ever.

“And now, my dear son, I will conclude with an affectionate salutation from myself and your two aunts. The good ladies are in ‘court mourning,’ as Jacob Worse used to term it in the old days; nevertheless, they are looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you once more.

“I have a suspicion that they are planning a marriage for you, for they are devoted to small children.

“I, too, to speak plainly, have a great wish that new life, laughter, and the sound of tiny footsteps should be heard once more in the old house.

“Your loving father,