Nothing is so boundless as the sea, nothing so patient. On its broad back it bears, like a good-natured elephant, the tiny mannikins which tread the earth; and in its vast cool depths it has place for all mortal woes. It is not true that the sea is faithless, for it has never promised anything; without claim, without obligation, free, pure, and genuine beats the mighty heart, the last sound one in an ailing world. And while the mannikins strain their eyes over it, the sea sings its old song. Many understand it scarce at all, but never two understand it in the same manner, for the sea has a distinct word for each one that sets himself face to face with it.
It smiles with green shining ripples to the bare-legged urchin who catches crabs; it breaks in blue billows against the ship, and sends the fresh salt spray far in over the deck. / Heavy leaden seas come rolling in on the beach, and while the weary eye follows the long hoary breakers, the stripes of foam wash up in sparkling curves over the even sand; and in the hollow sound, when the billows roll over for the last time, there is something of a hidden understanding—each thinks on his own life, and bows his head towards the ocean as if it were a friend who knows it all and keeps it fast.
But what the sea is for those who live along its strand none can ever know, for they say nothing. They live all their life with face turned to the ocean; the sea is their companion, their adviser, their friend and their enemy, their inheritance and their churchyard. The relation therefore remains a silent one, and the look which gazes over the sea changes with its varying aspect, now comforting, now half fearful and defiant. But take one of these shore-dwellers; and move him far landward among the mountains, into the loveliest valley you can find; give him the best food, and the softest bed. He will not touch your food, or sleep in your bed, but without turning his head he will clamber from hill to hill, until far off his eye catches something blue he knows, and with swelling heart he gazes towards the little azure streak that shines far away, until it grows into a blue glittering horizon; but he says nothing.
People in the town often said to Richard Garman, "How can you endure that lonely life out there in your lighthouse?" The old gentleman always answered, "Well, you see, one never feels lonely by the sea when once one has made its acquaintance; and besides, I have my little Madeleine."
And that was the feeling of his heart. The ten years he had passed out there on the lonely coast were among the best of his life, and that life had been wild and adventurous enough; so, whether he was now weary of the world, or whether it was his little daughter, or whether it was the sea that attracted him, or whether it was something of all three, he had quieted down, and never once thought of leaving the lighthouse of Bratvold. This was what no one could have credited; and when it was rumoured that Richard Garman, the attaché, a son of the first commercial family of the town, was seeking the simple post of lighthouse-keeper, most people were inclined to laugh heartily at this new fancy of "the mad student." "The mad student" was a nickname in the town for Richard Garman, which was doubtless well earned; for although he had been but little at home since he had grown to manhood, enough was known of his wild and pleasure-seeking career to make folks regard him with silent wonder.
To add to this, too, the visits he paid to his home were generally coincident with some remarkable event or another. Thus it was when, as a young student, he was present at his mother's funeral; and even more so when he came at a break-neck pace from Paris to the death-bed of the old Consul, in a costume and with an air which took away the breath of the ladies, and caused confusion among the men. Since then Richard had been but little seen. Rumour, however, was busy with him. At one time some commercial traveller had seen him at Zinck's Hotel at Hamburg; now he was living in a palace; and now the story was that he was existing in the docks, and writing sailors' letters for a glass of beer.
One fine day Garman and Worse's heavy state carriage was seen on its way to the quay. Inside sat the head of the firm, Consul C. F. Garman, and his daughter Rachel, while little Gabriel, his younger son, was sitting by the side of the coachman. An unbearable curiosity agitated the groups on the quay.
The state carriage was seldom to be seen in the town, and now at this very moment the Hamburg steamer was expected. At length an employé of the firm came to the carriage window, and, after a few irrelevant remarks, ventured to ask who was coming.
"I am expecting my brother the attaché, and his daughter," answered Consul Garman, while with a movement peculiar to himself he adjusted his smoothly shaven chin in his stiff neckcloth.
This information increased the excitement. Richard Garman was coming, "the mad student," "the attaché" as he was sometimes called; and with a daughter, too! But how could they belong to each other? Could he ever have been really married? It was hardly likely.
The steamer came. Consul Garman went on board, and returned shortly after with his brother and a little dark-haired girl, who doubtless was the daughter.
Richard Garman was soon recognized, although he had grown somewhat stouter: but the upright, elegant bearing and the striking black moustache were still the same; while the hair, though crisp and curling as in the old days, was now slightly flecked with grey at the temples. He greeted them all with a friendly smile as he passed to the carriage, and there was more than one lady who felt that the glance of his bright brown eye rested smilingly on her for a moment.
The carriage rolled off through the town, and away down the long avenue which led to the large family mansion of Sandsgaard.
The town gossipped itself nearly crazy, but without any satisfactory result. The house of Garman took good care of its secrets.
So much was, however, clear: that Richard Garman had dissipated the whole of his large fortune, or else he would never have consented to come home and eat the bread of charity in his brother's house.
On the other hand, the relation between the brothers was, at least as far as appearances went, a most cordial one. The Consul gave a grand dinner, at which he drank his brother's health, adding at the same time the hope that he might find himself happy in his old home.
There is nothing so irritating as a half-fulfilled scandal, and when Richard Garman a short time afterwards calmly received the post of lighthouse-keeper at Bratvold, and lived there year after year without a sign of doing anything worthy of remark, each one in the little town felt himself personally affronted, and it was a source of wonder to all how little the Garmans seemed to realize what they owed to society.
As far as that went, Richard himself was not perfectly clear how it had all come about; there was something about Christian Frederick he could not understand. Whenever he met his brother, or even got a letter from him, his whole nature seemed to change; things he would otherwise never have thought of attempting appeared all at once quite easy, and he did feats which afterwards caused him the greatest astonishment. When, in a state of doubt and uncertainty, he wrote home for the last time, to beg his brother to take charge of little Madeleine, his only thought was to make an end of his wasted life, the sooner the better, directly his daughter was placed in safety. But just then he happened to get a remittance enclosed in an extraordinary letter, in which occurred several puzzling business terms. There was something about "liquidation," and closing up an account which required his presence, and in the middle of it all there were certain expressions which seemed to have stumbled accidentally into the commercial style. For instance, in one place there was "brother of my boyhood;" and further on, "with sincere wishes for brotherly companionship;" and finally, he read, in the middle of a long involved sentence, "Dear Richard, don't lose heart." This stirred Richard Garman into action: he made an effort, and set off home. When he saw his brother come on board the steamer the tears came to his eyes, and he was on the point of opening his arms to embrace him. The Consul, however, held out his hand, and said quietly, "Welcome, Richard! Where are your things?"
Since then nothing had been said about the letter; once only had Richard Garman ventured to allude to it, when the Consul seemed to imagine that he wished to settle up the accounts that were therein mentioned. Nothing could have been further from the attaché's thoughts, and he felt that the bare idea was almost an injury. "Christian Frederick is a wonderful man," thought Richard; "and what a man of business he is!"
One day Consul Garman said to his brother, "Shall we drive out to Bratvold, and have a look at the new lighthouse?"
Richard was only too glad to go. From his earliest days he had loved the lonely coast, with its long stretches of dark heather and sand, and the vast open sea; the lighthouse also interested him greatly.
When the brothers got into the carriage again to drive back to the town, the attaché said, "Do you know, Christian Frederick, I can't imagine a position more suitable to such a wreck as myself than that of lighthouse-keeper out here."
"There is no reason you should not have it," answered his brother.
"Nonsense! How could it be managed?" answered Richard, as he knocked the ashes off his cigar.
"Now listen, Richard," replied the Consul, quickly. "If there is a thing I must find fault with you for, it is your want of self-reliance. Don't you suppose that, with your gifts and attainments, you could get a far higher post if you only chose to apply for it?"
"No; but, Christian Frederick——" exclaimed the attaché, regarding his brother with astonishment.
"It's perfectly true," replied the Consul. "If you want the post, they must give it to you; and if there should be any difficulty, I feel pretty certain that a word from us to the authorities would soon settle it."
The matter was thus concluded, and Richard Garman was appointed lighthouse-keeper at Bratvold, either because of his gifts and attainments or by reason of a timely word to the authorities. The very sameness of his existence did the old cavalier good; the few duties he had, he performed with the greatest diligence and exactitude.
He passed most of his spare time in smoking cigarettes, and looking out to sea through the large telescope, which was mounted on a stand, and which he had got as a present from Christian Frederick. He was truly weary, and he could not but wonder how he had so long kept his taste for the irregular life he had led in foreign lands. There was one thing that even more excited his wonder, and that was how well he got on with his income. To live on a hundred a year seemed to him nothing less than a work of art, and yet he managed it. It must be acknowledged that he had a small private income, but his brother always told him it was as good as nothing; how much it was, and from what source it was really derived, he never had an idea. It is true that there came each year a current account from Garman and Worse, made out in the Consul's own hand, and he also frequently got business letters from his brother; but neither the one nor the other made things clearer to him. He signed his name to all papers which were sent to him, in what appeared the proper place. Sometimes he got a bill of exchange to execute, and this he did to the best of his ability; but everything still remained to him in the same state of darkness as before.
One thing, however, was certain: Richard got on capitally. He kept two assistants for the lanterns; he had his riding horse Don Juan, and a cart-horse as well. His cellar was well filled with wine; and he always had a little ready money at hand, for which he had no immediate use. Thus, when any one complained to him of the bad times, he recommended them to come into the country; it was incredible how cheaply one could live there.
In the ten years they had passed at Bratvold, Madeleine had grown to womanhood, and had thriven beyond general expectation; and when she had got quite at home in the language (her mother had been a Frenchwoman), she soon got on the best of terms with all their neighbours. She did not remain much in the house, but passed most of her time at the farmhouses, or by the sea, or the little boat haven.
A whole regiment of governesses had attempted to teach Madeleine, but the task was a difficult one; and when the governesses were ugly her father could not abide them, and when one came who was pretty there were other objections. Richard paid frequent visits to Sandsgaard, either on Don Juan or in the Garmans' dogcart, which was sent to fetch him. The chilly, old-fashioned house, and the reserved and polished manners of its inmates, had made a repellant impression on Madeleine. For her cousin Rachel, who was only a few years her elder, she had no liking. She preferred, therefore, to remain at home, and her father was never absent for more than a few days at a time. She spent most of her time on the shore or in the neighbouring cottages, in the society of fishermen and pilots. Merry and fearless as she was, these men were glad to take her out in fine weather in their boats. She thus learnt to fish, to handle a sail, or to distinguish the different craft by their rig.
Madeleine had one particular friend whose name was Per, who was three or four years older than herself, and who lived in the cottage nearest to the lighthouse. Per was tall and strongly built, with a crop of stiff, sandy hair, and a big hand as hard as horn from constant rowing; his eyes were small and keen, as is often seen among those who from their childhood are in the habit of peering out to sea through rain and fog.
Per's father had been a widower, and Per his only child, but he managed to get married again, and now the family increased year after year. The neighbours were always urging Per to get his father to divide the property with him, but Per preferred to wait the turn of events. The longer he waited the more brothers and sisters he had to share with. His friends laughed at him, and somebody one day called him "Wait Per," a joke which caused great amusement at the time, and the nickname stuck to him ever afterwards. Beyond this, Per was not a lad to be laughed at; he was one of the most active boatmen of the community, and at the same time the most peaceable creature on earth. He did not trouble to distinguish himself, but he had a kind of natural love for work, and, as he was afraid of nothing, the general feeling was that Per was a lad that would get on.
The friendship between Per and Madeleine was very cordial on both sides. At first some of the other young fellows tried to take her from him, but one day it so happened that when she was out with Per, a fresh north-westerly breeze sprang up. Per's boat and tackle were always of the best, so that there was no real danger; but nevertheless her father, who had seen the boat through the big telescope, came in all haste down to the shore, and went out on to the little pier to meet them.
"There's father," said Madeleine; "I wonder if he is anxious about us?"
"I think he knows better than that," said Per, thoughtfully.
All the same the attaché could not help feeling a little uneasy as he stood watching the boat; but when Per with a steady hand steered her in through the fairway, and swung her round the point of the pier, so that she glided easily into the smooth water behind it, the old gentleman could not help being impressed by his skill. "He knows what he's about," he muttered, as he helped up his daughter; and instead of the lecture he had prepared, he only said, "You are a smart lad, Per; but I never gave you permission to sail with her alone."
There was no one near enough to hear the old gentleman's words, but when the spectators who were standing near saw that Per shook hands with both Madeleine and her father in a friendly manner, they could all perceive that Per was in the lighthouse keeper's good books for the future, and from that day it was taken for granted that Per alone had the right to escort the young lady.
Per thought over and over whom he should take with him in the boat. He saw well enough that the whole pleasure would be spoilt if one of his friends came with them. At length he hit upon a poor half-witted lad, who was also hard of hearing into the bargain. No one could make out what Per wanted with "Silly Hans" in his boat; but there! Per always was an obstinate fellow. Both he and Madeleine were well contented with his choice; and when, a few days after, she put her head in at the door, and called to her father, "I'm just going for a little sail with Per," she was able to add with a good conscience, "Of course, he has got some one with him, since you really make such a point of it." She could not help laughing to herself as she ran down the slope.
Richard, in the mean time, betook himself to the big telescope. Right enough: Per was sitting aft, and he saw Madeleine jump down into the boat. On the forward thwart there sat a male creature, dressed in homespun, with a yellow sou'wester on its head.
"Bien!" said the old gentleman, with a sigh of relief. "It is well they have got some one with them—in every respect."