"Avoir, avant, avu—that's how it goes! That's right, my boy; avoir, avant."
The whole class could see clearly that the master was lost in thought. He was pacing up and down, with long steps and half-closed eyes, gesticulating from time to time, as he kept repeating the ill-used auxiliary. On the upper benches the boys began to titter, and those on the lower ones, who had not such a fine ear for the French verbs, soon caught the infection; while the unhappy wretch who was undergoing examination, sat trembling lest the master should notice his wonderful method of conjugating the verb. This unfortunate being was Gabriel Garman, the Consul's younger son. He was a tall, slender boy of about fifteen or sixteen, with a refined face, prominent nose, and upright bearing.
Gabriel was sitting in the lower half of the class, which was, in the opinion of the master, a great disgrace for a boy of his ability. He was, however, a curious, wayward boy. In some things, such as arithmetic and mathematics generally, he distinguished himself; but in Greek and Latin, which were considered the most important part of his education, he showed but little proficiency, although he was destined for a university career.
At last the general mirth of the class burst out in sundry half-stifled noises, which roused the master from his reverie, and he again resumed the book, to continue the examination. As ill luck would have it, he once more repeated, "Avoir, avant," and then half abstractedly, "avu." "Ah, you young idiot!" cried he, in a discordant voice, "can't you manage avoir yet? Whatever is to become of you?"
"Merchant," answered Gabriel, bluntly.
"What do you say? You dare to answer your master? Are you going to be impertinent? I'll teach you! Where's the persuader?" and the master strode up to his seat, and, diving down into his desk, began routing about in it.
At this moment the passage door opened, and an extraordinary and most unscholarly looking head intruded itself into the room. The head had a red nose, and wore a long American goat's-beard and a blue seaman's cap. "Are you there?" said the head, addressing Master Gabriel in a half-drunken voice. "Is that where you are, poor boy? Bah! what an atmosphere! I only just came in to tell you to come down to the ship-yard when you get out of school; we are just beginning the planking."
He did not get any further, for at the sight of the long-legged master, who stalked down from the desk, quite scandalized at this disturbance of order, the head suddenly stopped in its harangue, and with a hearty, "Well, I'm blest! what a ghost!" disappeared, closing the door after it.
It did not take very much to provoke the laughter of the boys, and when at the same moment the bell rang to announce that the school-hour was over, the class broke up in confusion, and the master hastened, fuming with rage, to complain to the rector.
Gabriel hurried off as fast as he could, in hopes of catching up his friend who had caused the disturbance, but he had already disappeared; he had probably gone down to the town to continue his libations. This friend was a foreman shipwright, who, since his return from America, had borne the name of Tom Robson. His real name when he left home was Thomas Robertsen, but it had got changed somehow in America, and he kept to it as it was.
Tom Robson was the cleverest foreman on the whole west coast but his drinking propensities tried to the utmost both the patience and the firmness of his employers. He had already built several vessels for Garman and Worse, but he was determined that the one he was now superintending at Sandsgaard should be his masterpiece.
This vessel was of about nine hundred tons burden, and was the largest craft that had been built at that port up to the present time, and Consul Garman had given orders that nothing should be spared to make it a model of perfection.
Tom Robson was thus only able to get drunk by fits and starts, which he did when they came to any important epoch in the building. On that day, for instance, the time had just arrived for beginning to lay the planking upon the timbers.
As Gabriel neither found his friend nor saw anything of the carriage from Sandsgaard, which generally met him on his way from school, he set off to walk homewards, down the long avenue which led to the family property. It was a good half-hour's walk, and while he sauntered along, swinging his heavy burden of the books he so cordially hated, he was lost in gloomy thought. Every day, on his way from school, he met the younger clerks going to their dinner in the town. They looked tired and weary, it is true; still, he envied them their permission to sit working the whole day in the office—a paradise with which he, although his father's son, had no connection whatever. He was obliged to confine his energy to the building-yard, where there were plenty of hiding places, and where the Consul was seldom seen of an afternoon. The ship on the stocks was at once his joy and his pride; he crept all over her, inside and out, above and below, scrutinizing every plank and every nail. At length he had begun to have quite a knowledge of the art of ship-building, and had gained the friendship of Tom Robson, Anders Begmand, and the other shipwrights. The ship was to fee the finest the town had yet produced, and when this fact came into his thoughts it almost enabled him to forget his burden of Greek and Latin.
From conversations he had partly overheard at home, Gabriel knew that there had been a difference of opinion between his father and Morten, the eldest son, who was a partner in the firm, ever since the building of this ship was first mentioned.
Morten maintained that they ought to buy an iron steamer in England, either on their own account or in partnership with some of the other houses of the town. He insisted, particularly, that the time could not be far distant when sailing ships would be entirely superseded by steamers. But the father held by sailing ships on principle; and, moreover, the idea that Garman and Worse should have anything in common with the mushroom houses of the town was to him quite unbearable. In the end, the will of the elder prevailed; the ship was built of their own materials, in their own ship-yard, and by the workmen who from generation to generation had worked for Garman and Worse.
When Gabriel reached the point from which he could see down into the bay on which lay the property of Sandsgaard, the ship was the first thing which caught his eye. She stood on the slip below the house, and he could not help remarking the beauty of her bow, and the elegant rake of her stern. It was the dinner-hour, and all the workmen were either at home, in the cottages which stretched along the west side of the bay, or lay asleep among the shavings. As he stood on the crest of the rising ground, which sloped gradually down towards the buildings, and gazed at all these dominions, which from time out of mind had belonged to Garman and Worse, Gabriel became more and more out of spirits.
There lay the old-fashioned house, with white painted walls, and its blue slate roof, which was adorned by dormers and gables. In front of the house, on its southern side, lay the garden, with its paths and clipped hedges, and the little pond half overgrown by sedge and thick bushes. On the northern side, towards the sea, he could discern the carriage drive, and the extensive level yard with the ancient lime tree standing in the middle of it. Beyond that came four warehouses standing in a row, all painted yellow, with brown doors; and further on still, close down to the innermost curve of the bay, was the building-yard. Higher up, on the road which led to the southward along the coast, lay the farm, as it was called. This consisted of a byre, the bailiff's house, and other buildings; for the property of Sandsgaard was extensive, and comprised a mill, a dairy, and such like.
That part of the property had never had much interest for Gabriel, but all the same, if he had only been allowed to be a farmer, he could have turned his attention to agriculture, and still have been near the counting-house, the ships, and the sea; but he was destined for the university, and there was no possibility of escape.
It was not easy to persuade Consul Garman. His father had brought up his elder son to the business, and sent the younger to the university, and he was determined to do the same. The thought sometimes occurred to the wilful Gabriel, that Uncle Richard had had but a poor return from his university career, but he did not dare to express his thoughts openly.
Mrs. Garman believed firmly that it was most desirable, as a cure for self-will, that a young man should battle against his inclinations; nothing could be more baneful than pampering the flesh. No help, then, was to be expected from any quarter.
Gabriel was sauntering down the alley, quite crest-fallen under his heavy burden of books, when at some distance his eye caught sight of some one on horse-back, whom he soon recognized, and who was coming along the road behind the farm. It was Uncle Richard on Don Juan.
Gabriel started off at once, forgetting in a moment his heavy burden of books and care, and thinking only on the merriment and good cheer which Uncle Richard always brought with him. He determined to hasten off to the kitchen to tell Miss Cordsen, and then to go in to his father; for Gabriel knew well that the bearer of the news of his uncle's arrival was always welcome.
"Lord save us!" cried Miss Cordsen. "Make up the fire, Martha;" and off she ran to get a clean cap.
"All right, my boy!" said Consul Garman, giving Gabriel a friendly nod.
Gabriel was well pleased at the effect of his intelligence. He had actually surprised Miss Cordsen into an impropriety, in which he seldom succeeded; and his father, who was generally undemonstrative, had greeted him with more than usual warmth.
The young Consul, as he was generally called from the time when his father, the old Consul, was alive, was not so tall as his younger brother, and while the latter had grown stouter in the course of years, the former seemed to have got thinner and smaller. His hair was smooth, thin, and slightly grey, carefully brushed so as to make the most of it. His eyes were keen, and of a light blue colour; and his lower jaw was somewhat prominent. Smoothly shaved and well brushed, with stiff white neckcloth, shining boots, and silver-headed cane, there was something about his whole appearance which told of prosperity. Every word, every movement, even the peculiarly characteristic one with which he adjusted his chin in his stiff neckcloth, was the picture of propriety and precision. Precision was, in fact, a word which seemed made for the young Consul; both his appearance and his career reflected it to the uttermost fibre.
With his extensive business and large fortune, Consul Garman had also inherited a boundless admiration and respect for his father, Morten W. Garman, the old Consul, who had come into the property of Sandsgaard at a time when it was of little value, and considerably encumbered by debts, and when the business itself was in rather a confused condition. In order to keep the business afloat during the disastrous years of the war, Morten W. Garman took into partnership a rich old skipper, by name Jacob Worse, from whence sprang the name of the firm. Thanks to old Worse's money, life came again into the tottering business, and Garman great ability made the firm, in a few years, one of the most important on the west coast. But when old Worse died, and his son took his place in the firm, it was soon evident that Morten Garman and young Worse would not be able to work together. Under a friendly arrangement, therefore, Worse retired with a considerable fortune, while Garman retained the business and the old family property of Sandsgaard.
It was from that time that the great wealth of the Garmans really dated, while Worse in a few years squandered his money and died insolvent.
It was whispered that Worse had left the business rather hastily, just as the good times were beginning, but that was the usual luck of the Garmans.
At first it looked as if Worse's widow and son, who carried on a small business in the town, would work themselves up again, and this was especially the case in recent years. Whatever might be the opinion as to the arrangement between Garman and Worse, no one could ever accuse Morten Garman of any want of straightforwardness in his business arrangements; and his son Christian Frederick followed closely in his steps, observing always the maxim, "What would father have done under the circumstances?"
All went on thus prosperously and uniformly, until the young Consul began to get old, and his elder son Morten came home from abroad and became a partner in the firm. From that time many changes showed themselves. The son had his head full of new foreign ideas; he was all for rushing about, writing and telegraphing, ordering and counter-ordering—a course of action that was quite foreign to Garman and Worse's mode of procedure.
"Let them come to us," said the Consul.
"No, my dear father," answered Morten. "Don't you see that the times are leaving you behind? It's of no use in these days to sit still; you must keep your eyes open, or else run the risk of losing the best of the business, and get nothing but just the residue."
Morten so far prevailed that the Consul was at length obliged to let him set up an office in the town, but under his own name; for Garman and Worse were still to be found only at Sandsgaard, and there those who wished to do business with the firm had to betake themselves.
Meanwhile a considerable amount of business passed through Morten's office in the town. This did not altogether please the Consul, but he felt bound to uphold his son, which was what his father had always done, and the firm thus became mixed up in many transactions which the father would never have cared to enter upon.
To the clerks the young Consul was a being of quite another sphere. Every head was bowed to him when ever he passed through the office, and each one seemed to feel that the cold blue eyes penetrated everything and everywhere—books, accounts, and letters, even into their own private secrets. It was believed that he knew every page in the ledger, and that he could quote intricate accounts, column by column, and if there was even the slightest irregularity to be found anywhere, they would wager that it could not escape the young Consul's eye. The general conviction was, that if every creditor of the firm, or even the devil himself, should some day take it into his head to come into the office, there would not be found even the slightest error in one of the ponderous and well-bound account books.
There was, however, one account which was a sealed book to them all, and that was the one of Richard Garman. No mortal eye had ever seen it. Some thought it might possibly be in the Consul's own red book; others thought that no such thing existed True it was undoubtedly, that the chief carried on personally all the correspondence with his brother; and, wonderful to relate, these letters were never copied. This was food for much speculation among the clerks, and at last they came to the conclusion that the young Consul did not wish any one to know in what relation Richard Garman stood to the firm.
One thing was plain, and confirmed by long experience, and that was, that the Consul attached great importance to the letters that came from his brother. He read them before the rest of the post, and if any one happened to come in when he was thus engaged, he always covered the correspondence with a sheet of paper. One of the younger clerks once asserted that he had seen a bill of exchange in one of the aforesaid letters, but the statement found but little credence in the office; for it was a recognized fact that not one single paper existed which bore Richard Garman's signature. Another story, which was even less worthy of credit, was one told by the office messenger, who stated that one day he had brought a letter from Bratvold, and that as he came in with the portfolio he had found the young Consul standing by the key-drawer, with a letter in one hand and two bills of exchange in the other, quite red in the face, and apparently bent double, as if he was on the point of choking. The messenger thought at first that it was a fit, but it was plain to the meanest understanding that there was not a word of truth in the story, for the messenger had the audacity to aver that he had heard the young Consul give vent to a short but unmistakable laugh. There was plainly a misapprehension somewhere; every one knew that the young Consul was unable to laugh.