Dinner was served in the small room on the north side of the house, and the company assembled in the two so-called Sunday-rooms, which looked over the garden.
Mrs. Garman always dressed in black silk, but to-day she was more shining and ponderous than usual. She had been looking forward to a nice quiet little dinner with Pastor Martens and the new school inspector; and now here came a whole posse of worldly minded people. Mrs. Garman was thus not in the best of tempers, and Miss Cordsen had to display all her tact. But Miss Cordsen had had long practice, for Mrs. Garman had always been difficult to manage, especially of late years since "religion had come into fashion," as the careless Uncle Richard declared.
Mrs Garman did not really manage her own house; everything went on without change, according to the immutable rules which had come down from the old Consul's time, and she very soon gave up the attempt to bring in new ideas, according to her own pleasure. But now, since she was as it were without any positive influence, she contented herself with saying "No" to everything that she observed the others wished to do. In this way she acquired a kind of negative authority, for although her "No" did not always prevail, it still seemed to give her a right to show her annoyance, by meeting it with an expression full of unmerited suffering and Christian forbearance.
It was thus, with this expression, that Mrs. Garman was listening to Mr. Aalbom, the tall assistant master, who was holding forth about the delicacy and effeminacy of the rising generation. Mrs. Aalbom sat by the window, pretending to listen to the Consul, who was describing with great clearness, and in carefully chosen language, how the garden had been arranged in his late father's time. But the lady was in reality listening to her husband, for whom she had a most unbounded admiration. Mrs. Aalbom was extremely tall, lean, bony, and angular; her lips were thin, and her teeth long and yellow.
The pastor and the carriage from the town had not yet arrived. The Consul's only daughter, Rachel, was standing by the old-fashioned stove, talking merrily with Uncle Richard, and as the door opened, and the pastor and the new inspector entered the room, she was laughing still more gaily, and her mother gave her a reproving look.
As this was Mr. Johnsen's first visit to Sandsgaard, Mr. Martens took him round and introduced him to each guest in succession, beginning with the ladies. When they came to the fireplace, Uncle Richard received them with his usual affability; but Rachel only gave a momentary glance at the new acquaintance, and, almost without turning her head, continued her conversation with her uncle. To her astonishment, however, she remarked that the strange gentleman still remained standing by her side, and, raising her calm blue eyes, she looked fixedly at him. What followed was for her most unusual: she was obliged to withdraw her glance, for, contrary to her expectation, she did not find Mr. Johnsen shy, awkward, and impressed with the strange surroundings. It was plain, however, that he was conscious that his behaviour was unconventional, but he did not therefore desist. This caused Rachel to lose somewhat of her usual self-possession.
"Have you been on the west coast before?" said Uncle Richard, coming to her assistance.
"Never," replied the young man; "all I have as yet seen of the sea has been Christiana Fjord."
"And what do you think of our scenery?" continued the old gentleman. "I have no doubt that you have already seen some of the finest views in the neighbourhood."
"It has made a deep impression on me," answered Mr. Johnsen; "but Nature here is so grand and so impressive as to make one feel insignificant in its presence."
"Perhaps you find it too dull here?" said Rachel, a little disappointed.
"Oh no, not exactly that," replied he, quietly. "The idea I wished to convey is that Nature here has something—how shall I express it?—something exacting about it, by which one seems, as it were, impelled to activity, to perform some deed which will make a mark in the world."
She looked at him with astonishment; but her uncle said good-humouredly—
"For my part, I find our desolate and weather-beaten coast tends rather to lead the mind to meditation and thought than to excite it to activity."
"When I come to your years," answered Mr. Johnsen, "and have done something in the world, I dare say I shall look upon life as you do."
"I hope not," sighed Uncle Richard, half smilingly and half sadly. "As to having done anything, I——"
At that moment the door opened and young Mrs. Garman entered the room. She looked so lovely that all eyes were turned upon her. Her French grey silk with its pink trimmings had a cut quite foreign to those parts, and it was difficult to look at her or her toilette without feeling that both were out of the common in that society.
But the first glance told that the beautifully fitting dress, and the graceful and bright-eyed woman who wore it, were well suited to each other; and as she stepped lightly across the room and gave a sprightly nod to her uncle, there was a natural ease about her gait and manner which contrasted favourably with the self-consciousness with which young ladies exhibit themselves and their smart dresses when first entering into society.
"I declare, she has got another new one!" muttered Mrs. Aalbom.
"Mais, mon Dieu, comme elle est belle!" whispered Uncle Richard, enchanted.
After Fanny followed the short but active-looking Mr. Delphin, secretary to the resident magistrate, then Jacob Worse, and lastly Morten Garman.
Morten was tall and stoutly built. It would appear that he had inherited something of his mother's "cross," which did not, however, seem to oppress him. He had a good-looking face, which was, however, rather weak; and his eyes were too prominent and slightly bloodshot.
George Delphin had been about six months in the town, as secretary to the magistrate, and since Fanny Garman was the magistrate's daughter, Delphin soon got an entrée into the Garmans' house, and was a frequent guest at Sandsgaard. Morten had picked him up at his father-in-law's office, when the carriage was sent to the town to find the young people; they had met Jacob Worse accidentally, and Fanny had called to him when they were already seated in the carriage.
Morten had no great liking for Jacob Worse, although they had been much thrown together in their boyhood. Consul Garman, on the other hand, was particularly well disposed towards him, and there were some who maintained that the young Consul would gladly have the name of Worse back in the firm, perhaps as his son-in-law; who could tell?
But those who had an opportunity of closer observation declared that there was no truth in the story. Rachel herself appeared to dislike Jacob Worse, and Mrs. Garman could not bear the sight of him, since Pastor Martens had assured her that he was a free thinker.
The Consul took in Mrs. Aalbom, and George Delphin was so fortunate as to get Fanny Garman. Rachel, to his astonishment, turned to her uncle and said, "I beg pardon, but I am going to ask you to-day to give me up to our new acquaintance. Mr. Johnsen, will you be so kind?"
He offered her his arm stiffly, but not awkwardly, and they followed the others into the dining-room.
"What can be up with Rachel?" muttered Morten to Worse; "she generally can't bear these parsons of mother's."
Jacob Worse made no reply, but, with a polite bow, gave his arm to Miss Cordsen.
For the habitués of the house, it was not difficult to foresee what the menu would be. It consisted of Julienne soup, ham, and pork cutlets with sauer kraut; then roast lamb and roast veal, served with chervil and beet-root; and lastly, meringues and Vanilla cream.
At the head of the table the conversation was mostly carried on between Mr. Aalbom and Delphin, both of whom came from the neighbourhood of Christiania, and Aalbom tried his best to induce the other to say something disparaging of the west coast and its surroundings. This he did in the hope that it would cause annoyance to the Consul and his brother, and also that it would put the speaker, as a new guest at Sandsgaard, in an unfavourable light. Delphin was, however, too quick for him. Either he noticed his intention, or else he really meant what he said. The scenery, he declared, was most interesting, and he was particularly pleased with the acquaintances he had hitherto made in the neighbourhood.
Richard Garman had his usual place on the left of the Consul, who sat at the head of the table, and, leaning over beyond Rachel and Mr. Aalbom, who sat next him, and raising his glass to the new school inspector, he said—
"As you are of the same opinion as Mr. Delphin with regard to our scenery, I hope you will also receive the same favourable opinion of our society. May I have the honour of drinking your health?"
The Consul regarded his brother with some astonishment. It was seldom that he took much notice of the young people who came to the house, especially if they belonged to the Church.
"Well, you see," whispered Uncle Richard, "I don't think this one's so bad."
Fanny also noticed the attention that was shown to the new guest, who sat opposite to her, and, glancing at him, thought he might prove not interesting. True, he was not so refined as Delphin, nor so good looking as Worse, but still her eyes often wandered in his direction. Neither Worse, who sat on her right hand, nor Delphin, who was on her left, had much attraction for her. Worse, although perfectly polite, paid her but little attention; and that Delphin was at her feet was only natural—it was a fate that, without exception, had befallen all her father's secretaries since her girlhood.
Mr. Johnsen was now drawn into the conversation. Delphin met him at first with an air of superiority, but after receiving a few cutting answers, he was glad to draw in his horns and become more affable. Aalbom, on the contrary, did not change his manner so readily. He was annoyed that Delphin had not fallen into the trap he had laid for him, and was now eager to break a lance with the new guest. He began his attack on the inspector in a half-respectful, half-jesting tone, and with the greater gusto because he knew the aversion which the two Mr. Garmans had to the clergy generally, and Mrs. Garman was deep in conversation with Pastor Martens, who was sitting beside her at the other end of the table.
"I dare say you expect a rich harvest out here, now that there is so much religious excitement," said Aalbom, with a grin to the others.
"Harvest?" asked Johnsen, shortly.
"Or draught of fishes; I don't know under which simile you prefer to regard your calling," replied Aalbom.
"I regard my calling very much in the same light as you do yours. We are both here to teach the young, and I prefer to see my duty plain before my eyes without any simile," answered Johnsen, quietly; but there was something in his voice which rather disconcerted his opponent.
Fanny and Delphin could not restrain a slight laugh; and Mrs. Aalbom muttered, "To think of answering a man in my husband's position in that way!'
The Consul now endeavoured to give a peaceable direction to the conversation, by consulting Johnsen on several matters relating to the National School. Mr. Garman had been for some years chairman of the school committee; for Sandsgaard was included within the limits of the town, although it was situated at a considerable distance from it.
Rachel heard with pleasure the terse and forcible answers which her neighbour gave to the Consul's questions. She was especially pleased to hear the new inspector insist upon certain changes being made in the school, and upon an increase of expenditure, which her father thought unnecessary and altogether too lavish.
It was not often Rachel had met a man who showed such power and energy as their young guest, and each time he spoke as to the necessity of something or another being done for the school, she could not help looking half disdainfully at Delphin, who was now quite taken up with teaching Fanny a trick with a piece of cork and two forks. But when her eye fell on Jacob Worse, an inquiring expression seemed to come over her face, to which, however, he appeared to pay little attention. He was quite occupied in talking half jestingly with old Miss Cordsen.
Ever since Jacob Worse had begun to be a constant guest at Sandsgaard, quite a friendship had sprung up between him and the old lady. She was usually cold and reserved in her manner, but he had a particular knack of getting her into conversation, so that he became quite a favourite of hers.
Aalbom was so annoyed that he ate nearly all the beet-root, and Uncle Richard was amusing himself by quietly working him up. Gabriel, too, devoted all the time that he could spare from his dinner to staring at the master; and every time the latter looked over to that part of the table where Gabriel was sitting, by the side of Miss Corsden, the young scape grace took up his glass and emptied it with a careless, grown-up air, which he knew would irritate his natural enemy.
Morten, who sat between Mr. Johnsen and Pastor Martens, amused himself by keeping both their glasses well filled. He paid otherwise but little attention to what went on at the table, especially as he had managed to get one of the bottles of Burgundy close by his side.
It was a still, warm day in spring, and at dessert the sun, which shone in obliquely through the two open windows, just reached as far as the table. First it was reflected from Mrs. Garman's black silk, and then shed a faint halo around Pastor Martens's blond head. The rays fell on those of the company who were sitting with their backs to the light, and, casting their shadows over the white cloth, sparkled in the polished decanters. Morten held up his glass to the light, and enjoyed its brilliancy.
"See how lovely your sister-in-law looks in the sunlight!" whispered Delphin to Fanny.
"Oh! do you really think so?" she answered.
Shortly after she told one of the maid-servants, who was waiting, to pull down the blind a little, as she did not like the glare in her eyes.
The conversation now became lively at the upper end of the table. The subject on which it turned was education. Aalbom held forth on his hobby, which was, that it was quite impossible for young people to get a proper insight into learning without the use of corporal punishment, and maintained that there would be an end of all intellectual cultivation if a limit were not placed to modern humanitarianism, which he preferred to call indulgence. His wife took the same side from conviction, and Richard Garman from mischief, while the Consul was impartial. He set the greatest store by the good old times, but still he could not help thinking that they might get on with a little less of the stick than he had experienced. Johnsen was very strong on the importance of religious instruction and home influence.
"As to home influence," broke in Mrs. Aalbom, "school and home ought to go hand-in-hand."
"Of course they ought," rejoined her husband. "If a boy is punished at school, he ought to be punished also at home."
"But then, hornes are so different," said Johnsen. This was the first time he had made a remark that Rachel found rather feeble.
"Well, I don't know," cried Mrs. Aalbom, putting her head on one side and looking up to the ceiling. "It is possible to have too much of natural affection, mother's influence, home feeling, and that sort of thing."
"It entirely depends what sort of home it is, Mrs. Aalbom," broke in Jacob Worse, suddenly.
Every eye was turned upon him. He had drawn himself up, and his face was red and his eyes gleaming.
There came a slight pause in the conversation, of which the Consul availed himself, and, taking up his glass, he said, with a smile, "Now we must mind what we are about. This is not the first time I have seen Jacob Worse join in a conversation like this; and if we do not want him to make it too warm for us, we had better change the scene of action to another room, where we can carry on the conflict in the shade. So if the ladies and gentlemen are of the same opinion as myself, we had better retire."
The company broke up. Uncle Richard laughed heartily as he thanked Worse, while they were going downstairs, for having joined in so opportunely. Worse himself could not help a laugh, in which all joined, except Aalbom and his wife, who were too much annoyed to do so.
Rachel was quite astonished at the anxiety displayed by her father when Worse began to speak. She had herself once or twice heard him take part in a discussion, and had been surprised at the way in which his feelings suddenly seemed to get the better of him. There was, it is true, an originality in his views; but for all that there was no reason why he should be silent, and she thought it mean of Jacob Worse to allow himself to be put down so easily.
During dinner Pastor Martens had made several attempts to state his views on the subject, but hitherto without success. The others were too much taken up with their new and interesting guest, and besides, his neighbour fully engrossed his attention. After dinner was over, he had again to take his place beside Mrs. Garman on the sofa, while the young people went down to the croquet lawn, which was shaded by the dense avenue of limes.
Mr. Aalbom was walking up and down the broad path in front of the house, encircled by his wife's bony arm, as Mr. Delphin kindly put it, while they were waiting for coffee. He was still annoyed at his failure, and at the slights he had endured, and his wife was doing her utmost to pacify him.
"How can a man of your standing bother about such nonsense? These young upstarts will only be here for a time. They will soon make themselves unwelcome in some way or another. There is no doubt that we are considered superior to the rest. You must have noticed that the Consul took me in to dinner."
"Nonsense!" answered her husband. "What have I in common with these tradesmen and their money bags? But for a man of my intelligence, and of my attainments in literature and education, to have to put up with such impertinent answers from a set of youngsters, from such——" and from his rich répertoire of abuse the master poured out a choice stream of invective, which afforded some relief to his feelings.
The Aalboms lived about half-way between Sandsgaard and the town, which had been the original cause of their being invited to the Garmans' house.
Since then they had shown themselves such good neighbours that the Garmans were generally glad to fall back upon them when they wanted to get a few people together in a hurry. Mr. Garman had also assisted the master in some unexpected difficulties he had encountered in writing a short paper on the origin of the French language, and its connection with history. The pamphlet was headed "For Use in Schools," but from want of perception and appreciation on the part of the authorities, this pearl of literature had not been taken into use in a single school in the country.
Both the elder Garmans were in the habit of retiring to their rooms and taking a short nap after dinner; but on this occasion they did not sleep long, as they were engaged in talking over Madeleine's projected visit to the town. It was arranged that she was to come in two or three days, and have a room upstairs, close by Miss Cordsen's.
Gabriel, having annexed a cigar, had wandered off to the ship-yard, in a happy and contented mood, to make an inspection of the vessel and talk English with Mr. Robson.