At length winter went stealing off to the northward, like a weary monster, leaving its long tram of dirty white snow patches along the hedges, and its neutral tinted ice pitted all over with small holes, upon the pools. The spring followed closely on its heels, and had work enough to make the earth look green again, and deck it out in all its finery for a little time, until the monster came creeping southward again with its wreaths of new-fallen snow, and its dark-blue ice shining like polished steel.
It was the 14th of May, and Uncle Richard was riding on Don Juan along the road from Bratvold. To-morrow was the great day at Sandsgaard. The ship was to be launched in the morning, and in the evening was to be given the yearly ball.
The old gentleman was deep in thought, and Don Juan went pacing slowly along, turning his well-shaped head on every side, while the south wind that came swelling up along the coast persisted in lifting the locks of his long mane and throwing them on the wrong side, and played with the forelock on his brow.
The road led over swelling ground covered with heather, past well-stocked farms, over moors, and desolate wastes thickly strewn with boulders. Not a tree was to be seen as far as the eye could reach, and it reached far, both out to sea and over the country, which sloped gradually up to the mountains many a mile inland.
What a wealth of life seemed bursting from the thawing earth! How many balmy odours seemed to rise; how many changing colours; how many wreaths of mist were gliding over the pools, and hanging in the rushes, or spreading themselves over the moorland; while the clear sunny air was ringing with the song of larks singing in emulation! There were the plovers racing after each other, the sandpipers, the snipes, starlings, and ducks. A whole life of joyous bustle; while out to the westward could be seen the line of bright yellow sand standing out against the dark-blue sea.
Uncle Richard saw but little of all this as he went along. Things had not gone well with him during the winter. While at home, Madeleine was constantly in his thoughts; and when he went to Sandsgaard and saw her, it did not tend to make him more cheerful.
She had told him about Pastor Martens's proposal to her; but there was nothing to worry over in that, thought the attaché, especially as she had refused the offer. There must be some other cause for her depression, and to-day he had made up his mind to talk to Christian Frederick, who always gave such good advice. He had also determined that he would at length take courage, and ask his brother how money matters stood between them. It was really too bad not to have a clear knowledge of one's own affairs.
At Sandsgaard he found the whole house in an uproar. On the second floor the furniture was being moved, dusting was going on, and candles were being put in the chandeliers. Downstairs the table was already laid for supper; only the old gentlemen's bedrooms and the offices were respected; and in the window of the still-room he noticed jellies and blanc-manges, which had been put there to cool.
"Oh dear me! what a bustle it all is!" said Mrs. Garman, faintly.
She had had her armchair moved into a room at the side of the kitchen, where the dishing-up was done.
Here she remained the whole day, and had samples of everything that was cooked in the kitchen brought to her. The kitchen-maids were as nervous as if they had been undergoing an examination.
Miss Cordsen was everywhere, prim and noiseless as usual, and without wasting a word, she gave an eye to the vast amount of knives and forks, lights and silver, glass and china. Everything was arranged in her experienced head, from the ladies' cloak-room to the supper for the musicians.
But if there was a busy stir in the house, it was even greater down at the ship-yard. Tom Robson had kept his promise, and the ship stood trim and ready, "as a bride," as he put it. And now the whole staff of workmen were occupied in getting everything in order for the morrow, and clearing out the yard, so that it might look tidy and neat when all the visitors came to see the ship "go."
"What time will it be high water, Mr. Robson?" asked the young Consul, as he and Uncle Richard were making an inspection of the ship-yard in the afternoon.
"At half-past ten, sir," answered the foreman.
"Very well, then, let me see that you have everything ready to-morrow at half-past ten, on the stroke, you understand—at half-past ten on the stroke."
"All right, sir!" said Mr. Robson, touching his cap.
But Tom Robson was not going to leave anything till the morning. That evening he had every intention of making a night of it, and Martin had already got the money to make some extensive purchases. There would be time enough to sleep it off before half-past ten. He was careful to have everything ready that evening. The ways were carefully smeared with tallow and soft soap, and put in their places; the props were all ready to be removed; and everything that might get in the way in the harbour, was hauled out of the way and secured to its moorings.
The ship lay with her stern towards the water, and her stem slightly raised above it. Under her bows lay all the material for use the next day. The spare pieces of timber that were to be put under her, and the wedges which were to be driven in to raise her forward, were ready to hand, as were the jacks and levers. Everything, in fact, down to the long-handled mauls was in its place.
Gabriel followed at Tom's heels all day. He wanted to take in everything clearly, and succeeded fully in so doing. Only one thing, the ship's name, that he was so anxious to know, still remained a secret, which Tom would not betray. And Tom himself it was who, in accordance with the Consul's orders, had spiked on the name-board when it was nearly dark.
The company at Anders Begmand's had been busy that evening, especially Tom Robson, and by the time it was about ten o'clock he was pretty well tipsy. Woodlouse was no better; but Torpander kept as sober as usual, looking towards the door every time he heard a noise. With the darkness a fresh breeze began to blow up from the south-west, which swept over the open ground above Sandsgaard and down on to the fjord. It made the old cottage shake again when the wind came back in eddies from the hill behind it, and Torpander got up every moment, thinking that the door was opening, to the endless amusement of Mr. Robson.
Martin drank in silence, and looked even more gloomy than usual. The whole winter he had been out of work. Tom Robson had lent him money, and that made him even more morose, for he was proud after his own fashion, and gratitude was not in his nature.
At last Marianne came. Torpander greeted her in his usual respectful manner, to which she answered with a faint smile. She looked almost ready to fall from weariness, as she passed hurriedly through the room. "Hulloa!" cried Tom, who only saw her when she had reached the kitchen door, "here comes my sweetheart! Marianne, my darling! the ship is ready now, and Tom Robson has got some money. Let's have the wedding; to-night, if you like! Come along!" cried he, struggling to get over the bench.
Martin thrust him back. "Will you let my sister alone?"
"I suppose she is not good enough for an honest seaman, because of that infernal young Gar——"
He did not get any farther, for Martin aimed a blow at him and struck him behind the ear. Marianne hastily left the room. Torpander now threw himself courageously on his ancient enemy from the other side, and a frightful scuffle ensued.
Tom Robson put himself in position like an English boxer, drunk as he was, and squared his arms and elbows for the fray.
At first he made a few feints at Martin, which were not meant to be serious. But when he had received a few blows which were really painful, he sprang away from the table so as to get more room. Torpander had not the least idea of using his fists, but hammered away like a blacksmith with his long skinny arms, either at Tom or else in the air, just as it might happen. Mr. Robson gave him a tap every now and then which made his bones rattle again, but on the whole he allowed the Swede to hammer away at his back as much as he liked.
Woodlouse looked on for some time with the greatest satisfaction, until the idea struck him that he would clear the room. He accomplished his object with the greatest perseverance, and what with butting with his head and pushing his heavy body between the combatants, he at length managed to get the whole lot turned out of doors. Begmand threw their hats after them, and shut the door.
The fresh wind had a cooling effect on them all, and on Woodlouse's suggestion a truce was concluded. In order to ratify this, it was arranged that they should go to Tom Robson's house, and have another dram and a bit of English cheese.
They then clambered up the steep path at the back of Begmand's house, Tom Robson leading, and as he was helping himself with his hands up the steepest places, he chanced to get hold of a loose stone, which, in pure drunken wantonness, he threw at Marianne's window, where he happened to see a light. The stone struck with such force, just where the bars of the window-frame crossed, that all the four panes were smashed, and the glass came clattering down.
"That was Tom Robson!" yelled Martin, who was the last. "Let me get up to him! Out of the way! Only let me get my hands on him!" and he worked his way past the others, and got up to Tom, just as he had reached the top of the slope where the flat meadow began.
Martin went at him with such violence that the other had not time to put himself in position. Blow after blow rained down on him, until he fell to the ground half stupefied. Martin threw himself upon him, put his knees on his breast, and struck him in the face, and then continued hitting and kicking at random until he could do so no longer.
The others now came up, but did not get between the combatants. Martin was now perfectly wild, and went on in front, swinging his arms, cursing and swearing horribly. Tom Robson came limping behind; but no sooner did Martin catch sight of him, than he threw himself upon him a second time, until he again lay apparently dead upon the meadow. They thus continued their way over the field, but just as Martin was making a third attack upon Tom, a tall, slender boy came springing over the field, and put himself in front of Martin. It was Gabriel Garman.
"Will you leave him alone, Martin?" he cried, breathless from running.
"Oh!" cried Martin, "here is one of the blood suckers! You have just come at the right time. I will wreak my vengeance on you, you infernal young scoundrel!"
But just as he was on the point of attacking Gabriel his arms were seized from behind.
"Are you mad, Martin? It's Gabriel, the Consul's son. You are out of your senses, lad!" cried Woodlouse. Both he and the Swede threw themselves upon Martin, and held him fast. Martin yelled and struggled, until he at length fell back, wearied with his efforts, and lay still.
Tom Robson did not know much about what was going on, but managed, however, to stumble up to his house, which was close by.
"You have no occasion to be afraid, Mr. Gabriel," said Woodlouse, in a fawning tone; "we have got him tight."
"That is what you ought to have done before," answered Gabriel. "I should have been able to look after myself."
He was so slight and slender that Martin could have crushed him, mad as he was; but Woodlouse could not help saying, as he went down the slope, "There is good blood in them."
Martin, whom they had now let go, raised his head. "Blood, do you say? Yes, there's blood in them—the blood of the poor that they have sucked from father to son. And all that blood have they turned to gold—shining, blood-red gold; but," added he, mysteriously, "I will tap the gold out of them—I will—till it shines as red as blood all over Sandsgaard! Just wait a minute!" And off he rushed down the slope with the activity of a deer. Woodlouse and the Swede looked at each other meaningly, and each went his way without saying a word.
After the window had been broken, Marianne quickly put out the light. She took her petticoat, and tried to stop up the window, but the wind was blowing so hard that she could not manage to make it tight. She shivered with the cold as she stood, and hurriedly got into bed. But every time a blast came she felt the cold draught, and could not get warm.
In the room below she heard her grandfather stumbling about, drinking up what was left in the glasses. Marianne clasped her hands, and prayed that she might die; but in the night she got up, and felt herself throbbing with heat and shivering with fever. She thought she could hear a tumult, and the sound of many voices.