Consul Garman's death caused a great sensation in the town. The wonderful escape of the ship was already material enough for several weeks' gossip; and now there came this death, with all its immediate circumstances and possible consequences. The whole town was fairly buzzing with stories and gossip.
The business men gave each other a knowing wink. The old man at Sandsgaard had been a hard nut to crack, but now they would have more elbow-room, and Morten was not so dangerous.
The preparations for the funeral were on the grandest scale. The body was to be taken from Sandsgaard and laid in the church, where Dean Sparre was to deliver a discourse, while the chaplain was to conduct the funeral service at the cemetery.
All the different guilds were to follow with their banners, and the town band was busy practising till late at night. A regular committee of management was formed, and there was almost as much stir as if it was the 17th of May. Jacob Worse did not take any part in all this. He truly regretted the Consul, who had always been almost like a father to him.
Mrs. Worse was more annoyed than sorry. "It was too bad, it was really too bad," she grumbled, "of the Consul to go and die!" She was sure that he would have arranged the match, such a sensible man as he was; but now that there were nothing but a lot of women in the house—for the attaché was little better than an old woman himself—— And so on, and so on, thought the old lady, and she wondered that Rachel, who had such a clever father, had not inherited a little more sense.
Sandsgaard was silent and desolate from top to bottom. The body lay upstairs in the little room on the north side, and white curtains were hanging in front of all the windows of the second story. Not a sound was heard, except the monotonous step of one, who went pacing unceasingly to and fro in the empty rooms. Thus had Uncle Richard been wandering every day since his brother's death. Restlessly he passed in and out of one room after another, then up and down the long ball-room; now and again into the room where the body lay, ever to and fro, in and out, the whole livelong day, and far into the night.
Rachel was more grieved at the loss of her father than she could have believed possible during his life time. But a change had lately taken place in her nature; she, who was so exacting towards others, was now brought to examine herself, and could see how much there was in her own nature which required reform. She could now see plainly enough, that it was principally her own fault that she and her father had not understood each other better. It was only during his illness, that they had both come to know how many ideas they had in common, and what they might have been to each other. Now it was too late, and she looked back on her wasted life with regret; for Jacob Worse's idea seemed to her quite impracticable.
The day before the funeral, Madeleine was sitting in the room which looked on to the garden. It was a raw, cold spring morning, with a drizzling rain from the south-west, and she had been obliged to close the window. Upstairs she could hear her father's heavy footfall, which came nearer, passed overhead, and then became lost in the distance. Never had she felt so oppressed, sick at heart, and lonely as in that house, in which there reigned the silence which always seems to accompany death.
A knock was heard at the door, and Pastor Martens entered the room. Mrs. Garman had particularly invited him to pay them a visit every day.
"Good morning, Miss Madeleine. How do you feel to-day?"
"Thanks," answered she, "I am pretty well; I mean about as well as I usually am."
"That means, I am afraid, not particularly well," said the clergyman, sympathetically. "If I were your doctor I should order you to go somewhere for a change this summer."
He still kept his hat in his hand, and remained standing near the window which led into the garden. Madeleine was sitting on the end of the sofa at the other end of the room.
"This is a gloomy day for so late in the spring," observed Mr. Martens, looking into the garden; "and a house like this, to which Death has brought his sad tidings, is a mournful place."
She listened to him, keeping her eyes fixed on the ground, and without returning a word.
"A house like this," he continued, "in which death is lying, is a picture of the lives of many of us. How many of us carry death at our hearts! Some hope or another that for us has long passed away, or some bitter disappointment that we have buried in the depths of our soul."
He could see that she bent her head lower over the sofa, and he went on speaking earnestly and soothingly, and almost to himself.
"Since it is a good thing for us not to be alone since it is good for us to have some one to eling to, when the bitter experiences of life east their shadows over us, so——"
Madeleine suddenly burst into tears, and her sobs reached his ears.
"I beg your pardon," said he, coming close to the sofa. "I was but following the bent of my own thoughts, and I fear I have made you unhappy, when my object ought rather to have been to endeavour to cheer you. Poor child!"
Her sobbing had now become so violent that she did not any longer try to conceal her emotion.
"Dear Miss Madeleine," said the pastor, seating himself on the sofa at a little distance from her, "I am sure you are not well—I have observed it for some time; and you may imagine how painful it is for me to see you thus suffering, without having any right to offer you my assistance."
"You have always been so good to me," sobbed Madeleine. "But no one can help me, I am so wretched—so wretched!"
"Do not indulge such thoughts, my dear young lady; do not allow yourself to think that any feeling of wretchedness is so great that it cannot be mitigated. Intercourse with the friend who understands our nature has a wonderfully soothing power over the sick heart. And for that very reason," added he, with a sigh, "I feel it doubly painful that you will not allow me to be such a friend to you."
"I cannot," stammered Madeleine in dismay. "Do not be angry with me. I do not mean to be ungrateful. You are the only one—— But I am so nervous—I don't understand it all. But don't be angry with me;" and she held her hand a little nearer to him.
Pastor Martens took the hand, and pressed it gently between his own.
"You know I mean to be kind to you, Miss Madeleine," said he, in an earnest and soothing tone.
"Yes, yes, I know you do. But do you believe——" and her eye rested on him with an earnest expression.
"I am afraid your mind is disturbed; but I hope that I may be able to be a trustworthy guide for you through life. You have been unwilling to accept me, and I will not importune you; but I must tell you that everything I have is at your service."
"But if I am unable—but if it is too much for me. No, I cannot!" she replied, hiding her face in her hands.
His voice was kind, almost fatherly in its tone, as he moved nearer to her and said, "Tell me, Madeleine, do not you feel as if it was almost a dispensation of Providence? When I asked you for your hand, you rejected my offer hastily—without consideration, may I venture to say? That hand now lies in mine." She made an attempt to withdraw it, but he held it fast. "Here are we again brought together. Is it not as if you were destined to be mine—you who are so lonely and forsaken amongst your own relations? You do feel lonely, Madeleine, do you not?"
"Oh yes; I do feel lonely—so dreadfully lonely," said she, disconsolately; and whether he now drew her to him, or whether she gave way of herself, she now lay with her head on his shoulder, wearied and helpless. And, as his voice sounded bland and soothing in her ears, she seemed to recover her breath, as if after a long period of oppression.
In a moment she was on her feet: he had ventured to kiss her brow. He also rose, but still retained his grasp of her hand.
"We will not tell any one about it to-day," he said reassuringly, "because of the affliction which has come upon your family. But we had better go to Mrs. Garman, and ask her blessing. With respect to your father——"
"No! no!" she cried; "father must not know anything about it! Oh, heavens! what have I done?" she murmured, holding her hand before her eyes.
A bland smile passed over his face as he took her arm in his.
"You are still a little discomposed, child, but it will soon pass away." He then led her to Mrs. Garman's room.
"Could not we wait till to-morrow? My head is so painful," entreated Madeleine.
"We will only just show ourselves to your aunt," said he, quietly but decidedly, as he opened the door.
They found Mrs. Garman in her room, sitting comfortably in her armchair. Before her she had a tray, on which stood a bottle of water and a small straw covered flask of curaçoa. On a plate was some chicken, which had been cut into small pieces and neatly arranged round the edge, and in the middle was a little shape of asparagus butter, garnished with some chopped parsley.
When Madeleine and the pastor entered the room, she was just in the act of holding a piece of chicken on a fork and dipping it into the butter, but when she saw them she put down her fork with an air of in difference, and said, "I hope, Madeleine, you will not forget to thank the Lord for thus changing your obstinate heart; and for you, Mr. Martens, I will hope and pray that you will never have to repent the step you have taken."
For a moment Madeleine's eyes seemed to flash, but Mr. Martens hastened to observe, "My dear Madeleine is quite overcome. Would you not rather go to your room? We shall meet again to morrow."
Madeline felt really thankful for his suggestion, and gave him a feeble smile as he followed her to the door.
When the pastor had gone, Mrs. Garman could not help thinking how differently people behave as soon as they are engaged. She suspected that she would not find the chaplain's society so agreeable for the future.
Pastor Martens was so overjoyed that he could scarcely take his usual midday nap. Later in the day it began to clear up; it was only a sea-fog which had come up during the night, as is frequently the case in the spring. Everything appeared radiant and bright to Martens as he came along the street from the jeweller's, where he had been to order the ring, but he took care not to show his feelings; it would not do to look too pleased on the day before the funeral of his intended's uncle.
In the market-place he met Mr. Johnsen.
"You are coming to the funeral to-morrow?" said Martens, insensibly leading the conversation into the direction of his own thoughts.
"No," answered Johnsen, drily; 'I have to give an address at the Mission Bazaar."
"What, between twelve and two? Why, the whole town will be following the funeral."
"It is for the women, my address," said the inspector, as he continued his way.
"Well," thought Martens, "he is indeed changed! Prayer-meetings, missions, Bible-readings—quite a different kind of work!" said the chaplain mysteriously to himself. His feelings were almost too much for him.
A little farther up the street he met Delphin on horseback. There was such an unusual expression on the clergyman's face, that Delphin pulled up his horse and called out, "Good morning, Mr. Martens! Is it the thought of the discourse you have to deliver to-morrow that makes you look so pleased?"
"Discourse! discourse!" thought the chaplain. He had never prepared it. It was well indeed he had been thus reminded. However, he answered, "If notwithstanding my—or perhaps I ought to say our—sorrow, I do look rather more cheerful than I ought under the circumstances, I only do so from something which has happened to myself. It is purely on personal grounds."
"And may I venture to ask what the circumstances are which make you look so happy?" asked Delphin, carelessly.
"Well, it ought not really to be told to any one to-day, but I think I may venture to tell you," said the pastor, in a calm voice. "I have proposed to a lady, and have had the good fortune to be accepted."
"Indeed? I congratulate you!" cried the other gaily. "I think, too, I can guess who it is." His thoughts turned on Madam Rasmussen.
"Yes, I dare say you can," answered Martens, quietly. "It is Miss Garman—Madeleine, I mean."
"It's a lie!" shouted Delphin, grasping his riding-whip.
The pastor cautiously took two or three steps backwards on the footpath, raised his hat, and continued his way.
But Delphin rode off rapidly down the road, and away past Sandsgaard, ever faster and faster, till his steed was covered with foam. He had ridden four miles without noticing where he was going. The coast became flat and sandy, the patches of cultivation ceased, and the open sea lay before him. The sun shone on the blue expanse, while far out lay the mist like a wall, as if ready to return again at night.
Delphin put his horse up at a farmhouse, and went on foot over the sand. The vast and peaceful ocean: seemed to attract him. He felt a longing to be alone with his thoughts, longer, indeed, than was his usual custom. George Delphin was not often given to serious thought—his nature was too frivolous and unstable; but to-day he felt that there must be a reckoning, and on the very verge of the sea he threw himself on the sand, which was now warmed by the afternoon sun. At first his thoughts surged like the billows over which he gazed. He was furious with Pastor Martens. Who could have believed that he, George Delphin, should have suffered himself to be supplanted by a chaplain, and, more than that, a widower? And Madeleine! how could she have accepted him? And the more his thoughts turned upon her, the more he felt how truly he loved her.
How different it might have been! Yes, many things might have been different in his life, when he came to review it fairly. His thoughts then fell upon Jacob Worse, who had lately quite given him up. It had often happened to Delphin that people did not remain friends with him long. It was only Fanny who did not give him up. He made one more effort to bring up her image in his thoughts, in all its most enchanting beauty, but he failed in the effort. Madeleine seemed to overshadow everything. Then his thoughts reverted to Martens, and his agony returned. He seemed no longer to have any aim in life, which had been so utterly wasted, useless and desolate, and he began to regard himself with loathing, friendless as he was, and thus entangled in an intrigue with one for whom he had no affection, and despised by her whose love he really longed for.
All this time the mist was stealing in light wreaths over the shore; it came gliding beyond the line of the waves, and on over the sand. It paused for an instant at the man who was thus lying in despair, then stole on further, and finally settled behind the sand-hills. The grey wall of mist had now attained such a height that it obscured the evening sun, so that the landscape became all at once cold and grey, whilst the fog went scudding along, denser and denser every moment.
Delphin stretched himself on the sand, wearied with his long ride and his bitter thoughts. The long white breakers came curling ever nearer and nearer, as they broke on the beach with their subdued and monotonous roar.
He could not but think how easy it would be to have done with the life altogether, which now seemed to him of so little worth. He had but to roll himself down the sandy slope, and the waves would take his body into their embrace, and, after rocking him on their bosom, perhaps bear him far away and leave him on a distant shore. But he felt full well that he had not the courage; and as he lay there, thus pondering over his past life, he fell into a reverie, while the breakers murmured their monotonous song, and the mist, which was borne up on the light evening breeze, breathed over him cold and chill.
The landscape assumed a general tone of grey. The mist stole on, still more close and compact, and the form of him who lay by the waves became more and more indistinct. At last he was gone; the sea raised her mantle and wiped him out, while the fog drifted inland thick as a wall, and, reaching the first dwellings, swept round the corners of the houses, and sent cold gusts in at the open doors and windows.
But swifter than the mist, closer and ever more penetrating, swept the report of the chaplain's engagement through the town. It crept in through cracks and keyholes, filled houses from cellar to garret, and stood so thick in the street that it stopped the traffic.
"Have you heard the news? They are engaged? Guess! where? who? Miss Garman; I heard it an hour ago! Have you heard the news? It's the chaplain who is engaged! Well, I am surprised! They might have waited till after the funeral. Are you sure? He has been at the jeweller's! Have you heard the news?"
Thus it spread, buzz, buzz, from house to house; and when at length the weary town went to its bed, there was certainly not a soul who had not heard of the engagement from at least five separate people. It was a wonderful time, rich in important events.
But just as one sometimes sees a little brawling and muddy brook flowing into a clear stream, and following along in its course, but ever keeping its little band of dirty brown water separate from the translucent river, even so there followed with the news of the great event, a little whisper of uncomfortable gossip. It always accompanied the main story, cropping up everywhere, whispered, muttered, doubted, but never contradicted; and this little bit of intelligence was, that Pastor Martens wore a wig. It was scarcely but it was undeniable; Madame Rasmussen herself was the authority.
1 - Anniversary of the declaration of the Norwegian Independence in 1814.