The young Consul's death did not bring with it any great changes, either in the household or in the business. Everything was in such a solid and well regulated condition, that it kept on going like a good machine. The new driver had as much as he could manage, and there were some who thought that the more delicate parts of the complicated mechanism would be likely to suffer under his hands.
At the same time, no one could say of Morten that he did not bring great energy to bear on his new duties. Now, indeed, it was almost impossible to find him; he was continually on the go between the town and Sandsgaard. His carriage might be seen waiting at the most unlikely corners, or all of a sudden he would pop up out of a boat at the quay, tear off to the office, call out something to the bookkeeper, and flash out of the door again. But when the book keeper hurried after him, to ask what the instructions were, all he saw was a glimpse of the dog-cart as it turned the corner.
The business men in the town used to say, quietly among themselves, that it was easier to work against Morten than with him. Garman and Worse's predominance began to grow weaker, and what had been the central power was now distributed in several hands. The year which followed was not a prosperous one for shippers; most of the ships belonging to the firm had been working either at a loss or at a very small profit. The most successful was the Phœnix, which had been put on the guano trade. She still continued to be a favourite, and her voyages were followed with great interest in the newspapers. The poet of the town had written some verses in her honour:—
"Rock proud, thou fire's daughter, Thy flame-enshrouded helm!"
It was doubtless this allusion to the helm, which had been most in danger at the time of the fire, which caused the success of the poem, and insured it a permanent position in all the concerts.
In accordance with the express wishes of the deceased, Jacob Worse had been chosen as guardian for Rachel and Gabriel. Mrs. Garman was still to remain in the position of partner, with Morten as manager of the business. For each of the younger children a considerable sum was set apart; a sum, in fact, which was just about equal to that with which Morten had entered the firm.
Rachel had thus to go to Jacob Worse for an explanation of her affairs, for she wanted to have a clear idea of what she really possessed, and what her exact position was. Worse answered her in a calm and measured business tone.
"Well, then, this money," said she, one day, in Worse's office, "is my own, and is entirely under my own control?"
"Yes, in addition to your share in the business," added Worse, in explanation; "and if your mother should die, your part of her property will come to you at the division which will follow. It will then depend upon you or your future husband——"
"My future husband will surely allow me to manage my own property," said Rachel.
"It is to be hoped he will; but, as you perhaps know, in the event of your marrying, you will lose the entire control."
"Then I will never marry!"
"I am of opinion myself that you might do something better than marriage," said Jacob Worse.
Rachel observed him closely, but failed to fathom his thoughts.
"How I envy you your clear intelligent head!" said she, somewhat scornfully. "You lay out for yourself some plan or another in life, and then your object is forthwith accomplished. You quietly follow your plans, and in the same way you expect that those to whom you give your advice, will follow it without wavering. You are just like father. You really are too precise."
"I regard that as the greatest compliment I have ever received," answered Worse, smiling.
"But father was in many respects an old-fashioned and somewhat prejudiced man. It was just these very modern ideas that you find so attractive, which were to him strange or even positively distasteful." She made this remark more for the purpose of drawing out Worse than because she wished to disparage her father.
"Consul Garman," said Worse, rising from his chair, "was a dissatisfied man. His whole life was an ill—concealed struggle between the old and the new. He placed extraordinary confidence in me, and I found in him ideas, which no one would have expected to meet with in such a precise and old-fashioned man of business. But to reconcile the two incongruous currents was beyond his power; the immature and impetuous want of exactitude of modern times was repugnant to his nature; and when his great sense of justice forced him to recognize certain fundamental truths, it was still always a source of annoyance to him to be obliged to do so. It appears to me that he sought a counteracting influence to all this, in his boundless admiration for old Consul Garman."
"But was not my grandfather a remarkable man? Don't you think so?" asked Rachel, with interest.
"I will tell you my opinion, Miss Garman. He was a man who lived in a time to which he was suited, and in which, on the whole, existence was far more easy."
"You mean to say, then, that existence was easier in those times than in the present?"
"Yes, I am sure of it," continued Worse, pacing hurriedly up and down the room, as was his custom when he was excited. "Do you not see how existence becomes more difficult with each year as it passes? New discoveries and experiences are springing up every hour, and doubts and inquiry are burrowing under, and undermining the whole fabric. Revered and well grounded truths are falling to the ground, and those who are too timid to advance with the times, are gathering confusedly about the rotten framework, supporting, preserving, and terrified, denouncing youth, and predicting the destruction of society. Your grandfather stood on the very summit of the cultivation of his day, living as he did in a state of society which was peaceful and conscious of its security, with aristocratic intelligence above and aristocratic ignorance below. Your father, on the other hand, had grown to manhood when the movement reached us, and he had already a fixed understanding as to his own line in life, when the new ideas came streaming in upon him. Then followed the long and painful struggle. But we who are a generation younger, and who enter upon life from school, with the old maxims only half rooted in our minds, feel the whole fabric tottering. Doubt and uncertainty reign on every side, and we find ourselves now in a state of eager expectation, and now plunged in gloomy apprehension. Wheresoever we place our foot, the ground gives way beneath us, and if we wish to sit down and rest awhile, the chair is drawn from under us by some invisible hand. Thus are we whirled to and fro in a struggle for which we were never prepared, and in which numbers of us miserably perish. Fathers scold and threaten, while mothers weep because we have forsaken the traditions of our childhood. Bitter words and party names are caught up in the continuous strife, and find their way into family life; the one no longer understands the motives of the other; we stand railing at each other in the pitchy darkness; no distinction is made between sincere conviction and restless love of change. All strive blindly together, whilst society becomes interwoven with a tissue of hostility, mistrust, falsehood, and hypocrisy."
Rachel looked at him with open eyes, and at length she exclaimed, "I cannot imagine how you can be content with your present existence, so silent and so reserved, when such a tumult of thought is passing through your brain."
Jacob Worse stopped, and his face grew calm as he said, "I have a simple remedy, which I have learnt from my mother, and which your father also employed—and that is, work. To keep at it from morning to evening; to begin the day with a large packet of foreign letters here on my desk, and to leave off in the evening, tired but content—content for that day. That is my remedy—that keeps the life in me; so far it suffices; higher I cannot attain."
"I said a short time ago that I envied you your calm and logical mind. I now regret the tone in which the words were spoken. I often, somehow or another, I don't know why, but I often find myself speaking to you somewhat——" She faltered, and her face became suffused with blushes.
"Somewhat plainly, you mean," said Worse, smiling. "May I hope it is because you think me worthy of your confidence?"
She looked at him again, but his eyes were now fixed on the map which hung over her head.
"Well," said Rachel, "perhaps that is the reason; but what I really envy you is your love of work, or, I should say, not so much the love of work—for that I have myself—but your having discovered an employment which keeps you calm. But you are able to work, that's where it is," she added, meditatively.
"My opinion about you, Miss Garman, has always been, that the aimless life a lady in your position is obliged to lead here at home, must sooner or later become unbearable to you."
"I cannot work," said she in a crestfallen tone.
"Well, but at least you can try."
"How am I to begin? You remember that time when father would not receive my offer of assistance."
"Your father did not understand you; nor will you find it easy to discover satisfactory employment in your own country. But travel, look around you. You are rich and independent, and there are other lands where work is to be had, and in them you ought to find suitable occupation."
"Do you really advise me to travel elsewhere, Mr. Worse?" said Rachel.
"Yes; that is to say—yes, I think it would be best for you. Here you have little opportunity of development, and, to speak plainly, I think you ought to travel." As he said the last words he regained his self-possession, and could now look her in the face calmly, and without flinching.
"But where shall I go—a lonely woman without friends? I am afraid you over-estimate my powers," said Rachel, with a reluctant air. It was as if she did not fancy his advising her to go away.
"I may as well tell you what I think now," he began, hurriedly. "I have some acquaintances in Paris. In fact, an American firm—Barnett Brothers they are called—who have a house in Paris; and Mr. Frederick Barnett is a personal friend of mine."
"You seem to have been arranging to get rid of me for some time," said Rachel; "why, you have the whole plan ready prepared."
He showed some signs of confusion, for it was a scheme he had carefully considered, but which he had always hoped he would not have to put into execution.
"Yes," answered he, endeavouring to laugh; "as your guardian, it is my duty to assist you, to the best of my ability, to arrange for your future."
"But are you going to send me to Paris alone?"
"No; I have been thinking of offering you Svendsen as an escort. You surely know old Svendsen, my bookkeeper? He has been several times in Paris, and is a most trustworthy man. I am sure you will be contented with Mr. Barnett's house, which is more like an English one. And that, I think, will suit you better than a purely French household."
"Does your friend take boarders?" asked Rachel, quickly.
"Not as a rule, as far as I know. You will thus find it more expensive than at an ordinary pension; but I am almost certain that both Mr. and Mrs. Barnett, who is a French lady, are the sort of people you will like. And it is exactly in the American society of Paris that you will have the best opportunity of finding employment if you wish for it. At any rate, you can stay some time in Mr. Barnett's house, until you find something else you prefer."
His tone was deliberate and decided, as if he already regarded the matter as finally settled; and when Rachel got up to take her leave she found that her mind was already made up, without being conscious of how she had arrived at her conclusion. She looked forward to a new and more active life, with mingled feelings of expectation and pleasure. But at the same time she was somewhat hurt—no, not hurt, but sad—no, not exactly sad, either; but she could not help thinking it was extraordinary, that he should show himself so eager to get her away.
Jacob Worse followed her to the door leading into the street, but when she had gone he did not go back to the office, but crossed over the yard to his mother's.
A month later, Gabriel and Rachel set off under the escort of old Svendsen; Gabriel to Dresden, and Rachel to Paris. Madeleine also quitted Sandsgaard. Her intended had arranged, with the assistance of the doctor, that she should go to the baths of Modum, where Martens's mother, who was the widow of a clergyman from the east coast, was to take care of her.
Uncle Richard was utterly confounded when he heard Madeleine was going to marry a clergyman, and he had a kind of dim feeling that he would have done better to have kept her under the observation of the big telescope. But the old gentleman, who had never been very strong-minded, had become still more feeble in his sorrow, and now that he could no longer go to Christian Frederick for advice, he gave way in everything.
As for Madeleine herself, the exhaustion which followed her illness had produced a feeling of indifference; and now that the important step had once been taken, she allowed herself to be led without offering any opposition, and did not find it disagreeable, when the pastor took upon himself to think and act for her in everything. But when it came to saying good-bye to her father she gave way, and was carried senseless to the carriage.
Martens soon found that if he wished to educate Madeleine to be a pattern wife after his own heart, he must get her away from Sandsgaard. With the same object in view, he sought, and standing as well as he did with those in authority, soon obtained, a living at some distance in the country; and, a year after his betrothal, he celebrated his marriage at his mother's house.
"After his ride along the shore, George Delphin suffered from a dangerous attack of inflammation of the lungs. His illness lasted so long that a substitute had to be provided for the time in the magistrate's office; and as soon as he recovered sufficiently to write, he informed the magistrate that he wished to resign his situation. The magistrate accepted his resignation with alacrity, for George Delphin had never been the kind of man he liked.
During the whole time of the illness, Fanny was in a state of nervous excitement. To visit the invalid, or put herself in any sort of communication with him, was quite out of the question. She had thus to content herself with such news as she could pick up, either accidentally or through Morten; but she dared not ask as many questions as she could have wished. One day when she was standing before the glass, she discovered three small wrinkles at the corner of her left eye. When she laughed, they improved her; but when she was serious, they made her look old. Nothing seemed to suit her any longer, not even mourning, in which she had always looked her best. Fanny, in fact, suffered as much as she was capable of suffering, and one day she received a note from him, in which he said adieu.
"I start to-night, and say farewell thus to spare us both a painful parting. Farewell!" This was all the note contained.
Her lovely complexion turned almost to an ashen grey, but only for a moment. The whole night she lay awake, listening to her husband, who lay breathing heavily by her side; but the next morning found her sitting by her window, as calm and bright as ever. Many of her friends, as she had expected, came to visit her, but she disappointed them all. Delphin's sudden departure was a subject of conversation in which she joined, jesting and laughing as usual. Her friends could perceive no change in her, and yet how much scandal had been talked about her and Delphin! It was a lesson to people to keep their tongues to themselves.
But Fanny herself noticed several changes in her appearance, and was reminded of it every time she saw her reflection in the glass.
In small circles great events seem to come all at once, one after another in startling succession. The worthy town had been quite upset by all those remarkable events, of a joyful, mournful, or mixed nature, which followed after the night of the fire at Sandsgaard; and while busy tongues kept reverting to the materials for gossip thus provided, the years rolled by without anything further taking place.
Tom Robson had taken Martin with him to America, where they disappeared.
Contrary to his intention, Torpander did not travel home to Sweden. He put off his departure from time to time. Her grave never seemed pretty enough, and he never felt perfectly certain that it would be kept properly in order. He thus remained where he was, and at last moved over to old Anders Begmand's cottage. The old man's head had become somewhat affected. He received his week's pay every Saturday, without, however, doing any work to earn it. And now Torpander grew to be quite a fixture in the cottage, and the two would sit for many a winter's evening over the fire, repeating to each other the same stories, which never varied year after year, about her who had been, and still continued for both, the very sunshine of their lives.
Uncle Richard soon gave up the lighthouse at Bratvold, and he and Mrs. Garman shared Sandsgaard between them. Downstairs the lady went about in her wheel-chair, and she had had all the thresholds of the doors removed, so that she might be able to have herself rolled into the kitchen. Upstairs Uncle Richard continued his ceaseless wanderings, in and out, to and fro, just as he had begun on the day after his brother's death. Once only he had had Don Juan saddled; but when he was brought round to the door, the old gentleman thought he was too fresh for him. He put his hand before his eyes, and had Don Juan taken back again to the stable.
Summer and winter, day after day, the sound of his footfall overhead never ceased. A long strip of soft carpet had been put down the whole length of the house, partly for warmth, and partly to deaden the sound of his step.
In winter he wore a long coat lined with fur, a fur cap, and a pair of deerskin gloves; and there were some people who confidently maintained that he carried an open umbrella when the weather was wet. In the little room on the north side, there was a cupboard in which a bottle of Burgundy was always kept standing. When the old gentleman got to this point he would pause, drink a glass of the wine, and look thoughtfully in the large mirror. He then shook his head and continued his wanderings.
No change took place in Miss Cordsen. The well-starched cap-strings and the odour of dry lavender still followed her wherever she went; while all the secrets of the family lay carefully preserved, together with her own, to both of which the closely pressed mouth, with its innumerable wrinkles, formed a lock of the safest description.