“Well, I don’t know,” answered Morten, “but something must be done. I don’t see much good in those old fire-engines.”
The young Consul drew himself up; he seemed to hear an echo of all the disagreements there had been between them. It was the old story, the new against the old, and he answered shortly and coldly—
“I am still the head of the firm. Go back and do your duty, as I directed.”
Morten turned and left the room with an air of defiance. The idea of using powder had taken his fancy, although it was not his own. An engineer had been standing behind Morten with his hands in his pockets, after the manner of engineers, and had said, as engineers do say, “If I had my way, I’m blest if I wouldn’t do different to this.”
“What would you do?” asked Morten.
“Powder!” answered the engineer, curtly, as engineers have a habit of answering.
It was hard for Morten to give up his powder, and he muttered many ugly oaths as he went down the staircase.
When the Consul again looked out of the window after Morten had gone, he involuntarily seized the damask curtains tightly in his grasp, for the change which had taken place in these few minutes was only too apparent. The wet sail had already turned black, and in another minute was beginning to shrivel; while the whole of one side of the storehouse burst into a bright yellow flame, which came streaming down over the roof, flashing amid the thick smoke, and long fiery tongues began to lick underneath the vessel.
The Consul knew what there was in the building—tow, paint, oil, tar. The ship was hopelessly lost; the good ship of which he was even more proud than any one suspected.
After the first feeling of despair, he began to calculate in his head. The loss was heavy, very heavy. The business would be crippled for a long time, and the firm would receive an ugly blow.
And yet it was not this which seemed to crush the determined little man, until it almost made his knees quiver. This ship was to him more than a mere sum of money. It was a work he had undertaken in honour of “the old” against “the new;” against the advice of his son, and with his father always in his thoughts, under whose eye he almost seemed to be working. And now all was thus to come to such an untimely end.
The large engine belonging to the town managed to reach up just so high as to keep the ship’s side wet as far as the gold stripe which surrounded her; but in under the stern the water could not get properly to work, and small points of flame soon began to break out, and the Consul could now see that the fire had caught the stern-post.