Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XII

In a Lane, Not Alone

Stephen Anerley’s daughter was by no means of a crooked mind, but open as the day in all things, unless any one mistrusted her, and showed it by cross-questioning. When this was done, she resented it quickly by concealing the very things which she would have told of her own accord; and it so happened that the person to whom of all she should have been most open, was the one most apt to check her by suspicious curiosity. And now her mother already began to do this, as concerned the smuggler, knowing from the revenue officer that Mary must have seen him. Mary, being a truthful damsel, told no lies about it; but, on the other hand, she did not rush forth with all the history, as she probably would have done if left unexamined. And so she said nothing about the ear-ring, or the run that was to come off that week, or the riding-skirt, or a host of little things, including her promise to visit Bempton Lane.

On the other hand, she had a mind to tell her father, and take his opinion about it all. But he was a little cross that evening, not with her, but with the world at large; and that discouraged her; and then she thought that being an officer of the king — as he liked to call himself sometimes — he might feel bound to give information about the impending process of free trade; which to her would be a breach of honor, considering how she knew of it.

Upon the whole, she heartily wished that she never had seen that Robin Lyth; and then she became ashamed of herself for indulging such a selfish wish. For he might have been lying dead but for her; and then what would become of the many poor people whose greatest comfort he was said to be? And what good could arise from his destruction, if cruel people compassed it? Free trade must be carried on, for the sake of everybody, including Captain Carroway himself; and if an old and ugly man succeeded a young and generous one as leader of the free-trade movement, all the women in the country would put the blame on her.

Looking at these things loftily, and with a strong determination not to think twice of what any one might say who did not understand the subject, Mary was forced at last to the stern conclusion that she must keep her promise. Not only because it was a promise — although that went a very long way with her — but also because there seemed no other chance of performing a positive duty. Simple honesty demanded that she should restore to the owner a valuable, and beyond all doubt important, piece of property. Two hours had she spent in looking for it, and deprived her dear father of his breakfast shrimps; and was all this trouble to be thrown away, and herself, perhaps, accused of theft, because her mother was so short and sharp in wanting to know everything, and to turn it her own way?

The trinket, which she had found at last, seemed to be a very uncommon and precious piece of jewelry; it was made of pure gold, minutely chased and threaded with curious workmanship, in form like a melon, and bearing what seemed to be characters of some foreign language: there might be a spell, or even witchcraft, in it, and the sooner it was out of her keeping the better. Nevertheless she took very good care of it, wrapping it in lamb’s-wool, and peeping at it many times a day, to be sure that it was safe, until it made her think of the owner so much, and the many wonders she had heard about him, that she grew quite angry with herself and it, and locked it away, and then looked at it again.

As luck would have it, on the very day when Mary was to stroll down Bempton Lane (not to meet any one, of course, but simply for the merest chance of what might happen), her father had business at Driffield corn market, which would keep him from home nearly all the day. When his daughter heard of it she was much cast down; for she hoped that he might have been looking about on the northern part of the farm, as he generally was in the afternoon; and although he could not see Bempton Lane at all, perhaps, without some newly acquired power of seeing round sharp corners, still it would have been a comfort and a strong resource for conscience to have felt that he was not so very far away. And this feeling of want made his daughter resolve to have some one at any rate near her. If Jack had only been at home, she need have sought no further, for he would have entered into all her thoughts about it, and obeyed her orders beautifully. But Willie was quite different, and hated any trouble, being spoiled so by his mother and the maidens all around them.

However, in such a strait, what was there to do but to trust in Willie, who was old enough, being five years in front of Mary, and then to try to make him sensible? Willie Anerley had no idea that anybody — far less his own sister — could take such a view of him. He knew himself to be, and all would say the same of him, superior in his original gifts, and his manner of making use of them, to the rest of the family put together. He had spent a month in Glasgow, when the whole place was astir with the ferment of many great inventions, and another month in Edinburgh, when that noble city was aglow with the dawn of large ideas; also, he had visited London, foremost of his family, and seen enough new things there to fill all Yorkshire with surprise; and the result of such wide experience was that he did not like hard work at all. Neither could he even be content to accept and enjoy, without labor of his own, the many good things provided for him. He was always trying to discover something which never seemed to answer, and continually flying after something new, of which he never got fast hold. In a word, he was spoiled, by nature first, and then by circumstances, for the peaceful life of his ancestors, and the unacknowledged blessings of a farmer.

“Willie dear, will you come with me?” Mary said to him that day, catching him as he ran down stairs to air some inspiration. “Will you come with me for just one hour? I wish you would; and I would be so thankful.”

“Child, it is quite impossible,” he answered, with a frown which set off his delicate eyebrows and high but rather narrow forehead; “you always want me at the very moment when I have the most important work in hand. Any childish whim of yours matters more than hours and hours of hard labor.”

“Oh, Willie, but you know how I try to help you, and all the patterns I cut out last week! Do come for once, Willie; if you refuse, you will never, never forgive yourself.”

Willie Anerley was as good-natured as any self-indulged youth can be; he loved his sister in his way, and was indebted to her for getting out of a great many little scrapes. He saw how much she was in earnest now, and felt some desire to know what it was about. Moreover — which settled the point — he was getting tired of sticking to one thing for a time unusually long with him. But he would not throw away the chance of scoring a huge debt of gratitude.

“Well, do what you like with me,” he answered, with a smile; “I never can have my own way five minutes. It serves me quite right for being so good-natured.”

Mary gave him a kiss, which must have been an object of ambition to anybody else; but it only made him wipe his mouth; and presently the two set forth upon the path toward Bempton.

Robin Lyth had chosen well his place for meeting Mary. The lane (of which he knew every yard as well as he knew the rocks themselves) was deep and winding, and fringed with bushes, so that an active and keen-eyed man might leap into thicket almost before there was a fair chance of shooting him. He knew well enough that he might trust Mary; but he never could be sure that the bold “coast-riders,” despairing by this time of catching him at sea, and longing for the weight of gold put upon his head, might not be setting privy snares to catch him in his walks abroad. They had done so when they pursued him up the Dike; and though he was inclined to doubt the strict legality of that proceeding, he could not see his way to a fair discussion of it, in case of their putting a bullet through him. And this consideration made him careful.

The brother and sister went on well by the foot-path over the uplands of the farm, and crossing the neck of the Flamburn peninsula, tripped away merrily northward. The wheat looked healthy, and the barley also, and a four-acre patch of potatoes smelled sweetly (for the breeze of them was pleasant in their wholesome days), and Willie, having overworked his brain, according to his own account of it, strode along loftily before his sister, casting over his shoulder an eddy of some large ideas with which he had been visited before she interrupted him. But as nothing ever came of them, they need not here be stated. From a practical point of view, however, as they both had to live upon the profits of the farm, it pleased them to observe what a difference there was when they had surmounted the chine and began to descend toward the north upon other people’s land. Here all was damp and cold and slow; and chalk looked slimy instead of being clean; and shadowy places had an oozy cast; and trees (wherever they could stand) were facing the east with wrinkled visage, and the west with wiry beards. Willie (who had, among other great inventions, a scheme for improvement of the climate) was reminded at once of all the things he meant to do in that way; and making, as he always did, a great point of getting observations first — a point whereon he stuck fast mainly — without any time for delay he applied himself to a rapid study of the subject. He found some things just like other things which he had seen in Scotland, yet differing so as to prove, more clearly than even their resemblance did, the value of his discovery.

“Look!” he cried; “can anything be clearer? The cause of all these evils is not (as an ignorant person might suppose) the want of sunshine, or too much wet, but an inadequate movement of the air —”

“Why, I thought it was always blowing up here. The very last time I came, my bonnet strings were split.”

“You do not understand me; you never do. When I say inadequate, I mean, of course, incorrect, inaccurate, unequable. Now the air is a fluid; you may stare as you like, Mary, but the air has been proved to be a fluid. Very well; no fluid in large bodies moves with an equal velocity throughout. Part of it is rapid and part quite stagnant. The stagnant places of the air produce this green scum, this mossy, unwholesome, and injurious stuff; while the overrapid motion causes this iron appearance, this hard surface, and general sterility. By the simplest of simple contrivances, I make this evil its own remedy. An equable impulse given to the air produces an adequate uniform flow, preventing stagnation in one place, and excessive vehemence in another. And the beauty of it is that by my new invention I make the air itself correct and regulate its own inequalities.”

“How clever you are, to be sure!” exclaimed Mary, wondering that her father could not see it. “Oh, Willie, you will make your fortune by it! However do you do it?”

“The simplicity of it is such that even you can understand it. All great discoveries are simple. I fix in a prominent situation a large and vertically revolving fan, of a light and vibrating substance. The movement of the air causes this to rotate by the mere force of the impact. The rotation and the vibration of the fan convert an irregular impulse into a steady and equable undulation; and such is the elasticity of the fluid called, in popular language, ‘the air,’ that for miles around the rotation of this fan regulates the circulation, modifies extremes, annihilates sterility, and makes it quite impossible for moss and green scum and all this sour growth to live. Even you can see, Mary, how beautiful it is.”

“Yes, that I can,” she answered, simply, as they turned the corner upon a large windmill, with arms revolving merrily; “but, Willie dear, would not Farmer Topping’s mill, perpetually going as it is, answer the same purpose? And yet the moss seems to be as thick as ever here, and the ground as naked.”

“Tush!” cried Willie. “Stuff and nonsense! When will you girls understand? Good-by! I will throw away no more time on you.”

Without stopping to finish his sentence he was off and out of sight both of the mill and Mary, before the poor girl, who had not the least intention of offending him, could even beg his pardon, or say how much she wanted him; for she had not dared as yet to tell him what was the purpose of her walk, his nature being such that no one, not even his own mother, could tell what conclusion he might come to upon any practical question. He might rush off at once to put the revenue men on the smuggler’s track, or he might stop his sister from going, or he might (in the absence of his father) order a feast to be prepared, and fetch the outlaw to be his guest. So Mary had resolved not to tell him until the last moment, when he could do none of these things.

But now she must either go on all alone, or give up her purpose and break her promise. After some hesitation she determined to go on, for the place would scarcely seem so very lonely now with the windmill in view, which would always remind her henceforth of her dear brother William. It was perfectly certain that Captain Robert Lyth, whose fame for chivalry was everywhere, and whose character was all in all to him with the ladies who bought his silks and lace, would see her through all danger caused by confidence in him; and really it was too bad of her to admit any paltry misgivings. But reason as she might, her young conscience told her that this was not the proper thing to do, and she made up her mind not to do it again. Then she laughed at the notion of being ever even asked, and told herself that she was too conceited; and to cut the matter short, went very bravely down the hill.

The lane, which came winding from the beach up to the windmill, was as pretty a lane as may anywhere be found in any other county than that of Devon. With a Devonshire lane it could not presume to vie, having little of the glorious garniture of fern, and nothing of the crystal brook that leaps at every corner; no arches of tall ash, keyed with dog-rose, and not much of honeysuckle, and a sight of other wants which people feel who have lived in the plenitude of everything. But in spite of all that, the lane was very fine for Yorkshire.

On the other hand, Mary had prettier ankles, and a more graceful and lighter walk, than the Devonshire lanes, which like to echo something, for the most part seem accustomed to; and the short dress of the time made good such favorable facts when found. Nor was this all that could be said, for the maiden (while her mother was so busy pickling cabbage, from which she drove all intruders) had managed to forget what the day of the week was, and had opened the drawer that should be locked up until Sunday. To walk with such a handsome tall fellow as Willie compelled her to look like something too, and without any thought of it she put her best hat on, and a very pretty thing with some French name, and made of a delicate peach-colored silk, which came down over her bosom, and tied in the neatest of knots at the small of her back, which at that time of life was very small. All these were the gifts of her dear uncle Popplewell, upon the other side of Filey, who might have been married for forty years, but nobody knew how long it was, because he had no children, and so he made Mary his darling. And this ancient gentleman had leanings toward free trade.

Whether these goods were French or not — which no decent person could think of asking — no French damsel could have put them on better, or shown a more pleasing appearance in them; for Mary’s desire was to please all people who meant no harm to her — as nobody could — and yet to let them know that her object was only to do what was right, and to never think of asking whether she looked this, that, or the other. Her mother, as a matter of duty, told her how plain she was almost every day; but the girl was not of that opinion; and when Mrs. Anerley finished her lecture (as she did nine times in ten) by turning the glass to the wall, and declaring that beauty was a snare skin-deep, with a frown of warning instead of a smile of comfort, then Mary believed in her looking-glass again, and had the smile of comfort on her own face.

However, she never thought of that just now, but only of how she could do her duty, and have no trouble in her own mind with thinking, and satisfy her father when she told him all, as she meant to do, when there could be no harm done to any one; and this, as she heartily hoped, would be tomorrow. And truly, if there did exist any vanity at all, it was not confined to the sex in which it is so much more natural and comely.

For when a very active figure came to light suddenly, at a little elbow of the lane, and with quick steps advanced toward Mary, she was lost in surprise at the gayety, not to say grandeur, of its apparel. A broad hat, looped at the side, and having a pointed black crown, with a scarlet feather and a dove-colored brim, sat well upon the mass of crisp black curls. A short blue jacket of the finest Flemish cloth, and set (not too thickly) with embossed silver buttons, left properly open the strong brown neck, while a shirt of pale blue silk, with a turned-down collar of fine needle-work, fitted, without a wrinkle or a pucker, the broad and amply rounded chest. Then a belt of brown leather, with an anchor clasp, and empty loops for either fire-arm or steel, supported true sailor’s trousers of the purest white and the noblest man-of-war cut; and where these widened at the instep shone a lovely pair of pumps, with buckles radiant of best Bristol diamonds. The wearer of all these splendors smiled, and seemed to become them as they became him.

“Well,” thought Mary, “how free trade must pay! What a pity that he is not in the Royal Navy!”

With his usual quickness, and the self-esteem which added such lustre to his character, the smuggler perceived what was passing in her mind, but he was not rude enough to say so.

“Young lady,” he began — and Mary, with all her wisdom, could not help being fond of that —“young lady, I was quite sure that you would keep your word.”

“I never do anything else,” she answered, showing that she scarcely looked at him. “I have found this for you, and then good-by.”

“Surely you will wait to hear my thanks, and to know what made me dare to ask you, after all you had done for me already, to begin again for me. But I am such an outcast that I never should have done it.”

“I never saw any one look more thoroughly unlike an outcast,” Mary said; and then she was angry with herself for speaking, and glancing, and, worst of all, for smiling,

“Ladies who live on land can never understand what we go through,” Robin replied, in his softest voice, as rich as the murmur of the summer sea. “When we expect great honors, we try to look a little tidy, as any one but a common boor would do; and we laugh at ourselves for trying to look well, after all the knocking about we get. Our time is short — we must make the most of it.”

“Oh, please not to talk in such a dreadful way,” said Mary.

“You remind me of my dear friend Dr. Upround — the very best man in the whole world, I believe. He always says to me, ‘Robin, Robin — ‘”

“What! is Dr. Upandown a friend of yours?” Mary exclaimed, in amazement, and with a stoppage of the foot that was poised for quick departure.

“Dr. Upandown, as many people call him,” said the smuggler, with a tone of condemnation, “is the best and dearest friend I have, next to Captain and Mistress Cockscroft, who may have been heard of at Anerley Manor. Dr. Upround is our magistrate and clergyman, and he lets people say what they like against me, while he honors me with his friendship. I must not stay long to thank you even, because I am going to the dear old doctor’s for supper at seven o’clock and a game of chess.”

“Oh dear! oh dear! And he is such a Justice! And yet they shot at you last week! It makes me wonder when I hear such things.”

“Young lady, it makes everybody wonder. In my opinion there never could be a more shameful murder than to shoot me; and yet but for you it would surely have been done.”

“You must not dwell upon such things,” said Mary; “they may have a very bad effect upon your mind. But good-by, Captain Lyth; I forgot that I was robbing Dr. Upround of your society.”

“Shall I be so ungrateful as not to see you safe upon your own land after all your trouble? My road to Flamborough lies that way. Surely you will not refuse to hear what made me so anxious about this bauble, which now will be worth ten times as much. I never saw it look so bright before.”

“It — it must be the sand has made it shine,” the maiden stammered, with a fine bright blush; “it does the same to my shrimping net.”

“Ah, shrimping is a very fine pursuit! There is nothing I love better; what pools I could show you, if I only might; pools where you may fill a sack with large prawns in a single tide — pools known to nobody but myself. When do you think of going shrimping next?”

“Perhaps next summer I may try again, if Captain Carroway will come with me.”

“That is too unkind of you. How very harsh you are to me! I could hardly have believed it after all that you have done. And you really do not care to hear the story of this relic?”

“If I could stop, I should like it very much. But my brother, who came with me, may perhaps be waiting for me.” Mary knew that this was not very likely; still, it was just possible, for Willie’s ill tempers seldom lasted very long; and she wanted to let the smuggler know that she had not come all alone to meet him.

“I shall not be two minutes,” Robin Lyth replied; “I have been forced to learn short talking. May I tell you about this trinket?”

“Yes, if you will only begin at once, and finish by the time we get to that corner.”

“That is very short measure for a tale,” said Robin, though he liked her all the better for such qualities; “however, I will try; only walk a little slower. Nobody knows where I was born, any more than they know how or why. Only when I came upon this coast as a very little boy, and without knowing anything about it, they say that I had very wonderful buttons of gold upon a linen dress, adorned with gold-lace, which I used to wear on Sundays. Dr. Upround ordered them to keep those buttons, and was to have had them in his own care; but before that, all of them were lost save two. My parents, as I call them from their wonderful goodness, kinder than the ones who have turned me on the world (unless themselves went out of it), resolved to have my white coat done up grandly, when I grew too big for it, and to lay it by in lavender; and knowing of a great man in the gold-lace trade, as far away as Scarborough, they sent it by a fishing-smack to him, with people whom they knew thoroughly. That was the last of it ever known here. The man swore a manifest that he never saw it, and threatened them with libel; and the smack was condemned, and all her hands impressed, because of some trifle she happened to carry; and nobody knows any more of it. But two of the buttons had fallen off, and good mother had put them by, to give a last finish to the coat herself; and when I grew up, and had to go to sea at night, they were turned into a pair of ear-rings. There, now, Miss Anerley, I have not been long, and you know all about it.”

“How very lonesome it must be for you,” said Mary, with a gentle gaze, which, coming from such lovely eyes, went straight into his heart, “to have no one belonging to you by right, and to seem to belong to nobody! I am sure I can not tell whatever I should do without any father, or mother, or uncle, or even a cousin to be certain of.”

“All the ladies seem to think that it is rather hard upon me,” Robin answered, with an excellent effort at a sigh; “but I do my very best to get on without them. And one thing that helps me most of all is when kind ladies, who have good hearts, allow me to talk to them as if I had a sister. This makes me forget what I am sometimes.”

“You never should try to forget what you are. Everybody in the world speaks well of you. Even that cruel Lieutenant Carroway can not help admiring you. And if you have taken to free trade, what else could you do, when you had no friends, and even your coat was stolen?”

“High-minded people take that view of it, I know. But I do not pretend to any such excuse. I took to free trade for the sake of my friends — to support the old couple who have been so good to me.”

“That is better still; it shows such good principle. My uncle Popplewell has studied the subject of what they call ‘political economy,’ and he says that the country requires free trade, and the only way to get it is to go on so that the government must give way at last. However, I need not instruct you about that; and you must not stop any longer.”

“Miss Anerley, I will not encroach upon your kindness. You have said things that I never shall forget. On the Continent I meet very many ladies who tell me good things, and make me better; but not at all as you have done. A minute of talk with you is worth an hour with anybody else. But I fear that you laugh at me all the while, and are only too glad to be rid of me. Good-by. May I kiss your hand? God bless you!”

Mary had no time to say a single word, or even to express her ideas by a look, before Robin Lyth, with all his bright apparel, was “conspicuous by his absence.” As a diving bird disappears from a gun, or a trout from a shadow on his hover, or even a debtor from his creditor, so the great free-trader had vanished into lightsome air, and left emptiness behind him.

The young maid, having been prepared to yield him a few yards more of good advice, if he held out for another corner, now could only say to herself that she never had met such a wonderful man. So active, strong, and astonishingly brave; so thoroughly acquainted with foreign lands, yet superior to their ladies; so able to see all the meaning of good words, and to value them when offered quietly; so sweet in his manner, and voice, and looks; and with all his fame so unpretending, and — much as it frightened her to think it — really seeming to be afraid of her.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31