Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XIII

Grumbling and Growling

While these successful runs went on, and great authorities smiled at seeing the little authorities set at naught, and men of the revenue smote their breasts for not being born good smugglers, and the general public was well pleased, and congratulated them cordially upon their accomplishment of naught, one man there was whose noble spirit chafed and knew no comfort. He strode up and down at Coast-guard Point, and communed with himself, while Robin held sweet converse in the lane.

“Why was I born?” the sad Carroway cried; “why was I thoroughly educated and trained in both services of the king, expected to rise, and beginning to rise, till a vile bit of splinter stopped me, and then sent down to this hole of a place to starve, and be laughed at, and baffled by a boy? Another lucky run, and the revenue bamboozled, and the whole of us sent upon a wild-goose chase! Every gapper-mouth zany grinning at me, and scoundrels swearing that I get my share! And the only time I have had my dinner with my knees crook’d, for at least a fortnight, was at Anerley Farm on Sunday. I am not sure that even they wouldn’t turn against me; I am certain that pretty girl would. I’ve a great mind to throw it up — a great mind to throw it up. It is hardly the work for a gentleman born, and the grandson of a rear-admiral. Tinkers’ and tailors’ sons get the luck now; and a man of good blood is put on the back shelf, behind the blacking-bottles. A man who has battled for his country —”

“Charles, are you coming to your dinner, once more?”

“No, I am not. There’s no dinner worth coming to. You and the children may eat the rat pie. A man who has battled for his country, and bled till all his veins were empty, and it took two men to hold him up, and yet waved his Sword at the head of them — it is the downright contradiction of the world in everything for him to poke about with pots and tubs, like a pig in a brewery, grain-hunting.”

“Once more, Charles, there is next to nothing left. The children are eating for their very lives. If you stay out there another minute, you must take the consequence.”

“Alas, that I should have so much stomach, and so little to put into it! My dear, put a little bit under a basin, if any of them has no appetite. I wanted just to think a little.”

“Charles, they have all got tremendous appetites. It is the way the wind is. You may think by-and-by, but if you want to eat, you must do it now, or never.”

“‘Never’ never suits me in that matter,” the brave lieutenant answered. “Matilda, put Geraldine to warm the pewter plate for me. Geraldine darling, you can do it with your mouth full.”

The commander of the coast-guard turned abruptly from his long indignant stride, and entered the cottage provided for him, and which he had peopled so speedily.

Small as it was, it looked beautifully clean and neat, and everybody used to wonder how Mrs. Carroway kept it so. But in spite of all her troubles and many complaints, she was very proud of this little house, with its healthful position and beautiful outlook over the bay of Bridlington. It stood in a niche of the low soft cliff, where now the sea-parade extends from the northern pier of Bridlington Quay; and when the roadstead between that and the point was filled with a fleet of every kind of craft, or, better still, when they all made sail at once — as happened when a trusty breeze arose — the view was lively, and very pleasant, and full of moving interest. Often one of his Majesty’s cutters, Swordfish, Kestrel, or Albatross, would swoop in with all sail set, and hover, while the skipper came ashore to see the “Ancient Carroway,” as this vigilant officer was called; and sometimes even a sloop of war, armed brigantine, or light corvette, prowling for recruits, or cruising for their training, would run in under the Head, and overhaul every wind-bound ship with a very high hand.

“Ancient Carroway”— as old friends called him, and even young people who had never seen him — was famous upon this coast now for nearly three degrees of latitude. He had dwelled here long, and in highly good content, hospitably treated by his neighbors, and himself more hospitable than his wife could wish, until two troubles in his life arose, and from year to year grew worse and worse. One of these troubles was the growth of mouths in number and size, that required to be filled; and the other trouble was the rampant growth of smuggling, and the glory of that upstart Robin Lyth. Now let it be lawful to take that subject first.

Fair Robin, though not at all anxious for fame, but modestly willing to decline it, had not been successful — though he worked so much by night — in preserving sweet obscurity. His character was public, and set on high by fortune, to be gazed at from wholly different points of view. From their narrow and lime-eyed outlook the coast-guard beheld in him the latest incarnation of Old Nick; yet they hated him only in an abstract manner, and as men feel toward that evil one. Magistrates also, and the large protective powers, were arrayed against him, yet happy to abstain from laying hands, when their hands were their own, upon him. And many of the farmers, who should have been his warmest friends and best customers, were now so attached to their king and country, by bellicose warmth and army contracts, that instead of a guinea for a four-gallon anker, they would offer three crowns, or the exciseman. And not only conscience, but short cash, after three bad harvests, constrained them.

Yet the staple of public opinion was sound, as it must be where women predominate. The best of women could not see why they should not have anything they wanted for less than it cost the maker. To gaze at a sister woman better dressed at half the money was simply to abjure every lofty principle. And to go to church with a counterfeit on, when the genuine lace was in the next pew on a body of inferior standing, was a downright outrage to the congregation, the rector, and all religion. A cold-blooded creature, with no pin-money, might reconcile it with her principles, if any she had, to stand up like a dowdy and allow a poor man to risk his life by shot and storm and starvation, and then to deny him a word or a look, because of his coming with the genuine thing at a quarter the price fat tradesmen asked, who never stirred out of their shops when it rained, for a thing that was a story and an imposition. Charity, duty, and common honesty to their good husbands in these bad times compelled them to make the very best of bargains; of which they got really more and more, as those brave mariners themselves bore witness, because of the depression in the free trade now and the glorious victories of England. Were they bound to pay three times the genuine value, and then look a figure, and be laughed at?

And as for Captain Carroway, let him scold, and threaten, and stride about, and be jealous, because his wife dare not buy true things, poor creature — although there were two stories also about that, and the quantities of things that he got for nothing, whenever he was clever enough to catch them, which scarcely ever happened, thank goodness! Let Captain Carroway attend to his own business; unless he was much belied, he had a wife who would keep him to it. Who was Captain Carroway to come down here, without even being born in Yorkshire, and lay down the law, as if he owned the manor?

Lieutenant Carroway had heard such questions, but disdained to answer them. He knew who he was, and what his grandfather had been, and he never cared a — short word — what sort of stuff long tongues might prate of him. Barbarous broad-drawlers, murderers of his Majesty’s English, could they even pronounce the name of an officer highly distinguished for many years in both of the royal services? That was his description, and the Yorkshire yokels might go and read it — if read they could — in the pages of authority.

Like the celebrated calf that sucked two cows, Carroway had drawn royal pay, though in very small drains, upon either element, beginning with a skeleton regiment, and then, when he became too hot for it, diving off into a frigate as a recommended volunteer. Here he was more at home, though he never ceased longing to be a general; and having the credit of fighting well ashore, he was looked at with interest when he fought a fight at sea. He fought it uncommonly well, and it was good, and so many men fell that he picked up his commission, and got into a fifty-two-gun ship. After several years of service, without promotion — for his grandfather’s name was worn out now, and the wars were not properly constant — there came a very lively succession of fights, and Carroway got into all of them, or at least into all the best of them. And he ought to have gone up much faster than he did, and he must have done so but for his long lean jaws, the which are the worst things that any man can have. Not only because of their own consumption and slow length of leverage, but mainly on account of the sadness they impart, and the timid recollection of a hungry wolf, to the man who might have lifted up a fatter individual.

But in Rodney’s great encounter with the Spanish fleet, Carroway showed such a dauntless spirit, and received such a wound, that it was impossible not to pay him some attention. His name was near the bottom of a very long list, but it made a mark on some one’s memory, depositing a chance of coming up some day, when he should be reported hit again. And so good was his luck that he soon was hit again, and a very bad hit it was; but still he got over it without promotion, because that enterprise was one in which nearly all our men ran away, and therefore required to be well pushed up for the sake of the national honor. When such things happen, the few who stay behind must be left behind in the Gazette as well. That wound, therefore, seemed at first to go against him, but he bandaged it, and plastered it, and hoped for better luck. And his third wound truly was a blessed one, a slight one, and taken in the proper course of things, without a slur upon any of his comrades. This set him up again with advancement and appointment, and enabled him to marry and have children seven.

The lieutenant was now about fifty years of age, gallant and lively as ever, and resolute to attend to his duty and himself as well. His duty was now along shore, in command of the Coast-guard of the East District; for the loss of a good deal of one heel made it hard for him to step about as he should do when afloat. The place suited him, and he was fond of it, although he grumbled sometimes about his grandfather, and went on as if his office was beneath him. He abused all his men, and all the good ones liked him, and respected him for his clear English. And he enjoyed this free exercise of language out-of-doors, because inside his threshold he was on his P’s and Q’s. To call him “ugly Carroway,” as coarse people did, because of a scar across his long bold nose, was petty and unjust, and directly contradicted by his own and his wife’s opinion. For nobody could have brighter eyes, or a kindlier smile, and more open aspect in the forepart of the week, while his Sunday shave retained its influence, so far as its limited area went, for he kept a long beard always. By Wednesday he certainly began to look grim, and on Saturday ferocious, pending the advent of the Bridlington barber, who shaved all the Quay every Sunday. But his mind was none the worse, and his daughters liked him better when he rasped their young cheeks with his beard, and paid a penny. For to his children he was a loving and tender-hearted father, puzzled at their number, and sometimes perplexed at having to feed and clothe them, yet happy to give them his last and go without, and even ready to welcome more, if Heaven should be pleased to send them.

But Mrs. Carroway, most fidgety of women, and born of a well-shorn family, was unhappy from the middle to the end of the week that she could not scrub her husband’s beard off. The lady’s sense of human crime, and of everything hateful in creation, expressed itself mainly in the word “dirt.” Her rancor against that nobly tranquil and most natural of elements inured itself into a downright passion. From babyhood she had been notorious for kicking her little legs out at the least speck of dust upon a tiny red shoe. Her father — a clergyman — heard so much of this, and had so many children of a different stamp, that when he came to christen her, at six months of age (which used to be considered quite an early time of life), he put upon her the name of “Lauta,” to which she thoroughly acted up; but people having ignorance of foreign tongues said that he always meant “Matilda.”

Such was her nature, and it grew upon her; so that when a young and gallant officer, tall and fresh, and as clean as a frigate, was captured by her neat bright eyes, very clean run, and sharp cut-water, she began to like to look at him. Before very long, his spruce trim ducks, careful scrape of Brunswick-leather boots, clean pocket-handkerchiefs, and fine specklessness, were making and keeping a well-swept path to the thoroughly dusted store-room of her heart. How little she dreamed, in those virgin days, that the future could ever contain a week when her Charles would decline to shave more than once, and then have it done for him on a Sunday!

She hesitated, for she had her thoughts — doubts she disdained to call them — but still he forgot once to draw his boots sideways, after having purged the toe and heel, across the bristle of her father’s mat. With the quick eye of love he perceived her frown, and the very next day he conquered her. His scheme was unworthy, as it substituted corporate for personal purity; still it succeeded, as unworthy schemes will do. On the birthday of his sacred Majesty, Charles took Matilda to see his ship, the 48-gun frigate Immaculate, commanded by a well-known martinet. Her spirit fell within her, like the Queen of Sheba’s, as she gazed, but trembled to set down foot upon the trim order and the dazzling choring. She might have survived the strict purity of all things, the deck lines whiter than Parian marble, the bulwarks brighter than the cheek-piece of a grate, the breeches of the guns like goodly gold, and not a whisker of a rope’s end curling the wrong way, if only she could have espied a swab, or a bucket, or a flake of holy-stone, or any indicament of labor done. “Artis est celare artem;” this art was unfathomable.

Matilda was fain to assure herself that the main part of this might be superficial, like a dish-cover polished with the spots on, and she lost her handkerchief on purpose to come back and try a little test-work of her own. This was a piece of unstopped knotting in the panel of a hatchway, a resinous hole that must catch and keep any speck of dust meandering on the wayward will of wind. Her cambric came out as white as it went in!

She surrendered at discretion, and became the prize of Carroway.

Now people at Bridlington Quay declared that the lieutenant, though he might have carried off a prize, was certainly not the prize-master; and they even went so far as to say that “he could scarcely call his soul his own.” The matter was no concern of theirs, neither were their conclusions true. In little things the gallant officer, for the sake of discipline and peace, submitted to due authority; and being so much from home, he left all household matters to a firm control. In return for this, he was always thought of first, and the best of everything was kept for him, and Mrs. Carroway quoted him to others as a wonder, though she may not have done so to himself. And so, upon the whole, they got on very well together.

Now on this day, when the lieutenant had exhausted a grumble of unusual intensity, and the fair Geraldine (his eldest child) had obeyed him to the letter, by keeping her mouth full while she warmed a plate for him, it was not long before his usual luck befell the bold Carroway. Rap, rap, came a knock at the side door of his cottage — a knock only too familiar; and he heard the gruff voice of Cadman —“Can I see his honor immediately?”

“No, you can not,” replied Mrs. Carroway. “One would think you were all in a league to starve him. No sooner does he get half a mouthful —”

“Geraldine, put it on the hob, my dear, and a basin over it. Matilda, my love, you know my maxim —‘Duty first, dinner afterward.’ Cadman, I will come with you.”

The revenue officer took up his hat (which had less time now than his dinner to get cold) and followed Cadman to the usual place for holding privy councils. This was under the heel of the pier (which was then about half as long as now) at a spot where the outer wall combed over, to break the crest of the surges in the height of a heavy eastern gale. At neap tides, and in moderate weather, this place was dry, with a fine salt smell; and with nothing in front of it but the sea, and nothing behind it but solid stone wall, any one would think that here must be commune sacred, secret, and secluded from eavesdroppers. And yet it was not so, by reason of a very simple reason.

Upon the roadway of the pier, and over against a mooring-post, where the parapet and the pier itself made a needful turn toward the south, there was an equally needful thing, a gully-hole with an iron trap to carry off the rain that fell, or the spray that broke upon the fabric; and the outlet of this gully was in the face of the masonry outside. Carroway, not being gifted with a crooked mind, had never dreamed that this little gut might conduct the pulses of the air, like the Tyrant’s Ear, and that the trap at the end might be a trap for him. Yet so it was; and by gently raising the movable iron frame at the top, a well-disposed person might hear every word that was spoken in the snug recess below. Cadman was well aware of this little fact, but left his commander to find it out.

The officer, always thinly clad (both through the state of his wardrobe and his dread of effeminate comfort), settled his bony shoulders against the rough stonework, and his heels upon a groyne, and gave his subordinate a nod, which meant, “Make no fuss, but out with it.” Cadman, a short square fellow with crafty eyes, began to do so.

“Captain, I have hit it off at last. Hackerbody put me wrong last time, through the wench he hath a hankering after. This time I got it, and no mistake, as right as if the villain lay asleep ‘twixt you and me, and told us all about it with his tongue out; and a good thing for men of large families like me.”

“All that I have heard such a number of times,” his commander answered, crustily, “that I whistle, as we used to do in a dead calm, Cadman. An old salt like you knows how little comes of that.”

“There I don’t quite agree with your honor. I have known a hurricane come from whistling. But this time there is no woman about it, and the penny have come down straightforrard. New moon Tuesday next, and Monday we slips first into that snug little cave. He hath a’ had his last good run.”

“How much is coming this time, Cadman? I am sick and tired of those three caves. It is all old woman’s talk of caves, while they are running south, upon the open beach.”

“Captain, it is a big venture — the biggest of all the summer, I do believe. Two thousand pounds, if there is a penny, in it. The schooner, and the lugger, and the ketch, all to once, of purpose to send us scattering. But your honor knows what we be after most. No woman in it this time, Sir. The murder has been of the women, all along. When there is no woman, I can see my way. We have got the right pig by the ear this time.”

“John Cadman, your manner of speech is rude. You forget that your commanding officer has a wife and family, three-quarters of which are female. You will give me your information without any rude observations as to sex, of which you, as a married man, should be ashamed. A man and his wife are one flesh, Cadman, and therefore you are a woman yourself, and must labor not to disgrace yourself. Now don’t look amazed, but consider these things. If you had not been in a flurry, like a woman, you would not have spoiled my dinner so. I will meet you at the outlook at six o’clock. I have business on hand of importance.”

With these words Carroway hastened home, leaving Cadman to mutter his wrath, and then to growl it, when his officer was out of ear-shot.

“Never a day, nor an hour a’most, without he insulteth of me. A woman, indeed! Well, his wife may be a man, but what call hath he to speak of mine so? John Cadman a woman, and one flesh with his wife! Pretty news that would be for my missus!”

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