Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XIV

Serious Charges

“Stephen, if it was anybody else, you would listen to me in a moment,” said Mrs. Anerley to her lord, a few days after that little interview in the Bempton Lane; “for instance, if it was poor Willie, how long would you be in believing it? But because it is Mary, you say ‘pooh! pooh!’ And I may as well talk to the old cracked churn.”

“First time of all my born days,” the farmer answered, with a pleasant smile, “that ever I was resembled to a churn. But a man’s wife ought to know best about un.”

“Stephen, it is not the churn — I mean you; and you never should attempt to ride off in that sort of way. I tell you Mary hath a mischief on her mind; and you never ought to bring up old churns to me. As long as I can carry almost anything in mind, I have been considered to be full of common-sense. And what should I use it upon, Captain Anerley, without it was my own daughter?”

The farmer was always conquered when she called him “Captain Anerley.” He took it to point at him as a pretender, a coxcomb fond of titles, a would-be officer who took good care to hold aloof from fighting. And he knew in his heart that he loved to be called “Captain Anerley” by every one who meant it.

“My dear,” he said, in a tone of submission, and with a look that grieved her, “the knowledge of such things is with you. I can not enter into young maids’ minds, any more than command a company.”

“Stephen, you could do both, if you chose, better than ten of eleven who do it. For, Stephen, you have a very tender mind, and are not at all like a churn, my dear. That was my manner of speech, you ought to know, because from my youngest days I had a crowd of imagination. You remember that, Stephen, don’t you?”

“I remember, Sophy, that in the old time you never resembled me to a churn, let alone a cracked one. You used to christen me a pillar, and a tree, and a rock, and a polished corner; but there, what’s the odds, when a man has done his duty? The names of him makes no difference.”

“‘Twist you and me, my dear,” she said, “nothing can make any difference. We know one another too well for that. You are all that I ever used to call you, before I knew better about you, and when I used to dwell upon your hair and your smile. You know what I used to say of them, now, Stephen?”

“Most complimentary — highly complimentary! Another young woman brought me word of it, and it made me stick firm when my mind was doubtful.”

“And glad you ought to be that you did stick firm. And you have the Lord to thank for it, as well as your own sense. But no time to talk of our old times now. They are coming up again, with those younkers, I’m afraid. Willie is like a Church; and Jack — no chance of him getting the chance of it; but Mary, your darling of the lot, our Mary — her mind is unsettled, and a worry coming over her; the same as with me when I saw you first.”

“It is the Lord that directs those things,” the farmer answered, steadfastly; “and Mary hath the sense of her mother, I believe. That it is maketh me so fond on her. If the young maid hath taken a fancy, it will pass, without a bit of substance to settle on. Why, how many fancies had you, Sophy, before you had the good luck to clap eyes on me?”

“That is neither here nor there,” his wife replied, audaciously; “how many times have you asked such questions, which are no concern of yours? You could not expect me, before ever I saw you, not to have any eyes or ears. I had plenty to say for myself; and I was not plain; and I acted accordingly.”

Master Anerley thought about this, because he had heard it and thought of it many times before. He hated to think about anything new, having never known any good come of it; and his thoughts would rather flow than fly, even in the fugitive brevity of youth. And now, in his settled way, his practice was to tread thought deeper into thought, as a man in deep snow keeps the track of his own boots, or as a child writes ink on pencil in his earliest copy-books. “You acted according,” he said; “and Mary might act according to you, mother.”

“How can you talk so, Stephen? That would be a different thing altogether. Young girls are not a bit like what they used to be in my time. No steadiness, no diligence, no duty to their parents. Gadding about is all they think of, and light-headed chatter, and saucy ribbons.”

“May be so with some of them. But I never see none of that in Mary.”

“Mary is a good girl, and well brought up,” her mother could not help admitting, “and fond of her home, and industrious. But for all that, she must be looked after sharply. And who can look after a child like her mother? I can tell you one thing, Master Stephen: your daughter Mary has more will of her own than the rest of your family all put together, including even your own good wife.”

“Prodigious!” cried the farmer, while he rubbed his hands and laughed —“prodigious, and a man might say impossible. A young lass like Mary, such a coaxing little poppet, as tender as a lambkin, and as soft as wool!”

“Flannel won’t only run one way; no more won’t Mary,” said her mother. “I know her better a long sight than you do; and I say if ever Mary sets her heart on any one, have him she will, be he cowboy, thief, or chimney-sweep. So now you know what to expect, Master Anerley.”

Stephen Anerley never made light of his wife’s opinions in those few cases wherein they differed from his own. She agreed with him so generally that in common fairness he thought very highly of her wisdom, and the present subject was one upon which she had an especial right to be heard.

“Sophy,” he said, as he set up his coat to be off to a cutting of clover on the hill — for no reaping would begin yet for another month —“the things you have said shall abide in my mind. Only you be a-watching of the little wench. Harry Tanfield is the man I would choose for her of all others. But I never would force any husband on a lass; though stern would I be to force a bad one off, or one in an unfit walk of life. No inkle in your mind who it is, or wouldst have told me?”

“Well, I may, or I may not. I never like to speak promiscuous. You have the first right to know what I think. But I beg you to let me be a while. Not even to you, Steve, would I say it, without more to go upon than there is yet. I might do the lass a great wrong in my surmising; and then you would visit my mistake on me, for she is the apple of your eye, no doubt.”

“There is never such another maid in all York County, nor in England, to my thinking.”

“She is my daughter as well as yours, and I would be the last to make cheap of her. I will not say another word until I know. But if I am right — which the Lord forbid — we shall both be ashamed of her, Stephen.”

“The Lord forbid! The Lord forbid! Amen. I will not hear another word.” The farmer snatched up his hat, and made off with a haste unusual for him, while his wife sat down, and crossed her arms, and began to think rather bitterly. For, without any dream of such a possibility, she was jealous sometimes of her own child. Presently the farmer rushed back again, triumphant with a new idea. His eyes were sparkling, and his step full of spring, and a brisk smile shone upon his strong and ruddy face.

“What a pair of stupes we must be to go on so!” he cried, with a couple of bright guineas in his hand. “Mary hath not had a new frock even, going on now for a year and a half. Sophy, it is enough to turn a maid into thinking of any sort of mischief. Take you these and make everything right. I was saving them up for her birthday, but maybe another will turn up by that. My dear, you take them, and never be afeared.”

“Stephen, you may leave them, if you like. I shall not be in any haste to let them go. Either give them to the lass yourself, or leave it to me purely. She shall not have a sixpence, unless it is deserved.”

“Of course I leave it in your hands, wife. I never come between you and your children. But young folk go piping always after money now; and even our Mary might be turning sad without it.”

He hastened off again, without hearing any more; for he knew that some hours of strong labor were before him, and to meet them with a heavy heart would be almost a new thing for him. Some time ago he had begun to hold the plough of heaviness, through the difficult looseness of Willie’s staple, and the sudden maritime slope of Jack; yet he held on steadily through all this, with the strength of homely courage. But if in the pride of his heart, his Mary, he should find no better than a crooked furrow, then truly the labor of his latter days would be the dull round of a mill horse.

Now Mary, in total ignorance of that council held concerning her, and even of her mother’s bad suspicions, chanced to come in at the front porch door soon after her father set off to his meadows by way of the back yard. Having been hard at work among her flowers, she was come to get a cupful of milk for herself, and the cheery content and general goodwill encouraged by the gardener’s gentle craft were smiling on her rosy lips and sparkling in her eyes. Her dress was as plain as plain could be — a lavender twill cut and fitted by herself — and there was not an ornament about her that came from any other hand than Nature’s. But simple grace of movement and light elegance of figure, fair curves of gentle face and loving kindness of expression, gladdened with the hope of youth — what did these want with smart dresses, golden brooches, and two guineas? Her mother almost thought of this when she called Mary into the little parlor. And the two guineas lay upon the table.

“Mary, can you spare a little time to talk with me? You seem wonderfully busy, as usual.”

“Mother, will you never make allowance for my flowers? They depend upon the weather, and they must have things accordingly.”

“Very well; let them think about what they want next, while you sit down a while and talk with me.”

The girl was vexed; for to listen to a lecture, already manifest in her mother’s eyes, was a far less agreeable job than gardening. And the lecture would have done as well by candle-light, which seldom can be said of any gardening. However, she took off her hat, and sat down, without the least sign of impatience, and without any token of guilt, as her mother saw, and yet stupidly proceeded just the same.

“Mary,” she began, with a gaze of stern discretion, which the girl met steadfastly and pleasantly, “you know that I am your own mother, and bound to look after you well, while you are so very young; for though you are sensible some ways, Mary, in years and in experience what are you but a child? Of the traps of the world and the wickedness of people you can have no knowledge. You always think the best of everybody; which is a very proper thing to do, and what I have always brought you up to, and never would dream of discouraging. And with such examples as your father and your mother, you must be perverse to do otherwise. Still, it is my duty to warn you, Mary — and you are getting old enough to want it — that the world is not made up of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and good uncles. There are always bad folk who go prowling about like wolves in-wolves in-what is it —”

“Sheep’s clothing,” the maiden suggested, with a smile, and then dropped her eyes maliciously.

“How dare you be pert, miss, correcting your own mother? Do I ever catch you reading of your Bible? But you seem to know so much about it, perhaps you have met some of them?”

“How can I tell, mother, when you won’t tell me?”

“I tell you, indeed! It is your place to tell me, I think. And what is more, I insist at once upon knowing all about it. What makes you go on in the way that you are doing? Do you take me for a drumledore, you foolish child? On Tuesday afternoon I saw you sewing with a double thread. Your father had potato-eyes upon his plate on Sunday; and which way did I see you trying to hang up a dish-cover? But that is nothing; fifty things you go wandering about in; and always out, on some pretense, as if the roof you were born under was not big enough for you. And then your eyes — I have seen your eyes flash up, as if you were fighting; and the bosom of your Sunday frock was loose in church two buttons; it was not hot at all to speak of, and there was a wasp next pew. All these things make me unhappy, Mary. My darling, tell me what it is.”

Mary listened with great amazement to this catalogue of crimes. At the time of their commission she had never even thought of them, although she was vexed with herself when she saw one eye — for in verity that was all — of a potato upon her father’s plate. Now she blushed when she heard of the buttons of her frock — which was only done because of tightness, and showed how long she must have worn it; but as to the double thread, she was sure that nothing of that sort could have happened.

“Why, mother dear,” she said, quite softly, coming up in her coaxing way, which nobody could resist, because it was true and gentle lovingness, “you know a hundred times more than I do. I have never known of any of the sad mistakes you speak of, except about the potato-eye, and then I had a round-pointed knife. But I want to make no excuses, mother; and there is nothing the matter with me. Tell me what you mean about the wolves.”

“My child,” said her mother, whose face she was kissing, while they both went on with talking, “it is no good trying to get over me. Either you have something on your mind, or you have not — which is it?”

“Mother, what can I have on my mind? I have never hurt any one, and never mean to do it. Every one is kind to me, and everybody likes me, and of course I like them all again. And I always have plenty to do, in and out, as you take very good care, dear mother. My father loves me, and so do you, a great deal more than I deserve, perhaps. I am happy in a Sunday frock that wants more stuff to button; and I have only one trouble in all the world. When I think of the other girls I see —”

“Never mind them, my dear. What is your one trouble?”

“Mother, as if you could help knowing! About my dear brother Jack, of course. Jack was so wonderfully good to me! I would walk on my hands and knees all the way to York to get a single glimpse of him.”

“You would never get as far as the rick-yard hedge. You children talk such nonsense. Jack ran away of his own free-will, and out of downright contrariness. He has repented of it only once, I dare say, and that has been ever since he did it, and every time he thought of it. I wish he was home again, with all my heart, for I can not bear to lose my children. And Jack was as good a boy as need be, when he got everything his own way. Mary, is that your only trouble? Stand where I can see you plainly, and tell me every word the truth. Put your hair back from your eyes now, like the catechism.”

“If I were saying fifty catechisms, what more could I do than speak the truth?” Mary asked this with some little vexation, while she stood up proudly before her mother, and clasped her hands behind her back. “I have told you everything I know, except one little thing, which I am not sure about.”

“What little thing, if you please? and how can you help being sure about it, positive as you are about everything?”

“Mother, I mean that I have not been sure whether I ought to tell you; and I meant to tell my father first, when there could be no mischief.”

“Mary, I can scarcely believe my ears. To tell your father before your mother, and not even him until nothing could be done to stop it, which you call ‘mischief!’ I insist upon knowing at once what it is. I have felt that you were hiding something. How very unlike you, how unlike a child of mine!”

“You need not disturb yourself, mother dear. It is nothing of any importance to me, though to other people it might be. And that is the reason why I kept it to myself.”

“Oh, we shall come to something by-and-by! One would really think you were older than your mother. Now, miss, if you please, let us judge of your discretion. What is it that you have been hiding so long?”

Mary’s face grew crimson now, but with anger rather than with shame; she had never thought twice about Robin Lyth with anything warmer than pity, but this was the very way to drive her into dwelling in a mischievous manner upon him.

“What I have been hiding,” she said, most distinctly, and steadfastly looking at her mother, “is only that I have had two talks with the great free-trader Robin Lyth.”

“That arrant smuggler! That leader of all outlaws! You have been meeting him on the sly!”

“Certainly not. But I met him once by chance; and then, as a matter of business, I was forced to meet him again, dear mother.”

“These things are too much for me,” Mrs. Anerley said, decisively. “When matters have come to such a pass, I must beg your dear father to see to them.”

“Very well, mother; I would rather have it so. May I go now and make an end of my gardening?”

“Certainly — as soon as you have made an end of me, as you must quite have laid your plans to do. I have seen too much to be astonished any more. But to think that a child of mine, my one and only daughter, who looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, should be hand in glove with the wickedest smuggler of the age, the rogue everybody shoots at — but can not hit him, because he was born to be hanged —-the by-name, the by-word, the by-blow, Robin Lyth!” Mrs. Anerley covered her face with both hands.

“How would you like your own second cousin,” said Mary, plucking up her spirit, “your own second cousin, Mistress Cockscroft, to hear you speak so of the man that supports them at the risk of his life, every hour of it? He may be doing wrong — it is not for me to say — but he does it very well, and he does it nobly. And what did you show me in your drawer, dear mother? And what did you wear when that very cruel man, Captain Carroway, came here to dine on Sunday?”

“You wicked, undutiful child! Go away! I wish to have nothing more to say to you.”

“No, I will not go away,” cried Mary, with her resolute spirit in her eyes and brow; “when false and cruel charges are brought against me, I have the right to speak, and I will use it. I am not hand in glove with Robin Lyth, or any other Robin. I think a little more of myself than that. If I have done any wrong, I will meet it, and be sorry, and submit to any punishment. I ought to have told you before, perhaps; that is the worst you can say of it. But I never attached much importance to it; and when a man is hunted so, was I to join his enemies? I have only seen him twice: the first time by purest accident, and the second time to give him back a piece of his own property. And I took my brother with me; but he ran away, as usual.”

“Of course, of course. Every one to blame but you, miss. However, we shall see what your father has to say. You have very nearly taken all my breath away; but I shall expect the whole sky to tumble in upon us if Captain Anerley approves of Robin Lyth as a sweetheart for his daughter.”

“I never thought of Captain Lyth; and Captain Lyth never thought of me. But I can tell you one thing, mother — if you wanted to make me think of him, you could not do it better than by speaking so unjustly.”

“After that perhaps you will go back to your flowers. I have heard that they grow very fine ones in Holland. Perhaps you have got some smuggled tulips, my dear.”

Mary did not condescend to answer, but said to herself, as she went to work again, “Tulips in August! That is like the rest of it. However, I am not going to be put out, when I feel that I have not done a single bit of harm.” And she tried to be happy with her flowers, but could not enter into them as before.

Mistress Anerley was as good as her word, at the very first opportunity. Her husband returned from the clover-stack tired and hungry, and angry with a man who had taken too much beer, and ran at him with a pitchfork; angry also with his own son Willie for not being anywhere in the way to help. He did not complain; and his wife knew at once that he ought to have done so, to obtain relief. She perceived that her own discourse about their daughter was still on his mind, and would require working off before any more was said about it. And she felt as sure as if she saw it that in his severity against poor Willie — for not doing things that were beneath him — her master would take Mary’s folly as a joke, and fall upon her brother, who was so much older, for not going on to protect and guide her. So she kept till after supper-time her mouthful of bad tidings.

And when the farmer heard it all, as he did before going to sleep that night, he had smoked three pipes of tobacco, and was calm; he had sipped (for once in a way) a little Hollands, and was hopeful. And though he said nothing about it, he felt that without any order of his, or so much as the faintest desire to be told of it, neither of these petty comforts would bear to be rudely examined of its duty. He hoped for the best, and he believed the best, and if the king was cheated, why, his loyal subject was the same, and the women were their masters.

“Have no fear, no fear,” he muttered back through the closing gate of sleep; “Mary knows her business — business —” and he buzzed it off into a snore.

In the morning, however, he took a stronger and more serious view of the case, pronouncing that Mary was only a young lass, and no one could ever tell about young lasses. And he quite fell into his wife’s suggestion, that the maid could be spared till harvest-time, of which (even with the best of weather) there was little chance now for another six weeks, the season being late and backward. So it was resolved between them both that the girl should go on the following day for a visit to her uncle Popplewell, some miles the other side of Filey. No invitation was required; for Mr. and Mrs. Popplewell, a snug and comfortable pair, were only too glad to have their niece, and had often wanted to have her altogether; but the farmer would never hear of that.

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