Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter II

Scargate Hall

Nearly twenty-four years had passed since Philip Yordas was carried to his last (as well as his first) repose, and Scargate Hall had enjoyed some rest from the turbulence of owners. For as soon as Duncan (Philip’s son, whose marriage had maddened his father) was clearly apprised by the late squire’s lawyer of his disinheritance, he collected his own little money and his wife’s, and set sail for India. His mother, a Scotchwoman of good birth but evil fortunes, had left him something; and his bride (the daughter of his father’s greatest foe) was not altogether empty-handed. His sisters were forbidden by the will to help him with a single penny; and Philippa, the elder, declaring and believing that Duncan had killed her father, strictly obeyed the injunction. But Eliza, being of a softer kind, and herself then in love with Captain Carnaby, would gladly have aided her only brother, but for his stern refusal. In such a case, a more gentle nature than ever endowed a Yordas might have grown hardened and bitter; and Duncan, being of true Yordas fibre (thickened and toughened with slower Scotch sap), was not of the sort to be ousted lightly and grow at the feet of his supplanters.

Therefore he cast himself on the winds, in search of fairer soil, and was not heard of in his native land; and Scargate Hall and estates were held by the sisters in joint tenancy, with remainder to the first son born of whichever it might be of them. And this was so worded through the hurry of their father to get some one established in the place of his own son.

But from paltry passions, turn away a little while to the things which excite, but are not excited by them.

Scargate Hall stands, high and old, in the wildest and most rugged part of the wild and rough North Riding. Many are the tales about it, in the few and humble cots, scattered in the modest distance, mainly to look up at it. In spring and summer, of the years that have any, the height and the air are not only fine, but even fair and pleasant. So do the shadows and the sunshine wander, elbowing into one another on the moor, and so does the glance of smiling foliage soothe the austerity of crag and scaur. At such time, also, the restless torrent (whose fury has driven content away through many a short day and long night) is not in such desperate hurry to bury its troubles in the breast of Tees, but spreads them in language that sparkles to the sun, or even makes leisure to turn into corners of deep brown-study about the people on its banks — especially, perhaps, the miller.

But never had this impetuous water more reason to stop and reflect upon people of greater importance, who called it their own, than now when it was at the lowest of itself, in August of the year 1801.

From time beyond date the race of Yordas had owned and inhabited this old place. From them the river, and the river’s valley, and the mountain of its birth, took name, or else, perhaps, gave name to them; for the history of the giant Yordas still remains to be written, and the materials are scanty. His present descendants did not care an old song for his memory, even if he ever had existence to produce it. Piety (whether in the Latin sense or English) never had marked them for her own; their days were long in the land, through a long inactivity of the Decalogue.

And yet in some manner this lawless race had been as a law to itself throughout. From age to age came certain gifts and certain ways of management, which saved the family life from falling out of rank and land and lot. From deadly feuds, exhausting suits, and ruinous profusion, when all appeared lost, there had always arisen a man of direct lineal stock to retrieve the estates and reprieve the name. And what is still more conducive to the longevity of families, no member had appeared as yet of a power too large and an aim too lofty, whose eminence must be cut short with axe, outlawry, and attainder. Therefore there ever had been a Yordas, good or bad (and by his own showing more often of the latter kind), to stand before heaven, and hold the land, and harass them that dwelt thereon. But now at last the world seemed to be threatened with the extinction of a fine old name.

When Squire Philip died in the river, as above recorded, his death, from one point of view, was dry, since nobody shed a tear for him, unless it was his child Eliza. Still, he was missed and lamented in speech, and even in eloquent speeches, having been a very strong Justice of the Peace, as well as the foremost of riotous gentlemen keeping the order of the county. He stood above them in his firm resolve to have his own way always, and his way was so crooked that the difficulty was to get out of it and let him have it. And when he was dead, it was either too good or too bad to believe in; and even after he was buried it was held that this might be only another of his tricks.

But after his ghost had been seen repeatedly, sitting on the chain and swearing, it began to be known that he was gone indeed, and the relief afforded by his absence endeared him to sad memory. Moreover, his good successors enhanced the relish of scandal about him by seeming themselves to be always so dry, distant, and unimpeachable. Especially so did “My Lady Philippa,” as the elder daughter was called by all the tenants and dependents, though the family now held no title of honor.

Mistress Yordas, as she was more correctly styled by usage of the period, was a maiden lady of fine presence, uncumbered as yet by weight of years, and only dignified thereby. Stately, and straight, and substantial of figure, firm but not coarse of feature, she had reached her forty-fifth year without an ailment or a wrinkle. Her eyes were steadfast, clear, and bright, well able to second her distinct calm voice, and handsome still, though their deep blue had waned into a quiet, impenetrable gray; while her broad clear forehead, straight nose, and red lips might well be considered as comely as ever, at least by those who loved her. Of these, however, there were not many; and she was content to have it so.

Mrs. Carnaby, the younger sister, would not have been content to have it so. Though not of the weak lot which is enfeoffed to popularity, she liked to be regarded kindly, and would rather win a smile than exact a courtesy. Continually it was said of her that she was no genuine Yordas, though really she had all the pride and all the stubbornness of that race, enlarged, perhaps, but little weakened, by severe afflictions. This lady had lost a beloved husband, Colonel Carnaby, killed in battle; and after that four children of the five she had been so proud of. And the waters of affliction had not turned to bitterness in her soul.

Concerning the outward part — which matters more than the inward at first hand — Mrs. Carnaby had no reason to complain of fortune. She had started well as a very fine baby, and grown up well into a lovely maiden, passing through wedlock into a sightly matron, gentle, fair, and showing reason. For generations it had come to pass that those of the Yordas race who deserved to be cut off for their doings out-of-doors were followed by ladies of decorum, self-restraint, and regard for their neighbor’s landmark. And so it was now with these two ladies, the handsome Philippa and the fair Eliza leading a peaceful and reputable life, and carefully studying their rent-roll.

It was not, however, in the fitness of things that quiet should reign at Scargate Hall for a quarter of a century; and one strong element of disturbance grew already manifest. Under the will of Squire Philip the heir-apparent was the one surviving child of Mrs. Carnaby.

If ever a mortal life was saved by dint of sleepless care, warm coddling, and perpetual doctoring, it was the precious life of Master Lancelot Yordas Carnaby. In him all the mischief of his race revived, without the strong substance to carry it off. Though his parents were healthy and vigorous, he was of weakly constitution, which would not have been half so dangerous to him if his mind also had been weakly. But his mind (or at any rate that rudiment thereof which appears in the shape of self-will even before the teeth appear) was a piece of muscular contortion, tough as oak and hard as iron. “Pet” was his name with his mother and his aunt; and his enemies (being the rest of mankind) said that pet was his name and his nature.

For this dear child could brook no denial, no slow submission to his wishes; whatever he wanted must come in a moment, punctual as an echo. In him re-appeared not the stubbornness only, but also the keen ingenuity of Yordas in finding out the very thing that never should be done, and then the unerring perception of the way in which it could be done most noxiously. Yet any one looking at his eyes would think how tender and bright must his nature be! “He favoreth his forebears; how can he help it?” kind people exclaimed, when they knew him. And the servants of the house excused themselves when condemned for putting up with him, “Yo know not what ‘a is, yo that talk so. He maun get ‘s own gait, lestwise yo wud chok’ un.”

Being too valuable to be choked, he got his own way always.

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