Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXIV

Love Penitent

“I tell you, Captain Anerley, that she knocked me down. Your daughter there, who looks as if butter would not melt in her mouth, knocked down Commander Carroway of his Majesty’s coastguard, like a royal Bengal tiger, Sir. I am not come to complain; such an action I would scorn; and I admire the young lady for her spirit, Sir. My sword was drawn; no man could have come near me; but before I could think, Sir, I was lying on my back. Do you call that constitutional?”

“Mary, lof, however could you think it — to knock down Captain Carroway?”

“Father, I never did. He went down of himself, because he was flourishing about so. I never thought what I was doing of at all. And with all my heart I beg his pardon. What right had you, Sir, to come spying after me?”

This interview was not of the common sort. Lieutenant Carroway, in full uniform, was come to Anerley Farm that afternoon; not for a moment to complain of Mary, but to do his duty, and to put things straight; while Mary had insisted upon going home at once from the hospitable house of Uncle Popplewell, who had also insisted upon going with her, and taking his wife to help the situation.

A council had been called immediately, with Mistress Anerley presiding; and before it had got beyond the crying stage, in marched the brave lieutenant.

Stephen Anerley was reserving his opinion — which generally means that there is none yet to reserve — but in his case there would be a great deal by-and-by. Master Popplewell had made up his mind and his wife’s, long ago, and confirmed it in the one-horse shay, while Mary was riding Lord Keppel in the rear; and the mind of the tanner was as tough as good oak bark. His premises had been intruded upon — the property which he had bought with his own money saved by years of honest trade, his private garden, his ornamental bower, his wife’s own pleasure-plot, at a sacred moment invaded, trampled, and outraged by a scurvy preventive-man and his low crew. The first thing he had done to the prostrate Carroway was to lay hold of him by the collar, and shake his fist at him and demand his warrant — a magistrate’s warrant, or from the crown itself. The poor lieutenant having none to show, “Then I will have the law of you, Sir,” the tanner shouted; “if it costs me two hundred and fifty pounds. I am known for a man, Sir, who sticks to his word; and my attorney is a genuine bulldog.”

This had frightened Carroway more than fifty broadsides. Truly he loved fighting; but the boldest sailor bears away at prospect of an action at law. Popplewell saw this, and stuck to his advantage, and vowed, until bed-time, satisfaction he would have; and never lost the sight of it until he fell asleep.

Even now it was in his mind, as Carroway could see; his eyebrows meant it, and his very surly nod, and the way in which he put his hands far down into his pockets. The poor lieutenant, being well aware that zeal had exceeded duty (without the golden amnesty of success), and finding out that Popplewell was rich and had no children, did his very best to look with real pleasure at him, and try to raise a loftier feeling in his breast than damages. But the tanner only frowned, and squared his elbows, and stuck his knuckles sharply out of both his breeches pockets. And Mrs. Popplewell, like a fat and most kind-hearted lady, stared at the officer as if she longed to choke him.

“I tell you again, Captain Anerley,” cried the lieutenant, with his temper kindling, “that no consideration moved me, Sir, except that of duty. As for my spying after any pretty girls, my wife, who is now down with her eighth baby, would get up sooner than hear of it. If I intruded upon your daughter, so as to justify her in knocking me down, Captain Anerley, it was because — well I won’t say, Mary, I won’t say; we have all been young; and our place is to know better.”

“Sir, you are a gentleman,” cried Popplewell with heat; “here is my hand, and you may trespass on my premises, without bringing any attorney.”

“Did you say her eighth baby? Oh, Commander Carroway,” Mrs. Popplewell began to whisper; “what a most interesting situation! Oh, I see why you have such high color, Sir.”

“Madam, it is enough to make me pale. At the same time I do like sympathy; and my dear wife loves the smell of tan.”

“We have retired, Sir, many years ago, and purchased a property near the seaside; and from the front gate you must have seen — But oh, I forgot, captain, you came through the hedge, or at any rate down the row of kidney-beans.”

“I want to know the truth,” shouted Stephen Anerley, who had been ploughing through his brow into his brain, while he kept his eyes fixed upon his daughter’s, and there found abashment, but no abasement; “naught have I to do with any little goings on, or whether an action was a gentleman’s or not. That question belongs to the regulars, I wand, or to the folk who have retired. Nobbut a farmer am I, in little business; but concerning of my children I will have my say. All of you tell me what is this about my Mary.”

As if he would drag their thoughts out of them, he went from one to another with a hard quick glance, which they all tried to shun; for they did not want to tell until he should get into a better frame of mind. And they looked at Mistress Anerley, to come forth and take his edge off; but she knew that when his eyes were so, to interfere was mischief. But Carroway did not understand the man.

“Come, now, Anerley,” the bold lieutenant said; “what are you getting into such a way about? I would sooner have lost the hundred pounds twice over, and a hundred of my own — if so be I ever had it — than get little Mary into such a row as this. Why, Lord bless my heart, one would think that there was murder in a little bit of sweethearting. All pretty girls do it; and the plain ones too. Come and smoke a pipe, my good fellow, and don’t terrify her.”

For Mary was sobbing in a corner by herself, without even her mother to come up and say a word.

“My daughter never does it,” answered Stephen Anerley; “my daughter is not like the foolish girls and women. My daughter knows her mind; and what she does she means to do. Mary, lof, come to your father, and tell him that every one is lying of you. Sooner would I trust a single quiet word of yours, than a pile, as big as Flambro Head, sworn by all the world together against my little Mary.”

The rest of them, though much aggrieved by such a bitter calumny, held their peace, and let him go with open arms toward his Mary. The farmer smiled, that his daughter might not have any terror of his public talk; and because he was heartily expecting her to come and tell him some trifle, and be comforted, and then go for a good happy cry, while he shut off all her enemies.

But instead of any nice work of that nature, Mary Anerley arose and looked at the people in the room — which was their very best, and by no means badly furnished — and after trying to make out, as a very trifling matter, what their unsettled minds might be, her eyes came home to her father’s, and did not flinch, although they were so wet.

Master Anerley, once and forever, knew that his daughter was gone from him. That a stronger love than one generation can have for the one before it — pure and devoted and ennobling as that love is — now had arisen, and would force its way. He did not think it out like that, for his mind was not strictly analytic — however his ideas were to that effect, which is all that need be said about them.

“Every word of it is true,” the girl said, gently; “father, I have done every word of what they say, except about knocking down Captain Carroway. I have promised to marry Robin Lyth, by-and-by, when you agree to it.”

Stephen Anerley’s ruddy cheeks grew pale, and his blue eyes glittered with amazement. He stared at his daughter till her gaze gave way; and then he turned to his wife, to see whether she had heard of it. “I told you so,” was all she said; and that tended little to comfort him. But he broke forth into no passion, as he might have done with justice and some benefit, but turned back quietly and looked at his Mary, as if he were saying, once for all, “good-by.”

“Oh, don’t, father, don’t,” the girl answered with a sob; “revile me, or beat me, or do anything but that. That is more than I can bear.”

“Have I ever reviled you? Have I ever beaten you?”

“Never — never once in all my life. But I beg you — I implore of you to do it now. Oh, father, perhaps I have deserved it.”

“You know best what you deserve. But no bad word shall you have of me. Only you must be careful for the future never to call me ‘father.’”

The farmer forgot all his visitors, and walked, without looking at anybody, toward the porch. Then that hospitable spot re-awakened his good manners, and he turned and smiled as if he saw them all sitting down to something juicy.

“My good friends, make yourselves at home,” he said; “the mistress will see to you while I look round. I shall be back directly, and we will have an early supper.”

But when he got outside, and was alone with earth and sky, big tears arose into his brave blue eyes, and he looked at his ricks, and his workmen in the distance, and even at the favorite old horse that whinnied and came to have his white nose rubbed, as if none of them belonged to him ever any more. “A’ would sooner have heard of broken bank,” he muttered to himself and to the ancient horse, “fifty times sooner, and begin the world anew, only to have Mary for a little child again.”

As the sound of his footsteps died away, the girl hurried out of the room, as if she were going to run after him; but suddenly stopped in the porch, as she saw that he scarcely even cared to feel the cheek of Lightfoot, who made a point of rubbing up his master’s whiskers with it, “Better wait, and let him come round,” thought Mary; “I never did see him so put out.” Then she ran up the stairs to the window on the landing, and watched her dear father grow dimmer and dimmer up the distance of the hill, with a bright young tear for every sad old step.

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