Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXVIII

Farewell, Wife and Children Dear

Now Robin Lyth held himself in good esteem; as every honest man is bound to do, or surely the rogues will devour him. Modesty kept him silent as to his merits very often; but the exercise of self-examination made them manifest to himself. As the Yorkshireman said to his minister, when pressed to make daily introspection, “I dare na do it, sir; it sets me up so, and leaveth no chance for my neighbors;” so the great free-trader, in charity for others, forbore to examine himself too much. But without doing that, he was conscious of being as good as Master Anerley; and intended, with equal mind and manner, to state his claim to the daughter’s hand.

It was not, therefore, as the farmer thought, any deep sense of illegality which kept him from coming forward now, as a gallant sailor always does; but rather the pressure of sterner business, and the hard necessity of running goods, according to honorable contract. After his narrow escape from outrage upon personal privilege — for the habeas corpus of the Constitution should at least protect a man while making love — it was clear that the field of his duties as a citizen was padlocked against him, until next time. Accordingly he sought the wider bosom of the ever-liberal sea; and leaving the noble Carroway to mourn — or in stricter truth, alas! to swear — away he sailed, at the quartering of the moon, for the land of the genial Dutchman.

Now this was the time when the forces of the realm were mightily gathered together against him. Hitherto there had been much fine feeling on the part of his Majesty’s revenue, and a delicate sense of etiquette. All the commanders of the cutters on the coast, of whom and of which there now were three, had met at Carroway’s festive board; and, looking at his family, had one and all agreed to let him have the first chance of the good prize-money. It was All-saints’ Day of the year gone by when they met and thus enjoyed themselves; and they bade their host appoint his time; and he said he should not want three months. At this they laughed, and gave him twelve; and now the twelve had slipped away.

“I would much rather never have him caught at all,” said Carroway, to his wife, when his year of precaption had expired, “than for any of those fellows to nab him; especially that prig last sent down,”

“So would I, dear; so would I, of course,” replied Mrs. Carroway, who had been all gratitude for their noble self-denial when they made the promise; “what airs they would give themselves! And what could they do with the money? Drink it out! I am sure that the condition of our best tumblers, after they come, is something. People who don’t know anything about it always fancy that glass will clean. Glass won’t clean, after such men as those; and as for the table — don’t talk of it.”

“Two out of the three are gone”— the lieutenant’s conscience was not void of offense concerning tables —“gone upon promotion. Everybody gets promotion, if he only does his very best never to deserve it. They ought to have caught Lyth long and long ago. What are such dummies fit for?”

“But, Charles, you know that they would have acted meanly and dishonestly if they had done so. They promised not to catch him; and they carried out their promise.”

“Matilda, such questions are beyond you altogether. You can not be expected to understand the service. One of those trumpery, half-decked craft — or they used to be half-deckers in my time — has had three of those fresh-meat Jemmies over her in a single twelvemonth. But of course they were all bound by the bargain they had made. As for that, small thanks to them. How could they catch him, when I couldn’t? They chop and they change so, I forget their names; my head is not so good as it was, with getting so much moonlight.”

“Nonsense, Charles; you know them like your fingers. But I know what you want; you want Geraldine, you are so proud to hear her tell it.”

“Tilly, you are worse. You love to hear her say it. Well, call her in, and let her do it. She is making an oyster-shell cradle over there, with two of the blessed babies.”

“Charles, how very profane you are! All babes are blest by the Lord, in an independent parable, whether they can walk, or crawl, or put up their feet and take nourishment. Jerry, you come in this very moment. What are you doing with your two brothers there, and a dead skate — bless the children! Now say the cutters and their captains.”

Geraldine, who was a pretty little girl, as well as a good and clever one, swept her wind-tossed hair aside, and began to repeat her lesson; for which she sometimes got a penny when her father had made a good dinner.

“His Majesty’s cutter Swordfish, Commander Nettlebones, senior officer of the eastern division after my papa, although a very young man still, carries a swivel-gun and two bow-chasers. His Majesty’s cutter Kestrel, commanded by Lieutenant Bowler, is armed with three long-John’s, or strap-guns, capable of carrying a pound of shrapnel. His Majesty’s cutter Albatross, Lieutenant Corkoran Donovan, carries no artillery yet —”

“Not artillery — guns, child; your mother calls them ‘artillery.’”

“Carries no guns yet, because she was captured from the foreign enemy; and as yet she has not been reported stanch, since the British fire made a hole in her. It is, however, expected that those asses at the dock-yard —-”

“Geraldine, how often must I tell you that you are not to use that word? It is your father’s expression.”

“It is, however, expected that those donkeys at the dock-yard will recommend her to be fitted with two brass howisyers.”

“Howitzers, my darling. Spell that word, and you shall have your penny. Now you may run out and play again. Give your old father a pretty kiss for it. I often wish,” continued the lieutenant, as his daughter flew back to the dead skate and the babies, “that I had only got that child’s clear head. Sometimes the worry is too much for me. And now if Nettlebones catches Robin Lyth, to a certainty I shall be superseded, and all of us go to the workhouse. Oh, Tilly, why won’t your old aunt die? We might be so happy afterward.”

“Charles, it is not only sinful, but wicked, to show any wish to hurry her. The Lord knows best what is good for us; and our prayers upon such matters should be silent.”

“Well, mine would be silent and loud too, according to the best chance of being heard. Not that I would harm the poor old soul; I wish her every heavenly blessing; and her time is come for all of them. But I never like to think of that, because one’s own time might come first. I have felt very much out of spirits today, as my poor father did the day before he got his billet. You know, Matilda, he was under old Boscawen, and was killed by the very first shot fired; it must be five-and-forty years ago. How my mother did cry, to be sure! But I was too young to understand it. Ah, she had a bad time with us all! Matilda, what would you do without me?”

“Why, Charles, you are not a bit like yourself. Don’t go to-night; stay at home for once. And the weather is very uncertain, too. They never will attempt their job to-night. Countermand the boats, dear; I will send word to stop them. You shall not even go out of the house yourself.”

“As if it were possible! I am not an old woman, nor even an old man yet, I hope. In half an hour I must be off. There will be good time for a pipe. One more pipe in the old home, Tilly. After all I am well contented with it, although now and then I grumble; and I don’t like so much cleaning.”

“The cleaning must be done; I could never leave off that. Your room is going to be turned out tomorrow, and before you go you must put away your papers, unless you wish me to do it. You really never seem to understand when things are really important. Do you wish me to have a great fever in the house? It is a fortnight since your boards were scrubbed; and how can you think of smoking?”

“Very well, Tilly, I can have it by-and-by, ‘upon the dancing waves,’ as little Tommy has picked up the song. Only I can not let the men on duty; and to see them longing destroys my pleasure. Lord, how many times I should like to pass my pipe to Dick, or Ellis, if discipline allowed of it! A thing of that sort is not like feeding, which must be kept apart by nature; but this by custom only.”

“And a very good custom, and most needful,” answered Mrs. Carroway. “I never can see why men should want to do all sorts of foolish things with tobacco — dirty stuff, and full of dust. No sooner do they begin, like a tinder-box, than one would think that it made them all alike. They want to see another body puffing two great streams of reeking smoke from pipe and from mouth, as if their own was not enough; and their good resolutions to speak truth of one another float away like so much smoke; and they fill themselves with bad charity. Sir Walter Raleigh deserved his head off, and Henry the Eighth knew what was right.”

“My dear, I fancy that your history is wrong. The king only chopped off his own wives’ heads. But the moral of the lesson is the same. I will go and put away my papers. It will very soon be dark enough for us to start.”

“Charles, I can not bear your going. The weather is so dark, and the sea so lonely, and the waves are making such a melancholy sound. It is not like the summer nights, when I can see you six miles off, with the moon upon the sails, and the land out of the way. Let anybody catch him that has the luck. Don’t go this time, Charley.”

Carroway kissed his wife, and sent her to the baby, who was squalling well up stairs. And when she came down he was ready to start, and she brought the baby for him to kiss.

“Good-by, little chap — good-by, dear wife.” With his usual vigor and flourish, he said, “I never knew how to kiss a baby, though I have had such a lot of them.”

“Good-by, Charley dear. All your things are right; and here is the key of the locker. You are fitted out for three days; but you must on no account make that time of it. To-morrow I shall be very busy, but you must be home by the evening. Perhaps there will be a favorite thing of yours for supper. You are going a long way; but don’t be long,”

“Good-by, Tilly darling — good-by, Jerry dear — good-by, Tommy boy, and all my countless family. I am coming home tomorrow with a mint of money.”

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