Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXX

Inland Opinion

Whatever may be said, it does seem hard, from a wholly disinterested point of view, that so many mighty men, with swift ships, armed with villainous saltpetre and sharp steel, should have set their keen faces all together and at once to nip, defeat, and destroy as with a blow, liberal and well-conceived proceedings, which they had long regarded with a larger mind. Every one who had been led to embark soundly and kindly in this branch of trade felt it as an outrage and a special instance of his own peculiar bad luck that suddenly the officers should become so active. For long success had encouraged enterprise; men who had made a noble profit nobly yearned to treble it; and commerce, having shaken off her shackles, flapped her wings and began to crow; so at least she had been declared to do at a public banquet given by the Mayor of Malton, and attended by a large grain factor, who was known as a wholesale purveyor of illicit goods.

This man, Thomas Rideout, long had been the head-master of the smuggling school. The poor sea-faring men could not find money to buy, or even hire, the craft (with heavy deposit against forfeiture) which the breadth and turbulence of the North Sea made needful for such ventures. Across the narrow English Channel an open lobster boat might run, in common summer weather, without much risk of life or goods. Smooth water, sandy coves, and shelfy landings tempted comfortable jobs; and any man owning a boat that would carry a sail as big as a shawl might smuggle, with heed of the weather, and audacity. It is said that once upon the Sussex coast a band of haymakers, when the rick was done, and their wages in hand on a Saturday night, laid hold of a stout boat on the beach, pushed off to sea in tipsy faith of luck, and hit upon Dieppe with a set-fair breeze, having only a fisherman’s boy for guide. There on the Sunday they heartily enjoyed the hospitality of the natives; and the dawn of Tuesday beheld them rapt in domestic bliss and breakfast, with their money invested in old Cognac; and glad would they have been to make such hay every season. But in Yorkshire a good solid capital was needed to carry on free importation. Without broad bottoms and deep sides, the long and turbulent and often foggy voyage, and the rocky landing, could scarcely be attempted by sane folk; well-to-do people found the money, and jeopardized neither their own bodies, consciences, nor good repute. And perhaps this fact had more to do with the comparative mildness of the men than difference of race, superior culture, or a loftier mould of mind; for what man will fight for his employer’s goods with the ferocity inspired by his own? A thorough good ducking, or a tow behind a boat, was the utmost penalty generally exacted by the victors from the vanquished.

Now, however, it seemed too likely that harder measures must be meted. The long success of that daring Lyth, and the large scale of his operations, had compelled the authorities to stir at last. They began by setting a high price upon him, and severely reprimanding Carroway, who had long been doing his best in vain, and becoming flurried, did it more vainly still; and now they had sent the sharp Nettlebones down, who boasted largely, but as yet without result. The smugglers, however, were aware of added peril, and raised their wages accordingly.

When the pending great venture was resolved upon, as a noble finish to the season, Thomas Rideout would intrust it to no one but Robin Lyth himself; and the bold young mariner stipulated that after succeeding he should be free, and started in some more lawful business. For Dr. Upround, possessing as he did great influence with Robin, and shocked as he was by what Carroway had said, refused to have anything more to do with his most distinguished parishioner until he should forsake his ways. And for this he must not be thought narrow-minded, strait-laced, or unduly dignified. His wife quite agreed with him, and indeed had urged it as the only proper course; for her motherly mind was uneasy about the impulsive nature of Janetta; and chess-men to her were dolls, without even the merit of encouraging the needle. Therefore, with a deep sigh, the worthy magistrate put away his board — which came out again next day — and did his best to endure for a night the arithmetical torture of cribbage; while he found himself supported by a sense of duty, and capable of preaching hard at Carroway if he would only come for it on Sunday.

From that perhaps an officer of revenue may abstain, through the pressure of his duty and his purity of conscience; but a man of less correctness must behave more strictly. Therefore, when a gentleman of vigorous aspect, resolute step, and successful-looking forehead marched into church the next Sunday morning, showed himself into a prominent position, and hung his hat against a leading pillar, after putting his mouth into it, as if for prayer, but scarcely long enough to say “Amen,” behind other hats low whispers passed that here was the great financier of free trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of smuggling, the celebrated Master Rideout.

That conclusion was shared by the rector, whose heart immediately burned within him to have at this man, whom he had met before and suspiciously glanced at in Weighing Lane, as an interloper in his parish. Probably this was the very man whom Robin Lyth served too faithfully; and the chances were that the great operations now known to be pending had brought him hither, spying out all Flamborough. The corruption of fish-folk, the beguiling of women with foreign silks and laces, and of men with brandy, the seduction of Robin from lawful commerce, and even the loss of his own pet pastime, were to be laid at this man’s door. While donning his surplice, Dr. Upround revolved these things with gentle indignation, quickened, as soon as he found himself in white, by clerical and theological zeal. These feelings impelled him to produce a creaking of the heavy vestry door, a well-known signal for his daughter to slip out of the chancel pew and come to him.

“Now, papa, what is it?” cried that quick young lady; “that miserable Methodist that ruined your boots, has he got the impudence to come again? Oh, please do say so, and show me where he is; after church nobody shall stop me —”

“Janetta, you quite forget where you are, as well as my present condition. Be off like a good girl, as quick as you can, and bring No. 27 of my own handwriting —‘Render unto Caesar’— and put my hat upon it. My desire is that Billyjack should not know that a change has been made in my subject of discourse.”

“Papa, I see; it shall be done to perfection, while Billyjack is at his very loudest roar in the chorus of the anthem. But do tell me who it is; or how can I enjoy it? And lemon drops — lemon drops —”

“Janetta, I must have some very serious talk with you. Now don’t be vexed, darling; you are a thoroughly good girl, only thoughtless and careless; and remember, dear, church is not a place for high spirits.”

The rector, as behooved him, kissed his child behind the vestry door, to soothe all sting, and then he strode forth toward the reading-desk; and the tuning of fiddles sank to deferential scrape.

It was not at all a common thing, as one might know, for Widow Precious to be able to escape from casks and taps, and the frying pan of eggs demanded by some half-drowned fisherman, also the reckoning of notches on the bench for the pints of the week unpaid for, and then to put herself into her two best gowns (which she wore in the winter, one over the other — a plan to be highly commended to ladies who never can have dress enough), and so to enjoy, without losing a penny, the warmth of the neighborhood of a congregation. In the afternoon she could hardly ever do it, even if she had so wished, with knowledge that this was common people’s time; so if she went at all, it must — in spite of the difference of length — be managed in the morning. And this very morning here she was, earnest, humble, and devout, with both the tap keys in her pocket, and turning the leaves with a smack of her thumb, not only to show her learning, but to get the sweet approval of the rector’s pew.

Now if the good rector had sent for this lady, instead of his daughter Janetta, the sermon which he brought would have been the one to preach, and that about Caesar might have stopped at home; for no sooner did the widow begin to look about, taking in the congregation with a dignified eye, and nodding to her solvent customers, than the wrath of perplexity began to gather on her goodly countenance. To see that distinguished stranger was to know him ever afterward; his power of eating, and of paying, had endeared his memory; and for him to put up at any other house were foul shame to the “Cod Fish.”

“Hath a’ put up his beastie?” she whispered to her eldest daughter, who came in late.

“Naa, naa, no beastie,” the child replied, and the widow’s relish of her thumb was gone; for, sooth to say, no Master Rideout, nor any other patron of free trade was here, but Geoffrey Mordacks, of York city, general factor, and universal agent.

It was beautiful to see how Dr. Upround, firmly delivering his text, and stoutly determined to spare nobody, even insisted in the present case upon looking at the man he meant to hit, because he was not his parishioner. The sermon was eloquent, and even trenchant. The necessity of duties was urged most sternly; if not of directly Divine institution (though learned parallels were adduced which almost proved them to be so), yet to every decent Christian citizen they were synonymous with duty. To defy or elude them, for the sake of paltry gain, was a dark crime recoiling on the criminal; and the preacher drew a contrast between such guilty ways and the innocent path of the fisherman. Neither did he even relent and comfort, according to his custom, toward the end; that part was there, but he left it out; and the only consolation for any poor smuggler in all the discourse was the final Amen.

But to the rector’s great amazement, and inward indignation, the object of his sermon seemed to take it as a personal compliment. Mr. Mordacks not only failed to wince, but finding himself particularly fixed by the gaze of the eloquent divine, concluded that it was from his superior intelligence, and visible gifts of appreciation. Delighted with this — for he was not free from vanity — what did he do but return the compliment, not indecorously, but nodding very gently, as much as to say, “That was very good indeed, you were quite right, sir, in addressing that to me; you perceive that it is far above these common people. I never heard a better sermon.”

“What a hardened rogue you are!” thought Dr. Upround; “how feebly and incapably I must have put it! If you ever come again, you shall have my Ahab sermon.”

But the clergyman was still more astonished a very few minutes afterward. For, as he passed out of the church-yard gate, receiving, with his wife and daughter, the kindly salute of the parish, the same tall stranger stood before him, with a face as hard as a statue’s, and, making a short, quick flourish with his hat, begged for the honor of shaking his hand.

“Sir, it is to thank you for the very finest sermon I ever had the privilege of hearing. My name is Mordacks, and I flatter nobody — except myself — that I know a good thing when I get it.”

“Sir, I am obliged to you,” said Dr. Upround, stiffly, and not without suspicion of being bantered, so dry was the stranger’s countenance, and his manner so peculiar; “and if I have been enabled to say a good word in season, and its season lasts, it will be a source of satisfaction to me.”

“Yes, I fear there are many smugglers here. But I am no revenue officer, as your congregation seemed to think. May I call upon business tomorrow, sir? Thank you; then may I say ten o’clock — your time of beginning, as I hear? Mordacks is my name, sir, of York city, not unfavorably known there. Ladies, my duty to you!”

“What an extraordinary man, my dear!” Mrs. Upround exclaimed, with some ingratitude, after the beautiful bow she had received. “He may talk as he likes, but he must be a smuggler. He said that he was not an officer; that shows it, for they always run into the opposite extreme. You have converted him, my dear; and I am sure that we ought to be so much obliged to him. If he comes tomorrow morning to give up all his lace, do try to remember how my little all has been ruined in the wash, and I am sick of working at it.”

“My dear, he is no smuggler. I begin to recollect. He was down here in the summer, and I made a great mistake. I took him for Rideout; and I did the same today. When I see him tomorrow, I shall beg his pardon. One gets so hurried in the vestry always; they are so impatient with their fiddles! A great deal of it was Janetta’s fault.”

“It always is my fault, papa, somehow or other,” the young lady answered, with a faultless smile: and so they went home to the early Sunday dinner.

“Papa, I am in such a state of excitement; I am quite unfit to go to church this afternoon,” Miss Upround exclaimed, as they set forth again. “You may put me in stocks made out of hassocks — you may rope me to the Flodden Field man’s monument, of the ominous name of ‘Constable;’ but whatever you do, I shall never attend; and I feel that it is so sinful.”

“Janetta, your mamma has that feeling sometimes; for instance, she has it this afternoon; and there is a good deal to be said for it. But I fear that it would grow with indulgence.”

“I can firmly fancy that it never would; though one can not be sure without trying. Suppose that I were to try it just once, and let you know how it feels at tea-time?”

“My dear, we are quite round the corner of the lane. The example would be too shocking.”

“Now don’t you make any excuses, papa. Only one woman can have seen us yet; and she is so blind she will think it was her fault. May I go? Quick, before any one else comes.”

“If you are quite sure, Janetta, of being in a frame of mind which unfits you for the worship of your Maker —”

“As sure as a pike-staff, dear papa.”

“Then, by all means, go before anybody sees you, for whom it might be undesirable; and correct your thoughts, and endeavor to get into a befitting state of mind by tea-time.”

“Certainly, papa. I will go down on the stones, and look at the sea. That always makes me better; because it is so large and so uncomfortable.”

The rector went on to do his duty, by himself. A narrow-minded man might have shaken solemn head, even if he had allowed such dereliction. But Dr. Upround knew that the girl was good, and he never put strain upon her honesty. So away she sped by a lonely little foot-path, where nobody could take from her contagion of bad morals; and avoiding the incline of boats, she made off nicely for the quiet outer bay, and there, upon a shelfy rock, she sat and breathed the sea.

Flamborough, excellent place as it is, and delightful, and full of interest for people who do not live there, is apt to grow dull perhaps for spirited youth, in the scanty and foggy winter light. There is not so very much of that choice product generally called “society” by a man who has a house to let in an eligible neighborhood, and by ladies who do not heed their own. Moreover, it is vexatious not to have more rogues to talk about.

That scarcity may be less lamentable now, being one that takes care to redress itself, and perhaps any amateur purchaser of fish may find rogues enough now for his interest. But the rector’s daughter pined for neither society nor scandal: she had plenty of interest in her life, and in pleasing other people, whenever she could do it with pleasure to herself, and that was nearly always. Her present ailment was not languor, weariness, or dullness, but rather the want of such things; which we long for when they happen to be scarce, and declare them to be our first need, under the sweet name of repose.

Her mind was a little disturbed by rumors, wonders, and uncertainty. She was not at all in love with Robin Lyth, and laughed at his vanity quite as much as she admired his gallantry. She looked upon him also as of lower rank, kindly patronized by her father, but not to be treated as upon an equal footing. He might be of any rank, for all that was known; but he must be taken to belong to those who had brought him up and fed him. Janetta was a lively girl, of quick perception and some discretion, though she often talked much nonsense. She was rather proud of her position, and somewhat disdainful of uneducated folk; though (thanks to her father) Lyth was not one of these. Possibly love (if she had felt it) would have swept away such barriers; but Robin was grateful to his patron, and, knowing his own place in life, would rightly have thought it a mean return to attempt to inveigle the daughter. So they liked one another — but nothing more. It was not, therefore, for his sake only, but for her father’s, and that of the place, that Miss Upround now was anxious. For days and days she had watched the sea with unusual forebodings, knowing that a great importation was toward, and pretty sure to lead to blows, after so much preparation. With feminine zeal, she detested poor Carroway, whom she regarded as a tyrant and a spy; and she would have clapped her hands at beholding the three cruisers run upon a shoal, and there stick fast. And as for King George, she had never believed that he was the proper King of England. There were many stanch Jacobites still in Yorkshire, and especially the bright young ladies.

To-night, at least, the coast was likely to be uninvaded. Smugglers, even if their own forces would make breach upon the day of rest, durst not outrage the piety of the land, which would only deal with kegs indoors. The coast-guard, being for the most part southerns, splashed about as usual — a far more heinous sin against the Word of God than smuggling. It is the manner of Yorkshiremen to think for themselves, with boldness, in the way they are brought up to: and they made it a point of serious doubt whether the orders of the king himself could set aside the Fourth Commandment, though his arms were over it.

Dr. Upround’s daughter, as she watched the sea, felt sure that, even if the goods were ready, no attempt at landing would be made that night, though something might be done in the morning. But even that was not very likely, because (as seemed to be widely known) the venture was a very large one, and the landers would require a whole night’s work to get entirely through with it.

“I wish it was over, one way or the other,” she kept on saying to herself, as she gazed at the dark, weary lifting of the sea; “it keeps one unsettled as the waves themselves. Sunday always makes me feel restless, because there is so little to do. It is wicked, I suppose; but how can I help it? Why, there is a boat, I do declare! Well, even a boat is welcome, just to break this gray monotony. What boat can it be? None of ours, of course. And what can they want with our Church Cave? I hope they understand its dangers.”

Although the wind was not upon the shore, and no long rollers were setting in, short, uncomfortable, clumsy waves were lolloping under the steep gray cliffs, and casting up splashes of white here and there. To enter that cave is a risky thing, except at very favorable times, and even then some experience is needed, for the rocks around it are like knives, and the boat must generally be backed in, with more use of fender and hook than of oars. But the people in the boat seemed to understand all that. There were two men rowing, and one steering with an oar, and a fourth standing up, as if to give directions; though in truth he knew nothing about it, but hated even to seem to play second fiddle.

“What a strange thing!” Janetta thought, as she drew behind a rock, that they might not see her, “I could almost declare that the man standing up is that most extraordinary gentleman papa preached quite the wrong sermon at. Truly he deserves the Ahab one, for spying our caves out on a Sunday. He must be a smuggler, after all, or a very crafty agent of the Revenue. Well, I never! That old man steering, as sure as I live, is Robin Cockscroft, by the scarlet handkerchief round his head. Oh, Robin! Robin! could I ever have believed that you would break the Sabbath so? But the boat is not Robin’s. What boat can it be? I have not staid away from church for nothing. One of the men rowing has got no legs, when the boat goes up and down. It must be that villain of a tipsy Joe, who used to keep the ‘Monument.’ I heard that he was come back again, to stump for his beer as usual: and his son, that sings like the big church bell, and has such a very fine face and one leg — why, he is the man that pulls the other oar. Was there ever such a boat-load? But they know what they are doing.”

Truly it was, as the young lady said, an extraordinary boat’s crew. Old Robin Cockscroft, with a fringe of silver hair escaping from the crimson silk, which he valued so much more than it, and his face still grand (in spite of wrinkles and some weakness of the eyes), keenly understanding every wave, its character, temper, and complexity of influence, as only a man can understand who has for his life stood over them. Then tugging at the oars, or rather dipping them with a short well-practiced plunge, and very little toil of body, two ancient sailors, one considerably older than the other, inasmuch as he was his father, yet chips alike from a sturdy block, and fitted up with jury-stumps. Old Joe pulled rather the better oar, and called his son “a one-legged fiddler” when he missed the dip of wave; while Mordacks stood with his leg’s apart, and playing the easy part of critic, had his sneers at both of them. But they let him gibe to his liking; because they knew their work, and he did not. And, upon the whole, they went merrily.

The only one with any doubt concerning the issue of the job was the one who knew most about it, and that was Robin Cockscroft. He doubted not about want of strength, or skill, or discipline of his oars, but because the boat was not Flamburian, but borrowed from a collier round the Head. No Flamborough boat would ever think of putting to sea on a Sunday, unless it were to save human life; and it seemed to him that no strange boat could find her way into the native caves. He doubted also whether, even with the pressure of strong motive put upon him, which was not of money, it was a godly thing on his part to be steering in his Sunday clothes; and he feared to hear of it thereafter. But being in for it, he must do his utmost.

With genuine skill and solid patience, the entrance of the cave was made, and the boat was lost to Janetta’s view. She as well was lost in the deeper cavern of great wonder, and waited long, and much desired to wait even longer, to see them issue forth again, and learn what they could have been after. But the mist out of which they had come, and inside of which they would rather have remained perhaps, now thickened over land and sea, and groping dreamily for something to lay hold of, found a solid stay and rest-hold in the jagged headlands here. Here, accordingly, the coilings of the wandering forms began to slide into strait layers, and soft settlement of vapor. Loops of hanging moisture marked the hollows of the land-front, or the alleys of the waning light; and then the mass abandoned outline, fused its shades to pulp, and melted into one great blur of rain. Janetta thought of her Sunday frock, forgot the boat, and sped away for home.

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