Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLV

The Thing is Just

“Was there ever such a man?” said Mr. Mordacks to himself, as he rode back to Flamborough against the bitter wind, after “fettling” the affairs of the poor Carroways, as well as might be for the present. “As if I had not got my hands too full already, now I am in for another plaguesome business, which will cost a lot of money, instead of bringing money in. How many people have I now to look after? In the first place, two vile wretches — Rickon Goold, the ship-scuttler, and John Cadman, the murderer — supposing that Dr. Upandown and Mrs. Carroway are right. Then two drunken tars, with one leg between them, who may get scared of the law, and cut and run. Then an outlawed smuggler, who has cut and run already; and a gentleman from India, who will be wild with disappointment through the things that have happened since I saw him last. After that a lawyer, who will fight tooth and nail of course, because it brings grist to his mill. That makes seven; and now to all these I have added number eight, and that the worst of all — not only a woman, but a downright mad one, as well as seven starving children. Charity is a thing that pays so slowly! That this poor creature should lose her head just now is most unfortunate. I have nothing whatever to lay before Sir Duncan, when I tell him of this vile catastrophe, except the boy’s own assertion, and the opinion of Dr. Upandown. Well, well, ‘faint heart,’ etc. I must nurse the people round; without me they would all have been dead. Virtue is its own reward. I hope the old lady has not burned my hare to death.”

The factor might well say that without his aid that large family must have perished. Their neighbors were not to be blamed for this, being locked out of the house, and having no knowledge of the frost and famine that prevailed within. Perhaps, when the little ones began to die, Geraldine might heave escaped from a window, and got help in time to save some of them, if she herself had any strength remaining; but as it was, she preferred to sacrifice herself, and obey her mother. “Father always told me,” she had said to Mr. Mordacks, when he asked her how so sharp a child could let things come to such a pitch, “that when he was out of the way, the first thing I was to mind always was to do what mother told me; and now he can’t come back no more, to let me off from doing it.”

By this time the “Cod with the Hook in his Gills” was as much at the mercy of Mr. Mordacks as if he had landed and were crimping him. Widow Precious was a very tough lady to get over, and she liked to think the worst she could of everybody — which proves in the end the most charitable course, because of the good-will produced by explanation — and for some time she had stood in the Flamburian attitude of doubt toward the factor. But even a Flamburian may at last be pierced; and then (as with other pachydermatous animals) the hole, once made, is almost certain to grow larger. So by dint of good offices here and there, kind interest, and great industry among a very simple and grateful race, he became the St. Oswald of that ancient shrine (as already has been hinted), and might do as he liked, even on the Sabbath-day. And as one of the first things he always liked to do was to enter into everybody’s business, he got into an intricacy of little knowledge too manifold even for his many-fibred brain. But some of this ran into and strengthened his main clew, leading into the story he was laboring to explore, and laying before him, as bright as a diamond, even the mystery of ear-rings.

“My highly valued hostess and admirable cook,” he said to Widow Precious, after making noble dinner, which his long snowy ride and work at Bridlington had earned, “in your knowledge of the annals of this interesting town, happen you to be able to recall the name of a certain man, John Cadman?”

“Ah, that ah deah,” Widow Tapsy answered, with a heavy sigh, which rattled all the dishes on the waiter; “and sma’ gude o’ un, sma’ gude, whativer. Geroot wi’ un!”

The landlady shut her firm lips with a smack, which Mordacks well knew by this time though seldom foreclosed by it now, as he had been before he became a Danish citizen. He was sure that she had some good reason for her silence; and the next day he found that the girl who had left her home, through Cadman’s villainy, was akin by her mother’s side to Mistress Precious. But he had another matter to discuss with her now, which caused him some misgivings, yet had better be faced manfully. In the safe philosophical distance of York from this strong landlady he had (for good reasons of his own) appointed the place of meeting with Sir Duncan Yordas at the rival hostelry, the inn of Thornwick. Widow Precious had a mind of uncommonly large type, so lofty and pure of all petty emotions, that if any one spoke of the Thornwick Inn, even upon her back premises, her dignity stepped in and said, “I can’t abide the stinkin’ naam o’ un.”

Of this persistently noble regard of a lower institution Mr. Mordacks was well aware; and it gave him pause, in his deep anxiety to spare a tender heart, and maintain the high standard of his breakfast kidneys. “Madam,” he began, and then he rubbed his mouth with the cross-cut out of the jack-towel by the sink, newly set on table, to satisfy him for a dinner napkin —“madam, will you listen, while I make an explanation?”

The landlady looked at him with dark suspicions gathering.

“Joost spak’ oot,” she said, “whativer’s woorkin’ i’ thah mahnd.”

“I am bound to meet a gentleman near Flamborough tomorrow,” Mr. Mordacks continued, with the effrontery of guilt, “who will come from the sea. And as it would not suit him to walk far inland, he has arranged for the interview at a poor little place called the Thorny Wick, or the Stubby Wick, or something of that sort. I thought it was due to you, madam, to explain the reason of my entering, even for a moment —”

“Ah dawn’t care. Sitha — they mah fettle thee there, if thow’s fondhead enew.”

Without another word she left the room, clattering her heavy shoes at the door; and Mordacks foresaw a sad encounter on the morrow, without a good breakfast to “fettle” him for it. It was not in his nature to dread anything much, and he could not see where he had been at all to blame; but gladly would he have taken ten per cent off his old contract, than meet Sir Duncan Yordas with the news he had to tell him.

One cause of the righteous indignation felt by the good mother Tapsy, was her knowledge that nobody could land just now in any cove under the Thornwick Hotel. With the turbulent snow-wind bringing in the sea, as now it had been doing for several days, even the fishermen’s cobles could not take the beach, much less any stranger craft. Mr. Mordacks was sharp; but an inland factor is apt to overlook such little facts marine.

Upon the following day he stood in the best room of the Thornwick Inn — which even then was a very decent place to any eyes uncast with envy — and he saw the long billows of the ocean rolling before the steady blowing of the salt-tongued wind, and the broad white valleys that between them lay, and the vaporous generation of great waves. They seemed to have little gift of power for themselves, and no sign of any heed of purport; only to keep at proper distance from each other, and threaten to break over long before they meant to do it. But to see what they did at the first opposition of reef, or crag, or headland bluff, was a cure for any delusion about them, or faith in their liquid benevolence. For spouts of wild fury dashed up into the clouds; and the shore, wherever any sight of it was left, weltered in a sadly frothsome state, like the chin of a Titan with a lather-brush at work.

“Why, bless my heart!” cried the keen-eyed Mordacks; “this is a check I never thought of. Nobody could land in such a surf as that, even if he had conquered all India. Landlord, do you mean to tell me any one could land? And if not, what’s the use of your inn standing here?”

“Naw, sir, nawbody cud laun’ joost neaw. Lee-ast waas, nut to ca’ fur naw yell to dry hissen.”

The landlord was pleased with his own wit — perhaps by reason of its scarcity — and went out to tell it in the tap-room while fresh; and Mordacks had made up his mind to call for something — for the good of the house and himself — and return with a sense of escape to his own inn, when the rough frozen road rang with vehement iron, and a horse was pulled up, and a man strode in. The landlord having told his own joke three times, came out with the taste of it upon his lips; but the stern dark eyes looking down into his turned his smile into a frightened stare. He had so much to think of that he could not speak — which happens not only at Flamborough — but his visitor did not wait for the solution of his mental stutter. Without any rudeness he passed the mooning host, and walked into the parlor, where he hoped to find two persons.

Instead of two, he found one only, and that one standing with his back to the door, and by the snow-flecked window, intent upon the drizzly distance of the wind-struck sea. The attitude and fixed regard were so unlike the usual vivacity of Mordacks, that the visitor thought there must be some mistake, till the other turned round and looked at him.

“You see a defeated but not a beaten man,” said the factor, to get through the worst of it. “Thank you, Sir Duncan, I will not shake hands. My ambition was to do so, and to put into yours another hand, more near and dear to it. Sir, I have failed. It is open to you to call me by any hard name that may occur to you. That will do you good, be a hearty relief, and restore me rapidly to self-respect, by arousing my anxiety to vindicate myself.”

“It is no time for joking; I came here to meet my son. Have you found him, or have you not?”

Sir Duncan sat down and gazed steadfastly at Mordacks. His self-command had borne many hard trials; but the prime of his life was over now; and strong as he looked, and thought himself, the searching wind had sought and found weak places in a sun-beaten frame. But no man would be of noble aspect by dwelling at all upon himself.

The quick intelligence of Mordacks — who was of smaller though admirable type — entered into these things at a flash. And throughout their interview he thought less of himself and more of another than was at all habitual with him, or conducive to good work.

“You must bear with a very heavy blow,” he said; “and it goes to my heart to have to deal it.”

Sir Duncan Yordas bowed, and said, “The sooner the better, my good friend.”

“I have found your son, as I promised you I would,” replied Mordacks, speaking rapidly; “healthy, active, uncommonly clever; a very fine sailor, and as brave as Nelson; of gallant appearance — as might be expected; enterprising, steadfast, respected, and admired; benevolent in private life, and a public benefactor. A youth of whom the most distinguished father might be proud. But — but —”

“Will you never finish?”

“But by the force of circumstances, over which he had no control, he became in early days a smuggler, and rose to an eminent rank in that profession.”

“I do not care two pice for that; though I should have been sorry if he had not risen.”

“He rose to such eminence as to become the High Admiral of smugglers on this coast, and attain the honors of outlawry.”

“I look upon that as a pity. But still we may be able to rescind it. Is there anything more against my son?”

“Unluckily there is. A commander of the Coastguard has been killed in discharge of his duty; and Robin Lyth has left the country to escape a warrant.”

“What have we to do with Robin Lyth? I have heard of him everywhere — a villain and a murderer.”

“God forbid that you should say so! Robin Lyth is your only son.”

The man whose word was law to myriads rose without a word for his own case; he looked at his agent with a stern, calm gaze, and not a sign of trembling in his lull broad frame, unless, perhaps, his under lip gave a little soft vibration to the grizzled beard grown to meet the change of climate.

“Unhappily so it is,” said Mordacks, firmly meeting Sir Duncan’s eyes. “I have proved the matter beyond dispute; and I wish I had better news for you.”

“I thank you, sir. You could not well have worse. I believe it upon your word alone. No Yordas ever yet had pleasure of a son. The thing is quite just. I will order my horse.”

“Sir Duncan, allow me a few minutes first. You are a man of large judicial mind. Do you ever condemn any stranger upon rumor? And will you, upon that, condemn your son?”

“Certainly not. I proceed upon my knowledge of the fate between father and son in our race.”

“That generally has been the father’s fault. In this case, you are the father.”

Sir Duncan turned back, being struck with this remark. Then he sat down again; which his ancestors had always refused to do, and had rued it. He spoke very gently, with a sad faint smile.

“I scarcely see how, in the present case, the fault can be upon the father’s side.”

“Not as yet, I grant you. But it would be so if the father refused to hear out the matter, and joined in the general outcry against his son, without even having seen him, or afforded him a chance of self-defense.”

“I am not so unjust or unnatural as that, sir. I have heard much about this — sad occurrence in the cave. There can be no question that the smugglers slew the officer. That — that very unfortunate young man may not have done it himself — I trust in God that he did not even mean it. Nevertheless, in the eye of the law, if he were present, he is as guilty as if his own hand did it. Can you contend that he was not present?”

“Unhappily I can not. He himself admits it; and if he did not, it could be proved most clearly.”

“Then all that I can do,” said Sir Duncan, rising with a heavy sigh, and a violent shiver caused by the chill of his long bleak ride, “is first to require your proofs, Mr. Mordacks, as to the identity of my child who sailed from India with this — this unfortunate youth; then to give you a check for 5000 pounds, and thank you for skillful offices, and great confidence in my honor. Then I shall leave with you what sum you may think needful for the defense, if he is ever brought to trial. And probably after that — well, I shall even go back to end my life in India.”

“My proofs are not arranged yet, but they will satisfy you. I shall take no 5000 pounds from you, Sir Duncan, though strictly speaking I have earned it. But I will take one thousand to cover past and future outlay, including the possibility of a trial. The balance I shall live to claim yet, I do believe, and you to discharge it with great pleasure. For that will not be until I bring you a son, not only acquitted, but also guiltless; as I have good reason for believing him to be. But you do not look well; let me call for something.”

“No, thank you. It is nothing. I am quite well, but not quite seasoned to my native climate yet. Tell me your reasons for believing that.”

“I can not do that in a moment. You know what evidence is a hundred times as well as I do. And in this cold room you must not stop. Sir Duncan, I am not a coddler any more than you are. And I do not presume to dictate to you. But I am as resolute a man as yourself. And I refuse to go further with this subject, until you are thoroughly warmed and refreshed.”

“Mordacks, you shall have your way,” said his visitor, after a heavy frown, which produced no effect upon the factor. “You are as kind-hearted as you are shrewd. Tell me once more what your conviction is; and I will wait for your reasons, till — till you are ready.”

“Then, sir, my settled conviction is that your son is purely innocent of this crime, and that we shall be able to establish that.”

“God bless you for thinking so, my dear friend. I can bear a great deal; and I would do my duty. But I did love that boy’s mother so.”

The general factor always understood his business; and he knew that no part of it compelled him now to keep watch upon the eyes of a stern, proud man.

“Sir, I am your agent, and I magnify mine office,” he said, as he took up his hat to go forth. “One branch of my duty is to fettle your horse; and in Flamborough they fettle them on stale fish.” Mr. Mordacks strode with a military tramp, and a loud shout for the landlord, who had finished his joke by this time, and was paying the penalties of reaction. “Gil Beilby, thoo’st nobbut a fondhead,” he was saying to himself. “Thoo mun hev thy lahtel jawk, thof it crack’th thy own pure back.” For he thought that he was driving two great customers away, by the flashing independence of too brilliant a mind; and many clever people of his native place had told him so. “Make a roaring fire in that room,” said Mordacks.

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