Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLVII

A Tangle of Veins

Human resolution, energy, experience, and reason in its loftiest form may fight against the doctor; but he beats them all, maintains at least his own vitality, and asserts his guineas. Two more resolute men than Mr. Mordacks and Sir Duncan Yordas could scarcely be found in those resolute times. They sternly resolved to have no sort of doctor; and yet within three days they did have one; and, more than that, the very one they had positively vowed to abstain from.

Dr. Stirbacks let everybody know that he never cared two flips of his thumb for anybody. If anybody wanted him, they must come and seek him, and be thankful if he could find time to hear their nonsense. For he understood not the system only, but also the nature of mankind. The people at the Thornwick did not want him. Very good, so much the better for him and for them; because the more they wanted him, the less would he go near them. Tut! tut! tut! he said; what did he want with crack-brained patients?

All this compelled him, with a very strong reluctance, to be dragged into that very place the very same day; and he saw that he was not come an hour too soon. Sir Duncan was lying in a bitterly cold room, with the fire gone out, and the spark of his life not very far from following it. Mr. Mordacks was gone for the day upon business, after leaving strict orders that a good fire must be kept, and many other things attended to. But the chimney took to smoking, and the patient to coughing, and the landlady opened the window wide, and the fire took flight into the upper air. Sir Duncan hated nothing more than any fuss about himself. He had sent a man to Scarborough for a little chest of clothes, for his saddle-kit was exhausted; and having promised Mordacks that he would not quit the house, he had nothing to do except to meditate and shiver.

Gil Beilby’s wife Nell, coming up to take orders for dinner, “got a dreadful turn” from what she saw, and ran down exclaiming that the very best customer that ever drew their latch was dead. Without waiting to think, the landlord sent a most urgent message for Dr. Stirbacks. That learned man happened to be round the corner, although he lived at Bempton; he met the messenger, cast to the winds all sense of wrong, and rushed to the succor of humanity.

That night, when the general factor returned, with the hunger excited by feeding the hungry, he was met at the door by Dr. Stirbacks, saying, “Hush, my good sir,” before he had time to think of speaking. “You!” cried Mr. Mordacks, having met this gentleman when Rickon Goold was near his last. “You! Then it must be bad indeed!”

“It is bad, and it must have been all over, sir, but for my being providentially at the cheese shop. I say nothing to wound any gentleman’s feelings who thinks that he understands everything; but our poor patient, with the very best meaning, no doubt, has been all but murdered.”

“Dr. Stirbacks, you have got him now, and of course you will make the best of him. Don’t let him slip through your fingers, doctor; he is much too good for that.”

“He shall not slip through my fingers,” said the little doctor, with a twinkle of self-preservation. “I have got him, sir, and I shall keep him, sir; and you ought to have put him in my hands long ago.”

The sequel of this needs no detail. Dr. Stirbacks came three times a day; and without any disrespect to the profession, it must be admitted that he earned his fees. For Sir Duncan’s case was a very strange one, and beyond the best wisdom of the laity. If that chill had struck upon him when his spirit was as usual, he might have cast it off, and gone on upon his business. But coming as it did, when the temperature of his heart was lowered by nip of disappointment, it went into him, as water on a duck’s back is not cast away when his rump gland is out of order.

“A warm room, good victuals, and cheerful society — these three are indispensable,” said Dr. Stirbacks to Mr. Mordacks, over whom he began to try to tyrannize; “and admirable as you are, my good sir, I fear that your society is depressing. You are always in a fume to be doing something — a stew, I might say, without exaggeration — a wonderful pattern of an active mind. But in a case of illness we require the passive voice. Everything suggestive of rapid motion must be removed, and never spoken of. You are rapid motion itself, my dear sir. We get a relapse every time you come in.”

“You want me out of the way. Very well. Let me know when you have killed my friend. I suppose your office ends with that. I will come down and see to his funeral.”

“Mr. Mordacks, you may be premature in such prevision. Your own may come first, sir. Look well at your eyes the next time you shave, and I fear you will descry those radiant fibres in the iris which always co-exist with heart-disease. I can tell you fifty cases, if you have time to listen.”

“D— n your prognostics, sir!” exclaimed the factor, rudely; but he seldom lathered himself thenceforth without a little sigh of self-regard. “Now, Dr. Stirbacks,” he continued, with a rally, “you may find my society depressing, but it is generally considered to be elevating; and that, sir, by judges of the highest order, and men of independent income. The head of your profession in the northern half of England, who takes a hundred guineas for every one you take, rejoices, sir — rejoices is not too strong a word to use — in my very humble society. Of course he may be wrong; but when he hears that Mr. Stirbacks, of Little Under–Bempton — is that the right address, sir? — speaks of my society as depressing —”

“Mr. Mordacks, you misunderstood my meaning. I spoke with no reference to you whatever, but of all male society as enervating — if you dislike the word ‘depressing’— relaxing, emollient, emasculating, from want of contradictory element; while I was proceeding to describe the need of strictly female society. The rector offers this; he was here just now. His admiration for you is unbounded. He desires to receive our distinguished patient, with the vast advantage of ladies’ society, double-thick walls, and a southern aspect, if you should consider it advisable.”

“Undoubtedly I do. If the moving can be done without danger; and of that you are the proper judge, of course.”

Thus they composed their little disagreement, with mutual respect, and some approaches to good-will; and Sir Duncan Yordas, being skillfully removed, spent his Christmas (without knowing much about it) in the best and warmest bedroom in the rectory. But Mordacks returned, as an honest man should do, to put the laurel and the mistletoe on his proper household gods. And where can this be better done than in that grand old city, York? But before leaving Flamborough, he settled the claims of business and charity, so far as he could see them, and so far as the state of things permitted.

Foiled as he was in his main object by the murder of the revenue officer, and the consequent flight of Robin Lyth, he had thoroughly accomplished one part of his task, the discovery of the Golconda’s fate, and the history of Sir Duncan’s child. Moreover, his trusty agents, Joe of the Monument, and Bob his son, had relieved him of one thorny care, by the zeal and skill with which they worked. It was to them a sweet instruction to watch, encounter, and drink down a rogue who had scuttled a ship, and even defeated them at their own weapons, and made a text of them to teach mankind. Dr. Upround had not exaggerated the ardor with which they discharged their duty.

But Mordacks still had one rogue on hand, and a deeper one than Rickon Goold. In the course of his visits to Bridlington Quay, he had managed to meet John Cadman, preferring, as he always did, his own impressions to almost any other evidence. And his own impressions had entirely borne out the conviction of Widow Carroway. But he saw at once that this man could not be plied with coarse weapons, like the other worn-out villain. He reserved him as a choice bit for his own skill, and was careful not to alarm him yet. Only two things concerned him, as immediate in the matter — to provide against Cadman’s departure from the scene, and to learn all the widow had to tell about him.

The widow had a great deal to say about that man; but had not said it yet, from want of power so to do. Mordacks himself had often stopped her, when she could scarcely stop herself; for until her health should be set up again, any stir of the mind would be dangerous. But now, with the many things provided for her, good nursing, and company, and the kindness of the neighbors (who jealously rushed in as soon as a stranger led the way), and the sickening of Tommy with the measles — which he had caught in the coal-cellar — she began to be started in a different plane of life; to contemplate the past as a golden age (enshrining a diamond statue of a revenue officer in full uniform), and to look upon the present as a period of steel, when a keen edge must be kept against the world, for a defense of all the little seed of diamonds.

Now the weather was milder, as it generally is at Christmas time, and the snow all gone, and the wind blowing off the land again, to the great satisfaction of both cod and conger. The cottage, which had looked such a den of cold and famine, with the blinds drawn down, and the snow piled up against the door, and not a single child-nose against the glass, was now quite warm again, and almost as lively as if Lieutenant Carroway were coming home to dinner. The heart of Mr. Mordacks glowed with pride as he said to himself that he had done all this; and the glow was reflected on the cheeks of Geraldine, as she ran out to kiss him, and then jumped upon his shoulder. For, in spite of his rigid aspect and stern nose, the little lass had taken kindly to him; while he admired her for eating candles.

“If you please, you can come in here,” said Jerry. “Oh, don’t knock my head against the door.”

Mrs. Carroway knew what he was come for; and although she had tried to prepare herself for it, she could not help trembling a little. The factor had begged her to have some friend present, to encourage and help her in so grievous an affair; but she would not hear of it, and said she had no friend.

Mr. Mordacks sat down, as he was told to do, in the little room sacred to the poor lieutenant, and faithful even yet to the pious memory of his pipe. When the children were shut out, he began to look around, that the lady might have time to cry. But she only found occasion for a little dry sob.

“It is horrible, very, very horrible,” she murmured, with a shudder, as her eyes were following his; “but for his sake I endure it.”

“A most sad and bitter trial, ma’am, as ever I have heard of. But you are bound to bear in mind that he is looking down on you.”

“I could not put up with it, without the sense of that, sir. But I say to myself how much he loved it; and that makes me put up with it.”

“I am quite at a loss to understand you, madam. We seem to be at cross-purposes. I was speaking of — of a thing it pains me to mention; and you say how much he loved —”

“Dirt, sir, dirt. It was his only weakness. Oh, my darling Charles, my blessed, blessed Charley! Sometimes I used to drive him almost to his end about it; but I never thought his end would come; I assure you I never did, sir. But now I shall leave everything as he would like to see it — every table and every chair, that he could write his name on it. And his favorite pipe with the bottom in it. That is what he must love to see, if the Lord allows him to look down. Only the children mustn’t see it, for the sake of bad example.”

“Mrs. Carroway, I agree with you most strictly. Children must be taught clean ways, even while they revere their father. You should see my daughter Arabella, ma’am. She regards me with perfect devotion. Why? Because I never let her do the things that I myself do. It is the only true principle of government for a nation, a parish, a household. How beautifully you have trained pretty Geraldine! I fear that you scarcely could spare her for a month, in the spring, and perhaps Tommy after his measles; but a visit to York would do them good, and establish their expanding minds, ma’am.”

“Mr. Mordacks, I know not where we may be then. But anything that you desire is a law to us.”

“Well said! Beautifully said! But I trust, my dear madam, that you will be here. Indeed, it would never do for you to go away. Or rather, I should put it thus — for the purposes of justice, and for other reasons also, it is most important that you should not leave this place. At least you will promise me that, I hope? Unless, of course, unless you find the memories too painful. And even so, you might find comfort in some inland house, not far.”

“Many people might not like to stop,” the widow answered, simply; “but to me it would be a worse pain to go away. I sit, in the evening, by the window here. Whenever there is light enough to show the sea, and the beach is fit for landing on, it seems to my eyes that I can see the boat, with my husband standing up in it. He had a majestic way of standing, with one leg more up than the other, sir, through one of his daring exploits; and whenever I see him, he is just like that; and the little children in the kitchen peep and say, ‘Here’s daddy coming at last; we can tell by mammy’s eyes;’ and the bigger ones say, ‘Hush! You might know better.’ And I look again, wondering which of them is right; and then there is nothing but the clouds and sea. Still, when it is over, and I have cried about it, it does me a little good every time. I seem to be nearer to Charley, as my heart falls quietly into the will of the Lord.”

“No doubt of it whatever. I can thoroughly understand it, although there is not a bit of resignation in me. I felt that sort of thing, to some extent, when I lost my angelic wife, ma’am, though naturally departed to a sphere more suited for her. And I often seem to think that still I hear her voice when a coal comes to table in a well-dish. Life, Mrs. Carroway, is no joke to bandy back, but trouble to be shared. And none share it fairly but the husband and the wife, ma’am.”

“You make it very hard for me to get my words,” she said, without minding that her tears ran down, so long as she spoke clearly. “I am not of the lofty sort, and understand no laws of things; though my husband was remarkable for doing so. He took all the trouble of the taxes off, though my part was to pay for them. And in every other way he was a wonder, sir; not at all because now he is gone above. That would be my last motive.”

“He was a wonder, a genuine wonder,” Mordacks replied, without irony. “He did his duty, ma’am, with zeal and ardor; a shining example upon very little pay. I fear that it was his integrity and zeal, truly British character and striking sense of discipline, that have so sadly brought him to — to the condition of an example.”

“Yes, Mr. Mordacks, it was all that. He never could put up with a lazy man, as anybody, to live, must have to do. He kept all his men, as I used to do our children, to word of command, and no answer. Honest men like it; but wicked men fly out. And all along we had a very wicked man here.”

“So I have heard from other good authority — a deceiver of women, a skulk, a dog. I have met with many villains; and I am not hot. But my tendency is to take that fellow by the throat with both hands, and throttle him. Having thoroughly accomplished that, I should prepare to sift the evidence. Unscientific, illogical, brutal, are such desires, as you need not tell me. And yet, madam, they are manly. I hate slow justice; I like it quick — quick, or none at all, I say, so long as it is justice. Creeping justice is, to my mind, little better than slow revenge. My opinions are not orthodox, but I hope they do not frighten you.”

“They do indeed, sir; or at least your face does; though I know how quick and just you are. He is a bad man — too well I know it — but, as my dear husband used to say, he has a large lot of children.”

“Well, Mrs. Carroway, I admire you the more, for considering what he has not considered. Let us put aside that. The question is — guilty or not guilty? If he is guilty, shall he get off, and innocent men be hanged for him? Six men are in jail at this present moment for the deed which we believe he did. Have they no wives, no fathers and mothers, no children — not to speak of their own lives? The case is one in which the Constitution of the realm must be asserted. Six innocent men must die unless the crime is brought home to the guilty one. Even that is not all as regards yourself. You may not care for your own life, but you are bound to treasure it seven times over for the sake of your seven children. While John Cadman is at large, and nobody hanged instead of him, your life is in peril, ma’am. He knows that you know him, and have denounced him. He has tried to scare you into silence; and the fright caused your sad illness. I have reason to believe that he, by scattering crafty rumors, concealed from the neighbors your sad plight, and that of your dear children. If so, he is worse than the devil himself. Do you see your duty now, and your interest also?”

Mrs. Carroway nodded gently. Her strength of mind was not come back yet, after so much illness. The baby lay now on its father’s breast, and the mother’s had been wild for it.

“I am sorry to have used harsh words,” resumed Mordacks; “but I always have to do so. They seem to put things clearer; and without that, where would business be? Now I will not tire you if I can help it, nor ask a needless question. What provocation had this man? What fanciful cause for spite, I mean?”

“Oh, none, Mr. Mordacks, none whatever. My husband rebuked him for being worthless, and a liar, and a traitor; and he threatened to get him removed from the force; and he gave him a little throw down from the cliff — but what little was done was done entirely for his good.”

“Yes, I see. And, after that, was Cadman ever heard to threaten him?”

“Many times, in a most malicious way, when he thought that he was not heeded. The other men may fear to bear witness. But my Geraldine has heard him.”

“There could be no better witness. A child, especially a pretty little girl, tells wonderfully with a jury. But we must have a great deal more than that. Thousands of men threaten, and do nothing, according to the proverb. A still more important point is — how did the muskets in the boat come home? They were all returned to the station, I presume. Were they all returned with their charges in them?”

“I am sure I can not say how that was. There was nobody to attend to that. But one of them had been lost altogether.”

“One of the guns never came back at all!” Mordacks almost shouted. “Whose gun was it that did not come back?”

“How can we say? There was such confusion. My husband would never let them nick the guns, as they do at some of the stations, for every man to know his own. But in spite of that, each man had his own, I believe. Cadman declares that he brought home his; and nobody contradicted him. But if I saw the guns, I should know whether Cadman’s is among them.”

“How can you possibly pretend to know that, ma’am? English ladies can do almost anything. But surely you never served out the guns?”

“No, Mr. Mordacks. But I have cleaned them. Not the inside, of course; that I know nothing of; and nobody sees that, to be offended. But several times I have observed, at the station, a disgraceful quantity of dust upon the guns — dust and rust and miserable blotches, such as bad girls leave in the top of a fish-kettle; and I made Charley bring them down, and be sure to have them empty; because they were so unlike what I have seen on board of the ship where he won his glory, and took the bullet in his nineteenth rib.”

“My dear madam, what a frame he must have had! But this is most instructive. No wonder Geraldine is brave. What a worthy wife for a naval hero! A lady who could handle guns!”

“I knew, sir, quite from early years, having lived near a very large arsenal, that nothing can make a gun go off unless there is something in it. And I could trust my husband to see to that; and before I touched one of them I made him put a brimstone match to the touch-hole. And I found it so pleasant to polish them, from having such wicked things quite at my mercy. The wood was what I noticed most, because of understanding chairs. One of them had a very curious tangle of veins on the left cheek behind the trigger; and I just had been doing for the children’s tea what they call ‘crinkly-crankly’— treacle trickled (like a maze) upon the bread; and Tommy said, ‘Look here! it is the very same upon this gun.’ And so it was; just the same pattern on the wood! And while I was doing it Cadman came up, in his low surly way, and said, ‘I want my gun, missus; I never shoot with no other gun than that. Captain says I may shoot a sea-pye, for the little ones.’ And so I always called it ‘Cadman’s gun.’ I have not been able to think much yet. But if that gun is lost, I shall know who it was that lost a gun that dreadful night.”

“All this is most strictly to the purpose,” answered Mordacks, “and may prove most important. We could never hope to get those six men off, without throwing most grave suspicion elsewhere; and unless we can get those six men off, their captain will come and surrender himself, and be hanged, to a dead certainty. I doubted his carrying the sense of right so far, until I reflected upon his birth, dear madam. He belongs, as I may tell you now, to a very ancient family, a race that would run their heads into a noose out of pure obstinacy, rather than skulk off. I am of very ancient race myself, though I never take pride in the matter, because I have seen more harm than good of it. I always learned Latin at school so quickly through being a grammatical example of descent. According to our pedigree, Caius Calpurnius Mordax Naso was the Governor of Britain under Pertinax. My name means ‘biting’; and bite I can, whether my dinner is before me, or my enemy. In the present case I shall not bite yet, but prepare myself for doing so. I watch the proceedings of the government, who are sure to be slow, as well as blundering. There has been no appointment to this command as yet, because of so many people wanting it. This patched-up peace, which may last about six months (even if it is ever signed), is producing confusion everywhere. You have an old fool put in charge of this station till a proper successor is appointed.”

“He is not like Captain Carroway, sir. But that concerns me little now. But I do wish, for my children’s sake, that they would send a little money.”

“On no account think twice of that. That question is in my hands, and affords me one of the few pleasures I derive from business. You are under no sort of obligation about it. I am acting under authority. A man of exalted position and high office — but never mind that till the proper time comes; only keep your mind in perfect rest, and attend to your children and yourself. I am obliged to proceed very warily, but you shall not be annoyed by that scoundrel. I will provide for that before I leave; also I will see the guns still in store, without letting anybody guess my motive. I have picked up a very sharp fellow here, whose heart is in the business thoroughly; for one of the prisoners is his twin brother, and he lost his poor sweetheart through Cadman’s villainy — a young lass who used to pick mussels, or something. He will see that the rogue does not give us the slip, and I have looked out for that in other ways as well. I am greatly afraid of tiring you, my dear madam; but have you any other thing to tell me of this Cadman?”

“No, Mr. Mordacks, except a whole quantity of little things that tell a great deal to me, but to anybody else would have no sense. For instance, of his looks, and turns, and habits, and tricks of seeming neither the one thing nor the other, and jumping all the morning, when the last man was hanged —”

“Did he do that, madam? Are you quite sure?”

“I had it on the authority of his own wife. He beats her, but still she can not understand him. You may remember that the man to be suspended was brought to the place where — where —”

“Where he earned his doom. It is quite right. Things of that sort should be done upon a far more liberal scale. Example is better than a thousand precepts. Let us be thankful that we live in such a country. I have brought some medicine for brave Tommy from our Dr. Stirbacks. Be sure that you stroke his throat when he takes it. Boys are such rogues —”

“Well, Mr. Mordacks, I really hope that I know how to make my little boy take medicine!”

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