Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLIX

A Bold Angler

As if in vexation at being thwarted by one branch of the family, Cupid began to work harder at the other, among the moors and mountains. Not that either my lady Philippa or gentle Mistress Carnaby fell back into the snares of youth, but rather that youth, contemptuous of age, leaped up, and defied everybody but itself, and cried tush to its own welfare.

For as soon as the trance of snow was gone, and the world, emboldened to behold itself again, smiled up from genial places; and the timid step of peeping spring awoke a sudden flutter in the breast of buds; and streams (having sent their broken anger to the sea) were pleased to be murmuring clearly again, and enjoyed their own flexibility; and even stern mountains and menacing crags allowed soft light to play with them — at such a time prudence found very narrow house-room in the breast of young Lancelot, otherwise “Pet.”

“If Prudence be present, no Divinity is absent,” according to high authority; but the author of the proverb must have first excluded Love from the list of Divinities. Pet’s breast, or at any rate his chest, had grown under the expansive enormity of love; his liver, moreover (which, according to poets, both Latin and Greek, is the especial throne of love), had quickened its proceedings, from the exercise he took; from the same cause, his calves increased so largely that even Jordas could not pull the agate buttons of his gaiters through their holes. In a word, he gained flesh, muscle, bone, and digestion, and other great bodily blessings, from the power believed by the poets to upset and annihilate every one of them. However, this proves nothing anti-poetical, for the essence of that youth was to contradict experience.

Jordas had never, in all his born days, not even in the thick of the snow-drift, found himself more in a puzzle than now; and he could not even fly for advice in this matter to Lawyer Jellicorse. The first great gift of nature, expelled by education, is gratitude. A child is full of gratitude, or at least has got the room for it; but no full-grown mortal, after good education, has been known to keep the rudiments of thankfulness. But Jordas had a stock of it — as much as can remain to any one superior to the making of a cross.

Now the difficulty of it was that Jordas called to mind, every morning when he saw snow, and afterward when he saw anything white, that he must have required a grave, and not got it (in time to be any good to him), without the hard labor, strong endurance, and brotherly tendance of the people of the gill. Even the three grand fairy gifts of Lawyer Jellicorse himself might scarcely have saved him, although they were no less than as follows, in virtue: the tip of a tongue that had never told a lie (because it belonged to a bullock slain young), a flask of old Scotch whiskey, and a horn comfit-box of Irish snuff. All these three had stood him in good stead, especially the last, which kept him wide-awake, and enabled him to sneeze a yellow hole in the drift, whenever it threatened to ingulf his beard. Without those three he could never have got on; but, with all the three, he could never have got out, if Bat and Maunder of the gill had not come to his succor in the very nick of time. Not only did they work hard for hours under the guidance of Saracen (who was ready to fly at them if they left off), but when at length they came on Jordas, in his last exhaustion, with the good horse rubbing up his chin to make him warmer, they did a sight of things, which the good Samaritan, having finer climate, was enabled to dispense with. And when they had set him on his legs again, finding that he could not use them yet, they hoisted him on the back of Maunder, who was strong; and the whole of that expedition ended at the little cottage in the gill. But the kindness of the inhabitants was only just beginning; for when Jordas came to himself he found that his off-foot — as Marmaduke would have called it — the one which had ridden with a northeast aspect, was frozen as hard as a hammer, and as blue as a pistol barrel. Mrs. Bart happened to have seen such cases in her native country, and by her skillful treatment and never-wearying care, the poor fellow’s foot was saved and cured, though at one time he despaired of it. Marmaduke also was restored, and sent home to his stable some days before his rider was in a condition to mount him.

In return for all these benefits, how could the dogman, without being worse than a dog, go and say to his ladies that mischief was breeding between their heir and a poor girl who lived in a corner of their land? If he had been ungrateful, or in any way a sneak, he might have found no trouble in this thing; but being, as he was, an honest, noble-hearted fellow, he battled severely in his mind to set up the standard of the proper side to take. For such matters Pet cared not one jot. Crafty as he was, he could never understand that Jordas and Welldrum were not the same man, one half working out-of-doors, and the other in. For him it was enough that Jordas would not tell, probably because he was afraid to do so, and Pet resolved to make him useful. For Lancelot Carnaby was very sharp indeed in espying what suited his purpose. His set purpose was to marry Insie Bart, in whom he had sense enough to perceive his better, in every respect but money and birth, in which two he was before her, or at any rate supposed so. He was proud, as need be, of his station in life; but he reasoned — if the process of his mind was reason — that being so exalted, he might please himself; that his wife would rise to his rank, instead of lowering him; that her father was a man of education and a gentleman, although he worked with his own hands; and that Insie was a lady, though she went to fill a pitcher.

For one happy fact the youth deserved some credit, or rather, perhaps, his youth deserved it for him. He was madly in love with Insie, and his passion could not be of very high spiritual order; but the idea of obtaining her dishonorably never occurred to his mind for one moment. He knew her to be better, purer, and nobler than himself in every way; and he felt, though he did not want to feel it, that her nature gave a lift to his. Insie, on the other hand, began to like him better, and to despise him less and less; his reckless devotion to her made its way; and in spite of all her common-sense, his beauty and his lordly style had attractions for her young romance. And at last her heart began to bound, like his, when they were together. “With all thy faults, I love thee still,” was the loose condition of her youthful mind.

Into every combination, however steep and deep be the gill of its quiet incubation, a number of people and of things peep in, and will enter, like the cuckoo, at the glimpse of a white feather, or even without it, unless beak and claw are shown. And now the intruder into Pet’s love nest had the right to look in, and to pull him out, neck and crop, unless he sat there legally. Whether birds discharge fraternal duty is a question for Notes and Queries even in the present most positive age. Sophocles says that the clever birds feed their parents and their benefactors, and men ascribe piety to them in fables, as a needful ensample to one another.

Be that as it may, this Maunder Bart, when his rather slow attention was once aroused, kept a sharp watch upon his young landlord’s works. It was lucky for Pet that he meant no harm, and that Maunder had contemptuous faith in him; otherwise Insie’s brother would have shortly taken him up by his gaiters, and softly beaten his head in against a rock. For Mr. Bart’s son was of bitter, morose, and almost savage nature, silent, moody, and as resolute as death. He resented and darkly repined at the loss of position and property of which he had heard, and he scorned the fine sentiments which had led to nothing at all substantial. It was not in his power to despise his father, for his mind felt the presence of the larger one; but he did not love him as a son should do; neither did he speak out his thoughts to anybody beyond a few mutters to his mother. But he loved his gentle sister, and found in her a goodness which warmed him up to think about getting some upon his own account.

Such thoughts, however, were fugitive, and Maunder’s more general subject of brooding was the wrong he had suffered through his father. He was living and working like a peasant or a miner, instead of having horses, and dogs, and men, and the right to kick out inferior people — as that baby Lancelot Carnaby had — for no other reason, that he could find, than the magnitude of his father’s mind. He had gone into the subject with his father long ago — for Mr. Bart felt a noble pride in his convictions — and the son lamented with all his heart the extent of his own father’s mind. In his lonely walks, heavy hours, and hard work — which last he never grudged, for his strength required outlet — he pondered continually upon one thing, and now he seemed to see a chance of doing it. The first step in his upward course would be Insie’s marriage with Lancelot.

Pet, who had no fear of any one but Maunder, tried crafty little tricks to please him; but instead of earning many thanks, got none at all, which made him endeavor to improve himself. Mr. Bart’s opinion of him now began to follow the course of John Smithies’s, and Smithies looked at it in one light only (ever since Pet so assaulted him, and then trusted his good-will across the dark moors), and that light was that “when you come to think of him, you mustn’t be too hard upon him, after all.” And one great excellence of this youth was that he cared not a doit for general opinion, so long as he got his own special desire.

His desire was, not to let a day go by without sight and touch of Insie. These were not to be had at a moment’s notice, nor even by much care; and five times out of six he failed of so much as a glimpse or a word of her. For the weather and the time of year have much to say concerning the course of the very truest love, and worse than the weather itself too often is the cloudy caprice of maiden mind.

Insie’s father must have known what attraction drew this youth to such a cold unfurnished spot, and if he had been like other men, he would either have nipped in the bud this passion, or, for selfish reasons, fostered it. But being of large theoretical mind, he found his due outlet in giving advice.

It is plain at a glance that in such a case the mother is the proper one to give advice, and the father the one to act strenuously. But now Mrs. Bart, who was a very good lady, and had gone through a world of trouble from the want of money — the which she had cast away for sake of something better — came to the forefront of this pretty little business, as Insie’s mother, vigorously.

“Christophare,” she said to her husband, “not often do I speak, between us, of the affairs it is wise to let alone. But now of our dear child Inesa it is just that I should insist something. Mandaro, which you call English Maunder, already is destroyed for life by the magnitude of your good mind. It is just that his sister should find the occasion of reversion to her proper grade of life. For you, Christophare, I have abandoned all, and have the good right to claim something from you. And the only thing that I demand is one — let Inesa return to the lady.”

“Well,” said Mr. Bart, who had that sense of humor without which no man can give his property away, “I hope that she never has departed from it. But, my dear, as you make such a point of it, I will promise not to interfere, unless there is any attempt to do wrong, and intrap a poor boy who does not know his own mind. Insie is his equal by birth and education, and perhaps his superior in that which comes foremost nowadays — the money. Dream not that he is a great catch, my dear; I know more of that matter than you do. It is possible that he may stand at the altar with little to settle upon his bride except his bright waistcoat and gaiters.”

“Tush, Christophare! You are, to my mind, always an enigma.”

“That is as it should be, and keeps me interesting still. But this is a mere boy and girl romance. If it meant anything, my only concern would be to know whether the boy was good. If not, I should promptly kick him back to his own door.”

“From my observation, he is very good — to attend to his rights, and make the utmost of them.”

Mr. Bart laughed, for he knew that a little hit at himself was intended; and very often now, as his joints began to stiffen, he wished that his youth had been wiser. He stuck to his theories still; but his practice would have been more of the practical kind, if it had come back to be done again. But his children and his wife had no claim to bring up anything, because everything was gone before he undertook their business. However, he obtained reproach — as always seems to happen — for those doings of his early days which led to their existence. Still, he liked to make the best of things, and laughed, instead of arguing.

For a short time, therefore, Lancelot Carnaby seemed to have his own way in this matter, as well as in so many others. As soon as spring weather unbound the streams, and enlarged both the spots and the appetite of trout (which mainly thrive together), Pet became seized, by his own account, with insatiable love of angling. The beck of the gill, running into the Lune, was alive, in those unpoaching days, with sweet little trout of a very high breed, playful, mischievous, and indulging (while they provoked) good hunger. These were trout who disdained to feed basely on the ground when they could feed upward, ennobling almost every gulp with a glimpse of the upper creation. Mrs. Carnaby loved these “graceful creatures,” as she always called them, when fried well; and she thought it so good and so clever of her son to tempt her poor appetite with them.

“Philippa, he knows — perhaps your mind is absent,” she said, as she put the fifth trout on her plate at breakfast one fine morning —“he feels that these little creatures do me good, and to me it becomes a sacred duty to endeavor to eat them.”

“You seem to succeed very well, Eliza.”

“Yes, dear, I manage to get on a little, from a sort of sporting feeling that appeals to me. Before I begin to lift the skins of any of these little darlings, I can see my dear boy standing over the torrent, with his wonderful boldness, and bright eagle eyes —”

“To pull out a fish of an ounce and a half. Without any disrespect to Pet, whose fishing apparel has cost 20 pounds, I believe that Jordas catches every one of them.”

Sad to say, this was even so; Lancelot tried once or twice, for some five minutes at a time, throwing the fly as he threw a skittle-ball; but finding no fish at once respond to his precipitance, down he cast the rod, and left the rest of it to Jordas. But inasmuch as he brought back fish whenever he went out fishing, and looked as brilliant and picturesque as a salmon-fly, in his new costume, his mother was delighted, and his aunt, being full of fresh troubles, paid small heed to him.

For as soon as the roads became safe again, and an honest attorney could enter “horse hire” in his bill without being too chivalrous, and the ink that had clotted in the good-will time began to form black blood again, Mr. Jellicorse himself resolved legitimately to set forth upon a legal enterprise. The winter had shaken him slightly — for even a solicitor’s body is vulnerable; and well for the clerk of the weather it is that no action lies against him — and his good wife told him to be very careful, although he looked as young as ever. She had no great opinion of the people he was going to, and was sure that they would be too high and mighty even to see that his bed was aired. For her part, she hoped that the reports were true which were now getting into every honest person’s mouth; and if he would listen to a woman’s common-sense, and at once go over to the other side, it would serve them quite right, and be the better for his family, and give a good lift to his profession. But his honesty was stout, and vanquished even his pride in his profession.

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