Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LIII

Buts Rebutted

Sir Duncan Yordas was a man of impulse, as almost every man must be who sways the wills of other men. But he had not acted upon mere impulse in casting away his claim to Scargate. He knew that he could never live in that bleak spot, after all his years in India; he disliked the place, through his father’s harshness; he did not care that any son of his, who had lain under charge of a foul crime, and fled instead of meeting it, should become a “Yordas of Scargate Hall,” although that description by no means involved any very strict equity of conduct. And besides these reasons, he had another, which will appear very shortly. But whatever the secondary motives were, it was a large and generous act.

When Mrs. Carnaby saw her brother, she was sure that he was come to turn her out, and went through a series of states of mind natural to an adoring mother with a frail imagination of an appetite — as she poetically described it. She was not very swift of apprehension, although so promptly alive to anything tender, refined, and succulent. Having too strong a sense of duty to be guilty of any generosity, she could not believe, either then or thereafter, that her brother had cast away anything at all, except a mere shred of a lawsuit. And without any heed of chronology — because (as she justly inquired), what two clocks are alike? — she was certain that if he did anything at all to drive off those horrible lawyers from the house, there was no credit due to any one but Pet. It was the noble way Pet looked at him!

Pet, being introduced to his uncle, after dinner, when he came home from fishing, certainly did look nobly at him, if a long stare is noble. Then he went up to him, with a large and liberal sniff, and an affable inquiry, as a little dog goes up to a big one. Sir Duncan was amused, having heard already some little particulars about this youth, whose nature he was able to enter into as none but a Yordas could rightly do. However, he was bound to make the best of him, and did so; discovering not only room for improvement, but some hope of that room being occupied.

“The boy has been shockingly spoiled,” he said to his sister Philippa that evening; “also he is dreadfully ignorant. None of us are very great at scholarship, and never have much occasion for it. But things are becoming very different now. Everybody is beginning to be expected to know everything. Very likely, as soon as I am no more wanted, I shall be voted a blockhead. Luckily the wars keep people from being too choice, when their pick goes every minute. And this may stop the fuss, that comes from Scotland mainly, about universal distribution — or some big words — of education. ‘Pet,’ as you call him, is a very clever fellow, with much more shape of words about him than ever I was blessed with. In spelling I saw that he was my master; and so I tried him with geography, and all he knew of India was that it takes its name from India rubber!”

“Now I call that clever of him,” said Miss Yordas; “for I really might have forgotten even that. But the fatal defect in his education has been the want of what you grow, chiefly in West India perhaps — the cane, Duncan, the sugar-cane. I have read all about it; you can tell me nothing. You suck it, you smoke it, and you beat your children with it.”

“Well,” said Sir Duncan, who was not quite sure, in the face of such authority, “I disremember; but perhaps they do in some parts, because the country is so large. But it is not the ignorance of Pet I care for — such a fault is natural and unavoidable; and who is there to pick holes in it? The boy knows a great deal more than I did at his age, because he is so much younger. But, Philippa, unless you do something with him, he will never be a gentleman.”

“Duncan, you are hard. You have seen so much.”

“The more we see, the softer we become. The one thing we harden against is lying — the seed, the root, and the substance of all vileness. I am sorry to say your Pet is a liar.”

“He does not always tell the truth, I know. But bear in mind, Duncan, that his mother did not insist — and, in fact, she does not herself always —”

“I know it; I am grieved that it should come from our side. I never cared for his father much, because he went against me; but this I will say for him, Lance Carnaby would sooner cut his tongue out that put it to a lie. When I am at home, my dealings are with fellows who could not speak the truth if they tried for dear life, simply through want of practice. They are like your lower class of horse-dealers, but with infinitely more intelligence. It is late to teach poor Pet the first of all lessons; and for me to stop to do it is impossible. But will you try to save further disgrace to a scapegrace family, but not a mean one?”

“I feel it as much as you do — perhaps more,” Miss Yordas answered, forgetting altogether about the deed-box and her antiquary. “You need not tell me how very sad it is. But how can it be cured? His mother is his mother. She never would part with him; and her health is delicate.”

“Stronger than either yours or mine, unless she takes too much nourishment. Philippa, her will is mere petulance. For her own good, we must set it aside. And if you agree with me, it can be done. He must go into a marching regiment at once, ordered abroad, with five shillings in his pocket, earn his pay, and live upon it. This patched-up peace will never last six months. The war must be fought out till France goes down, or England. I can get him a commission; and I know the colonel, a man of my own sort, who sees things done, instead of talking. It would be the making of Lancelot. He has plenty of courage, but it has been milched. At Oxford or Cambridge he would do no good, but simply be ruined by having his own way. Under my friend Colonel Thacker, he will have a hard time of it, and tell no lies.”

Thus it was settled. There was a fearful outcry, hysterics of an elegant order, and weepings enough to produce summer spate in the Tees. But the only result was the ordering of the tailor, the hosier, the boot-maker, and the scissors-grinder to put a new edge upon Squire Philip’s razors, that Pet might practice shaving. “Cold-blooded cruelty, savage homicide; cannibalism itself is kinder,” said poor Mrs. Carnaby, when she saw the razors; but Pet insisted upon having them, made lather, and practiced with the backs, till he began to understand them.

“He promises well; I have great hopes of him,” Sir Duncan said to himself. “He has pride; and no proud boy can be long a liar. I will go and consult my dear old friend Bart.”

Mr. Bart, who was still of good bodily strength, but becoming less resolute in mind than of yore, was delighted to see his old friend again; and these two men, having warm, proud hearts, preserved each other from self-contempt by looking away through the long hand-clasp. For each of them was to the other almost the only man really respected in the world.

Betwixt them such a thing as concealment could not be. The difference in their present position was a thing to laugh at. Sir Duncan looked up to Bart as being the maker of his character, and Bart admired Sir Duncan as a newer and wiser edition of himself. They dispatched the past in a cheery talk; for the face of each was enough to show that it might have been troublous — as all past is — but had slidden into quiet satisfaction now, and a gentle flow of experience. Then they began to speak of present matters, and the residue of time before them; and among other things, Sir Duncan Yordas spoke of his nephew Lancelot.

“Lancelot Yordas Carnaby,” said Bart, with the smile of a gray-beard at young love’s dream, “has done us the honor to fall in love, for ever and ever, with our little Insie. And the worst of it is that she likes him.”

“What an excellent idea!” his old friend answered; “I was sure there was something of that sort going on. Now betwixt love and war we shall make a man of Pet.”

As shortly as possible he told Mr. Bart what his plan about his nephew was, and how he had carried it against maternal, and now must carry it against maiden, love. If Lancelot had any good stuff in him, any vertebrate embryo of honesty, to be put among men, and upon his mettle (with a guardian angel in the distance of sweet home), would stablish all the man in him, and stint the beast. Mr. Bart, though he hated hard fighting, admitted that for weak people it was needful; and was only too happy so to cut the knot of his own home entanglements with the ruthless sword. For a man of liberal education, and much experience in spending money, who can put a new bottom to his own saucepan, is not the one to feel any despair of his fellow-creatures mending.

Then arose the question, who should bell the cat, or rather, who should lead the cat to the belling. Pet must be taken, under strong duress, to the altar — as his poor mother said, and shrieked — whereat he was to shed his darling blood. His heart was in his mouth when his uniform came; and he gave his sacred honor to fly, straight as an arrow, to the port where his regiment was getting into boats; but Sir Duncan shook his grizzled head. “Somebody must see him into it,” he said. “Not a lady; no, no, my dear Eliza. I can not go myself; but it must be a man of rigidity, a stern agent. Oh, I know! how stupid of me!”

“You mean poor dear Mr. Jellicorse,” suggested Mrs. Carnaby, with a short hot sob. “But, Duncan, he has not the heart for it. For anything honest and loyal and good, kind people may trust him with their lives. But to tyranny, rapine, and manslaughter, he never could lend his fine honorable face.”

“I mean a man of a very different cast — a man who knows what time is worth; a man who is going to be married on a Sunday, that he may not lose the day. He has to take three days’ holiday, because the lady is an heiress; otherwise he might get off with one. But he hopes to be at work again on Wednesday, and we will have him here post-haste from York on Thursday. It will be the very job to suit him — a gentleman of Roman ancestry, and of the name of Mordacks.”

“My heart was broken already; and now I can feel the poor pieces flying into my brain. Oh, why did I ever have a babe for monsters of the name of Mordacks to devour?”

Mordacks was only too glad to come. On the very day after their union, Calpurnia (likewise of Roman descent) had exhibited symptoms of a strong will of her own.

Mordacks had temporized during their courtship; but now she was his, and must learn the great fact. He behaved very well, and made no attempt at reasoning (which would have been a fatal course), but promptly donned cloak, boots, and spurs while his horse was being saddled, and then set off, with his eyes fixed firmly upon business. A crow could scarcely make less than fifty miles from York to Scargate, and the factor’s trusty roadster had to make up his mind to seventy. So great, however, is sometimes the centrifugal force of Hymen, that upon the third day Mr. Mordacks was there, vigorous, vehement, and fit for any business.

When he heard what it was, it liked him well; for he bore a fine grudge against Lancelot for setting the dogs at him three years ago, when he came (as an agent for adjoining property) to the house of Yordas, and when Mr. Jellicorse scorned to meet an illegal meddler with legal matters. If Mordacks had any fault — and he must have had some, in spite of his resolute conviction to the contrary — it was that he did not altogether scorn revenge.

Lives there man, or even woman, capable of describing now the miseries, the hardships, the afflictions beyond groaning, which, like electric hail, came down upon the sacred head of Pet? He was in the grasp of three strong men — his uncle, Mr. Bart, worst of all, that Mordacks — escape was impossible, lamentation met with laughter, and passion led to punishment. Even stern Maunder was sorry for him, although he despised him for feeling it. The only beam of light, the only spark of pleasure, was his royal uniform; and to know that Insie’s laugh thereat was hollow, and would melt away to weeping when he was out of sight, together with the sulky curiosity of Maunder, kept him up a little, in this time of bitter sacrifice.

Enough that he went off, at last, in the claws of that Roman hippogriff — as Mrs. Carnaby savagely called poor Mordacks — and the visitor’s flag hung half-mast high, and Saracen and the other dogs made a howling dirge, with such fine hearts (as the poor mother said, between her sobs) that they got their dinners upon china plates.

Sir Duncan had left before this, and was back under Dr. Upround’s hospitable roof. He had made up his mind to put his fortune, or rather his own value, to the test, in a place of deep interest to him now, the heart of the fair Janetta. He knew that, according to popular view, he was much too old for this young lady; but for popular view he cared not one doit, if her own had the courage and the will to go against it. For years he had sternly resisted all temptation of second marriage, toward which shrewd mothers and nice maidens had labored in vain to lead him. But the bitter disappointment about his son, and that long illness, and the tender nursing (added to the tenderness of his own sides, from lying upon them, with a hard dry cough), had opened some parts of his constitution to matrimonial propensities. Miss Upround was of a playful nature, and teased everybody she cared about; and although Sir Duncan was a great hero to her, she treated him sometimes as if he were her doll. Being a grave man, he liked this, within the bounds of good taste and manners; and the young lady always knew where to stop. From being amused with her, he began to like her; and from liking her, he went on to miss her; and from missing her to wanting her was no long step.

However, Sir Duncan was not at all inclined to make a fool of himself herein. He liked the lady very much, and saw that she would suit him, and help him well in the life to which he was thinking of returning. For within the last fortnight a very high post at Calcutta had been offered to him by the powers in Leadenhall Street, upon condition of sailing at once, and foregoing the residue of his leave. If matters had been to his liking in England, he certainly would have declined it; but after his sad disappointment, and the serious blow to his health, he resolved to accept it, and set forth speedily. The time was an interlude of the war, and ships need not wait for convoy.

This had induced him to take his Yorkshire affairs (which Mordacks had been forced to intermit during his Derbyshire campaign) into his own hands, and speed the issue, as above related. And part of his plan was to quit all claim to present possession of Scargate; that if the young lady should accept his suit, it might not in any way be for the sake of the landed interest. As it happened, he had gone much further than this, and cast away his claim entirely, to save his sister from disgrace and the family property from lawyers. And now having sought Dr. Upround’s leave (which used to be thought the proper thing to do), he asked Janetta whether she would have him, and she said, “No, but he might have her.” Upon this he begged permission to set the many drawbacks before her, and she nodded her head, and told him to begin.

“I am of a Yorkshire family. But, I am sorry to say that their temper is bad, and they must have their own way too much.”

“But, that suits me; and I understand it. Because I must have my own way too.”

“But, I have parted with my inheritance, and have no place in this country now.”

“But, I am very glad of that. Because I shall be able to go about.”

“But, India is a dreadfully hot country; many creatures tease you, and you get tired of almost everything.”

“But, that will make it all the more refreshing not to be tired of you, perhaps.”

“But, I have a son as old as you, or older.”

“But, you scarcely suppose that I can help that!”

“But, my hair is growing gray, and I have great crow’s-feet, and everybody will begin to say —”

“But, I don’t believe a word of it, and I won’t have it; and I don’t care a pin’s head what all the world says put together, so long as you don’t belong to it.”

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