Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LIV

True Love

About a month after Sir Duncan’s marriage, when he and his bride were in London, with the lady’s parents come to help, in the misery of outfit, a little boy ran through a field of wheat, early in the afternoon, and hid himself in a blackthorn hedge to see what was going on at Anerley. Nothing escaped him, for his eyes were sharp, being of true Danish breed. He saw Captain Anerley trudging up the hill, with a pipe in his mouth, to the bean field, where three or four men were enjoying the air, without any of the greedy gulps produced by too great exertion of the muscles; then he saw the mistress of the house throw wide a lattice, and shake out a cloth for the birds, who skipped down from the thatch by the dozen instantly; and then he saw Mary, with a basket and a wooden measure, going round the corner of the house, and clucking for the fowls to rally from their scratching-places. These came zealously, with speed of leg and wing, from straw-rick, threshing-floor, double hedge, or mixen; and following their tails, the boy slipped through the rick-yard, and tossed a note to Mary with a truly Flamburian delivery.

Although it was only a small-sized boy, no other than the heir of the “Cod-fish,” a brighter rose flew into Mary’s cheeks than the master-cock of all the yard could show upon comb or wattle. Contemptuous of twopence, which Mary felt for, the boy disappeared like a rabbit; and the fowls came and helped themselves to the tail-wheat, while their mistress was thinking of her letter. It was short and sweet — at least in promise — being no more than these few words: “Darling, the dike where first we met, an hour after sunset.”

Mary never doubted that her duty was to go; and at the time appointed she was there, with firm knowledge of her own mind, being now a loving and reasonable woman. It was just a year since she had saved the life of Robin; and patience, and loneliness, and opposition, had enlarged and ennobled her true and simple heart. No lord in the land need have looked for a purer or sweeter example of maidenhood than this daughter of a Yorkshire farmer was, in her simple dress, and with the dignity of love. The glen was beginning to bestrew itself with want of light, instead of shadows; and bushy places thickened with the imperceptible growth of night. Mary went on, with excitement deepening, while sunset deepened into dusk; and the color of her clear face flushed and fleeted under the anxious touch of love, as the tint of a delicate finger-nail, with any pressure, varies. But not very long was she left in doubt.

“How long you have been! And oh, where have you been? And how much longer will you be?” Among many other words and doings she insisted chiefly on these points.

“I am a true-blue, as you may see, and a warrant-officer already,” he said, with his old way of smiling at himself. “When the war begins again (as it must — please God! — before many weeks are over), I shall very soon get my commission, and go up. I am quite fit already to command a frigate.”

Mary was astonished at his modesty; she thought that he ought to be an admiral at least, and so she told him; however, he knew better.

“You must bear in mind,” he replied, with a kindly desire to spare her feelings, “that until a change for the better comes, I am under disadvantages. Not only as an outlaw — which has been upon the whole a comfort — but as a suspected criminal, with warrant against him, and reward upon him. Of course I am innocent; and everybody knows it, or at least I hope so, except the one who should have known it best.”

“I am the person who should know it best of all,” his true love answered, with some jealousy. “Explain yourself, Robin, if you please.”

“No Robin, so please you, but Mr. James Blyth, captain of the foretop, then cockswain of the barge, and now master’s mate of H. M. ship of the line Belleisle. But the one who should have trusted me, next to my own love, is my father, Sir Duncan Yordas.”

“How you are talking! You have such a reckless way. A warrant-officer, an arrant criminal! And your father, Sir Duncan Yordas, that very strange gentleman, who could never get warm! Oh, Robin, you always did talk nonsense, when — whenever I would let you. But you should not try to make my head go round.”

“Every word of it is true,” the young sailor answered, applying a prompt remedy for vertigo. “It had been clearly proved to his knowledge, long before the great fact was vouchsafed to me, that I am the only son of Sir Duncan Yordas, or, at any rate, his only son for the present. The discovery gratified him so little, that he took speedy measures to supplant me.”

“The very rich gentleman from India,” said Mary, “that married Miss Upround lately; and her dress was all made of spun diamonds, they say, as bright as the dew in the morning. Oh, then you will have to give me up; Robin, you must give up me!”

Clasping her hands, she looked up at him with courage, keeping down all sign of tears. She felt that her heart would not hold out long, and yet she was prouder than to turn away. “Speak,” she said; “it is better to speak plainly; you know that it must be so.”

“Do I? why?” Robin Lyth asked, calmly, being well contented to prolong her doubts, that he might get the benefit thereafter.

“Because you belong to great people, and I am just a farmer’s daughter, and no more, and quite satisfied to remain so. Such things never answer.”

“A little while ago you were above me, weren’t you? When I was nobody’s son, and only a castaway, with a nickname.”

“That has nothing to do with it. We must take things exactly as we find them at the time.”

“And you took me as you found me at the time; only that you made me out so much better. Mary, I am not worthy of you. What has birth to do with it? And so far as that goes, yours is better, though mine may seem the brighter. In every other way you are above me. You are good, and I am wicked. You are pure, and I am careless. You are sweet, and I am violent. In truth alone can I ever vie with you; and I must be a pitiful scoundrel, Mary, if I did not even try to do that, after all that you have done for me.”

“But,” said Mary, with her lovely eyes gleaming with the glittering shade of tears, “I like you very much to do it — but not exactly as a duty, Robin.”

“You look at me like that, and you talk of duty! Duty, duty; this is my duty. I should like to be discharging it forever and a day.”

“I did not come here for ideas of this kind,” said Mary, with her lips as red as pyracanthine berries; “free trade was bad enough, but the Royal Navy worse, it seems. Now, Robin dear, be sensible, and tell me what I am to do.”

“To listen to me, and then say whether I deserve what my father has done to me. He came back from India — as you must understand — with no other object in life, that I can hear of (for he had any quantity of money), than to find out me, his only child, and the child of the only wife he ever could put up with. For twenty years he had believed me to be drowned, when the ship he sent me home in to be educated was supposed to have foundered, with all hands. But something made him fancy that I might have escaped; and as he could not leave India then, he employed a gentleman of York, named Mordacks, to hunt out all about it. Mordacks, who seems to be a wonderful man, and most kind-hearted to everybody, as poor Widow Carroway says of him with tears, and as he testifies of himself — he set to work, and found out in no time all about me and my ear-rings, and my crawling from the cave that will bear my name, they say, and more things than I have time to tell. He appointed a meeting with Sir Duncan Yordas here at Flamborough, and would have brought me to him, and everything might have been quite happy. But in the mean while that horrible murder of poor Carroway came to pass, and I was obliged to go into hiding, as no one knows better than you, my dear. My father (as I suppose I must call him) being bound, as it seems that they all are, to fall out with their children, took a hasty turn against me at once. Mordacks, whom I saw last week, trusting myself to his honor, tells me that Sir Duncan would not have cared twopence about my free-trade work, and so on, or even about my having killed the officer in fair conflict, for he is used to that. But he never will forgive me for absconding, and leaving my fellows, as he puts it, to bear the brunt. He says that I am a dastard and a skulk, and unworthy to bear the name of Yordas.”

“What a wicked, unnatural man he must be!” cried Mary. “He deserves to have no children.”

“No; I am told that he is a very good man, but stiff-necked and disdainful. He regards me with scorn, because he knows no better. He may know our laws, but he knows nothing of our ways, to suppose that my men were in any danger. If I had been caught while the stir was on, a gibbet on the cliff would have been set up, even before my trial — such is the reward of eminence — but no Yorkshire jury would turn round in the box, with those poor fellows before them. ‘Not guilty, my lord,’ was on their tongues, before he had finished charging them.”

“Oh, I am so glad! They have been acquitted, and you were there to see it!”

“To be sure. I was in the court, as Harry Ombler’s father. Mr. Mordacks got it up; and it told on the jury even more than could have been expected. Even the judge wiped his eyes as he looked at me, for they say he has a scapegrace son; and Harry was the only one of all the six in danger, according to the turn of the evidence. My poor eyes have scarcely come round yet from the quantity of sobbing that I had to do, and the horrible glare of my goggles. And then I had a crutch that I stumped with as I sighed, so that all the court could hear me; and whenever I did it, all the women sighed too, and even the hardest hearts were moved. Mr. Mordacks says that it was capital.”

“Oh, but, Robin, how shocking, though you make me laugh! If the verdict had been otherwise — oh, what then?”

“Well, then, Harry Ombler had a paper in his hand, done in printing letters by myself, because he is a very tidy scholar, and signed by me; the which he was to read before receiving sentence, saying that Robin Lyth himself was in York town, and would surrender to that court upon condition that mercy should be warranted to the prisoners.”

“And you would have given yourself up? And without consulting me about it!”

“Bad, I admit,” Robin answered, with a smile; “but not half so bad as to give up you — which you calmly proposed just now, dear heart. However, there is no need for any trouble now, except that I am forced to keep out of sight until other evidence is procured. Mordacks has taken to me, like a better father, mainly from his paramount love of justice, and of daring gallantry, as he calls it.”

“So it was, and ten times more; heroic self-devotion is a much more proper term.”

“Now don’t,” said Robin. “If you make me blush, you may guess what I shall do to hide it — carry the war into the sweet land of the enemy. But truly, my darling, there was very little danger. And I am up for a much better joke this time. My august Roman father, who has cast me off, sails as a very great Indian gun, in a ship of the line, from Spithead, early in September. The Belleisle is being paid off now, and I have my certificate, as well as lots of money. Next to his lass, every sailor loves a spree; and mine, instead of emptying, shall fill the locker. With this disgusting peace on, and no chance of prize-money, and plenty in their pockets for a good spell ashore, blue-jackets will be scarce when Sir Duncan Yordas sails. If I can get a decent berth as a petty officer, off I go for Calcutta, and watch (like the sweet little cherub that sits up aloft) for the safety of my dear papa and mamma, as the Frenchmen are teaching us to call them. What do you think of such filial devotion?”

“It would be a great deal more than he deserves,” Mary answered, with sweet simplicity. “But what could you do, if he found out who you are?”

“Not the smallest fear of that, my dear. I have never had the honor of an introduction. My new step-mother, who might have been my sweetheart if I had not seen somebody a hundred times as good, a thousand times as gentle, and a million times as lovely —”

“Oh, Robin, do leave off such very dreadful stories! I saw her in the church, and she looked beautiful.”

“Fine feathers make fine birds. However, she is well enough in her way; and I love her father. But, for all that, she has no business to be my step-mother; and of course it was only the money that did it. She has a little temper of her own, I can assure you; and I wish Sir Duncan joy of her when they get among mosquitoes. But, as I was going to say, the only risk of my being caught is from her sharp eyes. Even of that there is not much danger, for we common sailors need not go within hail of those grandees, unless it comes to boat-work. And even if Miss Janetta — I beg her pardon, Lady Yordas — should chance to recognize me, I am sure she would never tell her husband. No, no; she would be too jealous; and for fifty other reasons. She is very cunning, let me tell you.”

“Well,” cried Mary, with a smile of wisdom, “I hope that I may never live to be a step-mother. The way those poor things get abused —”

“You would have more principle, I should hope, than to marry anybody after me. However, I have told you nearly all my news, and in a few minutes I must be off. Only two things more. In the first place, Mordacks has taken a very great fancy to me, and has turned against my father. He and Widow Carroway and I had a long talk after the trial, and we all agreed that the murder was committed by a villain called ‘John Cadman,’ a sneak and a skulk, whom I knew well, as one of Carroway’s own men. Among other things, they chanced to say that Cadman’s gun was missing, and that the poor widow can swear to it. I asked if any one had searched for it; and Mordacks said no, it would be hopeless. I told them that if I were only free to show myself and choose my time, I would lay my life upon finding it, if thrown away (as it most likely was) in some part of that unlucky cave. Mordacks caught at this idea, and asked me a number of questions, and took down my answers; for no one else knows the cave as I do. I would run all risks myself, and be there to do it, if time suited. But only certain tides will serve, even with the best of weather; and there may be no such tide for months — I mean tide, weather, and clear water combined, as they must be for the job. Therefore I am not to wait, but go about my other business, and leave this to Mordacks, who loves to be captain of everything. Mr. Mordacks talked of a diving-bell, and some great American inventions; but nothing of the kind can be used there, nor even grappling-irons. The thing must not be heard of even, until it has been accomplished. Whatever is done, must be done by a man who can swim and dive as I can, and who knows the place almost as well. I have told him where to find the man, when the opportunity comes for it; and I have shown my better father, Robin Cockscroft, the likely spot. So now I have nothing more to do with that.”

“How wonderfully you can throw off cares!” his sweetheart answered, softly. “But I shall be miserable till I know what happens. Will they let me be there? Because I understand so much about tides, and I can hold my tongue.”

“That you have shown right well, my Mary; but your own sense will tell you that you could not be there. Now one thing more: here is a ring, not worthy — although it is the real stuff — to go upon your precious hand, yet allow me to put it on; no, not there; upon your wedding finger. Now do you know what that is for?”

“For me, I suppose,” she answered, blushing with pleasure and admiration; “but it is too good, too beautiful, too costly.”

“Not half good enough. Though, to tell you the truth, it can not be matched easily; any more than you can. But I know where to get those things. Now promise me to wear it, when you think of me; and the one habit will confirm the other. But the more important part is this, and the last thing for me to say to you. Your father still hates my name, I fear. Tell him every word I have told you, and perhaps it will bring him half way round. Sooner or later he must come round; and the only way to do it is to work him slowly. When he sees in how many ways I have been wronged, and how beautifully I have borne it all, he will begin to say to himself, ‘Now this young man may be improving.’ But he never will say, ‘He hath no need of it.’”

“I should rather think not, you conceited Robin, or whatever else I am to call you now. But I bargain for one thing — whatever may happen, I shall never call you anything else but Robin. It suits you, and you look well with it. Yordas, indeed, or whatever it may be —”

“No bargain is valid without a seal,” etc., etc. In the old but ever-vivid way they went on, until they were forced to part, at the very lips of the house itself, after longing lingerings. The air of the fields was sweet with summer fragrance and the breath of night; the world was ripe with soft repose, whose dreams were hope and happiness; and the heaven spread some gentle stars, to show mankind the way to it. Then a noble perfume strewed the ambient air with stronger presence, as the farmer, in his shirt sleeves, came, with a clay pipe, and grumbled, “Wherever is our Mary all this time?”

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