Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter VII

A Dane in the Dike

Now, whether spy-glass had been used by any watchful mariner, or whether only blind chance willed it, sure it is that one fine morning Mary met with somebody. And this was the more remarkable, when people came to think of it, because it was only the night before that her mother had almost said as much.

“Ye munna gaw doon to t’ sea be yersell,” Mistress Anerley said to her daughter; “happen ye mought be one too many.”

Master Anerley’s wife had been at “boarding-school,” as far south as Suffolk, and could speak the very best of Southern English (like her daughter Mary) upon polite occasion. But family cares and farm-house life had partly cured her of her education, and from troubles of distant speech she had returned to the ease of her native dialect.

“And if I go not to the sea by myself,” asked Mary, with natural logic, “why, who is there now to go with me?” She was thinking of her sadly missed comrade, Jack.

“Happen some day, perhaps, one too many.”

The maiden was almost too innocent to blush; but her father took her part as usual.

“The little lass sall gaw doon,” he said, “wheniver sha likes.” And so she went down the next morning.

A thousand years ago the Dane’s Dike must have been a very grand intrenchment, and a thousand years ere that perhaps it was still grander; for learned men say that it is a British work, wrought out before the Danes had even learned to build a ship. Whatever, however, may be argued about that, the wise and the witless do agree about one thing — the stronghold inside it has been held by Danes, while severed by the Dike from inland parts; and these Danes made a good colony of their own, and left to their descendants distinct speech and manners, some traces of which are existing even now. The Dike, extending from the rough North Sea to the calmer waters of Bridlington Bay, is nothing more than a deep dry trench, skillfully following the hollows of the ground, and cutting off Flamborough Head and a solid cantle of high land from the rest of Yorkshire. The corner, so intercepted, used to be and is still called “Little Denmark;” and the indwellers feel a large contempt for all their outer neighbors. And this is sad, because Anerley Farm lies wholly outside of the Dike, which for a long crooked distance serves as its eastern boundary.

Upon the morning of the self-same day that saw Mr. Jellicorse set forth upon his return from Scargate Hall, armed with instructions to defy the devil, and to keep his discovery quiet — upon a lovely August morning of the first year of a new century, Mary Anerley, blithe and gay, came riding down the grassy hollow of this ancient Dane’s Dike. This was her shortest way to the sea, and the tide would suit (if she could only catch it) for a take of shrimps, and perhaps even prawns, in time for her father’s breakfast. And not to lose this, she arose right early, and rousing Lord Keppel, set forth for the spot where she kept her net covered with sea-weed. The sun, though up and brisk already upon sea and foreland, had not found time to rout the shadows skulking in the dingles. But even here, where sap of time had breached the turfy ramparts, the hover of the dew-mist passed away, and the steady light was unfolded.

For the season was early August still, with beautiful weather come at last; and the green world seemed to stand on tiptoe to make the extraordinary acquaintance of the sun. Humble plants which had long lain flat stood up with a sense of casting something off; and the damp heavy trunks which had trickled for a twelvemonth, or been only sponged with moss, were hailing the fresher light with keener lines and dove-colored tints upon their smoother boles. Then, conquering the barrier of the eastern land crest, rose the glorious sun himself, strewing before him trees and crags in long steep shadows down the hill. Then the sloping rays, through furze and brush-land, kindling the sparkles of the dew, descended to the brink of the Dike, and scorning to halt at petty obstacles, with a hundred golden hurdles bridged it wherever any opening was.

Under this luminous span, or through it where the crossing gullies ran, Mary Anerley rode at leisure, allowing her pony to choose his pace. That privilege he had long secured, in right of age, wisdom, and remarkable force of character. Considering his time of life, he looked well and sleek, and almost sprightly; and so, without any reservation, did his gentle and graceful rider. The maiden looked well in a place like that, as indeed in almost any place; but now she especially set off the color of things, and was set off by them. For instance, how could the silver of the dew-cloud, and golden weft of sunrise, playing through the dapples of a partly wooded glen, do better (in the matter of variety) than frame a pretty moving figure in a pink checked frock, with a skirt of russet murrey, and a bright brown hat? Not that the hat itself was bright, even under the kiss of sunshine, simply having seen already too much of the sun, but rather that its early lustre seemed to be revived by a sense of the happy position it was in; the clustering hair and the bright eyes beneath it answering the sunny dance of life and light. Many a handsomer face, no doubt, more perfect, grand, and lofty, received — at least if it was out of bed — the greeting of that morning sun; but scarcely any prettier one, or kinder, or more pleasant, so gentle without being weak, so good-tempered without looking void of all temper at all.

Suddenly the beauty of the time and place was broken by sharp angry sound. Bang! bang! came the roar of muskets fired from the shore at the mouth of the Dike, and echoing up the winding glen. At the first report the girl, though startled, was not greatly frightened; for the sound was common enough in the week when those most gallant volunteers entitled the “Yorkshire Invincibles” came down for their annual practice of skilled gunnery against the French. Their habit was to bring down a red cock, and tether him against a chalky cliff, and then vie with one another in shooting at him. The same cock had tested their skill for three summers, but failed hitherto to attest it, preferring to return in a hamper to his hens, with a story of moving adventures.

Mary had watched those Invincibles sometimes from a respectful distance, and therefore felt sure (when she began to think) that she had not them to thank for this little scare. For they always slept soundly in the first watch of the morning; and even supposing they had jumped up with nightmare, where was the jubilant crow of the cock? For the cock, being almost as invincible as they were, never could deny himself the glory of a crow when the bullet came into his neighborhood. He replied to every volley with an elevated comb, and a flapping of his wings, and a clarion peal, which rang along the foreshore ere the musket roar died out. But before the girl had time to ponder what it was, or wherefore, round the corner came somebody, running very swiftly.

In a moment Mary saw that this man had been shot at, and was making for his life away; and to give him every chance she jerked her pony aside, and called and beckoned; and without a word he flew to her. Words were beyond him, till his breath should come back, and he seemed to have no time to wait for that. He had outstripped the wind, and his own wind, by his speed.

“Poor man!” cried Mary Anerley, “what a hurry you are in! But I suppose you can not help it. Are they shooting at you?”

The runaway nodded, for he could not spare a breath, but was deeply inhaling for another start, and could not even bow without hinderance. But to show that he had manners, he took off his hat. Then he clapped it on his head and set off again.

“Come back!” cried the maid; “I can show you a place. I can hide you from your enemies forever.”

The young fellow stopped. He was come to that pitch of exhaustion in which a man scarcely cares whether he is killed or dies. And his face showed not a sign of fear.

“Look! That little hole — up there — by the fern. Up at once, and this cloth over you!”

He snatched it, and was gone, like the darting lizard, up a little puckering side issue of the Dike, at the very same instant that three broad figures and a long one appeared at the lip of the mouth. The quick-witted girl rode on to meet them, to give the poor fugitive time to get into his hole and draw the brown skirt over him. The dazzle of the sun, pouring over the crest, made the hollow a twinkling obscurity; and the cloth was just in keeping with the dead stuff around. The three broad men, with heavy fusils cocked, came up from the sea mouth of the Dike, steadily panting, and running steadily with a long-enduring stride. Behind them a tall bony man with a cutlass was swinging it high in the air, and limping, and swearing with great velocity.

“Coast-riders,” thought Mary, “and he a free-trader! Four against one is cowardice.”

“Halt!” cried the tall man, while the rest were running past her; “halt! ground arms; never scare young ladies.” Then he flourished his hat, with a grand bow to Mary. “Fair young Mistress Anerley, I fear we spoil your ride. But his Majesty’s duty must be done. Hats off, fellows, at the name of your king! Mary, my dear, the most daring villain, the devil’s own son, has just run up here — scarcely two minutes — you must have seen him. Wait a minute; tell no lies — excuse me, I mean fibs. Your father is the right sort. He hates those scoundrels. In the name of his Majesty, which way is he gone?”

“Was it — oh, was it a man, if you please? Captain Carroway, don’t say so.”

“A man? Is it likely that we shot at a woman? You are trifling. It will be the worse for you. Forgive me — but we are in such a hurry. Whoa! whoa! pony.”

“You always used to be so polite, Sir, that you quite surprise me. And those guns look so dreadful! My father would be quite astonished to see me not even allowed to go down to the sea, but hurried back here, as if the French had landed.”

“How can I help it, if your pony runs away so?” For Mary all this time had been cleverly contriving to increase and exaggerate her pony’s fear, and so brought the gunners for a long way up the Dike, without giving them any time to spy at all about. She knew that this was wicked from a loyal point of view; not a bit the less she did it. “What a troublesome little horse it is!” she cried. “Oh, Captain Carroway, hold him just a moment. I will jump down, and then you can jump up, and ride after all his Majesty’s enemies.”

“The Lord forbid! He slews all out of gear, like a carronade with rotten lashings. If I boarded him, how could I get out of his way? No, no, my dear, brace him up sharp, and bear clear.”

“But you wanted to know about some enemy, captain. An enemy as bad as my poor Lord Keppel?”

“Mary, my dear, the very biggest villain! A hundred golden guineas on his head, and half for you. Think of your father, my dear, and Sunday gowns. And you must have a young man by-and-by, you know — such a beautiful maid as you are. And you might get a leather purse, and give it to him. Mary, on your duty, now?”

“Captain, you drive me so, what can I say? I can not bear the thought of betraying any body.”

“Of course not, Mary dear; nobody asks you. He must be half a mile off by this time. You could never hurt him now; and you can tell your father that you have done your duty to the king.”

“Well, Captain Carroway, if you are quite sure that it is too late to catch him, I can tell you all about him. But remember your word about the fifty guineas.”

“Every farthing, every farthing, Mary, whatever my wife may say to it. Quick! quick! Which way did he run, my dear?”

“He really did not seem to me to be running at all; he was too tired.”

“To be sure, to be sure, a worn-out fox! We have been two hours after him; he could not run; no more can we. But which way did he go, I mean?”

“I will not say any thing for certain, Sir; even for fifty guineas. But he may have come up here — mind, I say not that he did — and if so, he might have set off again for Sewerby. Slowly, very slowly, because of being tired. But perhaps, after all, he was not the man you mean.”

“Forward, double-quick! We are sure to have him!” shouted the lieutenant — for his true rank was that — flourishing his cutlass again, and setting off at a wonderful pace, considering his limp. “Five guineas every man Jack of you. Thank you, young mistress — most heartily thank you. Dead or alive, five guineas!”

With gun and sword in readiness, they all rushed off; but one of the party, named John Cadman, shook his head and looked back with great mistrust at Mary, having no better judgment of women than this, that he never could believe even his own wife. And he knew that it was mainly by the grace of womankind that so much contraband work was going on. Nevertheless, it was out of his power to act upon his own low opinions now.

The maiden, blushing deeply with the sense of her deceit, was informed by her guilty conscience of that nasty man’s suspicions, and therefore gave a smack with her fern whip to Lord Keppel, impelling him to join, like a loyal little horse, the pursuit of his Majesty’s enemies. But no sooner did she see all the men dispersed, and scouring the distance with trustful ardor, than she turned her pony’s head toward the sea again, and rode back round the bend of the hollow. What would her mother say if she lost the murrey skirt, which had cost six shillings at Bridlington fair? And ten times that money might be lost much better than for her father to discover how she lost it. For Master Stephen Anerley was a straight-backed man, and took three weeks of training in the Land Defense Yeomanry, at periods not more than a year apart, so that many people called him “Captain” now; and the loss of his suppleness at knee and elbow had turned his mind largely to politics, making him stiffly patriotic, and especially hot against all free-traders putting bad bargains to his wife, at the cost of the king and his revenue. If the bargain were a good one, that was no concern of his.

Not that Mary, however, could believe, or would even have such a bad mind as to imagine, that any one, after being helped by her, would be mean enough to run off with her property. And now she came to think of it, there was something high and noble, she might almost say something downright honest, in the face of that poor persecuted man. And in spite of all his panting, how brave he must have been, what a runner, and how clever, to escape from all those cowardly coast-riders shooting right and left at him! Such a man steal that paltry skirt that her mother made such a fuss about! She was much more likely to find it in her clothes-press filled with golden guineas.

Before she was as certain as she wished to be of this (by reason of shrewd nativity), and while she believed that the fugitive must have seized such a chance and made good his escape toward North Sea or Flamborough, a quick shadow glanced across the long shafts of the sun, and a bodily form sped after it. To the middle of the Dike leaped a young man, smiling, and forth from the gully which had saved his life. To look at him, nobody ever could have guessed how fast he had fled, and how close he had lain hid. For he stood there as clean and spruce and careless as even a sailor can be wished to be. Limber yet stalwart, agile though substantial, and as quick as a dart while as strong as a pike, he seemed cut out by nature for a true blue-jacket; but condition had made him a smuggler, or, to put it more gently, a free-trader. Britannia, being then at war with all the world, and alone in the right (as usual), had need of such lads, and produced them accordingly, and sometimes one too many. But Mary did not understand these laws.

This made her look at him with great surprise, and almost doubt whether he could be the man, until she saw her skirt neatly folded in his hand, and then she said, “How do you do, Sir?”

The free-trader looked at her with equal surprise. He had been in such a hurry, and his breath so short, and the chance of a fatal bullet after him so sharp, that his mind had been astray from any sense of beauty, and of every thing else except the safety of the body. But now he looked at Mary, and his breath again went from him.

“You can run again now; I am sure of it,” said she; “and if you would like to do any thing to please me, run as fast as possible.”

“What have I to run away from now?” he answered, in a deep sweet voice. “I run from enemies, but not from friends.”

“That is very wise. But your enemies are still almost within call of you. They will come back worse than ever when they find you are not there.”

“I am not afraid, fair lady, for I understand their ways. I have led them a good many dances before this; though it would have been my last, without your help. They will go on, all the morning, in the wrong direction, even while they know it. Carroway is the most stubborn of men. He never turns back; and the further he goes, the better his bad leg is. They will scatter about, among the fields and hedges, and call one another like partridges. And when they can not take another step, they will come back to Anerley for breakfast.”

“I dare say they will; and we shall be glad to see them. My father is a soldier, and his duty is to nourish and comfort the forces of the king.”

“Then you are young Mistress Anerley? I was sure of it before. There are no two such. And you have saved my life. It is something to owe it so fairly.”

The young sailor wanted to kiss Mary’s hand; but not being used to any gallantry, she held out her hand in the simplest manner to take back her riding skirt; and he, though longing in his heart to keep it, for a token or pretext for another meeting, found no excuse for doing so. And yet he was not without some resource.

For the maiden was giving him a farewell smile, being quite content with the good she had done, and the luck of recovering her property; and that sense of right which in those days formed a part of every good young woman said to her plainly that she must be off. And she felt how unkind it was to keep him any longer in a place where the muzzle of a gun, with a man behind it, might appear at any moment. But he, having plentiful breath again, was at home with himself to spend it.

“Fair young lady,” he began, for he saw that Mary liked to be called a lady, because it was a novelty, “owing more than I ever can pay you already, may I ask a little more? Then it is that, on your way down to the sea, you would just pick up (if you should chance to see it) the fellow ring to this, and perhaps you will look at this to know it by. The one that was shot away flew against a stone just on the left of the mouth of the Dike, but I durst not stop to look for it, and I must not go back that way now. It is more to me than a hatful of gold, though nobody else would give a crown for it.”

“And they really shot away one of your ear-rings? Careless, cruel, wasteful men! What could they have been thinking of?”

“They were thinking of getting what is called ‘blood-money.’ One hundred pounds for Robin Lyth. Dead or alive — one hundred pounds.”

“It makes me shiver, with the sun upon me. Of course they must offer money for — for people. For people who have killed other people, and bad things — but to offer a hundred pounds for a free-trader, and fire great guns at him to get it — I never should have thought it of Captain Carroway.”

“Carroway only does his duty. I like him none the worse for it. Carroway is a fool, of course. His life has been in my hands fifty times; but I will never take it. He must be killed sooner or later, because he rushes into every thing. But never will it be my doing.”

“Then are you the celebrated Robin Lyth — the new Robin Hood, as they call him? The man who can do almost any thing?”

“Mistress Anerley, I am Robin Lyth; but, as you have seen, I can not do much. I can not even search for my own earring.”

“I will search for it till I find it. They have shot at you too much. Cowardly, cowardly people! Captain Lyth, where shall I put it, if I find it?”

“If you could hide it for a week, and then — then tell me where to find it, in the afternoon, toward four o’clock, in the lane toward Bempton Cliffs. We are off tonight upon important business. We have been too careless lately, from laughing at poor Carroway.”

“You are very careless now. You quite frighten me almost. The coast-riders might come back at any moment. And what could you do then?”

“Run away gallantly, as I did before; with this little difference, that I should be fresh, while they are as stiff as nut-cracks. They have missed the best chance they ever had at me; it will make their temper very bad. If they shot at me again, they could do no good. Crooked mood makes crooked mode.”

“You forget that I should not see such things. You may like very much to be shot at; but — but you should think of other people.”

“I shall think of you only — I mean of your great kindness, and your promise to keep my ring for me. Of course you will tell nobody, Carroway will have me like a tiger if you do. Farewell, young lady — for one week farewell.”

With a wave of his hat he was gone, before Mary had time to retract her promise; and she thought of her mother, as she rode on slowly to look for the smuggler’s trinket.

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