Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter VIII

Captain Carroway

Fame, that light-of-love trusted by so many, and never a wife till a widow — fame, the fair daughter of fuss and caprice, may yet take the phantom of bold Robin Lyth by the right hand, and lead it to a pedestal almost as lofty as Robin Hood’s, or she may let it vanish like a bat across Lethe — a thing not bad enough for eminence.

However, at the date and in the part of the world now dealt with, this great free-trader enjoyed the warm though possibly brief embrace of fame, having no rival, and being highly respected by all who were unwarped by a sense of duty. And blessed as he was with a lively nature, he proceeded happily upon his path in life, notwithstanding a certain ticklish sense of being shot at undesirably. This had befallen him now so often, without producing any tangible effect, that a great many people, and especially the shooters (convinced of the accuracy of their aim), went far to believe that he possessed some charm against wholesome bullet and gunpowder. And lately even a crooked sixpence dipped in holy water (which was still to be had in Yorkshire) confirmed and doubled the faith of all good people, by being declared upon oath to have passed clean through him, as was proved by its being picked up quite clean.

This strong belief was of great use to him; for, like many other beliefs, it went a very long way to prove itself. Steady left hands now grew shaky in the level of the carbine, and firm forefingers trembled slightly upon draught of trigger, and the chief result of a large discharge was a wale upon the marksman’s shoulder. Robin, though so clever and well practiced in the world, was scarcely old enough yet to have learned the advantage of misapprehension, which, if well handled by any man, helps him, in the cunning of paltry things, better than a truer estimate. But without going into that, he was pleased with the fancy of being invulnerable, which not only doubled his courage, but trebled the discipline of his followers, and secured him the respect of all tradesmen. However, the worst of all things is that just when they are establishing themselves, and earning true faith by continuance, out of pure opposition the direct contrary arises, and begins to prove itself. And to Captain Lyth this had just happened in the shot which carried off his left ear-ring.

Not that his body, or any fleshly member, could be said directly to have parted with its charm, but that a warning and a diffidence arose from so near a visitation. All genuine sailors are blessed with strong faith, as they must be, by nature’s compensation. Their bodies continually going up and down upon perpetual fluxion, they never could live if their minds did the same, like the minds of stationary landsmen. Therefore their minds are of stanch immobility, to restore the due share of firm element. And not only that, but these men have compressed (through generations of circumstance), from small complications, simplicity. Being out in all weathers, and rolling about so, how can they stand upon trifles? Solid stays, and stanchions, and strong bulwarks are their need, and not a dance of gnats in gossamer; hating all fogs, they blow not up with their own breath misty mysteries, and gazing mainly at the sky and sea, believe purely in God and the devil. In a word, these sailors have religion.

Some of their religion is not well pronounced, but declares itself in overstrong expressions. However, it is in them, and at any moment waiting opportunity of action — a shipwreck or a grape-shot; and the chaplain has good hopes of them when the doctor has given them over.

Now one of their principal canons of faith, and the one best observed in practice, is (or at any rate used to be) that a man is bound to wear ear-rings. For these, as sure tradition shows, and no pious mariner would dare to doubt, act as a whetstone in all weathers to the keen edge of the eyes. Semble — as the lawyers say — that this idea was born of great phonetic facts in the days when a seaman knew his duty better than the way to spell it; and when, if his outlook were sharpened by a friendly wring from the captain of the watch, he never dreamed of a police court.

But Robin Lyth had never cared to ask why he wore ear-rings. His nature was not meditative. Enough for him that all the other men of Flamborough did so; and enough for them that their fathers had done it. Whether his own father had done so, was more than he could say, because he knew of no such parent; and of that other necessity, a mother, he was equally ignorant. His first appearance at Flamborough, though it made little stir at the moment in a place of so many adventures, might still be considered unusual, and in some little degree remarkable. So that Mistress Anerley was not wrong when she pressed upon Lieutenant Carroway how unwise it might be to shoot him, any more than Carroway himself was wrong in turning in at Anerley gate for breakfast.

This he had not done without good cause of honest and loyal necessity. Free-trading Robin had predicted well the course of his pursuers. Rushing eagerly up the Dike, and over its brim, with their muskets, that gallant force of revenue men steadily scoured the neighborhood; and the further they went, the worse they fared. There was not a horse standing down by a pool, with his stiff legs shut up into biped form, nor a cow staring blandly across an old rail, nor a sheep with a pectoral cough behind a hedge, nor a rabbit making rustle at the eyebrow of his hole, nor even a moot, that might either be a man or hold a man inside it, whom or which those active fellows did not circumvent and poke into. In none of these, however, could they find the smallest breach of the strictest laws of the revenue; until at last, having exhausted their bodies by great zeal both of themselves and of mind, they braced them again to the duty of going, as promptly as possible, to breakfast.

For a purpose of that kind few better places, perhaps, could be found than this Anerley Farm, though not at the best of itself just now, because of the denials of the season. It is a sad truth about the heyday of the year, such as August is in Yorkshire — where they have no spring — that just when a man would like his victuals to rise to the mark of the period, to be simple yet varied, exhilarating yet substantial, the heat of the summer day defrauds its increased length for feeding. For instance, to cite a very trifling point — at least in some opinions — August has banished that bright content and most devout resignation which ensue the removal of a petted pig from this troublous world of grunt. The fat pig rolls in wallowing rapture, defying his friends to make pork of him yet, and hugs with complacence unpickleable hams. The partridge among the pillared wheat, tenderly footing the way for his chicks, and teaching little balls of down to hop, knows how sacred are their lives to others as well as to himself; and the less paternal cock-pheasant scratches the ridge of green-shouldered potatoes, without fear of keeping them company at table.

But though the bright glory of the griddle remains in suspense for the hoary mornings, and hooks that carried woodcocks once, and hope to do so yet again, are primed with dust instead of lard, and the frying-pan hangs on the cellar nail with a holiday gloss of raw mutton suet, yet is there still some comfort left, yet dappled brawn, and bacon streaked, yet golden-hearted eggs, and mushrooms quilted with pink satin, spiced beef carded with pellucid fat, buckstone cake, and brown bread scented with the ash of gorse bloom — of these, and more that pave the way into the good-will of mankind, what lack have fine farm-houses?

And then, again, for the liquid duct, the softer and more sensitive, the one that is never out of season, but perennially clear — here we have advantage of the gentle time that mellows thirst. The long ride of the summer sun makes men who are in feeling with him, and like him go up and down, not forego the moral of his labor, which is work and rest. Work all day, and light the rounded land with fruit and nurture, and rest at evening, looking through bright fluid, as the sun goes down.

But times there are when sun and man, by stress of work, or clouds, or light, or it may be some Process of the Equinox, make draughts upon the untilted day, and solace themselves in the morning. For lack of dew the sun draws lengthy sucks of cloud quite early, and men who have labored far and dry, and scattered the rime of the night with dust, find themselves ready about 8 A.M. for the golden encouragement of gentle ale.

The farm-house had an old porch of stone, with a bench of stone on either side, and pointed windows trying to look out under brows of ivy; and this porch led into the long low hall, where the breakfast was beginning. To say what was on the table would be only waste of time, because it has all been eaten so long ago; but the farmer was vexed because there were no shrimps. Not that he cared half the clip of a whisker for all the shrimps that ever bearded the sea, only that he liked to seem to love them, to keep Mary at work for him. The flower of his flock, and of all the flocks of the world of the universe to his mind, was his darling daughter Mary: the strength of his love was upon her, and he liked to eat any thing of her cooking.

His body was too firm to fidget; but his mind was out of its usual comfort, because the pride of his heart, his Mary, seemed to be hiding something from him. And with the justice to be expected from far clearer minds than his, being vexed by one, he was ripe for the relief of snapping at fifty others. Mary, who could read him, as a sailor reads his compass, by the corner of one eye, awaited with good content the usual result — an outbreak of words upon the indolent Willie, whenever that young farmer should come down to breakfast, then a comforting glance from the mother at her William, followed by a plate kept hot for him, and then a fine shake of the master’s shoulders, and a stamp of departure for business. But instead of that, what came to pass was this.

In the first place, a mighty bark of dogs arose; as needs must be, when a man does his duty toward the nobler animals; for sure it is that the dogs will not fail of their part. Then an inferior noise of men, crying, “Good dog! good dog!” and other fulsome flatteries, in the hope of avoiding any tooth-mark on their legs; and after that a shaking down and settlement of sounds, as if feet were brought into good order, and stopped. Then a tall man, with a body full of corners, and a face of grim temper, stood in the doorway.

“Well, well, captain, now!” cried Stephen Anerley, getting up after waiting to be spoken to, “the breath of us all is hard to get, with doing of our duty, Sir. Come ye in, and sit doon to table, and his Majesty’s forces along o’ ye.”

“Cadman, Ellis, and Dick, be damned!” the lieutenant shouted out to them; “you shall have all the victuals you want, by-and-by. Cross legs, and get your winds up. Captain of the coast-defense, I am under your orders, in your own house.” Carroway was starving, as only a man with long and active jaws can starve; and now the appearance of the farmer’s mouth, half full of a kindly relish, made the emptiness of his own more bitter. But happen what might, he resolved, as usual, to enforce strict discipline, to feed himself first, and his men in proper order.

“Walk in gentlemen, all walk in,” Master Anerley shouted, as if all men were alike, and coming to the door with a hospitable stride; “glad to see all of ye, upon my soul I am. Ye’ve hit upon the right time for coming, too; though there might ‘a been more upon the table. Mary, run, that’s a dear, and fetch your grandfather’s big Sabbath carver. Them peaky little clams a’most puts out all my shoulder-blades, and wunna bite through a twine of gristle. Plates for all the gentlemen, Winnie lass! Bill, go and drah the black jarge full o’ yell.”

The farmer knew well enough that Willie was not down yet; but this was his manner of letting people see that he did not approve of such hours.

“My poor lad Willie,” said the mistress of the house, returning with a courtesy the brave lieutenant’s scrape, “I fear he hath the rheum again, overheating of himself after sungate.”

“Ay, ay, I forgot. He hath to heat himself in bed again, with the sun upon his coverlid. Mary lof, how many hours was ye up?”

“Your daughter, Sir,” answered the lieutenant, with a glance at the maiden over the opal gleam of froth, which she had headed up for him —“your daughter has been down the Dike before the sun was, and doing of her duty by the king and by his revenue. Mistress Anerley, your good health! Master Anerley, the like to you, and your daughter, and all of your good household.” Before they had finished their thanks for this honor, the quart pot was set down empty. “A very pretty brew, Sir — a pretty brew indeed! Fall back, men! Have heed of discipline. A chalked line is what they want, Sir. Mistress Anerley, your good health again. The air is now thirsty in the mornings. If those fellows could be given a bench against the wall — a bench against the wall is what they feel for with their legs. It comes so natural to their — yes, yes, their legs, and the crook of their heels, ma’am, from what they were brought up to sit upon. And if you have any beer brewed for washing days, ma’am, that is what they like, and the right thing for their bellies. Cadman, Ellis, and Dick Hackerbody, sit down and be thankful.”

“But surely, Captain Carroway, you would never be happy to sit down without them. Look at their small-clothes, the dust and the dirt! And their mouths show what you might make of them.”

“Yes, madam, yes; the very worst of them is that. They are always looking out, here, there, and every where, for victuals everlasting. Let them wait their proper time, and then they do it properly.”

“Their proper time is now, Sir. Winnie, fill their horns up. Mary, wait you upon the officer. Captain Carroway, I will not have any body starve in my house.”

“Madam, you are the lawgiver in your own house. Men of the coast-guard, fall to upon your victuals.”

The lieutenant frowned horribly at his men, as much as to say, “Take no advantage, but show your best manners;” and they touched their forelocks with a pleasant grin, and began to feed rapidly; and verily their wives would have said that it was high time for them. Feeding, as a duty, was the order of the day, and discipline had no rank left. Good things appeared and disappeared, with the speedy doom of all excellence. Mary, and Winnie the maid, flitted in and out like carrier-pigeons.

“Now when the situation comes to this,” said the farmer at last, being heartily pleased with the style of their feeding and laughing, “his Majesty hath made an officer of me, though void of his own writing. Mounted Fencibles, Filey Briggers, called in the foreign parts ‘Brigadiers.’ Not that I stand upon sermonry about it, except in the matter of his Majesty’s health, as never is due without ardent spirits. But my wife hath a right to her own way, and never yet I knowed her go away from it.”

“Not so, by any means,” the mistress said, and said it so quietly that some believed her; “I never was so much for that. Captain, you are a married man. But reason is reason, in the middle of us all, and what else should I say to my husband? Mary lass, Mary lof, wherever is your duty? The captain hath the best pot empty!”

With a bright blush Mary sprang up to do her duty. In those days no girl was ashamed to blush; and the bloodless cheek savored of small-pox.

“Hold up your head, my lof,” her father said aloud, with a smile of tidy pride, and a pat upon her back; “no call to look at all ashamed, my dear. To my mind, captain, though I may be wrong, however, but to my mind, this little maid may stan’ upright in the presence of downright any one.”

“There lies the very thing that never should be said. Captain, you have seven children, or it may be eight of them justly. And the pride of life — Mary, you be off!”

Mary was glad to run away, for she liked not to be among so many men. But her father would not have her triumphed over.

“Speak for yourself, good wife,” he said. “I know what you have got behind, as well as rooks know plough-tail. Captain, you never heard me say that the lass were any booty, but the very same as God hath made her, and thankful for straight legs and eyes. Howsoever, there might be worse-favored maidens, without running out of the Riding.”

“You may ride all the way to the city of London,” the captain exclaimed, with a clinch of his fist, “or even to Portsmouth, where my wife came from, and never find a maid fit to hold a candle for Mary to curl her hair by.”

The farmer was so pleased that he whispered something; but Carroway put his hand before his mouth, and said, “Never, no, never in the morning!” But in spite of that, Master Anerley felt in his pocket for a key, and departed.

“Wicked, wicked, is the word I use,” protested Mrs. Anerley, “for all this fribble about rooks and looks, and holding of candles, and curling of hair. When I was Mary’s age — oh dear! It may not be so for your daughters, captain; but evil for mine was the day that invented those proud swinging-glasses.”

“That you may pronounce, ma’am, and I will say Amen. Why, my eldest daughter, in her tenth year now —”

“Come, Captain Carroway,” broke in the farmer, returning softly with a square old bottle, “how goes the fighting with the Crappos now? Put your legs up, and light your pipe, and tell us all the news.”

“Cadman, and Ellis, and Dick Hackerbody,” the lieutenant of the coast-guard shouted, “you have fed well. Be off, men; no more neglect of duty! Place an outpost at fork of the Sewerby road, and strictly observe the enemy, while I hold a council of war with my brother officer, Captain Anerley. Half a crown for you, if you catch the rogue, half a crown each, and promotion of twopence. Attention, eyes right, make yourselves scarce! Well, now the rogues are gone, let us make ourselves at home. Anerley, your question is a dry one. A dry one; but this is uncommonly fine stuff! How the devil has it slipped through our fingers? Never mind that, inter amicos — Sir, I was at school at Shrewsbury — but as to the war, Sir, the service is going to the devil, for the want of pure principle.”

The farmer nodded; and his looks declared that to some extent he felt it. He had got the worst side of some bargains that week; but his wife had another way of thinking.

“Why, Captain Carroway, whatever could be purer? When you were at sea, had you ever a man of the downright principles of Nelson?”

“Nelson has done very well in his way; but he is a man who has risen too fast, as other men rise too slowly. Nothing in him; no substance, madam; I knew him as a youngster, and I could have tossed him on a marling-spike. And instead of feeding well, Sir, he quite wore himself away. To my firm knowledge, he would scarcely turn the scale upon a good Frenchman of half of the peas. Every man should work his own way up, unless his father did it for him. In my time we had fifty men as good, and made no fuss about them.”

“And you not the last of them, captain, I dare say. Though I do love to hear of the Lord’s Lord Nelson, as the people call him. If ever a man fought his own way up —”

“Madam, I know him, and respect him well. He would walk up to the devil, with a sword between his teeth, and a boarder’s pistol in each hand. Madam, I leaped, in that condition, a depth of six fathoms and a half into the starboard mizzen-chains of the French line-of-battle ship Peace and Thunder.”

“Oh, Captain Carroway, how dreadful! What had you to lay hold with?”

“At such times a man must not lay hold. My business was to lay about; and I did it to some purpose. This little slash, across my eyes struck fire, and it does the same now by moonlight.”

One of the last men in the world to brag was Lieutenant Carroway. Nothing but the great thirst of this morning, and strong necessity of quenching it, could ever have led him to speak about himself, and remember his own little exploits. But the farmer was pleased, and said, “Tell us some more, Sir.”

“Mistress Anerley,” the captain answered, shutting up the scar, which he was able to expand by means of a muscle of excitement, “you know that a man should drop these subjects when he has got a large family. I have been in the Army and the Navy, madam, and now I am in the Revenue; but my duty is first to my own house.”

“Do take care, Sir; I beg you to be careful. Those free-traders now are come to such a pitch that any day or night they may shoot you.”

“Not they, madam. No, they are not murderers. In a hand-to-hand conflict they might do it, as I might do the same to them. This very morning my men shot at the captain of all smugglers, Robin Lyth, of Flamborough, with a hundred guineas upon his head. It was no wish of mine; but my breath was short to stop them, and a man with a family like mine can never despise a hundred guineas.”

“Why, Sophy,” said the farmer, thinking slowly, with a frown, “that must have been the noise come in at window, when I were getting up this morning. I said, ‘Why, there’s some poacher fellow popping at the conies!’ and out I went straight to the warren to see. Three gun-shots, or might ‘a been four. How many men was you shooting at?”

“The force under my command was in pursuit of one notorious criminal — that well-known villain, Robin Lyth.”

“Captain, your duty is to do your duty. But without your own word for it, I never would believe that you brought four gun muzzles down upon one man.”

“The force under my command carried three guns only. It was not in their power to shoot off four.”

“Captain, I never would have done it in your place. I call it no better than unmanly. Now go you not for to stir yourself amiss. To look thunder at me is what I laugh at. But many things are done in a hurry, Captain Carroway, and I take it that this was one of them.”

“As to that, no! I will not have it. All was in thorough good order. I was never so much as a cable’s length behind, though the devil, some years ago, split my heel up, like his own, Sir.”

“Captain, I see it, and I ask your pardon. Your men were out of reach of hollering. At our time of life the wind dies quick, from want of blowing oftener.”

“Stuff!” cried the captain. “Who was the freshest that came to your hospitable door, Sir? I will foot it with any man for six leagues, but not for half a mile, ma’am. I depart from nothing. I said, ‘Fire!’ and fire they did, and they shall again. What do Volunteers know of the service?”

“Stephen, you shall not say a single other word;” Mistress Anerley stopped her husband thus; “these matters are out of your line altogether; because you have never taken any body’s blood. The captain here is used to it, like all the sons of Belial, brought up in the early portions of the Holy Writ.”

Lieutenant Carroway’s acquaintance with the Bible was not more extensive than that of other officers, and comprised little more than the story of Joseph, and that of David and Goliath; so he bowed to his hostess for her comparison, while his gaunt and bristly countenance gave way to a pleasant smile. For this officer of the British Crown had a face of strong features, and upon it whatever he thought was told as plainly as the time of day is told by the clock in the kitchen. At the same time, Master Anerley was thinking that he might have said more than a host should say concerning a matter which, after all, was no particular concern of his; whereas it was his special place to be kind to any visitor. All this he considered with a sound grave mind, and then stretched forth his right hand to the officer.

Carroway, being a generous man, would not be outdone in apologies. So these two strengthened their mutual esteem, without any fighting — which generally is the quickest way of renewing respect — and Mistress Anerley, having been a little frightened, took credit to herself for the good words she had used. Then the farmer, who never drank cordials, although he liked to see other people do it, set forth to see a man who was come about a rick, and sundry other business. But Carroway, in spite of all his boasts, was stiff, though he bravely denied that he could be; and when the good housewife insisted on his stopping to listen to something that was much upon her mind, and of great importance to the revenue, he could not help owning that duty compelled him to smoke another pipe, and hearken.

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