Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XI

No Promotion

Do it again now, Captain Scuddy; do it again; you know you must.”

“You touched the rim with your shoe, last time. You are bound to do it clean, once more.”

“No, he didn’t. You are a liar; it was only the ribbon of his shoe.”

“I’ll punch your head if you say that again. It was his heel, and here’s the mark.”

“Oh, Scuddy dear, don’t notice them. You can do it fifty times running, if you like. Nobody can run or jump like you. Do it just once more to please me.”

Kitty Fanshawe, a boy with large blue eyes and a purely gentle face, looked up at Blyth Scudamore so faithfully that to resist him was impossible.

“Very well, then; once more for Kitty,” said the sweetest-tempered of mankind, as he vaulted back into the tub. “But you know that I always leave off at a dozen. Thirteen — thirteen I could never stop at. I shall have to do fourteen at least; and it is too bad, just after dinner. Now all of you watch whether I touch it anywhere.”

A barrel almost five feet in height, and less than a yard in breadth, stood under a clump of trees in the play-ground; and Blyth Scudamore had made a clean leap one day, for his own satisfaction, out of it. Sharp eyes saw him, and sharp wits were pleased, and a strong demand had arisen that he should perform this feat perpetually. Good nerve, as well as strong spring, and compactness of power are needed for it; and even in this athletic age there are few who find it easy.

“Come, now,” he said, as he landed lightly, with both heels together; “one of you big fellows come and do it. You are three inches taller than I am. And you have only got to make up your minds.”

But all the big fellows hung back, or began to stimulate one another, and to prove to each other how easy it was, by every proof but practice. “Well, then, I must do it once more,” said Blyth, “for I dare not leave off at thirteen, for fear of some great calamity, such as I never could jump out of.”

But before he could get into the tub again, to prepare for the clear spring out of it, he beheld a man with silver buttons coming across the playing-field. His heart fell into his heels, and no more agility remained in him. He had made up his mind that Admiral Darling would forget all about him by Saturday; and though the fair image of Dolly would abide in that quiet mind for a long while, the balance of his wishes (cast by shyness) was heavily against this visit. And the boys, who understood his nature, with a poignant love — like that of our friends in this world — began to probe his tender places.

“One more jump, Captain Scuddy! You must; to show the flunky what you can do.”

“Oh, don’t I wish I was going? He’ll have turtle soup, and venison, and two men behind his chair.”

“And the beautiful young ladies looking at him every time he takes a mouthful.”

“But he dare not go courting after thirteen jumps. And he has vowed that he will have another. Come, Captain Scuddy, no time to lose.”

But Scudamore set off to face his doom, with his old hat hanging on the back of his head — as it generally did — and his ruddy face and mild blue eyes full of humorous diffidence and perplexity.

“If you please, sir, his honour the Hadmiral have sent me to fetch ‘e and your things; and hoss be baiting along of the Blue Dragon.”

“I am sorry to say that I forgot all about it, or, at least, I thought that he would. How long before we ought to start?”

“My name is Gregory, sir — Coachman Gregory — accustomed always to a pair, but doesn’t mind a single hoss, to oblige the Hadmiral, once in a way. About half an hour, sir, will suit me, unless they comes down to the skittle-alley, as ought to be always on a Saturday afternoon; but not a soul there when I looked in.”

Any man in Scudamore’s position, except himself, would have grieved and groaned. For the evening dress of that time, though less gorgeous than of the age before, was still an expensive and elaborate affair; and the young man, in this ebb of fortune, was poorly stocked with raiment. But he passed this trouble with his usual calmness and disregard of trifles. “If I wear the best I have got,” he thought, “I cannot be charged with disrespect. The Admiral knows what a sailor is; and, after all, who will look at me?” Accordingly he went just as he was, for he never wore an overcoat, but taking a little canvas kit, with pumps and silk stockings for evening wear, and all the best that he could muster of his Volunteer equipment.

The Admiral came to the door of the Hall, and met him with such hearty warmth, and a glance of such kind approval at his open throat and glowing cheeks, that the young man felt a bound of love and tender veneration towards him, which endured for lifetime.

“Your father was my dearest friend, and the very best man I ever knew. I must call you ‘Blyth,’” said the Admiral, “for if I call you ‘Scudamore,’ I shall think perpetually of my loss.”

At dinner that day there was no other guest, and nothing to disturb the present one, except a young lady’s quick glances, of which he endeavored to have no knowledge. Faith Darling, a gentle and beautiful young woman, had taken a natural liking to him, because of his troubles, and simplicity, and devotion to his widowed mother. But to the younger, Dolly Darling, he was only a visitor, dull and stupid, requiring, without at all repaying, the trouble of some attention. He was not tall, nor handsome, nor of striking appearance in any way; and although he was clearly a gentleman, to her judgment he was not an accomplished, or even a clever one. His inborn modesty and shyness placed him at great disadvantage, until well known; and the simple truth of his nature forbade any of the large talk and bold utterance which pleased her as yet among young officers.

“What a plague he will be all day tomorrow!” she said to her sister in the drawing-room. “Father was obliged, I suppose, to invite him; but what can we do with him all the day? Sundays are dull enough, I am sure, already, without our having to amuse a gentleman who has scarcely got two ideas of his own, and is afraid to say ‘bo’ to a goose, I do believe. Did you hear what he said when I asked him whether he was fond of riding?”

“Yes; and I thought it so good of him, to answer so straightforwardly. He said that he used to be very fond of it, but was afraid that he should fall off now.”

“I should like to see him. I tell you what we’ll do. We will make him ride back on Monday morning, and put him on ‘Blue Bangles,’ who won’t have seen daylight since Friday. Won’t he jump about a bit! What a shame it is, not to let us ride on Sundays!”

Ignorant of these kind intentions, Scudamore was enjoying himself in his quiet, observant way. Mr. Twemlow, the rector of the parish, had chanced — as he often chanced on a Saturday, after buckling up a brace of sermons — to issue his mind (with his body outside it) for a little relief of neighbourhood. And these little airings of his chastening love — for he loved everybody, when he had done his sermon — came, whenever there was a fair chance of it, to a glass of the fine old port which is the true haven for an ancient Admiral.

“Just in time, Rector,” cried Admiral Darling, who had added by many a hardship to his inborn hospitality. “This is my young friend Blyth Scudamore, the son of one of my oldest friends. You have heard of Sir Edmond Scudamore?”

“And seen him and felt him. And to him I owe, under a merciful Providence, the power of drinking in this fine port the health of his son, which I do with deep pleasure, for the excellence both of end and means.”

The old man bowed at the praise of his wine, and the young one at that of his father. Then, after the usual pinch of snuff from the Rector’s long gold box, the host returned to the subject he had been full of before this interruption.

“The question we have in hand is this. What is to be done with our friend Blyth? He was getting on famously, till this vile peace came. Twemlow, you called it that yourself, so that argument about words is useless. Blyth’s lieutenancy was on the books, and the way they carry things on now, and shoot poor fellows’ heads off, he might have been a post-captain in a twelvemonth. And now there seems nothing on earth before him better than Holy–Orders.”

“Admiral Darling is kind enough to think,” said Scudamore, in his mild, hesitative way, blushing outwardly, but smiling inwardly, “that I am too good to be a clergyman.”

“And so you are, and Heaven knows it, Blyth, unless there was a chance of getting on by goodness, which there is in the Navy, but not in the Church. Twemlow, what is your opinion?”

“It would not be modest in me,” said the Rector, “to stand up too much for my own order. We do our duty, and we don’t get on.”

“Exactly. You could not have put it better. You get no vacancies by shot and shell, and being fit for another world, you keep out of it. Have you ever heard me tell the story about Gunner MacCrab, of the Bellerophon?”

“Fifty times, and more than that,” replied the sturdy parson, who liked to make a little cut at the Church sometimes, but would not allow any other hand to do it. “But now about our young friend here. Surely, with all that we know by this time of the character of that Bony, we can see that this peace is a mere trick of his to bamboozle us while he gets ready. In six months we shall be at war again, hammer and tongs, as sure as my name is Twemlow.”

“So be it!” cried the Admiral, with a stamp on his oak floor, while Scudamore’s gentle eyes flashed and fell; “if it is the will of God, so be it. But if it once begins again, God alone knows where France will be before you and I are in our graves. They have drained all our patience, and our pockets very nearly; but they have scarcely put a tap into our energy and endurance. But what are they? A gang of slaves, rammed into the cannon by a Despot.”

“They seem to like it, and the question is for them. But the struggle will be desperate, mountains of carnage, oceans of blood, universal mourning, lamentation, and woe. And I have had enough trouble with my tithes already.”

“Tithes are dependent on the will of the Almighty,” said the Admiral, who paid more than he altogether liked; “but a war goes by reason and good management. It encourages the best men of the day, and it brings out the difference between right and wrong, which are quite smothered up in peace time. It keeps out a quantity of foreign rubbish and stuff only made to be looked at, and it makes people trust one another, and know what country they belong to, and feel how much they have left to be thankful for. And what is the use of a noble fleet, unless it can get some fighting? Blyth, what say you? You know something about that.”

“No, sir, I have never been at close quarters yet. And I doubt — or at least I am certain that I should not like it. I am afraid that I should want to run down below.”

Mr. Twemlow, having never smelled hostile powder, gazed at him rather loftily, while the young man blushed at his own truth, yet looked up bravely to confirm it.

“Of all I have ever known or met,” said Admiral Darling, quietly, “there are but three — Nelson and two others, and one of those two was half-witted — who could fetch up muzzle to muzzle without a feeling of that sort. The true courage lies in resisting the impulse, more than being free from it. I know that I was in a precious fright the first time I was shot at, even at a decent distance; and I don’t pretend to like it even now. But I am pretty safe now from any further chance, I fear. When we cut our wisdom-teeth, they shelf us. Twemlow, how much wiser you are in the Church! The older a man gets, the higher they promote him.”

“Then let them begin with me,” the Rector answered, smiling; “I am old enough now for almost anything, and the only promotion I get is stiff joints, and teeth that crave peace from an olive. Placitam paci, Mr. Scudamore knows the rest, being fresh from the learned Stonnington. But, Squire, you know that I am content. I love Springhaven, Springhaven loves me, and we chasten one another.”

“A man who knows all the Latin you know, Rector — for I own that you beat me to the spelling-book — should be at least an Archdeacon in the Church, which is equal to the rank of Rear–Admiral. But you never have pushed as you should do; and you let it all off in quotations. Those are very comforting to the mind, but I never knew a man do good with them, unless they come out of the Bible. When Gunner Matthew of the Erigdoupos was waiting to have his leg off, with no prospect before him — except a better world — you know what our Chaplain said to him; and the effect upon his mind was such, that I have got him to this day upon my land.”

“Of course you have — the biggest old poacher in the county. He shoots half your pheasants with his wooden leg by moonlight. What your Chaplain said to him was entirely profane in the turn of a text of Holy–Writ; and it shows how our cloth is spoiled by contact with yours”— for the Admiral was laughing to himself at this old tale, which he would not produce before young Scudamore, but loved to have out with the Rector —“and I hope it will be a good warning to you, Squire, to settle no more old gunners on your property. You must understand, Mr. Scudamore, that the Admiral makes a sort of Naval Hospital, for all his old salts, on his own Estates.”

“I am sure it is wonderfully kind in him,” the young man answered, bravely, “for the poor old fellows are thrown to the dogs by the country, when it has disabled them. I have not seen much of the service, but quite enough to know that, Mr. Twemlow.”

“I have seen a great deal, and I say that it is so. And my good friend knows it as well as I do, and is one of the first to lend a helping hand. In all such cases he does more than I do, whenever they come within his knowledge. But let us return to the matter in hand. Here is a young man, a first-rate sailor, who would have been under my guardianship, I know, but for — but for sad circumstances. Is he to be grinding at Virgil and Ovid till all his spirit goes out of him, because we have patched up a very shabby peace? It can never last long. Every Englishman hates it, although it may seem to save his pocket. Twemlow, I am no politician. You read the papers more than I do. How much longer will this wretched compact hold? You have predicted the course of things before.”

“And so I will again,” replied the Rector. “Atheism, mockery, cynicism, blasphemy, lust, and blood-thirstyness cannot rage and raven within a few leagues of a godly and just nation without stinking in their nostrils. Sir, it is our mission from the Lord to quench Bony, and to conquer the bullies of Europe. We don’t look like doing it now, I confess. But do it we shall, in the end, as sure as the name of our country is England.”

“I have no doubt of it,” said the Admiral, simply; “but there will be a deal of fighting betwixt this and then. Blyth, will you leave me to see what I can do, whenever we get to work again?”

“I should think that I would, sir, and never forget it. I am not fond of fighting; but how I have longed to feel myself afloat again!”

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