Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XIII

Whence, and Wherefore?

At the rectory, too, ere the end of that week, there was no little shaking of heads almost as wise as Zebedee Tugwell’s. Mrs. Twemlow, though nearly sixty years of age, and acquainted with many a sorrow, was as lively and busy and notable as ever, and even more determined to be the mistress of the house. For by this time her daughter Eliza, beginning to be twenty-five years old — a job which takes some years in finishing — began at the same time to approve her birth by a vigorous aim at the mastery. For, as everybody said, Miss Eliza was a Carne in blood and breed and fibre. There was little of the Twemlow stock about her — for the Twemlows were mild and humorous — but plenty of the strength and dash and wildness and contemptuous spirit of the ancient Carnes.

Carne a carne, as Mr. Twemlow said, when his wife was inclined to be masterful — a derivation confirmed by the family motto, “Carne non caret carne.” In the case, however, of Mrs. Twemlow, age, affliction, experience, affection, and perhaps above all her good husband’s larger benevolence and placidity, had wrought a great change for the better, and made a nice old lady of her. She was tall and straight and slender still; and knew how to make the most, by grave attire and graceful attitude, of the bodily excellence entailed for ages on the lineage of Carne. Of moral goodness there had not been an equally strict settlement, at least in male heredity. So that Mrs. Twemlow’s thoughts about her kith and kindred were rather sad than proud, unless some ignorance was shown about them.

“Poor as I am,” said Mr. Twemlow, now consulting with her, “and poor as every beneficed clergyman must be, if this war returns, I would rather have lost a hundred pounds than have heard what you tell me, Maria.”

“My dear, I cannot quite see that,” his wife made thoughtful answer; “if he only had money to keep up the place, and clear off those nasty incumbrances, I should rejoice at his coming back to live where we have been for centuries.”

“My dear, you are too poetical, though the feeling is a fine one. Within the old walls there can scarcely be a room that has a sound floor to it. And as for the roof, when that thunder-storm was, and I took shelter with my pony — well, you know the state I came home in, and all my best clothes on for the Visitation. Luckily there seems to be no rheumatism in your family, Maria; and perhaps he is too young as yet to pay out for it till he gets older. But if he comes for business, and to see to the relics of his property, surely he might have a bedroom here, and come and go at his liking. After all his foreign fanglements, a course of quiet English life and the tone of English principles might be of the greatest use to him. He would never wish to see the Continent again.”

“It is not to be thought of,” said Mrs. Twemlow. “I would not have him to live in this house for fifty thousand pounds a year. You are a great deal wiser than I am, Joshua; but of his nature you know nothing, whereas I know it from his childhood. And Eliza is so strong-willed and stubborn — you dislike, of course, to hear me say it, but it is the fact — it is, my dear. And I would rather stand by our daughter’s grave than see her fall in love with Caryl Carne. You know what a handsome young man he must be now, and full of French style and frippery. I am sure it is most kind of you to desire to help my poor family; but you would rue the day, my dear, that brought him beneath our quiet roof. I have lost my only son, as it seems, by the will of the Lord, who afflicts us. But I will not lose my only daughter, by any such folly of my own.”

Tears rolled down Mrs. Twemlow’s cheeks as she spoke of her mysterious affliction; and her husband, who knew that she was not weak-minded, consoled her by sharing her sorrow.

“It shall be exactly as you like,” he said, after a quiet interval. “You say that no answer is needed; and there is no address to send one to. We shall hear of it, of course, when he takes possession, if, indeed, he is allowed to do so.”

“Who is to prevent him from coming, if he chooses, to live in the home of his ancestors? The estates are all mortgaged, and the park is gone, turned into a pound for Scotch cattle-breeding. But the poor old castle belongs to us still, because no one would take the expense of it.”

“And because of the stories concerning it, Maria. Your nephew Caryl is a brave young fellow if he means to live there all alone, and I fear he can afford himself no company. You understand him so much better: what do you suppose his motive is?”

“I make no pretence to understand him, dear, any more than his poor father could. My dear brother was of headstrong order, and it did him no good to contradict him, and indeed it was dangerous to do so; but his nature was as simple as a child’s almost, to any one accustomed to him. If he had not married that grand French lady, who revelled in every extravagance, though she knew how we all were impoverished, he might have been living and in high position now, though a good many years my senior. And the worst of it was that he did it at a time when he ought to have known so much better. However, he paid for it bitterly enough, and his only child was set against him.”

“A very sad case altogether,” said the rector. “I remember, as if it were yesterday, how angry poor Montagu was with me. You remember what words he used, and his threat of attacking me with his horsewhip. But he begged my pardon, most humbly, as soon as he saw how thoroughly right I was. You are like him in some things, as I often notice, but not quite so generous in confessing you were wrong.”

“Because I don’t do it as he did, Joshua. You would never understand me if I did. But of course for a man you can make allowance. My rule is to do it both for men and women, quite as fairly as if one was the other.”

“Certainly, Maria — certainly. And therefore you can do it, and have always done it, even for poor Josephine. No doubt there is much to be pleaded, by a candid and gentle mind, on her behalf.”

“What! that dreadful creature who ruined my poor brother, and called herself the Countess de Lune, or some such nonsense! No, Joshua, no! I have not so entirely lost all English principle as to quite do that. Instead of being largeness, that would be mere looseness.”

“There are many things, however, that we never understood, and perhaps never shall in this world,” Mr. Twemlow continued, as if talking to himself, for reason on that subject would be misaddressed to her; “and nothing is more natural than that young Caryl should side with his mother, who so petted him, against his poor father, who was violent and harsh, especially when he had to pay such bills. But perhaps our good nephew has amassed some cash, though there seems to be but little on the Continent, after all this devastation. Is there anything, Maria, in his letter to enable us to hope that he is coming home with money?”

“Not a word, I am afraid,” Mrs. Twemlow answered, sadly. “But take it, my dear, and read it to me slowly. You make things so plain, because of practice every Sunday. Oh, Joshua, I never can be sure which you are greatest in-the Lessons or the Sermon. But before you begin I will shoot the bolt a little, as if it had caught by accident. Eliza does rush in upon us sometimes in the most unbecoming, unladylike way. And I never can get you to reprove her.”

“It would be as much as my place is worth, as the maids say when imagined to have stolen sugar. And I must not read this letter so loud as the Lessons, unless you wish Lizzie to hear every word, for she has all her mother’s quick senses. There is not much of it, and the scrawl seems hasty. We might have had more for three and fourpence. But I am not the one to grumble about bad measure — as the boy said about old Busby. Now, Maria, listen, but say nothing; if feminine capacity may compass it. Why, bless my heart, every word of it is French!” The rector threw down his spectacles, and gazed at his wife reproachfully. But she smiled with superior innocence.

“What else could you expect, after all his years abroad? I cannot make out the whole of it, for certain. But surely it is not beyond the compass of masculine capacity.”

“Yes, it is, Maria; and you know it well enough. No honest Englishman can endure a word of French. Latin, or Greek, or even Hebrew — though I took to that rather late in life. But French is only fit for women, and very few of them can manage it. Let us hear what this Frenchman says.”

“He is not a Frenchman, Joshua. He is an Englishman, and probably a very fine one. I won’t be sure about all of his letter, because it is so long since I was at school; and French books are generally unfit to read. But the general meaning is something like this:

‘MY BELOVED AND HIGHLY VALUED AUNT— Since I heard from you there are many years now, but I hope you have held me in memory. I have the intention of returning to the country of England, even in this bad time of winter, when the climate is most funereal. I shall do my best to call back, if possible, the scattered ruins of the property, and to institute again the name which my father made displeasing. In this good work you will, I have faith, afford me your best assistance, and the influence of your high connection in the neighbourhood. Accept, dear aunt, the assurance of my highest consideration, of the most sincere and the most devoted, and allow me the honour of writing myself your most loving and respectful nephew,

‘CARYL CARNE.’

Now, Joshua, what do you think of that?”

“Fine words and no substance; like all French stuff. And he never even mentions me, who gave him a top, when he should have had the whip. I will not pretend to understand him, for he always was beyond me. Dark and excitable, moody and capricious, haughty and sarcastic, and devoid of love for animals. You remember his pony, and what he did to it, and the little dog that crawled upon her stomach towards him. For your sake I would have put up with him, my dear, and striven to improve his nature, which is sure to be much worse at six-and-twenty, after so many years abroad. But I confess it is a great relief to me that you wisely prefer not to have him in this house, any more at least than we can help it. But who comes here? What a hurry we are in! Lizzie, my darling, be patient.”

“Here’s this plague of a door barred and bolted again! Am I not to have an atom of breakfast, because I just happened to oversleep myself? The mornings get darker and darker; it is almost impossible to see to dress oneself.”

“There is plenty of tinder in the house, Eliza, and plenty of good tallow candles,” Mrs. Twemlow replied, having put away the letter, while her husband let the complainant in. “For the third time this week we have had prayers without you, and the example is shocking for the servants. We shall have to establish the rule you suggest — too late to pray for food, too late to get it. But I have kept your help of bacon hot, quite hot, by the fire. And the teapot is under the cozy.”

“Thank you, dear mother,” the young lady answered, careless of words, if deeds were in her favour, and too clever to argue the question. “I suppose there is no kind of news this morning to reward one for getting up so early.”

“Nothing whatever for you, Miss Lizzie,” said her father, as soon as he had kissed her. “But the paper is full of the prospects of war, and the extent of the preparations. If we are driven to fight again, we shall do it in earnest, and not spare ourselves.”

“Nor our enemies either, I do hope with all my heart. How long are we to be afraid of them? We have always invaded the French till now. And for them to talk of invading us! There is not a bit of spirit left in this island, except in the heart of Lord Nelson.”

“What a hot little patriot this child is!” said the father, with a quiet smile at her. “What would she say to an Englishman, who was more French than English, and would only write French letters? And yet it might be possible to find such people.”

“If such a wretch existed,” cried Miss Twemlow, “I should like to crunch him as I crunch this toast. For a Frenchman I can make all fair allowance, because he cannot help his birth. But for an Englishman to turn Frenchman —”

“However reluctant we may be to allow it,” the candid rector argued, “they are the foremost nation in the world, just now, for energy, valour, decision, discipline, and I fear I must add patriotism. The most wonderful man who has appeared in the world for centuries is their leader, and by land his success has been almost unbroken. If we must have war again, as I fear we must, and very speedily, our chief hope must be that the Lord will support His cause against the scoffer and the infidel, the libertine and the assassin.”

“You see how beautifully your father puts it, Eliza; but he never abuses people. That is a habit in which, I am sorry to say, you indulge too freely. You show no good feeling to anybody who differs from you in opinion, and you talk as if Frenchmen had no religion, no principles, and no humanity. And what do you know about them, pray? Have you ever spoken to a Frenchman? Have you ever even seen one? Would you know one if you even set eyes upon him?”

“Well, I am not at all sure that I should,” the young lady replied, being thoroughly truthful; “and I have no wish for the opportunity. But I have seen a French woman, mother; and that is quite enough for me. If they are so, what must the men be?”

“There is a name for this process of feminine reasoning, this cumulative and syncopetic process of the mind, entirely feminine (but regarded by itself as rational), a name which I used to know well in the days when I had the ten Fallacies at my fingers’ ends, more tenaciously perhaps than the Decalogue. Strange to say, the name is gone from my memory; but — but —”

“But then you had better go after it, my dear,” his wife suggested with authority. “If your only impulse when you hear reason is to search after hard names for it, you are safer outside of its sphere altogether.”

“I am struck with the truth of that remark,” observed the rector; “and the more so because I descry a male member of our race approaching, with a hat — at once the emblem and the crown of sound reason. Away with all fallacies; it is Church-warden Cheeseman!”

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