Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter II

With Her Crew and Cargo

Long after the time of those who write and those who read this history, the name of Zebedee Tugwell will be flourishing at Springhaven.

To achieve unmerited honor is the special gift of thousands, but to deserve and win befalls some few in every century, and one of these few was Zebedee. To be the head-man of any other village, and the captain of its fishing fleet, might prove no lofty eminence; but to be the leader of Springhaven was true and arduous greatness. From Selsey Bill to Orfordness, taking in all the Cinque Ports and all the port of London, there was not a place that insisted on, and therefore possessed, all its own rights so firmly as this village did. Not less than seven stout fishing-smacks — six of them sloops, and the seventh a dandy — formed the marine power of this place, and behaved as one multiplied by seven. All the bold fishermen held their line from long-established ancestry, and stuck to the stock of their grandfathers, and their wisdom and freedom from prejudice. Strength was condensed into clear law with them — as sinew boils down into jelly — and character carried out its force as the stamp of solid impress. What the father had been, the son became, as the generation squared itself, and the slates for the children to do their copies were the tombstones of their granddads. Thus brave Etruria grew, and thus the Rome which was not built in a day became the flower of the world, and girt in unity of self seven citadels.

There was Roman blood — of the Tenth Legion, perhaps — in the general vein of Springhaven. There was scarcely a man who pretended to know much outside of his own business, and there was not a woman unable to wait (when her breath was quite gone) for sound reason. Solidity, self-respect, pure absence of frivolous humor, ennobled the race and enabled them to hold together, so that everybody not born in Springhaven might lament, but never repair, his loss.

This people had many ancient rules befitting a fine corporation, and among them were the following: “Never do a job for a stranger; sleep in your own bed when you can; be at home in good time on a Saturday; never work harder than you need; throw your fish away rather than undersell it; answer no question, but ask another; spend all your money among your friends; and above all, never let any stranger come a-nigh your proper fishing ground, nor land any fish at Springhaven.”

These were golden laws, and made a snug and plump community. From the Foreland to the Isle of Wight their nets and lines were sacred, and no other village could be found so thriving, orderly, well-conducted, and almost well-contented. For the men were not of rash enterprise, hot labor, or fervid ambition; and although they counted things by money, they did not count one another so. They never encouraged a friend to work so hard as to grow too wealthy, and if he did so, they expected him to grow more generous than he liked to be. And as soon as he failed upon that point, instead of adoring, they growled at him, because every one of them might have had as full a worsted stocking if his mind had been small enough to forget the difference betwixt the land and sea, the tide of labor and the time of leisure.

To these local and tribal distinctions they added the lofty expansion of sons of the sea. The habit of rising on the surge and falling into the trough behind it enables a biped, as soon as he lands, to take things that are flat with indifference. His head and legs have got into a state of firm confidence in one another, and all these declare — with the rest of the body performing as chorus gratis — that now they are come to a smaller affair, upon which they intend to enjoy themselves. So that, while strenuous and quick of movement — whenever they could not help it — and sometimes even brisk of mind (if anybody strove to cheat them), these men generally made no griefs beyond what they were born to.

Zebedee Tugwell was now their chief, and well deserved to be so. Every community of common-sense demands to have somebody over it, and nobody could have felt ashamed to be under Captain Tugwell. He had built with his own hands, and bought — for no man’s work is his own until he has paid for as well as made it — the biggest and smartest of all the fleet, that dandy-rigged smack, the Rosalie. He was proud of her, as he well might be, and spent most of his time in thinking of her; but even she was scarcely up to the size of his ideas. “Stiff in the joints,” he now said daily —“stiff in the joints is my complaint, and I never would have believed it. But for all that, you shall see, my son, if the Lord should spare you long enough, whether I don’t beat her out and out with the craft as have been in my mind this ten year.”

But what man could be built to beat Zebedee himself, in an age like this, when yachts and men take the prize by profundity of false keel? Tugwell yearned for no hot speed in his friends, or his house, or his wife, or his walk, or even his way of thinking. He had seen more harm come from one hour’s hurry than a hundred years of care could cure, and the longer he lived the more loath he grew to disturb the air around him.

“Admirable Nelson,” he used to say — for his education had not been so large as the parts allotted to receive it; “to my mind he is a brave young man, with great understanding of his dooties. But he goeth too fast, without clearing of his way. With a man like me ‘longside of ’un, he’d have brought they boats out of Bulong. See how I brings my boats in, most particular of a Saturday!”

It was Saturday now, when Miss Dolly was waiting to see this great performance, of which she considered herself, as the daughter of an admiral, no mean critic. And sure enough, as punctual as in a well-conducted scheme of war, and with nice forecast of wind and tide, and science of the supper-time, around the westward headland came the bold fleet of Springhaven!

Seven ships of the line — the fishing line — arranged in perfect order, with the Rosalie as the flag-ship leading, and three upon either quarter, in the comfort and leisure of the new-born peace, they spread their sails with sunshine. Even the warlike Dolly could not help some thoughts of peacefulness, and a gentle tide of large good-will submerged the rocks of glory.

“Why should those poor men all be killed?” she asked herself, as a new thing, while she made out, by their faces, hats, fling of knee or elbow, patch upon breeches, or sprawl of walking toward the attentive telescope, pretty nearly who everybody of them was, and whatever else there was about him. “After all, it is very hard,” she said, “that they should have to lose their lives because the countries fight so.”

But these jolly fellows had no idea of losing their lives, or a hair of their heads, or anything more than their appetites, after waging hot war upon victuals. Peace was proclaimed, and peace was reigning; and the proper British feeling of contempt for snivelly Frenchmen, which produces the entente cordiale, had replaced the wholesome dread of them. Not that Springhaven had ever known fear, but still it was glad to leave off terrifying the enemy. Lightness of heart and good-will prevailed, and every man’s sixpence was going to be a shilling.

In the tranquil afternoon the sun was making it clear to the coast of Albion that he had crossed the line once more, and rediscovered a charming island. After a chilly and foggy season, worse than a brave cold winter, there was joy in the greeting the land held out, and in the more versatile expression of the sea. And not beneath the contempt of one who strives to get into everything, were the creases and patches of the sails of smacks, and the pattern of the resin-wood they called their masts, and even the little striped things (like frogs with hats on, in the distance) which had grown to believe themselves the only object the sun was made to shine upon.

But he shone upon the wide sea far behind, and the broad stretch of land before them, and among their slowly gliding canvas scattered soft touches of wandering light. Especially on the spritsail of the Rosalie, whereunder was sitting, with the tiller in his hand and a very long pipe in his mouth, Captain Zebedee Tugwell. His mighty legs were spread at ease, his shoulders solid against a cask, his breast (like an elephant’s back in width, and bearing a bright blue crown tattooed) shone out of the scarlet woolsey, whose plaits were filled with the golden shower of a curly beard, untouched with gray. And his face was quite as worthy as the substance leading up to it, being large and strengthful and slow to move, though quick to make others do so. The forehead was heavy, and the nose thickset, the lower jaw backed up the resolution of the other, and the wide apart eyes, of a bright steel blue, were as steady as a brace of pole-stars.

“What a wonderful man!” fair Dolly thought, as the great figure, looking even grander in the glass, came rising upon a long slow wave —“what a wonderful man that Tugwell is! So firmly resolved to have his own way, so thoroughly dauntless, and such a grand beard! Ten times more like an admiral than old Flapfin or my father is, if he only knew how to hold his pipe. There is something about him so dignified, so calm, and so majestic; but, for all that, I like the young man better. I have a great mind to take half a peep at him; somebody might ask whether he was there or not.”

Being a young and bashful maid, as well as by birth a lady, she had felt that it might be a very nice thing to contemplate sailors in the distance, abstract sailors, old men who pulled ropes, or lounged on the deck, if there was one. But to steal an unsuspected view at a young man very well known to her, and acknowledged (not only by his mother and himself, but also by every girl in the parish) as the Adonis of Springhaven — this was a very different thing, and difficult to justify even to one’s self. The proper plan, therefore, was to do it, instead of waiting to consider it.

“How very hard upon him it does seem,” she whispered to herself, after a good gaze at him, “that he must not even dream of having any hope of me, because he has not happened to be born a gentleman! But he looks a thousand times more like one than nine out of ten of the great gentlemen I know — or at any rate he would if his mother didn’t make his clothes.”

For Zebedee Tugwell had a son called “Dan,” as like him as a tender pea can be like a tough one; promising also to be tough, in course of time, by chafing of the world and weather. But at present Dan Tugwell was as tender to the core as a marrowfat dallying till its young duck should be ready; because Dan was podding into his first love. To the sympathetic telescope his heart was low, and his mind gone beyond astronomical range, and his hands (instead of briskly pairing soles) hung asunder, and sprawled like a star-fish.

“Indeed he does look sad,” said Miss Dolly, “he is thinking of me, as he always does; but I don’t see how anybody can blame me. But here comes daddy, with dear old Flapfin! I am not a bit afraid of either of them; but perhaps I had better run away.”

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