Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXVI

Long-Pipe Times

Daily now the roar and clank of war grew loud and louder, across the narrow seas, and up the rivers, and around the quiet homes of England. If any unusual cloud of dust, any moving shade, appeared afar, if the tramp of horses in the lane were heard, or neigh of a colt from the four-cross roads, people at dinner would start up and cry, “The French, the French have landed!” while the men in the fields would get nearer the hedge to peep through it, and then run away down the ditch.

But the nation at large, and the governing powers, certainly were not in any great fright. Nay, rather they erred, if at all, on the side of tranquillity and self-confidence; as one who has been fired at with blank-cartridge forgets that the click of the trigger will not tell him when the bullet has been dropped in. The bullet was there this time; and it missed the heart of Britannia, only through the failure of the powder to explode all at once.

It was some years before all this was known; even Nelson had no perception of it; and although much alarm was indulged in on the sly, the few who gave voice to it were condemned as faint-hearted fellows and “alarmists.” How then could Springhaven, which never had feared any enemies, or even neighbours, depart from its habits, while still an eye-witness of what had befallen the Frenchman? And in this state of mind, having plenty to talk of, it did not (as otherwise must have been done) attach any deep importance to the strange vagaries of the London Trader.

That great Institution, and Royal Exchange, as well as central embassy of Fashion, had lately become most uncertain in its dates, which for years had announced to loose-reckoning housewives the day of the week and the hour to buy candles. Instead of coming home on a Saturday eve, in the van of all the fishing fleet, returning their cheers and those of customers on the beach, the London Trader arrived anywhen, as often in the dark as daylight, never took the ground at all, and gave a very wide berth to Captain Zeb Tugwell, his craft, and his crews. At times she landed packages big and bulky, which would have been searched (in spite of London bills of lading) if there had been any Custom-house here, or any keen Officer of Customs. But these were delivered by daylight always, and carted by Mr. Cheeseman’s horse direct to his master’s cellars; and Cheeseman had told everybody that his wife, having come into a little legacy, was resolved in spite of his advice to try a bit of speculation in hardware, through her sister miles away at Uckfield. Most of the neighbours liked Mrs. Cheeseman, because she gave good weight (scarcely half an ounce short, with her conscience to her family thrown in against it), as well as the soundest piece of gossip to be had for the money in Springhaven. And therefore they wished her well, and boxed their children’s ears if they found them poking nose into her packages. Mrs. Cheeseman shook her head when enquired of on the subject, and said with grave truth that the Lord alone can tell how any of poor people’s doings may turn out.

Some other things puzzled the village, and would in more sensible times have produced a sensation. Why did Mr. Cheeseman now think nothing of as much as three spots on his white linen apron, even in the first half of the week? Why was he seldom at John Prater’s now, and silent in a corner even when he did appear? What was become of the ruddy polish, like that of a Winter Redstrake, on his cheeks, which made a man long for a slice of his ham? Why, the only joke he had made for the last three months was a terrible one at his own expense. He had rushed down the street about ten o’clock one morning, at a pace quite insane for a middle-aged man, with no hat on his head and no coat on his back, but the strings of his apron dashed wild on the breeze, and his biggest ham-carver making flashes in his hand. It was thought that some boy must have run off with a penny, or some visitor changed a bad shilling; but no, there was no such good reason to give for it.

The yearning of all ages, especially dotage, is for a relapse to the infantile state when all playthings were held in common. And this wisest of all places (in its own opinion) had a certain eccentric inclination towards the poetic perfection when it will be impossible to steal, because there will be nothing left worth stealing. Still everybody here stuck to his own rights, and would knock down anybody across them, though finding it very nice to talk as if others could have no such standing-point. Moreover, they had sufficient common-sense to begin with the right end foremost, and to take a tender interest in one another’s goods, moveable, handy, and divisible; instead of hungering after hungry land, which feeds nobody, until itself well fed and tended, and is as useless without a master as a donkey or a man is. The knowledge of these rudiments of civilization was not yet lost at Springhaven; and while everybody felt and even proved his desire to share a neighbour’s trouble, nobody meddled with any right of his, save his right to be assisted.

Among them throve the old English feeling of respect for ancient families, which is nowadays called “toadyism” by those whom it baulks of robbery. To trade upon this good-will is almost as low a thing as any man can do, even when he does it for good uses. But to trade upon it, for the harm of those who feel it, and the ruin of his country, is without exception the very lowest — and this was what Caryl Carne was at.

He looked at the matter in a wholly different light, and would have stabbed any man who put it as above; for his sense of honour was as quick and hot as it was crooked and misguided. His father had been a true Carne, of the old stamp — hot-blooded, headstrong, stubborn, wayward, narrow-minded, and often arrogant; but — to balance these faults and many others — truthful, generous, kind-hearted, affectionate, staunch to his friends, to his inferiors genial, loyal to his country, and respectful to religion. And he might have done well, but for two sad evils — he took a burdened property, and he plunged into a bad marriage.

His wife, on the other hand, might have done well, if she had married almost anybody else. But her nature was too like his own, with feminine vanity and caprice, French conceit, and the pride of noble birth — in the proudest age of nobility — hardening all her faults, and hammering the rivets of her strong self-will. To these little difficulties must be added the difference of religion; and though neither of them cared two pins for that, it was a matter for crossed daggers. A pound of feathers weighs as much as (and in some poise more than) a pound of lead, and the leaden-headed Squire and the feather-headed Madame swung always at opposite ends of the beam, until it broke between them. Tales of rough conflict, imprisonment, starvation, and even vile blows, were told about them for several years; and then “Madame la Comtesse” (as her husband disdainfully called her) disappeared, carrying off her one child, Caryl. She was still of very comely face and form; and the Squire made known to all whom it concerned, and many whom it did not concern, that his French wife had run away with a young Frenchman, according to the habit of her race and kind. In support of this charge he had nothing whatever to show, and his friends disbelieved it, knowing him to be the last man in the world to leave such a wrong unresented.

During the last three generations the fortunes of the Carnes had been declining, slowly at first, and then faster and faster; and now they fell with the final crash. The lady of high birth and great beauty had brought nothing else into the family, but rather had impoverished it by her settlement, and wild extravagance afterwards. Her husband Montagu Carne staved off the evil day just for the present, by raising a large sum upon second mortgage and the security of a trustful friend. But this sum was dissipated, like the rest; for the Squire, being deeply wounded by his wife’s desertion, proved to the world his indifference about it by plunging into still more reckless ways. He had none to succeed him; for he vowed that the son of the adulteress — as he called her — should never have Carne Castle; and his last mad act was to buy five-and-twenty barrels of powder, wherewith to blow up his ancestral home. But ere he could accomplish that stroke of business he stumbled and fell down the old chapel steps, and was found the next morning by faithful Jeremiah, as cold as the ivy which had caught his feet, and as dead as the stones he would have sent to heaven.

No marvel that his son had no love for his memory, and little for the land that gave him birth. In very early days this boy had shown that his French blood was predominant. He would bite, and kick, and scratch, instead of striking, as an English child does, and he never cared for dogs or horses, neither worshipped he the gamekeeper. France was the proper land for him, as his mother always said with a sweet proud smile, and his father with a sneer, or a brief word now condemned. And France was the land for him (as facts ordained) to be nourished, and taught, and grown into tall manhood, and formed into the principles and habitude and character which every nation stamps upon the nature of its members.

However, our strong point — like that of all others — is absolute freedom from prejudice; and the few English people who met Caryl Carne were well pleased with his difference from themselves. Even the enlightened fishermen, imbued with a due contempt for Crappos, felt a kindly will towards him, and were touched by his return to a ruined home and a lonely life. But the women, romantic as they ought to be, felt a tender interest in a young man so handsome and so unlucky, who lifted his hat to them, and paid his way.

Among the rising spirits of the place, who liked to take a larger view, on the strength of more education, than their fathers had found confirmed by life, Dan Tugwell was perhaps the foremost. In the present days he might have been a hot radical, even a socialist; but things were not come to that pass yet among people brought up to their duty. And Dan’s free sentiments had not been worked by those who make a trade of such work now. So that he was pleased and respectful, instead of carping and contradictory, when persons of higher position than his own would discuss the condition of the times with him. Carne had discovered this, although as a rule he said little to his neighbours, and for reasons of his own he was striving to get a good hold upon this young fellow. He knew that it could not be done in a moment, nor by any common corruption; the mind of the youth being keen, clear-sighted, and simple — by reason of soundness. Then Carne accidentally heard of something, which encouraged and helped him in his design upon Dan.

Business was slack upon the sea just now, but unusually active upon land, a tide of gold having flowed into Springhaven, and bubbled up in frying-pans and sparkled in new bonnets. The fishing fleet had captured the finest French frigate — according to feminine history — that ever endeavoured to capture them. After such a prisoner, let the fish go free, till hunger should spring again in the human breast, or the part that stands up under it. The hero of the whole (unlike most heroes) had not succeeded in ruining himself by his services to his country, but was able to go about patting his pocket, with an echo in his heart, every time it tinkled, that a quantity more to come into it was lying locked up in a drawer at home. These are the things that breed present happiness in a noble human nature, all else being either of the future or the past; and this is the reason why gold outweighs everything that can be said against it.

Captain Tugwell, in his pithy style, was wont to divide all human life into two distinctive tenses — the long-pipe time and the short-pipe time. The long-pipe time was of ease and leisure, comfort in the way of hot victuals and cool pots, the stretching of legs without strain of muscle, and that ever-fresh well-spring of delight to the hard worker, the censorial but not censorious contemplation of equally fine fellows, equally lazy, yet pegging hard, because of nothing in their pockets to tap. Such were the golden periods of standing, or, still better, sitting with his back against a tree, and a cool yard of clay between his gently smiling lips, shaving with his girdle-knife a cake of rich tobacco, and then milling it complacently betwixt his horny palms, with his resolute eyes relaxing into a gentle gaze at the labouring sea, and the part (where his supper soon would be) warming into a fine condition for it, by good-will towards all the world. As for the short-pipe times, with a bitter gale dashing the cold spray into his eyes, legs drenched with sleet, and shivering to the fork, and shoulders racked with rheumatism against the groaning mast, and the stump of a pipe keeping chatter with his teeth — away with all thought of such hardship now, except what would serve to fatten present comfort.

But fatherly feeling and sense of right compelled Captain Zeb to check idle enjoyment from going too far — i. e., further than himself. Every other member of his family but himself, however good the times might be, must work away as hard as ever, and earn whatever victuals it should please the Lord to send them. There was always a job to be found, he knew that, if a young man or maid had a mind for it; and “no silver no supper” was the order of his house. His eldest son Dan was the first to be driven — for a good example to the younger ones — and now he was set to work full time and overtime, upon a heavy job at Pebbleridge.

Young Daniel was not at all afraid of work, whenever there was any kind of skill to be shown, or bodily strength to be proved by it. But the present task was hateful to him; for any big-armed yokel, or common wood-hewer, might have done as much as he could do, and perhaps more, at it, and could have taken the same wage over it. Mr. Coggs, of Pebbleridge, the only wheelwright within ten miles of Springhaven, had taken a Government contract to supply within a certain time five hundred spoke-wheels for ammunition tumbrils, and as many block-wheels for small artillery; and to hack out these latter for better men to finish was the daily task of Dan Tugwell.

This job swelled his muscles and enlarged his calves, and fetched away all the fat he had been enabled to form in loftier walks of art; but these outward improvements were made at the expense of his inner and nobler qualities. To hack and hew timber by the cubic foot, without any growing pleasure of proportion or design, to knit the brows hard for a struggle with knots, and smile the stern smile of destruction; and then, after a long and rough walk in the dark — for the equinox now was impending — to be joked at by his father (who had lounged about all day), and have all his money told into the paternal pocket, with narrow enquiries, each Saturday night. But worst of all to know that because he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he had no heart — no heart that he could offer where he laid it; but there it must lie, and be trodden on in silence, while rakish-looking popinjays — But this reflection stopped him, for it was too bitter to be thought out, and fetched down his quivering hand upon his axe. Enough that these things did not tend to a healthy condition of mind, or the proper worship of the British Constitution. However, he was not quite a Radical yet.

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