Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXIX

Maternal Eloquence

Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof; and more than sufficient with most of us. Mr. Twemlow and his wife resolved discreetly, after a fireside council, to have nothing to say to Carne Castle, or about it, save what might be forced out of them. They perceived most clearly, and very deeply felt, how exceedingly wrong it is for anybody to transgress, or even go aside of, the laws of his country, as by Statute settled. Still, if his ruin had been chiefly legal; if he had been brought up under different laws, and in places where they made those things which he desired to deal in; if it was clear that those things were good, and their benefit might be extended to persons who otherwise could have no taste of them; above all, if it were the first and best desire of all who heard of it to have their own fingers in the pie — then let others stop it, who by duty and interest were so minded; the Rector was not in the Commission of the Peace — though he ought to have been there years ago — and the breach of the law, if it came to that, was outside of his parish boundary. The voice of the neighbourhood would be with him, for not turning against his own nephew, even if it ever should come to be known that he had reason for suspicions.

It is hard to see things in their proper light, if only one eye has a fly in it; but if both are in that sad condition, who shall be blamed for winking? Not only the pastor, but all his flock, were in need of wire spectacles now, to keep their vision clear and their foreheads calm. Thicker than flies around the milk-pail, rumours came flitting daily; and even the night — that fair time of thinking — was busy with buzzing multitude.

“Long time have I lived, and a sight have I seed,” said Zebedee Tugwell to his wife, “of things as I couldn’t make no head nor tail of; but nothing to my knowledge ever coom nigh the sort of way our folk has taken to go on. Parson Twemlow told us, when the war began again, that the Lord could turn us all into Frenchmen, if we sinned against Him more than He could bear. I were fool enough to laugh about it then, not intaking how it could be on this side of Kingdom Come, where no distinction is of persons. But now, there it is — a thing the Almighty hath in hand; and who shall say Him nay, when He layeth His hand to it?”

“I reckon, ‘a hath begun with you too, Zeb,” Mrs. Tugwell would answer, undesirably. “To be always going on so about trash trifles, as a woman hath a right to fly up at, but no man! Surely Dan hath a right to his politics and his parables, as much as any lame old chap that sitteth on a bench. He works hard all day, and he airns his money; and any man hath a right to wag his tongue of night-time, when his arms and his legs have been wagging all day.”

“Depends upon how he wags ’un.” The glance of old Tugwell was stern, as he spoke, and his eyebrows knitted over it. “If for a yarn, to plaise children or maidens, or a bit of argyment about his business, or talk about his neighbours, or aught that consarns him — why, lads must be fools, and I can smoke my pipe and think that at his age I was like him. But when it comes to talking of his betters, and the Government, and the right of everybody to command the ship, and the soup — soup, what was it?”

“Superior position of the working classes, dignity of labour, undefeasible rights of mankind to the soil as they was born in, and soshallistick — something.”

“So — shall — I— stick equality,” Mr. Tugwell amended, triumphantly; “and so shall I stick him, by the holy poker, afore the end of the week is out. I’ve a-been fool enough to leave off ropesending of him now for a matter of two years, because ‘a was good, and outgrowing of it like, and because you always coom between us. But mind you, mother, I’ll have none of that, next time. Business I means, and good measure it shall be.”

“Zeb Tugwell,” said his wife, longing greatly to defy him, but frightened by the steadfast gaze she met, “you can never mean to say that you would lay your hand on Dan — a grown man, a’most as big as yourself, and a good half-head taller! Suppose he was to hit you back again!”

“If he did, I should just kill him,” Zeb answered, calmly. “He would be but a jellyfish in my two hands. But there, I’ll not talk about it, mother. No need to trouble you with it. ’Tis none of my seeking — the Lord in heaven knows — but a job as He hath dutified for me to do. I’ll go out, and have my pipe, and dwell on it.”

“And I may lay a deal of it on myself,” Mrs. Tugwell began to moan, as soon as he was gone; “for I have cockered Dan up, and there’s no denying it, afore Tim, or Tryphena, or Tabby, or Debby, or even little Solomon. Because he were the first, and so like his dear father, afore he got on in the world so. Oh, it all comes of that, all the troubles comes of that, and of laying up of money, apart from your wife, and forgetting almost of her Christian name! And the very same thing of it — money, money, and the getting on with breeches that requireth no mending, and the looking over Church-books at gay young ladies — all of it leadeth to the same bad end of his betters, and the Government, and the Soshallistick Quality.

“Why, with all these mercies,” continued Mrs. Tugwell, though not in a continuous frame of mind, as Daniel came in, with a slow heavy step, and sat down by the fire in silence, “all these mercies, as are bought and paid for, from one and sixpence up to three half-crowns, and gives no more trouble beyond dusting once a week — how any one can lay his eyes on other people’s property, without consideration of his own, as will be after his poor mother’s time, is to me quite a puzzle and a pin-prick. Not as if they was owing for, or bought at auction, or so much as beaten down by sixpence, but all at full price and own judgment, paid for by airnings of labour and perils of the deep. And as Widow Shanks said, the last time she was here, by spoiling of the enemies of England, who makes us pay tremenjious for ‘most everything we lives on. And I know who would understand them crackeries, and dust them when I be gone to dust, and see her own pretty face in them, whenever they has the back-varnish.”

Dan knew that the future fair owner and duster designed by his mother was Miss Cheeseman, towards whom he had cherished tender yearnings in the sensible and wholesome days. And if Polly Cheeseman had hung herself on high — which she might have done without a bit of arrogance — perhaps she would still have been to this young man the star of fate and glory, instead of a dip, thirty-two to the pound; the like whereof she sold for a farthing. Distance makes the difference. “He that won’t allow heed shall pay dear in his need;” the good mother grew warm, as the son began to whistle; “and to my mind, Master Dan, it won’t be long afore you have homer things to think of than politics. ‘Politics is fiddle-sticks’ was what men of my age used to say; sensible men with a house and freehold, and a pig of their own, and experience. And such a man I might have had, and sensible children by him, children as never would have whistled at their mother, if it hadn’t been for your poor father, Dan. Misguided he may be, and too much of his own way, and not well enough in his own mind to take in a woman’s — but for all that he hath a right to be honoured by his children, and to lead their minds in matters touching of the King, and Church, and true religion. Why only last night, no, the night afore last, I met Mrs. Prater, and I said to her —”

“You told me all that, mother; and it must have been a week ago; for I have heard it every night this week. What is it you desire that I should do, or say, or think?”

“Holy mercy!” cried Mrs. Tugwell, “what a way to put things, Dan! All I desire is for your good only, and so leading on to the comfort of the rest. For the whole place goes wrong, and the cat sits in the corner, when you go on with politics as your dear father grunts at. No doubt it may all be very fine and just, and worth a man giving his life for, if he don’t care about it, nor nobody else — but even if it was to keep the French out, and yourn goeth nearer to letting them in, what difference of a button would it make to us, Dan, compared to our sticking together, and feeding with a knowledge and a yielding to the fancies of each other?”

“I am sure it’s no fault of mine,” said Daniel, moved from his high ropes by this last appeal; “to me it never matters twopence what I have for dinner, and you saw me give Tim all the brown of the baked potatoes the very last time I had my dinner here. But what comes above all those little bothers is the necessity for insisting upon freedom of opinion. I don’t pretend to be so old as my father, nor to know so much as he knows about the world in general. But I have read a great deal more than he has, of course, because he takes a long time to get a book with the right end to him; and I have thought, without knowing it, about what I have read, and I have heard very clever men (who could have no desire to go wrong, but quite the other way) carrying on about these high subjects, beyond me, but full of plain language. And I won’t be forced out of a word of it by fear.”

“But for love of your mother you might keep it under, and think it all inside you, without bringing of it out, in the presence of your elders. You know what your father is — a man as never yet laid his tongue to a thing without doing of it — right or wrong, right or wrong; and this time he hath right, and the law, and the Lord, and the King himself, to the side of him. And a rope’s-end in his pocket, Dan, as I tried to steal away, but he were too wide-awake. Such a big hard one you never did see!”

“A rope’s end for me, well turned twenty years of age!” cried Daniel, with a laugh, but not a merry one; “two can play at that game, mother. I’ll not be ropes ended by nobody.”

“Then you’ll be rope-noosed;” the poor mother fell into the settle, away from the fire-light, and put both hands over her eyes, to shut out the spectacle of Dan dangling; “or else your father will be, for you. Ever since the Romans, Dan, there have been Tugwells, and respected ten times more than they was. Oh do ‘e, do ‘e think; and not bring us all to the grave, and then the gallows! Why I can mind the time, no more agone than last Sunday, when you used to lie here in the hollow of my arm, without a stitch of clothes on, and kind people was tempted to smack you in pleasure, because you did stick out so prettily. For a better-formed baby there never was seen, nor a finer-tempered one, when he had his way. And the many nights I walked the floor with you, Dan, when your first tooth was coming through, the size of a horse-radish, and your father most wonderful to put up with my coo to you, when he had not had a night in bed for nigh three weeks — oh, Dan, do ‘e think of things as consarneth your homer life, and things as is above all reason; and let they blessed politics go home to them as trades in them.”

Mrs. Tugwell’s tender recollections had given her a pain in the part where Dan was nursed, and driven her out of true logical course; but she came back to it, before Dan had time to finish the interesting pictures of himself which she had suggested.

“Now can you deny a word of that, Dan? And if not, what is there more to say? You was smacked as a little babe, by many people kindly, when ever so much tenderer than you now can claim to be. And in those days you never could have deserved it yet, not having framed a word beyond ‘Mam,’ and ‘Da,’ and both of those made much of, because doubtful. There was nothing about the Constitooshun then, but the colour of the tongue and the condition of the bowels; and if any fool had asked you what politics was, you would have sucked your thumb, and offered them to suck it; for generous you always was, and just came after. And what cry have bigger folk, grown upright and wicked, to make about being smacked, when they deserve it, for meddling with matters outside of their business, by those in authority over them?”

“Well, mother, I daresay you are right, though I don’t altogether see the lines of it. But one thing I will promise you — whatever father does to me, I will not lift a hand against him. But I must be off. I am late already.”

“Where to, Dan? Where to? I always used to know, even if you was going courting. Go a-courting, Dan, as much as ever you like, only don’t make no promises. But whatever you do, keep away from that bad, wicked, Free and Frisky Club, my dear.”

“Mother, that’s the very place I am just bound to. After all you have said, I would have stayed away to-night, except for being on the list, and pledged in honour to twenty-eight questions, all bearing upon the grand issues of the age.”

“I don’t know no more than the dead, what that means, Dan. But I know what your father has got in his pocket for you. And he said the next time you went there, you should have it.”

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