Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter III

And Her True Commander

The nature of “Flapfin”— as Miss Dolly Darling and other young people were pleased to call him — was to make his enemies run away, but his friends keep very near to him. He was one of the simplest-minded men that ever trod the British oak. Whatever he thought he generally said; and whatever he said he meant and did. Yet of tricks and frauds he had quick perception, whenever they were tried against him, as well as a marvellous power of seeing the shortest way to everything. He enjoyed a little gentle piece of vanity, not vainglory, and he never could sec any justice in losing the credit of any of his exploits. Moreover, he was gifted with the highest faith in the hand of the Almighty over him (to help him in all his righteous deeds), and over his enemies, to destroy them. Though he never insisted on any deep piety in his own behavior, he had a good deal in his heart when time allowed, and the linstocks were waiting the signal. His trust was supreme in the Lord and himself; and he loved to be called “My Lord Admiral.”

And a man of this noble type deserved to be met with his own nobility. But the English government, according to its lights — which appear to be everlasting — regarded him as the right man, when wanted, but at other times the wrong one. They liked him to do them a very good turn, but would not let him do himself one; and whenever he looked for some fair chance of a little snug prize-money, they took him away from the likely places, and set him to hard work and hard knocks. But his sense of duty and love of country enabled him to bear it, with grumbling.

“I don’t care a rope’s end,” he was saying, with a truthfulness simple and solid as beefsteak is, “whether we have peace or war; but let us have one or the other of them. I love peace — it is a very fine thing — and I hate to see poor fellows killed. All I want is to spend the rest of my life ashore, and lay out the garden. You must come and see what a bridge I have made to throw across the fish-pond. I can do well enough with what I have got, as soon as my farm begins to pay, and I hope I may never hear another shotted cannon; but, my dear Lingo, you know as well as I do how much chance there is of that.”

“Laudo manentem. Let us praise her while we have got her. Parson Twemlow keeps up my Latin, but you have forgotten all yours, my friend. I brought you down here to see the fish come in, and to choose what you like best for dinner. In the days when you were my smallest youngster, and as proud as Punch to dine with me, your taste was the finest in the ship, because your stomach was the weakest. How often I thought that the fish would eat you! and but for your wonderful spirit, my friend, that must have happened long ago. But your nature was to fight, and you fought through, as you always do. A drumstick for your praise of peace!”

Admiral Darling, a tall, stout man in the sixty-fifth year of his age, looked down at his welcome and famous guest as if he knew a great deal more of his nature than the owner did. And this made that owner, who thought very highly of his own perception, look up and laugh.

“Here comes the fish!” he cried. “Come along, Darling. Never lose a moment — that’s my rule. You can’t get along as fast as I can. I’ll go and settle all the business for you.”

“Why should you be in such a hurry always? You will never come to my age if you carry on so. You ought to tow a spar astern. Thank God, they don’t know who he is, and I’ll take good care not to let them know. If this is what comes of quick promotion, I am glad that I got on slowly. Well, he may do as he likes for me. He always does — that’s one thing.”

Stoutly grumbling thus, the elder and far heavier Admiral descended the hill to the white gate slowly, as behooved the owner. And, by the time he halted there, the other had been upon the beach five minutes, and taken command of the fishing fleet.

“Starboard there! Brail up your gaff! Is that the way to take the ground? Ease helm, Rosalie. Smartly, smartly. Have a care, you lubber there. Fenders out! So, so. Now stand by, all! There are two smart lads among you, and no more. All the rest are no better than a pack of Crappos. You want six months in a man-of-war’s launch. This is what comes of peace already!”

The fishermen stared at this extraordinary man, who had taken all the business out of Master Tugwell’s hands; but without thinking twice about it, all obeyed him with a speed that must have robbed them of a quantity of rust. For although he was not in uniform, and bore no sword, his dress was conspicuous, as he liked to have it, and his looks and deeds kept suit with it. For he wore a blue coat (very badly made, with gilt buttons and lappets too big for him), a waistcoat of dove-colored silk, very long, coming over the place where his stomach should have been, and white plush breeches, made while he was blockading Boulogne in 1801, and therefore had scarcely any flesh upon his bones. Peace having fattened him a little, these breeches had tightened upon him (as their way is with a boy having six weeks’ holiday); but still they could not make his legs look big, though they showed them sharp and muscular. Below them were brisk little sinewy calves in white silk hose, with a taper descent to ankles as fine as a lady’s, and insteps bright with large silver buckles. Yet that which surpassed all the beauty of the clothes was the vigor of the man inside them, who seemed to quicken and invigorate the whole, even to the right sleeve, doubled up from the want of any arm inside it. But the loss of the right arm, and the right eye also, seemed to be of no account to the former owner, so hard did he work with the residue of his body, and so much did he express with it.

His noble cocked hat was in its leathern box yet, for he was only just come from Merton; but the broad felt he wore was looped up in front, and displayed all the power of his countenance, or rather the vigor; for power is heavy, and his face was light and quickness. Softness also, and a melancholy gift of dreaminess and reflection, enlarged and impressed the effect of a gaze and a smile which have conquered history.

“Why don’t ‘ee speak up to ’un, Cap’en Zeb?” cried young Harry Shanks, of the Peggy, the smartest smack next to the Rosalie. “Whoever can ‘a be, to make thee so dumb? Doth ‘a know our own business afore our own selves? If ‘ee don’t speak up to ’un, Cap’en Zeb, I’ll never take no more commands from thee.”

“Harry Shanks, you was always a fool, and you always will be,” Master Tugwell replied, with his deep chest voice, which no gale of wind could blow away. “Whether he be wrong or right — and I won’t say but what I might have done it better — none but a fool like you would dare to set his squeak up against Admirable Lord Nelson.”

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