Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXXI

Sore Temptation

When a man’s spirit and heart are low, and the world seems turned against him, he had better stop both ears than hearken to the sound of the sad sea waves at night. Even if he can see their movement, with the moon behind them, drawing paths of rippled light, and boats (with white sails pluming shadow, or thin oars that dive for gems), and perhaps a merry crew with music, coming home not all sea-sick — well, even so, in the summer sparkle, the long low fall of the waves is sad. But how much more on a winter night, when the moon is away below the sea, and weary waters roll unseen from a vast profundity of gloom, fall unreckoned, and are no more than a wistful moan, as man is!

The tide was at quarter-ebb, and a dismal haze lay thick on shore and sea. It was not enough to be called a fog, or even a mist, but quite enough to deaden the gray light, always flowing along the boundary of sky and sea. But over the wet sand and the white frill of the gently gurgling waves more of faint light, or rather perhaps, less of heavy night, prevailed. But Dan had keen eyes, and was well accustomed to the tricks of darkness; and he came to take his leave forever of the fishing squadron, with a certainty of knowing all the five, as if by daylight — for now there were only five again.

As the tide withdrew, the fishing-smacks (which had scarcely earned their name of late) were compelled to make the best of the world until the tide came back again. To judge by creakings, strainings, groanings, and even grindings of timber millstones [if there yet lives in Ireland the good-will for a loan to us], all these little craft were making dreadful hardship of the abandonment which man and nature inflicted on them every thirteenth hour. But all things do make more noise at night, when they get the chance (perhaps in order to assert their own prerogative), and they seem to know that noise goes further, and assumes a higher character, when men have left off making it.

The poor young fisherman’s back was getting very sore by this time, and he began to look about for the white side-streak which he had painted along the water-line of that new boat, to distract the meddlesome gaze of rivals from the peculiar curve below, which even Admiral Darling had not noticed, when he passed her on the beach; but Nelson would have spied it out in half a second, and known all about it in the other half. Dan knew that he should find a very fair berth there, with a roll or two of stuff to lay his back on, and a piece of tarpauling to draw over his legs. In the faint light that hovered from the breaking of the wavelets he soon found his boat, and saw a tall man standing by her.

“Daniel,” said the tall man, without moving, “my sight is very bad at night, but unless it is worse than usual, you are my admired friend Daniel. A young man in a thousand — one who dares to think.”

“Yes, Squire Carne,” the admired friend replied, with a touch of hat protesting against any claim to friendship: “Dan Tugwell, at your service. And I have thought too much, and been paid out for it.”

“You see me in a melancholy attitude, and among melancholy surroundings.” Caryl Carne offered his hand as he spoke, and Dan took it with great reverence. “The truth is, that anger at a gross injustice, which has just come to my knowledge, drove me from my books and sad family papers, in the room beneath the roof of our good Widow Shanks. And I needs must come down here, to think beside the sea, which seems to be the only free thing in England. But I little expected to see you.”

“And I little expected to be here, Squire Carne. But if not making too bold to ask — was it anybody that was beaten?”

“Beaten is not the right word for it, Dan; cruelly flogged and lashed, a dear young friend of mine has been, as fine a young fellow as ever lived — and now he has not got a sound place on his back. And why? Because he was poor, and dared to lift his eyes to a rich young lady.”

“But he was not flogged by his own father?” asked Dan, deeply interested in this romance, and rubbing his back, as the pain increased with sympathy.

“Not quite so bad as that,” replied the other; “such a thing would be impossible, even in England. No; his father took his part, as any father in the world would do; even if the great man, the young lady’s father, should happen to be his own landlord.”

A very black suspicion crossed the mind of Dan, for Carne possessed the art of suggesting vile suspicions: might Admiral Darling have discovered something, and requested Dan’s father to correct him? It was certain that the Admiral, so kind of heart, would never have desired such severity; but he might have told Captain Tugwell, with whom he had a talk almost every time they met, that his eldest son wanted a little discipline; and the Club might have served as a pretext for this, when the true crime must not be declared, by reason of its enormity. Dan closed his teeth, and English air grew bitter in his mouth, as this belief ran through him.

“Good-night, my young friend; I am beginning to recover,” Carne continued, briskly, for he knew that a nail snaps in good oak, when the hammer falls too heavily. “What is a little bit of outrage, after all? When I have been in England a few years more, I shall laugh at myself for having loved fair play and self-respect, in this innocent young freshness. We must wag as the world does; and you know the proverb, What makes the world wag, but the weight of the bag?”

“But if you were more in earnest, sir — or at least — I mean, if you were not bound here by property and business, and an ancient family, and things you could not get away from, and if you wanted only to be allowed fair play, and treated as a man by other men, and be able to keep your own money when you earned it, or at least to buy your own victuals with it — what would you try to do, or what part of the country would you think best to go to?”

“Dan, you must belong to a very clever family. It is useless to shake your head — you must; or you never could put such questions, so impossible to answer. In all this blessed island, there is no spot yet discovered, where such absurd visions can be realized. Nay, nay, my romantic friend; be content with more than the average blessings of this land. You are not starved, you are not imprisoned, you are not even beaten; and if you are not allowed to think, what harm of that? If you thought all day, you would never dare to act upon your thoughts, and so you are better without them. Tush! an Englishman was never born for freedom. Good-night.”

“But, sir, Squire Carne,” cried Dan, pursuing him, “there is one thing which you do not seem to know. I am driven away from this place to-night; and it would have been so kind of you to advise me where to go to.”

“Driven away!” exclaimed Carne, with amazement. “The pride of the village driven out of it! You may be driving yourself away, Tugwell, through some scrape, or love affair; but when that blows over you will soon come back. What would Springhaven do without you? And your dear good father would never let you go.”

“I am not the pride, but the shame, of the village.” Dan forgot all his home-pride at last. “And my dear good father is the man who has done it. He has leathered me worse than the gentleman you spoke of, and without half so much to be said against him. For nothing but going to the Club to-night, where I am sure we drank King George’s health, my father has lashed me so, that I am ashamed to tell it. And I am sure that I never meant to tell it, until your kindness, in a way of speaking, almost drove it out of me.”

“Daniel Tugwell,” Carne answered, with solemnity, “this is beyond belief, even in England. You must have fallen asleep, Dan, in the middle of large thoughts, and dreamed this great impossibility.”

“My back knows whether it has been a dream, sir. I never heard of dreams as left one-and-twenty lines behind them. But whether it be one, or whether it be twenty, makes no odds of value. The disgrace it is that drives me out.”

“Is there no way of healing this sad breach?” Carne asked, in a tone of deep compassion; “if your father could be brought to beg your pardon, or even to say that he was sorry —”

“He, sir! If such a thing was put before him, his answer would be just to do it again, if I were fool enough to go near him. You are too mild of nature, sir, to understand what father is.”

“It is indeed horrible, too horrible to think of”— the voice of this kind gentleman betrayed that he was shuddering. “If a Frenchman did such a thing, he would be torn to pieces. But no French father would ever dream of such atrocity. He would rather flog himself within an inch of his own life.”

“Are they so much better, then, and kinder, than us Englishmen?” In spite of all his pain and grief, Dan could not help smiling at the thought of his father ropesending himself. “So superior to us, sir, in every way?”

“In almost every way, I am sorry to confess. I fear, indeed, in every way, except bodily strength, and obstinate, ignorant endurance, miscalled ‘courage,’ and those rough qualities — whatever they may be — which seem needful for the making of a seaman. But in good manners, justice, the sense of what is due from one man to another, in dignity, equality, temperance, benevolence, largeness of feeling, and quickness of mind, and above all in love of freedom, they are very, very sadly far beyond us. And indeed I have been led to think from some of your finer perceptions, Dan, that you must have a share of French blood in your veins.”

“Me, sir!” cried Dan, jumping back, in a style which showed the distance between faith and argument; “no, sir, thank God there was never none of that; but all English, with some of the Romans, who was pretty near equal to us, from what I hear. I suppose, Squire Carne, you thought that low of me because I made a fuss about being larruped, the same as a Frenchman I pulled out of the water did about my doing of it, as if I could have helped it. No Englishman would have said much about that; but they seem to make more fuss than we do. And I dare say it was French-like of me, to go on about my hiding.”

“Daniel,” answered Caryl Carne, in alarm at this British sentiment; “as a man of self-respect, you have only one course left, if your father refuses to apologise. You must cast off his tyranny; you must prove yourself a man; you must begin life upon your own account. No more of this drudgery, and slavery for others, who allow you no rights in return. But a nobler employment among free people, with a chance of asserting your courage and manhood, and a certainty that no man will think you his bondslave because you were born upon his land, or in his house. My father behaved to me — well, it does not matter. He might have repented of it, if he had lived longer; and I feel ashamed to speak of it, after such a case as yours. But behold, how greatly it has been for my advantage! Without that, I might now have been a true and simple Englishman!”

Carne (who had taken most kindly to the fortune which made him an untrue Englishman) clapped his breast with both hands; not proudly, as a Frenchman does, nor yet with that abashment and contempt of demonstration which make a true Briton very clumsy in such doings; while Daniel Tugwell, being very solid, and by no means “emotional”— as people call it nowadays — was looking at him, to the utmost of his power (which would have been greater by daylight), with gratitude, and wonder, and consideration, and some hesitation about his foreign sentiments.

“Well, sir,” said Dan, with the usual impulse of the British workman, “is there any sort of work as you could find for me, to earn my own living, and be able to think afterwards?”

“There is work of a noble kind, such as any man of high nature may be proud to share in, to which it is possible that I might get an entrance for you, if there should be a vacancy; work of high character, such as admits of no higgling and haggling, and splitting of halfpence, but an independent feeling, and a sense of advancing the liberty of mankind, without risking a penny, but putting many guineas into one’s own pocket, and so becoming fitted for a loftier line of life.”

“Is it smuggling, sir?” Daniel asked, with sore misgivings, for he had been brought up to be very shy of that. “Many folk consider that quite honest; but father calls it roguery — though I never shall hear any more of his opinions now.”

“Sigh not, friend Daniel; sigh not so heavily at your own emancipation.” Carne never could resist the chance of a little bit of sarcasm, though it often injured his own plots. “Smuggling is a very fine pursuit, no doubt, but petty in comparison with large affairs like ours. No, Dan Tugwell, I am not a smuggler, but a high politician, and a polisher of mankind. How soon do you think of leaving this outrageous hole?”

Despite the stupid outrage upon himself, Dan was too loyal and generous of nature to be pleased with this description of his native place. But Carne, too quick of temper for a really fine intriguer, cut short his expostulations.

“Call it what you please,” he said; “only make your mind up quickly. If you wish to remain here, do so: a man of no spirit is useless to me. But if you resolve to push your fortunes among brave and lofty comrades, stirring scenes, and brisk adventures, meet me at six tomorrow evening, at the place where you chopped down my rails. All you want will be provided, and your course of promotion begins at once. But remember, all must be honour bright. No shilly-shallying, no lukewarmness, no indifference to a noble cause. Faint heart never won fair lady.”

The waning moon had risen, and now shone upon Carne’s face, lighting up all its gloomy beauty, and strange power of sadness. Dan seemed to lose his clear keen sight beneath the dark influence of the other’s gaze; and his will, though not a weak one, dropped before a larger and stronger. “He knows all about me and Miss Dolly,” said the poor young fisherman to himself; “I thought so before, and I am certain of it now. And, for some reason beyond my knowledge, he wishes to encourage it. Oh, perhaps because the Carnes have always been against the Darlings! I never thought of that before.”

This was a bitter reflection to him, and might have inclined him the right way, if time had allowed him to work it out. But no such time was afforded; and in the confusion and gratitude of the moment, he answered, “Sir, I shall be always at your service, and do my very best in every way to please you.” Caryl Carne smiled; and the church clock of Springhaven solemnly struck midnight.

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