Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XXXVII

Neither at Home

Though Admiral Darling had not deigned to speak to his younger daughter about that vile anonymous charge, he was not always quite comfortable in his inner mind concerning it. More than once he thought of asking Faith’s opinion, for he knew her good sense and discretion; but even this was repugnant to him, and might give her the idea that he cherished low suspicions. And then he was called from home again, being occupied among other things with a vain enquiry about the recent false alarm. For Carne and Charron had managed too well, and judged too correctly the character of Vickers, to afford any chance of discovery. So that, when the Admiral came home again, his calm and — in its fair state — gentle nature was ruffled by the prosperity of the wicked.

“Oh, he is a fine judge of poetry, is he?” he said, more sarcastically than his wont; “that means, I suppose, that he admires yours, Frank. Remember what Nelson said about you. The longer I live, the more I find his views confirmed.”

“Papa, you are too bad! You are come home cross!” cried Dolly, who always took Frank’s part now. “What does my godfather know of poetry, indeed? If he ever had any ear for it, the guns would have ruined it long ago.”

“No mostacchio in my house!” said the master, without heeding her. “I believe that is the correct way to pronounce the filthy thing — a foreign abomination altogether. Who could keep his lips clean, with that dirt over them? A more tolerant man than myself never lived — a great deal too tolerant, as everybody knows. But I’ll never tolerate a son of mine in disgusting French hairiness of that sort.”

“Papa, you are come home as cross as a bear!” cried Dolly, presuming on her favour. “Lord Dashville was here the other day with a very nice one, and I hear that all Cavalry Officers mean to have one, when they can. And Mr. Carne, Frank’s friend, encourages it.”

“The less you have to say about that young man, the better. And the less he has to say to any child of mine, the better, both for him and her, I say. I know that the age is turned upside down. But I’ll not have that sort of thing at my table.”

When a kind and indulgent father breaks forth thus, the result is consternation, followed by anxiety about his health. Faith glanced at Dolly, who was looking quite bewildered, and the two girls withdrew without a word. Johnny was already gone to visit Captain Stubbard, with whose eldest daughter Maggie and the cannons of the battery he was by this time desperately in love; and poor Frank was left to have it out with the angry father.

“I very seldom speak harshly, my boy,” said the Admiral, drawing near his son gradually, for his wrath (like good vegetables) was very short of staple; “and when I do so you may feel quite certain that there is sound reason at the bottom of it”— here he looked as if his depth was unfathomable. “It is not only that I am not myself, because of the many hours spent upon hard leather, and vile chalks of flint that go by me half asleep, when I ought to be snoring in the feathers; neither has it anything to do with my consuming the hide of some quadruped for dinner, instead of meat. And the bread is made of rye, if of any grain at all; I rather think of spent tan, kneaded up with tallow ends, such as I have seen cast by in bushels, when the times were good. And every loaf of that costs two shillings — one for me, and one for Government. They all seem to acknowledge that I can put up with that; and I make a strict point of mild language, which enables them to do it again with me. And all up and down the roads, everybody likes me. But if I was shot tomorrow, would they care twopence?”

“I am sure they would, sir; and a good deal more than that,” answered Frank, who perceived that his father was out of his usual lines of thinking, perhaps because he had just had a good dinner — so ill do we digest our mercies. “I am sure that there is nobody in Sussex, Kent, or Hampshire who does not admire and respect and trust you.”

“I dare say, and rejoice to see me do the work they ought to do. They have long nights in bed, every one of them, and they get their meals when they want them. I am not at all astonished at what Nelson said. He is younger than I am by a good many years, but he seems to have picked up more than I have, in the way of common sentiments, and such like. ‘You may do everybody’s work, if you are fool enough,’ he said to me the last time I saw him; ‘and ease them of their souls as well, if you are rogue enough, as they do in the Popish countries. I am nearly sick of doing it,’ he said, and he looked it. ‘If you once begin with it, you must go on.’ I find it more true every day of my life. Don’t interrupt me; don’t go on with comfortable stuff about doing good, and one’s duty towards one’s Country — though I fear that you think very little of that. If I thought I had done good enough to make up for my back-aches, and three fine stumps lost through chewing patriotic sentiments, why, of course I should be thankful, and make the best of my reward. But charity begins at home, my boy, and one’s shirt should be considered before one’s cloak. A man’s family is the nearest piece of his country, and the dearest one.”

“I am sure, sir, I hope,” replied Frank, who had never heard his father talk like this before, “that nothing is going on amiss with us here. When you are away, I keep a sharp lookout. And if I saw anything going wrong, I should let you know of it immediately.”

“No doubt you would; but you are much too soft. You are quite as easygoing as I used to be at your age”— here the Admiral looked as if he felt himself to be uncommonly hard-going now —“and that sort of thing will not do in these days. For my own discomforts I care nothing. I could live on lobscouse, or soap and bully, for a year, and thank God for getting more than I deserved. But my children, Frank, are very different. From me you would never hear a grumble, or a syllable of anything but perfect satisfaction, so long as I felt that I was doing good work, and having it appreciated. And all my old comrades have just the same feeling. But you, who come after us, are not like that. You must have everything made to fit you, instead of making yourselves fit them. The result will be, I have very little doubt, the downfall of England in the scale of nations. I was talking to my old friend St. Vincent last week, and he most heartily agreed with me. However, I don’t mean to blame you, Frank. You cannot help your unfortunate nature for stringing ends of words together that happen to sound alike. Johnny will make a fine Officer, not in the Navy, but of Artillery — Stubbard says that he has the rarest eyes he ever came across in one so young, and he wishes he could put them into his Bob’s head. He shall not go back to Harrow; he can spell his own name, which seems to be all they teach them there, instead of fine scholarship, such as I obtained at Winton. But to spell his own name is quite enough for a soldier. In the Navy we always were better educated. Johnny shall go to Chatham, when his togs are ready. I settled all about it in London, last week. Nothing hurts him. He is water-proof and thunder-proof. Toss him up anyhow, he falls upon his feet. But that sort of nature very seldom goes up high. But you, Frank, you might have done some good, without that nasty twist of yours for writing and for rhyming, which is a sure indication of spinal complaint. Don’t interrupt me; I speak from long experience. Things might be worse, and I ought to be thankful. None of my children will ever disgrace me. At the same time, things would go on better if I were able to be more at home. That Caryl Carne, for instance, what does he come here for?”

“Well, sir, he has only been here twice. And it took a long time to persuade him at all. He said that as you had not called upon him, he felt that he might be intruding here. And Faith, who is sometimes very spiteful, bowed, as much as to say that he had better wait. But Dolly, who is very kind-hearted, assured him that she had heard you say at least a dozen times: ‘Be sure that I call upon Mr. Carne today. What will he think of my neglect? But I hope that he will set it down to the right cause — the perpetual demands upon my time.’ And when she told him that, he said that he would call the next day, and so he did.”

“Ah!” cried the old man, not well pleased; “it was Dolly who took that little business off my shoulders! She might have been content with her elder sister’s judgment, in a family question of that sort. But I dare say she thought it right to make my excuses. Very well, I’ll do that for myself. To-morrow I shall call upon that young man, unless I get another despatch to-night. But I hear he wants nobody at his ruins. I suppose he has not asked even you to go there?”

“No, sir; I think he took his little place here, because it would be so painful for him to receive any friends at that tumble-down castle. He has not yet been able to do any repairs.”

“I respect him for that,” said the Admiral, with his generous sympathies aroused; “they have been a grand old family, though I can’t say much for those I knew — except, of course, Mrs. Twemlow. But he may be a very fine young fellow, though a great deal too Frenchified, from all I hear. And why my friend Twemlow cold-shoulders him so, is something of a mystery to me. Twemlow is generally a judicious man in things that have nothing to do with the Church. When it comes to that, he is very stiff-backed, as I have often had to tell him. Perhaps this young man is a Papist. His mother was, and she brought him up.”

“I am sure I don’t know, sir,” answered Frank. “I should think none the worse of him if he were, unless he allowed it to interfere with his proper respect for liberty.”

“Liberty be hanged!” cried the Admiral; “and that’s the proper end for most of those who prate about it, when they ought to be fighting for their Country. I shall sound him about that stuff tomorrow. If he is one of that lot, he won’t come here with my good — will, I can assure him. What time is he generally to be found down there? He is right over Stubbard’s head, I believe, and yet friend Adam knows nothing about him. Nor even Mrs. Adam! I should have thought that worthy pair would have drawn any badger in the kingdom. I suppose the youth will see me, if I call. I don’t want to go round that way for nothing. I did want to have a quiet day at home, and saunter in the garden, as the weather is so mild, and consult poor Swipes about Spring crops, and then have a pipe or two, and take my gun to Brown Bushes for a woodcock, or a hare, and come home with a fine appetite to a good dinner. But I never must hope for a bit of pleasure now.”

“You may depend upon it, sir,” said Frank, “that Caryl Carne will be greatly pleased to see you. And I think you will agree with me that a more straightforward and simple-minded man is not to be found in this country. He combines what we are pleased to call our national dignity and self-respect with the elegant manners, and fraternal warmth, and bonhomie — as they themselves express it — of our friends across the water.”

“You be off! I don’t want to be cross any more. Two hundred thousand friends there at this moment eager to burn down our homes and cut our throats! Tired as I am, I ought to take a stick to you, as friend Tugwell did to his son for much less. I have the greatest mind not to go near that young man. I wish I had Twemlow here to talk it over. Pay your fine for a French word, and be off!”

Frank Darling gravely laid down five shillings on his dessert plate, and walked off. The fine for a French word in that house, and in hundreds of other English houses at this patriotic period, was a crown for a gentleman, and a shilling for a lady, the latter not being liable except when gentlemen were present. The poet knew well that another word on his part would irritate his father to such a degree that no visit would be paid tomorrow to the admirer of the Harmodiad, whose admiration he was longing to reward with a series of good dinners. And so he did his utmost to ensure his father’s visit.

But when the Admiral, going warily — because he was so stiff from saddle-work — made his way down to the house of Widow Shanks, and winking at the Royal Arms in the lower front window, where Stubbard kept Office and convenience, knocked with the knocker at the private door, there seemed to be a great deal of thought required before anybody came to answer.

“Susie,” said the visitor, who had an especial knack of remembering Christian names, which endeared him to the bearers, “I am come to see Mr. Carne, and I hope he is at home.”

“No, that ‘a bain’t, sir,” the little girl made answer, after looking at the Admiral as if he was an elephant, and wiping her nose with unwonted diligence; “he be gone away, sir; and please, sir, mother said so.”

“Well, here’s a penny for you, my dear, because you are the best little needle-woman in the school, they tell me. Run and tell your mother to come and see me. — Oh, Mrs. Shanks, I am very glad to see you, and so blooming in spite of all your hard work. Ah, it is no easy thing in these hard times to maintain a large family and keep the pot boiling. And everything clean as a quarter-deck! My certy, you are a woman in a thousand!”

“No, sir, no. It is all the Lord’s doing. And you to the back of Him, as I alway say. Not a penny can they make out as I owes justly, bad as I be at the figures, Squire. Do ‘e come in, and sit down, there’s a dear. Ah, I mind the time when you was like a dart, Squire!”

‘Well, and now I am like a cannon-ball,” said the Admiral, who understood and liked this unflattering talk; “only I don’t travel quite so fast as that. I scarcely get time to see any old friends. But I came to look out for a young friend now, the gentleman you make so comfortable upstairs. Don’t I wish I was a young man without incumbrance, to come and lodge with such a wonderful landlady!”

“Ah, if there was more of your sort, sir, there’d be a deal less trouble in the world, there would. Not that my young gentleman is troublesome, mind you, only so full of them outlandish furrin ways — abideth all day long without ating ort, so different from a honest Englishman. First I used to think as he couldn’t afford it, and long to send him up a bit of my own dinner, but dursn’t for the life of me — too grand for that, by ever so — till one day little Susie there comes a-running down the stairs, and she sings out, with her face as red as ever a boiled lobster: ‘Looky see, mother! Oh, do ‘e come and looky see! Pollyon hath got a heap of guineas on his table; wouldn’t go into the big yellow pudding-basin!’ And sure enough he had, your Honour, in piles, as if he was telling of them. He had slipped out suddenly, and thought the passage door was bolted. What a comfort it was to me, I can’t configurate. Because I could eat my dinner comfortable now, for such a big heap of money never I did see.”

“I am very glad — heartily glad,” exclaimed the smiling Admiral. “I hope he may get cash enough to buy back all the great Carne property, and kick out those rascally Jews and lawyers. But what makes Susie call him that?”

“Well, sir, the young ones must have a nickname for anything beyond them; and because he never takes any notice of them — so different from your handsome Master Frank — and some simility of his black horse, or his proud walk, to the pictur’, ‘Pollyon’ is the name they give him, out of Pilgrim’s Progress. Though not a bit like him, for such a gentleman to pay his rent and keep his place untroublesome I never had before. And a fortnight he paid me last night, afore going, and took away the keys of all three doors.”

“He is gone, then, is he? To London, I dare say. It would be useless to look for him at the castle. My son will be disappointed more than I am. To tell you the truth, Mrs. Shanks, in these days the great thing is to stick to the people that we know. The world is so full, not of rogues, but of people who are always wanting something out of one, that to talk with a thoroughly kind, honest person, like yourself, is a real luxury. When the gentleman comes back, let him know that I have called.”

“And my Jenny, sir?” cried the anxious mother, running after him into the passage; “not a word have you said about my Jenny. I hope she show no sign of flightiness?”

“Jenny is as steady as the church,” replied the Admiral. “We are going to put her on a pound a year from next quarter-day, by Mrs. Cloam’s advice. She’ll have a good stocking by the time she gets married.”

“There never was such a pleasant gentleman, nor such a kind-hearted one, I do believe,” said Widow Shanks, as she came in with bright eyes. “What are they Carnes to the Darlings, after all? As different as night and day.”

But the Admiral’s next visit was not quite so pleasant; for when he got back into the village road, expecting a nice walk to his luncheon and his pipe, a man running furiously almost knocked him down, and had no time to beg his pardon. The runner’s hat was off his head, and his hair blowing out, but luckily for itself his tongue was not between his teeth.

“Has the devil got hold of you at last, Jem Prater?” the Admiral asked, not profanely; for he had seen a good deal of mankind, and believed in diabolical possession.

“For Parson! for Parson!” cried Jem, starting off again as hard as he could go. “Butter Cheeseman hath hanged his self in his own scales. And nobody is any good but Parson.”

Admiral Darling was much disturbed. “What will the world come to? I never knew such times,” he exclaimed to himself, with some solemnity; and then set off, as fast as his overridden state permitted, for the house of Mr. Cheeseman. Passing through the shop, which had nobody in it, he was led by the sound of voices into a little room beyond it — the room in which Mr. Cheeseman had first received Caryl Carne. Here he beheld an extraordinary scene, of which he often had to dream thereafter.

From a beam in the roof (which had nothing to do with his scales, as Jem Prater had imagined), by a long but not well-plaited cord, was dangling the respected Church-warden Cheeseman. Happily for him, he had relied on his own goods; and the rope being therefore of very bad hemp, had failed in this sad and too practical proof. The weight of its vendor had added to its length some fifteen inches — as he loved to pull out things — and his toes touched the floor, which relieved him now and then.

“Why don’t you cut him down, you old fools?” cried the Admiral to three gaffers, who stood moralising, while Mrs. Cheeseman sat upon a barrel, sobbing heavily, with both hands spread to conceal the sad sight.

“We was afraid of hurting of him,” said the quickest-witted of the gaffers; “Us wanted to know why ‘a doed it,” said the deepest; and, “The will of the Lord must be done,” said the wisest.

After fumbling in vain for his knife, and looking round, the Admiral ran back into the shop, and caught up the sharp steel blade with which the victim of a troubled mind had often unsold a sold ounce in the days of happy commerce. In a moment the Admiral had the poor Church-warden in his sturdy arms, and with a sailor’s skill had unknotted the choking noose, and was shouting for brandy, as he kept the blue head from falling back.

When a little of the finest eau de vie that ever was smuggled had been administered, the patient rallied, and becoming comparatively cheerful, was enabled to explain that “it was all a mistake altogether.” This removed all misunderstanding; but Rector Twemlow, arriving too late for anything but exhortation, asked a little too sternly — as everybody felt — under what influence of the Evil One Cheeseman had committed that mistake. The reply was worthy of an enterprising tradesman, and brought him such orders from a score of miles around that the resources of the establishment could only book them.

“Sir,” he said, looking at the parson sadly, with his right hand laid upon his heart, which was feeble, and his left hand intimating that his neck was sore, “if anything has happened that had better not have been, it must have been by reason of the weight I give, and the value such a deal above the prices.”

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