Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLII

Answering the Question

If Scudamore had not seen Dan Tugwell on board of the London Trader, and heard from his own lips that he was one of her crew, it is certain that he would have made a strict search of her hold, according to his orders in suspicious cases. And if he had done this, it is probable that he never would have set his nimble feet on deck again, for Perkins (the American who passed as Sam Polwhele) had a heavy ship-pistol in his great rough pocket, ready for the back of the young officer’s head if he had probed below the cheeses and firkins of butter. Only two men had followed the lieutenant from their boat, the rest being needed for her safety in the strong sea running, and those two at the signal would have been flung overboard, and the schooner (put about for the mouth of the Canche, where heavy batteries were mounted) would have had a fair chance of escape, with a good start, while the gun-brig was picking up her boat. Unless, indeed, a shot from the Delia should carry away an important spar, which was not very likely at night, and with a quick surf to baffle gunnery. However, none of these things came to pass, and so the chances require no measurement.

Carne landed his freight with his usual luck, and resolved very wisely to leave off that dangerous work until further urgency. He had now a very fine stock of military stores for the ruin of his native land, and especially of gunpowder, which the gallant Frenchmen were afraid of stowing largely in their flat-bottomed craft. And knowing that he owed his success to moderation, and the good-will of his neighbours towards evasion of the Revenue, he thought it much better to arrange his magazine than to add to it for a month or two.

Moreover, he was vexed at the neglect of his advice, on the part of his arrogant Commander, a man who was never known to take advice from any mind external to his own body, and not even from that clear power sometimes, when his passionate heart got the uppermost. Carne, though of infinitely smaller mind, had one great advantage — he seldom allowed it to be curdled or crossed in its clear operations by turbulent bodily elements. And now, when he heard from the light-hearted Charron, who had lately been at work in London, that the only man they feared was about to take the lead once more against the enemies of Great Britain, Caryl Carne grew bitter against his Chief, and began for the first time to doubt his success.

“I have a great mind to go to Mr. Pitt myself, tell him everything, and throw myself upon his generosity,” he thought, as he sate among his ruins sadly. “I could not be brought to trial as a common traitor. Although by accident of birth I am an Englishman, I am a French officer, and within my duty in acting as a pioneer for the French army. But then, again, they would call me at the best a spy, and in that capacity outside the rules of war. It is a toss-up how they might take it, and the result would depend perhaps on popular clamour. The mighty Emperor has snubbed me. He is not a gentleman. He has not even invited me to Paris, to share in the festivities and honours he proclaims. I would risk it, for I believe it is the safer game, except for two obstacles, and both of those are women. Matters are growing very ticklish now. That old bat of a Stubbard has got scent of a rat, and is hunting about the farm-houses. It would be bad for him if he came prowling here; that step for inspectors is well contrived. Twenty feet fall on his head for my friend; even his bull-neck would get the worst of that. And then, again, there is that wretch of a Cheeseman, who could not even hang himself effectually. If it were not for Polly, we would pretty soon enable him, as the Emperor enabled poor Pichegru. And after his own bona fide effort, who would be surprised to find him sus. per coll.? But Polly is a nice girl, though becoming too affectionate. And jealous — good lack! a grocer’s daughter jealous, and a Carne compelled to humour her! What idiots women are in the hands of a strong man! Only my mother — my mother was not; or else my father was a weak one; which I can well believe from my own remembrance of him. Well, one point at least shall be settled tomorrow.”

It was early in May, 1804, and Napoleon having made away to the best of his ability — which in that way was pre-eminent — with all possible rivals and probable foes, was receiving addresses, and appointing dummies, and establishing foolscap guarantees against his poor fallible and flexible self — as he had the effrontery to call it — with all the gravity, grand benevolence, confidence in mankind (as fools), immensity of yearning for universal good, and intensity of planning for his own, which have hoodwinked the zanies in every age, and never more than in the present age and country. And if France licked the dust, she could plead more than we can — it had not been cast off from her enemy’s shoes.

Carne’s love of liberty, like that of most people who talk very largely about it, was about as deep as beauty is declared to be; or even less than that, for he would not have imperilled the gloss of his epiderm for the fair goddess. So that it irked him very little that his Chief had smashed up the Republic, but very greatly that his own hand should be out in the cold, and have nothing put inside it to restore its circulation. “If I had stuck to my proper line of work, in the Artillery, which has made his fortune”— he could not help saying to himself sometimes —“instead of losing more than a year over here, and perhaps another year to follow, and all for the sake of these dirty old ruins, and my mother’s revenge upon this country, I might have been a General by this time almost — for nothing depends upon age in France — and worthy to claim something lofty and grand, or else to be bought off at a truly high figure. The little gunner has made a great mistake if he thinks that his flat thumb of low breed can press me down shuddering, and starving, and crouching, just until it suits him to hold up a finger for me. My true course is now to consider myself, to watch events, and act accordingly. My honour is free to go either way, because he has not kept his word with me; he promised to act upon my advice, and to land within a twelvemonth.”

There was some truth in this, for Napoleon had promised that his agent’s perilous commission in England should be discharged within a twelvemonth, and that time had elapsed without any renewal. But Carne was clear-minded enough to know that he was bound in honour to give fair notice, before throwing up the engagement; and that even then it would be darkest dishonour to betray his confidence. He had his own sense of honour still, though warped by the underhand work he had stooped to; and even while he reasoned with himself so basely, he felt that he could not do the things he threatened.

To a resolute man it is a misery to waver, as even the most resolute must do sometimes; for instance, the mighty Napoleon himself. That great man felt the misery so keenly, and grew so angry with himself for letting in the mental pain, that he walked about vehemently, as a horse is walked when cold water upon a hot stomach has made colic — only there was nobody to hit him in the ribs, as the groom serves the nobler animal. Carne did not stride about in that style, to cast his wrath out of his toes, because his body never tingled with the sting-nettling of his mind — as it is bound to do with all correct Frenchmen — and his legs being long, he might have fallen down a hole into ancestral vaults before he knew what he was up to. Being as he was, he sate still, and thought it out, and resolved to play his own game for a while, as his master was playing for himself in Paris.

The next day he reappeared at his seaside lodgings, looking as comely and stately as of old; and the kind Widow Shanks was so glad to see him that he felt a rare emotion — good-will towards her; as the hardest man must do sometimes, especially if others have been hard upon him. He even chucked little Susy under the chin, which amazed her so much that she stroked her face, to make sure of its being her own, and ran away to tell her mother that the gentleman was come home so nice. Then he ordered a special repast from John Prater’s — for John, on the strength of all his winter dinners, had now painted on his sign-board “Universal Victualler,” caring not a fig for the offence to Cheeseman, who never came now to have a glass with him, and had spoiled all the appetite inspired by his windows through the dismal suggestions of his rash act on the premises. Instead of flattening their noses and opening their mouths, and exclaiming, “Oh, shouldn’t I like a bit of that?” the children, if they ventured to peep in at all, now did it with an anxious hope of horrors, and a stealthy glance between the hams and bacon for something that might be hanging up among the candles. And the worst of it was that the wisest man in the village had failed to ascertain as yet “the reason why ‘a doed it.” Until that was known, the most charitable neighbours could have no hope of forgiving him.

Miss Dolly Darling had not seen her hero of romance for a long time; but something told her — or perhaps somebody — that he was now at hand; and to make sure about it, she resolved to have a walk. Faith was very busy, as the lady of the house, in preparing for a visitor, the mother of Blyth Scudamore, whom she, with her usual kindness, intended to meet and bring back from the coach-road that evening; for no less than three coaches a day passed now within eight miles of Springhaven, and several of the natives had seen them. Dolly was not to go in the carriage, because nobody knew how many boxes the visitor might bring, inasmuch as she was to stop ever so long. “I am tired of all this fuss,” cried Dolly; “one would think Queen Charlotte was coming, at the least; and I dare say nearly all her luggage would go into the door-pocket. They are dreadfully poor; and it serves them right, for being so dreadfully honest.”

“If you ever fall into poverty,” said Faith, “it will not be from that cause. When you get your money, you don’t pay your debts. You think that people should be proud to work for you for nothing. There is one house I am quite ashamed to pass by with you. How long have you owed poor Shoemaker Stickfast fifteen shillings and sixpence? And you take advantage of him, because he dare not send it in to father.”

“Fashionable ladies never pay their debts,” Dolly answered, as she spun round on one light heel, to float out a new petticoat that she was very proud of; “this isn’t paid for, nor this, nor this; and you with your slow head have no idea how it adds to the interest they possess. If I am not allowed to have a bit of fashion in my dress, I can be in the fashion by not paying for it.”

“It is a most happy thing for you, dear child, that you are kept under some little control. What you would do, I have not the least idea, if you were not afraid of dear father, as you are. The worst of it is that he is never here now for as much as two days together. And then he is so glad to see us that he cannot attend to our discipline or take notice of our dresses.”

“Ha! you have inspired me!” exclaimed Dolly, who rejoiced in teasing Faith. “The suggestion is yours, and I will act upon it. From the village of Brighthelmstone, which is growing very fine, I will procure upon the strictest credit a new Classic dress, with all tackle complete — as dear father so well expresses it — and then I will promenade me on the beach, with Charles in best livery and a big stick behind me. How then will Springhaven rejoice, and every one that hath eyes clap a spy-glass to them! And what will old Twemlow say, and that frump of an Eliza, who condescends to give me little hints sometimes about tightening up SO, perhaps, and letting out so, and permitting a little air to come in HERE—”

“Do be off, you wicked little animal!” cried Faith, who in spite of herself could not help laughing, so well was Dolly mimicking Eliza Twemlow’s voice, and manner, and attitude, and even her figure, less fitted by nature for the Classic attire; “you are wasting all my time, and doing worse with your own. Be off, or I’ll take a stick to ‘e, as old Daddy Stakes says to the boys.”

Taking advantage of this state of things, the younger Miss Darling set forth by herself to dwell upon the beauty of the calm May sea, and her own pretty figure glassed in tidal pools. She knew that she would show to the utmost of her gifts, with her bright complexion softly gleaming in the sun, and dark gray eyes through their deep fringe receiving and returning tenfold the limpid glimmer of the shore. And she felt that the spring of the year was with her, the bound of old Time that renews his youth and powers of going at any pace; when the desire of the young is to ride him at full gallop, and the pleasure of the old is to stroke his nose and think.

Dolly, with everything in her favour, youth and beauty, the time of year, the time of day, and the power of the place, as well as her own wish to look lovely, and to be loved beyond reason, nevertheless came along very strictly, and kept herself most careful not to look about at all. At any rate, not towards the houses, where people live, and therefore must look out. At the breadth of sea, with distant ships jotted against the sky like chips, or dotted with boats like bits of stick; also at the playing of the little waves that ran at the bottom of the sands, just now, after one another with a lively turn, and then jostled into white confusion, like a flock of sheep huddled up and hurrying from a dog — at these and at the warm clouds loitering in the sun she might use her bright eyes without prejudice. But soon she had to turn them upon a nearer object.

“How absorbed we are in distant contemplation! A happy sign, I hope, in these turbulent times. Miss Darling, will you condescend to include me in your view?”

“I only understand simple English,” answered Dolly. “Most of the other comes from France, perhaps. We believed that you were gone abroad again.”

“I wish that the subject had more interest for you,” Carne answered, with his keen eyes fixed on hers, in the manner that half angered and half conquered her. “My time is not like that of happy young ladies, with the world at their feet, and their chief business in it, to discover some new amusement.”

“You are not at all polite. But you never were that, in spite of your French education.”

“Ah, there it is again! You are so accustomed to the flattery of great people that a simple-minded person like myself has not the smallest chance of pleasing you. Ah, well! It is my fate, and I must yield to it.”

“Not at all,” replied Dolly, who could never see the beauty of that kind of resignation, even in the case of Dan Tugwell. “There is no such thing as fate for a strong-willed man, though there may be for poor women.”

“May I tell you my ideas about that matter? If so, come and rest for a moment in a quiet little shelter where the wind is not so cold. For there is no such thing as Spring in England.”

Dolly hesitated, and with the proverbial result. To prove himself more polite than she supposed, Caryl Carne, hat in hand and with low bows preserving a respectful distance, conducted her to a little place of shelter, so pretty and humble and secluded by its own want of art, and simplicity of skill, that she was equally pleased and surprised with it.

“Why, it is quite a little bower!” she exclaimed; “as pretty a little nest as any bird could wish for. And what a lovely view towards the west and beyond Pebbleridge! One could sit here forever and see the sun set. But I must have passed it fifty times without the least suspicion of it. How on earth have you managed to conceal it so? That is to say, if it is your doing. Surely the children must have found it out, because they go everywhere.”

“One brat did. But I gave him such a scare that he never stopped roaring till next Sunday, and it frightened all the rest from looking round that corner. If any other comes, I shall pitch-plaster him, for I could not endure that noise again. But you see, at a glance, why you have failed to see it, as we always do with our little oversights, when humbly pointed out to us. It is the colour of the ground and the background too, and the grayness of the scanty growth that hides it. Nobody finds it out by walking across it, because of this swampy place on your side, and the shoot of flints down from the cliff on the other, all sharp as a knife, and as rough as a saw. And nobody comes down to this end of the warren, neither is it seen from the battery on the hill. Only from the back is it likely to be invaded, and there is nothing to make people look, or come, up here. So you have me altogether at your mercy, Miss Darling.”

Dolly thought within herself that it was much the other way, but could not well express her thoughts to that effect. And being of a brisk and versatile — not to say volatile — order, she went astray into a course of wonder concerning the pretty little structure she beheld. Structure was not the proper word for it at all; for it seemed to have grown from the nature around, with a little aid of human hands to guide it. Branches of sea-willow radiant with spring, and supple sprays of tamarisk recovering from the winter, were lightly inwoven and arched together, with the soft compliance of reed and rush from the marsh close by, and the stout assistance of hazel rods from the westward cliff. The back was afforded by a grassy hillock, with a tuft or two of brake-fern throwing up their bronzy crockets among the sprayed russet of last year’s pride. And beneath them a ledge of firm turf afforded as fair a seat as even two sweet lovers need desire.

“How clever he is, and how full of fine taste!” thought the simple-minded Dolly; “and all this time I have been taking him for a gloomy, hard-hearted, unnatural man. Blyth Scudamore never could have made this lovely bower.”

In this conclusion she was altogether wrong. Scudamore could have made it, and would have made it gladly, with bright love to help him. But Carne never could, and would have scorned the pleasant task. It was Charron, the lively Frenchman, who, with the aid of old Jerry, had achieved this pretty feat, working to relieve his dull detention, with a Frenchman’s playful industry and tasteful joy in nature. But Carne was not likely to forego this credit.

“I think I have done it pretty well,” he said, in reply to her smile of admiration; “with such scanty materials, I mean, of course. And I shall think I have done it very well indeed, if you say that you like it, and crown it with new glory by sitting for a moment in its unpretentious shade. If your brother comes down, as I hope he will, next week, I shall beg him to come and write a poem here. The place is fitter for a poet than a prosy vagabond like me.”

“It is very hard that you should be a — a wanderer, I mean,” Dolly answered, looking at him with a sweet thrill of pity; “you have done nothing to deserve it. How unfairly fortune has always treated you!”

“Fortune could make me a thousand times more than the just compensation even now, if she would. Such a glorious return for all my bitter losses and outcast condition, that I should — but it is useless to think of such things, in my low state. The fates have been hard with me, but never shall they boast that they drove me from my pure sense of honour. Oh yes, it is damp. But let me cure it thus.”

For Dolly, growing anxious about his meaning, yet ready to think about another proposal, was desirous to sit down on the sweet ledge of grass, yet uneasy about her pale blue sarsenet, and uncertain that she had not seen something of a little sea-snail (living in a yellow house, dadoed with red), whom to crush would be a cruel act to her dainty fabric. But if he was there, he was sat upon unavenged; for Carne, pulling off his light buff cloak, flung it on the seat; after which the young lady could scarcely be rude enough not to sit.

“Oh, I am so sorry now! Perhaps it will be spoiled,” she said; “for you say that the fates are against you always. And I am sure that they always combine against me, when I wear anything of that colour.”

“I am going the wrong way to work,” thought Carne. “What a little vixen it is; but what a beauty!” For his love for her was chiefly a man’s admiration. And bodily she looked worthy now of all that could be done in that way, with the light flowing in through the budded arch and flashing upon the sweet flush of her cheeks. Carne gazed at her without a word or thought, simply admiring, as he never had admired anything, except himself, till now. Then she felt all the meaning of his gaze, and turned away.

“But you must look at me and tell me something,” he said, in a low voice, and taking both her hands; “you shall tell me what my fate must be. Whether you can ever come to love me, as I have loved you, long and long.”

“You have no right to speak to me like that,” she answered, still avoiding his eyes, and striving to show proper anger; “no gentleman would think of taking advantage of a lady so.”

“I care not what is right or wrong. Look up, and tell me that you hate me. Dolly, I suppose you do.”

“Then you are quite wrong”— she gave him one bright glance of contradiction; “no. I have always been so sorry for you, and for all your troubles. You must not ask me to say more.”

“But I must; I must. That is the very thing that I must do. Only say that you love me, Dolly. Dolly darling, tell me that. Or let your lovely eyes say it for you.”

“My lovely eyes must not tell stories”— they were gazing softly at him now —“and I don’t think I can say it — yet.”

“But you will — you shall!” he exclaimed, with passion growing as he drew her near; “you shall not slip from me, you shall not stir, until you have answered me one question — is there anybody else, my Dolly?”

“You frighten me. You forget who I am. Of course there are a great many else, as you call it; and I am not to be called, for a moment, YOUR DOLLY.”

“No, not for a moment, but forever.” Carne was accustomed to the ways of girls, and read all their words by the light of their eyes. “Your little heart begins to know who loves it better than all the world put together. And for that reason I will leave you now. Farewell, my darling; I conquer myself, for the sake of what is worth a thousand of it.”

Dolly was in very sad confusion, and scarcely knew what she might do next — that is to say, if he still went on. Pleasant conceit and bright coquetry ill supply the place of honest pride and gentle self-respect, such as Faith was blest with. Carne might have kissed Dolly a hundred times, without much resistance, for his stronger will had mastered hers; but she would have hated him afterwards. He did not kiss her once; and she almost wished that he had offered one — one little tribute of affection (as the Valentines express it)— as soon as he was gone, and the crisis of not knowing what to do was past. “I should have let him — I believe I should,” she reflected, sagely recovering herself; “but how glad I ought to be that he didn’t! And I do hope he won’t come back again. The next time I meet him, I shall sink into the earth.”

For her hat had fallen off, and her hair was out of order, and she saw two crinkles near the buckle of her waist; and she had not so much as a looking-glass to be sure that she looked nice again. With a heavy sigh for all these woes, she gathered a flossy bud of willow, and fixed it on her breast-knot, to defy the world; and then, without heed of the sea, sun, or sands, went home with short breath, and quick blushes, and some wonder; for no man’s arm, except her father’s, had ever been round her waist till now.

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