Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLIII

Little and Great People

If ever a wise man departed from wisdom, or a sober place from sobriety, the man was John Prater, and the place Springhaven, towards the middle of June, 1804. There had been some sharp rumours of great things before; but the best people, having been misled so often, shook their heads without produce of their contents; until Captain Stubbard came out in his shirt sleeves one bright summer morning at half past nine, with a large printed paper in one hand and a slop basin full of hot paste in the other. His second boy, George, in the absence of Bob (who was now drawing rations at Woolwich), followed, with a green baize apron on, and carrying a hearth-brush tied round with a string to keep the hair stiff.

“Lay it on thick on the shutter, my son. Never mind about any other notices, except the one about young men wanted. No hurry; keep your elbow up; only don’t dab my breeches, nor the shirt you had on Sunday.”

By this time there were half a dozen people waiting; for this shutter of Widow Shanks was now accepted as the central board and official panel of all public business and authorised intelligence. Not only because all Royal Proclamations, Offers of reward, and Issues of menace were posted on that shutter and the one beyond the window (which served as a postscript and glossary to it), but also inasmuch as the kind-hearted Captain, beginning now to understand the natives — which was not to be done pugnaciously, as he had first attempted it, neither by any show of interest in them (than which they detested nothing more), but by taking them coolly, as they took themselves, and gradually sliding, without any thought about it, into the wholesome contagion of their minds, and the divine gift of taking things easily — our Captain Stubbard may be fairly now declared to have made himself almost as good as a native, by the way in which he ministered to their content.

For nothing delighted them more than to hear of great wonders going on in other places — of battles, plague, pestilence, famine, and fire; of people whose wives ran away with other people, or highwaymen stopping the coach of a bishop. Being full of good-nature, they enjoyed these things, because of the fine sympathies called out to their own credit, and the sense of pious gratitude aroused towards Heaven, that they never permitted such things among them. Perceiving this genial desire of theirs, the stout Captain of the Foxhill battery was kind enough to meet it with worthy subjects. Receiving officially a London newspaper almost every other day, as soon as it had trodden the round of his friends, his regular practice was to cut out all the pieces of lofty public interest — the first-rate murders, the exploits of highwaymen, the episodes of high life, the gallant executions, the embezzlements of demagogues, in a word, whatever quiet people find a fond delight in ruminating — and these he pasted (sometimes upside down) upon his shutter. Springhaven had a good deal of education, and enjoyed most of all what was hardest to read.

But this great piece of news, that should smother all the rest, seemed now to take a terrible time in coming. All the gaffers were waiting who had waited to see the result of Mr. Cheeseman’s suicide, and their patience was less on this occasion. At length the great Captain unfolded his broad sheet, but even then held it upside down for a minute. It was below their dignity to do anything but grunt, put their specs on their noses, and lean chin upon staff. They deserved to be rewarded, and so they were.

For this grand poster, which overlapped the shutters, was a Royal Proclamation, all printed in red ink, announcing that His Majesty King George the 3rd would on the 25th of June then ensuing hold a grand review upon Shotbury Down of all the Volunteer forces and Reserve, mounted, footmen, or artillery, of the four counties forming the Southeast Division, to wit, Surrey, Kent, Sussex, and Hants. Certain regiments of the line would be appointed to act with them; and officers in command were ordered to report at once, &c., &c. God save the King.

If Shotbury Down had been ten miles off, Springhaven would have thought very little of the matter; for no one would walk ten miles inland to see all the sojers that ever were shot, or even the “King and Queen, and their fifteen little ones.” Most of the little ones were very large now; but the village had seen them in a travelling show, and expected them to continue like it. But Shotbury Down was only three miles inland; and the people (who thought nothing of twenty miles along the coast) resolved to face a league of perils of the solid earth, because if they only turned round upon their trudge, they could see where they lived from every corner of the road. They always did all things with one accord; the fishing fleet all should stand still on the sand, and the houses should have to keep house for themselves. That is to say, perhaps, all except one.

“Do as you like,” said Mrs. Tugwell to her husband; “nothing as you do makes much differ to me now. If you feel you can be happy with them thousands of young men, and me without one left fit to lift a big crock, go your way, Zeb; but you don’t catch me going, with the tears coming into my eyes every time I see a young man to remind me of Dan — though there won’t be one there fit to stand at his side. And him perhaps fighting against his own King now!”

“Whatever hath coom to Dannel is all along of your own fault, I tell ‘e.” Captain Tugwell had scarcely enjoyed a long pipe since the night when he discharged his paternal duty, with so much vigour, and such sad results. Not that he felt any qualms of conscience, though his heart was sometimes heavy, but because his good wife was a good wife no longer, in the important sphere of the pan, pot, and kettle, or even in listening to his adventures with the proper exclamations in the proper places. And not only she, but all his children, from Timothy down to Solomon, instead of a pleasant chatter around him, and little attentions, and a smile to catch a smile, seemed now to shrink from him, and hold whispers in a corner, and watch him with timid eyes, and wonder how soon their own time would come to be lashed and turned away. And as for the women, whether up or down the road — but as he would not admit, even to himself, that he cared twopence what they thought, it is useless to give voice to their opinions, which they did quite sufficiently. Zebedee Tugwell felt sure that he had done the right thing, and therefore admired himself, but would have enjoyed himself more if he had done the wrong one.

“What fault of mine, or of his, poor lamb?” Mrs. Tugwell asked, with some irony. She knew that her husband could never dare to go to see the King without her — for no married man in the place would venture to look at him twice if he did such a thing — and she had made up her own mind to go from the first; but still, he should humble himself before she did it. “Was it I as colted him? Or was it him as gashed himself, like the prophets of Baal, when ‘a was gone hunting?”

“No; but you cockered him up, the same as was done to they, by the wicked king, and his wife — the worst woman as ever lived. If they hadn’t gashed theirselves, I reckon, the true man of God would ‘a done it for them, the same as he cut their throats into the brook Kishon. Solomon was the wisest man as ever lived, and Job the most patient — the same as I be — and Elijah, the Tishbite, the most justest.”

“You better finish up with all the Psalms of David, and the Holy Children, and the Burial Service. No more call for Parson Twemlow, or the new Churchwarden come in place of Cheeseman, because ‘a tried to hang his self. Zebedee Tugwell in the pulpit! Zebedee, come round with the plate! Parson Tugwell, if you please, a-reading out the ten commandments! But ’un ought to leave out the sixth, for fear of spoiling ‘s own dinner afterwards; and the seventh, if ‘a hopes to go to see King George the third, with another man’s woman to his elbow!”

“When you begins to go on like that,” Captain Tugwell replied, with some dignity, “the only thing as a quiet man can do is to go out of houze, and have a half-pint of small ale.” He put his hat on his head and went to do it.

Notwithstanding all this and much more, when the great day came for the Grand Review, very few people saw more of the King, or entered more kindly into all his thoughts — or rather the thoughts that they made him think — than Zebedee Tugwell and his wife Kezia. The place being so near home, and the smoke of their own chimneys and masts of their smack as good as in sight — if you knew where to look — it was natural for them to regard the King as a stranger requiring to be taught about their place. This sense of proprietary right is strong in dogs and birds and cows and rabbits, and everything that acts by nature’s laws. When a dog sits in front of his kennel, fast chained, every stranger dog that comes in at the gate confesses that the premises are his, and all the treasures they contain; and if he hunts about — which he is like enough to do, unless full of self-respect and fresh victuals — for any bones invested in the earth to ripen, by the vested owner, he does it with a low tail and many pricks of conscience, perhaps hoping in his heart that he may discover nothing to tempt him into breach of self-respect. But now men are ordered, in this matter, to be of lower principle than their dogs.

King George the third, who hated pomp and show, and had in his blood the old German sense of patriarchal kingship, would have enjoyed a good talk with Zebedee and his wife Kezia, if he had met them on the downs alone; but, alas, he was surrounded with great people, and obliged to restrict himself to the upper order, with whom he had less sympathy. Zebedee, perceiving this, made all allowance for him, and bought a new Sunday hat the very next day, for fear of wearing out the one he had taken off to His Majesty, when His Majesty looked at him, and Her Majesty as well, and they manifestly said to one another, what a very fine subject they had found. Such was loyalty — aye, and royalty — in those times that we despise.

But larger events demand our heed. There were forty thousand gallant fellows, from the age of fifteen upwards, doing their best to look like soldiers, and some almost succeeding. True it is that their legs and arms were not all of one pattern, nor their hats put on their heads alike — any more than the heads on their shoulders were — neither did they swing together, as they would have done to a good swathe of grass; but for all that, and making due allowance for the necessity they were under of staring incessantly at the King, any man who understood them would have praised them wonderfully. And they went about in such wide formation, and occupied so much of their native land, that the best-drilled regiment Napoleon possessed would have looked quite small among them.

“They understand furze,” said a fine young officer of the staff, who had ridden up to Admiral Darling’s carriage and saluted three ladies who kept watch there. “I doubt whether many of the Regular forces would have got through that brake half so well; certainly not without double gaiters. If the French ever land, we must endeavour to draw them into furzy ground, and then set the Volunteers at them. No Frenchman can do much with prickles in his legs.”

Lady Scudamore smiled, for she was thinking of her son, who would have jumped over any furze-bush there — and the fir-trees too, according to her conviction; Dolly also showed her very beautiful teeth; but Faith looked at him gratefully.

“It is very kind of you, Lord Dashville, to say the best of us that you can find to say. But I fear that you are laughing to yourself. You know how well they mean; but you think they cannot do much.”

“No, that is not what I think at all. So far as I can judge, which is not much, I believe that they would be of the greatest service, if the Country should unfortunately need them. Man for man, they are as brave as trained troops, and many of them can shoot better. I don’t mean to say that they are fit to meet a French army in the open; but for acting on their flanks, or rear, or in a wooded country — However, I have no right to venture an opinion, having never seen active service.”

Miss Darling looked at him with some surprise, and much approval of his modesty. So strongly did most of the young officers who came to her father’s house lay down the law, and criticise even Napoleon’s tactics.

“How beautiful Springhaven must be looking now!” he said, after Dolly had offered her opinion, which she seldom long withheld. “The cottages must be quite covered with roses, whenever they are not too near the sea; and the trees at their best, full of leaves and blossoms, by the side of the brook that feeds them. All the rest of the coast is so hard and barren, and covered with chalk instead of grass, and the shore so straight and staring. But I have never been there at this time of year. How much you must enjoy it! Surely we ought to be able to see it, from this high ground somewhere.”

“Yes, if you will ride to that shattered tree,” said Faith, “you will have a very fine view of all the valley. You can see round the corner of Foxhill there, which shuts out most of it just here. I think you have met our Captain Stubbard.”

“Ah, I must not go now; I may be wanted at any moment”— Lord Dashville had very fine taste, but it was not the inanimate beauties of Springhaven that he cared a dash for —“and I fear that I could never see the roses there. I think there is nothing in all nature to compare with a rose — except one thing.”

Faith had a lovely moss-rose in her hat — a rose just peeping through its lattice at mankind, before it should open and blush at them — and she knew what it was that he admired more than the sweetest rose that ever gemmed itself with dew. Lord Dashville had loved her, as she was frightened to remember, for more than a year, because he could not help it, being a young man of great common-sense, as well as fine taste, and some knowledge of the world. “He knows to which side his bread will be buttered,” Mr. Swipes had remarked, as a keen observer. “If ‘a can only get Miss Faith, his bread ‘ll be buttered to both sides for life — his self to one side, and her to do the tother. The same as I told Mother Cloam — a man that knoweth his duty to head gardeners, as his noble lordship doth, the same know the differ atwixt Miss Faith — as fine a young ‘ooman as ever looked into a pink — and that blow-away froth of a thing, Miss Dolly.”

This fine young woman, to use the words of Mr. Swipes, coloured softly, at his noble lordship’s gaze, to the tint of the rose-bud in her hat; and then spoke coldly to countervail her blush.

“There is evidently something to be done directly. All the people are moving towards the middle of the down. We must not be so selfish as to keep you here, Lord Dashville.”

“Why, don’t you see what it is?” exclaimed Miss Dolly, hotly resenting the part of second fiddle; “they are going to have the grand march-past. These affairs always conclude with that. And we are in the worst part of the whole down for seeing it. Lord Dashville will tell us where we ought to go.”

“You had better not attempt to move now,” he answered, smiling as he always smiled at Dolly, as if she were a charming but impatient child; “you might cause some confusion, and perhaps see nothing. And now I must discharge my commission, which I am quite ashamed of having left so long. His Majesty hopes, when the march-past is over, to receive a march-up of fair ladies. He has a most wonderful memory, as you know, and his nature is the kindest of the kind. As soon as he heard that Lady Scudamore was here, and Admiral Darling’s daughters with her, he said: ‘Bring them all to me, every one of them; young Scudamore has done good work, good work. And I want to congratulate his mother about him. And Darling’s daughters, I must see them. Why, we owe the security of the coast to him.’ And so, if you please, ladies, be quite ready, and allow me the honour of conducting you.”

With a low bow, he set off about his business, leaving the ladies in a state of sweet disturbance. Blyth Scudamore’s mother wept a little, for ancient troubles and present pleasure. Lord Dashville could not repeat before her all that the blunt old King had said: “Monstrous ill-treated woman, shameful, left without a penny, after all her poor husband did for me and the children! Not my fault a bit — fault of the Whigs — always stingy — said he made away with himself — bad example — don’t believe a word of it; very cheerful man. Blown by now, at any rate — must see what can be done for her — obliged to go for governess — disgrace to the Crown!”

Faith, with her quiet self-respect, and the largeness learned from sorrow, was almost capable of not weeping that she had left at home her apple-green Poland mantlet and jockey bonnet of lilac satin checked with maroon. But Dolly had no such weight of by-gone sorrow to balance her present woe, and the things she had left at home were infinitely brighter than that dowdy Faith’s.

“Is there time to drive back? Is there time to drive home? The King knows father, and he will be astonished to see a pair of frumps, and he won’t understand one bit about the dust, or the sun that takes the colour out. He will think we have got all our best things on. Oh, Lady Scudamore, how could you do it? You told us to put on quite plain things, because of the dust, and the sun, and all that; and it might come to rain, you said — as if it was likely, when the King was on the hill! And with all your experience of the King and Queen, that you told us about last evening, you must have known that they would send for us. Gregory, how long would it take you to go home, at full gallop, allow us half an hour in the house, and be back here again, when all these people are gone by?”

“Well, miss, there be a steepish bit of road, and a many ockard cornders; I should say ‘a might do it in two hours and a half, with a fresh pair of nags put in while you ladies be a-cleaning of yourselves, miss. Leastways, if Hadmiral not object.”

“Hadmiral, as you call him, would have nothing to do with it”— Dolly was always free-spoken with the servants, which made her very popular with some of them —“he has heavier duty than he can discharge. But two hours and a half is hopeless; we must even go as we are.”

Coachman Gregory smiled in his sleeve. He knew that the Admiral had that day a duty far beyond his powers — to bring up his Sea–Fencibles to see the King — upon which they had insisted — and then to fetch them all back again, and send them on board of their several craft in a state of strict sobriety. And Gregory meant to bear a hand, and lift it pretty frequently towards the most loyal part of man, in the large festivities of that night. He smacked his lips at the thought of this, and gave a little flick to his horses.

After a long time, long enough for two fair drives to Springhaven and back, and when even the youngest were growing weary of glare, and dust, and clank, and din, and blare, and roar, and screeching music, Lord Dashville rode up through a cloud of roving chalk, and after a little talk with the ladies, ordered the coachman to follow him. Then stopping the carriage at a proper distance, he led the three ladies towards the King, who was thoroughly tired, and had forgotten all about them. His Majesty’s sole desire was to get into his carriage and go to sleep; for he was threescore years and six of age, and his health not such as it used to be. Ever since twelve o’clock he had been sitting in a box made of feather-edged boards, which the newspapers called a pavilion, having two little curtains (both of which stuck fast) for his only defence against sun, noise, and dust. Moreover, his seat was a board full of knots, with a strip of thin velvet thrown over it; and Her Majesty sitting towards the other end (that the public might see between them), and weighing more than he did, every time she jumped up, he went down, and every time she plumped down, he went up. But he never complained, and only slowly got tired. “Thank God!” he said, gently, “it’s all over now. My dear, you must be monstrous tired; and scarcely a bit to eat all day. But I locked some in the seat-box this morning — no trusting anybody but oneself. Let us get into the coach and have at them.” “Ja, ja, meinherr,” said the Queen.

“If it please your Majesties”— a clear voice entered between the bonnet-hoods of the curtains —“here are the ladies whose attendance I was ordered to require.”

“Ladies! — what ladies?” asked King George, rubbing his eyes, and yawning. “Oh yes, to be sure! I mustn’t get up so early tomorrow. Won’t take a minute, my dear. Let them come. Not much time to spare.”

But as soon as he saw Lady Scudamore, the King’s good-nature overcame the weariness of the moment. He took her kindly by the hand, and looked at her face, which bore the mark of many heavy trials; and she, who had often seen him when the world was bright before her, could not smother one low sob, as she thought of all that had been since.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry, my dear,” said the King, with his kind heart showing in his eyes; “we must bow to the will of the Lord, who gives sad trials to every one of us. We must think of the good, and not the evil. Bless me, keep your spirits up. Your son is doing very well indeed, very well indeed, from all I hear. Good chip of the old block, very good chip. Will cure my grandchildren, as soon as they want it; and nobody is ever in good health now.”

“No, your Majesty, if you please, my son is in the Royal Navy, fighting for his Country and his King. And he has already captured —”

“Three French frigates. To be sure, I know. Better than curing three hundred people. Fine young officer — very fine young officer. Must come to see me when he gets older. There, you are laughing! That’s as it should be. Goodbye, young ladies. Forty miles to go tonight, and very rough roads — very rough indeed. Monstrous pretty girls! Uncommon glad that George wasn’t here to see them. Better stay in the country — too good for London. Must be off; sha’n’t have a bit o’ sleep to-night, because of sleeping the whole way there, and then sure to be late in the morning, not a bit of breakfast till eight o’clock, and all the day thrown upside down! Darlings, Darlings — the right name for them! But they mustn’t come to London. No. no, no. Too much wickedness there already. Very glad George wasn’t here today!”

His Majesty was talking, as he always did, with the firm conviction that his words intended for the public ear would reach it, while those addressed, without change of tone, to himself, would be strictly private. But instead of offending any one, this on the whole gave great satisfaction, and impressed nine people out of ten with a strong and special regard for him, because almost every one supposed himself to be admitted at first sight to the inner confidence of the King. And to what could he attribute this? He would do his own merits great demerit unless he attributed it to them, and to the King an unusual share of sagacity in perceiving them.

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