Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLV

Father, and Child

“Tell Miss Faith, when she comes in, that I shall be glad to see her,” said Admiral Darling to his trusty butler, one hot afternoon in August. He had just come home from a long rough ride, to spend at least one day in his own house, and after overhauling his correspondence, went into the dining-room, as the coolest in the house, to refresh himself a little with a glass of light wine before going up to dress for dinner. There he sat in an arm-chair, and looked at his hands, which were browned by the sun, and trembling from a long period of heavy work and light sleep. He was getting too old to endure it with impunity, yet angry with himself for showing it. But he was not thinking of himself alone.

“I hope she will be sensible”— he was talking to himself, as elderly people are apt to do, especially after being left to themselves; “I hope she will see the folly of it — of living all her life as the bride of a ghost; and herself such a beautiful, cheerful darling! Loving, warm-hearted, sweet-tempered, adoring children, and adored by them; obedient, gentle — I can’t think of anything good that she hasn’t got, except common-sense. And even for that, I like her all the more; because it is so different from all the other girls. They have got too much — one lover out of sight, even for a month or two, gone fighting for his Country, what do they do but take up with another, as I very greatly fear our Dolly would? But Faith — Why, my darling, how well you look!”

“How I wish that I could say the same of you, dear father!” said the lovely young woman, while kissing him, and smoothing with her soft hand his wrinkled forehead; “you never used to have these little tucks and gathers here. I would rather almost that the French should come and devour us all, than see my father, whenever we do see him, once in a month, say, gauffred like this — as their laundresses do it — and getting reduced to the Classical shape, so that I can put one arm round him.”

“My darling,” said the Admiral, though proud at heart of the considerable reduction of his stomach, “you should not say such things to me, to remind me how very old I am!”

Fathers are crafty, and daughters childish, as behoves the both of them. The Admiral knew, as well as if he had ordered it, what Faith would do. And she must have perceived his depth, if only she had taken a moment to think of it. Because when she plumped, like a child, into his arms, how came his arms to be so wide open? and when two great tears rolled down her cheeks, how sprang his handkerchief so impromptu out from beneath his braided lappet?

“Tell me what harm I have done,” she asked, with a bright smile dawning through the dew of her dark eyes; “what have I done to vex you, father, that you say things fit to make me cry? And yet I ought to laugh, because I know so well that you are only fishing for compliments. You are getting so active that I shall be frightened to go for a walk or a ride with you. Only I do love to see you look fat, and your darling forehead smooth and white.”

“My dear child, I must get up my substance. This very day I begin in earnest. Because I am to be a great man, Faith. How would you like to have to call me ‘Sir Charles’?”

“Not at all, darling; except when you deserve it, by being cross to me; and that never, never happens. I wish there was more chance of it.”

“Well, dear, if you won’t, the other people must; for His Majesty has been graciously pleased to turn me into a Baronet. He says that I have earned it; and perhaps I have; at any rate, he put it so nicely that without being churlish I could not refuse. And it will be a good thing for Frank, I hope, by bringing him back from his democratic stuff. To myself it is useless; but my children ought to like it.”

“And so they will, father, for your own dear sake. Let me be the first to salute you, father. Oh, Dolly will be in such a rage because you told me, without telling her!”

“I never thought of that,” said the Admiral, simply; “I am afraid that I shall get in for it. However, I have a right to please myself, and you need not tell her until I do. But that is not all my news, and not by any means the best of it. The King was reminded, the other day, of all that he and his family owe to the late Sir Edmond Scudamore, and better late than never, he has ordered your governess, as he called her, to be put on the list for a pension of 300 pounds a year. Nothing that once gets into his head can ever be got out of it, and he was shocked at seeing his old physician’s widow ‘gone out as a governess — gone out as a governess — great disgrace to the royal family!’ I am very glad that it happened so.”

“And so am I. She ought to have had it long and long ago, especially after the sad misfortune of her husband. You will let me tell her? It will be such a pleasure.”

“Certainly, my dear; you are the very one to do it. Tell her that her eldest pupil is come with a little piece of news for her; it will make her smile — she has a very pretty smile, which reminds me of the gallant Blyth. And now, my child, the third piece of news concerns yourself — your good, and dutiful, and exceedingly sensible self. Ahem!” cried the Admiral, as he always did, when he feared that he might have overstepped the truth.

“I know what it is; you need not tell me,” Faith answered, confirming her fear at once. “It is no use, father; it is no good at all — unless you intend to forget your own promise.”

“That I shall never do,” he replied, while looking at her sadly; “no, my dear child, I shall never attempt to drive instead of lead you. But you have not heard me out as yet. You don’t even know who it is I mean.”

“Oh yes, I do; I know well enough, father. I am not like Dolly, universally admired. Because I do not want to be. You mean Lord Dashville — can you tell me that you don’t?”

“No, my dear”— Sir Charles was a little surprised that Faith should be so quick, for (like most people of gentle nature) she was taken to be slow, because she never snapped —“I cannot deny that it is Lord Dashville, because that is the man, and no other. But how you could tell surpasses me, and it shows that he must be very often in your mind:” the Admiral thought he had caught her there. “Now can you say anything against him? Is he not honest, manly, single-minded, faithful as yourself, I do believe, good-looking, well — bred, a Tory, and a gentleman, certain to make any woman happy whom he loves? Can you say a syllable against all that?”

“No,” replied Faith — a very long, slow “no,” as if she only wished she could say something hard about him.

“Very well,” her father went on, with triumph, “and can you deny that he is just the person you might have taken a great liking to — fallen in love with, as they call it — if only he had come before your mind was full of somebody else — a very fine young fellow, no doubt; but — my darling, I won’t say a word against him, only you know what I mean too well. And are you forever to be like a nun because it has pleased the Lord to take him from you?”

“Lord Dashville has not advanced himself in my good opinion, if he cares for that,” said Faith, starting sideways, as a woman always does, from the direct issue, “by going to you, when I declined to have anything more to say to him.”

“My dear, you are unjust,” replied Sir Charles; “not purposely, I know, for you are the most upright darling that can be, in general. But you accuse young Dashville of what he never did. It was his good mother, the Countess of Blankton, a most kind-hearted and lady-like person, without any nonsense about her, who gave me the best cup of tea I ever tasted, and spoke with the very best feeling possible. She put it so sweetly that I only wish you could have been there to hear her.”

“Father, what is the good of it all? You hate turncoats even worse than traitors. Would you like your daughter to be one? And when she would seem to have turned her coat — for the ladies wear coats now, the horrid ugly things! — for the sake of position, and title, and all that. If Lord Dashville had been a poor man, with his own way to make in the world, a plain Mister, there might have been more to be said for it. But to think that I should throw over my poor darling because he will come home without a penny, and perhaps tattoed, but at any rate turned black, for the sake of a coronet, and a heap of gold — oh, father, I shall break down, if you go on so!”

“My dear girl, I will not say a word to vex you. But you are famous for common-sense, as well as every other good quality, and I would ask you to employ just a little of it. Can you bear me to speak of your trouble, darling?”

“Oh yes, I am so well accustomed to it now; and I know that it is nothing compared to what thousands of people have to bear. Sometimes I am quite ashamed of giving way to it.”

“You do not give way to it, Faith. No person can possibly say that of you. You are my brave, unselfish, cheerful, sweet-natured, upright, and loving child. Nobody knows, but you and I— and perhaps I know it even more than you do — the greatness of the self-command you use, to be pleasant and gay and agreeable, simply for the sake of those around you.”

“Then, father,” cried Faith, who was surprised at this, for the Admiral had never said a word about such matters, “you think, after all, that I am — that I am almost as good as Dolly!”

“You jealous little vixen, I shall recall every word I have said in your favour! My child, and my pride, you are not only as good as Dolly, but my best hope is that when Dolly grows older she may be like you. Don’t cry, darling; I can’t stand crying, when it comes from eyes that so seldom do it. And now that you know what I think of you, allow me to think a little for you. I have some right to interfere in your life; you will allow that — won’t you?”

“Father, you have all right, and a thousand times as much, because you are so gentle about using it.”

“I calls that bad English, as Zeb Tugwell says when he doesn’t want to understand a thing. But, my pretty dear, you must remember that you will not have a father always. Who will look after you, when I am gone, except the Almighty? — and He does not do it, except for the few who look after themselves. It is my duty to consider these points, and they override sentimentality. To me it is nothing that Dashville will be an Earl, and a man of great influence, if he keeps up his present high character; but it is something to me that I find him modest, truthful, not led away by phantoms, a gentleman — which is more than a nobleman — and with his whole heart given to my dear child Faith.”

Faith sighed heavily, partly for herself, but mainly, perhaps, for the sake of a fine heart sadly thrown away on her. “I believe he is all that,” she said.

“In that case, what more can you have?” pursued the triumphant Admiral. “It is one of the clearest things I ever knew, and one of the most consistent”— consistent was a great word in those days — “as well as in every way desirable. Consider, not yourself — which you never do — but the state of the Country, and of Dolly. They have made me a baronet, for being away from home nearly every night of my life; and if I had Dashville to see to things here, I might stay away long enough to be a lord myself, like my late middy the present Duke of Bronte.”

Faith laughed heartily. “You call me jealous! My dear father, I know that you could have done a great deal more than Lord Nelson has, because he learned all that he knows from you. And now who is it that really defends the whole south coast of England against the French? Is it Lord Nelson? He has as much as he can do to look after their fleet in the Mediterranean. Admiral Cornwallis and Sir Charles Darling are the real defenders of England.”

“No, my dear, you must never say that, except of course in private. There may be some truth in it, but it would be laughed at in the present condition of the public mind. History may do me justice; but after all it is immaterial. A man who does his duty should be indifferent to the opinion of the public, which begins more and more to be formed less by fact than by the newspapers of the day. But let us return to more important matters. You are now in a very sensible frame of mind. You see what my wishes are about you, and how reasonable they are. I should be so happy, my darling child, if you would consider them sensibly, and yield some little of your romantic views. I would not ask you unless I were sure that this man loves you as you deserve, and in his own character deserves your love.”

“Then, father, will this content you, dear? Unless I hear something of Erle Twemlow, to show that he is living, and still holds to me, in the course of another twelvemonth, Lord Dashville, or anybody else, may try — may try to take his place with me. Only I must not be worried — I mean, I must not hear another word about it, until the time has quite expired.”

“It is a very poor concession, Faith. Surely you might say half a year. Consider, it is nearly three years now —”

“No, papa, I should despise myself if I were so unjust to one so unlucky. And I only go so much from my own wishes because you are such a dear and good father. Not a bit of it for Lord Dashville’s sake.”

“Well, my poor darling,” the Admiral replied, for he saw that she was upon the brink of tears, and might hate Lord Dashville if further urged, “half a loaf is better than no bread. If Dashville is worthy of your constant heart, he will stand this long trial of his constancy. This is the tenth day of August, 1804. I hope that the Lord may be pleased to spare me till the 10th of August, 1805. High time for them to come and lay the cloth. I am as hungry as a hunter.”

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