Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLIX

Evil Communications

Although she pretended to be so merry, and really was so self-confident (whenever anybody wanted to help her), Miss Dolly Darling, when left to herself, was not like herself, as it used to be. Her nature was lively, and her spirit very high; every one had petted her, before she could have earned it by aught except childish beauty; and no one had left off doing it, when she was bound to show better claim to it. All this made doubt, and darkness, and the sense of not being her own mistress, very snappish things to her, and she gained relief — sweet-tempered as she was when pleased — by a snap at others. For although she was not given, any more than other young people are, to plaguesome self-inspection, she could not help feeling that she was no longer the playful young Dolly that she loved so well. A stronger, and clearer, yet more mysterious will than her own had conquered hers; but she would not confess it, and yield entire obedience; neither could she cast it off. Her pride still existed, as strong as ever, whenever temper roused it; but there was too much of vanity in its composition, and too little of firm self-respect. Contempt from a woman she could not endure; neither from a man, if made manifest; but Carne so calmly took the upper hand, without any show of having it, that she fell more and more beneath his influence.

He, knowing thoroughly what he was about, did nothing to arouse resistance. So far as he was capable of loving any one, he was now in love with Dolly. He admired her quickness, and pretty girlish ways, and gaiety of nature (so unlike his own), and most of all her beauty. He had made up his mind that she should be his wife when fitted for that dignity; but he meant to make her useful first, and he saw his way to do so. He knew that she acted more and more as her father’s secretary, for she wrote much faster than her sister Faith, and was quicker in catching up a meaning. Only it was needful to sap her little prejudices — candour, to wit, and the sense of trust, and above all, patriotic feeling. He rejoiced when he heard that Lady Scudamore was gone, and the Rector had taken his wife and daughter for change of air to Tunbridge Wells, Miss Twemlow being seriously out of health through anxiety about Mr. Shargeloes. For that gentleman had disappeared, without a line or message, just when Mr. Furkettle, the chief lawyer in the neighbourhood, was beginning to prepare the marriage-settlement; and although his cook and house-maid were furious at the story, Mrs. Blocks had said, and all the parish now believed, that Sir Parsley Sugarloaf had flown away to Scotland rather than be brought to book — that fatal part of the Prayer-book — by the Rector and three or four brother clergymen.

This being so, and Frank Darling absorbed in London with the publication of another batch of poems, dedicated to Napoleon, while Faith stood aloof with her feelings hurt, and the Admiral stood off and on in the wearisome cruise of duty, Carne had the coast unusually clear for the entry and arrangement of his contraband ideas. He met the fair Dolly almost every day, and their interviews did not grow shorter, although the days were doing so.

“You should have been born in France,” he said, one bright November morning, when they sat more comfortable than they had any right to be, upon the very same seat where the honest but hapless Captain Scuddy had tried to venture to lisp his love; “that is the land you belong to, darling, by beauty and manners and mind and taste, and most of all by your freedom from prejudice, and great liberality of sentiment.”

“But I thought we were quite as good-looking in England;” Dolly lifted her long black lashes, with a flash which might challenge the brilliance of any French eyes; “but of course you know best. I know nothing of French ladies.”

“Don’t be a fool, Dolly;” Carne spoke rudely, but made up for it in another way. “There never was a French girl to equal you in loveliness; but you must not suppose that you beat them all round. One point particularly you are far behind in. A French woman leaves all political questions, and national matters, and public affairs, entirely to her husband, or her lover, as the case may be. Whatever he wishes is the law for her. Thy gods shall be my gods.”

“But you said they had great liberality of sentiment, and now you say they have no opinions of their own! How can the two things go together?”

“Very easily,” said Carne, who was accustomed to be baffled by such little sallies; “they take their opinions from their husbands, who are always liberal. This produces happiness on both sides — a state of things unknown in England. Let me tell you of something important, mainly as it concerns yourself, sweet Dolly. The French are certain to unite with England, and then we shall be the grandest nation in the world. No power in Europe can stand before us. All will be freedom, and civilization, and great ideas, and fine taste in dress. I shall recover the large estates, that would now be mine, but for usury and fraud. And you will be one of the first ladies in the world, as nature has always intended you to be.”

“That sounds very well; but how is it to be done? How can France unite with England, when they are bitter enemies? Is France to conquer England first? Or are we to conquer France, as we always used to do?”

“That would be a hard job now, when France is the mistress of the Continent. No, there need be no conquering, sweet Dolly, but only a little removal. The true interest of this country is — as that mighty party, the Whigs, perceive — to get rid of all the paltry forms and dry bones of a dynasty which is no more English than Napoleon is, and to join that great man in his warfare against all oppression. Your brother Frank is a leading spirit; he has long cast off that wretched insular prejudice which defeats all good. In the grand new scheme of universal right, which must prevail very shortly, Frank Darling will obtain that foremost place to which his noble views entitle him. You, as his sister, and my wife, will be adored almost as much as you could wish.”

“It sounds very grand,” answered Dolly, with a smile, though a little alarmed at this turn of it; “but what is to become of the King, and Queen, and all the royal family? And what is my father to do, and Faith? Although she has not behaved well to me.”

“Those details will be arranged to everybody’s satisfaction. Little prejudices will subside, when it is seen that they are useless. Every possible care will be taken not to injure any one.”

“But how is it all to be done?” asked Dolly, whose mind was practical, though romantic. “Are the French to land, and overrun the country? I am sure I never should agree to that. Are all our defenders to be thrown into prison?”

“Certainly not. There will be no prisons. The French might have to land, as a matter of form; but not to overrun the country, only to secure British liberties and justice. All sensible people would hasten to join them, and any opposition would be quenched at once. Then such a glorious condition of mankind would ensue as has never been known in this world — peace, wealth, universal happiness, gaiety, dancing everywhere, no more shabby clothes, no more dreary Sundays. How do you like the thought of it?”

“Well, some of it sounds very nice; but I don’t see the use of universal justice. Justice means having one’s own rights; and it is impossible for everybody to do that, because of other people. And as for the French coming to put things right, they had better attend to their own affairs first. And as if any Englishman would permit it! Why, even Frank would mount his wig and gown (for he is a full-fledged barrister now, you know), and come and help to push them back into the sea. And I hope that you would do so too. I am not going to marry a Frenchman. You belong to an old English family, and you were born in England, and your name is English, and the property that ought to belong to you. I hope you don’t consider yourself a Frenchman because your mother is a great French lady, after so many generations of Carnes, all English, every bit of them. I am an English girl, and I care very little for things that I don’t see — such as justice, liberty, rights of people, and all that. But I do care about my relations, and our friends, and the people that live here, and the boats, and all the trees, and the land that belongs to my father. Very likely you would want to take that away, and give it to some miserable Frenchman.”

“Dolly, my dear, you must not be excited,” Carne answered, in the manner of a father; “powerful as your comprehension is, for the moment these things are beyond it. Your meaning is excellent, very good, very great; but to bring it to bear requires further information. We will sit by the side of the sea tomorrow, darling, if you grant me a view of your loveliness again; and there you will see things in a larger light than upon this narrow bench, with your father’s trees around us, and your father’s cows enquiring whether I am good to eat. Get away, cow! Do you take me for a calf?”

One of the cows best loved by Dolly, who was very fond of good animals, had come up to ask who this man was that had been sitting here so long with her. She was gifted with a white face and large soft eyes — even beyond the common measure of a cow — short little horns, that she would scarcely think of pushing even at a dog (unless he made mouths at her infant), a flat broad nose ever genial to be rubbed, and a delicate fringe of finely pointed yellow hairs around her pleasant nostrils and above her clovery lips. With single-hearted charity and enviable faith she was able to combine the hope that Dolly had obtained a lover as good as could be found upon a single pair of legs. Carne was attired with some bravery, of the French manner rather than the English, and he wanted no butter on his velvet and fine lace. So he swung round his cane of heavy snakewood at the cow, and struck her poor horns so sharply that her head went round.

“Is that universal peace, and gentleness, and justice?” cried Dolly, springing up and hastening to console her cow. “Is this the way the lofty French redress the wrongs of England? What had poor Dewlips done, I should like to know? Kiss me, my pretty, and tell me how you would like the French army to land, as a matter of form? The form you would take would be beef, I’m afraid; not even good roast beef, but bouillon, potage, fricandeau, friture — anything one cannot taste any meat in; and that is how your wrongs would be redressed, after having had both your horns knocked off. And about the same fate for John Bull, your master, unless he keeps his horns well sharpened. Do I not speak the truth, monsieur?”

When Carne did anything to vex Miss Dolly — which happened pretty often, for he could not stop to study much her little prejudices — she addressed him as if he were a Frenchman, never doubting that this must reduce him sadly in his self-esteem.

“Never mind matters political,” he said, perceiving that his power must not be pressed until he had deepened its foundations; “what are all the politics in the world compared with your good opinion, Beauty?” Dolly liked to be called “Beauty,” and the name always made her try to deserve it by looking sweet. “You must be quite certain that I would do nothing to injure a country which contains my Dolly. And as for Madam Cow, I will beg her pardon, though my cane is hurt a great deal more than her precious horns are. Behold me snap it in twain, although it is the only handsome one I possess, because it has offended you!”

“Oh, what a pity! What a lovely piece of wood!” cried Dolly; and they parted on the best of terms, after a warm vow upon either side that no nasty politics should ever come between them.

But Carne was annoyed and discontented. He came to the edge of the cliff that evening below his ruined castle; for there are no cliffs at Springhaven, unless the headland deserves that name; and there he sat gloomily for some hours, revolving the chances of his enterprise. The weather had changed since the morning, and a chill November wind began to urge the waves ashore. The sky was not very dark, but shredded with loose grey vapours from the west, where a heavy bank of clouds lay under the pale crescent of a watery moon. In the distance two British cruisers shone, light ships of outlook, under easy sail, prepared to send the signal for a hundred leagues, from ship to ship and cliff to cliff, if any of England’s foes appeared. They shone upon the dark sea, with canvas touched by moonlight, and seemed ready to spring against the lowering sky, if it held any menace to the land they watched, or the long reach of water they had made their own.

“A pest upon those watch-dogs!” muttered Carne. “They are always wide-awake, and forever at their stations. Instead of growing tired, they get sharper every day. Even Charron can scarcely run through them now. But I know who could do it, if he could only be trusted. With a pilot-boat — it is a fine idea — a pilot-boat entered as of Pebbleridge. The Pebbleridge people hate Springhaven, through a feud of centuries, and Springhaven despises Pebbleridge. It would answer well, although the landing is so bad, and no anchorage possible in rough weather. I must try if Dan Tugwell will undertake it. None of the rest know the coast as he does, and few of them have the bravery. But Dan is a very sulky fellow, very difficult to manage. He will never betray us; he is wonderfully grateful; and after that battle with the press-gang, when he knocked down the officer and broke his arm, he will keep pretty clear of the Union-jack. But he goes about moping, and wondering, and mooning, as if he were wretched about what he has to do. Bless my soul, where is my invention? I see the way to have him under my thumb. Reason is an old coat hanging on a peg; passion is the fool who puts it on and runs away with it. Halloa! Who are you? And what do you want at such a time as this? Surely you can see that I am not at leisure now. Why, Tugwell, I thought that you were far away at sea!”

“So I was, sir; but she travels fast. I never would believe the old London Trader could be driven through the water so. Sam Polwhele knows how to pile it on a craft, as well as he do upon a man, sir. I won’t serve under him no more, nor Captain Charcoal either. I have done my duty by you. Squire Carne, the same as you did by me, sir; and thanking you for finding me work so long, my meaning is to go upon the search tomorrow.”

“What fools they must have been to let this fellow come ashore!” thought Carne, while he failed to see the wisest way to take it. “Tugwell, you cannot do this with any honour, after we have shown you all the secrets of our enterprise. You know that what we do is of the very highest honour, kind and humane and charitable, though strictly forbidden by a most inhuman government. How would you like, if you were a prisoner in France, to be debarred from all chance of getting any message from your family, your wife, your sweetheart, or your children, from year’s end to year’s end, and perhaps be dead for months without their knowing anything about it?”

“Well, sir, I should think it very hard indeed; though, if I was dead, I shouldn’t know much more about it. But, without reproach to you, I cannot make out altogether that our only business is to carry letters for the prisoners, as now may be in England, from their loving friends to command in their native country. I won’t say against you, sir, if you say it is — that is, to the outside of all your knowledge. And twenty thousand of them may need letters by the sack. But what use they could make, sir, of cannon as big as I be, and muskets that would kill a man a hundred yards of distance, and bayonets more larger and more sharper than ever I see before, even with the Royal Volunteers — this goes out of all my calculation.”

“Daniel, you have expressed your views, which are remarkable — as indeed they always are — with your usual precision. But you have not observed things with equal accuracy. Do you know when a gun is past service?”

“No, sir; I never was a poacher, no-how. Squire Darling, that is to say, Sir Charles Darling now, according to a chap on board, he was always so good upon his land that nobody durst go a-poaching.”

“I mean a cannon, Dan. They don’t poach with cannon yet, though they may come to do it, as the game-laws increase. Do you know when a cannon is unsafe to fire, though it may look as bright as ever, like a worn-out poker? All those things that have frightened you are only meant for ornament. You know that every ancient building ought to have its armoury, as this castle always had, until they were taken away and sold. My intention is to restore it, when I can afford to do so. And having a lot of worn-out weapons offered me for next to nothing, I seized the chance of bringing them. When times are better, and the war is over, I may find time to arrange them. But that is not of much importance. The great point is to secure the delivery of letters from their native land to the brave men here as prisoners. I cannot afford to do that for nothing, though I make no profit out of it. I have so many things to think about that I scarcely know which to consider first. And after all, what matters to us whether those poor men are allowed to die, and be buried like dogs, without knowledge of their friends? Why should we run the risk of being punished for them?”

“Well, sir, that seems hard doctrine, if I may be allowed to say so, and not like your kind-heartedness. Our Government have no right to stop them of their letters.”

“It is a cruel thing. But how are we to help it? The London Trader is too large for the purpose, and she is under suspicion now. I tell you everything, Daniel, because I know that you are a true-hearted fellow, and far above all blabbing. I have thought once or twice of obtaining leave to purchase a stout and handy pilot-boat, with her licence and all that transferred to us, and so running to and fro when needful. The only risk then would be from perils of the sea; and even the pressmen dare not meddle with a pilot-boat. By-the-by, I have heard that you knocked some of them about. Tugwell, you might have got us all into sad trouble.”

“Was I to think of what I was doing, Squire Carne, when they wanted to make a slave of me? I would serve King George with a good heart, in spite of all that father has said against it. But it must be with a free will, Squire Carne, and not to be tied hand and foot to it. How would you like that yourself, sir?”

“Well, I think I should have done as you did, Dan, if I had been a British sailor. But as to this pilot-boat, I must have a bold and good seaman to command it. A man who knows the coast, and is not afraid of weather. Of course we should expect to pay good wages; 3 pounds a week, perhaps, and a guinea for every bag of letters landed safe. There are plenty of men who would jump at such a chance, Dan.”

“I’ll be bound there are, sir. And it is more than I am worth, if you mean offering the place to me. It would suit me wonderful, if I was certain that the job was honest.”

“Daniel Tugwell”— Carne spoke with great severity —“I will not lose my temper, for I am sure you mean no insult. But you must be of a very low, suspicious nature, and quite unfit for any work of a lofty and unselfish order, if you can imagine that a man in my position, a man of my large sentiments —”

“Oh, no, sir, no; it was not at all that”— Dan scarcely knew how to tell what it was —“it was nothing at all of that manner of thinking. I heartily ask your pardon, sir, if it seemed to go in that way.”

“Don’t do that,” replied Carne, “because I can make allowances. I know what a fine nature is, and how it takes alarm at shadows. I am always tender with honest scruples, because I find so many of them in myself. I should not have been pleased with you, if you had accepted my offer — although so advantageous, and full of romantic interest — until you were convinced of its honourable nature. I have no time for argument, and I am sorry that you must not come up to the castle for supper, because we have an old Springhaven man there, who would tell your father all about you, which you especially wish to avoid. But if you feel inclined for this berth — as you sailors seem to call it — and hesitate through some patriotic doubts, though I cannot understand what they are, I will bring you a document (if you meet me here tomorrow night) from Admiral Sir Charles Darling, which I think will satisfy you.”

“And shall I be allowed to keep it, sir, to show, in case of trouble?”

“Very likely. But I cannot say for certain. Some of those official forms must be returned, others not; all depends upon their rules. Now go and make yourself comfortable. How are you off for money?”

“Plenty, sir, plenty. I must not go where anybody knows me, or tomorrow half the talk at old Springhaven would be about me. Good — night, sir, and God bless you.”

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