Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LII

Kind Enquiries

That notable year, and signal mark in all the great annals of England, the year 1805, began with gloom and great depression. Food was scarce, and so was money; wars, and rumours of worse than war; discontent of men who owed it to their birth and country to stand fast, and trust in God, and vigorously defy the devil; sinkings even of strong hearts, and quailing of spirits that had never quailed before; passionate outcry for peace without honour, and even without safety; savage murmurings at wise measures and at the burdens that must be borne — none but those who lived through all these troubles could count half of them. If such came now, would the body of the nation strive to stand against them, or fall in the dust, and be kicked and trampled, sputtering namby-pamby? Britannia now is always wrong, in the opinion of her wisest sons, if she dares to defend herself even against weak enemies; what then would her crime be if she buckled her corselet against the world! To prostitute their mother is the philanthropy of Communists.

But while the anxious people who had no belief in foreigners were watching by the dark waves, or at the twilight window trembling (if ever a shooting-star drew train, like a distant rocket-signal), or in their sleepy beds scared, and jumping up if a bladder burst upon a jam-pot, no one attempted to ridicule them, and no public journal pronounced that the true British flag was the white feather. It has been left for times when the power of England is tenfold what it was then, and her duties a hundredfold, to tell us that sooner than use the one for the proper discharge of the other, we must break it up and let them go to pot upon it, for fear of hurting somebody that stuck us in the back.

But who of a right mind knows not this, and who with a wrong one will heed it? The only point is that the commonest truisms come upon utterance sometimes, and take didactic form too late; even as we shout to our comrade prone, and beginning to rub his poor nose, “Look out!” And this is what everybody did with one accord, when he was down upon his luck — which is far more momentous than his nose to any man — in the case of Rector Twemlow.

That gentleman now had good reason for being in less than his usual cheer and comfort. Everything around him was uneasy, and everybody seemed to look at him, instead of looking up to him, as the manner used to be. This was enough to make him feel unlike himself; for although he was resolute in his way, and could manage to have it with most people, he was not of that iron style which takes the world as wax to write upon. Mr. Twemlow liked to heave his text at the people of his parish on Sunday, and to have his joke with them on Monday; as the fire that has burned a man makes the kettle sing to comfort him. And all who met him throughout the week were pleased with him doubly, when they remembered his faithfulness in the pulpit.

But now he did his duty softly, as if some of it had been done to him; and if anybody thanked him for a fine discourse, he never endeavoured to let him have it all again. So far was he gone from his natural state that he would rather hear nothing about himself than be praised enough to demand reply; and this shows a world-wide depression to have arrived in the latitude of a British waistcoat. However, he went through his work, as a Briton always does, until he hangs himself; and he tried to try some of the higher consolation, which he knew so well how to administer to others.

Those who do not understand the difference of this might have been inclined to blame him; but all who have seen a clever dentist with the toothache are aware that his knowledge adds acuteness to the pain. Mr. Twemlow had borne great troubles well, and been cheerful even under long suspense; but now a disappointment close at home, and the grief of beholding his last hopes fade, were embittered by mystery and dark suspicions. In despair at last of recovering his son, he had fastened upon his only daughter the interest of his declining life; and now he was vexed with misgivings about her, which varied as frequently as she did. It was very unpleasant to lose the chance of having a grandchild capable of rocking in a silver cradle; but that was a trifle compared with the prospect of having no grandchild at all, and perhaps not even a child to close his eyes. And even his wife, of long habit and fair harmony, from whom he had never kept any secret — frightful as might be the cost to his honour — even Mrs. Twemlow shook her head sometimes, when the arrangement of her hair permitted it, and doubted whether any of the Carne Castle Carnes would have borne with such indignity.

“Prosecute him, prosecute him,” this good lady always said. “You ought to have been a magistrate, Joshua — the first magistrate in the Bible was that — and then you would have known how to do things. But because you would have to go to Sir Charles Darling — whose Sir can never put him on the level of the Carnes — you have some right feeling against taking out a summons. In that I agree with you; it would be very dreadful here. But in London he might be punished, I am sure; and I know a great deal about the law, for I never had any one connected with me who was not a magistrate; the Lord Mayor has a Court of his own for trying the corporation under the chair; and if this was put properly before him by a man like Mr. Furkettle, upon the understanding that he should not be paid unless he won his case, I am sure the result would be three years’ imprisonment. By that time he would have worn out his coat with jailer’s keys upon it, which first attracted our poor Eliza; or if he was not allowed to wear it, it would go out of fashion, and be harmless. No one need know a word about it here, for Captain Stubbard would oblige us gladly by cutting it out of the London papers. My dear, you have nobody ill in the parish; I will put up your things, and see you off tomorrow. We will dine late on Friday, to suit the coach; and you will be quite fit for Sunday work again, if you keep up your legs on a chair all Saturday.”

“If ever I saw a straightforward man,” Mr. Twemlow used to answer, “it was poor Percival Shargeloes. He is gone to a better world, my dear. And if he continued to be amenable to law, this is not a criminal, but a civil case.”

“A nice case of civility, Joshua! But you always stand up for your sex. Does the coach take people to a better world? A stout gentleman, like him, was seen inside the coach, muffled up in a cravat of three colours, and eating at frequent intervals.”

“The very thing poor Percival never did. That disposes to my mind of that foolish story. My dear, when all truth comes to light, you will do justice to his memory.”

“Yes, I dare say. But I should like to do it now. If you entertain any dark ideas, it is your duty to investigate them. Also to let me share them, Joshua, as I have every right to do.”

This was just what the Rector could not do; otherwise he might have been far more happy. Remembering that last conversation with his prospective son-inlaw, and the poor man’s declaration that the suspicious matter at the castle ought to be thoroughly searched out at once, he nourished a dark suspicion, which he feared to impart to his better half, the aunt of the person suspected. But the longer he concealed it, the more unbearable grew this misery to a candid nature, until he was compelled, in self-defence, to allow it some sort of outlet. “I will speak to the fellow myself,” he said, heartily disliking the young man now, “and judge from his manner what next I ought to do.”

This resolution gave him comfort, much as he hated any interview with Carne, who treated him generally with cold contempt. And, like most people who have formed a decision for the easing of the conscience, he accepted very patiently the obstacles encountered. In the first place, Carne was away upon business; then he was laid up with a heavy cold; then he was much too hard at work (after losing so much time) to be able to visit Springhaven; and to seek him in his ruins was most unsafe, even if one liked to do it. For now it was said that two gigantic dogs, as big as a bull and as fierce as a tiger, roved among the ruins all day, and being always famished, would devour in two minutes any tempting stranger with a bit of flesh or fat on him. The Rector, patting his gaiters, felt that instead of a pastor he might become a very sweet repast to them, and his delicacy was renewed and deepened. He was bound to wait until his nephew appeared at least inside his parish.

Therefore the time of year was come almost to the middle of February when Mr. Twemlow at last obtained the chance he required and dreaded. He heard that his nephew had been seen that day to put up his horse in the village, and would probably take the homeward road as soon as it grew too dark to read. So he got through his own work (consisting chiefly of newspaper, dinner, and a cool clay pipe, to equalise mind with matter), and having thus escaped the ladies, off he set by the lobby door, carrying a good thick stick. As the tide would be up, and only deep sand left for the heavy track of the traveller, he chose the inland way across the lower part of the Admiral’s grounds, leading to the village by a narrow plank bridge across the little stream among some trees. Here were banks of earth and thicket, shadowy dells where the primrose grew, and the cuckoo-pint, and wood-sorrel, and perhaps in summer the glowworm breathed her mossy gleam under the blackberries.

And here Parson Twemlow was astonished, though he had promised himself to be surprised no more, after all he had been through lately. As he turned a sharp corner by an ivied tree, a breathless young woman ran into his arms.

“Oh!” cried the Rector, for he was walking briskly, with a well-nourished part of his system forward —“oh, I hope you have not hurt yourself. No doubt it was my fault. Why, Dolly! What a hurry you are in! And all alone — all alone, almost after dark!”

“To be sure; and that makes me in such a hurry;” Miss Dolly was in sad confusion. “But I suppose I am safe in my father’s own grounds.”

“From everybody, except yourself, my dear,” Mr. Twemlow replied, severely. “Is your father aware, does your sister know, that you are at this distance from the house after dark, and wholly without a companion?”

“It is not after dark, Mr. Twemlow; although it is getting darker than I meant it to be. I beg your pardon for terrifying you. I hope you will meet with no other perils! Good-night! Or at least I mean, good-afternoon!”

“The brazen creature!” thought Mr. Twemlow, as the girl without another word disappeared. “Not even to offer me any excuse! But I suppose she had no fib handy. She will come to no good, I am very much afraid. Maria told me that she was getting very wilful; but I had no idea that it was quite so bad as this. I am sorry for poor Scudamore, who thinks her such an angel. I wonder if Carne is at the bottom of this? There is nothing too bad for that dark young man. I shall ascertain at any rate whether he is in the village. But unless I look sharp I shall be too late to meet him. Oh, I can’t walk so fast as I did ten years ago.”

Impelled by duty to put best leg foremost, and taking a short-cut above the village, he came out upon the lane leading towards the castle, some half-mile or so beyond the last house of Springhaven. Here he waited to recover breath, and prepare for what he meant to say, and he was sorry to perceive that light would fail him for strict observation of his nephew’s face. But he chose the most open spot he could find, where the hedges were low, and nothing overhung the road.

Presently he heard the sound of hoofs approaching leisurely up the hill, and could see from his resting-place that Carne was coming, sitting loosely and wearily on his high black horse. Then the Rector, to cut short an unpleasant business, stood boldly forth and hailed him.

“No time for anything now,” shouted Carne; “too late already. Do you want my money? You are come to the wrong man for that; but the right one, I can tell you, for a bullet.”

“Caryl, it is I, your uncle Twemlow, or at any rate the husband of your aunt. Put up your pistol, and speak to me a minute. I have something important to say to you. And I never can find you at the castle.”

“Then be quick, sir, if you please;” Carne had never condescended to call this gentleman his uncle. “I have little time to spare. Out with it.”

“You were riding very slowly for a man in a hurry,” said the Rector, annoyed at his roughness. “But I will not keep you long, young man. For some good reasons of your own you have made a point of avoiding us, your nearest relatives in this country, and to whom you addressed yourself before you landed in a manner far more becoming. Have I ever pressed my attentions upon you?”

“No, I confess that you have not done that. You perceived as a gentleman how little there was in common between the son of a devoted Catholic and a heretic clergyman.”

“That is one way to put it,” Mr. Twemlow answered, smiling in spite of his anger at being called a heretic; “but I was not aware that you had strong religious views. However that may be, we should have many things in common, as Englishmen, at a time like this. But what I came to speak of is not that. We can still continue to get on without you, although we would rather have met with friendly feeling and candour, as becomes relatives. But little as you know of us, you must be well aware that your cousin Eliza was engaged to be married to a gentleman from London, Mr. Percival Shargeloes, and that he —”

“I am sure I wish her all happiness, and congratulate you, my dear sir, as well as my aunt Maria. I shall call, as soon as possible, to offer my best wishes. It was very kind of you to tell me. Goodnight, sir, good-night! There is a shower coming.”

“But,” exclaimed the Rector, nonplussed for the moment by this view of the subject, yet standing square before the horse, “Shargeloes has disappeared. What have you done with him?”

Carne looked at his excellent uncle as if he had much doubt about his sanity. “Try to explain yourself, my dear sir. Try to connect your ideas,” he said, “and offer me the benefit another time. My horse is impatient; he may strike you with his foot.”

“If he does, I shall strike him upon the head,” Mr. Twemlow replied, with his heavy stick ready. “It will be better for you to hear me out. Otherwise I shall procure a search-warrant, and myself examine your ruins, of which I know every crick and cranny. And your aunt Maria shall come with me, who knows every stone even better than you do. That would be a very different thing from an overhauling by Captain Stubbard. I think we should find a good many barrels and bales that had paid no duty.”

“My dear uncle,” cried Carne, with more affection than he ever yet had shown, “that is no concern of yours; you have no connection with the Revenue; and I am sure that Aunt Maria would be loth to help in pulling down the family once more. But do as you please. I am accustomed to ill fortune. Only I should like to know what this is about poor Cousin Eliza. If any man has wronged her, leave the case to me. You have no son now, and the honour of the family shall not suffer in my hands. I will throw up everything, busy as I am, to make such a rascal bite the dust. And Eliza so proud, and so upright herself!”

“Caryl,” said his uncle, moved more than he liked to show by this fine feeling, “you know more, I see, than you liked to show at first, doubtless through goodwill to us. Your dear aunt wished to keep the matter quiet, for the sake of poor Eliza, and her future chances. But I said — No. Let us have it all out. If there is wrong, we have suffered, not done it. Concealment is odious to every honest mind.”

“Deeply, deeply odious. Upon that point there can be no two opinions”— he forgets his barrels, thought the Rector —“but surely this man, whatever his name is — Charleygoes — must have been hiding from you something in his own history. Probably he had a wife already. City men often do that when young, and then put their wives somewhere when they get rich, and pay visits, and even give dinners, as if they were bachelors to be sought after. Was Charleygoes that sort of a man?”

“His name is ‘Shargeloes,’ a name well known, as I am assured, in the highest quarters. And he certainly was not sought after by us, but came to me with an important question bearing on ichthyology. He may be a wanderer, as you suggest, and as all the ladies seem to think. But my firm belief is to the contrary. And my reason for asking you about him is a very clear one. He had met you twice, and felt interest in you as a future member of our family. You had never invited him to the castle; and the last intention he expressed in my hearing was to call upon you without one. Has he met with an accident in your cellars? Or have your dogs devoured him? He carried a good deal of flesh, in spite of all he could do to the contrary; and any man naturally might endeavour to hush up such an incident. Tell me the truth, Caryl. And we will try to meet it.”

“My two dogs (who would never eat any one, though they might pull down a stranger, and perhaps pretend to bite him) arrived here the first week in January. When did Charleygoes disappear? I am not up in dates, but it must have been weeks and weeks before that time. And I must have heard of it, if it had happened. I may give you my honour that Orso and Leo have not eaten Charleygoes.”

“You speak too lightly of a man in high position, who would have been Lord Mayor of London, if he had never come to Springhaven. But living or dead, he shall never be that now. Can you answer me, in the same straightforward manner, as to an accident in your cellars; which, as a gentleman upon a private tour, he had clearly no right to intrude upon?”

“I can answer you quite as clearly. Nothing accidental has happened in my cellars. You may come and see them, if you have any doubt about it. And you need not apply for a search-warrant.”

“God forbid, my dear fellow,” cried the uncle, “that I should intrude upon any little matters of delicacy, such as are apt to arise between artificial laws and gentlemen who happen to live near the sea, and to have large places that require restoring! I shall go home with a lighter heart. There is nothing in this world that brings the comfort of straightforwardness.”

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