Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LV

In Savage Guise

“A man came out of the sea today, and made me believe we were all found out,” said the gay Charron to the gloomy Carne, a day or two after poor Scudamore’s wreck. “I never beheld a more strange-looking creature as the owner of our human face divine, as some of your poets have found to say. He has hair from his head all down to here”— the little Captain pointed to a part of his system which would have been larger in more tranquil times —“and his clothes were so thin that one was able to see through them, and the tint of his face was of roasted sugar, such as it is not to obtain in England. A fine place for fat things, but not for thin ones.”

“My friend, you arouse my curiosity,” the master of the feast, which was not a very fat one, answered, as he lazily crossed his long legs; “you are always apprehensive about detection, of which I have ceased to entertain all fear, during the short time that remains. This stranger of yours must have been very wet, if he had just appeared out of the sea. Was it that which made his clothes transparent, like those of the higher class of ladies?”

“You have not the right understanding of words. He was appeared out of the sea, but the wood of a boat was spread between them. He was as dry as I am; and that is saying much, with nothing but this squeezing of bad apples for to drink.”

“Ah, we shall have better soon. What an impatient throat it is! Well, what became of this transparent man, made of burnt sugar, and with hair below his belt?”

“I tell you that you take it in a very different way. But he was a long man, as long almost as you are, and with much less of indolence in the moving of his legs. It was not sincerely wise for me to exhibit myself, in the land. I was watching for a signal from the sea, and a large ship, not of the navy but of merchants, was hanging off about a league and delaying for her boat. For this reason I prevented him from seeing me, and that created difficulty of my beholding him. But he was going along the basin of the sea towards Springhaven —‘Springport’ it is designated by the Little Corporal; ah ha, how the language of the English comes left to him!”

“And how right it comes to you, my friend, through your fine self-denial in speaking it with me! It is well for our cause that it is not sincerely wise for you to exhibit yourself in the land, or we should have you making sweet eyes at English young ladies, and settling down to roast beef and nut-brown ale. Fie, then, my friend! where is your patriotism?”

“These English young ladies,” said the Frenchman, unabashed, “are very fine, in my opinion — very fine indeed; and they could be made to dress, which is sincerely an external thing. By occasion, I have seen the very most belle, and charming and adorable of all the creatures ever made by the good God. And if she was to say to me, ‘Abandon France, my Captain, and become my good husband’— and she has the money also — the fair France would go to the bottom, and the good ship Charron hoist the Union-jack.”

“This becomes serious:” Carne had long learned to treat his French colleague with a large contempt: “I shall have to confine you in the Yellow Jar, my friend. But what young lady has bewitched you so, and led your most powerful mind astray?”

“I will tell you. I will make no secret of it. You have none of those lofty feelings, but you will be able in another to comprehend them. It is the daughter of the Coast–Defender — Admiral Charles Sir Darling.”

“Admiral Darling has two daughters. Which of them has the distinguished honour of winning the regard of Captain Charron?”

“If there are two, it is so much more better. If I succeed not with one, I will try with the other. But the one who has made me captive for the present is the lady with the dark hair done up like this.”

In a moment Charron had put up his hair, which was thick but short, into a double sheaf; and Carne knew at once that it was Faith whose charms had made havoc of the patriotism of his colleague. Then he smiled and said, “My friend, that is the elder daughter.”

“I have some knowledge of the laws of England,” the Frenchman continued, complacently; “the elder will have the most money, and I am not rich, though I am courageous. In the confusion that ensues I shall have the very best chance of commending myself; and I confide in your honourable feeling to give me the push forward by occasion. Say, is it well conceived, my friend? We never shall conquer these Englishmen, but we may be triumphant with their ladies.”

“It is a most excellent scheme of invasion,” Carne answered, with his slow sarcastic smile, “and you may rely on me for what you call the push forward, if a Frenchman ever needs it with a lady. But I wish to hear more about that brown man.”

“I can tell you no more. But the matter is strange. Perhaps he was visiting the fat Captain Stoobar. I feel no solicitude concerning him with my angel. She would never look twice at such a savage.”

But the gallant French Captain missed the mark this time. The strange-looking man with the long brown beard quitted the shore before he reached the stepping-stones, and making a short-cut across the rabbit-warren, entered the cottage of Zebedee Tugwell, without even stopping to knock at the door. The master was away, and so were all the children; but stout Mrs. Tugwell, with her back to the door, was tending the pot that hung over the fire. At the sound of a footstep she turned round, and her red face grew whiter than the ashes she was stirring.

“Oh, Mr. Erle, is it you, or your ghostie?” she cried, as she fell against the door of the brick oven. “Do ‘e speak, for God’s sake, if He have given the power to ‘e.”

“He has almost taken it away again, so far as the English language goes,” Erle Twemlow answered, with a smile which was visible only in his eyes, through long want of a razor; “but I am picking up a little. Shake hands, Kezia, and then you will know me. Though I have not quite recovered that art as yet.”

“Oh, Mr. Erle!” exclaimed Zebedee’s wife, with tears ready to start for his sake and her own, “how many a time I’ve had you on my knees, afore I was blessed with any of my own, and a bad sort of blessing the best of ’em proves. Not that I would listen to a word again’ him. I suppose you never did happen to run again’ my Dan’el, in any of they furrin parts, from the way they makes the hair grow. I did hear tell of him over to Pebbleridge; but not likely, so nigh to his own mother, and never come no nigher. And if they furrin parts puts on the hair so heavily, who could ‘a known him to Pebbleridge? They never was like we be. They’d as lief tell a lie as look at you, over there.”

In spite of his own long years of trouble, or perhaps by reason of them, Erle Twemlow, eager as he was to get on, listened to the sad tale that sought for his advice, and departed from wisdom — as good-nature always does — by offering useless counsel — counsel that could not be taken, and yet was far from being worthless, because it stirred anew the fount of hope, towards which the parched affections creep.

“But Lor bless me, sir, I never thought of you!” Mrs. Tugwell exclaimed, having thought out her self. “What did Parson say, and your mother, and Miss Faith? It must ‘a been better than a play to see them.”

“Not one of them knows a word about it yet; nor anybody in Springhaven, except you, Kezia. You were as good as my nurse, you know; I have never had a chance of writing to them, and I want you to help me to let them know it slowly.”

“Oh, Mr. Erle, what a lovely young woman your Miss Faith is grown up by now! Some thinks more of Miss Dolly, but, to my mind, you may as well put a mackerel before a salmon, for the sake of the stripes and the glittering. Now what can I do to make you decent, sir, for them duds and that hair is barbarious? My Tabby and Debby will be back in half an hour, and them growing up into young maidens now.”

Twemlow explained that after living so long among savages in a burning clime, he had found it impossible to wear thick clothes, and had been rigged up in some Indian stuff by the tailor of the ship which had rescued him. But now he supposed he must reconcile himself by degrees to the old imprisonment. But as for his hair, that should never be touched, unless he was restored to the British Army, and obliged to do as the others did. With many little jokes of a homely order, Mrs. Tugwell, regarding him still as a child, supplied him with her husband’s summer suit of thin duck, which was ample enough not to gall him; and then she sent her daughters with a note to the Rector, begging him to come at seven o’clock to meet a gentleman who wished to see him upon important business, near the plank bridge across the little river. Erle wrote that note, but did not sign it; and after many years of happy freedom from the pen, his handwriting was so changed that his own father would not know it. What he feared was the sudden shock to his good mother; his father’s nerves were strong, and must be used as buffers.

“Another trouble, probably; there is nothing now but trouble,” Mr. Twemlow was thinking, as he walked unwillingly towards the place appointed. “I wish I could only guess what I can have done to deserve all these trials, as I become less fit to bear them. I would never have come to this lonely spot, except that it may be about Shargeloes. Everything now is turned upside down; but the Lord knows best, and I must bear it. Sir, who are you? And what do you want me for?”

At the corner where Miss Dolly had rushed into the Rector’s open arms so fast, a tall man, clad in white, was standing, with a staff about eight feet long in his hand. Having carried a spear for four years now, Captain Twemlow found no comfort in his native land until he had cut the tallest growth in Admiral Darling’s osier bed, and peeled it, and shaved it to a seven-sided taper. He rested this point in a socket of moss, that it might not be blunted, and then replied:

“Father, you ought to know me, although you have grown much stouter in my absence; and perhaps I am thinner than I used to be. But the climate disagreed with me, until I got to like it.”

“Erle! Do you mean to say you are my boy Erle?” The Rector was particular about his clothes. “Don’t think of touching me. You are hair all over, and I dare say never had a comb. I won’t believe a word of it until you prove it.”

“Well, mother will know me, if you don’t.” The young man answered calmly, having been tossed upon so many horns of adventure that none could make a hole in him. “I thought that you would have been glad to see me; and I managed to bring a good many presents; only they are gone on to London. They could not be got at, to land them with me; but Captain Southcombe will be sure to send them. You must not suppose, because I am empty-handed now —”

“My dear son,” cried the father, deeply hurt, “do you think that your welcome depends upon presents? You have indeed fallen into savage ways. Come, and let me examine you through your hair; though the light is scarcely strong enough now to go through it. To think that you should be my own Erle, alive after such a time, and with such a lot of hair! Only, if there is any palm-oil on it — this is my last new coat but one.”

“No, father, nothing that you ever can have dreamed of. Something that will make you a bishop, if you like, and me a member of the House of Lords. But I did not find it out myself — which makes success more certain.”

“They have taught you some great truths, my dear boy. The man who begins a thing never gets on. But I am so astonished that I know not what I say. I ought to have thanked the Lord long ago. Have you got a place without any hair upon it large enough for me to kiss you?”

Erle Twemlow, whose hand in spite of all adventures trembled a little upon his spear, lifted his hat and found a smooth front, sure to be all the smoother for a father’s kiss.

“Let us go home,” said the old man, trying to exclude all excitement from his throat and heart; “but you must stay outside until I come to fetch you. I feel a little anxious, my dear boy, as to how your dear mother will get over it. She has never been strong since the bad news came about you. And somebody else has to be considered. But that must stand over till tomorrow.”

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