Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LVI

The Silver Voice

Many shrewd writers have observed that Britannia has a special luck — which the more devout call Providence — in holding her own, against not only her true and lawful enemies, but even those of her own bosom who labour most to ruin her. And truly she had need of all her fortune now, to save her from the skulking traitor, as well as the raging adversary.

“Now I will have my revenge,” said Carne, “on all who have outraged and plundered me. Crows — carrion-crows — I will turn them into owls without a nest. Prowling owls, to come blinking even now at the last of my poor relics! Charron, what did that fellow say to old Jerry, the day I tied the dogs up?”

“He said, my dear friend, that he missed from the paintings which he had taken to his house the most precious of them all — the picture of your dear grandmother, by a man whose name it is hard to pronounce, but a Captain in the British Army, very much fond of beloving and painting all the most beautiful ladies; and since he had painted the mother of Vash — Vash — the man that conquered England in America — all his work was gone up to a wonderful price, and old Sheray should have one guinea if he would exhibit to him where to find it. Meedle or Beedle — he had set his heart on getting it. He declared by the good God that he would have it, and that you had got it under a tombstone.”

“A sample of their persecutions! You know that I have never seen it, nor even heard of the Captain Middleton who went on his rovings from Springhaven. And, again, about my own front-door, or rather the door of my family for some four centuries, because it was carved as they cannot carve now, it was put into that vile Indenture. I care very little for my ancestors — benighted Britons of the county type — but these things are personal insults to me. I seldom talk about them, and I will not do so now.”

“My Captain, you should talk much about it. That would be the good relief to your extensive mind. Revenge is not of the bright French nature; but the sky of this island procreates it. My faith! how I would rage at England, if it were not for the people, and their daughters! We shall see; in a few days more we shall astonish the fat John Bull; and then his little kittens — what do you call them? — calves of an ox, will come running to us.”

“Enough of your foolish talk,” said Carne. “The women are as resolute as the men. Even when we have taken London, not an English woman will come near us, until all the men have yielded. Go down to your station and watch for the boat. I expect an important despatch to-night. But I cannot stay here for the chance of it. I have business in Springhaven.”

His business in Springhaven was to turn young love to the basest use, to make a maiden (rash and flighty, but not as yet dishonourable) a traitor to her friends and father-land, and most of all to her own father. He had tried to poison Dolly’s mind with doses of social nonsense — in which he believed about as much as a quack believes in his own pills — but his main reliance now was placed in his hold upon her romantic heart, and in her vague ambitions. Pure and faithful love was not to be expected from his nature; but he had invested in Dolly all the affection he could spare from self. He had laboured long, and suffered much, and the red crown of his work was nigh.

Riding slowly down the hill about half a mile from the village, Carne saw a tall man coming towards him with a firm, deliberate walk. The stranger was dressed very lightly, and wore a hat that looked like a tobacco leaf, and carried a long wand in his hand, as if he were going to keep order in church. These things took the eye afar, but at shorter range became as nothing, compared with the aspect of the man himself. This was grand, with its steadfast gaze — no stare, but a calm and kind regard — its large tranquillity and power of receiving without believing the words of men; and most of all in the depth of expression reserved by experience in the forest of its hair.

Carne was about to pass in silent wonder and uneasiness, but the other gently laid the rod across his breast and stopped him, and then waited for him to ask the reason why.

“Have you any business with me, good sir?” Carne would have spoken rudely, but saw that rudeness would leave no mark upon a man like this. “If so, I must ask you to be quick. And perhaps you will tell me who you are.”

“I think that you are Caryl Carne,” said the stranger, not unpleasantly, but as if it mattered very little who was Caryl Carne, or whether there was any such existence.

Carne stared fiercely, for he was of touchy temper; but he might as well have stared at a bucket of water in the hope of deranging its tranquillity. “You know me. But I don’t know you,” he answered at last, with a jerk of his reins.

“Be in no hurry,” said the other, mildly; “the weather is fine, and time plentiful. I hope to have much pleasant knowledge of you. I have the honour to be your first cousin, Erle Twemlow. Shake hands with your kinsman.”

Carne offered his hand, but without his usual grace and self-possession. Twemlow took it in his broad brown palm, in which it seemed to melt away, firm though it was and muscular.

“I was going up to call on you,” said Twemlow, who had acquired a habit of speaking as if he meant all the world to hear. “I feel a deep interest in your fortunes, and hope to improve them enormously. You shall hear all about it when I come up. I have passed four years in the wilds of Africa, where no white man ever trod before, and I have found out things no white man knows. We call those people savages, but they know a great deal more than we do. Shall I call tomorrow, and have a long talk?”

“I fear,” replied Carne, who was cursing his luck for bringing this fellow home just now, “that I shall have no time for a week or two. I am engaged upon important business now, which will occupy my whole attention. Let me see! You are staying at the rectory, I suppose. The best plan will be for me to let you know when I can afford the pleasure of receiving you. In a fortnight, or three weeks at the latest —”

“Very well. I am never in a hurry. And I want to go to London to see about my things. But I dare say you will not object to my roving about the old castle now and then. I loved the old place as a boy, and I know every crick and cranny and snake-hole in it.”

“How glad they must have been to see you — restored from the dead, and with such rich discoveries! But you must be more careful, my good cousin, and create no more anxiety. Glad as I shall be to see you, when time allows that indulgence, I must not encourage you to further rovings, which might end in your final disappearance. Two boar-hounds, exceedingly fierce and strong, and compelled by my straitened circumstances to pick up their own living, are at large on my premises night and day, to remonstrate with my creditors. We fear that they ate a man last night, who had stolen a valuable picture, and was eager for another by the same distinguished artist. His boots and hat were found unhurt; but of his clothes not a shred remained, to afford any pattern for enquiry. What would my feelings be if Aunt Maria arrived hysterically in the pony-carriage, and at great personal risk enquired —”

“I fear no dogs,” said Erle Twemlow, without any flash of anger in his steadfast eyes. “I can bring any dog to lick my feet. But I fear any man who sinks lower than a dog, by obtaining a voice and speaking lies with it. If you wish, for some reason of your own, to have nought to do with me, you should have said so; and I might have respected you afterwards. But flimsy excuses and trumpery lies belong to the lowest race of savages, who live near the coast, and have been taught by Frenchmen.”

Erle Twemlow stood, as he left off speaking, just before the shoulder of Carne’s horse, ready to receive a blow, if offered, but without preparation for returning it. But Carne, for many good reasons — which occurred to his mind long afterwards — controlled his fury, and consoled his self-respect by repaying in kind the contempt he received.

“Well done, Mr. Savage!” he said, with a violent effort to look amiable. “You and I are accustomed to the opposite extremes of society, and the less we meet, the better. When a barbarian insults me, I take it as a foul word from a clodhopper, which does not hurt me, but may damage his own self-respect, if he cherishes such an illusion. Perhaps you will allow me to ride on, while you curb your very natural curiosity about a civilized gentleman.”

Twemlow made no answer, but looked at him with a gentle pity, which infuriated Carne more than the keenest insult. He lashed his horse, and galloped down the hill, while his cousin stroked his beard, and looked after him with sorrow.

“Everything goes against me now,” thought Caryl Carne, while he put up his horse and set off for the Admiral’s Roundhouse. “I want to be cool as a cucumber, and that insolent villain has made pepper of me. What devil sent him here at such a time?”

For the moment it did not cross his mind that this man of lofty rudeness was the long-expected lover of Faith Darling, and therefore in some sort entitled to a voice about the doings of the younger sister. By many quiet sneers, and much expressive silence, he had set the brisk Dolly up against the quiet Faith, as a man who understands fowl nature can set even two young pullets pulling each other’s hackles out.

“So you are come at last!” said Dolly. “No one who knows me keeps me waiting, because I am not accustomed to it. I expect to be called for at any moment, by matters of real importance — not like this.”

“Your mind is a little disturbed,” replied Carne, as he took her hand and kissed it, with less than the proper rapture; “is it because of the brown and hairy man just returned from Africa?”

“Not altogether. But that may be something. He is not a man to be laughed at. I wish you could have seen my sister.”

“I would rather see you; and I have no love of savages. He is my first cousin, and that affords me a domestic right to object to him. As a brother-inlaw I will have none of him.”

“You forget,” answered Dolly, with a flash of her old spirit, which he was subduing too heavily, “that a matter of that sort depends upon us, and our father, and not upon the gentlemen. If the gentlemen don’t like it, they can always go away.”

“How can they go, when they are chained up like a dog? Women may wander from this one to that, because they have nothing to bind them; but a man is of steadfast material.”

“Erle Twemlow is, at any rate — though it is hard to see his material through his hair; but that must come off, and I mean to do it. He is the best-natured man I have ever yet known, except one; and that one had got nothing to shave. Men never seem to understand about their hair, and the interest we feel concerning it. But it does not matter very much, compared to their higher principles.”

“That is where I carry every vote, of whatever sex you please”— Carne saw that this girl must be humoured for the moment. “Anybody can see what I am. Straightforward, and ready to show my teeth. Why should an honest man live in a bush?”

“Faith likes it very much; though she always used to say that it did seem so unchristian. Could you manage to come and meet him, Caryl? We shall have a little dinner on Saturday, I believe, that every one may see Erle Twemlow. His beloved parents will be there, who are gone quite wild about him. Father will be at home for once; and the Marquis of Southdown, and some officers, and Captain Stubbard and his wife will come, and perhaps my brother Frank, who admires you so much. You shall have an invitation in the morning.”

“Such delights are not for me,” Carne answered, with a superior smile; “unhappily my time is too important. But perhaps these festivities will favour me with the chance of a few words with my darling. How I long to see her, and how little chance I get!”

“Because, when you get it, you spend three-quarters of the time in arguing, and the rest in finding fault. I am sure I go as far as anybody can; and I won’t take you into my father’s Roundhouse, because I don’t think it would be proper.”

“Ladies alone understand such subjects; and a gentleman is thankful that they do. I am quite content to be outside the Roundhouse — so called because it is square, perhaps — though the wind is gone back to the east again, as it always does now in an English summer, according to a man who has studied the subject — Zebedee Tugwell, the captain of the fleet. Dolly, beloved, and most worthy to be more so, clear your bright mind from all false impressions, whose only merit is that they are yours, and allow it to look clearly at a matter of plain sense.”

She was pleased to have compliments paid to her mind, even more than to her body — because there was no doubt about the merits of the latter — and she said: “That is very nice. Go on.”

“Well, beauty, you know that I trust you in everything, because of your very keen discretion, and freedom from stupid little prejudice. I have been surprised at times, when I thought of it in your absence, that any one so young, who has never been through any course of political economy, should be able to take such a clear view of subjects which are far beyond the intellect of even the oldest ladies. But it must be your brother; no doubt he has helped you to —”

“Not he!” cried the innocent Dolly, with fine pride; “I rather look down upon his reasoning powers; though I never could make such a pretty tink of rhymes — like the bells of the sheep when the ground is full of turnips.”

“He approves of your elevated views,” said Carne, looking as grave as a crow at a church clock; “they may not have come from him, because they are your own, quite as much as his poetry is his. But he perceives their truth, and he knows that they must prevail. In a year or two we shall be wondering, sweet Dolly, when you and I sit side by side, as the stupid old King and Queen do now, that it ever has been possible for narrow-minded nonsense to prevail as it did until we rose above it. We shall be admired as the benefactors, not of this country only, but of the whole world.”

Miss Dolly was fairly endowed with common-sense, but often failed to use it. She would fain have said now, “That sounds wonderfully fine; but what does it mean, and how are we to work it?” But unluckily she could not bring herself to say it. And when millions are fooled by the glibness of one man — even in these days of wisdom — who can be surprised at a young maid’s weakness?

“You wish me to help you in some way,” she said; “your object is sure to be good; and you trust me in everything, because of my discretion. Then why not tell me everything?”

“You know everything,” Carne replied, with a smile of affection and sweet reproach. “My object is the largest that a man can have; and until I saw you, there was not the least taint of self-interest in my proceedings. But now it is not for the universe alone, for the grandeur of humanity, and the triumph of peace, that I have to strive, but also for another little somebody, who has come — I am ashamed to say — to outweigh all the rest in the balance of my too tender heart.”

This was so good, and so well delivered, that the lady of such love could do no less than vouchsafe a soft hand and a softer glance, instead of pursuing hard reason.

“Beauty, it is plain enough to you, though it might not be so to stupid people,” Carne continued, as he pressed her hand, and vanquished the doubt of her enquiring eyes with the strength of his resolute gaze, “that bold measures are sometimes the only wise ones. Many English girls would stand aghast to hear that it was needful for the good of England that a certain number, a strictly limited number, of Frenchmen should land upon this coast.”

“I should rather think they would!” cried Dolly; “and I would be one of them — you may be quite sure of that.”

“For a moment you might, until you came to understand.” Carne’s voice always took a silver tone when his words were big with roguery; as the man who is touting for his neighbour’s bees strikes the frying-pan softly at first, to tone the pulsations of the murmuring mob. “But every safeguard and every guarantee that can be demanded by the wildest prudence will be afforded before a step is taken. In plain truth, a large mind is almost shocked at such deference to antique prejudice. But the feelings of old women must be considered; and our measures are fenced with such securities that even the most timid must be satisfied. There must be a nominal landing, of course, of a strictly limited number, and they must be secured for a measurable period from any ill-judged interruption. But the great point of all is to have no blood-guiltiness, no outbreak of fanatic natives against benefactors coming in the garb of peace. A truly noble offer of the olive-branch must not be misinterpreted. It is the finest idea that has ever been conceived; and no one possessing a liberal mind can help admiring the perfection of this plan. For the sake of this country, and the world, and ourselves, we must contribute our little share, darling.”

Carne, with the grace of a lofty protector, as well as the face of an ardent lover, drew the bewildered maiden towards him, and tenderly kissed her pretty forehead, holding up his hand against all protest.

“It is useless to dream of drawing back,” he continued; “my beauty, and my poor outcast self, are in the same boat, and must sail on to success — such success as there never has been before, because it will bless the whole world, as well as secure our own perfect happiness. You will be more than the Queen of England. Statues of you will be set up everywhere; and where could the sculptors find such another model? I may count upon your steadfast heart, I know, and your wonderful quickness of perception.”

“Yes, if I could only see that everything was right. But I feel that I ought to consult somebody of more experience in such things. My father, for instance, or my brother Frank, or even Mr. Twemlow, or perhaps Captain Stubbard.”

“If you had thought of it a little sooner, and allowed me time to reason with them,” Carne replied, with a candid smile, “that would have been the very thing I should have wished, as taking a great responsibility from me. But alas, it would be fatal now. The main object now is to remove all chance of an ill-judged conflict, which would ruin all good feeling, and cost many valuable lives, perhaps even that of your truly gallant father. No, my Dolly, you must not open your beautiful lips to any one. The peace and happiness of the world depend entirely upon your discretion. All will be arranged to a nicety, and a happy result is certain. Only I must see you, about some small points, as well as to satisfy my own craving. On Saturday you have that dinner party, when somebody will sit by your side instead of me. How miserably jealous I shall be! When the gentlemen are at their wine, you must console me by slipping away from the ladies, and coming to the window of the little room where your father keeps his papers. I shall quit everything and watch there for you among the shrubs, when it grows dark enough.”

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