Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter VI

As Others See Us

Admiral Darling was very particular in trying to keep his grounds and garden tolerably tidy always. But he never succeeded, for the simple reason that he listened to every one’s excuses; and not understanding a walk or a lawn half so well as the deck of a battle-ship, he was always defeated in argument.

“Here’s a state of things!” he used to say in summer-time; “thistles full of seed within a biscuit-heave of my front door, and other things — I forget their names — with heads like the head of a capstan bursting, all as full of seeds as a purser is of lies!”

“Your lordship do not understand them subjects,” Mr. Swipes, the head gardener, was in the habit of replying; “and small blame to you, in my opinion, after so many years upon the briny wave. Ah! they can’t grow them things there.”

“Swipes, that is true, but to my mind not at all a satisfactory reason for growing them here, just in front of the house and the windows. I don’t mind a few in the kitchen-garden, but you know as well as I do, Swipes, that they can have no proper business here.”

“I did hear tell down to the Club, last night,” Mr. Swipes would reply, after wiping his forehead, as if his whole mind were perspired away, “though I don’t pretend to say how far true it may be, that all the land of England is to be cultivated for the public good, same as on the continence, without no propriety or privacy, my lord. But I don’t altogether see how they be to do it. So I thought I’d better ask your lordship.”

“For the public good! The public-house good, you mean.” The Admiral answered nine times out of ten, being easily led from the track of his wrath, and tired of telling Swipes that he was not a lord. “How many times more must I tell you, Swipes, that I hate that Jacobin association? Can you tell me of one seaman belonging to it? A set of fish-jobbers, and men with barrows, and cheap-jacks from up the country. Not one of my tenants would be such a fool as to go there, even if I allowed him. I make great allowances for you, Swipes, because of your obstinate nature. But don’t let me hear of that Club any more, or YOU may go and cultivate for the public good.”

“Your lordship knows that I goes there for nothing except to keep up my burial. And with all the work there is upon this place, the Lord only knows when I may be requiring of it. Ah! I never see the like; I never did. And a blade of grass the wrong way comes down on poor old Swipes!”

Hereupon the master, having done his duty, was relieved from overdoing it, and went on other business with a peaceful mind. The feelings, however, of Mr. Swipes were not to be appeased so lightly, but demanded the immediate satisfaction of a pint of beer. And so large was his charity that if his master fell short of duty upon that point, he accredited him with the good intention, and enabled him to discharge it.

“My dear soul,” he said, with symptoms of exhaustion, to good Mrs. Cloam, the housekeeper, who had all the keys at her girdle, about ten o’clock on the Monday morning, “what a day we did have yesterday!”

“A mercy upon me, Mr. Swipes,” cried Mrs. Cloam, who was also short of breath, “how you did exaggerate my poor narves, a-rushing up so soft, with the cold steel in both your hands!”

“Ah! ma’am, it have right to be a good deal wuss than that,” the chivalrous Swipes made answer, with the scythe beside his ear. “It don’t consarn what the masters say, though enough to take one’s legs off. But the ladies, Mrs. Cloam, the ladies — it’s them as takes our heads off.”

“Go ‘long with you, Mr. Swipes! You are so disastrous at turning things. And how much did he say you was to have this time? Here’s Jenny Shanks coming up the passage.”

“Well, he left it to myself; he have that confidence in me. And little it is I should ever care to take, with the power of my own will, ma’am. Why, the little brown jug, ma’am, is as much as I can manage even of our small beer now. Ah! I know the time when I would no more have thought of rounding of my mouth for such small stuff than of your growing up, ma’am, to be a young woman with the sponsorship of this big place upon you. Wonderful! wonderful! And only yesterday, as a man with a gardening mind looks at it, you was the prettiest young maiden on the green, and the same — barring marriage — if you was to encounter with the young men now.”

“Oh,” said Mrs. Cloam, who was fifty, if a day, “how you do make me think of sad troubles, Mr. Swipes! Jenny, take the yellow jug with the three beef-eaters on it, and go to the third cask from the door — the key turns upside down, mind — and let me hear you whistle till you bring me back the key. Don’t tell me nonsense about your lips being dry. You can whistle like a blackbird when you choose.”

“Here’s to your excellent health, Mrs. Cloam, and as blooming as it finds you now, ma’am! As pretty a tap as I taste since Christmas, and another dash of malt would ‘a made it worthy a’most to speak your health in. Well, ma’am, a leetle drop in crystal for yourself, and then for my business, which is to inquire after your poor dear health today. Blooming as you are, ma’am, you must bear in mind that beauty is only skin-deep, Mrs. Cloam; and the purtier a flower is, the more delicate it grows. I’ve a-been a-thinking of you every night, ma’am, knowing how you must ‘a been put about and driven. The Admiral have gone down to the village, and Miss Dolly to stare at the boats going out.”

“Then I may speak a word for once at ease, Mr. Swipes, though the Lord alone knows what a load is on my tongue. It requires a fine gardener, being used to delicacy, to enter into half the worry we have to put up with. Heroes of the Nile, indeed, and bucklers of the country! Why, he could not buckle his own shoe, and Jenny Shanks had to do it for him. Not that I blame him for having one arm, and a brave man he is to have lost it, but that he might have said something about the things I got up at a quarter to five every morning to make up for him. For cook is no more than a smoke-jack, Mr. Swipes; if she keeps the joint turning, that’s as much as she can do.”

“And a little too fond of good beer, I’m afeard,” replied Mr. Swipes, having emptied his pot. “Men’s heads was made for it, but not women’s, till they come to superior stations in life. But, oh, Mrs. Cloam, what a life we lead with the crotchets of they gentry!”

“It isn’t that so much, Mr. Swipes, if only there was any way of giving satisfaction. I wish everybody who is born to it to have the very best of everything, likewise all who have fought up to it. But to make all the things and have nothing made of them, whether indigestion or want of appetite, turns one quite into the Negroes almost, that two or three people go on with.”

“I don’t look at what he hath aten or left,” Mr. Swipes made answer, loftily; “that lieth between him and his own stommick. But what hath a’ left for me, ma’am? He hath looked out over the garden when he pleased, and this time of year no weeds is up, and he don’t know enough of things to think nothing of them. When his chaise come down I was out by the gate with a broom in my hand, and I pulled off my hat, but his eye never seemed to lay hold of me.”

“His eye lays hold of everything, whether he makes ’em feel or no. One thing I’m sure of — he was quite up to Miss Dolly, and the way she carries on with you know who, every blessed Sunday. If that is what they go to church for —”

“But, my dear soul,” said the genial Swipes, whose heart was enlarged with the power of good beer, “when you and I was young folk, what did we go to church for? I can’t speak for you, ma’am, being ever so much younger, and a baby in the gallery in long clothes, if born by that time; but so far as myself goes, it was the girls I went to look at, and most of ’em come as well to have it done to them.”

“That never was my style, Mr. Swipes, though I know there were some not above it. And amongst equals I won’t say that there need be much harm in it. But for a young man in the gallery, with a long stick of the vile-base in his hand, and the only clean shirt of the week on his back, and nothing but a plank of pitch to keep him, however good-looking he may be, to be looking at the daughter, and the prettiest one too, though not the best, some people think, of the gentleman that owns all the houses and the haven — presumption is the smallest word that I can find to use for it; and for her to allow it, fat — fat something in the nation.”

“Well, ma’am,” said Mr. Swipes, whose views were loose and liberal, “it seems a little shock at first to those on trust in families. But Dannel is a brave boy, and might fight his way to glory, and then they has the pick of the femmels up to a thousand pound a year. You know what happened the miller’s son, no further off than Upton. And if it hadn’t been for Dannel, when she was a little chit, where would proud Miss Dolly be, with her feathers and her furbelows? Natur’ is the thing I holds by, and I sees a deal of it. And betwixt you and me and the bedpost, ma’am, whoever hath Miss Dolly will have to ride to London on this here scythe. Miss Faith is the lass for a good quiet man, without no airs and graces, and to my judgment every bit as comely, and more of her to hold on by. But the Lord ‘a mercy upon us. Mrs. Cloam, you’ve a-been married like my poor self; and you knows what we be, and we knows what you be. Looks ‘ain’t much to do with it after the first week or two. It’s the cooking, and the natur’, and the not going contrairy. B’lieve Miss Dolly would go contrairy to a hangel, if her was j’ined to him three days.”

“Prejudice! prejudice!” the housekeeper replied, while shaking her finger severely at him. “You ought to be above such opinions, Mr. Swipes, a superior man, such as you are. If Miss Faith came into your garden reading books, and finding fault here and there, and sniffing at the flowers, a quarter so often as pretty Dolly does, perhaps you wouldn’t make such a perfect angel of her, and run down her sister in comparison. But your wonderful Miss Faith comes peeping here and poking there into pots and pans, and asking the maids how their mothers are, as if her father kept no housekeeper. She provoked me so in the simple-room last week, as if I was hiding thieves there, that I asked her at last whether she expected to find Mr. Erle there. And you should have seen how she burst out crying; for something had turned on her mind before.”

“Well, I couldn’t have said that to her,” quoth the tender-hearted Swipes —“not if she had come and routed out every key and every box, pot, pan, and pannier in the tool-house and stoke-hole and vinery! The pretty dear! the pretty dear! And such a lady as she is! Ah, you women are hard-hearted to one another, when your minds are up! But take my word for it, Mrs. Cloam, no one will ever have the chance of making your beautiful Miss Dolly cry by asking her where her sweetheart is.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/blackmore/rd/spring/chapter6.html

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