Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter VII

A Squadron in the Downs

“My dear girls, all your courage is gone,” said Admiral Darling to his daughters at luncheon, that same Monday; “departed perhaps with Lord Nelson and Frank. I hate the new style of such come-and-go visits, as if there was no time for anything. Directly a man knows the ways of the house, and you can take him easily, off he goes. Just like Hurry, he never can stop quiet. He talks as if peace was the joy of his life, and a quiet farm his paradise, and very likely he believes it. But my belief is that a year of peace would kill him, now that he has made himself so famous. When that sort of thing begins, it seems as if it must go on.”

“But, father dear,” exclaimed the elder daughter, “you could have done every single thing that Lord Nelson has ever contrived to do, if you had only happened to be there, and equally eager for destruction. I have heard you say many times, though not of course before him, that you could have managed the battle of the Nile considerably better than he did. And instead of allowing the great vessel to blow up, you would have brought her safe to Spithead.”

“My dear, you must have quite misunderstood me. Be sure that you never express such opinions, which are entirely your own, in the presence of naval officers. Though I will not say that they are quite without foundation.”

“Why, papa,” cried Miss Dolly, who was very truthful, when her own interests were not involved, “you have often said twice as much as that. How well I remember having heard you say —”

“You young people always back up one another, and you don’t care what you make your poor father say. I wonder you don’t vow that I declared I could jump over the moon with my uniform on. But I’ll tell you what we’ll do, to bring back your senses — we will go for a long ride this fine afternoon. I’ve a great mind to go as far as Stonnington.”

“Now how many times have you told us that? I won’t believe it till we get there,” young Dolly answered, with her bright eyes full of joy. “You must be ashamed of yourself, papa, for neglecting your old friend’s son so long.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I am, my dear,” confessed the good-natured Admiral; “but no one but myself has the least idea of the quantity of things I have to do.”

“Exactly what old Swipes said this very morning, only much more impressively. And I really did believe him, till I saw a yellow jug, and a horn that holds a pint, in the summer-house. He threw his coat over them, but it was too late.”

“Dolly, I shall have to put you in the blackhole. You belong too much to the rising generation, or the upstart generation is the proper word. What would Lord Nelson say? I must have him back again. He is the man for strict discipline.”

“Oh, I want to ask one thing about my great godfather. You know he only came down with one portmanteau, and his cocked-hat box, and two hampers. But when I went into his bedroom to see, as a goddaughter should, that his pillow was smooth, there he had got tacked up at the head of his bed a picture of some very beautiful lady, and another at the side, and another at the foot! And Jenny Shanks, who couldn’t help peeping in, to see how a great hero goes to sleep, wishes that she may be an old maid forever if she did not see him say his prayers to them. Now the same fate befall me if I don’t find out who it is. You must know, papa, so you had better tell at once.”

“That hussy shall leave the house tomorrow. I never heard of anything so shameless. Mrs. Cloam seems to have no authority whatever. And you too, Dolly, had no business there. If any one went to see the room comfortable, it should have been Faith, as the lady of the house. Ever since you persuaded me that you were too old for a governess, you seem to be under no discipline at all.”

“Now you know that you don’t mean that, papa. You say those cruel things just to make me kiss you,” cried Dolly, with the action suited to the word, and with her bright hair falling upon his snowy beard the father could not help returning the salute; “but I must know who that lady is. And what can he want with three pictures of her?”

“How should I know, Dolly? Perhaps it is his mother, or perhaps it is the Queen of Naples, who made a Duke of him for what he did out there. Now be quick, both of you, or no ride today. It is fifteen long miles to Stonnington, I am sure, and I am not going to break my neck. As it is, we must put dinner off till half past six, and we shall all be starved by that time. Quick, girls, quick! I can only give you twenty minutes.”

The Admiral, riding with all the vigor of an ancient mariner, looked well between his two fair daughters, as they turned their horses’ heads inland, and made over the downs for Stonnington. Here was beautiful cantering ground, without much furze or many rabbit-holes, and lovely air flowing over green waves of land, to greet and to deepen the rose upon young cheeks. Behind them was the broad sea, looking steadfast, and spread with slowly travelling tints; before them and around lay the beauty of the earth, with the goodness of the sky thrown over it. The bright world quivered with the breath of spring, and her smile was shed on everything.

“What a lovely country we have been through! I should like to come here every day,” said Faith, as they struck into the London road again. “If Stonnington is as nice as this, Mr. Scudamore must be happy there.”

“Well, we shall see,” her father answered. “My business has been upon the coast so much, that I know very little about Stonnington. But Scudamore has such a happy nature that nothing would come much amiss to him. You know why he is here, of course?”

“No, I don’t, papa. You are getting so mysterious that you never tell us anything now,” replied Dolly. “I only know that he was in the navy, and now he is in a grammar school. The last time I saw him he was about a yard high.”

“He is a good bit short of two yards now,” said the Admiral, smiling as he thought of him, “but quite tall enough for a sailor, Dolly, and the most active young man I ever saw in my life, every inch of him sound and quick and true. I shall think very little of your judgment unless you like him heartily; not at first, perhaps, because he is so shy, but as soon as you begin to know him. I mean to ask him to come down as soon as he can get a holiday. His captain told me, when he served in the Diomede, that there was not a man in the ship to come near him for nimbleness and quiet fearlessness.”

“Then what made him take to his books again? Oh, how terribly dull he must find them! Why, that must be Stonnington church, on the hill!”

“Yes, and the old grammar school close by. I was very near going there once myself, but they sent me to Winchester instead. It was partly through me that he got his berth here, though not much to thank me for, I am afraid. Sixty pounds a year and his rations isn’t much for a man who has been at Cambridge. But even that he could not get in the navy when the slack time came last year. He held no commission, like many other fine young fellows, but had entered as a first-class volunteer. And so he had no rating when this vile peace was patched up — excuse me, my dear, what I meant to say was, when the blessings of tranquillity were restored. And before that his father, my dear old friend, died very suddenly, as you have heard me say, without leaving more than would bury him. Don’t talk any more of it. It makes me sad to think of it.”

“But,” persisted Dolly, “I could never understand why a famous man like Sir Edmond Scudamore — a physician in large practice, and head doctor to the King, as you have often told us — could possibly have died in that sort of way, without leaving any money, or at least a quantity of valuable furniture and jewels. And he had not a number of children, papa, to spend all his money, as I do yours, whenever I get the chance; though you are growing so dreadfully stingy now that I never can look even decent.”

“My dear, it is a very long sad story. Not about my stinginess, I mean — though that is a sad story, in another sense, but will not move my compassion. As to Sir Edmond, I can only tell you now that, while he was a man of great scientific knowledge, he knew very little indeed of money matters, and was not only far too generous, but what is a thousand times worse, too trustful. Being of an honorable race himself, and an honorable sample of it, he supposed that a man of good family must be a gentleman; which is not always the case. He advanced large sums of money, and signed bonds for a gentleman, or rather a man of that rank, whose name does not concern you; and by that man he was vilely betrayed; and I would rather not tell you the rest of it. Poor Blyth had to leave Cambridge first, where he was sure to have done very well indeed, and at his wish he was sent afloat, where he would have done even better; and then, as his father’s troubles deepened, and ended in his death of heart complaint, the poor boy was left to keep his broken-hearted mother upon nothing but a Latin Grammar. And I fear it is like a purser’s dip. But here we are at Stonnington — a long steep pitch. Let us slacken sail, my dears, as we have brought no cockswain. Neither of you need land, you know, but I shall go into the schoolroom.”

“One thing I want to know,” said the active-minded Dolly, as the horses came blowing their breath up the hill: “if his father was Sir Edmond, and he is the only child, according to all the laws of nature, he ought to be Sir Blyth Scudamore.”

“It shows how little you have been out — as good Mrs. Twemlow expresses it — that you do not even understand the laws of nature as between a baronet and a knight.”

“Oh, to be sure; I recollect! How very stupid of me! The one goes on, and the other doesn’t, after the individual stops. But whose fault is it that I go out so little? So you see you are caught in your own trap, papa.”

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