Springhaven, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter IX

The Maroon

If yet there remained upon our southern coast a home for the rarer virtues, such as gratitude, content, liberality (not of other people’s goods alone), faith in a gracious Providence, and strict abstinence from rash labor, that home and stronghold was Springhaven. To most men good success brings neither comfort, nor tranquillity, nor so much as a stool to sit upon, but comes as a tread-mill which must be trodden without any getting to the top of it. Not so did these wise men take their luck. If ever they came from the fickle wave-bosom to the firm breast of land on a Saturday, with a fine catch of fish, and sold it well — and such was their sagacity that sooner would they keep it for cannibal temptation than sell it badly — did they rush into the waves again, before they had dried their breeches? Not they; nor did their wives, who were nearly all good women, stir them up to be off again. Especially at this time of year, with the days pulling out, and the season quickening, and the fish coming back to wag their tails upon the shallows, a pleasant race of men should take their pleasure, and leave flints to be skinned by the sons of flint.

This was the reason why Miss Dolly Darling had watched in vain at the Monday morning tide for the bold issue of the fishing fleet. The weariless tide came up and lifted the bedded keel and the plunged forefoot, and gurgled with a quiet wash among the straky bends, then lurched the boats to this side and to that, to get their heft correctly, and dandled them at last with their bowsprits dipped and their little mast-heads nodding. Every brave smack then was mounted, and riding, and ready for a canter upon the broad sea: but not a blessed man came to set her free. Tethered by head and by heel, she could only enjoy the poised pace of the rocking-horse, instead of the racer’s delight in careering across the free sweep of the distance.

Springhaven had done so well last week, that this week it meant to do still better, by stopping at home till the money was gone, and making short work afterward. Every man thoroughly enjoyed himself, keeping sober whenever good manners allowed, foregoing all business, and sauntering about to see the folk hard at work who had got no money. On Wednesday, however, an order was issued by Captain Zebedee Tugwell that all must be ready for a three days’ trip when the tide should serve, which would be at the first of the ebb, about ten in the morning. The tides were slackening now, and the smacks had required some change of berth, but still they were not very far from the Admiral’s white gate.

“I shall go down to see them, papa, if you please,” Dolly said to her father at breakfast-time. “They should have gone on Monday; but they were too rich; and I think it very shameful of them. I dare say they have not got a halfpenny left, and that makes them look so lively. Of course they’ve been stuffing, and they won’t move fast, and they can’t expect any more dinner till they catch it. But they have got so much bacon that they don’t care.”

“What could they have better, I should like to know?” asked the Admiral, who had seen hard times. “Why, I gave seven men three dozen apiece for turning their noses up at salt horse, just because he whisked his tail in the copper. Lord bless my soul! what is the nation coming to, when a man can’t dine upon cold bacon?”

“No, it is not that, papa. They are very good in that way, as their wives will tell you. Jenny Shanks tells me the very same thing, and of course she knows all about them. She knew they would never think of going out on Monday, and if I had asked her I might have known it too. But she says that they are sure to catch this tide.”

“Very well, Dolly. Go you and catch them. You are never content without seeing something. Though what there is to see in a lot of lubberly craft pushing off with punt-poles —”

“Hush, papa, hush! Don’t be so contemptuous. What did my godfather say the other day? And I suppose he understands things.”

“Don’t quote your godfather against your father. It was never intended in the Catechism. And if it was, I would never put up with it.”

Dolly made off; for she knew that her father, while proud of his great impartiality, candor, and scorn of all trumpery feeling, was sometimes unable to make out the reason why a queer little middy of his own should now stand upon the giddy truck of fame, while himself, still ahead of him in the Navy List, might pace his quarter-deck and have hats touched to him, but never a heart beat one pulse quicker. Jealous he was not; but still, at least in his own family —

Leaving her dear father to his meditations, which Faith ran up to kiss away, fair Dolly put on a plain hat and scarf, quite good enough for the fishermen, and set off in haste for the Round-house, to see the expedition start. By the time she was there, and had lifted the sashes, and got the spy-glass ready, the flow of the tide was almost spent, and the brimming moment of the slack was nigh. For this all the folk of the village waited, according to the tradition of the place; the manhood and boyhood, to launch forth; old age, womanhood, and childhood, to contribute the comfort of kind looks and good-by. The tides, though not to be compared to the winds in fickleness, are capricious here, having sallies of irregularity when there has been a long period of northeast winds, bringing a counter-flow to the Atlantic influx. And a man must be thoroughly acquainted with the coast, as well as the moon and the weather, to foretell how the water will rise and fall there. For the present, however, there was no such puzzle. The last lift of the quiet tide shone along the beach in three straight waves, shallow steps that arose inshore, and spent themselves without breaking.

“Toorn o’ the tide!” the Captain shouted; “all aboord, aboord, my lads! The more ‘ee bide ashore, the wuss ‘ee be. See to Master Cheeseman’s craft! Got a good hour afront of us. Dannel, what be mooning at? Fetch ’un a clout on his head, Harry Shanks; or Tim, you run up and do it. Doubt the young hosebird were struck last moon, and his brains put to salt in a herring-tub. Home with you, wife! And take Dan, if you will. He’d do more good at the chipping job, with the full moon in his head so.”

“Then home I will take my son, Master Tugwell,” his wife answered, with much dignity, for all the good wives of Springhaven heard him, and what would they think of her if she said nothing? “Home I will take my son and yours, and the wisest place for him to abide in, with his father set agin him so. Dannel, you come along of me. I won’t have my eldest boy gainsaid so.”

Zebedee Tugwell closed his lips, and went on with his proper business. All the women would side with him if he left them the use of their own minds, and the sound of his wife’s voice last; while all the men in their hearts felt wisdom. But the young man, loath to be left behind, came doubtfully down to the stern of the boat, which was pushed off for the Rosalie. And he looked at the place where he generally sat, and then at his father and the rest of them.

“No gappermouths here!” cried his father, sternly. “Get theezell home with the vemmelvolk. Shove off without him, Tim! How many more tides would ‘ee lose?”

Young Dan, whose stout legs were in the swirling water, snatched up his striped woolsey from under the tiller, threw it on his shoulder, and walked off, without a farewell to any one. The whole of Springhaven that could see saw it, and they never had seen such a thing before. Captain Zeb stood up and stared, with his big forehead coming out under his hat, and his golden beard shining in the morning sun; but the only satisfaction for his eyes was the back of his son growing smaller and smaller.

“Chip of the old block!” “Sarve ‘ee right, Cap’en!” “Starve ’un back to his manners again!” the inferior chieftains of the expedition cried, according to their several views of life. But Zebedee Tugwell paid no heed to thoughts outside of his own hat and coat. “Spake when I ax you,” he said, urbanely, but with a glance which conveyed to any too urgent sympathizer that he would be knocked down, when accessible.

But, alas! the less-disciplined women rejoiced, with a wink at their departing lords, as Mrs. Zebedee set off in chase of her long-striding Daniel. The mother, enriched by home affections and course of duties well performed, was of a rounded and ample figure, while the son was tall, and thin as might be one of strong and well-knit frame. And the sense of wrong would not permit him to turn his neck, or take a glance at the enterprise which had rejected him.

“How grand he does look! what a noble profile!” thought Dolly, who had seen everything without the glass, but now brought it to bear upon his countenance. “He is like the centurion in the painted window, or a Roman medallion with a hat on. But that old woman will never catch him. She might just as well go home again. He is walking about ten miles an hour, and how beautifully straight his legs are! What a shame that he should not be a gentleman! He is ten times more like one than most of the officers that used to come bothering me so. I wonder how far he means to go? I do hope he won’t make away with himself. It is almost enough to make him do it, to be so insulted by his own father, and disgraced before all the village, simply because he can’t help having his poor head so full of me! Nobody shall ever say that I did anything to give him the faintest encouragement, because it would be so very wicked and so cruel, considering all he has done for me. But if he comes back, when his father is out of sight, and he has walked off his righteous indignation, and all these people are gone to dinner, it might give a turn to his thoughts if I were to put on my shell-colored frock and the pale blue sash, and just go and see, on the other side of the stepping-stones, how much longer they mean to be with that boat they began so long ago.”

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