Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLII

A Clew of Buttons

When Jack o’ the Smithies met his old commander, as related by himself, at the house of Mr. Mordacks, everything seemed to be going on well for Sir Duncan, and badly for his sisters. The general factor, as he hinted long ago, possessed certain knowledge which the Middleton lawyer fondly supposed to be confined to himself and his fair clients. Sir Duncan refused to believe that the ladies could ever have heard of such a document as that which, if valid, would simply expel them; for, said he, “If they know of it, they are nothing less than thieves to conceal it and continue in possession. Of a lawyer I could fancy it, but never of a lady.”

“My good sir,” answered the sarcastic Mordacks, “a lady’s conscience is not the same as a gentleman’s, but bears more resemblance to a lawyer’s. A lady’s honor is of the very highest standard; but the standard depends upon her state of mind; and that, again, depends upon the condition of her feelings. You must not suppose me to admit the faintest shadow of disrespect toward your good sisters; but ladies are ladies, and facts are facts; and the former can always surmount the latter; while a man is comparatively helpless. I know that Mr. Jellicorse, their man of law, is thoroughly acquainted with this interesting deed; his first duty was to apprise them of it; and that, you may be quite sure, he has done.”

“I hope not. I am sure not. A lawyer does not always employ hot haste in an unwelcome duty.”

“True enough, Sir Duncan. But the duty here was welcome. Their knowledge of that deed, and of his possession of it, would make him their master, if he chose to be so. Not that old Jellicorse would think of such a thing. He is a man of high principle like myself, of a lofty conscience, and even sentimental. But lawyers are just like the rest of mankind. Their first consideration is their bread and cheese; though some of them certainly seem ready to accept it even in the toasted form.”

“You may say what you like, Mordacks, my sister Philippa is far too upright, and Eliza too good, for any such thing to be possible. However, that question may abide. I shall not move until I have some one to do it for. I have no great affection for a home which cast me forth, whether it had a right to do so or not. But if we succeed in the more important matter, it will be my duty to recover the estates, for the benefit of another. You are sure of your proofs that it is the boy?”

“As certain as need be. And we will make it surer when you meet me there the week after next. For the reasons I have mentioned, we must wait till then. Your yacht is at Yarmouth. You have followed my advice in approaching by sea, and not by land, and in hiring at Yarmouth for the purpose. But you never should have come to York, Sir Duncan; this is a very great mistake of yours. They are almost sure to hear of it. And even your name given in our best inn! But luckily they never see a newspaper at Scargate.”

“I follow the tactics with which you succeed — all above-board, and no stratagems. Your own letter brought me; but perhaps I am too old to be so impatient. Where shall I meet you, and on what day?”

“This day fortnight, at the Thornwick Inn, I shall hope to be with you at three o’clock, and perhaps bring somebody with me. If I fixed an earlier day, I should only disappoint you. For many things have to be delicately managed; and among them, the running of a certain cargo, without serious consequence. For that we may trust a certain very skillful youth. For the rest you must trust to a clumsier person, your humble land-agent and surveyor — titles inquired into and verified, at a tenth of solicitors’ charges.”

“Well,” said Sir Duncan, “you shall verify mine, as soon as you have verified my son, and my title to him. Good-by, Mordacks. I am sure you mean me well, but you seem to be very long about it.”

“Hot climates breed impatience, sir. A true son of Yorkshire is never in a hurry. The general complaint of me is concerning my wild rapidity.”

“You are like the grocer, whose goods, if they have any fault at all, have the opposite one to what the customer finds in them. Well, good-by, Mordacks. You are a trusty friend, and I thank you.”

These words from Sir Duncan Yordas were not merely of commonplace. For he was a man of great self-reliance, quick conclusion, and strong resolve. These had served him well in India, and insured his fortune; while early adversity and bitter losses had tempered the arrogance of his race. After the loss of his wife and child, and the breach with all his relatives, he had led a life of peril and hard labor, varied with few pleasures. When first he learned from Edinburgh that the ship conveying his only child to the care of the mother’s relatives was lost, with all on board, he did all in his power to make inquiries. But the illness and death of his wife, to whom he was deeply attached, overwhelmed him. For while with some people “one blow drives out another,” with some the second serves only to drive home, deepen, and aggravate the first. For years he was satisfied to believe both losses irretrievable. And so he might still have gone on believing, except for a queer little accident.

Being called to Calcutta upon government business, he happened to see a pair of English sailors, lazily playing, in a shady place by the side of the road, at hole-penny. One of them seemed to have his pocket cleared out, for just as Sir Duncan was passing, he cried, “Here, Jack, you give me change of one of them, and I’ll have at you again, my boy. As good as a guinea with these blessed niggers. Come back to their home, I b’lieve they are, same as I wish I was; rale gold — ask this gen’leman.”

The other swore that they were “naught but brass, and not worth a copper farden”; until the tars, being too tipsy for much fighting, referred the question to Sir Duncan.

Three hollow beads of gold were what they showed him, and he knew them at once for his little boy’s buttons, the workmanship being peculiar to one village of his district, and one family thereof. The sailor would thankfully have taken one rupee apiece for them; but Sir Duncan gave him thirty for the three — their full metallic value — upon his pledging honor to tell all he knew about them, and make affidavit, if required. Then he told all he knew, to the best of his knowledge, and swore to it when sober, accepted a refresher, and made oath to it again, with some lively particulars added. And the facts that he deposed to, and deposited, were these:

Being down upon his luck, about a twelvemonth back, he thought of keeping company with a nice young woman, and settling down until a better time turned up; and happening to get a month’s wages from a schooner of ninety-five tons at Scarborough, he strolled about the street a bit, and kept looking down the railings for a servant-girl who might have got her wages in her work-box. Clean he was, and taut, and clever, beating up street in Sunday rig, keeping sharp look-out for a consort, and in three or four tacks he hailed one. As nice a young partner as a lad could want, and his meaning was to buckle to for the winter. But the night before the splicing-day, what happened to him he never could tell after. He was bousing up his jib, as a lad is bound to do, before he takes the breakers. And when he came to, he was twenty leagues from Scarborough, on board of his Majesty’s recruiting brig the Harpy. He felt in his pocket for the wedding-ring, and instead of that, there were these three beads.

Sir Duncan was sorry for his sad disaster, and gave him ten more rupees to get over it. And then he discovered that the poor forsaken maiden’s name was Sally Watkins. Sally was the daughter of a rich pawnbroker, whose frame of mind was sometimes out of keeping with its true contents. He had very fine feelings, and real warmth of sympathy; but circumstances seemed sometimes to lead them into the wrong channel, and induced him to kick his children out of doors. In the middle of the family he kicked out Sally, almost before her turn was come; and she took a place at 4 pounds a year, to disgrace his memory — as she said — carrying off these buttons, and the jacket, which he had bestowed upon her, in a larger interval.

There was no more to be learned than this from the intercepted bridegroom. He said that he might have no objection to go on with his love again, as soon as the war was over, leastways, if it was made worth his while; but he had come across another girl, at the Cape of Good Hope, and he believed that this time the Lord was in it, for she had been born in a caul, and he had got it. With such a dispensation Sir Duncan Yordas saw no right to interfere, but left the course of true love to itself, after taking down the sailor’s name —“Ned Faithful.”

However, he resolved to follow out the clew of beads, though without much hope of any good result. Of the three in his possession he kept one, and one he sent to Edinburgh, and the third to York, having heard of the great sagacity, vigor, and strict integrity of Mr. Mordacks, all of which he sharpened by the promise of a large reward upon discovery. Then he went back to his work, until his time of leave was due, after twenty years of arduous and distinguished service. In troublous times, no private affairs, however urgent, should drive him from his post.

Now, eager as he was when in England once again, he was true to his character and the discipline of life. He had proof that the matter was in very good hands, and long command had taught him the necessity of obedience. Any previous Yordas would have kicked against the pricks, rushed forward, and scattered everything. But Sir Duncan was now of a different fibre. He left York at once, as Mordacks advised, and posted to Yarmouth, before the roads were blocked with snow, and while Jack o’ the Smithies was returning to his farm. And from Yarmouth he set sail for Scarborough, in a sturdy little coaster, which he hired by the week. From Scarborough he would run down to Bridlington — not too soon, for fear of setting gossip going, but in time to meet Mordacks at Flamborough, as agreed upon.

That gentleman had other business in hand, which must not be neglected; but he gave to this matter a very large share of his time, and paid five-and-twenty pounds for the trusty roadster, who liked the taste of Flamborough pond, and the salt air on the oats of Widow Tapsy’s stable, and now regularly neighed and whisked his tail as soon as he found himself outside Monk Bar. By favor of this horse and of his own sword and pistols, Mordacks spent nearly as much time now at Flamborough as he did in York; but unluckily he had been obliged to leave on the very afternoon before the run was accomplished, and Carroway slain so wickedly; for he hurried home to meet Sir Duncan, and had not heard the bad news when he met him.

That horrible murder was a sad blow to him, not only as a man of considerable kindness and desire to think well of every one — so far as experience allows it — but also because of the sudden apparition of the law rising sternly in front of him. Justice in those days was not as now: her truer name was Nemesis. After such an outrage to the dignity of the realm, an example must be made, without much consideration whether it were the right one. If Robin Lyth were caught, there would be the form of trial, but the principal point would be to hang him. Like the rest of the world, Mr. Mordacks at first believed entirely in his guilt; but unlike the world, he did not desire to have him caught, and brought straightway to the gallows. Instead of seeking him, therefore, he was now compelled to avoid him, when he wanted him most; for it never must be said that a citizen of note had discoursed with such a criminal, and allowed him to escape. On the other hand, here he had to meet Sir Duncan, and tell him that all those grand promises were shattered, that in finding his only son all he had found was a cowardly murderer flying for his life, and far better left at the bottom of the sea. For once in a way, as he dwelt upon all this, the general factor became down-hearted, his vigorous face lost the strong lines of decision, and he even allowed his mouth to open without anything to put into it.

But it was impossible for this to last. Nature had provided Mordacks with an admirably high opinion of himself, enlivened by a sprightly good-will toward the world, whenever it wagged well with him. He had plenty of business of his own, and yet could take an amateur delight in the concerns of everybody; he was always at liberty to give good advice, and never under duty to take it; he had vigor of mind, of memory, of character, and of digestion; and whenever he stole a holiday from self-denial, and launched out after some favorite thing, there was the cash to do it with, and the health to do it pleasantly.

Such a man is not long depressed by a sudden misadventure. Dr. Upround’s opinion in favor of Robin did not go very far with him; for he looked upon the rector as a man who knew more of divine than of human nature. But that fault could scarcely be found with a woman; or at any rate with a widow encumbered with a large family hanging upon the dry breast of the government. And though Mr. Mordacks did not invade the cottage quite so soon as he should have done, if guided by strict business, he thought himself bound to get over that reluctance, and press her upon a most distressing subject, before he kept appointment with his principal.

The snow, which by this time had blockaded Scargate, impounded Jordas, and compelled Mr. Jellicorse to rest and be thankful for a hot mince-pie, although it had visited this eastern coast as well, was not deep enough there to stop the roads. Keeping head-quarters at the “Hooked Cod” now, and encouraging a butcher to set up again (who had dropped all his money, in his hurry to get on), Geoffrey Mordacks began to make way into the outer crust of Flamborough society. In a council of the boats, upon a Sunday afternoon, every boat being garnished for its rest upon the flat, and every master fisherman buttoned with a flower — the last flowers of the year, and bearing ice-marks in their eyes — a resolution had been passed that the inland man meant well, had naught to do with Revenue, or Frenchmen either, or what was even worse, any outside fishers, such as often-time came sneaking after fishing grounds of Flamborough. Mother Tapsy stood credit for this strange man, and he might be allowed to go where he was minded, and to take all the help he liked to pay for.

Few men could have achieved such a triumph, without having married a Flamborough lass, which must have been the crown of all human ambition, if difficulty crowns it. Even to so great a man it was an added laurel, and strengthened him much in his opinion of himself. In spite of all disasters, he recovered faith in fortune, so many leading Flamborough men began to touch their hats to him! And thus he set forth before a bitter eastern gale, with the head of his seasoned charger bent toward the melancholy cot at Bridlington.

Having granted a new life of slaughter to that continually insolvent butcher, who exhibited the body of a sheep once more, with an eye to the approach of Christmas, this universal factor made it a point of duty to encourage him. In either saddle-bag he bore a seven-pound leg of mutton — a credit to a sheep of that district then — and to show himself no traitor to the staple of the place, he strapped upon his crupper, in some oar-weed and old netting, a twenty-pound cod, who found it hard to breathe his last when beginning to enjoy horse-exercise.

“There is a lot of mouths to fill,” said Mr. Mordacks, with a sigh, while his landlady squeezed a brown loaf of her baking into the nick of his big sword-strap; “and you and I are capable of entering into the condition of the widow and the fatherless.”

“Hoonger is the waa of them, and victuals is the cure for it. Now mind you coom home afore dark,” cried the widow, to whom he had happened to say, very sadly, that he was now a widower. “To my moind, a sight o’ more snaw is a-coomin’; and what mah sard or goon foight again it? Captain Moordocks, coom ye home arly. T’ hare sha’ be doon to a toorn be fi’ o’clock. Coom ye home be that o’clock, if ye care for deener,”

“I must have made a tender impression on her heart,” Mr. Mordacks said to himself, as he kissed his hand to the capacious hostess. “Such is my fortune, to be loved by everybody, while aiming at the sternest rectitude. It is sweet, it is dangerously sweet; but what a comfort! How that large-hearted female will baste my hare!”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50