Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter XLVIII

Short Sighs, and Long Ones

Now it came to pass that for several months this neighborhood, which had begun to regard Mr. Mordacks as its tutelary genius — so great is the power of bold energy — lost him altogether; and with brief lamentation began to do very well without him. So fugitive is vivacious stir, and so well content is the general world to jog along in its old ruts. The Flamborough butcher once more subsided into a piscitarian; the postman, who had been driven off his legs, had time to nurse his grain again; Widow Tapsy relapsed into the very worst of taps, having none to demand good beverage; and a new rat, sevenfold worse than the mighty net-devourer (whom Mordacks slew; but the chronicle has been cut out, for the sake of brevity), took possession of his galleries, and made them pay. All Flamborough yearned for the “gentleman as did things,” itself being rather of the contemplative vein, which flows from immemorial converse with the sea. But the man of dry hand-and-heel activity came not, and the lanes forgot the echo of his Roman march.

The postman (with a wicked endeavor of hope to beget faith from sweet laziness) propagated a loose report that Death had claimed the general factor, through fear of any rival in activity. The postman did not put it so, because his education was too good for long words to enter into it; but he put his meaning in a shorter form than a smattering of distant tongues leaves to us. The butcher (having doubt of death, unless by man administered) kicked the postman out of his expiring shop, where large hooks now had no sheep for bait; and Widow Tapsy, filled with softer liquid form of memory, was so upset by the letter-man’s tale that she let off a man who owed four gallons, for beating him as flat as his own bag. To tell of these things may take time, but time is thoroughly well spent if it contributes a trifle toward some tendency, on anybody’s part, to hope that there used to be, even in this century, such a thing as gratitude.

But why did Mr. Mordacks thus desert his favorite quest and quarters, and the folk in whom he took most delight — because so long inaccessible? The reason was as sound as need be: important business of his own had called him away into Derbyshire. Like every true son of stone and crag, he required an annual scratch against them, and hoped to rest among them when the itch of life was over. But now he had hopes of even more than that — of owning a good house and fair estate, and henceforth exerting his remarkable powers of agency on his own behalf. For his cousin, Calpurnius Mordacks, the head of the family, was badly ailing, and having lost his only son in the West Indies, had sent for this kinsman to settle matters with him. His offer was generous and noble; to wit, that Geoffrey should take, not the property alone, but also his second cousin, fair Calpurnia, though not without her full consent. Without the lady, he was not to have the land, and the lady’s consent must be secured before her father ceased to be a sound testator.

Now if Calpurnia had been kept in ignorance of this arrangement, a man possessing the figure, decision, stature, self-confidence, and other high attributes of our Mordacks, must have triumphed in a week at latest. But with that candor which appears to have been so strictly entailed in the family, Colonel Calpurnius called them in; and there (in the presence of the testator and of each other) they were fully apprised of this rather urgent call upon their best and most delicate emotions. And the worst of it was (from the gentleman’s point of view), that the contest was unequal. The golden apples were not his to cast, but Atalanta’s. The lady was to have the land, even without accepting love. Moreover, he was fifty per cent beyond her in age, and Hymen would make her a mamma without invocation of Lucina. But highest and deepest woe of all, most mountainous of obstacles, was the lofty skyline of his nose, inherited from the Roman. If the lady’s corresponding feature had not corresponded — in other words, if her nose had been chubby, snub, or even Greek — his bold bridge must have served him well, and even shortened access to rosy lips and tender heart. But, alas! the fair one’s nose was also of the fine imperial type, truly admirable in itself, but (under one of nature’s strictest laws) coy of contact with its own male expression. Love, whose joy and fierce prank is to buckle to the plated pole ill-matched forms and incongruous spirits, did not fail of her impartial freaks. Mr. Mordacks had to cope with his own kin, and found the conflict so severe that not a breath of time was left him for anybody’s business but his own.

If luck was against him in that quarter (although he would not own it yet), at York and Flamborough it was not so. No crisis arose to demand his presence; no business went amiss because of his having to work so hard at love. There came, as there sometimes does in matters pressing, tangled, and exasperating, a quiet period, a gentle lull, a halcyon time when the jaded brain reposes, and the heart may hatch her own mares’-nests. Underneath that tranquil spell lay fond Joe and Bob (with their cash to spend), Widow Precious (with her beer laid in), and Widow Carroway, with a dole at last extorted from the government; while Anerley Farm was content to hearken the creak of wagon and the ring of flail, and the rector of Flamborough once more rejoiced in the bloodless war that breeds good-will.

For Sir Duncan Yordas was a fine chess-player, as many Indian officers of that time were; and now that he was coming to his proper temperature (after three months of barbed stab of cold, and the breach of the seal of the seventy-seventh phial of Dr. Stirbacks), in gratitude for that miraculous escape, he did his very best to please everybody. To Dr. Upround he was an agreeable and penetrative companion; to Mrs. Upround, a gallant guest, with a story for every slice of bread and butter; to Janetta, a deity combining the perfections of Jupiter, Phoebus, Mars, and Neptune (because of his yacht), without any of their drawbacks; and to Flamborough, more largely speaking, a downright good sort of gentleman, combining a smoke with a chaw — so they understood cigars — and not above standing still sometimes for a man to say some sense to him.

But before Mr. Mordacks left his client under Dr. Upround’s care, he had done his best to provide that mischief should not come of gossip; and the only way to prevent that issue is to preclude the gossip. Sir Duncan Yordas, having lived so long in a large commanding way, among people who might say what they pleased of him, desired no concealment here, and accepted it unwillingly. But his agent was better skilled in English life, and rightly foresaw a mighty buzz of nuisance — without any honey to be brought home — from the knowledge of the public that the Indian hero had begotten the better-known apostle of free trade. Yet it might have been hard to persuade Sir Duncan to keep that great fact to himself, if his son had been only a smuggler, or only a fugitive from a false charge of murder. But that which struck him in the face, as soon as he was able to consider things, was the fact that his son had fled and vanished, leaving his underlings to meet their fate. “The smuggling is a trifle,” exclaimed the sick man; “our family never was law-abiding, and used to be large cattle-lifters; even the slaying of a man in hot combat is no more than I myself have done, and never felt the worse for it. But to run away, and leave men to be hanged, after bringing them into the scrape himself, is not the right sort of dishonor for a Yordas. If the boy surrenders, I shall be proud to own him. But until he does that, I agree with you, Mordacks, that he does not deserve to know who he is.”

This view of the case was harsh, perhaps, and showed some ignorance of free-trade questions, and of English justice. If Robin Lyth had been driven, by the heroic view of circumstances, to rush into embrace constabular, would that have restored the other six men to family sinuosities? Not a chance of it. Rather would it treble the pangs of jail — where they enjoyed themselves — to feel that anxiety about their pledges to fortune from which the free Robin relieved them. Money was lodged and paid as punctual as the bank for the benefit of all their belongings. There were times when the sailors grumbled a little because they had no ropes to climb; but of any unfriendly rope impending they were too wise to have much fear. They knew that they had not done the deed, and they felt assured that twelve good men would never turn round in their box to believe it.

Their captain took the same view of the case. He had very little doubt of their acquittal if they were defended properly; and of that a far wealthier man than himself, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of free trade, Master Rideout of Malton, would take good care, if the money left with Dr. Upround failed. The surrender of Robin would simply hurt them, unless they were convicted, and in that case he would yield himself. Sir Duncan did not understand these points, and condemned his son unjustly. And Mordacks was no longer there to explain such questions in his sharp clear way.

Being in this sadly disappointed state, and not thoroughly delivered from that renal chill (which the northeast wind, coming over the leather of his valise, had inflicted), this gentleman, like a long-pendulous grape with the ventilators open, was exposed to the delicate insidious billing of little birds that love something good. It might be wrong — indeed, it must be wrong, and a foul slur upon fair sweet love — to insinuate that Indian gold, or rank, or renown, or vague romance, contributed toward what came to pass. Miss Janetta Upround, up to this time of her life, had laughed at all the wanton tricks of Cupid; and whenever the married women told her that her time would be safe to come, and then she might understand their behavior, they had always been ordered to go home and do their washing. And this made it harder for her to be mangled by the very tribulation she had laughed at.

Short little sighs were her first symptom, and a quiet way of going up the stairs — which used to be a noisy process with her — and then a desire to know something of history, and a sudden turn of mind toward soup. Sir Duncan had a basin every day at twelve o’clock, and Janetta had orders to see him do it, by strict institution of Stirbacks. Those orders she carried out with such zeal that she even went so far as to blow upon the spoon; and she did look nice while doing it. In a word — as there is no time for many — being stricken, she did her best to strike, as the manner of sweet women is.

Sir Duncan Yordas received it well. Being far on toward her futurity in years, and beyond her whole existence in experience and size, he smiled at her ardor and short vehemence to please him, and liked to see her go about, because she turned so lightly. Then the pleasant agility of thought began to make him turn to answer it; and whenever she had the best of him in words, her bright eyes fell, as if she had the worst. “She doesn’t even know that she is clever,” said the patient to himself, “and she is the first person I have met with yet who knows which side of the line Calcutta is.”

The manner of those benighted times was to keep from young ladies important secrets which seemed to be no concern of theirs. Miss Upround had never been told what brought this visitor to Flamborough, and although she had plenty of proper curiosity, she never got any reward for it. Only four Flamburians knew that Sir Duncan was Robin Lyth’s papa — or, as they would put it (having faster hold of the end of the stick next to them), that Robin Lyth was the son of Sir Duncan. And those four were, by force of circumstance, Robin Cockscroft and Joan his wife, the rector and the rectoress. Even Dr. Stirbacks (organically inquisitive as he was, and ill content to sniff at any bottle with the cork tied down), by mastery of Mordacks and calm dignity of rector, was able to suspect a lot of things, but to be sure of none of them; and suspicion, according to its usual manner, never came near the truth at all. Miss Upround, therefore, had no idea that if she became Lady Yordas, which she very sincerely longed to be, she would, by that event, be made the step-mother of a widely celebrated smuggler; while her Indian hero, having no idea of her flattering regard as yet, was not bound to enlighten her upon that point.

At Anerley Farm the like ignorance prevailed; except that Mistress Anerley, having a quick turn for romance, and liking to get her predictions confirmed, recalled to her mind (and recited to her husband in far stronger language) what she had said, in the clover-blossom time, to the bravest man that ever lived, the lamented Captain Carroway. Captain Carroway’s dauntless end, so thoroughly befitting his extraordinary exploits, for which she even had his own authority, made it the clearest thing in all the world that every word she said to him must turn out Bible-true. And she had begged him — and one might be certain that he had told it, as a good man must, to his poor dear widow — not to shoot at Robin Lyth; because he would get a thousand pounds, instead of a hundred for doing it. She never could have dreamed to find her words come true so suddenly; but here was an Indian Prince come home, who employed the most pleasant-spoken gentleman; and he might know who it was he had to thank that even in the cave the captain did not like to shoot that long-lost heir; and from this time out there was no excuse for Stephen if he ever laughed at anything that his wife said. Only on no account must Mary ever hear of it; for a bird in the hand was worth fifty in the bush; and the other gone abroad, and under accusation, and very likely born of a red Indian mother. Whereas Harry Tanfield’s father, George, had been as fair as a foal, poor fellow; and perhaps if the church books had been as he desired, he might have kept out of the church-yard to this day.

“And me in it,” the farmer answered, with a laugh —“dead for love of my wife, Sophy; as wouldn’t ‘a been my wife, nor drawn nigh upon fi’ pounds this very week for feathers, fur, and ribbon stuff. Well, well, George would ‘a come again, to think of it. How many times have I seen him go with a sixpence in the palm of ‘s hand, and think better of the king upon it, and worser of the poor chap as were worn out, like the tail of it! Then back go the sixpence into George’s breeches; and out comes my shilling to the starving chap, on the sly, and never mentioned. But for all that, I think, like enow, old George mought ‘a managed to get up to heaven.”

“Stephen, I wish to hear nothing of that. The question concerns his family, not ours, as Providence has seen fit to arrange. Now what is your desire to have done with Mary? William has made his great discovery at last; and if we should get the 10,000 pounds, nobody need look down on us.”

“I should like to see any one look down on me,” Master Anerley said, with his back set straight; “a’ mought do so once, but a’ would be sorry afterward. Not that I would hinder him of ‘s own way; only that he better keep out of mine. Sometimes, when you go thinking of your own ideas, you never seem to bear in mind what my considerations be.”

“Because you can not follow out the quickness of the way I think. You always acknowledge that, my dear.”

“Well, well. Quick churn spoileth butter. Like Willie with his perpetual motion. What good to come of it, if he hath found out? And a’ might, if ever a body did, from the way he goeth jumping about forever, and never hold fast to anything. A nice thing ‘twould be for the fools to say, perpetual motion come from Anerley Farm!”

“You never will think any good of him, Stephen, because his mind comes from my side. But wait till you see the 10,000 pounds.”

“That I will; and thank the Lord to live so long. But, to come to common-sense — how was Mary and Harry a-carrying on this afternoon?”

“Not so very bad, father; and nothing good to speak of. He kept on very well from the corners of his eyes; but she never corresponded, so to speak — same as — you know.”

“The same as you used to do when you was young. Well, manners may be higher stylish now. Did he ask her about the hay-rick?”

“That he did. Three or four times over; exactly as you said it to him. He knew that was how you got the upper hand of me, according to your memory, but not mine; and he tried to do it the very same way; but the Lord makes a lot of change in thirty years of time. Mary quite turned her nose up at any such riddle, and he pulled his spotted handkerchief out of that new hat of his, and the fagot never saw fit to heed even the color of his poor red cheeks. Stephen, you would have marched off for a week if I had behaved to you so.”

“And the right way too; I shall put him up to that. Long sighs only leads to turn-up noses. He plays too knuckle-down at it. You should go on with your sweetheart very mild at first; just a-feeling for her finger-tips; and emboldening of her to believe that you are frightened, and bringing her to peep at you as if you was a blackbird, ready to pop out of sight. That makes ’em wonderful curious and eager, and sticks you into ’em, like prickly spinach. But you mustn’t stop too long like that. You must come out large, as a bull runs up to gate; and let them see that you could smash it if you liked, but feel a goodness in your heart that keeps you out of mischief. And then they comes up, and they says, ‘poor fellow!’”

“Stephen, I do not approve of such expressions, or any such low opinions. You may know how you went on. Such things may have answered once; because of your being — yourself, you know. But Mary, although she may not have my sense, must have her own opinions. And the more you talk of what we used to do — though I never remember your trotting up, like a great bull roaring, to any kind of gate — the less I feel inclined to force her. And who is Harry Tanfield, after all?”

“We know all about him,” the farmer answered; “and that is something to begin with. His land is worth fifteen shillings an acre less than ours, and full of kid-bine. But, for all that, he can keep a family, and is a good home-dweller. However, like the rest of us, in the way of women, he must bide his bolt, and bode it.”

“Father,” the mistress of the house replied, “I shall never go one step out of my way to encourage a young man who makes you speak so lightly of those you owe so much to. Harry Tanfield may take his chance for me.”

“So a’ may for me, mother — so a’ may for me. If a’ was to have our Mary, his father George would be coming up between us, out of his peace in churchyard, more than he doth a’ready; and a’ comes too much a’ready. — Why, poppet, we were talking of you — fie, fie, listening!”

“No, now, father,” Mary Anerley answered, with a smile at such a low idea; “you never had that to find fault with me, I think. And if you are plotting against me for my good — as mother loves to put it — it would be the best way to shut me out before you begin to do it.”

“Why, bless my heart and soul,” exclaimed the farmer, with a most crafty laugh — for he meant to kill two birds with one stone —“if the lass hathn’t got her own dear mother’s tongue, and the very same way of turning things! There never hath been such a time as this here. The childer tell us what to do, and their mothers tell us what not to do. Better take the business off my hands, and sell all they turnips as is rotting. Women is cheats, and would warrant ’em sound, with the best to the top of the bury. But mind you one thing — if I retires from business, like Brother Popplewell, I shall expect to be supported; cheap, but very substantial.”

“Mary, you are wicked to say such things,” Mistress Anerley began, as he went out, “when you know that your dear father is such a substantial silent man.”

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