Mary Anerley, by R. D. Blackmore

Chapter LVII

Mary Lyth

Conquests, triumphs, and slaughterous glory are not very nice till they have ceased to drip. After that extinction of the war upon the waves, the nation which had won the fight went into general mourning. Sorrow, as deep as a maiden’s is at the death of her lover, spread over the land; and people who had married their romance away, and fathered off their enthusiasm, abandoned themselves to even deeper anguish at the insecurity of property. So deeply had England’s faith been anchored into the tenacity of Nelson. The fall of the funds when the victory was announced outspoke a thousand monuments.

From sires and grandsires Englishmen have learned the mood into which their country fell. To have fought under Nelson in his last fight was a password to the right hands of men, and into the hearts of women. Even a man who had never been known to change his mind began to condemn other people for being obstinate. Farmer Anerley went to church in his Fencible accoutrements, with a sash of heavy crape, upon the first day of the Christian year. To prove the largeness of his mind, he harnessed the white-nosed horse, and drove his family away from his own parish, to St. Oswald’s Church at Flamborough, where Dr. Upround was to preach upon the death of Nelson. This sermon was of the noblest order, eloquent, spirited, theological, and yet so thoroughly practical, that seven Flamborough boys set off on Monday to destroy French ships of war. Mary did her very utmost not to cry — for she wanted so particularly to watch her father — but nature and the doctor were too many for her. And when he came to speak of the distinguished part played (under Providence) by a gallant son of Flamborough, who, after enduring with manly silence evil report and unprecious balms, stood forward in the breach, like Phineas, and, with the sword of Gideon, defied Philistia to enter the British ark; and when he went on to say that but for Flamborough’s prowess on that day, and the valor of the adjoining parish (which had also supplied a hero), England might be mourning her foremost [Greek word], her very greatest fighter in the van, without the consolation of burying him, and embalming him in a nation’s tears — for the French might have fired the magazine — and when he proceeded to ask who it was that (under the guiding of a gracious hand) had shattered the devices of the enemy, up stood Robin Cockscroft, with a score of equally ancient captains, and remembering where they were, touched their forelocks, and answered —“Robin Lyth, sir!”

Then Mary permitted the pride of her heart, which had long been painful with the tight control, to escape in a sob, which her mother had foreseen; and pulling out the stopper from her smelling-bottle, Mistress Anerley looked at her husband as if he were Bonaparte himself. He, though aware that it was inconsistent of her, felt (as he said afterward) as if he had been a Frenchman; and looked for his hat, and fumbled about for the button of the pew, to get out of it. But luckily the clerk, with great presence of mind, awoke, and believing the sermon to be over, from the number of men who were standing up, pronounced “Amen” decisively.

During the whole of the homeward drive Farmer Anerley’s countenance was full of thought; but he knew that it was watched, and he did not choose to let people get in front of him with his own brains. Therefore he let his wife and daughter look at him, to their hearts’ content, while he looked at the ledges, and the mud, and the ears of his horse, and the weather; and he only made two observations of moment, one of which was “gee!” and the other was “whoa!”

With females jolting up and down, upon no springs — except those of jerksome curiosity — conduct of this character was rude in the extreme. But knowing what he was, they glanced at one another, not meaning in any sort of way to blame him, but only that he would be better by-and-by, and perhaps try to make amends handsomely. And this, beyond any denial, he did as soon as he had dined, and smoked his pipe on the butt of the tree by the rick-yard. Nobody knew where he kept his money, or at least his good wife always said so, when any one made bold to ask her. And even now he was right down careful to go to his pot without anybody watching; so that when he came into the Sunday parlor there was not one of them who could say, even at a guess, where he last had been.

Master Simon Popplewell, gentleman-tanner (called out of his name, and into the name of “Johnny,” even by his own wife, because there was no sign of any Simon in him), he was there, and his good wife Debby, and Mistress Anerley in her best cap, and Mary, dressed in royal navy blue, with bars of black (for Lord Nelson’s sake), according to the kind gift of aunt and uncle; also Willie, looking wonderfully handsome, though pale with the failure of “perpetual motion,” and inclined to be languid, as great genius should be in its intervals of activity. Among them a lively talk was stirring; and the farmer said, “Ah! You was talking about me.”

“We mought be; and yet again we mought not,” Master Popplewell returned, with a glance at Mrs. Deborah, who had just been describing to the company how much her husband excelled in jokesomeness. “Brother Stephen, a good man seeks to be spoken of, and a bad one objects to it, in vain.”

“Very well. You shall have something for your money. Mary, you know where the old Mydeary wine is that come from your godfathers and godmothers when you was called in baptism. Take you the key from your mother, child, and bring you up a bottle, and brother Popplewell will open it, for such things is beyond me.”

“Well done, our side!” exclaimed the tanner; for if he had a weakness it was for Madeira, which he always declared to have a musky smack of tan; and a waggish customer had told him once that the grapes it was made of were always tanned first. The others kept silence, foreseeing great events.

Then Mr. Popplewell, poised with calm discretion, and moving with the nice precision of a fine watchmaker, shed into the best decanter (softly as an angel’s tears) liquid beauty, not too gaudy, not too sparkling with shallow light, not too ruddy with sullen glow, but vivid — like a noble gem, a brown cairngorm — with mellow depth of lustre. “That’s your sort!” the tanner cried, after putting his tongue, while his wife looked shocked, to the lip of the empty bottle.

“Such things is beyond my knowledge,” answered Farmer Anerley, as soon as he saw the best glasses filled; “but nothing in nature is too good to speak a good man’s health in. Now fill you up a little glass for Mary; and, Perpetual Motion, you stand up, which is more than your machines can do. Now here I stand, and I drink good health to a man as I never clapped eyes on yet, and would have preferred to keep the door between us; but the Lord hath ordered otherwise. He hath wiped out all his faults against the law; he hath fought for the honor of old England well; and he hath saved the life of my son Jack. Spite of all that, I might refuse to unspeak my words, which I never did afore, if it had not been that I wronged the man. I have wronged the young fellow, and I am man enough to say so. I called him a murderer and a sneak, and time hath proved me to have been a liar. Therefore I ask his pardon humbly; and, what will be more to his liking, perhaps, I say that he shall have my daughter Mary, if she abides agreeable. And I put down these here twenty guineas, for Mary to look as she ought to look. She hath been a good lass, and hath borne with me better than one in a thousand would have done. Mary, my love to you; and with leave all round, here’s the very good health of Robin Lyth!”

“Here’s the health of Robin Lyth!” shouted Mr. Popplewell, with his fat cheeks shining merrily. “Hurrah for the lad who saved Nelson’s death from a Frenchman’s grins, and saved our Jack boy! Stephen Anerley, I forgive you. This is the right stuff, and no mistake. Deborah, come and kiss the farmer.”

Mrs. Popplewell obeyed her husband, as the manner of good wives is. And over and above this fleeting joy, solid satisfaction entered into noble hearts, which felt that now the fruit of laborious years, and the cash of many a tanning season, should never depart from the family. And to make an end of any weak misgivings, even before the ladies went — to fill the pipes for the gentlemen — the tanner drew with equal care, and even better nerve, the second bottle’s cork, and expressed himself as follows:

“Brother Steve hath done the right thing. We hardly expected it of him, by rights of his confounded stubbornness. But when a shut-up man repenteth, he is equal to a hoyster, or this here bottle. What good would this ‘a been without it was sealed over? Now mark my words. I’ll not be behind no man when it comes to the right side up. I may be a poor man, a very poor man; and people counting otherwise might find themselves mistaken. I likes to be liked for myself only. But the day our Mary goes to church with Robin Lyth she shall have 500 pounds tied upon her back, or else my name’s not Popplewell.”

Mary had left the room long ago, after giving her father a gentle kiss, and whispering to Willie that he should have half of her twenty guineas for inventing things; which is a most expensive process, and should be more highly encouraged. Therefore she could not express at the moment her gratitude to Squire Popplewell; but as soon as she heard of his generosity, it lifted a great weight off her mind, and enabled her to think about furnishing a cottage. But she never told even her mother of that. Perhaps Robin might have seen some one he liked better. Perhaps he might have heard that stupid story about her having taken up with poor Harry Tanfield; and that might have driven him to wed a foreign lady, and therefore to fight so desperately. None, however, of these perhapses went very deeply into her heart, which was equally trusting and trusty.

Now some of her confidence in the future was justified that very moment almost, by a sudden and great arrival, not of Jack Anerley and Robin Lyth (who were known to be coming home together), but of a gentleman whose skill and activity deserved all thanks for every good thing that had happened.

“Well! I am in the very nick of time. It is my nature,” cried Mr. Mordacks, seated in the best chair by the fire. “Why? you inquire, with your native penetration. Simply because in very early days I acquired the habit of punctuality. This holding good where an appointment is, holds good afterward, from the force of habit, in matters that are of luck alone. The needle-eye of time gets accustomed to be hit, and turns itself up, without waiting for the clew. Wonderful Madeira! Well, Captain Anerley, no wonder that you have discouraged free trade with your cellars full of this! It is twenty years since I have tasted such wine. Mistress Anerley, I have the honor of quaffing this glass to your very best health, and that of a very charming young lady, who has hitherto failed to appreciate me.”

“Then, sir, I am here to beg your pardon,” said Mary, coming up, with a beautiful blush. “When I saw you first I did not enter into your — your —”

“My outspoken manner and short business style. But I hope that you have come to like me better. All good persons do, when they come to know me.”

“Yes, sir; I was quite ashamed of myself, when I came to learn all that you have done for somebody, and your wonderful kindness at Bridlington.”

“Famously said! You inherit from your mother the power and the charm of expression. And now, my dear lady, good Mistress Anerley, I shall undo all my great merits by showing that I am like the letter-writers, who never write until they have need of something. Captain Anerley, it concerns you also, as a military man, and loyal soldier of King George. A gallant young officer (highly distinguished in his own way, and very likely to get on, in virtue of high connection) became of age some few weeks back; and being the heir to large estates, determined to entail them. I speak as in a parable. My meaning is one which the ladies will gracefully enter into. Being a large heir, he is not selfish, but would fain share his blessings with a little one. In a word, he is to marry a very beautiful young lady tomorrow, and under my agency. But he has a very delightful mother, and an aunt of a lofty and commanding mind, whose views, however, are comparatively narrow. For a hasty, brief season, they will be wroth; and it would be unjust to be angry with them. But love’s indignation is soon cured by absence, and tones down rapidly into desire to know how the sinner is getting on. In the present case, a fortnight will do the business; or if for a month, so much the better. Heroes are in demand just now; and this young gentleman took such a scare in his very first fight that he became a hero, and so has behaved himself ever since. Ladies, I am astonished at your goodness in not interrupting me. Your minds must be as practical as my own. Now this lovely young pair, being married tomorrow, will have to go hunting for the honey in the moon, to which such enterprises lead.”

“Sir, you are very right,” Squire Popplewell replied; and, “That is Bible truth,” said the farmer.

“Our minds are enlarged by experience,” resumed the genial factor, pleasantly, and bowing to the ladies, who declined to say a word until a better opportunity, “and we like to see the process going on with others. But a nest must be found for these young doves — a quiet one, a simple one, a place where they may learn to put up with one another’s cookery. The secret of happiness in this world is not to be too particular. I have hit upon the very place to make them thankful by-and-by, when they come to look back upon it — a sweet little hole, half a league away from anybody. All is arranged — a frying-pan, a brown-ware tea-pot, a skin of lard, a cock and a hen, to lay some eggs; a hundredweight of ship biscuits, warranted free from weevil, and a knife and fork. Also a way to the sea, and a net, for them to fish together. Nothing more delightful can be imagined. Under such circumstances, they will settle, in three days, which is to be the master — which I take to be the most important of all marriage settlements. And, unless I am very much mistaken, it will be the right one — the lady. My little heroine, Jerry Carroway, is engaged as their factotum, and every auspice is favorable. But without your consent, all is knocked on the head; for the cottage is yours, and the tenant won’t go out, even under temptation of five guineas, without your written order. Mistress Anerley, I appeal to you. Captain, say nothing. This is a lady’s question.”

“Then I like to have a little voice sometimes, though it is not often that I get it. And, Mr. Mordacks, I say ‘Yes.’ And out of the five guineas we shall get our rent, or some of it, perhaps, from Poacher Tim, who owes us nigh upon two years now.”

The farmer smiled at his wife’s good thrift, and, being in a pleasant mood, consented, if so be the law could not be brought against him, and if the young couple would not stop too long, or have any family to fall upon the rates. The factor assured him against all evils; and then created quite a brisk sensation by telling them, in strict confidence, that the young officer was one Lancelot Yordas, own first cousin to the famous Robin Lyth, and nephew to Sir Duncan Yordas. And the lady was the daughter of Sir Duncan’s oldest friend, the very one whose name he had given to his son. Wonder never ceased among them, when they thought how things came round.

Things came round not only thus, but also even better afterward. Mordacks had a very beautiful revenge of laughter at old Jellicorse, by outstripping him vastly in the family affairs. But Mr. Jellicorse did not care, so long as he still had eleven boxes left of title-deeds to Scargate Hall, no liability about the twelfth, and a very fair prospect of a lawsuit yet for the multiplication of the legal race. And meeting Mr. Mordacks in the highest legal circles, at Proctor Brigant’s, in Crypt Court, York, he acknowledged that he never met a more delightful gentleman, until he found out what his name was. And even then he offered him a pinch of snuff, and they shook hands very warmly without anything to pay.

When Robin Lyth came home he was dissatisfied at first — so difficult is mankind to please — because his good luck had been too good. No scratch of steel, no permanent scorch of powder, was upon him, and England was not in the mood to value any unwounded valor. But even here his good luck stood him in strong stead, and cured his wrong. For when the body of the lamented hero arrived at Spithead, in spirits of wine, early in December, it was found that the Admiralty had failed to send down any orders about it. Reports, however, were current of some intention that the hero should lie in state, and the battered ship went on with him. And when at last proper care was shown, and the relics of one of the noblest men that ever lived upon the tide of time were being transferred to a yacht at the Nore, Robin Lyth, in a sad and angry mood, neglected to give a wide berth to a gun that was helping to keep up the mourning salute, and a piece of wad carried off his starboard whisker.

This at once replaced him in the popular esteem, and enabled him to land upon the Yorkshire coast with a certainty of glorious welcome. Mr. Mordacks himself came down to meet him at the Northern Landing, with Dr. Upround and Robin Cockscroft, and nearly all the men, and entirely all the women and children, of Little Denmark. Strangers also from outlandish parts, Squire Popplewell and his wife Deborah, Mrs. Carroway (with her Tom, and Jerry, and Cissy, and lesser Carroways, for her old aunt Jane was gone to Paradise at last, and had left her enough to keep a pony-carriage), and a great many others, and especially a group of four distinguished persons, who stood at the top of the slide, because of the trouble of getting back if they went down.

These had a fair and double-horsed carriage in the lane, at the spot where fish face their last tribunal; and scarcely any brains but those of Flamborough could have absorbed such a spectacle as this, together with the deeper expectations from the sea. Of these four persons, two were young enough, and two not so young as they had been, but still very lively, and well pleased with one another. These were Mrs. Carnaby and Mr. Bart; the pet of the one had united his lot with the darling of the other; for good or for bad, there was no getting out of it, and the only thing was to make the best of it. And being good people, they were doing this successfully. Poor Mrs. Carnaby had said to Mr. Bart, as soon as Mr. Mordacks let her know about the wedding, “Oh, but, Mr. Bart, you are a gentleman; now, are you not? I am sure you are, though you do such things! I am sure of it by your countenance.”

“Madam,” Mr. Bart replied, with a bow that was decisive, “if I am not, it is my own fault, as it is the fault of every man.”

At this present moment they were standing with their children, Lancelot and Insie, who had nicely recovered from matrimony, and began to be too high-spirited. They all knew, by virtue of Mr. Mordacks, who Robin Lyth was; and they wanted to see him, and be kind to him, if he made no claim upon them. And Mr. Bart desired, as his father’s friend, to shake hands with him, and help him, if help were needed.

But Robin, with a grace and elegance which he must have imported from foreign parts, declined all connection and acquaintance with them, and declared his set resolve to have nothing to do with the name of “Yordas.” They were grieved, as they honestly declared, to hear it, but could not help owning that his pride was just; and they felt that their name was the richer for not having any poor people to share it.

Yet Captain Lyth — as he now was called, even by revenue officers — in no way impoverished his name by taking another to share it with him. The farmer declared that there should be no wedding until he had sold seven stacks of wheat, for his meaning was to do things well. But this obstacle did not last long, for those were times when corn was golden, not in landscape only.

So when the spring was fair with promise of green for the earth, and of blue for heaven, and of silver-gray upon the sea, the little church close to Anerley Farm filled up all the complement of colors. There was scarlet, of Dr. Upround’s hood (brought by the Precious boy from Flamborough); a rich plum-color in the coat of Mordacks; delicate rose and virgin white in the blush and the brow of Mary; every tint of the rainbow on her mother’s part; and gold, rich gold, in a great tanned bag, on behalf of Squire Popplewell. His idea of a “settlement” was cash down, and he put it on the parish register.

Mary found no cause to repent of the long endurance of her truth, and the steadfast power of quiet love. Robin was often in the distance still, far beyond the silvery streak of England’s new salvation. But Mary prayed for his safe return; and safe he was, by the will of the Lord, which helps the man who helps himself, and has made his hand bigger than his tongue. When the war was over, Captain Lyth came home, and trained his children in the ways in which he should have walked, and the duties they should do and pay.

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University of Adelaide
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50