“The Fair, Free, and Frisky”— as they called themselves, were not of a violent order at all, neither treasonable, nor even disloyal. Their Club, if it deserved the name, had not been of political, social, or even convivial intention, but had lapsed unawares into all three uses, and most of all that last mentioned. The harder the times are, the more confidential (and therefore convivial) do Englishmen become; and if Free-trade survives with us for another decade, it will be the death of total abstinence. But now they had bad times, without Free-trade — that Goddess being still in the goose-egg — and when two friends met, without a river between them, they were bound to drink one another’s health, and did it, without the unstable and cold-blooded element. The sense of this duty was paramount among the “Free and Frisky,” and without it their final cause would have vanished long ago, and therewith their formal one.
None of the old-established folk of the blue blood of Springhaven, such as the Tugwells, the Shankses, the Praters, the Bowleses, the Stickfasts, the Blocks, or the Kedgers, would have anything to do with this Association, which had formed itself among them, like an anti-corn-law league, for the destruction of their rights and properties. Its origin had been commercial, and its principles aggressive, no less an outrage being contemplated than the purchase of fish at low figures on the beach, and the speedy distribution of that slippery ware among the nearest villages and towns. But from time immemorial the trade had been in the hands of a few staunch factors, who paid a price governed by the seasons and the weather, and sent the commodity as far as it would go, with soundness, and the hope of freshness. Springhaven believed that it supplied all London, and was proud and blest in so believing. With these barrowmen, hucksters and pedlars of fish, it would have no manifest dealing; but if the factors who managed the trade chose to sell their refuse or surplus to them, that was their own business. In this way perhaps, and by bargains on the sly, these petty dealers managed to procure enough to carry on their weekly enterprise, and for a certain good reason took a room and court-yard handy to the Darling Arms, to discuss other people’s business and their own. The good reason was that they were not allowed to leave the village, with their barrows or trucks or baskets, until the night had fallen, on penalty of being pelted with their own wares. Such was the dignity of this place, and its noble abhorrence of anything low.
The vision of lofty institutions, which one may not participate, inspires in the lower human nature more jealousy than admiration. These higglers may have been very honest fellows, in all but pecuniary questions, and possibly continued to be so in the bosom of their own families. But here in Springhaven, by the force of circumstances they were almost compelled to be radicals: even as the sweetest cow’s milk turns sour, when she can just reach red clover with her breath, but not her lips. But still they were not without manners, and reason, and good-will to people who had patience with them. This enabled them to argue lofty questions, without black eyes, or kicking, or even tweak of noses; and a very lofty question was now before them.
To get once into Admiral Darling’s employment was to obtain a vested interest; so kind was his nature and so forgiving, especially when he had scolded anybody. Mr. Swipes, the head gardener for so many years, held an estate of freehold in the garden — although he had no head, and would never be a gardener, till the hanging gardens of Babylon should be hung on the top of the tower of Babel — with a vested remainder to his son, and a contingent one to all descendants. Yet this man, although his hands were generally in his pockets, had not enough sense of their linings to feel that continuance, usage, institution, orderly sequence, heredity, and such like, were the buttons of his coat and the texture of his breeches, and the warmth of his body inside them. Therefore he never could hold aloof from the Free and Frisky gatherings, and accepted the chair upon Bumper-nights, when it was a sinecure benefice.
This was a Bumper-night, and in the chair sat Mr. Swipes, discharging gracefully the arduous duties of the office, which consisted mainly in calling upon members for a speech, a sentiment, or a song, and in default of mental satisfaction, bodily amendment by a pint all round. But as soon as Dan Tugwell entered the room, the Free and Friskies with one accord returned to loftier business. Mr. Swipes, the gay Liber of the genial hour, retired from the chair, and his place was taken by a Liberal — though the name was not yet invented — estranged from his own godfather. This was a hard man, who made salt herrings, and longed to cure everything fresh in the world.
Dan, being still a very tender youth, and quite unaccustomed to public speaking, was abashed by these tokens of his own importance, and heartily wished that he had stopped at home. It never occurred to his simple mind that his value was not political, but commercial; not “anthropological,” but fishy, the main ambition of the Free and Frisky Club having long been the capture of his father. If once Zeb Tugwell could be brought to treat, a golden era would dawn upon them, and a boundless vision of free-trade, when a man might be paid for refusing to sell fish, as he now is for keeping to himself his screws. Dan knew not these things, and his heart misgave him, and he wished that he had never heard of the twenty-eight questions set down in his name for solution.
However, his disturbance of mind was needless, concerning those great issues. All the members, except the chairman, had forgotten all about them; and the only matter they cared about was to make a new member of Daniel. A little flourish went on about large things (which nobody knew, or cared to know), then the table was hammered with the heel of a pipe, and Dan was made a Free and Frisky. An honorary member, with nothing to pay, and the honour on their side, they told him; and every man rose, with his pot in one hand and his pipe in the other, yet able to stand, and to thump with his heels, being careful. Then the President made entry in a book, and bowed, and Dan was requested to sign it. In the fervour of good-will, and fine feeling, and the pride of popularity, the young man was not old enough to resist, but set his name down firmly. Then all shook hands with him, and the meeting was declared to be festive, in honour of a new and noble member.
It is altogether wrong to say — though many people said it — that young Dan Tugwell was even a quarter of a sheet in the wind, when he steered his way home. His head was as solid as that of his father; which, instead of growing light, increased in specific, generic, and differential gravity, under circumstances which tend otherwise, with an age like ours, that insists upon sobriety, without allowing practice. All Springhaven folk had long practice in the art of keeping sober, and if ever a man walked with his legs outside his influence, it was always from defect of proper average quite lately.
Be that as it may, the young man came home with an enlarged map of the future in his mind, a brisk and elastic rise in his walk, and his head much encouraged to go on with liberal and indescribable feelings. In accordance with these, he expected his mother to be ready to embrace him at the door, while a saucepan simmered on the good-night of the wood-ash, with just as much gentle breath of onion from the cover as a youth may taste dreamily from the lips of love. But oh, instead of this, he met his father, spread out and yet solid across the doorway, with very large arms bare and lumpy in the gleam of a fireplace uncrowned by any pot. Dan’s large ideas vanished, like a blaze without a bottom.
“Rather late, Daniel,” said the captain of Springhaven, with a nod of his great head, made gigantic on the ceiling. “All the rest are abed, the proper place for honest folk. I suppose you’ve been airning money, overtime?”
“Not I,” said Dan; “I work hard enough all day. I just looked in at the Club, and had a little talk of politics.”
“The Club, indeed! The stinking barrow-grinders! Did I tell you, or did I forget to tell you, never to go there no more?”
“You told me fast enough, father; no doubt about that. But I am not aboard your boat, when I happen on dry land, and I am old enough now to have opinions of my own.”
“Oh, that’s it, is it? And to upset all the State, the King, the House of Lords, and the Parliamentary House, and all as is descended from the Romans? Well, and what did their Wusships say to you? Did they anoint you king of slooshings?”
“Father, they did this — and you have a right to know it;” Dan spoke with a grave debative tone, though his voice became doubtful, as he saw that his father was quietly seeking for something; “almost before I knew what was coming, they had made me a member, and I signed the book. They have no desire to upset the kingdom; I heard no talk of that kind; only that every man should have his own opinions, and be free to show what can be said for them. And you know, father, that the world goes on by reason, and justice, and good-will, and fair play —”
“No, it don’t,” cried the captain, who had found what he wanted; “if it had to wait for they, it would never go on at all. It goes on by government, and management, and discipline, and the stopping of younkers from their blessed foolery, and by the ten commandments, and the proverbs of King Solomon. You to teach your father how the world goes on! Off with your coat, and I’ll teach you.”
“Father,” said Dan, with his milder nature trembling at the stern resolution in his father’s eyes, as the hearth-fire flashing up showed their stronger flash, “you will never do such a thing, at my age and size?”
“Won’t I?” answered Zebedee, cracking in the air the three knotted tails of the stout hempen twist. “As for your age, why, it ought to know better; and as for your size, why, the more room for this!”
It never came into Daniel’s head that he should either resist or run away. But into his heart came the deadly sense of disgrace at being flogged, even by his own father, at full age to have a wife and even children of his own.
“Father,” he said, as he pulled off his coat and red striped shirt, and showed his broad white back, “if you do this thing, you will never set eyes on my face again — so help me God!”
“Don’t care if I don’t,” the captain shouted. “You was never son of mine, to be a runagate, and traitor. How old be you, Master Free and Frisky, to larn me how the world goes on?”
“As if you didn’t know, father! The fifteenth of last March I was twenty years of age.”
“Then one for each year of your life, my lad, and another to make a man of thee. This little tickler hath three tails; seven threes is twenty-one — comes just right.”
When his father had done with him, Dan went softly up the dark staircase of old ship timber, and entering his own little room, struck a light. He saw that his bed was turned down for him, by the loving hand of his mother, and that his favourite brother Solomon, the youngest of the Tugwell race, was sleeping sweetly in the opposite cot. Then he caught a side view of his own poor back in the little black-framed looking-glass, and was quite amazed; for he had not felt much pain, neither flinched, nor winced, nor spoken. In a moment self-pity did more than pain, indignation, outrage, or shame could do; it brought large tears into his softened eyes, and a long sob into his swelling throat.
He had borne himself like a man when flogged; but now he behaved in the manner of a boy. “He shall never hear the last of this job,” he muttered, “as long as mother has a tongue in her head.” To this end he filled a wet sponge with the red proofs of his scourging, laid it where it must be seen, and beside it a leaf torn from his wage-book, on which he had written with a trembling hand: “He says that I am no son of his, and this looks like it. Signed, Daniel Tugwell, or whatever my name ought to be.”
Then he washed and dressed with neat’s-foot oil all of his wounds that he could reach, and tied a band of linen over them, and, in spite of increasing smarts and pangs, dressed himself carefully in his Sunday clothes. From time to time he listened for his father’s step, inasmuch as there was no bolt to his door, and to burn a light so late was against all law. But nobody came to disturb him; his mother at the end of the passage slept heavily, and his two child-sisters in the room close by, Tabby and Debby, were in the land of dreams, as far gone as little Solly was. Having turned out his tools from their flat flag basket, or at least all but three or four favourites, he filled it with other clothes likely to be needed, and buckled it over his hatchet-head. Then the beating of his heart was like a flail inside a barn, as he stole along silently for one terrible good-bye.
This was to his darling pet of all pets, Debby, who worshipped this brother a great deal more than she worshipped her heavenly Father; because, as she said to her mother, when rebuked —“I can see Dan, mother, but I can’t see Him. Can I sit in His lap, mother, and look into His face, and be told pretty stories, and eat apples all the time?” Tabby was of different grain, and her deity was Tim; for she was of the Tomboy kind, and had no imagination. But Debby was enough to make a sound and seasoned heart to ache, as she lay in her little bed, with the flush of sleep deepening the delicate tint of her cheeks, shedding bright innocence fresh from heaven on the tranquil droop of eyelid and the smiling curve of lip. Her hair lay fluttered, as if by play with the angels that protected her; and if she could not see her heavenly Father, it was not because she was out of His sight.
A better tear than was ever shed by self-pity, or any other selfishness, ran down the cheek she had kissed so often, and fell upon her coaxing, nestling neck. Then Dan, with his candle behind the curtain, set a long light kiss upon the forehead of his darling, and with a heart so full, and yet so empty, took one more gaze at her, and then was gone. With the basket in his hand, he dropped softly from his window upon the pile of seaweed at the back of the house — collected to make the walls wholesome — and then, caring little what his course might be, was led perhaps by the force of habit down the foot-path towards the beach. So late at night, it was not likely that any one would disturb him there, and no one in the cottage which he had left would miss him before the morning. The end of October now was near, the nights were long, and he need not hurry. He might even lie down in his favourite boat, the best of her size in Springhaven, the one he had built among the rabbits. There he could say good-bye to all that he had known and loved so long, and be off before dawn, to some place where he might earn his crust and think his thoughts.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:05