A very pretty damsel, with a cap of foreign lace both adorning and adorned by her beautiful bright hair, came shyly from a little door behind the counter, receiving with a quick blush the stranger's earnest gaze, and returning with a curtsey the courteous flourish of his looped-up riding-hat. "What a handsome gentleman!" said Polly to herself; "but there is something very sad and very wild in his appearance." Her father's conclusion was the same, and his heart misgave him as he led in this unexpected guest.
"There is no cause for apologies. This place is a very good one," the stranger replied, laying down his heavy whip on the table of a stone-floored room, to which he had been shown. "You are a man of business, and I am come upon dry business. You can conjecture—is it not so?—who I am by this time, although I am told that I do not bear any strong resemblance to my father."
He took off his hat as he spoke, shook back his long black hair, and fixed his jet-black eyes upon Cheeseman. That upright dealer had not recovered his usual self-possession yet, but managed to look up—for he was shorter by a head than his visitor—with a doubtful and enquiring smile.
"I am Caryl Carne, of Carne Castle, as you are pleased to call it. I have not been in England these many years; from the death of my father I have been afar; and now, for causes of my own, I am returned, with hope of collecting the fragments of the property of my ancestors. It appears to have been their custom to scatter, but not gather up again. My intention is to make a sheaf of the relics spread by squanderers, and snapped up by scoundrels."
"To be sure, to be sure," cried the general dealer; "this is vastly to your credit, sir, and I wish you all success, sir, and so will all who have so long respected your ancient and honourable family, sir. Take a chair, sir—please to take a chair."
"I find very little to my credit," Mr. Carne said, dryly, as he took the offered chair, but kept his eyes still upon Cheeseman's; "but among that little is a bond from you, given nearly twenty years agone, and of which you will retain, no doubt, a vivid recollection."
"A bond, sir—a bond!" exclaimed the other, with his bright eyes twinkling, as in some business enterprise. "I never signed a bond in all my life, sir. Why, a bond requires sureties, and nobody ever went surety for me."
"Bond may not be the proper legal term. It is possible. I know nothing of the English law. But a document it is, under hand and seal, and your signature is witnessed, Mr. Cheeseman."
"Ah well! Let me consider. I begin to remember something. But my memory is not as it used to be, and twenty years makes a great hole in it. Will you kindly allow me to see this paper, if you have it with you, sir?"
"It is not a paper; it is written upon parchment, and I have not brought it with me. But I have written down the intention of it, and it is as follows:
"'This indenture made between James Cheeseman (with a long description), of the one part, and Montagu Carne (treated likewise), of the other part, after a long account of some arrangement made between them, witnesseth that in consideration of the sum of 300 pounds well and truly paid by the said Montagu Carne to Cheeseman, he, the said Cheeseman, doth assign, transfer, set over, and so on, to the said Carne, etc., one equal undivided moiety and one half part of the other moiety of and in a certain vessel, ship, trading-craft, and so forth, known or thenceforth to be known as the London Trader, of Springhaven, in the county of Sussex, by way of security for the interest at the rate of five per cent. per annum, payable half-yearly, as well as for the principal sum of 300 pounds, so advanced as aforesaid.'"
"If it should prove, sir, that money is owing," Mr. Cheeseman said, with that exalted candour which made a weak customer condemn his own eyes and nose, "no effort on my part shall be wanting, bad as the times are, to procure it and discharge it. In every commercial transaction I have found, and my experience is now considerable, that confidence, as between man and man, is the only true footing to go upon. And how can true confidence exist, unless—"
"Unless a man shows some honesty. And a man who keeps books such as these," pursued the visitor, suggesting a small kick to a pile of ledgers, "can hardly help knowing whether he owes a large sum or whether he has paid it. But that is not the only question now. In continuation of that document I find a condition, a clause provisional, that it shall be at the option of the aforesaid Montagu Carne, and his representatives, either to receive the interest at the rate before mentioned and thereby secured, or, if he or they should so prefer, to take for their own benefit absolutely three-fourths of the net profits, proceeds, or other increment realised by the trading ventures, or other employment from time to time, of the said London Trader. Also there is a covenant for the insurance of the said vessel, and a power of sale, and some other provisions about access to trading books, etc., with which you have, no doubt, a good acquaintance, Mr. Cheeseman."
That enterprising merchant, importer of commodities, and wholesale and retail dealer was fond of assuring his numerous friends that "nothing ever came amiss to him." But some of them now would have doubted about this if they had watched his face as carefully as Caryl Carne was watching it. Mr. Cheeseman could look a hundred people in the face, and with great vigour too, when a small account was running. But the sad, contemptuous, and piercing gaze—as if he were hardly worth penetrating—and the twirl of the black tuft above the lip, and the firm conviction on the broad white forehead that it was confronting a rogue too common and shallow to be worth frowning at—all these, and the facts that were under them, came amiss to the true James Cheeseman.
"I scarcely see how to take this," he said, being clever enough to suppose that a dash of candour might sweeten the embroilment. "I will not deny that I was under obligation to your highly respected father, who was greatly beloved for his good-will to his neighbours. 'Cheeseman,' he used to say, 'I will stand by you. You are the only man of enterprise in these here parts. Whatever you do is for the good of Springhaven, which belonged to my family for centuries before those new-fangled Darlings came. And, Cheeseman, you may trust to the honour of the Carnes not to grind down a poor man who has his way to make.' Them were his words, sir; how well I recollect them!"
"Too well almost," replied the young man, coldly, "considering how scanty was your memory just now. But it may save time, and painful efforts of your memory, if I tell you at once that I am not concerned in any way with the sentiments of my father. I owe him very little, as you must be well aware; and the matter betwixt you and me is strictly one of business. The position in which I am left is such that I must press every legal claim to the extremest. And having the option under this good document, I have determined to insist upon three-quarters of the clear proceeds of this trading-ship, from the date of the purchase until the present day, as well as the capital sum invested on this security."
"Very well, sir, if you do, there is only one course left me—to go into the Court of Bankruptcy, see all my little stock in trade sold up, and start in life again at the age of fifty-seven, with a curse upon all old families."
"Your curse, my good friend, will not add sixpence to your credit. And the heat you exhibit is not well adapted for calculations commercial. There is one other course which I am able to propose, though I will not give a promise yet to do so—a course which would relieve me from taking possession of this noble ship which has made your fortune, and perhaps from enforcing the strict examination of your trading-books, to which I am entitled. But before I propose any such concession, which will be a grand abdication of rights, one or two things become necessary. For example, I must have some acquaintance with your character, some certitude that you can keep your own counsel, and not divulge everything that arrives within your knowledge; also that you have some courage, some freedom of mind from small insular sentiments, some desire to promote the true interests of mankind, and the destruction of national prejudices."
"Certainly, sir; all of those I can approve of. They are very glorious things," cried Cheeseman—a man of fine liberal vein, whenever two half-crowns were as good as a crown. "We are cramped and trampled and down-trodden by the airs big people give themselves, and the longing of such of us as thinks is to speak our minds about it. Upon that point of freedom, sir, I can heartily go with you, and every stick upon my premises is well insured."
"Including, I hope, the London Trader, according to your covenant. And that reminds me of another question—is it well-found, well-manned, and a good rapid ship to make the voyage? No falsehood, if you please, about this matter."
"She is the fastest sailer on the English coast, built at Dunkirk, and as sound as a bell. She could show her taffrail, in light weather, to any British cruiser in the Channel. She could run a fine cargo of French cognac and foreign laces any day."
"It is not my desire," Caryl Carne replied, "to cheat the British Revenue. For that purpose exist already plenty of British tradesmen. For the present I impress upon you one thing only, that you shall observe silence, a sacred silence, regarding this conversation. For your own sake you will be inclined to do so, and that is the only sake a man pays much attention to. But how much for your own sake you are obliged to keep your counsel, you will very soon find out if you betray it."
When it was known in this fine old village that young Squire Carne from foreign parts was come back to live in the ancient castle, there was much larger outlay (both of words and thoughts) about that than about any French invasion. "Let them land if they can," said the able-bodied men, in discussion of the latter question; "they won't find it so easy to get away again as they seem to put into their reckoning. But the plague of it all is the damage to the fishing."
Not that the squadron of Captain Tugwell was shorn as yet of its number, though all the young men were under notice to hold themselves ready as "Sea-Fencibles." The injury to their trade lay rather in the difficulty of getting to their fishing-grounds, and in the disturbance of these by cruisers, with little respect for their nets and lines. Again, as the tidings of French preparation waxed more and more outrageous, Zebedee had as much as he could do to keep all his young hands loyal. All their solid interest lay (as he told them every morning) in sticking to the Springhaven flag—a pair of soles couchant, herring salient, and mackerel regardant, all upon a bright sea-green—rather than in hankering after roll of drum and Union-Jack. What could come of these but hardship, want of victuals, wounds, and death; or else to stump about on one leg, and hold out a hat for a penny with one arm? They felt that it was true; they had seen enough of that; it had happened in all their own families.
Yet such is the love of the native land and the yearning to stand in front of it, and such is the hate of being triumphed over by fellows who kiss one another and weep, and such is the tingling of the knuckles for a blow when the body has been kicked in sore places, that the heart will at last get the better of the head—or at least it used to be so in England. Wherefore Charley Bowles was in arms already against his country's enemies; and Harry Shanks waited for little except a clear proclamation of prize-money; and even young Daniel was tearing at his kedge like a lively craft riding in a brisk sea-way. He had seen Lord Nelson, and had spoken to Lord Nelson, and that great man would have patted him on the head—so patriotic were his sentiments—if the great man had been a little taller.
But the one thing that kept Dan Tugwell firm to his moorings at Springhaven was the deep hold of his steadfast heart in a love which it knew to be hopeless. To die for his country might become a stern duty, about which he would rather not be hurried; but to die for Miss Dolly would be a wild delight; and how could he do it unless he were at hand? And now there were so many young officers again, landing in boats, coming in post-chaises, or charging down the road on horseback, that Daniel, while touching up the finish of his boat with paint and varnish and Venetian Red, was not so happy as an artist should be who knows how to place the whole. Sometimes, with the paint stirred up and creaming, and the ooze of the brush trimmed warily, through the rushes and ragwort and sea-willow his keen, unconquerable eyes would spy the only figure that quelled them, faraway, shown against the shining water, or shadowed upon the flat mirror of the sand. But, alas! there was always another figure near it, bigger, bulkier, framed with ugly angles, jerking about with the elbow sticking out, instead of gliding gracefully. Likely enough the lovely form, brought nearer to the eyes and heart by love, would flit about beautifully for two sweet moments, filling with rapture all the flashes of the sea and calm of the evening sky beyond; and then the third moment would be hideous. For the figure of the ungainly foe would stride across the delicious vision, huge against the waves like Cyclops, and like him gesticulant, but unhappily not so single-eyed that the slippery fair might despise him. Then away would fly all sense of art and joy in the touch of perfection, and a very nasty feeling would ensue, as if nothing were worth living for, and nobody could be believed in.
That plaguesome Polypheme was Captain Stubbard, begirt with a wife, and endowed with a family almost in excess of benediction, and dancing attendance upon Miss Dolly, too stoutly for his own comfort, in the hope of procuring for his own Penates something to eat and to sit upon. Some evil genius had whispered, or rather trumpeted, into his ear—for he had but one left, and that worked very seldom, through alarm about the bullet which had carried off its fellow—that if he desired, as he did with heart and stomach, to get a clear widening by 200 pounds of his strait ways and restricted means, through Admiral Darling it might be done, and Miss Dolly was the proper one to make him do it. For the Inspectorship of Sea-Fencibles from Selsea-Bill to Dungeness was worth all that money in hard cash yearly; and the late Inspector having quitted this life—through pork boiled in a copper kettle—the situation was naturally vacant; and the Admiral being the man for whose check the Inspectorship was appointed, it is needless to say that (in the spirit of fair play) the appointment was vested in the Admiral.
The opinion of all who knew him was that Captain Stubbard was fairly entitled to look for something higher. And he shared that opinion, taking loftier aim than figures could be made to square with, till the latter prevailed, as they generally do, because they can work without victuals. For although the brave Captain had lost three ribs—or at any rate more than he could spare of them (not being a pig)—in the service of his country, he required as much as ever to put inside them; and his children, not having inherited that loss as scientifically as they should have done, were hard to bring up upon the 15 pounds yearly allowed by Great Britain for each of the gone bones. From the ear that was gone he derived no income, having rashly compounded for 25 pounds.
In the nature of things, which the names have followed, the father is the feeder; and the world is full of remarks unless he becomes a good clothier also. But everything went against this father, with nine little Stubbards running after him, and no ninepence in any of his pockets, because he was shelfed upon half-pay, on account of the depression of the times and of his ribs. But Miss Dolly Darling was resolved to see him righted, for she hated all national meanness.
"What is the use of having any influence," she asked her good father, "unless you employ it for your own friends? I should be quite ashamed to have it said of me, or thought, that I could get a good thing for any one I was fond of, and was mean enough not to do it, for fear of paltry jealousy. Mean is much too weak a word; it is downright dishonest, and what is much worse, cowardly. What is the government meant for, unless it is to do good to people?"
"Certainly, my dear child, certainly. To the people at large, that is to say, and the higher interests of the country."
"Can there be any people more at large than Captain Stubbard and his wife and children? Their elbows are coming out of their clothes, and they have scarcely got a bed to sleep upon. My income is not enough to stop to count, even when I get it paid punctually. But every farthing I receive shall go—that is to say, if it ever does come—into the lap of Mrs. Stubbard, anonymously and respectfully."
"Pay your bills, first," said the Admiral, taking the weather-gage of the discussion: "a little bird tells me that you owe a good trifle, even in Springhaven."
"Then the little bird has got a false bill," replied Dolly, who was not very easy to fluster. "Who is there to spend sixpence with in a little hole of this kind? I am not a customer for tea, coffee, tobacco, snuff, or pepper, nor even for whiting, soles, or conger. Old Cheeseman imports all the fashions, as he says; but I go by my own judgment. And trumpery as my income is, very little of it goes into his till. But I should like to know who told you such a wicked story, father?"
"Things are mentioned in confidence, and I put them together," said the Admiral. "Don't say another word, or look as if you would be happier if you had something to cry about. Your dear mother used to do it; and it beats me always. I have long had my eye upon Captain Stubbard, and I remember well that gallant action when his three ribs flew away. We called him Adam, because of his wife coming just when his middle rib went, and his name was Adam Stubbard, sure enough. Such men, in the prime of their life, should be promoted, instead of being disabled, for a scratch like that. Why, he walks every bit as well as I do, and his watch-ribbon covers it. And nine children! Lord bless my heart! I scarcely know which way to turn, with only four!"
Within a short fortnight Captain Stubbard was appointed, with an office established at the house of Widow Shanks—though his real office naturally was at the public-house—and Royal Proclamations aroused the valour of nearly everybody who could read them. Nine little Stubbards soon were rigged too smart to know themselves, as the style is of all dandies; and even Mrs. Stubbard had a new belt made to go round her, when the weather was elastic.
"These are the things that prove the eye of an All-wise Providence over us," said the Captain to the Admiral, pointing out six pairs of short legs, galligaskined from one roll of cloth; "these are the things that make one feel the force of the words of David."
"Certainly, yes, to be sure!" replied the gallant senior officer, all at sea as to the passage suggested. "Good legs they have got, and no mistake; like the polished corners of the temple. Let them go and dip them in the sea, while you give the benefit of your opinion here. Not here, I mean, but upon Fox-hill yonder; if Mrs. Stubbard will spare you for a couple of hours, most kindly."
Of the heights that look down with a breezy air upon the snug nest of Springhaven, the fairest to see from a distance, and to tread with brisk foot, is Fox-hill. For the downs, which are channelled with the springs that form the brook, keep this for their own last spring into the air, before bathing in the vigorous composure of the sea. All the other hills fall back a little, to let Fox-hill have the first choice of aspect—or bear the first brunt, as itself would state the matter. And to anybody coming up, and ten times to a stranger, this resolute foreland offers more invitation to go home again, than to come visiting. For the bulge of the breast is steep, and ribbed with hoops coming up in denial, concrete with chalk, muricated with flint, and thornily crested with good stout furze. And the forefront of the head, when gained, is stiff with brambles, and stubbed with sloes, and mitred with a choice band of stanch sting-nettles.
"It would take a better Frenchman," said the Admiral, with that brevity which is the happy result of stoutness up steep hill, "than any of 'they flat-bottoms,' as Swipes, my gardener, calls them, to get through these prickles, Stubbard, without Sark-blewing. Such a wonderfully thin-skinned lot they are! Did I ever tell you the story of our boatswain's mate? But that takes a better sailing breeze than I've got now. You see where we are, don't you?"
"Certainly, Admiral," replied Captain Stubbard, disdaining to lay hand to his injured side, painfully as it yearned for pressure; "we have had a long pull, and we get a fine outlook over the country for leagues, and the Channel. How close at hand everything looks! I suppose we shall have rain, and we want it. I could thump that old castle among the trees into smash, and your church looks as if I could put a shot with a rifle-gun into the bell-chamber."
"And so you could. What I want to show you is that very point, and the importance of it. With a battery of long twenty-fours up here, the landing, the bay, and all the roads are at our mercy. My dear old friend Nelson drew my attention to it."
"It is plain as a pikestaff to Tom, Dick, or Harry:" Captain Stubbard was a frank, straightforward man, and much as he owed to the Admiral's aid, not a farthing would he pay in flattery. "But why should we want to command this spot? There is nothing to protect but a few common houses, and some half-score of fishing-craft, and a schooner that trades to London, and yonder old church, and—oh yes, to be sure, your own house and property, Admiral."
"Those must take their chance, like others. I hope I know better than to think of them in comparison with the good of the country. But if we fail to occupy this important post, the enemy might take us by surprise, and do so."
"Possible, but most improbable. This little place lies, by the trend of the coast, quite out of their course from Boulogne to London; and what is there here to tempt them? No rich town to sack, no great commerce to rob, no valuable shipping to lay hands on."
"No; but there's my house and my two girls; and I don't want my old roof burned, and my daughters put to wait on Boney. But to think of self-interest is below contempt, with our country going through such trials. Neither should we add any needless expense to a treasury already overburdened."
"Certainly not. It would be absolutely wicked. We have a long and costly war before us, and not a shilling should be spent except in case of clear necessity."
"I am very glad indeed to find your opinion so decided, so untainted with petty self-interest." As Admiral Darling spoke he closed a little silver telescope, with which he had been gazing through the wooded coronet of the hill. "I thought it my duty to consult you, Stubbard, before despatching this letter, which, being backed by Nelson's opinion, would probably have received attention. If a strong battery were thrown up here, as it would be in a fortnight from the receipt of this bit of foolscap, the appointment of commandant would rest with me, and I could appoint nobody but your good self, because of your well-known experience in earthworks. The appointment would have doubled your present pay, which, though better than nothing, is far below your merits. But your opinion settles the question otherwise, and I must burn my letter. Let us lose no more time. Mrs. Stubbard will call me a savage, for keeping you away so long."
"Important business," replied the Captain, "will not wait even for ladies, or, rather, they must try to wait for it, and give way to more reasonable urgency. Some time is required for considering this matter, and deciding what is most for the interest of the nation. Oblige me with your spy-glass, Admiral. There is one side on which I have neglected to look out, and that may of all be the most important. A conclusion arrived at by yourself and Nelson is not to be hastily set aside. Your knowledge of the country is so far beyond mine, though I may have had more to do with land-works. We ought to think twice, sir, if the government will pay for it, about a valuable job of this kind."
With these words Captain Stubbard began to use the telescope carefully, forming his opinion through it, and wisely shaking his head, now and then, with a longer and longer focus. Then he closed the glass, and his own lips firmly—whereby a man announces that no other should open his against them—and sternly striding the yard exact, took measurement for the battery. The hill was crowned with a ring of Scotch firs, casting a quiet shade upon the warlike haste of the Captain. If Admiral Darling smiled, it was to the landscape and the offing, for he knew that Stubbard was of rather touchy fibre, and relished no jokes unless of home production. His slow, solid face was enough to show this, and the squareness of his outline, and the forward thrust of his knees as he walked, and the larkspur impress of his lingering heels. And he seldom said much, without something to say.
"Well," cried the Admiral, growing tired of sitting so long upon a fallen trunk, "what conclusion do you feel inclined to come to? 'Tis a fine breezy place to clear the brain, and a briny air to sharpen the judgment."
"Only one tree need come down—this crooked one at the southeast corner." Captain Stubbard began to swing his arms about, like a windmill uncertain of the wind. "All gentlemen hate to have a tree cut down, all blackguards delight in the process. Admiral, we will not hurt your trees. They will add to our strength, by masking it. Six long twenty-fours of the new make, here in front, and two eighteens upon either flank, and I should like to see the whole of the Boulogne flotilla try to take yonder shore by daylight. That is to say, of course, if I commanded, with good old salts to second me. With your common artillery officers, landlubbers, smell-the-wicks, cross-the-braces sons of guns, there had better not be anything at all put up. They can't make a fortification; and when they have made it, they can't work it. Admiral Darling, you know that, though you have not had the bad luck to deal with them as I have. I may thank one of them for being up here on the shelf."
"Of one thing you may be quite certain," replied the commander of the sea defence; "if we have any battery on this Fox-hill, it shall be constructed and manned by blue-jackets. I have a large draft of them now at discretion. Every man in Springhaven will lend a hand, if paid for it. It would take at least a twelvemonth to get it done from Woolwich. A seaman does a thing before a landsman thinks about it."
To set a dog barking is easier than to stop him by the soundest reasoning. Even if the roof above his honest head, growing loose on its nails, is being mended, he comes out to ask about the matter, and in strong terms proclaims his opinion to the distance.
After this kind behaved the people about to be protected by this battery. They had dreamed of no danger till they saw their houses beginning to be protected, and for this—though it added to their importance—they were not truly thankful. They took it in various ways, according to their rich variety of reflection; but the way in which nobody took it was that of gratitude and humility.
"Everything upside down," they said, "everything gone clean topsy-turvy! And the deep meaning of it is to rob our fishing, under pretence of the Nationals. It may bring a good bit of money to the place, for the lining of one or two pockets, such as John Prater's and Cheeseman's; but I never did hold so much with money, when shattery ways comes along of it. No daughter of mine stirs out-of-doors after sundown, I can tell them."
Thus were the minds of the men disturbed, or at any rate those of the elder ones; while the women, on the whole, were pleased, although they pretended to be contemptuous. "I'll tell you what I think, ma'am," Mrs. Cheeseman said to Widow Shanks quite early, "if you take a farthing less than half a guinea a week for your dimity-parlour, with the window up the hill, and the little door under the big sweet-briar, I shall think that you are not as you used to be."
"And right you would be, ma'am, and too right there;" Mrs. Shanks sighed deeply as she thought of it. "There is nobody but you can understand it, and I don't mind saying it on that account to you. Whenever I have wanted for a little bit of money, as the nature of lone widows generally does, it has always been out of your power, Mrs. Cheeseman, to oblige me, and quite right of you. But I have a good son, thank the Lord, by the name of Harry, to provide for me; and a guinea a week is the agreement now for the dimity-parlour, and the three leg'd bed, and cold dinner to be paid for extra, such as I might send for to your good shop, with the money ready in the hand of my little girl, and jug below her apron for refreshment from the Darling."
"Well, I never! My dear soul, you have taken all my breath away. Why, it must be the captain of all the gunners. How gunpowder do pay, to be sure!"
"Lor, ma'am, why, don't you know," replied Mrs. Shanks, with some contempt, "that the man with three ribs is the captain of the gunners—the man in my back sitting-room? No dimity-parlour for him with his family, not for a guinea and a half a week. But if I was to tell you who the gentleman is, and one of the highest all round these parts, truthful as you know me, Mrs. Cheeseman, you would say to yourself, what a liar she is!"
"Mrs. Shanks, I never use coarse expressions, even to myself in private. And perhaps I could tell you a thing or two would astonish you more than me, ma'am. Suppose I should tell you, to begin with, who your guinea lodger is?"
"That you could never do, Mrs. Cheeseman, with all your time a-counting changes. He is not of the rank for a twopenny rasher, or a wedge of cheese packed in old petticoat."
These two ladies now looked at one another. They had not had a quarrel for almost three months, and a large arrear of little pricks on either side was pending. Sooner or later it would have to be fought out (like a feud between two nations), with a houseful of loss and woe to either side, but a thimbleful of pride and glory. Yet so much wiser were these women than the most sagacious nations that they put off to a cheaper time their grudge against each other.
"His rank may be royal," said the wife of Mr. Cheeseman, "though a going-downhill kind of royalty, perhaps, and yet he might be glad, Mrs. Shanks, to come where the butter has the milk spots, and none is in the cheese, ma'am."
"If such should be his wish, ma'am, for supper or for breakfast, or even for dinner on a Sunday when the rain comes through the Castle, you may trust me to know where to send him, but not to guarantee him at all of his money."
"They high ones is very apt to slip in that," Mrs. Cheeseman answered, thoughtfully; "they seem to be less particular in paying for a thing than they was to have it good. But a burnt child dreads the fire, as they say; and a young man with a castleful of owls and rats, by reason of going for these hundred years on credit, will have it brought home to him to pay ready money. But the Lord be over us! if I don't see him a-going your way already! Good-by, my dear soul—good-by, and preserve you; and if at any time short of table or bed linen, a loan from an old friend, and coming back well washed, and it sha'n't be, as the children sing, 'A friend with a loan has the pick of your bone, and he won't let you very long alone.'"
"Many thanks to you for friendly meaning, ma'am," said the widow, as she took up her basket to go home, "and glad I may be to profit by it, with the time commanding. But as yet I have had neither sleepers or feeders in my little house, but the children. Though both of them reserves the right to do it, if nature should so compel them—the three-ribbed gentleman with one ear, at five shillings a week, in the sitting-room, and the young man up over him. Their meaning is for business, and studying, and keeping of accounts, and having of a quiet place in bad weather, though feed they must, sooner or later, I depend; and then who is there but Mr. Cheeseman?"
"How grand he do look upon that black horse, quite as solid as if he was glued to it!" the lady of the shop replied, as she put away the money; "and to do that without victuals is beyond a young man's power. He looks like what they used to call a knight upon an errand, in the picture-books, when I was romantic, only for the hair that comes under his nose. Ah! his errand will be to break the hearts of the young ladies that goes down upon the sands in their blue gowns, I'm afraid, if they can only manage with the hair below his nose."
"And do them good, some of them, and be a judgment from the Lord, for the French style in their skirts is a shocking thing to see. What should we have said when you and I were young, my dear? But quick step is the word for me, for I expect my Jenny home on her day out from the Admiral, and no Harry in the house to look after her. Ah! dimity-parlours is a thing as may happen to cut both ways, Mrs. Cheeseman."
Widow Shanks had good cause to be proud of her cottage, which was the prettiest in Springhaven, and one of the most commodious. She had fought a hard fight, when her widowhood began, and the children were too young to help her, rather than give up the home of her love-time, and the cradle of her little ones. Some of her neighbours (who wanted the house) were sadly pained at her stubbornness, and even dishonesty, as they put it, when she knew that she never could pay her rent. But "never is a long time," according to the proverb; and with the forbearance of the Admiral, the kindness of his daughters, and the growth of her own children, she stood clear of all debt now, except the sweet one of gratitude.
And now she could listen to the moaning of the sea (which used to make her weep all night) with a milder sense of the cruel woe that it had drowned her husband, and a lull of sorrow that was almost hope; until the dark visions of wrecks and corpses melted into sweet dreams of her son upon the waters, finishing his supper, and getting ready for his pipe. For Harry was making his own track well in the wake of his dear father.
Now if she had gone inland to dwell, from the stroke of her great calamity—as most people told her to make haste and do—not only the sympathy of the sea, but many of the little cares, which are the ants that bury heavy grief, would have been wholly lost to her. And amongst these cares the foremost always, and the most distracting, was that of keeping her husband's cottage—as she still would call it—tidy, comfortable, bright, and snug, as if he were coming on Saturday.
Where the brook runs into the first hearing of the sea, to defer its own extinction it takes a lively turn inland, leaving a pleasant breadth of green between itself and its destiny. At the breath of salt the larger trees hang back, and turn their boughs up; but plenty of pretty shrubs come forth, and shade the cottage garden. Neither have the cottage walls any lack of leafy mantle, where the summer sun works his own defeat by fostering cool obstruction. For here are the tamarisk, and jasmin, and the old-fashioned corchorus flowering all the summer through, as well as the myrtle that loves the shore, with a thicket of stiff young sprigs arising, slow of growth, but hiding yearly the havoc made in its head and body by the frost of 1795, when the mark of every wave upon the sands was ice. And a vine, that seems to have been evolved from a miller, or to have prejected him, clambers with grey silver pointrels through the more glossy and darker green. And over these you behold the thatch, thick and long and parti-coloured, eaved with little windows, where a bird may nest for ever.
But it was not for this outward beauty that Widow Shanks, stuck to her house, and paid the rent at intervals. To her steadfast and well-managed mind, the number of rooms, and the separate staircase which a solvent lodger might enjoy, were the choicest grant of the household gods. The times were bad—as they always are when conscientious people think of them—and poor Mrs. Shanks was desirous of paying her rent, by the payment of somebody. Every now and then some well-fed family, hungering (after long carnage) for fish, would come from village pastures or town shambles, to gaze at the sea, and to taste its contents. For in those days fish were still in their duty, to fry well, to boil well, and to go into the mouth well, instead of being dissolute—as nowadays the best is—with dirty ice, and flabby with arrested fermentation. In the pleasant dimity-parlour then, commanding a fair view of the lively sea and the stream that sparkled into it, were noble dinners of sole, and mackerel, and smelt that smelled of cucumber, and dainty dory, and pearl-buttoned turbot, and sometimes even the crisp sand-lance, happily for himself, unhappily for whitebait, still unknown in London. Then, after long rovings ashore or afloat, these diners came back with a new light shed upon them—that of the moon outside the house, of the supper candles inside. There was sure to be a crab or lobster ready, and a dish of prawns sprigged with parsley; if the sea were beginning to get cool again, a keg of philanthropic oysters; or if these were not hospitably on their hinges yet, certainly there would be choice-bodied creatures, dried with a dash of salt upon the sunny shingle, and lacking of perfection nothing more than to be warmed through upon a toasting-fork.
By none, however, of these delights was the newly won lodger tempted. All that he wanted was peace and quiet, time to go through a great trunk full of papers and parchments, which he brought with him, and a breath of fresh air from the downs on the north, and the sea to the south, to enliven him. And in good truth he wanted to be enlivened, as Widow Shanks said to her daughter Jenny; for his eyes were gloomy, and his face was stern, and he seldom said anything good-natured. He seemed to avoid all company, and to be wrapped up wholly in his own concerns, and to take little pleasure in anything. As yet he had not used the bed at his lodgings, nor broken his fast there to her knowledge, though he rode down early every morning and put up his horse at Cheeseman's, and never rode away again until the dark had fallen. Neither had he cared to make the acquaintance of Captain Stubbarb, who occupied the room beneath his for a Royal Office—as the landlady proudly entitled it; nor had he received, to the best of her knowledge, so much as a single visitor, though such might come by his private entrance among the shrubs unnoticed. All these things stirred with deep interest and wonder the enquiring mind of the widow.
"And what do they say of him up at the Hall?" she asked her daughter Jenny, who was come to spend holiday at home. "What do they say of my new gentleman, young Squire Carne from the Castle? The Carnes and the Darlings was never great friends, as every one knows in Springhaven. Still, it do seem hard and unchristianlike to keep up them old enmities; most of all, when the one side is down in the world, with the owls and the bats and the coneys."
"No, mother, no. They are not a bit like that," replied Jenny—a maid of good loyalty; "it is only that he has not called upon them. All gentlefolks have their proper rules of behaviour. You can't be expected to understand them, mother."
"But why should he go to them more than they should come to him, particular with young ladies there? And him with only one horse to their seven or eight. I am right, you may depend upon it, Jenny; and my mother, your grandmother, was a lady's-maid in a higher family than Darling—it depends upon them to come and look him up first, and he have no call to knock at their door without it. Why, it stands to reason, poor young man! And not a bit hath he eaten from Monday."
"Well, I believe I am right, but I'll ask Miss Dolly. She is that sharp, she knows everything, and I don't mind what I say to her, when she thinks that she looks handsome. And it takes a very bad dress, I can tell you, to put her out of that opinion."
"She is right enough there:" Mrs. Shanks shook her head at her daughter for speaking in this way. "The ugliest frock as ever came from France couldn't make her any but a booty. And the Lord knows the quality have come to queer shapes now. Undecent would be the name for it in our ranks of women. Why, the last of her frocks she gave you, Jenny, how much did I put on, at top and bottom, and you three inches shorter than she is! And the slips they ties round them—oh dear! oh dear! as if that was to hold them up and buckle them together! Won't they have the groanings by the time they come to my age?"
FRENCH AND ENGLISH
Admiral Darling was now so busy, and so continually called from home by the duties of his commandership, that he could not fairly be expected to call upon Mr. Caryl Carne. Yet that gentleman, being rather sensitive—which sometimes means very spiteful—resented as a personal slight this failure; although, if the overture had been made, he would have ascribed it to intrusive curiosity, and a low desire to behold him in his ruins. But truly in the old man's kindly heart there was no sour corner for ill blood to lurk in, and no dull fibre for ill-will to feed on. He kept on meaning to go and call on Caryl Carne, and he had quite made up his mind to do it, but something always happened to prevent him.
Neither did he care a groat for his old friend Twemlow's advice upon that subject. "Don't go near him," said the Rector, taking care that his wife was quite safe out of hearing; "it would ill become me to say a word against my dear wife's own nephew, and the representative of her family. And, to the utmost of my knowledge, there is nothing to be said against him. But I can't get on with him at all. I don't know why. He has only honored us with a visit twice, and he would not even come to dinner. Nice manners they learn on the Continent! But none of us wept when he declined; not even his good aunt, my wife. Though he must have got a good deal to tell us, and an extraordinary knowledge of foreign ways. But instead of doing that, he seems to sneer at us. I can look at a question from every point of view, and I defy anybody to call me narrow-minded. But still, one must draw the line somewhere, or throw overboard all principles; and I draw it, my dear Admiral, against infidels and against Frenchmen."
"No rational person can do otherwise"—the Admiral's opinion was decisive—"but this young man is of good English birth, and one can't help feeling sorry for his circumstances. And I assure you, Twemlow, that I feel respect as well for the courage that he shows, and the perseverance, in coming home and facing those vile usurers. And your own wife's nephew! Why, you ought to take his part through thick and thin, whatever you may think of him. From all I hear he must be a young man of exceedingly high principle; and I shall make a point of calling upon him the first half-hour I get to spare. To-morrow, if possible; or if not, the day after, at the very latest."
But the needful half-hour had not yet been found; and Carne, who was wont to think the worst of everybody, concluded that the Darling race still cherished the old grudge, which had always been on his own side. For this he cared little, and perhaps was rather glad of it. For the old dwelling-place of his family (the Carne Castle besieged by the Roundheads a hundred and sixty years agone) now threatened to tumble about the ears of any one knocking at the gate too hard. Or rather the remnants of its walls did so; the greater part, having already fallen, lay harmless, and produced fine blackberries.
As a castle, it had been well respected in its day, though not of mighty bulwarks or impregnable position. Standing on a knoll, between the ramp of high land and the slope of shore, it would still have been conspicuous to traveller and to voyager but for the tall trees around it. These hid the moat, and the relics of the drawbridge, the groined archway, and cloven tower of the keep—which had twice been struck by lightning—as well as the windows of the armoury, and the chapel hushed with ivy. The banqueting hall was in better repair, for the Carnes had been hospitable to the last; but the windows kept no wind off, neither did the roof repulse the rain. In short, all the front was in a pretty state of ruin, very nice to look at, very nasty to live in, except for toads, and bats, and owls, and rats, and efts, and brindled slugs with yellow stripes; or on a summer eve the cockroach and the carrion-beetle.
At the back, however, and above the road which Cheeseman travelled in his pony-chaise, was a range of rooms still fit to dwell in, though poorly furnished, and floored with stone. In better times these had been the domain of the house-keeper and the butler, the cook and the other upper servants, who had minded their duty and heeded their comfort more truly than the master and mistress did. For the downfall of this family, as of very many others, had been chiefly caused by unwise marriage. Instead of choosing sensible and active wives to look after their home affairs and regulate the household, the Carnes for several generations now had wedded flighty ladies of good birth and pretty manners, none of whom brought them a pipkinful of money, while all helped to spend a potful. Therefore their descendant was now living in the kitchens, and had no idea how to make use of them, in spite of his French education; of comfort also he had not much idea, which was all the better for him; and he scarcely knew what it was to earn and enjoy soft quietude.
One night, when the summer was in full prime, and the weather almost blameless, this young Squire Carne rode slowly back from Springhaven to his worn-out castle. The beauty of the night had kept him back, for he hated to meet people on the road. The lingering gossips, the tired fagot-bearers, the youths going home from the hay-rick, the man with a gun who knows where the hares play, and beyond them all the truant sweethearts, who cannot have enough of one another, and wish "good-night" at every corner of the lane, till they tumble over one another's cottage steps—all these to Caryl Carne were a smell to be avoided, an eyesore to shut the eyes at. He let them get home and pull their boots off, and set the frying-pan a-bubbling—for they ended the day with a bit of bacon, whenever they could cash or credit it—and then he set forth upon his lonely ride, striking fear into the heart of any bad child that lay awake.
"Almost as good as France is this," he muttered in French, though for once enjoying the pleasure of good English air; "and better than France would it be, if only it were not cut short so suddenly. There will come a cold wind by-and-by, or a chilly black cloud from the east, and then all is shivers and rawness. But if it only remained like this, I could forgive it for producing me. After all, it is my native land; and I saw the loveliest girl to-day that ever I set eyes on. None of their made-up and highly finished demoiselles is fit to look at her—such simple beauty, such charms of nature, such enchanting innocence! Ah, that is where those French girls fail—they are always studying how they look, instead of leaving us to think of it. Bah! What odds to me? I have higher stakes to play for. But according to old Twemlow's description, she must be the daughter of that old bear Darling, with whom I shall have to pick a bone some day. Ha! How amusing is that battery to me! How little John Bull knows the nature of French troops! To-morrow we are to have a grand practice-day; and I hope they won't shoot me in my new lodgings. Nothing is impossible to such an idiot as Stubbard. What a set of imbeciles I have found to do with! They have scarcely wit enough to amuse oneself with. Pest of my soul! Is that you, Charron? Again you have broken my orders."
"Names should be avoided in the open air," answered the man, who was swinging on a gate with the simple delight of a Picard. "The climate is of France so much to-night that I found it my duty to encourage it. For what reason shall not I do that? It is not so often that I have occasion. My dear friend, scold not, but accept the compliment very seldom truthful to your native land. There are none of your clod-pates about to-night."
"Come in at once. The mere sound of your breath is enough to set the neighbourhood wondering. Could I ever have been burdened with a more French Frenchman, though you speak as good English as I do?"
"It was all of that miserable Cheray," the French gentleman said, when they sat in the kitchen, and Jerry Bowles was feeding the fine black horse. "Fruit is a thing that my mouth prepares for, directly there is any warmth in the sun. It puts itself up, it is elevated, it will not have meat, or any substance coarse. Wine of the softest and fruit of the finest is what it must then have, or unmouth itself. That miserable Cheray, his maledictioned name put me forth to be on fire for the good thing he designs. Cherays you call them, and for cherays I despatched him, suspended between the leaves in the good sun. Bah! there is nothing ever fit to eat in England. The cherays look very fine, very fine indeed; and so many did I consume that to travel on a gate was the only palliation. Would you have me stay all day in this long cellar? No diversion, no solace, no change, no conversation! Old Cheray may sit with his hands upon his knees, but to Renaud Charron that is not sufficient. How much longer before I sally forth to do the things, to fight, to conquer the nations? Where is even my little ship of despatch?"
"Captain," answered Caryl Carne, preparing calmly for his frugal supper, "you are placed under my command, and another such speech will despatch you to Dunkirk, bound hand and foot, in the hold of the Little Corporal, with which I am now in communication. Unless by the time I have severed this bone you hand me your sword in submission, my supper will have to be postponed, while I march you to the yew-tree, signal for a boat, and lay you strapped beneath the oarsmen."
Captain Charron, who had held the command of a French corvette, stared furiously at this man, younger than himself, so strongly established over him. Carne was not concerned to look at him; all he cared about was to divide the joint of a wing-rib of cold roast beef, where some good pickings lurked in the hollow. Then the French man, whose chance would have been very small in a personal encounter with his chief, arose and took a naval sword, short but rather heavy, from a hook which in better days had held a big dish-cover, and making a salute rather graceful than gracious, presented the fringed handle to the carver.
"This behaviour is sensible, my friend, and worthy of your distinguished abilities." Carne's resolute face seldom yielded to a smile, but the smile when it came was a sweet one. "Pardon me for speaking strongly, but my instructions must be the law to you. If you were my commander (as, but for local knowledge, and questions of position here, you would be), do you think then that you would allow me to rebel, to grumble, to wander, to demand my own pleasure, when you knew that it would ruin things?"
"Bravo! It is well spoken. My captain, I embrace you. In you lives the spirit of the Grand Army, which we of the sea and of the ships admire always, and always desire to emulate. Ah, if England possessed many Englishmen like you, she would be hard to conquer."
The owner of this old English castle shot a glance at the Frenchman for any sign of irony in his words. Seeing none, he continued, in the friendly vein:
"Our business here demands the greatest caution, skill, reserve, and self-denial. We are fortunate in having no man of any keen penetration in the neighbourhood, at least of those in authority and concerned with public matters. As one of an ancient family, possessing the land for centuries, I have every right to be here, and to pursue my private business in privacy. But if it once gets talked about that a French officer is with me, these stupid people will awake their suspicions more strongly by their own stupidity. In this queer island you may do what you like till the neighbourhood turns against you; and then, if you revolve upon a pin, you cannot suit them. You understand? You have heard me before. It is this that I never can knock into you."
Renaud Charron, who considered himself—as all Frenchmen did then, and perhaps do now—far swifter of intellect than any Englishman, found himself not well pleased at this, and desired to know more about it.
"Nothing can be simpler," the Englishman replied; "and therefore nothing surer. You know the old proverb—'Everything in turn, except scandal, whose turn is always.' And again another saying of our own land—'The second side of the bread takes less time to toast.' We must not let the first side of ours be toasted; we will shun all the fire of suspicion. And to do this, you must not be seen, my dear friend. I may go abroad freely; you must hide your gallant head until matters are ripe for action. You know that you may trust me not to keep you in the dark a day longer than is needful. I have got the old shopkeeper under my thumb, and can do what I please with his trading-ship. But before I place you in command I must change some more of the crew, and do it warily. There is an obstinate Cornishman to get rid of, who sticks to the planks like a limpet. If we throw him overboard, we shall alarm the others; if we discharge him without showing cause, he will go to the old Admiral and tell all his suspicions. He must be got rid of in London with skill, and then we ship three or four Americans, first-rate seamen, afraid of nothing, who will pass here as fellows from Lancashire. After that we may run among the cruisers as we like, with the boldness and skill of a certain Captain Charron, who must be ill in his cabin when his ship is boarded."
"It is famous, it is very good, my friend. The patience I will have, and the obedience, and the courage; and so much the more readily because my pay is good, and keeps itself going on dry land as well as sea."
IN THE LINE OF FIRE
No wonder there had been a great deal of talking in the village all that evening, for the following notice had appeared in a dozen conspicuous places, beginning with the gate of the church-yard, and ending with two of the biggest mooring-posts, and not even sparing the Admiral's white gate, where it flapped between the two upper rails. It was not printed, but written in round hand, with a liberal supply of capitals, on a stiff sheet of official paper, stamped with the Royal Arms at the top. And those who were in the secret knew that Master Bob Stubbard, the Captain's eldest son, had accomplished this great literary feat at a guerdon of one shilling from the public service funds every time he sucked his pen at the end of it.
"By order of His Majesty King George III. To-morrow being Wednesday, and the fishing-boats at sea, Artillery practice from Fox-hill fort will be carried on from twelve at noon until three P.M. at a mark-boat moored half a mile from the shore. Therefore His Majesty's loyal subjects are warned to avoid the beach westward of the brook between the white flagstaffs, as well as the sea in front of it, and not to cross the line of fire below the village but at their own risk and peril.
"(Signed) ADAM JACKSON STUBBARD, R.N., commanding Fox-hill Battery."
Some indignation was aroused by this; for Mrs. Caper junior (who was Mrs. Prater's cousin) had been confined, out of proper calculation, and for the very first time, the moment the boats were gone on Monday; and her house, being nearest to the fort, and in a hollow where the noise would be certain to keep going round and round, the effect upon her head, not to mention the dear baby's, was more than any one dared to think of, with the poor father so far away. And if Squire Darling had only been at home, not a woman who could walk would have thought twice about it, but gone all together to insist upon it that he should stop this wicked bombardment. And this was most unselfish of all of them, they were sure, because they had so long looked forward to putting cotton-wool in their ears, and seeing how all the enemies of England would be demolished. But Mrs. Caper junior, and Caper, natu minimus, fell fast asleep together, as things turned out, and heard not a single bang of it.
And so it turned out, in another line of life, with things against all calculation, resenting to be reckoned as they always do, like the countless children of Israel. For Admiral Darling was gone far away inspecting, leaving his daughters to inspect themselves.
"You may just say exactly what you consider right, dear," said Miss Dolly Darling to her sister Faith; "and I dare say it makes you more comfortable. But you know as well as I do, that there is no reason in it. Father is a darling; but he must be wrong sometimes. And how can he tell whether he is wrong or right, when he goes away fifty miles to attend to other people? Of course I would never disobey his orders, anymore than you would. But facts change according to circumstances, and I feel convinced that if he were here he would say, 'Go down and see it, Dolly.'"
"We have no right to speculate as to what he might say," replied Faith, who was very clear-headed. "His orders were definite: 'Keep within the grounds, when notice is given of artillery practice.' And those orders I mean to obey."
"And so do I; but not to misunderstand them. The beach is a part of our grounds, as I have heard him say fifty times in argument, when people tried to come encroaching. And I mean to go on that part of his grounds, because I can't see well from the other part. That is clearly what he meant; and he would laugh at us, if we could tell him nothing when he comes home. Why, he promised to take us as far as Portsmouth to see some artillery practice."
"That is a different thing altogether, because we should be under his control. If you disobey him, it is at your own risk, and I shall not let one of the servants go with you, for I am mistress of the household, if not of you."
"What trumpery airs you do give yourself! One would think you were fifty years old at least. Stay at home, if you are such a coward! I am sure dear daddy would be quite ashamed of you. They are popping already, and I mean to watch them."
"You won't go so very far, I am quite sure of that," answered Faith, who understood her sister. "You know your own value, darling Dolly, and you would not go at all, if you had not been forbidden."
"When people talk like that, it goads me up to almost anything. I intend to go, and stand, as near as can be, in the middle of the space that is marked off 'dangerous.'"
"Do, that's a dear. I will lend you my shell-silk that measures twenty yards, that you may be sure of being hit, dear."
"Inhuman, selfish, wicked creature!" cried Dolly, and it was almost crying; "you shall see what comes of your cold-bloodedness! I shall pace to and fro in the direct line of fire, and hang on my back the king's proclamation, inside out, and written on it in large letters—'By order of my sister I do this.' Then what will be said of you, if they only kill me? My feelings might be very sad, but I should not envy yours, Faith."
"Kiss me, at any rate, before you perish, in token of forgiveness;" and Dolly (who dearly loved her sister at the keenest height of rebellion) ran up and kissed Faith, with a smile for her, and a tear for her own self-sacrifice. "I shall put on my shell-pink," she said, "and they won't have the heart to fire shells at it."
The dress of the ladies of the present passing period had been largely affected by the recent peace, which allowed the "French babies"—as the milliners' dolls were called—to come in as quickly as they were conceived. In war time scores of these "doxy-dummies"—as the rough tars called them—were tossed overboard from captured vessels or set up as a mark for tobacco-juice, while sweet eyes in London wept for want of them. And even Mr. Cheeseman had failed to bring any type genuinely French from the wholesale house in St. Mary's Axe, which was famed for canonical issue. But blessed are the patient, if their patience lasts long enough. The ladies of England were now in full enjoyment of all the new French discoveries, which proved to be the right name, inasmuch as they banished all reputable forms of covering. At least, so Mrs. Twemlow said; and the Rector went further than she did, obtaining for his sympathy a recommendation to attend to his own business. But when he showed the Admiral his wife's last book of patterns—from a drawer which he had no right to go to—great laughter was held between the twain, with some glancing over shoulders, and much dread of bad example. "Whatever you do, don't let my girls see it; I'll be bound you won't let your Eliza," said the Admiral, after a pinch of snuff to restore the true balance of his principles; "Faith would pitch it straight into the fire; but I am not quite so sure that my Dolly would. She loves a bit of finery, and she looks well in it."
"Tonnish females," as the magazine of fashion called the higher class of popinjays, would have stared with contempt at both Faith and Dolly Darling in their simple walking-dress that day. Dowdies would have been the name for them, or frumps, or frights, or country gawks, because their attire was not statuesque or classic, as it should have been, which means that they were not half naked.
Faith, the eldest sister, had meant to let young Dolly take the course of her own stubbornness; but no sooner did she see her go forth alone than she threw on cloak and hat, and followed. The day was unsuited for classic apparel, as English days are apt to be, and a lady of fashion would have looked more foolish, and even more indecent, than usual. A brisk and rather crisp east wind had arisen, which had no respect for persons, and even Faith and Dolly in their high-necked country dresses had to handle their tackle warily.
Dolly had a good start, and growing much excited with the petulance of the wind and with her own audacity, crossed the mouth of the brook at a very fine pace, with the easterly gusts to second her. She could see the little mark-boat well out in the offing, with a red flag flaring merrily, defying all the efforts of the gunners on the hill to plunge it into the bright dance of the waves. And now and then she heard what she knew to be the rush of a round shot far above her head, and following the sound saw a little silver fountain leap up into the sunshine and skim before the breeze; then glancing up the hill she saw the gray puff drifting, and presently felt the dull rumble of the air. At the root of the smoke-puffs, once or twice, she descried a stocky figure moving leisurely, and in spite of the distance and huddle of vapour could declare that it was Captain Stubbard. Then a dense mass of smoke was brought down by an eddy of wind, and set her coughing.
"Come away, come away this very moment, Dolly," cried Faith, who had hurried up and seized her hand; "you are past the danger-post, and I met a man back there who says they are going to fire shells, and they have got two short guns on purpose. He says it will be very dangerous till they get the range, and he begged me most earnestly not to come on here. If I were anybody else, he said, he would lay hands on me and hold me back."
"Some old fisherman, no doubt. What do they know about gun practice? I can see Captain Stubbard up there; he would rather shoot himself than me, he said yesterday."
While Dolly was repeating this assurance, the following words were being exchanged upon the smoky parapet: "If you please, sir, I can see two women on the beach, half-way between the posts a'most." "Can't help it—wouldn't stop for all the petticoats in the kingdom. If they choose to go there, they must take their chance. A bit more up, and to you, my good man. Are you sure you put in twenty-three? Steady! so, so—that's beautiful."
"What a noisy thing! What does it come here for? I never saw it fall. There must be some mistake. I hope there's nothing nasty inside it. Run for your life, Faith; it means to burst, I do believe."
"Down on your faces!" cried a loud, stern voice; and Dolly obeyed in an instant. But Faith stood calmly, and said to the man who rushed past her, "I trust in the Lord, sir."
There was no time to answer. The shell had left off rolling, and sputtered more fiercely as the fuse thickened. The man laid hold of this, and tried to pull it out, but could not, and jumped with both feet on it; while Faith, who quite expected to be blown to pieces, said to herself, "What pretty boots he has!"
"A fine bit of gunnery!" said the young man, stooping over it, after treading the last spark into the springy sand. "The little artillery man is wanted here. Ladies, you may safely stay here now. They will not make two hits in proximity to each other."
"You shall not go," said Faith, as he was hurrying away, "until we know who has been so reckless of his life, to save the lives of others. Both your hands are burned—very seriously, I fear."
"And your clothes, sir," cried Dolly, running up in hot terror, as soon as the danger was over; "your clothes are spoiled sadly. Oh, how good it was of you! And the whole fault was mine—or at least Captain Stubbard's. He will never dare to face me again, I should hope."
"Young ladies, if I have been of any service to you," said the stranger, with a smile at their excitement, "I beg you to be silent to the Captain Stubbard concerning my share in this occasion. He would not be gratified by the interest I feel in his beautiful little bombardments, especially that of fair ladies. Ha, there goes another shell! They will make better aim now; but you must not delay. I beseech you to hasten home, if you would do me kindness."
The fair daughters of the Admiral had enjoyed enough of warfare to last them till the end of their honeymoon, and they could not reject the entreaty of a man who had risked his life to save them. Trembling and bewildered, they made off at the quickest step permitted by maiden dignity, with one or two kindly turns of neck, to show that he was meant to follow them. But another sulphurous cloud rushed down from the indefatigable Stubbard, and when it had passed them, they looked back vainly for the gentleman who had spoiled his boots.
AMONG THE LADIES
It would have surprised the stout Captain Stubbard, who thought no small beer of his gunnery, to hear that it was held in very light esteem by the "Frenchified young man overhead," as he called Caryl Carne, to his landlady. And it would have amazed him to learn that this young man was a captain of artillery, in the grand army mustering across the sea, and one of the most able among plenty of ability, and favoured by the great First Consul.
In the gully where the Tugwell boats were built, behind a fringe of rough longshore growth, young Carne had been sitting with a good field-glass, observing the practice of the battery. He had also been able to observe unseen the disobedient practices of young ladies, when their father is widely out of sight. Upon Faith, however, no blame could fall, for she went against her wish, and only to retrieve the rebellious Dolly.
Secure from the danger, these two held council in the comfort of the Admiral's Round-house. There Miss Dolly, who considered it her domain, kept sundry snug appliances congenial to young ladies, for removing all traces of sudden excitement, and making them fit to be seen again. Simple and unfashionable as they were in dress, they were sure to have something to do to themselves after the late derangement, ere ever they could run the risk of meeting any of the brave young officers, who were so mysteriously fond of coming for orders to Springhaven Hall.
"You look well enough, dear," said Faith at last, "and much better than you deserve to look, after leading me such a dance by your self-will. But one thing must be settled before we go back—are we to speak of this matter, or not?"
"How can you ask such a question, Faith?" Miss Dolly loved a bit of secrecy. "Of course we must rather bite our tongues out, than break the solemn pledges which we have given." She had cried a good deal, and she began to cry again.
"Don't cry, that's a darling," said the simple-hearted sister. "You make the whole world seem so cruel when you cry, because you look so innocent. It shall be as you please, if I can only think it right. But I cannot see how we gave a pledge of any sort, considering that we ran away without speaking. The question is—have we any right to conceal it, when father has a right to know everything?"
"He would be in such a sad passion," pleaded Dolly, with a stock of fresh tears only waiting, "and he never would look again at poor Captain Stubbard, and what would become of all his family?"
"Father is a just and conscientious man," replied the daughter who inherited those qualities; "he would not blame Captain Stubbard; he would blame us, and no others."
"Oh, I could not bear to hear you blamed, Faith. I should have to say that it was all my fault. And then how I should catch it, and be punished for a month! Confined to the grounds for a month at least, and never have a bit of appetite. But I am not thinking of myself, I am quite sure of that. You know that I never do that much. I am thinking of that heroic gentleman, who stamped out the sparks so cleverly. All the time I lay on the sand I watched him, though I expected to be blown to pieces every single moment. Oh! what a nasty sensation it was! I expected to find all my hair turned grey. But, thank Heaven, I don't see a streak in it!" To make sure of that, she went to the glass again.
"If all mine had turned grey, 'twould be no odds to nobody—as Captain Zeb says about his income—because I am intended for an old maid." Miss Darling, whose beauty still lacked many years of its prime, turned away for a moment, because her eyes were glistening, and her sister was tired of the subject. "But for yours there are fifty to weep, Dolly. Especially perhaps this young gentleman, towards whom you feel so much gratitude."
"How unkind you are, Faith! All the gratitude I owe him is for saving your life. As for myself, I was flat upon the sand, with a heap of sea-weed between me and the thing. If it had gone off, it would have gone over me; but you chose to stand up, like a stupid. Your life was saved, beyond all doubt, by him; and the way you acknowledge it is to go and tell his chief enemy that he was there observing him!"
"Well, I never!" Faith exclaimed, with more vigour than grace of language. "A minute ago you knew nothing of him, and even wondered who he was, and now you know all about his enemies! I am afraid that you stick at nothing."
"I don't stick thinking, as you do, Miss," Dolly answered, without abashment, and knowing that the elder hated to be so addressed; "but things come to me by the light of nature, without a twelvemonth of brown-study. When I said what you remind me of, in such a hurry, it was perfectly true—so true that you need have no trouble about it, with all your truth. But since that, a sudden idea flashed across me, the sort of idea that proves itself. Your hero you are in such a hurry to betray can be nobody but the mysterious lodger in Widow Shanks' dimity-parlour, as she calls it; and Jenny has told me all she knows about him, which is a great deal less than she ought to know. I meant to have told you, but you are so grand in your lofty contempt of what you call gossip, but which I call good neighbourly intercourse! You know that he is Mr. Caryl Carne, of course. Everybody knows that, and there the knowledge seems to terminate. Even the Twemlows, his own aunt and uncle, are scarcely ever favoured with his company; and I, who am always on the beach, or in the village, have never had the honour of beholding him, until—until it came to this"—here she imitated with her lips the spluttering of the fuse so well that her sister could not keep from laughing. "He never goes out, and he never asks questions, any more than he answers them, and he never cares to hear what fish they have caught, or anything else, about anybody. He never eats or drinks, and he never says a word about the flowers they put upon his table; and what he does all day long nobody knows, except that he has a lot of books with him. Widow Shanks, who has the best right to know all about him, has made up her mind that his head has been turned by the troubles of his family, except for his going without dinner, which no lunatic ever does, according to her knowledge. And he seems to have got 'Butter Cheeseman,' as they call him, entirely at his beck and call. He leaves his black horse there every morning, and rides home at night to his ancestral ruins. There, now, you know as much as I do."
"There is mischief at the bottom of all this," said Faith; "in these dangerous times, it must not be neglected. We are bound, as you say, to consider his wishes, after all that he has done for us. But the tale about us will be over the place in a few hours, at the latest. The gunners will have known where their bad shot fell, and perhaps they will have seen us with their glasses. How will it be possible to keep this affair from gossip?"
"They may have seen us, without seeing him at all, on account of the smoke that came afterwards. At any rate, let us say nothing about it until we hear what other people say. The shell will be washed away or buried in the sand, for it fell upon the shingle, and then rolled towards the sea; and there need be no fuss unless we choose to make it, and so perhaps ruin Captain Stubbard and his family. And his wife has made such pretty things for us. If he knew what he had done, he would go and shoot himself. He is so excessively humane and kind."
"We will not urge his humanity to that extreme. I hate all mystery, as you know well. But about this affair I will say nothing, unless there is cause to do so, at least until father comes back; and then I shall tell him if it seems to be my duty."
"It won't be your duty, it can't be your duty, to get good people into trouble, Faith. I find it my duty to keep out of trouble, and I like to treat others the same as myself."
"You are such a lover of duty, dear Dolly, because everything you like becomes your duty. And now your next duty is to your dinner. Mrs. Twemlow is coming—I forgot to tell you—as well as Eliza, and Mrs. Stubbard. And if Johnny comes home in time from Harrow, to be Jack among the ladies, we shall hear some wonders, you may be quite sure."
"Oh, I vow, I forgot all about that wicked Johnny. What a blessing that he was not here just now! It is my black Monday when his holidays begin. Instead of getting steadier, he grows more plaguesome. And the wonder of it is that he would tie your kid shoes; while he pulls out my jaconet, and sits on my French hat. How I wish he was old enough for his commission! To-morrow he will be dancing in and out of every cottage, boat, or gun, or rabbit-hole, and nothing shall be hidden from his eyes and ears. Let him come. 'I am accustomed to have all things go awry,' as somebody says in some tragedy. The only chance is to make him fall in love, deeply in love, with Miss Stubbard. He did it with somebody for his Easter week, and became as harmless as a sucking dove, till he found his nymph eating onions raw with a pocketful of boiled limpets. Maggie Stubbard is too perfect in her style for that. She is twelve years old, and has lots of hair, and eyes as large as oysters. I shall introduce Johnny to-morrow, and hope to keep him melancholy all his holidays."
"Perhaps it will be for his good," said Faith, "because, without some high ideas, he gets into such dreadful scrapes; and certainly it will be for our good."
After making light of young love thus, these girls deserved the shafts of Cupid, in addition to Captain Stubbard's shells. And it would have been hard to find fairer marks when they came down dressed for dinner. Mrs. Twemlow arrived with her daughter Eliza, but without her husband, who was to fetch her in the evening; and Mrs. Stubbard came quite alone, for her walkable children—as she called them—were all up at the battery. "Can't smell powder too young in such days as these," was the Captain's utterance; and, sure enough, they took to it, like sons of guns.
"I should be so frightened," Mrs. Twemlow said, when Johnny (who sat at the foot of the table representing his father most gallantly) had said grace in Latin, to astonish their weak minds, "so nervous all the time, so excessively anxious, the whole time that dreadful din was proceeding! It is over now, thank goodness! But how can you have endured it, how can you have gone about your household duties calmly, with seven of your children—I think you said—going about in that fiery furnace?"
"Because, ma'am," replied Mrs. Stubbard, who was dry of speech, and fit mother of heroes, "the cannons are so made, if you can understand, that they do not shoot out of their back ends."
"We are quite aware of that"—Miss Twemlow came to her mother's relief very sharply—"but still they are apt to burst, or to be overloaded, or badly directed, or even to fly back suddenly, as I have heard on good authority."
"Very likely, miss, when they are commanded by young women."
Eliza Twemlow coloured, for she was rather quick of temper; but she did not condescend to pay rudeness in kind.
"It would hardly be a lady-like position, I suppose," she answered, with a curve of her graceful neck—the Carnes had been celebrated for their necks, which were longer than those of the Darlings; "but even under the command of a most skilful man, for instance Captain Stubbard, little accidents will happen, like the fall of a shell upon the beach this afternoon. Some people were close to it, according to the rumour; but luckily it did not explode."
"How providential!" cried Mrs. Twemlow; "but the stupid people would have gone without much pity, whatever had befallen them, unless they were blind, or too ignorant to read. Don't you think so, Faith, my dear?"
"I don't believe a single word of that story," Mrs. Stubbard cut short the question; "for the simple reason that it never could have happened. My husband was to direct every gun himself. Is it likely he would have shelled the beach?"
"Well, the beach is the proper place for shells; but if I had only known it, wouldn't I have come a few hours earlier?" said Johnny. "Even now there must be something left to see; and I am bound to understand that sort of thing. Ladies, I entreat you not to think me rude, if I go as soon as ever you can do without me. I think I have got you nearly everything you want; and perhaps you would rather be without me."
With many thanks and compliments—such a pretty boy he was—the ladies released him gladly; and then Mrs. Twemlow, having reasons of her own, drew nigh to Mrs. Stubbard with lively interest in her children. At first, she received short answers only; for the Captain's wife had drawn more sour juices than sweet uses from adversity. But the wife of the man of peace outflanked the better half of the man of war, drove in her outposts, and secured the key of all her communications.
"I can scarcely believe that you are so kind. My dear Mrs. Twemlow, how good you are! My Bob is a nice boy, so manly and clever, so gentle and well-behaved, even when he knows that I am not likely to find him out. But that you should have noticed it, is what surprises me—so few people now know the difference! But in the House of God—as you so well observe—you can very soon see what a boy is. When I tell him that he may ride your grey pony, I wish you could be there to watch the fine expression of his face. How he does love dumb animals! It was only last Saturday, he knocked down a boy nearly three times his own size for poking a pin into a poor donkey with the fish. And Maggie to have a flower-bed on your front lawn! They won't let her touch a plant, at our cottage, though she understands gardening so thoroughly. She won't sleep a wink to-night, if I tell her, and I had better keep that for the morning. Poor children! They have had a hard time of it; but they have come out like pure gold from the fire—I mean as many of them as can use their legs. But to be on horseback—what will Bob say?"
"You must have met with very little kindness, Mrs. Stubbard, to attach any importance to such mere trifles. It makes me blush to think that there can be a spot in England where such children as yours could pass unnoticed. It is not a question of religious feeling only. Far from it; in fact, quite the opposite; though my husband, of course, is quite right in insisting that all our opinions and actions must be referred to that one standard. But I look at things also from a motherly point of view, because I have suffered such sad trials. Three dear ones in the churchyard, and the dearest of all—the Almighty only knows where he is. Sometimes it is more than I can bear, to live on in this dark and most dreadful uncertainty. My medical man has forbidden me to speak of it. But how can he know what it is to be a mother? But hush! Or darling Faith may hear me. Sometimes I lose all self-command."
Mrs. Twemlow's eyes were in need of wiping, and stout Mrs. Stubbard's in the same condition. "How I wish I could help you," said the latter, softly: "is there anything in the world that I can do?"
"No, my dear friend; I wish there was, for I'm sure that it would be a pleasure to you. But another anxiety, though far less painful, is worrying me as well just now. My poor brother's son is behaving most strangely. He hardly ever comes near us, and he seems to dislike my dear husband. He has taken rooms over your brave husband's Office, and he comes and goes very mysteriously. It is my duty to know something about this; but I dare not ask Captain Stubbard."
"My dear Mrs. Twemlow, it has puzzled me too. But thinking that you knew all about it, I concluded that everything must be quite right. What you tell me has surprised me more than I can tell. I shall go to work quietly to find out all about it. Mystery and secrecy are such hateful things; and a woman is always the best hand at either."
A GRACIOUS MERCY
As a matter of course, every gunner at the fort was ready to make oath by every colour of the rainbow, that never shot, shell, wad, sponge, or even powder-flake could by any possibility have fallen on the beach. And before they had time to grow much more than doubly positive—that is to say, within three days' time—the sound of guns fired in earnest drowned all questions of bad practice.