For the following Sunday beheld Springhaven in a state of excitement beyond the memory of the very oldest inhabitant, or the imagination of the youngest. Excitement is a crop that, to be large, must grow—though it thrives all the better without much root—and in this particular field it began to grow before noon of Saturday. For the men who were too old to go to sea, and the boys who were too young, and the women who were never of the proper age, all these kept looking from the best lookouts, but nothing could they see to enable them to say when the kettle, or the frying-pan, or gridiron, would be wanted. They rubbed their eyes grievously, and spun round three times, if time had brought or left them the power so to spin; and they pulled an Irish halfpenny, with the harp on, from their pockets, and moistened it with saliva—which in English means spat on it—and then threw it into the pocket on the other side of body. But none of these accredited appeals to heaven put a speck upon the sea where the boats ought to have been, or cast upon the clouds a shade of any sail approaching. Uneasily wondering, the grannies, wives, and little ones went home, when the nightfall quenched all eyesight, and told one another ancient tales of woe.
Yet there is a salve for every sore, a bung for every bunghole. Upon the Sunday morning, when the tide was coming in, and a golden haze hung upon the peaceful sea, and the seven bells of the old grey church were speaking of the service cheerfully, suddenly a deep boom moved the bosom of distance, and palpitated all along the shore. Six or seven hale old gaffers (not too stiff to walk, with the help of a staff, a little further than the rest) were coming to hear parson by the path below the warren, where a smack of salt would season them for doctrine. They knew from long experience, the grandmother of science, that the mist of the sea, coming on at breakfast-time, in the month of August (with the wind where it was and the tides as they were), would be sure to hold fast until dinner-time. Else, good as they were, and preparing punctually once a week for a better world, the hind buttons of their Sunday coats would have been towards the church, and the front ones to the headland. For the bodies of their sons were dearer to them, substantially dearer, than their own old souls.
They were all beginning to be deaf, or rather going on with it very agreeably, losing thereby a great deal of disturbance, and gaining great room for reflection. And now when the sound of a gun from the sea hung shaking in the web of vapour, each of these wise men gazed steadfastly at the rest, to see his own conclusion reflected, or concluded. A gun it was indeed—a big well-shotted gun, and no deafness could throw any doubt on it. There might not be anything to see, but still there would be plenty to hear at the headland—a sound more arousing than the parson's voice, a roar beyond that of all the gallery. "'Tis a battle!" said one, and his neighbour cried, "A rare one!" They turned to the parish church the quarters of farewell, and those of salutation to the battle out at sea.
It was all over the village, in the time it takes to put a hat on, that the British and the French fleets were hammer and tongs at it, within the distance you may throw an apple off Springhaven headland.
Even the young women knew that this was quite impossible, because there was no water there for a collier-brig to anchor; nevertheless, in the hurry and scare, the thoughts of that new battery and Lord Nelson, and above all in the fog, they believed it. So that there was scarcely any room to stand, at the Watch-point, inside the Shag-rock; while in church there was no one who could help being there, by force of holy office, or example.
These latter were not in a devout frame of mind, and (but for the look of it) would have done more good by joining the other congregation. For the sound of cannon-shot came into their ears, like balls of unadulterated pepper, and every report made them look at one another, and whisper—"Ah! there goes some poor fellow's head." For the sacred building was constructed so that the sounds outside of it had more power than the good things offered in the inside.
However, as many, or as few, as did their duty, by joining the good company of the minister, found themselves all the better for it, and more fresh for a start than the runagates. Inasmuch as these latter had nearly got enough of listening without seeing anything, while the steady church-goers had refreshed the entire system by looking about without listening. And to show the truant people where their duty should have bound them, the haze had been thickening all over the sea, while the sun kept the time on the old church dial. This was spoken of for many years, throughout the village, as a Scriptural token of the proper thing to do.
"Well, and what have 'e seen?" asked the senior church-warden—not Cheeseman, who was only the junior, and had neither been at church nor on the headland—but Farmer Graves, the tenant of the Glebe and of Up-farm, the Admiral's best holding; "what have 'e seen, good people all, to leave parson to prache to hisself a'most a sarmon as he's hathn't prached for five year, to my knowledge? Have 'e seen fat bulls of Basan?"
"Naw; but us have heer'd un roar," replied one who was sure to say something. "Wust of it is, there be no making out what language un do roar in."
"One Englishman, I tell 'e, and two Frenchmen," said an ancient tar who had served under Keppel; "by the ring of the guns I could swear to that much. And they loads them so different, that they do."
Before the others had well finished laughing at him, it became his turn to laugh at them. The wind was in the east, and the weather set fair, and but for the sea-mist the power of the sun would have been enough to dazzle all beholders. Already this vapour was beginning to clear off, coiling up in fleecy wisps above the glistening water, but clinging still to any bluff or cliff it could lay hold on.
"Halloa, Jem! Where be going of now?" shouted one or two voices from the Oar-stone point, the furthest outlook of the Havenhead hill.
"To see them Frenchy hoppers get a jolly hiding," Jem Prater replied, without easing his sculls. He was John Prater's nephew, of the "Darling Arms," and had stopped behind the fishing to see his uncle's monthly beer in. "You can't see up there, I reckon, the same as I do here. One English ship have got a job to tackle two Crappos. But, by George! she'll do it, mates. Good bye, and the Lord defend you!"
He had nobody but his little brother Sam, who was holding the tiller, to help him, and his uncle's boat (which he had taken without leave) was neither stout nor handy. But the stir of the battle had fetched him forth, and he meant to see the whole of it without taking harm. Every Englishman had a full right to do this, in a case of such French audacity, and the English sea and air began to give him fair occasion. For now the sun had swept the mist with a besom of gold wire, widening every sweep, and throwing brilliant prospect down it. The gentle heave of the sea flashed forth with the white birds hovering over it, and the curdles of fugitive vapour glowed like pillars of fire as they floated off. Then out of the drift appeared three ships, partly shrouded in their own fog.
The wind was too light for manoeuvring much, and the combatants swung to their broadsides, having taken the breath of the air away by the fury of their fire. All three were standing to the north-north-west, under easy sail, and on the starboard tack, but scarcely holding steerage-way, and taking little heed of it. Close quarters, closer and closer still, muzzle to muzzle, and beard to beard, clinched teeth, and hard pounding, were the order of the day, with the crash of shattered timber and the cries of dying men. And still the ships came onward, forgetting where they were, heaving too much iron to have thought of heaving lead, ready to be shipwrecks, if they could but wreck the enemy.
Between the bulky curls of smoke could be seen the scars of furious battle, splintered masts and shivered yards, tattered sails and yawning bulwarks, and great gaps even of the solid side; and above the ruck of smoke appeared the tricolor flag upon the right hand and the left, and the Union-jack in the middle.
"She've a'got more than she can do, I reckon," said an old man famous in the lobster line; "other a one of they is as big as she be, and two to one seemeth onfair odds. Wish her well out of it—that's all as can be done."
"Kelks, you're a fool," replied the ancient navyman, steadying his spy-glass upon a ledge of rock. "In my time we made very little of that; and the breed may be slacked off a little, but not quite so bad as that would be. Ah! you should a' heard what old Keppel—on the twenty-seventh day of July it was, in the year of our Lord 1778. Talk about Nelson! to my mind old Keppel could have boxed his compass backward. Not but what these men know how to fight quite as well as need be nowadays. Why, if I was aboard of that there frigate, I couldn't do much more than she have done. She'll have one of them, you see if she don't, though she look to have the worst of it, till you comes to understand. The Leader her name is, of thirty-eight guns, and she'll lead one of they into Portsmouth, to refit."
It was hard to understand the matter, in its present aspect, at all as the ancient sailor did; for the fire of the Leda ceased suddenly, and she fell behind the others, as if hampered with her canvas. A thrill of pain ran through all the gazing Britons.
"How now, old Navy-Mike?" cried the lobster man. "Strike is the word, and no mistake. And small blame to her either. She hathn't got a sound thread to draw, I do believe. Who is the fool now, Mike? Though vexed I be to ask it."
"Wait a bit, old lobster-pot. Ah, there now, she breezes! Whistle for a wind, lads, whistle, whistle. Sure as I'm a sinner, yes! She's laying her course to board the Frenchman on the weather quarter. With a slant of wind she'll do it, too, if it only holds two minutes. Whistle on your nails, my boys, for the glory of old England."
In reply to their shrill appeal—for even the women tried to whistle—or perhaps in compulsory sequence of the sun, the wind freshened briskly from the sunny side of east. The tattered sails of the brave ship filled, with the light falling through them upon one another, the head swung round at the command of helm, the pennons flew gaily and the ensign flapped, and she bore down smoothly on the outer and therefore unwounded side of the enemy.
"That's what I call judgmatical," old Mike shouted, with a voice that rivalled cannon; "whoever thought of that deserves three epulets, one on each shoulder and one upon his head. Doubt if old Keppel would have thought of that, now. You see, mates, the other Crappo can't fire at her without first hitting of her own consort. And better than that—ever so much better—the tilt of the charge will throw her over on her wounds. Master Muncher hath two great holes 'twixt wind and water on his larboard side, and won't they suck the briny, with the weight of our bows upon the starboard beam? 'Twill take fifty hands to stop leaks, instead of stopping boarders."
The smoke was drifting off, and the sun shone bravely. The battle had been gliding toward the feet of the spectators; and now from the height of the cliff they could descry the decks, the guns, the coils of rope, the turmoil, and dark rush of men to their fate. Small fights, man to man, demanded still the power of a telescope, and distance made the trenchant arms of heroes, working right and left, appear like the nippers of an earwig. The only thing certain was that men were being killed, and glory was being manufactured largely.
"She've a doed it, she've a doed it rarely. There's not a d——d froggy left to go to heaven; or if there be so he's a' battened down below," old Mike shouted, flourishing his spy-glass, which rattled in its joints as much as he did; "down comes the blood, froth, and blue blazes, as they call the Republican emrods, and up goes the Union-jack, my hearties. Three cheers! three cheers! Again! again! again!"
From the sea far below, and far away, came also the volume of a noble English shout, as the flag began to flutter in the quickening breeze, and the sea arose and danced with sunshine. No one, who had got all his blood left in him, could think of anything but glory.
"My certy, they had better mind their soundings, though!" said the old navy-man, with a stitch in his side and a lump in his throat, from loud utterance; "five fathoms is every inch of it where they be now, and the tide making strong, and precious little wind to claw off with. Jem Prater! Jem Prater! Oar up, and give signal. Ah, he's too far off to do any good. In five minutes more they'll be on the White Pig, where no ship ever got off again. Oh, thank the Lord, mates, thank the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever! The other froggy is stuck hard and fast, and our lads will just fetch out in time."
Old Navy-Mike had made no mistake. The consort of the captured frigate, a corvette of twenty-four guns, had boldly stood on with the intention of rounding to the wind, crossing the bows of the other twain, and retrieving the fortunes of the day perhaps, by a broadside into the shattered upper works of the terribly hampered British ship. The idea was clever and spirited, and had a very fair chance of success; but the land below the sea forefended it. Full of fine ardour and the noble thirst for fame, speeding on for the palm of high enterprise and the glory of the native land, alas, they stuck fast in a soft bit of English sand! It was in their power now to swear by all they disbelieved in, and in everything visible and too tangible; but their power was limited strictly to that; and the faster they swore, the faster they were bound to stick.
Springhaven dined well, with its enemy so placed, and a message from the Leda by Jem Prater, that the fishing fleet was rescued, and would be home to early supper, and so much to be talked about all dinner-time, that for once in his life nearly everybody found it more expedient to eat with his fork than his knife. Then all who could be spared from washing up, and getting ready for further cookery, went duly to church in the afternoon, to hear the good rector return humble thanks for a Gracious Mercy to the British arms, and to see a young man, who had landed with despatches, put a face full of gunpowder in at window, to learn whether Admiral Darling was there.
A SPECIAL URGENCY
Admiral Darling was not in church. His duty to his country kept him up the hill, and in close consultation with Captain Stubbard, who was burning to fire his battery.
"I never knew such bad luck in all my life. The devil has been appointed First Lord of the weather ever since I came to Springhaven." As Stubbard declared these great truths he strode about in his little fortress, delivering a kick at the heels of things which had no right to be lumbering there. "To think that I should never have seen those beggars, when but for the fog I could have smashed them right and left. Admiral, these things make a Christian an infidel."
"Nonsense, sir!" said the Admiral, sternly, for a man of his kind nature; "you forget that without the fog, or rather the mist—for it was only that—those fellows would never have come within range. We have very great blessings to be thankful for, though the credit falls not to our battery. The Frenchmen fought wonderfully well, as well as the best Englishman could have done, and to capture them both is a miracle of luck, if indeed we can manage to secure them. My friend, young Honyman, of the Leda, has proved himself just what I said he would be; and has performed a very gallant exploit, though I fear he is severely wounded. But we shall know more now, for I see a young fellow jumping up the hill, like a kangaroo, and probably he comes for orders. One thing we have learned, Stubbard, and must take the hint to-morrow—put a hut on the Haven head, and keep a watchman there. Why, bless my heart, it is Blyth Scudamore that's coming! There is nobody else that can skip like that."
The young lieutenant entered between two guns—the gunners were dismissed in great disgust to dinner—with his pleasant face still a little grimed with gunpowder, and flushed by his hurry up the steep hill-side.
"This for you, sir," he said, saluting the Admiral, presenting his letter, and then drawing back; "and I am to wait your convenience for reply."
"What next will the service come to," asked the Admiral of Captain Stubbard, "when a young man just commissioned gives himself such mighty airs? Shake hands, Blyth, and promise you will come and dine with us, unless you are ordered to return on board at once. How is your good captain? I knew him when he wore Nankins. Jem Prater brought word that he was wounded. I hope it is not serious."
"No, sir; not much to speak of. He has only lost three fingers. That was why I wrote this letter—or report, I ought to call it, if anybody else had written it. Oh, sir! I cannot bear to think of it! I was fifth luff when the fight began, and now there is only one left above me, and he is in command of our biggest prize, the Ville d'Anvers. But, Admiral, here you will find it all, as I wrote it, from the lips, when they tied up the fingers, of Captain Honyman."
"How could you tie them up when they were gone?" Captain Stubbard enquired, with a sneer at such a youth. He had got on very slowly in his early days, and could not bear to see a young man with such vacancies before him. "Why, you are the luckiest lad I ever saw! Sure to go up at least three steps. How well you must have kept out of it! And how happy you must feel, Lieutenant Scudamore!"
"I am not at all happy at losing dear friends," the young man answered, gently, as he turned away and patted the breech of a gun, upon which there was a little rust next day; "that feeling comes later in life, I suppose."
The Admiral was not attending to them now, but absorbed in the brief account of the conflict, begun by Captain Honyman in his own handwriting, and finished by his voice, but not his pen. Any one desirous to read this may do so in the proper place. For the present purpose it is enough to say that the modesty of the language was scarcely surpassed by the brilliancy of the exploit. And if anything were needed to commend the writer to the deepest good will of the reader, it was found in the fact that this enterprise sprang from warm zeal for the commerce of Springhaven. The Leda had been ordered on Friday last to protect the peaceful little fishing fleet from a crafty design for their capture, and this she had done with good effect, having justice on her side, and fortune. The particulars of the combat were not so clear, after the captain's three fingers were gone; but if one made proper allowance for that, there was not very much to complain of. The Admiral considered it a very good report; and then put on his spectacles, and thought it still better.
"Why! why! why!" he said—for without affectation many officers had caught the style of His then Gracious Majesty—"What's this? what's this? Something on the other side, in a different man's handwriting, and mighty difficult to read, in my opinion. Stubbard, did you ever see such a scrawl? Make it out for me. You have good eyes, like a hawk, or the man who saw through a milestone. Scudamore, what was his name? You know."
"Three fingers at five pounds apiece per annum as long as he lives!" Captain Stubbard computed on his own: "fifteen pounds a year perhaps for forty years, as you seem to say how young he is; that comes to just 600 pounds, and his hand as good as ever"—("I'll be hanged if it is, if he wrote this!" the Admiral interjected)—"and better, I must say, from a selfish point of view, because of only two nails left to clean, and his other hand increased in value; why, the scale is disgraceful, iniquitous, boobyish, and made without any knowledge of the human frame, and the comparative value of its members. Lieutenant Scudamore, look at me. Here you see me without an ear, damaged in the fore-hatch, and with the larboard bow stove in—and how much do I get, though so much older?"
"Well, if you won't help me, Stubbard," said the Admiral, who knew how long his friend would carry on upon that tack, "I must even get Scudamore to read it, though it seems to have been written on purpose to elude him. Blyth, my dear boy, can you explain it?"
"It was—it was only something, sir"—the lieutenant blushed, and hesitated, and looked away unmanfully—"which I asked Captain Honyman to leave out, because—because it had nothing to do with it. I mean, because it was of no importance, even if he happened to have that opinion. His hand was tied up so, that I did not like to say too much, and I thought that he would go to sleep, because the doctor had made him drink a poppy head boiled down with pigtail. But it seems as if he had got up after that—for he always will have his own way—while I was gone to put this coat on; and perhaps he wrote that with his left hand, sir. But it is no part of the business."
"Then we will leave it," said Admiral Darling, "for younger eyes than mine to read. Nelson wrote better with his left hand than ever he did with his right, to my thinking, the very first time that he tried it. But we can't expect everybody to do that. There is no sign of any change of weather, is there, Stubbard? My orders will depend very much upon that. I must go home and look at the quicksilver before I know what is best to do. You had better come with me, Scudamore."
Admiral Darling was quite right in this. Everything depended upon the weather; and although the rough autumn was not come yet, the prime of the hopeful year was past. The summer had not been a grand one, such as we get about once in a decade, but of loose and uncertain character, such as an Englishman has to make the best of. It might be taking up for a golden autumn, ripening corn, and fruit, and tree, or it might break up into shower and tempest, sodden earth, and weltering sky.
"Your captain refers to me for orders," said Admiral Darling to Scudamore, while they were hastening to the Hall, "as Commander of the Coast Defence, because he has been brought too far inshore, and one of the Frenchmen is stranded. The frigate you boarded and carried is the Ville d'Anvers, of forty guns. The corvette that took the ground, so luckily for you, when half of your hands were aboard the prize, is the Blonde, teak-built, and only launched last year. We must try to have her, whatever happens. She won't hurt where she is, unless it comes on to blow. Our sands hold fast without nipping, as you know, like a well-bred sheep-dog, and the White Pig is the toughest of all of them. She may stay there till the equinox, without much mischief, if the present light airs continue. But the worst job will be with the prisoners; they are the plague of all these affairs, and we can't imitate Boney by poisoning them. On the whole, it had better not have happened, perhaps. Though you must not tell Honyman that I said so. It was a very gallant action, very skilful, very beautiful; and I hope he will get a fine lift for it; and you too, my dear Blyth, for you must have fought well."
"But, Admiral, surely you would have been grieved if so many of your tenants, and their boats as well, had been swept away into a French harbour. What would Springhaven be without its Captain Zebedee?"
"You are right, Blyth; I forgot that for the moment. There would have been weeping and wailing indeed, even in our own household. But they could not have kept them long, though the loss of their boats would have been most terrible. But I cannot make out why the French should have wanted to catch a few harmless fishing-smacks. Aquila non captat muscas, as you taught the boys at Stonnington. And two ships despatched upon a paltry job of that sort! Either Captain Honyman was strangely misinformed, or there is something in the background, entirely beyond our knowledge. Pay attention to this matter, and let me know what you hear of it—as a friend, Blyth, as a friend, I mean. But here we are! You must want feeding. Mrs. Cloam will take care of you, and find all that is needful for a warrior's cleanup. I must look at the barometer, and consider my despatches. Let us have dinner, Mrs. Cloam, in twenty minutes, if possible. For we stand in real need of it."
Concerning that there could be no doubt. Glory, as all English officers know, is no durable stay for the stomach. The urgency of mankind for victuals may roughly be gauged by the length of the jaw. Captain Stubbard had jaws of tremendous length, and always carried a bag of captain's biscuits, to which he was obliged to have recourse in the height of the hottest engagement. Scudamore had short jaws, well set up, and powerful, without rapacity. But even these, after twelve hours of fasting, demanded something better than gunpowder. He could not help thinking that his host was regarding the condition of affairs very calmly, until he remembered that the day was Sunday, when no Briton has any call to be disturbed by any but sacred insistency. At any rate, he was under orders now, and those orders were entirely to his liking. So he freshened up his cheerful and simple-minded face, put his sailor-knot neckcloth askew, as usual, and with some trepidation went down to dinner.
The young ladies would not have been young women if they had not received him warmly. Kind Faith, who loved him as a sister might—for she had long discovered his good qualities—had tears in her beautiful eyes, as she gave him both hands, and smiled sweetly at his bashfulness. And even the critical Dolly, who looked so sharply at the outside of everything, allowed her fair hand to stay well in his, and said something which was melody to him. Then Johnny, who was of a warlike cast, and hoped soon to destroy the French nation, shook hands with this public benefactor already employed in that great work.
"I shall scarcely have time for a bit of dinner," said Admiral Darling, as they sat down. "I have sent word to have the Protector launched, and to give little Billy a feed of corn. All you young people may take your leisure. Youth is the time that commands time and space. But for my part, if I can only manage this plate of soup, and a slice of that fish, and then one help of mutton, and just an apple-fritter, or some trifle of that sort, I shall be quite as lucky as I can hope to be. Duty perpetually spoils my dinner, and I must get some clever fellow to invent a plate that will keep as hot as duty is in these volcanic times. But I never complain; I am so used to it. Eat your dinners, children, and don't think of mine."
Having scarcely afforded himself an hour, the Admiral, in full uniform, embarked upon little Billy, a gentle-minded pony from the west country, who conducted his own digestion while he consulted that of his rider. At the haven they found the Protector ready, a ten-oared galley manned by Captain Stubbard's men, good samples of Sea-Fencibles. And the Captain himself was there, to take the tiller, and do any fighting if the chance should arise, for he had been disappointed all the morning. The boat which brought Scudamore had been recalled by signal from the Leda, and that active young officer having sought her vainly, and thereby missed the Protector, followed steadily in Mr. Prater's boat, with the nephew, Jem, pulling the other oar, and Johnny Darling, who raged at the thought of being left behind, steering vaguely. And just as they rounded the harbour-head, the long glassy sweep of the palpitating sea bore inward and homeward the peaceful squadron, so wistfully watched for and so dearly welcome.
"Her condition was very bad, as bad as could be, without going straight to the bottom," the Admiral said to the Rector that night, as they smoked a pipe together; "and to the bottom she must have gone, if the sea had got up, before we thrummed her. Honyman wanted to have her brought inside the Head; but even if we could have got there, she would ground at low water and fill with the tide. And what could we do with all those prisoners? With our fresh hands at the pumps, we very soon fetched the water out of her, and made her as tight as we could; and I think they will manage to take her to Portsmouth. She has beautiful lines. I never saw a smarter ship. How she came to the wind, with all that water in her! The wind is all right for Portsmouth, and she will be a fine addition to the Navy."
"But what is become of the other vessel, craft, corvette, or whatever you call her? You say that she is scarcely hurt at all. And if she gets off the White Pig's back in the night, she may come up and bombard us. Not that I am afraid; but my wife is nervous, and the Rectory faces the sea so much. If you have ordered away the Leda, which seems to have conquered both of them, the least you can do is to keep Captain Stubbard under arms all night in his battery."
"I have a great mind to do so; it would be a good idea, for he was very much inclined to cut up rough to-day. But he never would forgive me, he is such a hog at hammock—as we used to say, until we grew too elegant. And he knows that the Blonde has hauled down her colours, and Scudamore is now prize-captain. I have sent away most of her crew in the Leda, and I am not at all sure that we ought not to blow her up. In the end, we shall have to do so, no doubt; for nothing larger than a smack has ever got off that sand, and floated. But let our young friend try; let him have a fair trial. He has the stuff of a very fine seaman in him. And if he should succeed, it would be scored with a long leg for him. Halloa! Why, I thought the girls were fast asleep long ago!"
"As if we could sleep, papa, with this upon our minds!" Dolly waved an open letter in the air, and then presented it. "Perhaps Faith might, but I am sure I never could. You defied us to make out this, which is on the other leaf; and then, without giving us fair play, you took it to the desk in your Oak-room, and there you left it. Well, I took the liberty of going there for it, for there can't be any secret about a thing that will be printed; and how are they to print it, if they can't contrive to read it? How much will you pay me for interpreting, papa? Mr. Twemlow, I think I ought to have a guinea. Can you read it, now, with all your learning, and knowledge of dead languages?"
"My dear, it is not my duty to read it, and not at all my business. It seems to be written with the end of a stick, by a boy who was learning his letters. If you can interpret it, you must be almost a Daniel."
"Do you hear that, papa, you who think I am so stupid? Faith gave it up; she has no perseverance, or perhaps no curiosity. And I was very nearly beaten too, till a very fine idea came into my head, and I have made out every word except three, and perhaps even those three, if Captain Honyman is not very particular in his spelling. Can you tell me anything about that, papa?"
"Yes, Dolly, just what you have heard from me before. Honyman is a good officer; a very good one, as he has just proved. No good officer ever spells well, whether in the army or the navy. Look at Nelson's letters. I am inclined to ascribe my own slow promotion to the unnatural accuracy of my spelling, which offended my lords, because it puzzled them."
"Then all is straight sailing, as you say, papa. But I must tell you first how I found it out, or perhaps you won't believe me. I knew that Captain Honyman wrote this postscript, or whatever it is, with his left hand, so I took a pen in my own left hand, and practised all the letters, and the way they join, which is quite different from the other hand. And here is the copy of the words, as my left hand taught my right to put them down, after inking ever so many fingers:
"'We never could have done it without Scudamore. He jumped a most wonderful jump from our jib-boom into her mizzen chains, when our grapples had slipped, and we could get no nearer, and there he made fast, though the enemy came at him with cutlasses, pikes, and muskets. By this means we borded and carried the ship, with a loss as above reported. When I grew faint from a trifling wound, Luff Scudamore led the borders with a cool courage that discomfited the fo.'"
"Robert Honyman all over!" cried the Admiral, with delight. "I could swear that he wrote it, if it was written with his toes. 'Twas an old joke against him, when he was lieutenant, that he never could spell his own title; and he never would put an e after an o in any word. He is far too straightforward a man to spell well; and now the loss of three fingers will cut his words shorter than ever, and be a fine excuse for him. He was faint again, when I boarded the Leda, partly no doubt through strong medical measures; for the doctor, who is an ornament to his profession, had cauterised his stumps with a marlinspike, for fear of inflammation. And I heard that he had singed the other finger off. But I hope that may prove incorrect. At any rate, I could not bear to disturb him, but left written orders with Scudamore; for the senior was on board the prize. Dolly, be off to bed, this moment."
"Well, now," said the Rector, drawing near, and filling another deliberative pipe, "I have no right to ask what your orders were, and perhaps you have no right to tell me. But as to the ship that remains in my parish, or at any rate on its borders, if you can tell me anything, I shall be very grateful, both as a question of parochial duty, and also because of the many questions I am sure to have to answer from my wife and daughter."
"There is no cause for secrecy; I will tell you everything:" the Admiral hated mystery. "Why, the London papers will publish the whole of it, and a great deal more than that, in three days' time. I have sent off the Leda with her prize to Portsmouth. With this easterly breeze and smooth water, they will get there, crippled as they are, in some twenty-four hours. There the wounded will be cared for, and the prisoners drafted off. The Blonde, the corvette which is aground, surrendered, as you know, when she found herself helpless, and within range of our new battery. Stubbard's men longed to have a few shots at her; but of course we stopped any such outrage. Nearly all her officers and most of her crew are on board the Leda, having given their parole to attempt no rising; and Frenchmen are always honourable, unless they have some very wicked leader. But we left in the corvette her captain, an exceedingly fine fellow, and about a score of hands who volunteered to stay to help to work the ship, upon condition that if we can float her, they shall have their freedom. And we put a prize crew from the Leda on board her, only eight-and-twenty hands, which was all that could be spared, and in command of them our friend Blyth Scudamore. I sent him to ask Robert Honyman about it, when he managed to survive the doctor, for a captain is the master of his own luffs; and he answered that it was exactly what he wished. Our gallant frigate lost three lieutenants in this very spirited action, two killed and one heavily wounded. And the first is in charge of the Ville d'Anvers, so there was nobody for this enterprise except the gentle Scuddy, as they call him. He is very young for such a business, and we must do all we can to help him."
"I have confidence in that young man," said Mr. Twemlow, as if it were a question of theology; "he has very sound views, and his principles are high; and he would have taken holy orders, I believe, if his father's assets had permitted it. He perceives all the rapidly growing dangers with which the Church is surrounded, and when I was in doubt about a line of Horace, he showed the finest diffidence, and yet proved that I was right. The 'White Pig,' as the name of a submarine bank, is most clearly of classic origin. We find it in Homer, and in Virgil too; and probably the Romans, who undoubtedly had a naval station in Springhaven, and exterminated the oyster, as they always did—"
"Come, come, Twemlow," said the Admiral, with a smile which smoothed the breach of interruption, "you carry me out of my depth so far that I long to be stranded on my pillow. When your great book comes out, we shall have in perfect form all the pile of your discoveries, which you break up into little bits too liberally. The Blonde on the Pig is like Beauty and the Beast. If gentle Scuddy rescues her, it won't be by Homer, or Horace, or even holy orders, but by hard tugs and stout seamanship."
"With the blessing of the Lord, it shall be done," said the Rector, knocking his pipe out; "and I trust that Providence may see fit to have it done very speedily; for I dread the effect which so many gallant strangers, all working hard and apparently in peril, may produce upon the females of this parish."
But the Admiral laughed, and said, "Pooh, pooh!" for he had faith in the maids of Springhaven.
For these there was a fine time now in store—young men up and down everywhere, people running in and out with some new news, before they could get their hats on, the kettle to boil half a dozen times a day, and almost as much to see as they could talk of. At every high-water that came by daylight—and sometimes there were two of them—every maid in the parish was bound to run to the top of a sand-hill high enough to see over the neck of the Head, and there to be up among the rushes all together, and repulse disdainfully the society of lads. These took the matter in a very different light, and thought it quite a pity and a piece of fickle-mindedness, that they might go the round of crab-pots, or of inshore lug-lines, without anybody to watch them off, or come down with a basket to meet them.
For be it understood that the great fishing fleet had not launched forth upon its labours. Their narrow escape from the two French cruisers would last them a long time to think over, and to say the same thing to each other about it that each other had said to them every time they met. And they knew that they could not do this so well as to make a new credit of it every time, when once they were in the same craft together, and could not go asunder more than ten yards and a half. And better, far better, than all these reasons for staying at home and enjoying themselves, was the great fact that they could make more money by leisure than by labour, in this nobly golden time.
Luck fostered skill in this great affair, which deserves to be recorded for the good of any village gifted with like opportunity. It appears that the British Admiralty had long been eager for the capture of the Blonde, because of her speed and strength and beauty, and the mischief she had done to English trade. To destroy her would be a great comfort, but to employ her aright would be glorious; and her proper employment was to serve as a model for English frigates first, and then to fight against her native land. Therefore, no sooner did their lordships hear what had happened at Springhaven than they sent down a rider express, to say that the ship must be saved at any price. And as nothing could be spared from the blockading force, or the fleet in the Downs, or the cruising squadron, the Commander of the coast-defence was instructed to enrol, impress, or adapt somehow all the men and the matter available. Something was said about free use of money in the service of His Majesty, but not a penny was sent to begin upon. But Admiral Darling carried out his orders, as if he had received them framed in gold. "They are pretty sure to pay me in the end," he said; "and if they don't, it won't break me. I would give 500 pounds on my own account, to carry that corvette to Spithead. And it would be the making of Scudamore, who reminds me of his father more and more, every time I come across him."
The fleet under Captain Tugwell had quite lately fallen off from seven to five, through the fierce patriotism of some younger members, and their sanguine belief in bounty-money. Captain Zeb had presented them with his experience in a long harangue—nearly fifty words long—and they looked as if they were convinced by it. However, in the morning they were gone, having mostly had tiffs with their sweethearts—which are fervent incentives to patriotism—and they chartered themselves, and their boats were numbered for the service of their Country. They had done their work well, because they had none to do, except to draw small wages, and they found themselves qualified now for more money, and came home at the earliest chance of it.
Two guineas a day for each smack and four hands, were the terms offered by the Admiral, whose hard-working conscience was twitched into herring-bones by the strife between native land and native spot. "I have had many tussles with uncertainty before," he told Dolly, going down one evening, "but never such vexation of the mind as now. All our people expect to get more for a day, than a month of fine fishing would bring them; while the Government goes by the worst time they make, and expects them to throw in their boats for nothing. 'The same as our breeches,' Tugwell said to me; 'whenever we works, we throws in they, and we ought to do the very same with our boats.' This makes it very hard for me."
But by doing his best, he got over the hardship, as people generally do. He settled the daily wages as above, with a bonus of double that amount for the day that saw the Blonde upon her legs again. Indignation prevailed, or pretended to do so; but common-sense conquered, and all set to work. Hawsers, and chains, and buoys, and all other needful gear and tackle were provided by the Admiralty from the store-house built not long ago for the Fencibles. And Zebedee Tugwell, by right of position, and without a word said for it—because who could say a word against it?—became the commander of the Rescue fleet, and drew double pay naturally for himself and family.
"I does it," he said, "if you ask me why I does it, without any intention of bettering myself, for the Lord hath placed me above need of that; but mainly for the sake of discipline, and the respectability of things. Suppose I was under you, sir, and knew you was getting no more than I was, why, my stomach would fly every time that you gave me an order without a 'Please, Zebedee!' But as soon as I feels that you pocket a shilling, in the time I take pocketing twopence, the value of your brain ariseth plain before me; and instead of thinking what you says, I does it."
ACCORDING TO CONTRACT
When the Blonde had been on the White Pig for a week, in spite of all the science of Scudamore, ready money of the Admiral, and efforts of the natives, there began to be signs of a change in the weather. The sea was as smooth, and the sky as bright, and the land as brown as ever; but the feel of the air was not the same, and the sounds that came through it were different. "Rain afore Friday," said Captain Zeb, "and a blow from sowwest afore Sunday. 'Twill break up the Blunder, I reckon, my lads."
With various aspects they looked at him, all holding sweet converse at the Darling Arms, after the manifold struggles of the day. The eyes of the younger men were filled with disappointment and anger, as at a sure seer of evil; the elder, to whom cash was more important, gazed with anxiety and dismay; while a pair, old enough to be sires of Zebedee, nodded approval, and looked at one another, expecting to receive, but too discreet to give, a wink. Then a lively discourse arose and throve among the younger; and the elders let them hold it, while they talked of something else.
On the following morning two dialogues were held upon different parts of Springhaven shore, but each of great import to the beautiful captive still fast aground in the offing. The first was between Captain Zebedee Tugwell and Lieutenant Scudamore. The gentle Scuddy, still hoping against hope, had stuck fast to his charge, upon whose fortunes so much of his own depended. If he could only succeed in floating and carrying her into Portsmouth, his mark would be made, his position secured far quicker than by ten gallant actions; and that which he cared for a hundredfold, the comfort of his widowed mother, would be advanced and established. For, upon the valuation of the prizes, a considerable sum would fall to him, and every farthing of it would be sent to her. Bright with youthful hope, and trustful in the rising spring of tide, which had all but released them yesterday, according to his firm belief, he ran from the Hall through the Admiral's grounds, to meet the boat which was waiting for him, while he was having breakfast and council with his chief. Between the Round-house and the old white gate he heard a low whistle from a clump of shrubs, and turning that way, met Tugwell. With that prince of fishermen he shook hands, according to the manner of Springhaven, for he had learned to admire the brave habit of the man, his strong mind, and frank taciturnity. And Tugwell on his part had taken a liking to the simple and cheerful young officer, who received his suggestions, was kind to all hands, and so manfully bore the daily disappointment.
"Nobody in there?" asked Zeb, with one finger pointing to the Round-house; "then sit down on this bit of bank, sir, a minute. Less chance to be shot at by any French ship."
The bit of bank really was a bit of hollow, where no one could see them from the beach, or lane, or even from the Round-house. Scudamore, who understood his man, obeyed; and Tugwell came to his bearings on a clump of fern before him.
"How much will Government pay the chaps as fetches her out of that snug little berth? For division to self and partners, how much? For division to self and family, how much?"
"I have thought about that," the lieutenant answered, with little surprise at the question, but much at the secrecy thrown around it; "and I think it would be very unsafe to count upon getting a penny beyond the Admiral's terms—double pay for the day that we float her."
Captain Zebedee shook his head, and the golden sheaf of his Olympian beard ruffled and crisped, as to an adverse wind.
"Can't a'most believe it," he replied, with his bright eyes steadily settled on Scudamore's; "the English country, as I belongs to, can't quite 'a coom to that yet!"
"I fear that it has indeed," Blyth answered, very gravely; "at least I am sure of this, Master Tugwell, that you must not look forward to any bounty, bonus, or premium, or whatever it is called, from the Authorities who should provide it. But for myself, and the difference it will make to me whether we succeed or fail, I shall be happy, and will give my word, to send you 50 pounds, to be divided at your discretion among the smacks. I mean, of course, as soon as I get paid."
Scudamore was frightened by the size of his own promise; for he had never yet owned 50 pounds in the solid. And then he was scared at the wholesale loss of so large a sum to his mother.
"Never fear, lad," honest Tugwell replied, for the young man's face was fair to read; "we'll not take a farden of thy hard airnings, not a brass farden, so help me Bob! Gentlefolks has so much call for money, as none of us know nothing of. And thou hast helped to save all the lot of us from Frenchies, and been the most forwardest, as I hear tell. But if us could 'a got 50 pounds out of Government, why so much more for us, and none the less for they. But a Englishman must do his duty, in reason, and when 'a don't hurt his self by the same. There's a change in the weather, as forbids more sport. You shall have the Blunder off to-morrow, lad. Wouldn't do to be too sudden like."
"I fear I am very stupid, Master Tugwell. But I don't see how you can manage it so surely, after labouring nine days all in vain."
Zebedee hesitated half a moment, betwixt discretion and the pride of knowledge. Then the latter vanquished and relieved his mind.
"I trust in your honour, sir, of course, to keep me clear. I might have brought 'e off the Pig, first day, or second to the latest, if it were sound business. But with winter time coming, and the week's fishing lost, our duty to our families and this place was to pull 'e on harder, sir, to pull 'e aground firmer; and with the help of the Lord we have a-doed it well. We wasn't a-going to kill the goose as laid the golden eggs. No offence to you, sir; it wasn't you as was the goose."
Master Tugwell rubbed his pockets with a very pleasant smile, and then put his elbows on his great square knees, and complacently studied the lieutenant's smaller mind.
"I can understand how you could do such a thing," said Scudamore, after he had rubbed his eyes, and then looked away for fear of laughing, "but I cannot understand by what power on earth you are enabled to look at me and tell me this. For nine days you have been paid every night, and paid pretty well, as you yourself acknowledge, to haul a ship off a shoal; and all the time you have been hauling her harder upon it!"
"Young man," replied Tugwell, with just indignation, "a hofficer should be above such words. But I forgive 'e, and hope the Lord will do the same, with allowance for youth and ill-convenience. I might 'a knowed no better, at your age and training."
"But what were you paid for, just answer me that, unless it was to pull the Blonde off the sand-bank? And how can you pretend that you have done an honest thing by pulling her further upon the bank?"
"I won't ask 'e, sir, to beg my pardon for saying what never man said to me, without reading the words of the contraction;" Zeb pulled out a paper from his hat, and spread it, and laid a stone at every corner; "this contraction was signed by yourself and Squire Darling, for and on behalf of the kingdom; and the words are for us to give our services, to pull, haul, tow, warp, or otherwise as directed, release, relieve, set free, and rescue the aforesaid ship, or bark, or vessel, craft, or—"
"Please not to read all that," cried Scuddy, "or a gale of wind may come before you are half-way through. It was Admiral Darling's lawyer, Mr. Furkettle, who prepared it, to prevent any chance of misunderstanding."
"Provided always," continued Tugwell, slowly, "and the meaning, condition, purport, object, sense, and intention of this agreement is, that the aforesaid Zebedee Tugwell shall submit in everything to the orders, commands, instructions, counsel, directions, injunctions, authority, or discretion, whether in writing or otherwise, of the aforesaid—"
"I would not interrupt you if I could help it"—Scudamore had a large stock of patience (enhanced by laborious practice at Stonnington), but who might abide, when time was precious, to see Zebedee feeling his way with his fingers along the bottom and to the end of every word, and then stopping to congratulate himself at the conquest of every one over two syllables? "But excuse me for saying that I know all these conditions; and the tide will be lost, if we stop here."
"Very good, sir; then you see how it standeth. Who hath broken them? Not us! We was paid for to haul; and haul we did, according to superior orders. She grounded from the south, with the tide making upp'ard, somewhere about three-quarter flow; and the Squire, and you, and all the rest of 'e, without no knowledge of the Pig whatsomever, fastens all your pulley-haulies by the starn, and says, 'now pull!' And pull we did, to the tune of sixteen guineas a day for the good of Springhaven."
"And you knew all the time that it was wrong! Well, I never came across such people. But surely some one of you would have had the honesty—I beg pardon, I mean the good-will—to tell us. I can scarcely imagine some forty men and boys preserving such a secret for nine whole days, hauling for their lives in the wrong direction, and never even by a wink or smile—"
"Springhaven is like that," said Master Tugwell, proudly; "we does a thing one and all together, even if us reasons consarning it. And over and above that, sir, there is but two men in Springhaven as understands the White Pig, barring my own self. The young 'uns might 'a smelt a rat, but they knew better than to say so. Where the Blunder grounded—and she hath airned her name, for the good of the dwellers in this village—is the chine of the Pig; and he hath a double back, with the outer side higher than the inner one. She came through a narrow nick in his outer back, and then plumped, stem on, upon the inner one. You may haul at her forever by the starn, and there she'll 'bide, or lay up again on the other back. But bring her weight forrard, and tackle her by the head, and off she comes, the very next fair tide; for she hath berthed herself over the biggest of it, and there bain't but a basketful under her forefoot."
"Then, Master Tugwell, let us lose no time, but have at her at once, and be done with it." Scudamore jumped up, to give action to his words; but Tugwell sate aground still, as firmly as the Blonde.
"Begging of your pardon, sir, I would invite of you not to be in no sart of hurry hasting forwardly. Us must come off gradual, after holding on so long there, and better to have Squire Darling round the corner first, sir. Not that he knoweth much about it, but 'a might make believe to do so. And when 'a hath seen us pull wrong ways, a hundred and twenty guineas' worth, a' might grudge us the reward for pulling right ways. I've a-knowed 'un get into that state of mind, although it was his own tenants."
The lieutenant was at length compelled to laugh, though for many reasons loth to do so. But the quiet contempt for the Admiral's skill, and the brief hint about his character, touched his sense of the ludicrous more softly than the explanation of his own mishaps. Then the Captain of Springhaven smiled almost imperceptibly; for he was a serious man, and his smiles were accustomed to be interior.
"I did hear tell," he said, stroking his beard, for fear of having discomposed it, "that the Squire were under compulsion to go a bit westward again to-morrow. And when he cometh back he would be glad to find us had managed the job without him. No fear of the weather breaking up afore Friday, and her can't take no harm for a tide or two. If you thinks well, sir, let us heave at her to-day, as afore, by superior orders. Then it come into your mind to try t'other end a bit, and you shift all the guns and heavy lumber forrard to give weight to the bows and lift the starn, and off her will glide at the first tug to-morrow, so sure as my name is Zebedee. But mind one thing, sir, that you keep her, when you've got her. She hath too many furriner natives aboard of her, to be any way to my liking."
"Oh, there need be no doubt about them," replied Blyth; "we treat them like ourselves, and they are all upon their honour, which no Frenchman ever thinks of breaking. But my men will be tired of waiting for me. I shall leave you to your plans, Tugwell."
"Ah, I know the natur' of they young men," Captain Zebedee mused, as he sate in his hollow, till Scudamore's boat was far away; "they be full of scruples for themselves and faith in other fellows. He'll never tell Squire, nor no one else here, what I laid him under, and the laugh would go again' him, if he did. We shall get to-day's money, I reckon, as well as double pay to-morrow, and airn it. Well, it might 'a been better, and it might be wuss."
About two miles westward of the brook, some rocks marked the end of the fine Springhaven sands and the beginning of a far more rugged beach, the shingles and flint shelves of Pebbleridge. Here the chalk of the Sussex backbone (which has been plumped over and sleeked by the flesh of the valley) juts forth, like the scrags of a skeleton, and crumbles in low but rugged cliffs into the flat domain of sea. Here the landing is bad, and the anchorage worse, for a slippery shale rejects the fluke, and the water is usually kept in a fidget between the orders of the west wind and scurry of the tide.
This very quiet morning, with the wind off shore, and scarcely enough of it to comb the sea, four smart-looking Frenchmen, with red caps on their heads, were barely holding way upon the light gig of the Blonde, while their Captain was keeping an appointment with a stranger, not far from the weed-strewn line of waves. In a deep rocky channel where a land-spring rose (which was still-born except at low water), and laver and dilsk and claw-coral showed that the sea had more dominion there than the sky, two men stood facing each other; and their words, though belonging to the most polite of tongues, were not so courteous as might be. Each man stood with his back to a rock—not touching it, however, because it was too wet—one was as cold and as firm as the rock, the other like the sea, tumultuous. The passionate man was Captain Desportes, and the cold one Caryl Carne.
"Then you wish me to conclude, monsieur," Carne spoke as one offering repentance, "that you will not do your duty to your country, in the subject set before you? I pray you to deliberate, because your position hangs upon it."
"Never! Never! Once more, Captain, with all thanks for your consideration, I refuse. My duty to my own honour has first place. After that my duty to my country. Speak of it no more, sir; it quite is to insult me."
"No, Captain Desportes, it is nothing of that kind, or I should not be here to propose it. Your parole is given only as long as your ship continues upon the sand. The moment she floats, you are liberated. Then is the time for a noble stroke of fortune. Is it not so, my dear friend?"
"No, sir. This affair is impossible. My honour has been pledged, not until the ship is floating, but until I am myself set free in France. I am sorry not to see things as you see them for me; but the question is for my own consideration."
Captain Desportes had resented, as an honest man must do, especially when more advanced in years, the other's calm settlement, without invitation, of matters which concerned his own conscience. And as most mankind—if at all perceptive—like or dislike one another at a glance, Desportes, being very quick and warm of nature, had felt at first sight a strong repulsion from the cold and arrogant man who faced him. His age was at least twice that of Carne, he had seen much service in the better days of France, and had risen slowly by his own skill and valour; he knew that his future in the service depended upon his decision in this matter, and he had a large family to maintain. But his honour was pledged, and he held fast by it.
"There is one consideration," Carne replied, with rancour slowly kindling in his great black eyes, "which precedes all others, even that of honour, in the mind of a trusted officer. It is not that of patriotism—which has not its usual weight with monsieur—but it is that of obedience, discipline, loyalty, faith, towards those who have placed faith in him. Captain Desportes, as commander of a ship, is entrusted with property; and that confidence is the first debt upon his honour."
To Desportes, as to most men of action, the right was plainer than the reason. He knew that this final plea was unsound, but he did not see how to contest it. So he came back to fact, which was easier for him.
"How am I to know, monsieur, what would be the wishes of those who have entrusted me with my position? You are placed in authority by some means here, in your own country, but against it. That much you have proved to me, by papers. But your credentials are general only. They do not apply to this especial case. If the Chief of the State knew my position, he would wish me to act as I mean to act, for the honour and credit of our nation."
"Are you then acquainted with his signature? If so, perhaps you will verify this, even if you are resolved to reject it."
Carne drew a letter from an inner pocket, and carefully unfolded it. There were many words and minute directions upon various subjects, written by the hand of the most minute, and yet most comprehensive, of mankind.
"There is nothing in this that concerns you," he said, after showing the date, only four days old, "except these few words at the end, which perhaps you may like to read, before you make final decision. The signature of the Chief is clear."
Captain Desportes read aloud—"It is of the utmost importance to me, that the Blonde should not be captured by the enemy, as the Ville d'Anvers has been. You tell me that it is ashore near you, and the Captain and crew upon parole, to be liberated if they assist in the extrication of the vessel. This must not be. In the service of the State, I demand that they consider not at all their parole. The well-known speed and light draught of that vessel have rendered her almost indispensable to me. When the vessel is free, they must rise upon the enemy, and make for the nearest of our ports without delay. Upon this I insist, and place confidence in your established courage and management, to accomplish it to my satisfaction."
"Your orders are clear enough," said Caryl Carne. "What reason can you give, as an officer of the Republic, for disobeying them?"
Desportes looked at his ship in the distance, and then at the sea and the sky, with a groan, as if he were bidding farewell to them. Carne felt sure that he had prevailed, and a smile shed light, but not a soft light, on his hard pale countenance.
"Be in no rash haste," said the French sea-captain, and he could not have found words more annoying to the cold proud man before him; "I do not recognise in this mandate the voice of my country, of the honourable France, which would never say, 'Let my sons break their word of honour!' This man speaks, not as Chief of a grand State, not as leader of noble gentlemen, but as Emperor of a society of serfs. France is no empire; she is a grand nation of spirit, of valour, above all, of honour. The English have treated me, as I would treat them, with kindness, with largeness, with confidence. In the name of fair France, I will not do this thing."
Carne was naturally pale, but now he grew white with rage, and his black eyes flashed.
"France will be an empire within six months; and your honour will be put upon prison diet, while your family starve for the sake of it."
"If I ever meet you under other circumstances," replied the brave Frenchman, now equally pale, "I shall demand reparation, sir."
"With great pleasure," replied Carne, contemptuously; "meanwhile monsieur will have enough to do to repair his broken fortunes."
Captain Desportes turned his back, and gave a whistle for his crew, then stepped with much dignity into his boat. "To the Blonde, lads," he cried, "to the unsullied Blonde!" Then he sate, looking at her, and stroked his grizzled beard, into which there came trickling a bitter tear or two, as he thought of his wife and family. He had acted well; but, according to the measure of the present world, unwisely.
NO CONCERN OF OURS
The very next morning it was known to the faithful of Springhaven that the glory of the place would be trebled that day, and its income increased desirably. That day, the fair stranger (which had so long awakened the admiration of the women, and the jealousy of the men) would by the consummate skill of Captain Zeb—who had triumphed over all the officers of the British Navy—float forth magnificently from her narrow bed, hoist her white sails, and under British ensign salute the new fort, and shape a course for Portsmouth. That she had stuck fast and in danger so long was simply because the cocked hats were too proud to give ear to the wisdom in an old otter-skin. Now Admiral Darling was baffled and gone; and Captain Tugwell would show the world what he could do, and what stuff his men were made of, if they only had their way. From old Daddy Stakes, the bald father of the village, to Mrs. Caper junior's baby—equally bald, but with a crop as sure of coming as mustard and cress beneath his flannel—some in arms, some on legs, some upon brave crutches, all were abroad in the soft air from the west, which had stolen up under the stiff steel skirt of the east wind, exactly as wise Captain Zeb predicted.
"My dear," said Mrs. Twemlow to the solid Mrs. Stubbard, for a very sweet friendship had sprung up between these ladies, and would last until their interests should happen to diverge, "this will be a great day for my dear husband's parish. Perhaps there is no other parish in the kingdom capable of acting as Springhaven has, so obedient, so disciplined, so faithful to their contract! I am told that they even pulled the vessel more aground, in preference to setting up their own opinions. I am told that as soon as the Admiral was gone—for between you and me he is a little overbearing, with the very best intentions in the world, but too confident in his own sagacity—then that clever but exceedingly modest young man, Lieutenant Scudamore, was allowed at last to listen to our great man Tugwell, who has long been the oracle of the neighbourhood about the sea, and the weather, and all questions of that kind. And between you and me, my dear, the poor old Admiral seems a little bit jealous of his reputation. And what do you think he said before he went, which shows his high opinion of his own abilities? Tugwell said something in his rough and ready way, which, I suppose, put his mightiness upon the high ropes, for he shouted out in everybody's hearing, 'I'll tell you what it is, my man, if you can get her off, by any of your'—something I must not repeat—'devices, I'll give you fifty guineas, five-and-twenty for yourself, and the rest to be divided among these other fellows.' Then Zebedee pulled out a Testament from his pocket, for he is a man of deep religious convictions, and can read almost all the easy places, though he thinks most of the hard ones, and he made his son Dan (who is a great scholar, as they say, and a very fine-looking youth as well) put down at the end what the Admiral had said. Now, what do you think of that, dear Mrs. Stubbard?"
"I think," replied that strong-minded lady, "that Tugwell is an arrant old fox; and if he gets the fifty guineas, he will put every farthing into his own pocket."
"Oh, no! He is honest as the day itself. He will take his own twenty-five, and then leave the rest to settle whether he should share in their twenty-five. But we must be quick, or we shall lose the sight. Quite a number of people are come from inland. How wonderfully quickly these things spread! They came the first day, and then made up their minds that nothing could be done, and so they stopped at home. But now, here they are again, as if by magic! If the ship gets off, it will be known halfway to London before nightfall. But I see Captain Stubbard going up the hill to your charming battery. That shows implicit faith in Tugwell, to return the salute of the fair captive! It is indeed a proud day for Springhaven!"
"But it isn't done yet. And perhaps it won't be done. I would rather trust officers of the navy than people who catch crabs and oysters. I would go up to the battery, to laugh at my husband, but for the tricks the children play me. My authority is gone, at the very first puff of smoke. How children do delight in that vile gunpowder!"
"So they ought, in the present state of our country, with five hundred thousand of Frenchmen coming. My dear Mrs. Stubbard, how thankful we should be to have children who love gunpowder!"
"But not when they blow up their mother, ma'am."
"Oh, here comes Eliza!" cried Mrs. Twemlow. "I am so glad, because she knows everything. I thought we had missed her. My dear child, where are Faith and Dolly Darling gone? There are so many strangers about to-day that the better class should keep together."
"Here are three of us at any rate," replied the young lady, who considered her mother old-fashioned: "enough to secure one another's sanctity from the lower orders. Faith has gone on to the headland, with that heroic mannikin, Johnny. Dolly was to follow, with that Shanks maid to protect her, as soon as her hat was trimmed, or some such era. But I'll answer for it that she loses herself in the crowd, or some fib of that sort."
"Eliza!" said her mother, and very severely, because Mrs. Stubbard was present, "I am quite astonished at your talking so. You might do the greatest injury to a very lively and harmless, but not over-prudent girl, if any one heard you who would repeat it. We all know that the Admiral is so wrapped up in Dolly that he lets her do many things which a mother would forbid. But that is no concern of ours; and once for all, if such things must be said, I beg that they may not be said by you."
In the present age, Mrs. Twemlow would have got sharp answer. But her daughter only looked aggrieved, and glanced at Mrs. Stubbard, as if to say, "Well, time will show whether I deserve it." And then they hastened on, among the worse class, to the headland.
Not only all the fishing-smacks, and Captain Stubbard's galley, but every boat half as sound as a hat, might now be seen near the grounded vessel, preparing to labour or look on. And though the White Pig was allowed to be three-quarters of a mile from the nearest point, the mighty voice of Captain Zeb rode over the flickering breadth of sea, and through the soft babble of the waves ashore. The wind was light from southwest, and the warp being nearly in the same direction now, the Blonde began to set her courses, to catch a lift of air, when the tide should come busily working under her. And this would be the best tide since she took the ground, last Sunday week, when the springs were going off. As soon as the hawsers were made fast, and the shouts of Zebedee redoubled with great strength (both of sound and of language), and the long ropes lifted with a flash of splashes, and a creak of heavy wood, and the cry was, "With a will! with a will, my gay lads!" every body having a sound eye in it was gazing intently, and every heart was fluttering, except the loveliest eyes and quickest heart in all Springhaven.
Miss Dolly had made up her mind to go, and would have had warm words ready for any one rash enough to try to prevent her. But a very short note which was put into her hand about 10 A.M. distracted her.
"If you wish to do me a real service, according to your kind words of Saturday, be in the upper shrubbery at half past eleven; but tell no one except the bearer. You will see all that happens better there than on the beach, and I will bring a telescope."
Dolly knew at once who had written this, and admired it all the more because it was followed by no signature. For years she had longed for a bit of romance; and the common-sense of all the world irked her. She knew as well as possible that what she ought to do was to take this letter to her sister Faith, and be guided by her advice about it. Faith was her elder by three years or more, and as steadfast as a rock, yet as tender as young moss. There was no fear that Faith would ride the high horse with her, or lay down the law severely; she was much more likely to be too indulgent, though certain not to play with wrong.
All this the younger sister knew, and therefore resolved to eschew that knowledge. She liked her own way, and she meant to have it, in a harmless sort of way; her own high spirit should be her guide, and she was old enough now to be her own judge. Mr. Carne had saved her sister's life, when she stood up in that senseless way; and if Faith had no gratitude, Dolly must feel, and endeavour to express it for her.
Reasoning thus, and much better than this, she was very particular about her hat, and French pelerine of fluted lawn, and frock of pale violet trimmed on either side with gathered muslin. Her little heart fluttered at being drawn in, when it should have been plumped up to her neck, and very nearly displayed to the public; but her father was stern upon some points, and never would hear of the classic discoveries. She had not even Grecian sandals, nor a "surprise fan" to flutter from her wrist, nor hair oiled into flat Lesbian coils, but freedom of rich young tresses, and of graceful figure, and taper limbs. There was no one who could say her nay, of the lovers of maiden nature.
However, maidens must be discreet, even when most adventurous; and so she took another maid to help her, of respected but not romantic name—Jenny Shanks, who had brought her that letter. Jenny was much prettier than her name, and the ground she trod on was worshipped by many, even when her shoes were down at heel. Especially in this track remained the finer part of Charley Bowles's heart (while the coarser was up against the Frenchmen), as well as a good deal of Mr. Prater's nephew's, and of several other sole-fishers. This enabled Jenny to enter kindly into tender questions. And she fetched her Sunday bonnet down the trap-ladder where she kept it—because the other maids were so nasty—as soon as her letter was delivered.
"Your place, Jenny, is to go behind," Miss Dolly said, with no small dignity, as this zealous attendant kept step for step with her, and swung her red arm against the lady's fair one. "I am come upon important business, Jenny, such as you cannot understand, but may stay at a proper distance."
"Lor, miss, I am sure I begs your pardon. I thought it was a kind of coorting-match, and you might be glad of my experience."
"Such things I never do, and have no idea what you mean. I shall be much obliged to you, Jenny, if you will hold your tongue."
"Oh yes, miss; no fear of my telling anybody. Wild horses would never pull a syllable out of me. The young men is so aggravating that I keep my proper distance from them. But the mind must be made up, at one time or other."
Dolly looked down at her with vast contempt, which she would not lower herself by expressing, even with favour of time and place. Then turning a corner of the grassy walk, between ground-ash and young larches, they came upon an opening planted round with ilex, arbutus, juniper, and laurel, and backed by one of the rocks which form the outworks of the valley. From a niche in this rock, like the port-hole of a ship, a rill of sparkling water poured, and beginning to make a noise already, cut corner's—of its own production—short, in its hurry to be a brook, and then to help the sea. And across its exit from the rock (like a measure of its insignificance) a very comfortable seat was fixed, so that any gentleman—or even a lady with divided skirts—might freely sit with one foot on either bank of this menacing but not yet very formidable stream. So that on the whole this nook of shelter under the coronet of rock was a favourite place for a sage cock-pheasant, or even a woodcock in wintry weather.
Upon that bench (where the Admiral loved to sit, in the afternoon of peace and leisure, observing with a spy-glass the manoeuvres of his tranquil fishing fleet) Caryl Carne was sitting now, with his long and strong legs well spread out, his shoulders comfortably settled back, and his head cast a little on one side, as if he were trying to compute his property. Then, as Dolly came into the opening, he arose, made a bow beyond the compass of any true Briton, and swinging his hat, came to meet her. Dolly made a curtsey in the style impressed upon her by her last governess but one—a French lady of exceedingly high ancestry and manners—and Carne recognised it as a fine thing out of date.
"Jenny, get away!" said Dolly—words not meant for him to hear, but he had grave command of countenance.
"This lays me under one more obligation:" Carne spoke in a low voice, and with a smile of diffidence which reminded her of Scudamore, though the two smiles were as different as night and day. "I have taken a great liberty in asking you to come, and that multiplies my gratitude for your good-will. For my own sake alone I would not have dared to sue this great favour from you, though I put it so, in terror of alarming you. But it is for my own sake also, since anything evil to you would be terrible to me."
"No one can wish to hurt me," she answered, looking up at him bravely, and yet frightened by his gaze, "because I have never harmed any one. And I assure you, sir, that I have many to defend me, even when my father is gone from home."
"It is beyond doubt. Who would not rush to do so? But it is from those who are least suspected that the danger comes the worst. The most modest of all gentlemen, who blushes like a damsel, or the gallant officer devoted to his wife and children, or the simple veteran with his stars, and scars, and downright speech—these are the people that do the wrong, because no one believes it is in them."
"Then which of the three is to carry me off from home, and friends, and family—Lieutenant Scudamore, Captain Stubbard, or my own godfather, Lord Nelson?"
This young man nourished a large contempt for the intellect of women, and was therefore surprised at the quickness and spirit of the girl whom he wished to terrify. A sterner tone must be used with her.
"I never deal in jokes," he said, with a smile of sad sympathy for those who do; "my life is one perpetual peril, and that restrains facetiousness. But I can make allowance for those who like it."
Miss Dolly, the pet child of the house, and all the people round it—except the gardener, Mr. Swipes, who found her too inquisitive—quick as she was, could not realise at once the possibility of being looked down upon.
"I am sorry that you have to be so grave," she said, "because it prevents all enjoyment. But why should you be in such continual danger? You promised to explain it, on Saturday, only you had no time then. We are all in danger from the French, of course, if they ever should succeed in landing. But you mean something more than that; and it seems so hard, after all your losses, that you should not be safe from harm."
With all her many faults—many more than she dreamed of—fair Dolly had a warm and gentle heart, which filled her eyes with tender loveliness, whenever it obtained command of them. Carne, who was watching them steadfastly for his own purpose, forgot that purpose, and dropped his dark eyes, and lost the way to tell a lie.
"If I may ask you," he said, almost stammering, and longing without knowledge for the blessing of her touch, "to—to allow me just to lead you to this seat, I may perhaps be able—I will not take the liberty of sitting at your side—but I may perhaps be able to explain as much of my affairs as you can wish to hear of them, and a great deal more, I fear, a great deal more, Miss Darling."
Dolly blushed at the rich tone in which he pronounced her name, almost as if it were an adjective; but she allowed him to take her hand, and lead her to the bench beneath the rock. Then, regardless of his breeches, although of fine padusoy, and his coat, though of purple velvet, he sate down on the bank of the rill at her feet, and waited for her to say something. The young lady loved mainly to take the lead, but would liefer have followed suit just now.
"You have promised to tell me," she said, very softly, and with an unusual timidity, which added to her face and manner almost the only charm they lacked, "some things which I do not understand, and which I have no right to ask you of, except for your own offer. Why should you, without injuring any one, but only having suffered loss of all your family property, and of all your rights and comforts, and living in that lonely place which used to be full of company—why should you be in danger now, when you have nothing more to be robbed of? I beg your pardon—I mean when all your enemies must have done their worst."
"You are too young yet to understand the world," he answered, with a well-drawn sigh; "and I hope most truly that you may never do so. In your gentle presence I cannot speak with bitterness, even if I could feel it. I will not speak harshly of any one, however I may have been treated. But you will understand that my life alone remains betwixt the plunderers and their prey, and that my errand here prevents them from legally swallowing up the spoil."
Miss Dolly's idea of the law, in common with that of most young ladies, suggested a horrible monster ravening to devour the fallen. And the fall of the Carnes had long been a subject of romantic interest to her.
"Oh, I see!" she exclaimed, with a look of deep wisdom. "I can quite understand a thing like that, from what I have heard about witnesses. I hope you will be very careful. My sister owes so much to you, and so do I."
"You must never speak of that again, unless you wish to grieve me. I know that I have said too much about myself; but you alone care to know anything about me; and that beguiles one out—out of one's wits. If I speak bad English, you will forgive me. I have passed so many years on the Continent, and am picking up the language of my childhood very slowly. You will pardon me, when I am misled by—by my own signification."
"Well done!" cried the innocent Dolly. "Now that is the very first piece of bad English you have used, to the best of my belief, and I am rather quick in that. But you have not yet explained to me my own danger, though you asked me to come here for that purpose, I believe."
"But you shall not be so; you shall not be in danger. My life shall be given for your defence. What imports my peril compared with yours? I am not of cold blood. I will sacrifice all. Have faith in me purely, and all shall be done."
"All what?" Dolly asked, with a turn of common-sense, which is the most provoking of all things sometimes; and she looked at him steadily, to follow up her question.
"You cannot be persuaded that you are in any danger. It is possible that I have been too anxious. Do you speak the French language easily? Do you comprehend it, when spoken quickly?"
"Not a word of it. I have had to learn, of course, and can pronounce very well, my last mistress said; but I cannot make it out at all in the way the French people pronounce it, when one comes to talk with them."
"It is very wrong of them, and the loss is theirs. They expect us to copy them even in their language, because we do it in everything else. Pardon me—one moment. May I look at the great enterprise which is to glorify Springhaven? It is more than kind of you to be here instead of there. But this, as I ventured to say, is a far better place to observe the operation. Your words reminded me of Captain Desportes, who has been, I think, your father's guest. A very gallant sailor, and famed for the most unexpected exploits. Without doubt, he would have captured all three ships, if he had not contrived to run his own aground."
"How could he capture his own ship? I thought that you never dealt in jokes. But if you dislike them, you seem to be fond of a little mystery. I like the French captain very much, and he took the trouble to speak slowly for me. My father says that he bears his misfortune nobly, and like a perfect gentleman. Mr. Scudamore admires him, and they are great friends. And yet, sir, you seem inclined to hint that I am in danger from Captain Desportes!"
"Ha! she is afloat! They have succeeded. I thought that they had so arranged it. The brave ship spreads her pinions. How clever the people of Springhaven are! If you will condescend to look through this glass, you will see much embracing of the Saxon and the Gaul, or rather, I should say, of the Saxon by the Gaul. Old Tugwell is not fond to be embraced."
"Oh, let me see that! I must see that!" cried Dolly, with all reserve and caution flown; "to see Capp'en Zeb in the arms of a Frenchman—yes, I declare, two have got him, if not three, and he puts his great back against the mast to disentangle it. Oh, what will he do next? He has knocked down two, in reply to excessive cordiality. What wonderful creatures Frenchmen are! How kind it is of you to show me this! But excuse me, Mr. Carne; there will be twenty people coming to the house before I can get back almost. And the ship will salute the battery, and the battery will return it. Look! there goes a great puff of smoke already. They can see me up here, when they get to that corner."
"But this spot is not private? I trust that I have not intruded. Your father allows a sort of foot-path through this upper end of his grounds?"
"Yes, to all the villagers, and you are almost one of them; there is no right of way at all; and they very seldom come this way, because it leads to nowhere. Faith is fond of sitting here, to watch the sea, and think of things. And so am I—sometimes, I mean."