"In that case, what more can you have?" pursued the triumphant Admiral. "It is one of the clearest things I ever knew, and one of the most consistent"—consistent was a great word in those days—"as well as in every way desirable. Consider, not yourself—which you never do—but the state of the Country, and of Dolly. They have made me a baronet, for being away from home nearly every night of my life; and if I had Dashville to see to things here, I might stay away long enough to be a lord myself, like my late middy the present Duke of Bronte."
Faith laughed heartily. "You call me jealous! My dear father, I know that you could have done a great deal more than Lord Nelson has, because he learned all that he knows from you. And now who is it that really defends the whole south coast of England against the French? Is it Lord Nelson? He has as much as he can do to look after their fleet in the Mediterranean. Admiral Cornwallis and Sir Charles Darling are the real defenders of England."
"No, my dear, you must never say that, except of course in private. There may be some truth in it, but it would be laughed at in the present condition of the public mind. History may do me justice; but after all it is immaterial. A man who does his duty should be indifferent to the opinion of the public, which begins more and more to be formed less by fact than by the newspapers of the day. But let us return to more important matters. You are now in a very sensible frame of mind. You see what my wishes are about you, and how reasonable they are. I should be so happy, my darling child, if you would consider them sensibly, and yield some little of your romantic views. I would not ask you unless I were sure that this man loves you as you deserve, and in his own character deserves your love."
"Then, father, will this content you, dear? Unless I hear something of Erle Twemlow, to show that he is living, and still holds to me, in the course of another twelvemonth, Lord Dashville, or anybody else, may try—may try to take his place with me. Only I must not be worried—I mean, I must not hear another word about it, until the time has quite expired."
"It is a very poor concession, Faith. Surely you might say half a year. Consider, it is nearly three years now—"
"No, papa, I should despise myself if I were so unjust to one so unlucky. And I only go so much from my own wishes because you are such a dear and good father. Not a bit of it for Lord Dashville's sake."
"Well, my poor darling," the Admiral replied, for he saw that she was upon the brink of tears, and might hate Lord Dashville if further urged, "half a loaf is better than no bread. If Dashville is worthy of your constant heart, he will stand this long trial of his constancy. This is the tenth day of August, 1804. I hope that the Lord may be pleased to spare me till the 10th of August, 1805. High time for them to come and lay the cloth. I am as hungry as a hunter."
Napoleon had shown no proper dread of the valiant British volunteers, but kept his festival in August, and carried on his sea-side plans, as if there were no such fellows. Not content with that, he even flouted our blockading fleet by coming out to look at them. And if one of our frigates had shot straight, she might have saved millions of lives and billions of money, at the cost of one greatly bad life. But the poor ship knew not her opportunity, or she would rather have gone to the bottom than waste it.
Now the French made much of this affair, according to their nature; and histories of it, full of life and growth, ran swiftly along the shallow shore, and even to Paris, the navel of the earth. Frenchmen of letters—or rather of papers—declared that all England was smitten with dismay; and so she might have been, if she had heard of it. But as our neighbours went home again, as soon as the water was six fathoms deep, few Englishmen knew that they had tried to smell a little of the sea-breeze, outside the smell of their inshore powder. They were pleased to get ashore again, and talk it over, with vivid description of the things that did not happen.
"Such scenes as these tended much to agitate England," writes a great French historian. "The British Press, arrogant and calumnious, as the Press always is in a free country, railed much at Napoleon and his preparations; but railed as one who trembles at that which he would fain exhibit as the object of his laughter." It may have been so, but it is not to be seen in any serious journal of that time. He seems to have confounded coarse caricaturists with refined and thoughtful journalists, even as, in the account of that inshore skirmish, he turns a gun-brig into a British frigate. However, such matters are too large for us.
It was resolved at any rate to try some sort of a hit at all these very gallant Frenchmen, moored under their own batteries, and making horse-marines of themselves, whenever Neptune, the father of the horse, permitted. The jolly English tars, riding well upon the waves, sent many a broad grin through a spy-glass at Muncher Crappo tugging hard to get his nag into his gun-boat and then to get him out again, because his present set of shoes would not be worn out in England. Every sailor loves a horse, regarding him as a boat on legs, and therefore knowing more about him than any landlubber may feign to know.
But although they would have been loth to train a gun on the noble animal, who was duly kept beyond their range, all the British sailors longed to have a bout with the double tier of hostile craft moored off the shore within shelter of French batteries. Every day they could reckon at least two hundred sail of every kind of rig invented since the time of Noah, but all prepared to destroy instead of succouring the godly. It was truly grievous to see them there and not be able to get at them, for no ship of the line or even frigate could get near enough to tackle them. Then the British Admiral, Lord Keith, resolved after much consultation to try what could be done with fire-ships.
Blyth Scudamore, now in command of the Blonde, had done much excellent service, in cutting off stragglers from the French flotilla, and driving ashore near Vimereux some prames and luggers coming from Ostend. He began to know the French coast and the run of the shoals like a native pilot; for the post of the Blonde, and some other light ships, was between the blockading fleet and the blockaded, where perpetual vigilance was needed. This sharp service was the very thing required to improve his character, to stamp it with decision and self-reliance, and to burnish his quiet, contemplative vein with the very frequent friction of the tricks of mankind. These he now was strictly bound not to study, but anticipate, taking it as first postulate that every one would cheat him, if permitted. To a scrimpy and screwy man, of the type most abundant, such a position would have done a deal of harm, shutting him up into his own shell harder, and flinting its muricated horns against the world. But with the gentle Scuddy, as the boys at school had called him, the process of hardening was beneficial, as it is with pure gold, which cannot stand the wear and tear of the human race until it has been reduced by them at least to the mark of their twenty carats.
And now it was a fine thing for Scudamore—even as a man too philanthropic was strengthened in his moral tone (as his wife found out) by being compelled to discharge the least pleasant of the duties of a county sheriff—or if not a fine thing, at least it was a wholesome and durable corrective to all excess of lenience, that duty to his country and mankind compelled the gentle Scuddy to conduct the western division of this night-attack.
At this time there was in the public mind, which is quite of full feminine agility, a strong prejudice against the use of fire-ships. Red-hot cannon-balls, and shrapnel, langrage, chain-shot, and Greek-fire—these and the like were all fair warfare, and France might use them freely. But England (which never is allowed to do, without hooting and execration, what every other country does with loud applause)—England must rather burn off her right hand than send a fire-ship against the ships full of fire for her houses, her cottages, and churches. Lord Keith had the sense to laugh at all that stuff, but he had not the grand mechanical powers which have now enabled the human race, not to go, but to send one another to the stars. A clumsy affair called a catamaran, the acephalous ancestor of the torpedo, was expected to relieve the sea of some thousands of people who had no business there. This catamaran was a water-proof box about twenty feet long, and four feet wide, narrowed at the ends, like a coffin for a giant. It was filled with gunpowder, and ballasted so that its lid, or deck, was almost awash; and near its stern was a box containing clock movements that would go for about ten minutes, upon the withdrawal of a peg outside, and then would draw a trigger and explode the charge. This wondrous creature had neither oar nor sail, but demanded to be towed to the tideward of the enemy, then have the death-watch set going, and be cast adrift within hail of the enemy's line. Then as soon as it came across their mooring cables, its duty was to slide for a little way along them in a friendly manner, lay hold of them kindly with its long tail, which consisted of a series of grappling-hooks buoyed with cork, and then bringing up smartly alongside of the gun-boats, blow itself up, and carry them up with it. How many there were of these catamarans is not quite certain, but perhaps about a score, the intention being to have ten times as many, on the next occasion, if these did well. And no doubt they would have done well, if permitted; but they failed of their purpose, like the great Guy Fawkes, because they were prevented.
For the French, by means of treacherous agents—of whom perhaps Caryl Carne was one, though his name does not appear in the despatches—knew all about this neat little scheme beforehand, and set their wits at work to defeat it. Moreover, they knew that there were four fire-ships, one of which was the Peggy of Springhaven, intended to add to the consternation and destruction wrought by the catamarans. But they did not know that, by some irony of fate, the least destructive and most gentle of mankind was ordered to take a leading part in shattering man, and horse, and even good dogs, into vapours.
Many quiet horses, and sweet-natured dogs, whose want of breeding had improved their manners, lived in this part of the great flotilla, and were satisfied to have their home where it pleased the Lord to feed them. The horses were led to feed out of the guns, that they might not be afraid of them; and they struggled against early prejudice, to like wood as well as grass, and to get sea-legs. Man put them here to suit his own ideas; of that they were quite aware, and took it kindly, accepting superior powers, and inferior use of them, without a shade of question in their eyes. To their innocent minds it was never brought home that they were tethered here, and cropping clots instead of clover, for the purpose of inspiring in their timid friends ashore the confidence a horse reposes in a brother horse, but very wisely doubts about investing in mankind. For instance, whenever a wild young animal, a new recruit for the cavalry, was haled against his judgment by a man on either side to the hollow-sounding gangway over dancing depth of peril, these veteran salts of horses would assure him, with a neigh from the billowy distance, that they were not drowned yet, but were walking on a sort of gate, and got their victuals regular. On the other hand, as to the presence of the dogs, that requires no explanation. Was there ever a time or place in which a dog grudged his sprightly and disinterested service, or failed to do his best when called upon? These French dogs, whom the mildest English mastiff would have looked upon, or rather would have shut his eyes at, as a lot of curs below contempt, were as full of fine ardour for their cause and country as any noble hound that ever sate like a statue on a marble terrace.
On the first of October all was ready for this audacious squibbing of the hornet's nest, and the fleet of investment (which kept its distance according to the weather and the tides) stood in, not bodily so as to arouse excitement, but a ship at a time sidling in towards the coast, and traversing one another's track, as if they were simply exchanging stations. The French pretended to take no heed, and did not call in a single scouting craft, but showed every sign of having all eyes shut. Nothing, however, was done that night, by reason perhaps of the weather; but the following night being favourable, and the British fleet brought as nigh as it durst come, the four fire-ships were despatched after dark, when the enemy was likely to be engaged with supper. The sky was conveniently overcast, with a faint light wandering here and there, from the lift of the horizon, just enough to show the rig of a vessel and her length, at a distance of about a hundred yards. Nothing could be better—thought the Englishmen; and the French were of that opinion too, especially as Nelson was not there.
Scudamore had nothing to do with the loose adventure of the fire-ships, the object of which was to huddle together this advanced part of the flotilla, so that the catamarans might sweep unseen into a goodly thicket of vessels, and shatter at least half a dozen at once.
But somehow the scheme was not well carried out, though it looked very nice upon paper. One very great drawback, to begin with, was that the enemy were quite aware of all our kind intentions; and another scarcely less fatal was the want of punctuality on our part. All the floating coffins should have come together, like a funeral of fifty from a colliery; but instead of that they dribbled in one by one, and were cast off by their tow-boats promiscuously. Scudamore did his part well enough, though the whole thing went against his grain, and the four catamarans under his direction were the only ones that did their duty. The boats of the Blonde had these in tow, and cast them off handsomely at the proper distance, and drew the plugs which set their clock-springs going. But even of these four only two exploded, although the clocks were not American, and those two made a tremendous noise, but only singed a few French beards off. Except, indeed, that a fine old horse, with a white Roman nose and a bright chestnut mane, who was living in a flat-bottomed boat, broke his halter, and rushed up to the bows, and gave vent to his amazement, as if he had been gifted with a trumpet.
Hereupon a dog, loth to be behind the times, scampered up to his side, and with his forefeet on the gunwale, contributed a howl of incalculable length and unfathomable sadness.
In the hurly of the combat and confusion of the night, with the dimness streaked with tumult, and the water gashed with fire, that horse and this dog might have gone on for ever, bewailing the nature of the sons of men, unless a special fortune had put power into their mouths. One of the fire-ships, as scandal did declare, was that very ancient tub indeed—that could not float on its bottom—the Peggy of Springhaven, bought at thrice her value, through the influence of Admiral Darling. If one has to meet every calumny that arises, and deal with it before going further, the battle that lasted for a fortnight and then turned into an earthquake would be a quick affair compared with the one now in progress. Enough that the Peggy proved by the light she gave, and her grand style of burning to the water's edge before she blew up, that she was worth at least the hundred pounds Widow Shanks received for her. She startled the French more than any of the others, and the strong light she afforded in her last moments shone redly on the anguish of that poor horse and dog. There was no sign of any one to help them, and the flames in the background redoubled their woe.
Now this apparently deserted prame, near the centre of the line, was the Ville de Mayence; and the flag of Rear-Admiral Lacrosse was even now flying at her peak. "We must have her, my lads," cried Scudamore, who was wondering what to do next, until he descried the horse and dog and that fine flag; "let us board her, and make off with all of them."
The crew of his launch were delighted with that. To destroy is very good; but to capture is still better; and a dash into the midst of the enemy was the very thing they longed for. "Ay, ay, sir," they cried, set their backs to their oars, and through the broad light that still shone upon the waves, and among the thick crowd of weltering shadows, the launch shot like a dart to the side of the foe.
"Easy all! Throw a grapple on board," cried the young commander; and as the stern swung round he leaped from it, and over the shallow bulwarks, and stood all alone on the enemy's fore-deck. And alone he remained, for at that moment a loud crash was heard, and the launch filled and sank, with her crew of sixteen plunging wildly in the waves.
This came to pass through no fault of their own, but a clever device of the enemy. Admiral Lacrosse, being called away, had left his first officer to see to the safety of the flag-ship and her immediate neighbours, and this brave man had obtained permission to try a little plan of his own, if assailed by any adventurous British boats in charge of the vessels explosive. In the bows of some stout but handy boats he had rigged up a mast with a long spar attached, and by means of a guy at the end of that spar, a brace of heavy chain-shot could be swung up and pitched headlong into any boat alongside. While the crew of Scudamore's launch were intent upon boarding the prame, one of these boats came swiftly from under her stern, and with one fling swamped the enemy. Then the Frenchmen laughed heartily, and offered oars and buoys for the poor British seamen to come up as prisoners.
Scudamore saw that he was trapped beyond escape, for no other British boat was anywhere in hail. His first impulse was to jump overboard and help his own drowning men, but before he could do so an officer stood before him, and said, "Monsieur is my prisoner. His men will be safe, and I cannot permit him to risk his own life. Mon Dieu, it is my dear friend Captain Scudamore!"
"And you, my old friend, Captain Desportes! I see it is hopeless to resist"—for by this time a score of Frenchmen were round him—"I can only congratulate myself that if I must fall, it is into such good hands."
"My dear friend, how glad I am to see you!" replied the French captain, embracing him warmly; "to you I owe more than to any man of your nation. I will not take your sword. No, no, my friend. You shall not be a prisoner, except in word. And how much you have advanced in the knowledge of our language, chiefly, I fear, at the expense of France. And now you will grow perfect, at the expense of England."
ENTER AND EXIT
The summer having been fine upon the whole, and a very fair quantity of fish brought in, Miss Twemlow had picked up a sweetheart, as the unromantic mothers of the place expressed it. And the circumstances were of such a nature that very large interest was aroused at once, and not only so, but was fed well and grew fast.
The most complete of chronicles is no better than a sponge of inferior texture and with many mouths shut. Parts that are full of suctive power get no chance of sucking; other parts have a flood of juice bubbling at them, but are waterproof. This is the only excuse—except one—for the shameful neglect of the family of Blocks, in any little treatise pretending to give the dullest of glimpses at Springhaven.
The other excuse—if self-accusation does not poke a finger through it—is that the Blockses were mainly of the dry land, and never went to sea when they could help it. If they had lived beyond the two trees and the stile that marked the parish boundary upon the hill towards London, they might have been spotless, and grand, and even honest, yet must have been the depth of the hills below contempt. But they dwelt in the village for more generations than would go upon any woman's fingers, and they did a little business with the fish caught by the others, which enabled it to look after three days' journey as if it swam into town upon its own fins. The inventions for wronging mankind pay a great deal better than those for righting them.
Now the news came from John Prater's first, that a gentleman of great renown was coming down from London city to live on fish fresh out of the sea. His doctors had ordered him to leave off butcher's meat, and baker's bread, and tea-grocer's tea, and almost every kind of inland victuals, because of the state of his—something big, which even Springhaven could not pronounce. He must keep himself up, for at least three months, upon nothing but breezes of the sea, and malt-liquor, and farm-house bread and milk and new-laid eggs, and anything he fancied that came out of the sea, shelly, or scaly, or jellified, or weedy. News from a public-house grows fast—as seeds come up quicker for soaking—and a strong competition for this gentleman arose; but he knew what he was doing, and brought down his cook and house-maid, and disliking the noise at the Darling Arms, took no less than five rooms at the house of Matthew Blocks, on the rise of the hill, where he could see the fish come in.
He was called at once Sir Parsley Sugarloaf, for his name was Percival Shargeloes; and his cook rebuked his housemaid sternly, for meddling with matters beyond her sphere, when she told Mrs. Blocks that he was not Sir Percival, but only Percival Shargeloes, Esquire, very high up in the Corporation, but too young to be Lord Mayor of London for some years. He appeared to be well on the right side of forty; and every young lady on the wrong side of thirty possessing a pony, or even a donkey, with legs enough to come down the hill, immediately began to take a rose-coloured view of the many beauties of Springhaven.
If Mr. Shargeloes had any ambition for title, it lay rather in a military direction. He had joined a regiment of City Volunteers, and must have been a Captain, if he could have stood the drill. But this, though not arduous, had outgone his ambition, nature having gifted him with a remarkable power of extracting nourishment from food, which is now called assimilation. He was not a great feeder—people so blessed seldom are—but nothing short of painful starvation would keep him lean. He had consulted all the foremost physicians about this, and one said, "take acids," another said, "walk twenty miles every day with two Witney blankets on," a third said, "thank God for it, and drink before you eat," and a fourth (a man of wide experience) bade him marry the worst-tempered woman he knew. Then they all gave him pills to upset his stomach; but such was its power that it assimilated them. Despairing of these, he consulted a Quack, and received the directions which brought him to Springhaven. And a lucky day for him it was, as he confessed for the rest of his life, whenever any ladies asked him.
Because Miss Twemlow was intended for him by the nicest adjustment of nature. How can two round things fit together, except superficially? And in that case one must be upper and the other under; which is not the proper thing in matrimony, though generally the prevailing one. But take a full-moon and a half-moon, or even a square and a tidy triangle—with manners enough to have one right angle—and when you have put them into one another's arms, there they stick, all the firmer for friction. Jack Spratt and his wife are a case in point; and how much more pointed the case becomes when the question is not about what is on the plate, but the gentleman is in his own body fat, and the lady in her elegant person lean!
Mr. Sugarloaf—which he could not bear to be called—being an ardent admirer of the Church, and aware that her ministers know what is good, returned with great speed the Rector's call, having earnest hopes of some heart-felt words upon the difference between a right and left handed sole. One of these is ever so much better than the other—according to our evolutionists, because when he was a cod, a few milliards of years back, he chose the right side to begin lying down on, that his descendants in the thirty-millionth generation might get flat. His wife, from sheer perversity, lay down upon the other side, and this explains how some of their descendants pulled their eyes through their heads to one side, and some (though comparatively few) to the other. And the worst of it is that the fittest for the frying-pan did not survive this well-intended involution, except at a very long figure in the market.
As it fell out upon that day, Miss Twemlow was sitting in the drawing-room alone, waiting till her mother's hair was quite done up, her own abundant locks being not done up at all, for she had lately taken to set her face against all foreign fashions. "I have not been introduced to the King," she said, "nor even to the Queen, like those forward Darlings, and I shall do my hair to please myself." When her father objected, she quenched him with St. Paul; and even her mother, though shocked, began to think that Eliza knew what she was about. The release of her fine hair, which fell in natural waves about her stately neck, made her look nearly ten years younger than she was, for by this time she must have been eight-and-twenty. The ladies of the Carne race, as their pictures showed (until they were sold to be the grandmothers of dry-salters), had always been endowed with shapely necks, fit columns for their small round heads. And this young lady's hair, with no constraint but that of a narrow band across the forehead, clustered and gleamed like a bower of acanthus round that Parian column.
Mr. Shargeloes, having obeyed his orders always to dine early, was thrilled with a vision of poetry and romance, as he crossed the first square of the carpet. The lady sat just where the light fell best from a filtered sunbeam to illumine her, without entering into the shady parts; and the poetry of her attitude was inspired by some very fine poetry upon her lap. "I don't care what the doctors say, I shall marry that girl," said Mr. Shargeloes to himself.
He was a man who knew his own mind, and a man with that gift makes others know it. Miss Twemlow clenched in the coat upon his back the nail she had driven through his heart, by calling him, at every other breath, "Colonel Shargeloes." He said he was not that; but she felt that he was, as indeed every patriotic man must be. Her contempt for every man who forsook his country in this bitter, bitter strait was at once so ruthless and so bewitching that he was quite surprised into confessing that he had given 10,000 pounds, all in solid gold, for the comfort of the Royal Volunteers, as soon as the autumnal damps came on. He could not tell such an elegant creature that what he had paid for was flannel drawers, though she had so much strength of mind that he was enabled to tell her before very long.
A great deal of nonsense is talked about ladies who are getting the better of their first youth, as if they then hung themselves out as old slates for any man to write his name on. The truth is that they have better judgment then, less trouble in their hearts about a gentleman's appearance, and more enquiry in their minds as to his temper, tastes, and principles, not to mention his prospects of supporting them. And even as concerns appearance, Mr. Shargeloes was very good. Nature had given him a fine stout frame, and a very pleasant countenance; and his life in the busy world had added that quickness of decision and immediate sense of right which a clever woman knows to be the very things she wants. Moreover, his dress, which goes a very long way into the heart of a lady, was most correct and particular. For his coat was of the latest Bond Street fashion, the "Jean de Brie," improved and beautified by suggestions from the Prince of Wales himself. Bright claret was the colour, and the buttons were of gold, bright enough to show the road before him as he walked. The shoulders were padded, as if a jam pot stood there, and the waist buttoned tight, too tight for any happiness, to show the bright laticlave of brocaded waistcoat. Then followed breeches of rich purple padusoy, having white satin bows at the knee, among which the little silver bells of the Hessian boots jingled.
Miss Twemlow was superior to all small feeling, but had great breadth of sympathy with the sterling truth in fashion. The volume of love, like a pattern-book, fell open, and this well-dressed gentleman was engraved upon her heart. The most captious young chit, such as Dolly herself, could scarcely have called him either corpulent or old. Every day he could be seen to be growing younger, with the aid of fresh fish as a totally novel ingredient in his system; his muscle increased with the growth of brain-power, and the shoemaker was punching a fresh hole in his belt, an inch further back, every week he stopped there. After buckling up three holes, he proposed. Miss Twemlow referred him to her dear papa; and the Rector took a week to enquire and meditate. "Take a month, if you like," said Mr. Shargeloes.
This reply increased the speed. Mr. Twemlow had the deepest respect for the Corporation, and to live to be the father of a Lord Mayor of London became a new ambition to lead on his waning years. "Come and dine with us on Saturday, and we will tell you all about it," he said, with a pleasant smile, and warm shake of the hand; and Shargeloes knew that the neck and the curls would bend over the broad gold chain some day.
How grievous it is to throw a big stone into a pool which has plenty of depth and length and width for the rings to travel pleasantly, yet not to make one ring, because of wind upon the water! In the days that were not more than two years old, Springhaven could have taken all this news, with a swiftly expanding and smoothly fluent circle, with a lift of self-importance at the centre of the movement, and a heave of gentle interest in the far reflective corners. Even now, with a tumult of things to consider, and a tempest of judgment to do it in, people contrived to be positive about a quantity of things still pending. Sir Parsley Sugarloaf had bought Miss Twemlow for 50,000 pounds, they said, and he made her let her curls down so outrageous, because she was to be married at Guildhall, with a guinea at the end of every hair. Miss Faith would be dirt-cheap at all that money; but as for Miss Eliza, they wished him better knowledge, which was sure to come, when it was no good to him.
"What a corner of the world this is for gossip!" Mr. Shargeloes said, pleasantly, to his Eliza, having heard from his cook, who desired no new mistress, some few of the things said about him. "I am not such a fool as to care what they say. But I am greatly surprised at one thing. You know that I am a thorough Englishman; may I tell you what I think, without offending you? It is a delicate matter, because it concerns a relative of your own, my dear."
"I know what you mean. You will not offend me. Percival, I know how straightforward you are, and how keen of perception. I have expected this."
"And yet it seems presumptuous of me to say that you are all blind here, from the highest to the lowest. Except indeed yourself, as I now perceive. I will tell you my suspicions, or more than suspicions—my firm belief—about your cousin, Mr. Carne. I can trust you to keep this even from your father. Caryl Carne is a spy, in the pay of the French."
"I have long thought something, though not quite so bad as that," Miss Twemlow answered, calmly; "because he has behaved to us so very strangely. My mother is his own father's sister, as you know, and yet he has never dined with us more than once, and then he scarcely said a word to any one. And he never yet has asked us to visit him at the castle; though for that we can make all allowance, of course, because of its sad condition. Then everybody thought he had taken to smuggling, and after all his losses, no one blamed him, especially as all the Carnes had done it, even when they were the owners of the land. But ever since poor Mr. Cheeseman, our church-warden, tried to destroy himself with his own rope, all the parish began to doubt about the smuggling, because it pays so well and makes the people very cheerful. But from something he had seen, my father felt quite certain that the true explanation was smuggling."
"Indeed! Do you know at all what it was he saw, and when, and under what circumstances?" Mr. Shargeloes put these questions with more urgency than Miss Twemlow liked.
"Really I cannot tell you all those things; they are scarcely of general interest. My dear father said little about it: all knowledge is denied in this good world to women. But no doubt he would tell you, if you asked him, when there were no ladies present."
"I will," said Mr. Shargeloes. "He is most judicious; he knows when to speak, and when to hold his tongue. And I think that you combine with beauty one of those two gifts—which is the utmost to be expected."
"Percival, you put things very nicely, which is all that could be expected of a man. But do take my advice in this matter, and say no more about it."
Mr. Shargeloes feigned to comply, and perhaps at the moment meant to do so. But unluckily he was in an enterprising temper, proud of recovered activity, and determined to act up to the phosphate supplied by fish diet. Therefore when the Rector, rejoicing in an outlet for his long pent-up discoveries, and regarding this sage man as one of his family, repeated the whole of his adventure at Carne Castle, Mr. Shargeloes said, briefly, "It must be seen to."
"Stubbard has been there," replied Mr. Twemlow, repenting perhaps of his confidence; "Stubbard has made an official inspection, which relieves us of all concern with it."
"Captain Stubbard is an ass. It is a burning shame that important affairs should be entrusted to such fellows. The country is in peril, deadly peril; and every Englishman is bound to act as if he were an officer."
That very same evening Carne rode back to his ruins in a very grim state of mind. He had received from the Emperor a curt and haughty answer to his last appeal for immediate action, and the prospect of another gloomy winter here, with dangers thickening round him, and no motion to enliven them, was almost more than he could endure. The nights were drawing in, and a damp fog from the sea had drizzled the trees, and the ivy, and even his own moustache with cold misery.
"Bring me a lantern," he said to old Jerry, as he swung his stiff legs from the back of the jaded horse, "and the little flask of oil with the feather in it. It is high time to put the Inspector's step in order."
Jerry Bowles, whose back and knees were bent with rheumatism and dull service, trotted (like a horse who has become too stiff to walk) for the things commanded, and came back with them. Then his master, without a word, strode towards the passage giving entry to the vaults which Stubbard had not seen—the vaults containing all the powder, and the weapons for arming the peasantry of England, whom Napoleon fondly expected to rise in his favour at the sight of his eagles.
"How does it work? Quite stiff with rust. I thought so. Nothing is ever in order, unless I see to it myself. Give me the lantern. Now oil the bearings thoroughly. Put the feather into the socket, and work the pin in and out, that the oil may go all round. Now pour in some oil from the lip of the flask; but not upon the treadle, you old blockhead. Now do the other end the same. Ah, now it would go with the weight of a mouse! I have a great mind to make you try it."
"What would you do, sir, if my neck was broken? Who would do your work, as I do?"
They were under an arch of mouldy stone, opening into the deep dark vaults, where the faint light of the lantern glanced on burnished leather, brass, and steel, or fell without flash upon dull round bulk. The old man, kneeling on the round chalk-flints set in lime for the flooring of the passage, was handling the first step of narrow step-ladder leading to the cellar-depth. This top step had been taken out of the old oak mortice, and cut shorter, and then replaced in the frame, with an iron pin working in an iron collar, just as the gudgeon of a wheelbarrow revolves. Any one stepping upon it unawares would go down without the aid of any other step.
"Goes like spittle now, sir," said old Jerry; "but I don't want no more harm in this crick of life. The Lord be pleased to keep all them Examiners at home. Might have none to find their corpusses until next leap-year. I hope with all my heart they won't come poking their long noses here."
"Well, I rather hope they will. They want a lesson in this neighbourhood," muttered Carne, who was shivering, and hungry, and unsweetened.
If we want to know how a tree or flower has borne the gale that flogged last night, or the frost that stung the morning, the only sure plan is to go and see. And the only way to understand how a friend has taken affliction is to go—if it may be done without intrusion—and let him tell you, if he likes.
Admiral Darling was so much vexed when he heard of Blyth Scudamore's capture by the French, and duty compelled him to inform the mother, that he would rather have ridden a thousand miles upon barley-bread than face her. He knew how the whole of her life was now bound up with the fortunes of her son, and he longed to send Faith with the bad news, as he had sent her with the good before; but he feared that it might seem unkind. So he went himself, with the hope of putting the best complexion upon it, yet fully expecting sad distress, and perhaps a burst of weeping. But the lady received his tidings in a manner that surprised him. At first she indulged in a tear or two, but they only introduced a smile.
"In some ways it is a sad thing," she said, "and will be a terrible blow to him, just when he was rising so fast in the service. But we must not rebel more than we can help, against the will of the Lord, Sir Charles."
"How philosophical, and how commonplace!" thought the Admiral; but he only bowed, and paid her some compliment upon her common-sense.
"Perhaps you scarcely understand my views, and perhaps I am wrong in having them," Lady Scudamore continued, quietly. "My son's advancement is very dear to me, and this will of course retard it. But I care most of all for his life, and now that will be safe for a long while. They never kill their prisoners, do they?"
"No, ma'am, no. They behave very well to them; better, I'm afraid, than we do to ours. They treat them quite as guests, when they fall into good hands. Though Napoleon himself is not too mild in that way."
"My son has fallen into very good hands, as you yourself assure me—that Captain Desportes, a gallant officer and kind gentleman, as I know from your daughter's description. Blyth is quite equal to Lord Nelson in personal daring, and possibly not behind him in abilities. Consider how shockingly poor Nelson has been injured, and he feels convinced himself that they will have his life at last. No officer can be a hero without getting very sad wounds, and perhaps losing his life. Every one who does his duty must at least be wounded."
The Admiral, who had never received a scratch, was not at all charmed with this view of naval duty; but he was too polite to enter protest, and only made one of his old-fashioned scrapes.
"I am sure every time I have heard a gun coming from the sea, and especially after dark," the lady resumed, without thinking of him, "it has made me miserable to know that probably Blyth was rushing into some deadly conflict. But now I shall feel that he cannot do that; and I hope they will keep him until the fighting grows milder. He used to send me all his money, poor dear boy! And now I shall try to send him some of mine, if it can be arranged about bank-notes. And now I can do it very easily, thanks to your kindness, Sir Charles, his father's best friend, and his own, and mine."
Lady Scudamore shed another tear or two, not of sorrow, but of pride, while she put her hand into her pocket, as if to begin the remittance at once. "You owe me no thanks, ma'am," said the Admiral, smiling; "if any thanks are due, they are due to the King, for remembering at last what he should have done before."
"Would he ever have thought of me, but for you? It is useless to talk in that way, Sir Charles; it only increases the obligation, which I must entreat you not to do. How I wish I could help you in anything!"
"Every day you are helping me," he replied, with truth; "although I am away too often to know all about it, or even to thank you. I hope my dear Faith has persuaded you not to leave us for the winter, as you threatened."
"Faith can persuade me to anything she pleases. She possesses the power of her name," replied the lady; "but the power is not called for, when the persuasion is so pleasant. For a month, I must be away to visit my dear mother, as I always have done at this time of year; and then, but for one thing, I would return most gladly. For I am very selfish, you must know, Sir Charles—I have a better chance of hearing of my dear son at these head-quarters of the defence of England, than I should have even in London."
"Certainly," cried the Admiral, who magnified his office; "such a number of despatches pass through my hands; and if I can't make them out, why, my daughter Dolly can. I don't suppose, Lady Scudamore, that even when you lived in the midst of the world you ever saw any girl half so clever as my Dolly. I don't let her know it—that would never do, of course—but she always gets the best of me, upon almost any question."
Sir Charles, for the moment, forgot his best manners, and spread his coat so that one might see between his legs. "I stand like this," he said, "and she stands there; and I take her to task for not paying her bills—for some of those fellows have had to come to me, which is not as it should be in a country place, where people don't understand the fashionable system. She stands there, ma'am, and I feel as sure as if I were an English twenty-four bearing down upon a Frenchman of fifty guns, that she can only haul her colours down and rig out gangway ladders—when, bless me and keep me! I am carried by surprise, and driven under hatchways, and if there is a guinea in my hold, it flies into the enemy's locker! If it happened only once, I should think nothing of it. But when I know exactly what is coming, and have double-shotted every gun, and set up hammock-nettings, and taken uncommon care to have the weather-gage, 'tis the Devil, Lady Scudamore—excuse me, madam—'tis the Devil to a ditty-bag that I have her at my mercy. And yet it always comes to money out of pocket, madam!"
"She certainly has a great power over gentlemen"—Blyth's mother smiled demurely, as if she were sorry to confess it; "but she is exceedingly young, Sir Charles, and every allowance must be made for her."
"And by the Lord Harry, she gets it, madam. She takes uncommonly good care of that. But what is the one thing you mentioned that would prevent you from coming back to us with pleasure?"
"I scarcely like to speak of it. But it is about that self-same Dolly. She is not fond of advice, and she knows how quick she is, and that makes her resent a word from slower people. She has taken it into her head, I fear, that I am here as a restraint upon her; a sort of lady spy, a duenna, a dictatress, all combined in one, and all unpleasant. This often makes me fancy that I have no right to be here. And then your sweet Faith comes, and all is smooth again."
"Dolly has the least little possible touch of the vixen about her. I have found it out lately," said the Admiral, as if he were half doubtful still; "Nelson told me so, and I was angry with him. But I believe he was right, as he generally is. His one eye sees more than a score of mine would. But, my dear madam, if that is your only objection to coming back to us, or rather to my daughters, I beg you not to let it weigh a feather's weight with you. Or, at any rate, enhance the obligation to us, by putting it entirely on one side. Dolly has the very finest heart in all the world; not so steady perhaps as Faith's, nor quite so fair to other people, but wonderfully warm, ma'am, and as sound as—as a roach."
Lady Scudamore could not help laughing a little, and she hoped for her son's sake that this account was true. Her gratitude and good-will to the Admiral, as well as her duty to her son, made her give the promise sought for; and she began to prepare for her journey at once, that she might be back in good time for the winter. But she felt very doubtful, at leaving the Hall, whether she had done quite right in keeping her suspicions of Dolly from Dolly's father. For with eyes which were sharpened by jealousy for the interests, or at least the affections, of her son, she had long perceived that his lady-love was playing a dangerous game with Caryl Carne. Sometimes she believed that she ought to speak of this, for the good of the family; because she felt the deepest mistrust and dislike of Carne, who strictly avoided her whenever he could; but on the other hand she found the subject most delicate and difficult to handle. For she had taken good care at the outset not to be here upon any false pretences. At the very first interview with her host she had spoken of Blyth's attachment to his younger daughter, of which the Admiral had heard already from that youthful sailor. And the Admiral had simply said, as in Captain Twemlow's case: "Let us leave them to themselves. I admire the young man. If she likes him, I shall make no objection, when they are old enough, and things are favourable." And now if she told him of the other love-affair, it would look like jealousy of a rival. Perhaps a hundred times a day, as her love for gentle Faith grew faster than her liking for the sprightly Dolly, she would sigh that her son did not see things like herself; but bitter affliction had taught her that the course of this life follows our own wishes about as much as another man's dog heeds our whistle. But, for all that, this good lady hoped some day to see things come round as she would like to bring them.
"No wonder that we like her son so much," said Faith when they had done waving handkerchiefs at the great yellow coach going slowly up the hill, with its vast wicker basket behind, and the guard perched over it with his blunderbus; "he takes after his mother in so many ways. They are both so simple and unsuspicious, and they make the best of every one."
"Including themselves, I suppose," answered Dolly. "Well I like people who have something on their minds, and make the worst of everybody. They have so much more to talk about."
"You should never try to be sarcastic, dear. And you know that you don't mean it. I am sure you don't like to have the worst made of yourself."
"Oh, I have long been used to that. And I never care about it, when I know it is not true. I am sure that Mother Scudamore runs me down, when I am out of hearing. I never did like those perfect people."
"Mother Scudamore, indeed! You are getting into a low way of talking, which is not at all pretty in a girl. And I never heard her say an unkind word about you. Though she may not have found you quite so perfect as she hoped."
"I tell you, Miss Darling," cried Dolly, with her bright colour deepened, and her grey eyes flashing, "that I don't care a—something that papa often says—what she thinks about me, or you either. I know that she has come here to spy out all my ways."
"You should not have any to be spied out, Dolly," Faith answered, with some sternness, and a keen look at her sister, whose eyes fell beneath her gaze. "You will be sorry, when you think of what you said to me, who have done nothing whatever to offend you. But that is a trifle compared with acting unfairly to our father. Father is the kindest man that ever lived; but he can be stern in great matters, I warn you. If he ever believes that you have deceived him, you will never be again to him what you have always been."
They had sent the carriage home that they might walk across the fields, and this little scene between the sisters took place upon a foot-path which led back to their grounds. Dolly knew that she was in the wrong, and that increased her anger.
"So you are another spy upon me, I suppose. 'Tis a pretty thing to have one's sister for an old duenna. Pray who gave you authority to lord it over me?"
"You know as well as I do"—Faith spoke with a smile of superior calmness, as Dolly tossed her head—"that I am about the last person in the world to be a spy. Neither do I ever lord it over you. If anything, that matter is very much the other way. But being so much older, and your principal companion, it would be very odd of me, and as I think most unkind, if I did not take an interest in all your goings on."
"My goings on! What a lady-like expression! Who has got into a low way of talking now? Well, if you please, madam, what have you found out?"
"I have found out nothing, and made no attempt to do so. But I see that you are altered very much from what you used to be; and I am sure that there is something on your mind. Why not tell me all about it? I would promise to let it go no further, and I would not pretend to advise, unless you wished. I am your only sister, and we have always been together. It would make you so much more comfortable, I am certain of that, in your own mind, darling. And you know when we were little girls, dear mother on her death-bed put her hands upon our heads and said, 'Be loving sisters always, and never let anything come between you.' And for father's sake, too, you should try to do it. Put aside all nonsense about spies and domineering, and trust me as your sister, that's my own darling Dolly."
"How can I resist you? I will make a clean breast of it;" Dolly sighed deeply, but a wicked smile lay ambushed in her bright eyes and upon her rosy lips. "The sad truth is that my heart has been quite sore since I heard the shocking tidings about poor old Daddy Stokes. He went to bed the other night with his best hat on, both his arms in an old muff he found in the ditch, and his leathern breeches turned inside out."
"Then the poor old man had a cleaner breast than yours," cried Faith, who had prepared her heart and eyes for tears of sympathy; "he goes upon his knees every night, stiff as they are, and his granddaughter has to help him up. But as for you, you are the most unfeeling, mocking, godless, unnatural creature that ever never cared what became of anybody. Here we are at the corner where the path divides. You go home that way, and I'll go home by this."
"Well, I'm so glad! I really did believe that it was quite impossible to put you in a rage. Now don't be in a hurry, dear, to beg my pardon."
"Of that you may be quite sure," cried Faith across the corner of the meadow where the paths diverged; "I never was less in a passion in my life; and it will be your place to apologise."
Dolly sent a merry laugh across the widening interval; and Faith, who was just beginning to fear that she had been in a passion, was convinced by that laugh that she had not. But the weight lifted from her conscience fell more heavily upon her heart.
Although she pretended to be so merry, and really was so self-confident (whenever anybody wanted to help her), Miss Dolly Darling, when left to herself, was not like herself, as it used to be. Her nature was lively, and her spirit very high; every one had petted her, before she could have earned it by aught except childish beauty; and no one had left off doing it, when she was bound to show better claim to it. All this made doubt, and darkness, and the sense of not being her own mistress, very snappish things to her, and she gained relief—sweet-tempered as she was when pleased—by a snap at others. For although she was not given, any more than other young people are, to plaguesome self-inspection, she could not help feeling that she was no longer the playful young Dolly that she loved so well. A stronger, and clearer, yet more mysterious will than her own had conquered hers; but she would not confess it, and yield entire obedience; neither could she cast it off. Her pride still existed, as strong as ever, whenever temper roused it; but there was too much of vanity in its composition, and too little of firm self-respect. Contempt from a woman she could not endure; neither from a man, if made manifest; but Carne so calmly took the upper hand, without any show of having it, that she fell more and more beneath his influence.
He, knowing thoroughly what he was about, did nothing to arouse resistance. So far as he was capable of loving any one, he was now in love with Dolly. He admired her quickness, and pretty girlish ways, and gaiety of nature (so unlike his own), and most of all her beauty. He had made up his mind that she should be his wife when fitted for that dignity; but he meant to make her useful first, and he saw his way to do so. He knew that she acted more and more as her father's secretary, for she wrote much faster than her sister Faith, and was quicker in catching up a meaning. Only it was needful to sap her little prejudices—candour, to wit, and the sense of trust, and above all, patriotic feeling. He rejoiced when he heard that Lady Scudamore was gone, and the Rector had taken his wife and daughter for change of air to Tunbridge Wells, Miss Twemlow being seriously out of health through anxiety about Mr. Shargeloes. For that gentleman had disappeared, without a line or message, just when Mr. Furkettle, the chief lawyer in the neighbourhood, was beginning to prepare the marriage-settlement; and although his cook and house-maid were furious at the story, Mrs. Blocks had said, and all the parish now believed, that Sir Parsley Sugarloaf had flown away to Scotland rather than be brought to book—that fatal part of the Prayer-book—by the Rector and three or four brother clergymen.
This being so, and Frank Darling absorbed in London with the publication of another batch of poems, dedicated to Napoleon, while Faith stood aloof with her feelings hurt, and the Admiral stood off and on in the wearisome cruise of duty, Carne had the coast unusually clear for the entry and arrangement of his contraband ideas. He met the fair Dolly almost every day, and their interviews did not grow shorter, although the days were doing so.
"You should have been born in France," he said, one bright November morning, when they sat more comfortable than they had any right to be, upon the very same seat where the honest but hapless Captain Scuddy had tried to venture to lisp his love; "that is the land you belong to, darling, by beauty and manners and mind and taste, and most of all by your freedom from prejudice, and great liberality of sentiment."
"But I thought we were quite as good-looking in England;" Dolly lifted her long black lashes, with a flash which might challenge the brilliance of any French eyes; "but of course you know best. I know nothing of French ladies."
"Don't be a fool, Dolly;" Carne spoke rudely, but made up for it in another way. "There never was a French girl to equal you in loveliness; but you must not suppose that you beat them all round. One point particularly you are far behind in. A French woman leaves all political questions, and national matters, and public affairs, entirely to her husband, or her lover, as the case may be. Whatever he wishes is the law for her. Thy gods shall be my gods."
"But you said they had great liberality of sentiment, and now you say they have no opinions of their own! How can the two things go together?"
"Very easily," said Carne, who was accustomed to be baffled by such little sallies; "they take their opinions from their husbands, who are always liberal. This produces happiness on both sides—a state of things unknown in England. Let me tell you of something important, mainly as it concerns yourself, sweet Dolly. The French are certain to unite with England, and then we shall be the grandest nation in the world. No power in Europe can stand before us. All will be freedom, and civilization, and great ideas, and fine taste in dress. I shall recover the large estates, that would now be mine, but for usury and fraud. And you will be one of the first ladies in the world, as nature has always intended you to be."
"That sounds very well; but how is it to be done? How can France unite with England, when they are bitter enemies? Is France to conquer England first? Or are we to conquer France, as we always used to do?"
"That would be a hard job now, when France is the mistress of the Continent. No, there need be no conquering, sweet Dolly, but only a little removal. The true interest of this country is—as that mighty party, the Whigs, perceive—to get rid of all the paltry forms and dry bones of a dynasty which is no more English than Napoleon is, and to join that great man in his warfare against all oppression. Your brother Frank is a leading spirit; he has long cast off that wretched insular prejudice which defeats all good. In the grand new scheme of universal right, which must prevail very shortly, Frank Darling will obtain that foremost place to which his noble views entitle him. You, as his sister, and my wife, will be adored almost as much as you could wish."
"It sounds very grand," answered Dolly, with a smile, though a little alarmed at this turn of it; "but what is to become of the King, and Queen, and all the royal family? And what is my father to do, and Faith? Although she has not behaved well to me."
"Those details will be arranged to everybody's satisfaction. Little prejudices will subside, when it is seen that they are useless. Every possible care will be taken not to injure any one."
"But how is it all to be done?" asked Dolly, whose mind was practical, though romantic. "Are the French to land, and overrun the country? I am sure I never should agree to that. Are all our defenders to be thrown into prison?"
"Certainly not. There will be no prisons. The French might have to land, as a matter of form; but not to overrun the country, only to secure British liberties and justice. All sensible people would hasten to join them, and any opposition would be quenched at once. Then such a glorious condition of mankind would ensue as has never been known in this world—peace, wealth, universal happiness, gaiety, dancing everywhere, no more shabby clothes, no more dreary Sundays. How do you like the thought of it?"
"Well, some of it sounds very nice; but I don't see the use of universal justice. Justice means having one's own rights; and it is impossible for everybody to do that, because of other people. And as for the French coming to put things right, they had better attend to their own affairs first. And as if any Englishman would permit it! Why, even Frank would mount his wig and gown (for he is a full-fledged barrister now, you know), and come and help to push them back into the sea. And I hope that you would do so too. I am not going to marry a Frenchman. You belong to an old English family, and you were born in England, and your name is English, and the property that ought to belong to you. I hope you don't consider yourself a Frenchman because your mother is a great French lady, after so many generations of Carnes, all English, every bit of them. I am an English girl, and I care very little for things that I don't see—such as justice, liberty, rights of people, and all that. But I do care about my relations, and our friends, and the people that live here, and the boats, and all the trees, and the land that belongs to my father. Very likely you would want to take that away, and give it to some miserable Frenchman."
"Dolly, my dear, you must not be excited," Carne answered, in the manner of a father; "powerful as your comprehension is, for the moment these things are beyond it. Your meaning is excellent, very good, very great; but to bring it to bear requires further information. We will sit by the side of the sea to-morrow, darling, if you grant me a view of your loveliness again; and there you will see things in a larger light than upon this narrow bench, with your father's trees around us, and your father's cows enquiring whether I am good to eat. Get away, cow! Do you take me for a calf?"
One of the cows best loved by Dolly, who was very fond of good animals, had come up to ask who this man was that had been sitting here so long with her. She was gifted with a white face and large soft eyes—even beyond the common measure of a cow—short little horns, that she would scarcely think of pushing even at a dog (unless he made mouths at her infant), a flat broad nose ever genial to be rubbed, and a delicate fringe of finely pointed yellow hairs around her pleasant nostrils and above her clovery lips. With single-hearted charity and enviable faith she was able to combine the hope that Dolly had obtained a lover as good as could be found upon a single pair of legs. Carne was attired with some bravery, of the French manner rather than the English, and he wanted no butter on his velvet and fine lace. So he swung round his cane of heavy snakewood at the cow, and struck her poor horns so sharply that her head went round.
"Is that universal peace, and gentleness, and justice?" cried Dolly, springing up and hastening to console her cow. "Is this the way the lofty French redress the wrongs of England? What had poor Dewlips done, I should like to know? Kiss me, my pretty, and tell me how you would like the French army to land, as a matter of form? The form you would take would be beef, I'm afraid; not even good roast beef, but bouillon, potage, fricandeau, friture—anything one cannot taste any meat in; and that is how your wrongs would be redressed, after having had both your horns knocked off. And about the same fate for John Bull, your master, unless he keeps his horns well sharpened. Do I not speak the truth, monsieur?"
When Carne did anything to vex Miss Dolly—which happened pretty often, for he could not stop to study much her little prejudices—she addressed him as if he were a Frenchman, never doubting that this must reduce him sadly in his self-esteem.
"Never mind matters political," he said, perceiving that his power must not be pressed until he had deepened its foundations; "what are all the politics in the world compared with your good opinion, Beauty?" Dolly liked to be called "Beauty," and the name always made her try to deserve it by looking sweet. "You must be quite certain that I would do nothing to injure a country which contains my Dolly. And as for Madam Cow, I will beg her pardon, though my cane is hurt a great deal more than her precious horns are. Behold me snap it in twain, although it is the only handsome one I possess, because it has offended you!"
"Oh, what a pity! What a lovely piece of wood!" cried Dolly; and they parted on the best of terms, after a warm vow upon either side that no nasty politics should ever come between them.
But Carne was annoyed and discontented. He came to the edge of the cliff that evening below his ruined castle; for there are no cliffs at Springhaven, unless the headland deserves that name; and there he sat gloomily for some hours, revolving the chances of his enterprise. The weather had changed since the morning, and a chill November wind began to urge the waves ashore. The sky was not very dark, but shredded with loose grey vapours from the west, where a heavy bank of clouds lay under the pale crescent of a watery moon. In the distance two British cruisers shone, light ships of outlook, under easy sail, prepared to send the signal for a hundred leagues, from ship to ship and cliff to cliff, if any of England's foes appeared. They shone upon the dark sea, with canvas touched by moonlight, and seemed ready to spring against the lowering sky, if it held any menace to the land they watched, or the long reach of water they had made their own.
"A pest upon those watch-dogs!" muttered Carne. "They are always wide-awake, and forever at their stations. Instead of growing tired, they get sharper every day. Even Charron can scarcely run through them now. But I know who could do it, if he could only be trusted. With a pilot-boat—it is a fine idea—a pilot-boat entered as of Pebbleridge. The Pebbleridge people hate Springhaven, through a feud of centuries, and Springhaven despises Pebbleridge. It would answer well, although the landing is so bad, and no anchorage possible in rough weather. I must try if Dan Tugwell will undertake it. None of the rest know the coast as he does, and few of them have the bravery. But Dan is a very sulky fellow, very difficult to manage. He will never betray us; he is wonderfully grateful; and after that battle with the press-gang, when he knocked down the officer and broke his arm, he will keep pretty clear of the Union-jack. But he goes about moping, and wondering, and mooning, as if he were wretched about what he has to do. Bless my soul, where is my invention? I see the way to have him under my thumb. Reason is an old coat hanging on a peg; passion is the fool who puts it on and runs away with it. Halloa! Who are you? And what do you want at such a time as this? Surely you can see that I am not at leisure now. Why, Tugwell, I thought that you were far away at sea!"
"So I was, sir; but she travels fast. I never would believe the old London Trader could be driven through the water so. Sam Polwhele knows how to pile it on a craft, as well as he do upon a man, sir. I won't serve under him no more, nor Captain Charcoal either. I have done my duty by you. Squire Carne, the same as you did by me, sir; and thanking you for finding me work so long, my meaning is to go upon the search to-morrow."
"What fools they must have been to let this fellow come ashore!" thought Carne, while he failed to see the wisest way to take it. "Tugwell, you cannot do this with any honour, after we have shown you all the secrets of our enterprise. You know that what we do is of the very highest honour, kind and humane and charitable, though strictly forbidden by a most inhuman government. How would you like, if you were a prisoner in France, to be debarred from all chance of getting any message from your family, your wife, your sweetheart, or your children, from year's end to year's end, and perhaps be dead for months without their knowing anything about it?"
"Well, sir, I should think it very hard indeed; though, if I was dead, I shouldn't know much more about it. But, without reproach to you, I cannot make out altogether that our only business is to carry letters for the prisoners, as now may be in England, from their loving friends to command in their native country. I won't say against you, sir, if you say it is—that is, to the outside of all your knowledge. And twenty thousand of them may need letters by the sack. But what use they could make, sir, of cannon as big as I be, and muskets that would kill a man a hundred yards of distance, and bayonets more larger and more sharper than ever I see before, even with the Royal Volunteers—this goes out of all my calculation."
"Daniel, you have expressed your views, which are remarkable—as indeed they always are—with your usual precision. But you have not observed things with equal accuracy. Do you know when a gun is past service?"
"No, sir; I never was a poacher, no-how. Squire Darling, that is to say, Sir Charles Darling now, according to a chap on board, he was always so good upon his land that nobody durst go a-poaching."
"I mean a cannon, Dan. They don't poach with cannon yet, though they may come to do it, as the game-laws increase. Do you know when a cannon is unsafe to fire, though it may look as bright as ever, like a worn-out poker? All those things that have frightened you are only meant for ornament. You know that every ancient building ought to have its armoury, as this castle always had, until they were taken away and sold. My intention is to restore it, when I can afford to do so. And having a lot of worn-out weapons offered me for next to nothing, I seized the chance of bringing them. When times are better, and the war is over, I may find time to arrange them. But that is not of much importance. The great point is to secure the delivery of letters from their native land to the brave men here as prisoners. I cannot afford to do that for nothing, though I make no profit out of it. I have so many things to think about that I scarcely know which to consider first. And after all, what matters to us whether those poor men are allowed to die, and be buried like dogs, without knowledge of their friends? Why should we run the risk of being punished for them?"
"Well, sir, that seems hard doctrine, if I may be allowed to say so, and not like your kind-heartedness. Our Government have no right to stop them of their letters."
"It is a cruel thing. But how are we to help it? The London Trader is too large for the purpose, and she is under suspicion now. I tell you everything, Daniel, because I know that you are a true-hearted fellow, and far above all blabbing. I have thought once or twice of obtaining leave to purchase a stout and handy pilot-boat, with her licence and all that transferred to us, and so running to and fro when needful. The only risk then would be from perils of the sea; and even the pressmen dare not meddle with a pilot-boat. By-the-by, I have heard that you knocked some of them about. Tugwell, you might have got us all into sad trouble."
"Was I to think of what I was doing, Squire Carne, when they wanted to make a slave of me? I would serve King George with a good heart, in spite of all that father has said against it. But it must be with a free will, Squire Carne, and not to be tied hand and foot to it. How would you like that yourself, sir?"
"Well, I think I should have done as you did, Dan, if I had been a British sailor. But as to this pilot-boat, I must have a bold and good seaman to command it. A man who knows the coast, and is not afraid of weather. Of course we should expect to pay good wages; 3 pounds a week, perhaps, and a guinea for every bag of letters landed safe. There are plenty of men who would jump at such a chance, Dan."
"I'll be bound there are, sir. And it is more than I am worth, if you mean offering the place to me. It would suit me wonderful, if I was certain that the job was honest."
"Daniel Tugwell"—Carne spoke with great severity—"I will not lose my temper, for I am sure you mean no insult. But you must be of a very low, suspicious nature, and quite unfit for any work of a lofty and unselfish order, if you can imagine that a man in my position, a man of my large sentiments—"
"Oh, no, sir, no; it was not at all that"—Dan scarcely knew how to tell what it was—"it was nothing at all of that manner of thinking. I heartily ask your pardon, sir, if it seemed to go in that way."
"Don't do that," replied Carne, "because I can make allowances. I know what a fine nature is, and how it takes alarm at shadows. I am always tender with honest scruples, because I find so many of them in myself. I should not have been pleased with you, if you had accepted my offer—although so advantageous, and full of romantic interest—until you were convinced of its honourable nature. I have no time for argument, and I am sorry that you must not come up to the castle for supper, because we have an old Springhaven man there, who would tell your father all about you, which you especially wish to avoid. But if you feel inclined for this berth—as you sailors seem to call it—and hesitate through some patriotic doubts, though I cannot understand what they are, I will bring you a document (if you meet me here to-morrow night) from Admiral Sir Charles Darling, which I think will satisfy you."
"And shall I be allowed to keep it, sir, to show, in case of trouble?"
"Very likely. But I cannot say for certain. Some of those official forms must be returned, others not; all depends upon their rules. Now go and make yourself comfortable. How are you off for money?"
"Plenty, sir, plenty. I must not go where anybody knows me, or to-morrow half the talk at old Springhaven would be about me. Good-night, sir, and God bless you."
HIS SAVAGE SPIRIT
At this time letters came very badly, not only to French prisoners in England, but even to the highest authorities, who had the very best means of getting them. Admiral Darling had often written to his old friend Nelson, but had long been without any tidings from him, through no default on the hero's part. Lord Nelson was almost as prompt with the pen as he was with the sword, but despatches were most irregular and uncertain.
"Here at last we have him!" cried Sir Charles one morning early in December; "and not more than five weeks old, I declare! Dolly, be ready, and call Faith down. Now read it, my dear, for our benefit. Your godfather writes a most excellent hand, considering that it is his left hand; but my eyes are sore from so much night-work. Put on my specs, Dolly; I should like to see you in them."
"Am I to read every word, papa, just as it comes? You know that he generally puts in words that are rather strong for me."
"Nelson never thought or wrote a single word unfit for the nicest young lady. But you may hold up your hand if you come to any strong expressions, and we shall understand them."
"Then I shall want both hands as soon as ever we come to the very first Frenchman. But this is what my godfather says:
"'VICTORY, OFF TOULON, October 31st, 1804.
"'MY DEAR LINGO,—It was only yesterday that I received your letter of July 21st; it went in a Spanish smuggling boat to the coast of Italy and returned again to Spain, not having met any of our ships. And now I hope that you will see me before you see this letter. We are certain to be at war with Spain before another month is out, and I am heartily sorry for it, for I like those fellows better than the French, because they are not such liars. My successor has been appointed, I have reason to hope, and must be far on his way by this time; probably Keith, but I cannot say. Ministers cannot suppose that I want to fly the service; my whole life has proved the contrary; if they refuse, I shall most certainly leave in March or April, for a few months' rest I must have, or else die. My cough is very bad, and my side where I was struck off Cape St. Vincent is very much swelled, at times a lump as large as my fist is brought on by violent coughing, but I hope and believe my lungs are sound. I hope to do good service yet, or else I should not care so much. But if I am in my grave, how can I serve the Country?
"'You will say, this is not at all like Nelson, to write about nothing but his own poor self; and thank God, Lingo, I can say that you are right; for if ever a man lived for the good of England and the destruction of those'"—here Dolly held a hand up—"'Frenchmen, it is the man in front of this ink-bottle. The Lord has appointed me to that duty, and I shall carry out my orders. Mons. La Touche, who was preached about in France as the man that was to extinguish me, and even in the scurvy English newspapers, but never dared to show his snivelly countenance outside of the inner buoys, is dead of his debosheries, for which I am deeply grieved, as I fully intended to send him to the devil.
"'I have been most unlucky for some time now, and to tell the truth I may say always. But I am the last man in the world to grumble—as you, my dear Lingo, can testify. I always do the utmost, with a single mind, and leave the thought of miserable pelf to others, men perhaps who never saw a shotted cannon fired. You know who made eighty thousand pounds, without having to wipe his pigtail—dirty things, I am glad they are gone out—but my business is to pay other people's debts, and receive all my credits in the shape of cannon-balls. This is always so, and I should let it pass as usual, except for a blacker trick than I have ever known before. For fear of giving me a single chance of earning twopence, they knew that there was a million and a half of money coming into Cadiz from South America in four Spanish frigates, and instead of leaving me to catch them, they sent out Graham Moore—you know him very well—with orders to pocket everything. This will create a war with Spain, a war begun with robbery on our part, though it must have come soon in any case. For everywhere now, except where I am, that fiend of a Corsican is supreme.
"'There is not a sick man in this fleet, unless it is the one inside my coat. That liar La Touche said HE CHASED ME AND I RAN. I keep a copy of his letter, which it would have been my duty to make him eat, if he had ventured out again. But he is gone to the lake of brimstone now, and I have the good feeling to forgive him. If my character is not fixed by this time, it is not worth my trouble to put the world right. Yesterday I took a look into the port within easy reach of their batteries. They lay like a lot of mice holed in a trap, but the weather was too thick to count them. They are certainly nearly twice our number; and if any one was here except poor little Nelson, I believe they would venture out. But my reputation deprives me always of any fair chance to increase it.
"'And now, my dear Lingo, allow me to enquire how you are getting on with your Coast-defence. I never did attach much importance to their senseless invasion scheme. The only thing to make it formidable would be some infernal traitor on the coast, some devilish spy who would keep them well informed, and enable them to land where least expected. If there is such a scoundrel, may the Lord Almighty'"—here both Dolly's hands went up, with the letter in them, and her face turned as white as the paper.
"'I have often told you, as you may remember, that Springhaven is the very place I should choose, if I were commander of the French flotilla. It would turn the flank of all the inland defences, and no British ship could attack their intrenchments, if once they were snug below the windows of the Hall. But they are not likely to know this, thank God; and if they did, they would have a job to get there. However, it is wise to keep a sharp lookout, for they know very well that I am far away.
"'And now that I have got to your own doors, which I heartily hope to do, perhaps before you see this, let me ask for yourself and all your dear family. Lingo, the longer I live the more I feel that all the true happiness of life is found at home. My glory is very great, and satisfies me, except when it scares the enemy; but I very often feel that I would give it all away for a quiet life among those who love me. Your daughter Faith is a sweet young woman, just what I should wish for a child of mine to be. And Horatia, my godchild, will turn out very well, if a sharp hand is kept over her. But she takes after me, she is daring and ambitious, and requires a firm hand at the helm. Read this to her, with my love, and I dare say she will only laugh at it. If she marries to my liking, she will be down for a good thing in my will, some day. God bless us all. Amen. Amen.
"'NELSON AND BRONTE.'"
"Take it to heart, my dear; and so must I," said the Admiral, laughing at the face his daughter made; "your godfather is a most excellent judge of everybody's character except his own. But, bless me, my dear, why, you are crying! You silly little thing! I was only in fun. You shall marry to his liking, and be down for the good thing. Look up, and laugh at everybody, my darling. No one laughs so merrily as my pretty Dolly. Why, Faith, what does she mean by this?"
To the coaxing voice of her father, and the playful glance that she used to play with, Dolly had not rushed up at all, either with mind, or, if that failed, with body, as she always used to do. She hurried towards the door, as if she longed to be away from them; and then, as if she would rather not make any stir about it, sat down and pretended to have caught her dress in something.
"The only thing is to let her go on as she likes," Faith said aloud, so that Dolly might hear all of it; "I have done all I can, but she believes herself superior. She cannot bear any sort of contradiction, and she expects one to know what she says, without her saying it. There is nothing to be done but to treat her the same way. If she is left to herself, she may come back to it."
"Well, my dear children," said the Admiral, much alarmed at the prospect of a broil between them, such as he remembered about three years back, "I make no pretence to understand your ways. If you were boys, it would be different altogether. But the Almighty has been pleased to make you girls, and very good ones too; in fact, there are none to be found better. You have always been bound up with one another and with me; and every one admires all the three of us. So that we must be content if a little thing arises, not to make too much of it, but bear with one another, and defy anybody to come in between us. Kiss one another, my dears, and be off; for I have much correspondence to attend to, besides the great Nelson's, though I took him first, hoping for something sensible. But I have not much to learn about Springhaven, even from his lordship. However, he is a man in ten thousand, and we must not be vexed about any of his crotchets, because he has never had children to talk about; and he gets out of soundings when he talks about mine. I wish Lady Scudamore was come back. She always agrees with me, and she takes a great load off my shoulders."
The girls laughed at this, as they were meant to do. And they hurried off together, to compare opinions. After all these years of independence, no one should be set up over them. Upon that point Faith was quite as resolute as Dolly; and her ladyship would have refused to come back, if she had overheard their council. For even in the loftiest feminine nature lurks a small tincture of jealousy.
But Dolly was now in an evil frame of mind about many things which she could not explain even to herself, with any satisfaction. Even that harmless and pleasant letter from her great godfather went amiss with her; and instead of laughing at the words about herself, as with a sound conscience she must have done, she brooded over them, and turned them bitter. No man could have mixed up things as she did, but her mind was nimble. For the moment, she hated patriotism, because Nelson represented it; and feeling how wrong he had been about herself, she felt that he was wrong in everything. The French were fine fellows, and had quite as much right to come here as we had to go and harass them, and a little abatement of English conceit might be a good thing in the long-run. Not that she would let them stay here long; that was not to be thought of, and they would not wish it. But a little excitement would be delightful, and a great many things might be changed for the better, such as the treatment of women in this country, which was barbarous, compared to what it was in France. Caryl had told her a great deal about that; and the longer she knew him the more she was convinced of his wisdom and the largeness of his views, so different from the savage spirit of Lord Nelson.
While his love was lapsing from him thus, and from her own true self yet more, the gallant young sailor, whose last prize had been that useful one misfortune, was dwelling continually upon her image, because he had very little else to do. English prisoners in France were treated sometimes very badly, which they took good care to proclaim to Europe; but more often with pity, and good-will, and a pleasant study of their modes of thought. For an Englishman then was a strange and ever fresh curiosity to a Frenchman, a specimen of another race of bipeds, with doubts whether marriage could make parentage between them. And a century of intercourse, good-will, and admiration has left us still inquisitive about each other.
Napoleon felt such confidence in his plans for the conquest of England that if any British officer belonging to the fleet in the narrow seas was taken (which did not happen largely), he sent for him, upon his arrival at Boulogne, and held a little talk with any one who could understand and answer. He was especially pleased at hearing of the capture of Blyth Scudamore (who had robbed him of his beloved Blonde), and at once restored Desportes to favour, which he had begun to do before, knowing as well as any man on earth the value of good officers. "Bring your prisoner here to-morrow at twelve o'clock," was his order; "you have turned the tables upon him well."
Scudamore felt a little nervous tingling as he passed through the sentries, with his friend before him, into the pavilion of the greatest man in Europe. But the Emperor, being in high good-humour, and pleased with the young man's modest face and gentle demeanour, soon set him at his ease, and spoke to him as affably as if he had been his equal. For this man of almost universal mind could win every heart, when he set himself to do it. Scudamore rubbed his eyes, which was a trick of his, as if he could scarcely believe them. Napoleon looked—not insignificant (that was impossible for a man with such a countenance), but mild, and pleasing, and benevolent, as he walked to and fro, for he never could stay still, in the place which was neither a tent nor a room, but a mixture of the two, and not a happy one. His hat, looped up with a diamond and quivering with an ostrich feather, was flung anyhow upon the table. But his wonderful eyes were the brightest thing there.
"Ha! ha!" said the Emperor, a very keen judge of faces; "you expected to find me a monster, as I am portrayed by your caricaturists. Your countrymen are not kind to me, except the foremost of them—the great poets. But they will understand me better by-and-by, when justice prevails, and the blessings of peace, for which I am striving perpetually. But the English nation, if it were allowed a voice, would proclaim me its only true friend and ally. You know that, if you are one of the people, and not of the hateful House of Lords, which engrosses all the army and the navy. Are you in connection with the House of Lords?"
Scudamore shook his head and smiled. He was anxious to say that he had a cousin, not more than twice removed, now an entire viscount; but Napoleon never encouraged conversation, unless it was his own, or in answer to his questions.
"Very well. Then you can speak the truth. What do they think of all this grand army? Are they aware that, for their own good, it will very soon occupy London? Are they forming themselves to act as my allies, when I have reduced them to reason? Is it now made entirely familiar to their minds that resistance to me is as hopeless as it has been from the first unwise? If they would submit, without my crossing, it would save them some disturbance, and me a great expense. I have often hoped to hear of it."
"You will never do that, sire," Scudamore answered, looking calmly and firmly at the deep gray eyes, whose gaze could be met by none of the millions who dread passion; "England will not submit, even if you conquer her."
"It is well said, and doubtless you believe it," Napoleon continued, with a smile so slight that to smile in reply to it would have been impertinent; "but England is the same as other nations, although the most obstinate among them. When her capital is occupied, her credit ruined, her great lords unable to obtain a dinner, the government (which is not the country) will yield, and the country must follow it. I have heard that the King, and the Court, and the Parliament, talk of flying to the north, and there remaining, while the navy cuts off our communications, and the inferior classes starve us. Have you heard of any such romance as that?"
"No, sire:" Scudamore scarcely knew what to call him, but adopted this vocative for want of any better. "I have never heard of any such plan, and no one would think of packing up, until our fleet has been demolished."
"Your fleet? Yes, yes. How many ships are now parading to and fro, and getting very tired of it?"
"Your Majesty's officers know that best," Scudamore answered, with his pleasant open smile. "I have been a prisoner for a month and more, and kept ten miles inland, out of sight of the sea."
"But you have been well treated, I hope. You have no complaint to make, Monsieur Scutamour? Your name is French, and you speak the language well. We set the fair example in the treatment of brave men."
"Sire, I have been treated," the young officer replied, with a low bow, and eyes full of gratitude, "as a gentleman amongst gentlemen. I might say as a friend among kind friends."
"That is as it should be. It is my wish always. Few of your English fabrications annoy me more than the falsehoods about that. It is most ungenerous, when I do my best, to charge me with strangling brave English captains. But Desportes fought well, before you took his vessel. Is it not so? Speak exactly as you think. I like to hear the enemy's account of every action."
"Captain Desportes, sire, fought like a hero, and so did all his crew. It was only his mishap in sticking fast upon a sand-bank that enabled us to overpower him."
"And now he has done the like to you. You speak with a brave man's candour. You shall be at liberty to see the sea, monsieur; for a sailor always pines for that. I will give full instructions to your friend Desportes about you. But one more question before you go—is there much anxiety in England?"
"Yes, sire, a great deal. But we hope not to allow your Majesty's armament to enter and increase it."
"Ah, we shall see, we shall see how that will be. Now farewell, Captain. Tell Desportes to come to me."
"Well, my dear friend, you have made a good impression," said the French sailor, when he rejoined Scudamore, after a few words with the Master of the State; "all you have to do is to give your word of honour to avoid our lines, and keep away from the beach, and of course to have no communication with your friends upon military subjects. I am allowed to place you for the present at Beutin, a pleasant little hamlet on the Canche, where lives an old relative of mine, a Monsieur Jalais, an ancient widower, with a large house and one servant. I shall be afloat, and shall see but little of you, which is the only sad part of the business. You will have to report yourself to your landlord at eight every morning and at eight o'clock at night, and only to leave the house between those hours, and not to wander more than six miles from home. How do these conditions approve themselves to you?"
"I call them very liberal, and very handsome," Scudamore answered, as he well might do. "Two miles' range is all that we allow in England to French officers upon parole. These generous terms are due to your kind friendship."
Before very long the gentle Scuddy was as happy as a prisoner can expect to be, in his comfortable quarters at Beutin. Through friendly exchanges he had received a loving letter from his mother, with an amiable enclosure, and M. Jalais being far from wealthy, a pleasant arrangement was made between them. Scudamore took all his meals with his host, who could manage sound victuals like an Englishman, and the house-keeper, house-cleaner, and house-feeder (misdescribed by Desportes as a servant, according to our distinctions), being a widow of mark, sat down to consider her cookery upon choice occasions. Then for a long time would prevail a conscientious gravity, and reserve of judgment inwardly, everybody waiting for some other body's sentiments; until the author of the work, as a female, might no more abide the malignant silence of male reviewers.
Scudamore, being very easily amused, as any good-natured young man is, entered with zest into all these doings, and became an authority upon appeal; and being gifted with depth of simplicity as well as high courtesy of taste, was never known to pronounce a wrong decision. That is to say, he decided always in favour of the lady, which has been the majestic course of Justice for centuries, till the appearance of Mrs. ——-, the lady who should have married the great Home-Ruler.
Thus the wily Scudamore obtained a sitting-room, with the prettiest outlook in the house, or indeed in any house in that part of the world for many leagues of seeking. For the mansion of M. Jalais stood in an elbow of the little river, and one window of this room showed the curve of tidal water widening towards the sea, while the other pleasantly gave eye to the upper reaches of the stream, where an angler of rose-coloured mind might almost hope to hook a trout. The sun glanced down the stream in the morning, and up it to see what he had done before he set; and although M. Jalais' trees were leafless now, they had sleeved their bent arms with green velvetry of moss.
Scudamore brought his comfortable chair to the nook between these windows, and there, with a book or two belonging to his host, and the pipe whose silver clouds enthrone the gods of contemplation, many a pleasant hour was passed, seldom invaded by the sounds of war. For the course of the roads, and sands of the river, kept this happy spot aloof from bad communications. Like many other streams in northern France, the Canche had been deepened and its mouth improved, not for uses of commerce, but of warfare. Veteran soldier and raw recruit, bugler, baker, and farrier, man who came to fight and man who came to write about it, all had been turned into navvies, diggers, drivers of piles, or of horses, or wheelbarrows, by the man who turned everybody into his own teetotum. The Providence that guides the world showed mercy in sending that engine of destruction before there was a Railway for him to run upon.