by R. D. Blackmore
HEADSTRONG AND HEADLONG
Far from any house or hut, in the depth of dreary moor-land, a road, unfenced and almost unformed, descends to a rapid river. The crossing is called the "Seven Corpse Ford," because a large party of farmers, riding homeward from Middleton, banded together and perhaps well primed through fear of a famous highwayman, came down to this place on a foggy evening, after heavy rain-fall. One of the company set before them what the power of the water was, but they laughed at him and spurred into it, and one alone spurred out of it. Whether taken with fright, or with too much courage, they laid hold of one another, and seven out of eight of them, all large farmers, and thoroughly understanding land, came never upon it alive again; and their bodies, being found upon the ridge that cast them up, gave a dismal name to a place that never was merry in the best of weather.
However, worse things than this had happened; and the country is not chary of its living, though apt to be scared of its dead; and so the ford came into use again, with a little attempt at improvement. For those farmers being beyond recall, and their families hard to provide for, Richard Yordas, of Scargate Hall, the chief owner of the neighborhood, set a long heavy stone up on either brink, and stretched a strong chain between them, not only to mark out the course of the shallow, whose shelf is askew to the channel, but also that any one being washed away might fetch up, and feel how to save himself. For the Tees is a violent water sometimes, and the safest way to cross it is to go on till you come to a good stone bridge.
Now forty years after that sad destruction of brave but not well-guided men, and thirty years after the chain was fixed, that their sons might not go after them, another thing happened at "Seven Corpse Ford," worse than the drowning of the farmers. Or, at any rate, it made more stir (which is of wider spread than sorrow), because of the eminence of the man, and the length and width of his property. Neither could any one at first believe in so quiet an end to so turbulent a course. Nevertheless it came to pass, as lightly as if he were a reed or a bubble of the river that belonged to him.
It was upon a gentle evening, a few days after Michaelmas of 1777. No flood was in the river then, and no fog on the moor-land, only the usual course of time, keeping the silent company of stars. The young moon was down, and the hover of the sky (in doubt of various lights) was gone, and the equal spread of obscurity soothed the eyes of any reasonable man.
But the man who rode down to the river that night had little love of reason. Headstrong chief of a headlong race, no will must depart a hair's-breadth from his; and fifty years of arrogant port had stiffened a neck too stiff at birth. Even now in the dim light his large square form stood out against the sky like a cromlech, and his heavy arms swung like gnarled boughs of oak, for a storm of wrath was moving him. In his youth he had rebelled against his father; and now his own son was a rebel to him.
"Good, my boy, good!" he said, within his grizzled beard, while his eyes shone with fire, like the flints beneath his horse; "you have had your own way, have you, then? But never shall you step upon an acre of your own, and your timber shall be the gallows. Done, my boy, once and forever."
Philip, the squire, the son of Richard, and father of Duncan Yordas, with fierce satisfaction struck the bosom of his heavy Bradford riding-coat, and the crackle of parchment replied to the blow, while with the other hand he drew rein on the brink of the Tees sliding rapidly.
The water was dark with the twinkle of the stars, and wide with the vapor of the valley, but Philip Yordas in the rage of triumph laughed and spurred his reflecting horse.
"Fool!" he cried, without an oath—no Yordas ever used an oath except in playful moments—"fool! what fear you? There hangs my respected father's chain. Ah, he was something like a man! Had I ever dared to flout him so, he would have hanged me with it."
Wild with his wrong, he struck the rowel deep into the flank of his wading horse, and in scorn of the depth drove him up the river. The shoulders of the swimming horse broke the swirling water, as he panted and snorted against it; and if Philip Yordas had drawn back at once, he might even now have crossed safely. But the fury of his blood was up, the stronger the torrent the fiercer his will, and the fight between passion and power went on. The poor horse was fain to swerve back at last; but he struck him on the head with a carbine, and shouted to the torrent:
"Drown me, if you can. My father used to say that I was never born to drown. My own water drown me! That would be a little too much insolence."
"Too much insolence" were his last words. The strength of the horse was exhausted. The beat of his legs grew short and faint, the white of his eyes rolled piteously, and the gurgle of his breath subsided. His heavy head dropped under water, and his sodden crest rolled over, like sea-weed where a wave breaks. The stream had him all at its mercy, and showed no more than his savage master had, but swept him a wallowing lump away, and over the reef of the crossing. With both feet locked in the twisted stirrups, and right arm broken at the elbow, the rider was swung (like the mast of a wreck) and flung with his head upon his father's chain. There he was held by his great square chin—for the jar of his backbone stunned him—and the weight of the swept-away horse broke the neck which never had been known to bend. In the morning a peasant found him there, not drowned but hanged, with eyes wide open, a swaying corpse upon a creaking chain. So his father (though long in the grave) was his death, as he often had promised to be to him; while he (with the habit of his race) clutched fast with dead hand on dead bosom the instrument securing the starvation of his son.
Of the Yordas family truly was it said that the will of God was nothing to their will—as long as the latter lasted—and that every man of them scorned all Testament, old or new, except his own.
Nearly twenty-four years had passed since Philip Yordas was carried to his last (as well as his first) repose, and Scargate Hall had enjoyed some rest from the turbulence of owners. For as soon as Duncan (Philip's son, whose marriage had maddened his father) was clearly apprised by the late squire's lawyer of his disinheritance, he collected his own little money and his wife's, and set sail for India. His mother, a Scotchwoman of good birth but evil fortunes, had left him something; and his bride (the daughter of his father's greatest foe) was not altogether empty-handed. His sisters were forbidden by the will to help him with a single penny; and Philippa, the elder, declaring and believing that Duncan had killed her father, strictly obeyed the injunction. But Eliza, being of a softer kind, and herself then in love with Captain Carnaby, would gladly have aided her only brother, but for his stern refusal. In such a case, a more gentle nature than ever endowed a Yordas might have grown hardened and bitter; and Duncan, being of true Yordas fibre (thickened and toughened with slower Scotch sap), was not of the sort to be ousted lightly and grow at the feet of his supplanters.
Therefore he cast himself on the winds, in search of fairer soil, and was not heard of in his native land; and Scargate Hall and estates were held by the sisters in joint tenancy, with remainder to the first son born of whichever it might be of them. And this was so worded through the hurry of their father to get some one established in the place of his own son.
But from paltry passions, turn away a little while to the things which excite, but are not excited by them.
Scargate Hall stands, high and old, in the wildest and most rugged part of the wild and rough North Riding. Many are the tales about it, in the few and humble cots, scattered in the modest distance, mainly to look up at it. In spring and summer, of the years that have any, the height and the air are not only fine, but even fair and pleasant. So do the shadows and the sunshine wander, elbowing into one another on the moor, and so does the glance of smiling foliage soothe the austerity of crag and scaur. At such time, also, the restless torrent (whose fury has driven content away through many a short day and long night) is not in such desperate hurry to bury its troubles in the breast of Tees, but spreads them in language that sparkles to the sun, or even makes leisure to turn into corners of deep brown-study about the people on its banks—especially, perhaps, the miller.
But never had this impetuous water more reason to stop and reflect upon people of greater importance, who called it their own, than now when it was at the lowest of itself, in August of the year 1801.
From time beyond date the race of Yordas had owned and inhabited this old place. From them the river, and the river's valley, and the mountain of its birth, took name, or else, perhaps, gave name to them; for the history of the giant Yordas still remains to be written, and the materials are scanty. His present descendants did not care an old song for his memory, even if he ever had existence to produce it. Piety (whether in the Latin sense or English) never had marked them for her own; their days were long in the land, through a long inactivity of the Decalogue.
And yet in some manner this lawless race had been as a law to itself throughout. From age to age came certain gifts and certain ways of management, which saved the family life from falling out of rank and land and lot. From deadly feuds, exhausting suits, and ruinous profusion, when all appeared lost, there had always arisen a man of direct lineal stock to retrieve the estates and reprieve the name. And what is still more conducive to the longevity of families, no member had appeared as yet of a power too large and an aim too lofty, whose eminence must be cut short with axe, outlawry, and attainder. Therefore there ever had been a Yordas, good or bad (and by his own showing more often of the latter kind), to stand before heaven, and hold the land, and harass them that dwelt thereon. But now at last the world seemed to be threatened with the extinction of a fine old name.
When Squire Philip died in the river, as above recorded, his death, from one point of view, was dry, since nobody shed a tear for him, unless it was his child Eliza. Still, he was missed and lamented in speech, and even in eloquent speeches, having been a very strong Justice of the Peace, as well as the foremost of riotous gentlemen keeping the order of the county. He stood above them in his firm resolve to have his own way always, and his way was so crooked that the difficulty was to get out of it and let him have it. And when he was dead, it was either too good or too bad to believe in; and even after he was buried it was held that this might be only another of his tricks.
But after his ghost had been seen repeatedly, sitting on the chain and swearing, it began to be known that he was gone indeed, and the relief afforded by his absence endeared him to sad memory. Moreover, his good successors enhanced the relish of scandal about him by seeming themselves to be always so dry, distant, and unimpeachable. Especially so did "My Lady Philippa," as the elder daughter was called by all the tenants and dependents, though the family now held no title of honor.
Mistress Yordas, as she was more correctly styled by usage of the period, was a maiden lady of fine presence, uncumbered as yet by weight of years, and only dignified thereby. Stately, and straight, and substantial of figure, firm but not coarse of feature, she had reached her forty-fifth year without an ailment or a wrinkle. Her eyes were steadfast, clear, and bright, well able to second her distinct calm voice, and handsome still, though their deep blue had waned into a quiet, impenetrable gray; while her broad clear forehead, straight nose, and red lips might well be considered as comely as ever, at least by those who loved her. Of these, however, there were not many; and she was content to have it so.
Mrs. Carnaby, the younger sister, would not have been content to have it so. Though not of the weak lot which is enfeoffed to popularity, she liked to be regarded kindly, and would rather win a smile than exact a courtesy. Continually it was said of her that she was no genuine Yordas, though really she had all the pride and all the stubbornness of that race, enlarged, perhaps, but little weakened, by severe afflictions. This lady had lost a beloved husband, Colonel Carnaby, killed in battle; and after that four children of the five she had been so proud of. And the waters of affliction had not turned to bitterness in her soul.
Concerning the outward part—which matters more than the inward at first hand—Mrs. Carnaby had no reason to complain of fortune. She had started well as a very fine baby, and grown up well into a lovely maiden, passing through wedlock into a sightly matron, gentle, fair, and showing reason. For generations it had come to pass that those of the Yordas race who deserved to be cut off for their doings out-of-doors were followed by ladies of decorum, self-restraint, and regard for their neighbor's landmark. And so it was now with these two ladies, the handsome Philippa and the fair Eliza leading a peaceful and reputable life, and carefully studying their rent-roll.
It was not, however, in the fitness of things that quiet should reign at Scargate Hall for a quarter of a century; and one strong element of disturbance grew already manifest. Under the will of Squire Philip the heir-apparent was the one surviving child of Mrs. Carnaby.
If ever a mortal life was saved by dint of sleepless care, warm coddling, and perpetual doctoring, it was the precious life of Master Lancelot Yordas Carnaby. In him all the mischief of his race revived, without the strong substance to carry it off. Though his parents were healthy and vigorous, he was of weakly constitution, which would not have been half so dangerous to him if his mind also had been weakly. But his mind (or at any rate that rudiment thereof which appears in the shape of self-will even before the teeth appear) was a piece of muscular contortion, tough as oak and hard as iron. "Pet" was his name with his mother and his aunt; and his enemies (being the rest of mankind) said that pet was his name and his nature.
For this dear child could brook no denial, no slow submission to his wishes; whatever he wanted must come in a moment, punctual as an echo. In him re-appeared not the stubbornness only, but also the keen ingenuity of Yordas in finding out the very thing that never should be done, and then the unerring perception of the way in which it could be done most noxiously. Yet any one looking at his eyes would think how tender and bright must his nature be! "He favoreth his forebears; how can he help it?" kind people exclaimed, when they knew him. And the servants of the house excused themselves when condemned for putting up with him, "Yo know not what 'a is, yo that talk so. He maun get 's own gait, lestwise yo wud chok' un."
Being too valuable to be choked, he got his own way always.
A DISAPPOINTING APPOINTMENT
For the sake of Pet Carnaby and of themselves, the ladies of the house were disquieted now, in the first summer weather of a wet cold year, the year of our Lord 1801. And their trouble arose as follows:
There had long been a question between the sisters and Sir Walter Carnaby, brother of the late colonel, about an exchange of outlying land, which would have to be ratified by "Pet" hereafter. Terms being settled and agreement signed, the lawyers fell to at the linked sweetness of deducing title. The abstract of the Yordas title was nearly as big as the parish Bible, so in and out had their dealings been, and so intricate their pugnacity.
Among the many other of the Yordas freaks was a fatuous and generally fatal one. For the slightest miscarriage they discharged their lawyer, and leaped into the office of a new one. Has any man moved in the affairs of men, with a grain of common-sense or half a pennyweight of experience, without being taught that an old tenter-hook sits easier to him than a new one? And not only that, but in shifting his quarters he may leave some truly fundamental thing behind.
Old Mr. Jellicorse, of Middleton in Teesdale, had won golden opinions every where. He was an uncommonly honest lawyer, highly incapable of almost any trick, and lofty in his view of things, when his side of them was the legal one. He had a large collection of those interesting boxes which are to a lawyer and his family better than caskets of silver and gold; and especially were his shelves furnished with what might be called the library of the Scargate title-deeds. He had been proud to take charge of these nearly thirty years ago, and had married on the strength of them, though warned by the rival from whom they were wrested that he must not hope to keep them long. However, through the peaceful incumbency of ladies, they remained in his office all those years.
This was the gentleman who had drawn and legally sped to its purport the will of the lamented Squire Philip, who refused very clearly to leave it, and took horse to flourish it at his rebellious son. Mr. Jellicorse had done the utmost, as behooved him, against that rancorous testament; but meeting with silence more savage than words, and a bow to depart, he had yielded; and the squire stamped about the room until his job was finished.
A fact accomplished, whether good or bad, improves in character with every revolution of this little world around the sun, that heavenly example of subservience. And now Mr. Jellicorse was well convinced, as nothing had occurred to disturb that will, and the life of the testator had been sacrificed to it, and the devisees under it were his own good clients, and some of his finest turns of words were in it, and the preparation, execution, and attestation, in an hour and ten minutes of the office clock, had never been equalled in Yorkshire before, and perhaps never honestly in London—taking all these things into conscious or unconscious balance, Mr. Jellicorse grew into the clear conviction that "righteous and wise" were the words to be used whenever this will was spoken of.
With pleasant remembrance of the starveling fees wherewith he used to charge the public, ere ever his golden spurs were won, the prosperous lawyer now began to run his eye through a duplicate of an abstract furnished upon some little sale about forty years before. This would form the basis of the abstract now to be furnished to Sir Walter Carnaby, with little to be added but the will of Philip Yordas, and statement of facts to be verified. Mr. Jellicorse was fat, but very active still; he liked good living, but he liked to earn it, and could not sit down to his dinner without feeling that he had helped the Lord to provide these mercies. He carried a pencil on his chain, and liked to use it ere ever he began with knife and fork. For the young men in the office, as he always said, knew nothing.
The day was very bright and clear, and the sun shone through soft lilac leaves on more important folios, while Mr. Jellicorse, with happy sniffs—for his dinner was roasting in the distance—drew a single line here, or a double line there, or a gable on the margin of the paper, to show his head clerk what to cite, and in what letters, and what to omit, in the abstract to be rendered. For the good solicitor had spent some time in the chambers of a famous conveyancer in London, and prided himself upon deducing title, directly, exhaustively, and yet tersely, in one word, scientifically, and not as the mere quill-driver. The title to the hereditaments, now to be given in exchange, went back for many generations; but as the deeds were not to pass, Mr. Jellicorse, like an honest man, drew a line across, and made a star at one quite old enough to begin with, in which the little moorland farm in treaty now was specified. With hum and ha of satisfaction he came down the records, as far as the settlement made upon the marriage of Richard Yordas, of Scargate Hall, Esquire, and Eleanor, the daughter of Sir Fursan de Roos. This document created no entail, for strict settlements had never been the manner of the race; but the property assured in trust, to satisfy the jointure, was then declared subject to joint and surviving powers of appointment limited to the issue of the marriage, with remainder to the uses of the will of the aforesaid Richard Yordas, or, failing such will, to his right heirs forever.
All this was usual enough, and Mr. Jellicorse heeded it little, having never heard of any appointment, and knowing that Richard, the grandfather of his clients, had died, as became a true Yordas, in a fit of fury with a poor tenant, intestate, as well as unrepentant. The lawyer, being a slightly pious man, afforded a little sigh to this remembrance, and lifted his finger to turn the leaf, but the leaf stuck a moment, and the paper being raised at the very best angle to the sun, he saw, or seemed to see, a faint red line, just over against that appointment clause. And then the yellow margin showed some faint red marks.
"Well, I never," Mr. Jellicorse exclaimed—"certainly never saw these marks before. Diana, where are my glasses?"
Mrs. Jellicorse had been to see the potatoes on (for the new cook simply made "kettlefuls of fish" of every thing put upon the fire), and now at her husband's call she went to her work-box for his spectacles, which he was not allowed to wear except on Sundays, for fear of injuring his eyesight. Equipped with these, and drawing nearer to the window, the lawyer gradually made out this: first a broad faint line of red, as if some attorney, now a ghost, had cut his finger, and over against that in small round hand the letters "v. b. c." Mr. Jellicorse could swear that they were "v. b. c."
"Don't ask me to eat any dinner to-day," he exclaimed, when his wife came to fetch him. "Diana, I am occupied; go and eat it up without me."
"Nonsense, James," she answered, calmly; "you never get any clever thoughts by starving."
Moved by this reasoning, he submitted, fed his wife and children and own good self, and then brought up a bottle of old Spanish wine to strengthen the founts of discovery. Whose writing was that upon the broad marge of verbosity? Why had it never been observed before? Above all, what was meant by "v. b. c."?
Unaided, he might have gone on forever, to the bottom of a butt of Xeres wine; but finding the second glass better than the first, he called to Mrs. Jellicorse, who was in the garden gathering striped roses, to come and have a sip with him, and taste the yellow cherries. And when she came promptly, with the flowers in her hand, and their youngest little daughter making sly eyes at the fruit, bothered as he was, he could not help smiling and saying, "Oh, Diana, what is 'v. b. c.'?"
"Very black currants, papa!" cried Emily, dancing a long bunch in the air.
"Hush, dear child, you are getting too forward," said her mother, though proud of her quickness. "James, how should I know what 'v. b. c.' is? But I wish most heartily that you would rid me of my old enemy, box C. I want to put a hanging press in that corner, instead of which you turn the very passages into office."
"Box C? I remember no box C."
"You may not have noticed the letter C upon it, but the box you must know as well as I do. It belongs to those proud Yordas people, who hold their heads so high, forsooth, as if nobody but themselves belonged to a good old county family! That makes me hate the box the more."
"I will take it out of your way at once. I may want it. It should be with the others. I know it as well as I know my snuff-box. It was Aberthaw who put it in that corner; but I had forgotten that it was lettered. The others are all numbered."
Of course Mr. Jellicorse was not weak enough to make the partner of his bosom the partner of his business; and much as she longed to know why he had put an unusual question to her, she trusted to the future for discovery of that point. She left him, and he with no undue haste—for the business, after all, was not his own—began to follow out his train of thought, in manner much as follows:
"This is that old Duncombe's writing—'Dunder-headed Duncombe,' as he used to be called in his lifetime, but 'Long-headed Duncombe' afterward. None but his wife knew whether he was a wise man, or a wiseacre. Perhaps either, according to the treatment he received. Richard Yordas treated him badly; that may have made him wiser. V. b. c. means 'vide box C,' unless I am greatly mistaken. He wrote those letters as plainly and clearly as he could against this power of appointment as recited here. But afterward, with knife and pounce, he scraped them out, as now becomes plain with this magnifying-glass; probably he did so when all these archives, as he used to call them, were rudely ordered over to my predecessor. A nice bit of revenge, if my suspicions are correct; and a pretty confusion will follow it."
The lawyer's suspicions proved too correct. He took that box to his private room, and with some trouble unlocked it. A damp and musty smell came forth, as when a man delves a potato-bury; and then appeared layers of parchment yellow and brown, in and out with one another, according to the curing of the sheep-skin, perhaps, or the age of the sheep when he began to die; skins much older than any man's who handled them, and drier than the brains of any lawyer.
"Anno Jacobi tertio, and Quadragesimo Elisabethae! How nice it sounds!" Mr. Jellicorse exclaimed; "they ought all to go in, and be charged for. People to be satisfied with sixty years' title! Why, bless the Lord, I am sixty-eight myself, and could buy and sell the grammar school at eight years old. It is no security, no security at all. What did the learned Bacupiston say—'If a rogue only lives to be a hundred and eleven, he may have been for ninety years disseized, and nobody alive to know it!'"
Older and older grew the documents as the lawyer's hand travelled downward; any flaw or failure must have been healed by lapse of time long and long ago; dust and grime and mildew thickened, ink became paler, and contractions more contorted; it was rather an antiquary's business now than a lawyer's to decipher them.
"What a fool I am!" the solicitor thought. "My cuffs will never wash white again, and all I have found is a mare's-nest. However, I'll go to the bottom now. There may be a gold seal—they used to put them in with the deeds three hundred years ago. A charter of Edward the Fourth, I declare! Ah, the Yordases were Yorkists—halloa! what is here? By the Touchstone of Shepherd, I was right after all! Well done, Long-headed Duncombe!"
From the very bottom of the box he took a parchment comparatively fresh and new, indorsed "Appointment by Richard Yordas, Esquire, and Eleanor his wife, of lands and heredits at Scargate and elsewhere in the county of York, dated Nov. 15th, A.D. 1751." Having glanced at the signatures and seals, Mr. Jellicorse spread the document, which was of moderate compass, and soon convinced himself that his work of the morning had been wholly thrown away. No title could be shown to Whitestone Farm, nor even to Scargate Hall itself, on the part of the present owners.
The appointment was by deed-poll, and strictly in accordance with the powers of the settlement. Duly executed and attested, clearly though clumsily expressed, and beyond all question genuine, it simply nullified (as concerned the better half of the property) the will which had cost Philip Yordas his life. For under this limitation Philip held a mere life-interest, his father and mother giving all men to know by those presents that they did thereby from and after the decease of their said son Philip grant limit and appoint &c. all and singular the said lands &c. to the heirs of his body lawfully begotten &c. &c. in tail general, with remainder over, and final remainder to the right heirs of the said Richard Yordas forever. From all which it followed that while Duncan Yordas, or child, or other descendant of his, remained in the land of the living, or even without that if he having learned it had been enabled to bar the entail and then sell or devise the lands away, the ladies in possession could show no title, except a possessory one, as yet unhallowed by the lapse of time.
Mr. Jellicorse was a very pleasant-looking man, also one who took a pleasant view of other men and things; but he could not help pulling a long and sad face as he thought of the puzzle before him. Duncan Yordas had not been heard of among his own hills and valleys since 1778, when he embarked for India. None of the family ever had cared to write or read long letters, their correspondence (if any) was short, without being sweet by any means. It might be a subject for prayer and hope that Duncan should be gone to a better world, without leaving hostages to fortune here; but sad it is to say that neither prayer nor hope produces any faith in the counsel who prepares "requisitions upon title."
On the other hand, inquiry as to Duncan's history since he left his native land would be a delicate and expensive work, and perhaps even dangerous, if he should hear of it, and inquire about the inquirers. For the last thing to be done from a legal point of view—though the first of all from a just one—was to apprise the rightful owner of his unexpected position. Now Mr. Jellicorse was a just man; but his justice was due to his clients first.
After a long brown-study he reaped his crop of meditation thus: "It is a ticklish job; and I will sleep three nights upon it."
The ladies of Scargate Hall were uneasy, although the weather was so fine, upon this day of early August, in the year now current. It was a remarkable fact, that in spite of the distance they slept asunder, which could not be less than five-and-thirty yards, both had been visited by a dream, which appeared to be quite the same dream until examined narrowly, and being examined, grew more surprising in its points of difference. They were much above paying any heed to dreams, though instructed by the patriarchs to do so; and they seemed to be quite getting over the effects, when the lesson and the punishment astonished them.
Lately it had been established (although many leading people went against it, and threatened to prosecute the man for trespass) that here in these quiet and reputable places, where no spy could be needed, a man should come twice every week with letters, and in the name of the king be paid for them. Such things were required in towns, perhaps, as corporations and gutters were; but to bring them where people could mind their own business, and charge them two groats for some fool who knew their names, was like putting a tax upon their christening. So it was the hope of many, as well as every one's belief, that the postman, being of Lancastrian race, would very soon be bogged, or famished, or get lost in a fog, or swept off by a flood, or go and break his own neck from a precipice.
The postman, however, was a wiry fellow, and as tough as any native, and he rode a pony even tougher than himself, whose cradle was a marsh, and whose mother a mountain, his first breath a fog, and his weaning meat wire-grass, and his form a combination of sole-leather and corundum. He wore no shoes for fear of not making sparks at night, to know the road by, and although his bit had been a blacksmith's rasp, he would yield to it only when it suited him. The postman, whose name was George King (which confounded him with King George, in the money to pay), carried a sword and blunderbuss, and would use them sooner than argue.
Now this man and horse had come slowly along, without meaning any mischief, to deliver a large sealed packet, with sixteen pence to pay put upon it, "to Mistress Philippa Yordas, etc., her own hands, and speed, speed, speed;" which they carried out duly by stop, stop, stop, whensoever they were hungry, or saw any thing to look at. None the less for that, though with certainty much later, they arrived in good trim, by the middle of the day, and ready for the comfort which they both deserved.
As yet it was not considered safe to trust any tidings of importance to the post in such a world as this was; and even were it safe, it would be bad manners from a man of business. Therefore Mr. Jellicorse had sealed up little, except his respectful consideration and request to be allowed to wait upon his honored clients, concerning a matter of great moment, upon the afternoon of Thursday then next ensuing. And the post had gone so far, to give good distance for the money, that the Thursday of the future came to be that very day.
The present century opened with a chilly and dark year, following three bad seasons of severity and scarcity. And in the northwest of Yorkshire, though the summer was now so far advanced, there had been very little sunshine. For the last day or two, the sun had labored to sweep up the mist and cloud, and was beginning to prevail so far that the mists drew their skirts up and retired into haze, while the clouds fell away to the ring of the sky, and there lay down to abide their time. Wherefore it happened that "Yordas House" (as the ancient building was in old time called) had a clearer view than usual of the valley, and the river that ran away, and the road that tried to run up to it. Now this was considered a wonderful road, and in fair truth it was wonderful, withstanding all efforts of even the Royal Mail pony to knock it to pieces. In its rapidity down hill it surpassed altogether the river, which galloped along by the side of it, and it stood out so boldly with stones of no shame that even by moonlight nobody could lose it, until it abruptly lost itself. But it never did that, until the house it came from was two miles away, and no other to be seen; and so why should it go any further?
At the head of this road stood the old gray house, facing toward the south of east, to claim whatever might come up the valley, sun, or storm, or columned fog. In the days of the past it had claimed much more—goods, and cattle, and tribute of the traffic going northward—as the loop-holed quadrangle for impounded stock, and the deeply embrasured tower, showed. At the back of the house rose a mountain spine, blocking out the westering sun, but cut with one deep portal where a pass ran into Westmoreland—the scaur-gate whence the house was named; and through this gate of mountain often, when the day was waning, a bar of slanting sunset entered, like a plume of golden dust, and hovered on a broad black patch of weather-beaten fir-trees. The day was waning now, and every steep ascent looked steeper, while down the valley light and shade made longer cast of shuttle, and the margin of the west began to glow with a deep wine-color, as the sun came down—the tinge of many mountains and the distant sea—until the sun himself settled quietly into it, and there grew richer and more ripe (as old bottled wine is fed by the crust), and bowed his rubicund farewell, through the postern of the scaur-gate, to the old Hall, and the valley, and the face of Mr. Jellicorse.
That gentleman's countenance did not, however, reply with its usual brightness to the mellow salute of evening. Wearied and shaken by the long, rough ride, and depressed by the heavy solitude, he hated and almost feared the task which every step brought nearer. As the house rose higher and higher against the red sky, and grew darker, and as the sullen roar of blood-hounds (terrors of the neighborhood) roused the slow echoes of the crags, the lawyer was almost fain to turn his horse's head, and face the risks of wandering over the moor by night. But the hoisting of a flag, the well-known token (confirmed by large letters on a rock) that strangers might safely approach, inasmuch as the savage dogs were kennelled—this, and the thought of such an entry for his day-book, kept Mr. Jellicorse from ignominious flight. He was in for it now, and must carry it through.
In a deep embayed window of leaded glass Mistress Yordas and her widowed sister sat for an hour, without many words, watching the zigzag of shale and rock which formed their chief communication with the peopled world. They did not care to improve their access, or increase their traffic; not through cold morosity, or even proud indifference, but because they had been so brought up, and so confirmed by circumstance. For the Yordas blood, however hot and wild and savage in the gentlemen, was generally calm and good, though steadfast, in the weaker vessels. For the main part, however, a family takes it character more from the sword than the spindle; and their sword hand had been like Esau's.
Little as they meddled with the doings of the world, of one thing at least these stately Madams—as the baffled squires of the Riding called them—were by no means heedless. They dressed themselves according to their rank, or perhaps above it. Many a nobleman's wife in Yorkshire had not such apparel; and even of those so richly gifted, few could have come up to the purpose better. Nobody, unless of their own sex, thought of their dresses when looking at them.
"He rides very badly," Philippa said; "the people from the lowlands always do. He may not have courage to go home tonight. But he ought to have thought of that before."
"Poor man! We must offer him a bed, of course," Mrs. Carnaby answered; "but he should have come earlier in the day. What shall we do with him, when he has done his business?"
"It is not our place to amuse our lawyer. He might go and smoke in the Justice-room, and then Welldrum could play bagatelle with him."
"Philippa, you forget that the Jellicorses are of a good old county stock. His wife is a stupid, pretentious thing; but we need not treat him as we must treat her. And it may be as well to make much of him, perhaps, if there really is any trouble coming."
"You are thinking of Pet. By-the-bye, are you certain that Pet can not get at Saracen? You know how he let him loose last Easter, when the flag was flying, and the poor man has been in his bed ever since."
"Jordas will see to that. He can be trusted to mind the dogs well, ever since you fined him in a fortnight's wages. That was an excellent thought of yours."
Jordas might have been called the keeper, or the hind, or the henchman, or the ranger, or the porter, or the bailiff, or the reeve, or some other of some fifty names of office, in a place of more civilization, so many and so various were his tasks. But here his professional name was the "dogman;" and he held that office according to an ancient custom of the Scargate race, whence also his surname (if such it were) arose. For of old time and in outlandish parts a finer humanity prevailed, and a richer practical wisdom upon certain questions. Irregular offsets of the stock, instead of being cast upon the world as waifs and strays, were allowed a place in the kitchen-garden or stable-yard, and flourished there without disgrace, while useful and obedient. Thus for generations here the legitimate son was Yordas, and took the house and manors; the illegitimate became Jordas, and took to the gate, and the minding of the dogs, and any other office of fidelity.
The present Jordas was, however, of less immediate kin to the owners, being only the son of a former Jordas, and in the enjoyment of a Christian name, which never was provided for a first-hand Jordas; and now as his mistress looked out on the terrace, his burly figure came duly forth, and his keen eyes ranged the walks and courts, in search of Master Lancelot, who gave him more trouble in a day, sometimes, than all the dogs cost in a twelvemonth. With a fine sense of mischief, this boy delighted to watch the road for visitors, and then (if barbarously denied his proper enjoyment and that of the dogs) he still had goodly devices of his own for producing little tragedies.
Mr. Jellicorse knew Jordas well, and felt some pity for him, because, if his grandmother had been wiser, he might have been the master now; and the lawyer, having much good feeling, liked not to make a groom of him. Jordas, however, knew his place, and touched his hat respectfully, then helped the solicitor to dismount, the which was sorely needed.
"You came not by the way of the ford, Sir?" the dogman asked, while considering the leathers. "The water is down; you might have saved three miles."
"Better lose thirty than my life. Will any of your men, Master Jordas, show me a room, where I may prepare to wait upon your ladies?"
Mr. Jellicorse walked through the old arched gate of the reever's court, and was shown to a room, where he unpacked his valise, and changed his riding clothes, and refreshed himself. A jug of Scargate ale was brought to him, and a bottle of foreign wine, with the cork drawn, lest he should hesitate; also a cold pie, bread and butter, and a small case-bottle of some liqueur. He was not hungry, for his wife had cared to victual him well for the journey; but for fear of offense he ate a morsel, found it good, and ate some more. Then after a sip or two of the liqueur, and a glance or two at his black silk stockings, buckled shoes, and best small-clothes, he felt himself fit to go before a duchess, as once upon a time he had actually done, and expressed himself very well indeed, according to the dialogue delivered whenever he told the story about it every day.
Welldrum, the butler, was waiting for him—a man who had his own ideas, and was going to be put upon by nobody. "If my father could only come to life for one minute, he would spend it in kicking that man," Mrs. Carnaby had exclaimed, about him, after carefully shutting the door; but he never showed airs before Miss Yordas.
"Come along, Sir," Welldrum said, after one professional glance at the tray, to ascertain his residue. "My ladies have been waiting this half hour; and for sure, Sir, you looks wonderful! This way, Sir, and have a care of them oak fagots. My ladies, Lawyer Jellicorse!"
The sun was well down and away behind the great fell at the back of the house, and the large and heavily furnished room was feebly lit by four wax candles, and the glow of the west reflected as a gleam into eastern windows. The lawyer was pleased to have it so, and to speak with a dimly lighted face. The ladies looked beautiful; that was all that Mr. Jellicorse could say, when cross-examined by his wife next day concerning their lace and velvet. Whether they wore lace or net was almost more than he could say, for he did not heed such trifles; but velvet was within his knowledge (though not the color or the shape), because he thought it hot for summer, until he remembered what the climate was. Really he could say nothing more, except that they looked beautiful; and when Mrs. Jellicorse jerked her head, he said that he only meant, of course, considering their time of life.
The ladies saw his admiration, and felt that it was but natural. Mrs. Carnaby came forward kindly, and offered him a nice warm hand; while the elder sister was content to bow, and thank him for coming, and hope that he was well. As yet it had not become proper for a gentleman, visiting ladies, to yawn, and throw himself into the nearest chair, and cross his legs, and dance one foot, and ask how much the toy-terrier cost. Mr. Jellicorse made a fine series of bows, not without a scrape or two, which showed his goodly calf; and after that he waited for the gracious invitation to sit down.
"If I understood your letter clearly," Mistress Yordas began, when these little rites were duly accomplished, "you have something important to tell us concerning our poor property here. A small property, Mr. Jellicorse, compared with that of the Duke of Lunedale, but perhaps a little longer in one family."
"The duke is a new-fangled interloper," replied hypocritical Jellicorse, though no other duke was the husband of the duchess of whom he indited daily; "properties of that sort come and go, and only tradesmen notice it. Your estates have been longer in the seisin of one family, madam, than any other in the Riding, or perhaps in Yorkshire."
"We never seized them!" cried Mrs. Carnaby, being sensitive as to ancestral thefts, through tales about cattle-lifting. "You must be aware that they came to us by grant from the Crown, or even before there was any Crown to grant them."
"I beg your pardon for using a technical word, without explaining it. Seisin is a legal word, which simply means possession, or rather the bodily holding of a thing, and is used especially of corporeal hereditaments. You ladies have seisin of this house and lands, although you never seized them."
"The last thing we would think of doing," answered Mrs. Carnaby, who was more impulsive than her sister, also less straightforward. "How often we have wished that our poor lost brother had not been deprived of them! But our father's will was sacred, and you told us we were helpless. We struggled, as you know; but we could do nothing."
"That is the question which brought me here," the lawyer said, very quietly, at the same time producing a small roll of parchment sealed in cartridge paper. "Last week I discovered a document which I am forced to submit to your judgment. Shall I read it to you, or tell its purport briefly?"
"Whatever it may be, it can not in any way alter our conclusions. Our conclusions have never varied, however deeply they may have grieved us. We were bound to do justice to our dear father."
"Certainly, madam; and you did it. Also, as I know, you did it as kindly as possible toward other relatives, and you only met with perversity. I had the honor of preparing your respected father's will, a model of clearness and precision, considering—considering the time afforded, and other disturbing influences. I know for a fact that a copy was laid before the finest draftsman in London, by—by those who were displeased with it, and his words were: 'Beautiful! beautiful! Every word of it holds water.' Now that, madam, can not be said of many; indeed, of not one in—"
"Pardon, me for interrupting you, but I have always understood you to speak highly of it. And in such a case, what can be the matter?"
"The matter of all matters, madam, is that the testator should have disposing power."
"He could dispose of his own property as he was disposed, you mean."
"You misapprehend me." Mr. Jellicorse now was in his element, for he loved to lecture—an absurdity just coming into vogue. "Indulge me one moment. I take this silver dish, for instance; it is in my hands, I have the use of it; but can I give it to either of you ladies?"
"Not very well, because it belongs to us already."
"You misapprehend me. I can not give it because it is not mine to give." Mrs. Carnaby looked puzzled.
"Eliza, allow me," said Mistress Yordas, in her stiffer manner, and now for the first time interfering. "Mr. Jellicorse assures us that his language is a model of clearness and precision; perhaps he will prove it by telling us now, in plain words, what his meaning is."
"What I mean, madam, is that your respected father could devise you a part only of this property, because the rest was not his to devise. He only had a life-interest in it."
"His will, therefore, fails as to some part of the property? How much, and what part, if you please?"
"The larger and better part of the estates, including this house and grounds, and the home-farm."
Mrs. Carnaby started and began to speak; but her sister moved only to stop her, and showed no signs of dismay or anger.
"For fear of putting too many questions at once," she said, with a slight bow and a smile, "let me beg you to explain, as shortly as possible, this very surprising matter."
Mr. Jellicorse watched her with some suspicion, because she called it so surprising, yet showed so little surprise herself. For a moment he thought that she must have heard of the document now in his hands; but he very soon saw that it could not be so. It was only the ancient Yordas pride, perversity, and stiffneckedness. And even Mrs. Carnaby, strengthened by the strength of her sister, managed to look as if nothing more than a tale of some tenant were pending. But this, or ten times this, availed not to deceive Mr. Jellicorse. That gentleman, having seen much of the world, whispered to himself that this was all "high jinks," felt himself placed on the stool of authority, and even ventured upon a pinch of snuff. This was unwise, and cost him dear, for the ladies would not have been true to their birth if they had not stored it against him.
He, however, with a friendly mind, and a tap now and then upon his document, to give emphasis to his story, recounted the whole of it, and set forth how much was come of it already, and how much it might lead to. To Scargate Hall, and the better part of the property always enjoyed therewith, Philippa Yordas and Eliza Carnaby had no claim whatever, except on the score of possession, until it could be shown that their brother Duncan was dead, without any heirs or assignment (which might have come to pass through a son adult), and even so, his widow might come forward and give trouble. Concerning all that, there was time enough to think; but something must be done at once to cancel the bargain with Sir Walter Carnaby, without letting his man of law get scent of the fatal defect in title. And now that the ladies knew all, what did they say?
In answer to this, the ladies were inclined to put the whole blame upon him, for not having managed matters better; and when he had shown that the whole of it was done before he had any thing to do with it, they were firmly convinced that he ought to have known it, and found a proper remedy. And in the finished manner of well-born ladies they gave him to know, without a strong expression, that such an atrocity was a black stain on every legal son of Satan, living, dead, or still to issue from Gerizim.
"That can not affect the title now—I assure you, madam, that it can not," the unfortunate lawyer exclaimed at last; "and as for damages, poor old Duncombe has left no representatives, even if an action would lie now, which is simply out of the question. On my part no neglect can be shown, and indeed for your knowledge of the present state of things, if humbly I may say so, you are wholly indebted to my zeal."
"Sir, I heartily wish," Mrs. Carnaby replied, "that your zeal had been exhausted on your own affairs."
"Eliza, Mr. Jellicorse has acted well, and we can not feel too much obliged to him." Miss Yordas, having humor of a sort, smiled faintly at the double meaning of her own words, which was not intended. "Whatever is right must be done, of course, according to the rule of our family. In such a case it appears to me that mere niceties of laws, and quips and quirks, are entirely subordinate to high sense of honor. The first consideration must be thoroughly unselfish and pure justice."
The lawyer looked at her with admiration. He was capable of large sentiments. And yet a faint shadow of disappointment lingered in the folios of his heart—there might have been such a very grand long suit, upon which his grandson (to be born next month) might have been enabled to settle for life, and bring up a legal family. Justice, however, was justice, and more noble than even such prospects. So he bowed his head, and took another pinch of snuff.
But Mrs. Carnaby (who had wept a little, in a place beyond the candle-light) came back with a passionate flush in her eyes, and a resolute bearing of her well-formed neck.
"Philippa, I am amazed at you," she said, "Mr. Jellicorse, my share is equal with my sister's, and more, because my son comes after me. Whatever she may do, I will never yield a pin's point of my rights, and leave my son a beggar. Philippa, would you make Pet a beggar? And his turtle in bed, before the sun is on the window, and his sturgeon jelly when he gets out of bed! There never was any one, by a good Providence, less sent into the world to be a beggar."
Mrs. Carnaby, having discharged her meaning, began to be overcome by it. She sat down, in fear of hysteria, but with her mind made up to stop it; while the gallant Jellicorse was swept away by her eloquence, mixed with professional views. But it came home to him, from experience with his wife, that the less he said the wiser. But while he moved about, and almost danced, in his strong desire to be useful, there was another who sat quite still, and meant to have the final say.
"From some confusion of ideas, I suppose, or possibly through my own fault," Philippa Yordas said, with less contempt in her voice than in her mind, "it seems that I can not make my meaning clear, even to my own sister. I said that we first must do the right, and scorn all legal subtleties. That we must maintain unselfish justice, and high sense of honor. Can there be any doubt what these dictate? What sort of daughters should we be if we basely betrayed our own father's will?"
"Excellent, madam," the lawyer said; "that view of the case never struck me. But there is a great deal in it."
"Oh, Philippa, how noble you are!" her sister Eliza cried; and cried no more, so far as tears go, for a long time afterward.
On the eastern coast of the same great county, at more than ninety miles of distance for a homing pigeon, and some hundred and twenty for a carriage from the Hall of Yordas, there was in those days, and there still may be found, a property of no vast size—snug, however, and of good repute—and called universally "Anerley Farm." How long it has borne that name it knows not, neither cares to moot the question; and there lives no antiquary of enough antiquity to decide it. A place of smiling hope, and comfort, and content with quietude; no memory of man about it runneth to the contrary; while every ox, and horse, and sheep, and fowl, and frisky porker, is full of warm domestic feeling and each homely virtue.
For this land, like a happy country, has escaped, for years and years, the affliction of much history. It has not felt the desolating tramp of lawyer or land-agent, nor been bombarded by fine and recovery, lease and release, bargain and sale, Doe and Roe and Geoffrey Styles, and the rest of the pitiless shower of slugs, ending with a charge of Demons. Blows, and blights, and plagues of that sort have not come to Anerley, nor any other drain of nurture to exhaust the green of meadow and the gold of harvest. Here stands the homestead, and here lies the meadow-land; there walk the kine (having no call to run), and yonder the wheat in the hollow of the hill, bowing to the silvery stroke of the wind, is touched with the promise of increasing gold.
As good as the cattle and the crops themselves are the people that live upon them; or at least, in a fair degree, they try to be so; though not of course so harmless, or faithful, or peaceful, or charitable. But still, in proportion, they may be called as good; and in fact they believe themselves much better. And this from no conceit of any sort, beyond what is indispensable; for nature not only enables but compels a man to look down upon his betters.
From generation to generation, man, and beast, and house, and land, have gone on in succession here, replacing, following, renewing, repairing and being repaired, demanding and getting more support, with such judicious give-and-take, and thoroughly good understanding, that now in the August of this year, when Scargate Hall is full of care, and afraid to cart a load of dung, Anerley farm is quite at ease, and in the very best of heart, man, and horse, and land, and crops, and the cock that crows the time of day. Nevertheless, no acre yet in Yorkshire, or in the whole wide world, has ever been so farmed or fenced as to exclude the step of change.
From father to son the good lands had passed, without even a will to disturb them, except at distant intervals; and the present owner was Stephen Anerley, a thrifty and well-to-do Yorkshire farmer of the olden type. Master Anerley was turned quite lately of his fifty-second year, and hopeful (if so pleased the Lord) to turn a good many more years yet, as a strong horse works his furrow. For he was strong and of a cheerful face, ruddy, square, and steadfast, built up also with firm body to a wholesome stature, and able to show the best man on the farm the way to swing a pitchfork. Yet might he be seen, upon every Lord's day, as clean as a new-shelled chestnut; neither at any time of the week was he dirtier than need be. Happy alike in the place of his birth, his lot in life, and the wisdom of the powers appointed over him, he looked up with a substantial faith, yet a solid reserve of judgment, to the Church, the Justices of the Peace, spiritual lords and temporal, and above all His Majesty George the Third. Without any reserve of judgmemt, which could not deal with such low subjects, he looked down upon every Dissenter, every pork-dealer, and every Frenchman. What he was brought up to, that he would abide by; and the sin beyond repentance, to his mind, was the sin of the turncoat.
With all these hard-set lines of thought, or of doctrine (the scabbard of thought, which saves its edge, and keeps it out of mischief), Stephen Anerley was not hard, or stern, or narrow-hearted. Kind, and gentle, and good to every one who knew "how to behave himself," and dealing to every man full justice—meted by his own measure—he was liable even to generous acts, after being severe and having his own way. But if any body ever got the better of him by lies, and not fair bettering, that man had wiser not begin to laugh inside the Riding. Stephen Anerley was slow but sure; not so very keen, perhaps, but grained with kerns of maxim'd thought, to meet his uses as they came, and to make a rogue uneasy. To move him from such thoughts was hard; but to move him from a spoken word had never been found possible.
The wife of this solid man was solid and well fitted to him. In early days, by her own account, she had possessed considerable elegance, and was not devoid of it even now, whenever she received a visitor capable of understanding it. But for home use that gift had been cut short, almost in the honey-moon, by a total want of appreciation on the part of her husband. And now, after five-and-twenty years of studying and entering into him, she had fairly earned his firm belief that she was the wisest of women. For she always agreed with him, when he wished it; and she knew exactly when to contradict him, and that was before he had said a thing at all, and while he was rolling it slowly in his mind, with a strong tendency against it. In out-door matters she never meddled, without being specially consulted by the master; but in-doors she governed with watchful eyes, a firm hand, and a quiet tongue.
This good woman now was five-and-forty years of age, vigorous, clean, and of a very pleasant look, with that richness of color which settles on fair women when the fugitive beauty of blushing is past. When the work of the morning was done, and the clock in the kitchen was only ten minutes from twelve, and the dinner was fit for the dishing, then Mistress Anerley remembered as a rule the necessity of looking to her own appearance. She went up stairs, with a quarter of an hour to spare, but not to squander, and she came down so neat that the farmer was obliged to be careful in helping the gravy. For she always sat next to him, as she had done before there came any children, and it seemed ever since to be the best place for her to manage their plates and their manners as well.
Alas! that the kindest and wisest of women have one (if not twenty) blind sides to them; and if any such weakness is pointed out, it is sure to have come from their father. Mistress Anerley's weakness was almost conspicuous to herself—she worshipped her eldest son, perhaps the least worshipful of the family.
Willie Anerley was a fine young fellow, two inches taller than his father, with delicate features, and curly black hair, and cheeks as bright as a maiden's. He had soft blue eyes, and a rich clear voice, with a melancholy way of saying things, as if he were above all this. And yet he looked not like a fool; neither was he one altogether, when he began to think of things. The worst of him was that he always wanted something new to go on with. He never could be idle; and yet he never worked to the end which crowns the task. In the early stage he would labor hard, be full of the greatness of his aim, and demand every body's interest, exciting, also, mighty hopes of what was safe to come of it. And even after that he sometimes carried on with patience; but he had not perseverance. Once or twice he had been on the very nick of accomplishing something, and had driven home his nail; but then he let it spring back without clinching. "Oh, any fool can do that!" he cried, and never stood to it, to do it again, or to see that it came not undone. In a word, he stuck to nothing, but swerved about, here, there, and every where.
His father, being of so different a cast, and knowing how often the wisest of men must do what any fool can do, was bitterly vexed at the flighty ways of Willie, and could do no more than hope, with a general contempt, that when the boy grew older he might be a wiser fool. But Willie's dear mother maintained, with great consistency, that such a perfect wonder could never be expected to do any thing not wonderful. To this the farmer used to listen with a grim, decorous smile; then grumbled, as soon as he was out of hearing, and fell to and did the little jobs himself.
Sore jealousy of Willie, perhaps, and keen sense of injustice, as well as high spirit and love of adventure, had driven the younger son, Jack, from home, and launched him on a sea-faring life. With a stick and a bundle he had departed from the ancestral fields and lanes, one summer morning about three years since, when the cows were lowing for the milk pail, and a royal cutter was cruising off the Head. For a twelvemonth nothing was heard of him, until there came a letter beginning, "Dear and respected parents," and ending, "Your affectionate and dutiful son, Jack." The body of the letter was of three lines only, occupied entirely with kind inquiries as to the welfare of every body, especially his pup, and his old pony, and dear sister Mary.
Mary Anerley, the only daughter and the youngest child, well deserved the best remembrance of the distant sailor, though Jack may have gone too far in declaring (as he did till he came to his love-time) that the world contained no other girl fit to hold a candle to her. No doubt it would have been hard to find a girl more true and loving, more modest and industrious; but hundreds and hundreds of better girls might be found perhaps even in Yorkshire.
For this maiden had a strong will of her own, which makes against absolute perfection; also she was troubled with a strenuous hate of injustice—which is sure, in this world, to find cause for an outbreak—and too active a desire to rush after what is right, instead of being well content to let it come occasionally. And so firm could she be, when her mind was set, that she would not take parables, or long experience, or even kindly laughter, as a power to move her from the thing she meant. Her mother, knowing better how the world goes on, promiscuously, and at leisure, and how the right point slides away when stronger forces come to bear, was very often vexed by the crotchets of the girl, and called her wayward, headstrong, and sometimes nothing milder than "a saucy miss."
This, however, was absurd, and Mary scarcely deigned to cry about it, but went to her father, as she always did when any weight lay on her mind. Nothing was said about any injustice, because that might lead to more of it, as well as be (from a proper point of view) most indecorous. Nevertheless, it was felt between them, when her pretty hair was shed upon his noble waistcoat, that they two were in the right, and cared very little who thought otherwise.
Now it was time to leave off this; for Mary (without heed almost of any but her mother) had turned into a full-grown damsel, comely, sweet, and graceful. She was tall enough never to look short, and short enough never to seem too tall, even when her best feelings were outraged; and nobody, looking at her face, could wish to do any thing but please her—so kind was the gaze of her deep blue eyes, so pleasant the frankness of her gentle forehead, so playful the readiness of rosy lips for a pretty answer or a lovely smile. But if any could be found so callous and morose as not to be charmed or nicely cheered by this, let him only take a longer look, not rudely, but simply in a spirit of polite inquiry; and then would he see, on the delicate rounding of each soft and dimpled cheek, a carmine hard to match on palette, morning sky, or flower bed.
Lovely people ought to be at home in lovely places; and though this can not be so always, as a general rule it is. At Anerley Farm the land was equal to the stock it had to bear, whether of trees, or corn, or cattle, hogs, or mushrooms, or mankind. The farm was not so large or rambling as to tire the mind or foot, yet wide enough and full of change—rich pasture, hazel copse, green valleys, fallows brown, and golden breast-lands pillowing into nooks of fern, clumps of shade for horse or heifer, and for rabbits sandy warren, furzy cleve for hare and partridge, not without a little mere for willows and for wild-ducks. And the whole of the land, with a general slope of liveliness and rejoicing, spread itself well to the sun, with a strong inclination toward the morning, to catch the cheery import of his voyage across the sea.
The pleasure of this situation was the more desirable because of all the parts above it being bleak and dreary. Round the shoulders of the upland, like the arch of a great arm-chair, ran a barren scraggy ridge, whereupon no tree could stand upright, no cow be certain of her own tail, and scarcely a crow breast the violent air by stooping ragged pinions, so furious was the rush of wind when any power awoke the clouds; or sometimes, when the air was jaded with continual conflict, a heavy settlement of brackish cloud lay upon a waste of chalky flint.
By dint of persevering work there are many changes for the better now, more shelter and more root-hold; but still it is a battle-ground of winds, which rarely change their habits, for this is the chump of the spine of the Wolds, which hulks up at last into Flamborough Head.
Flamborough Head, the furthest forefront of a bare and jagged coast, stretches boldly off to eastward—a strong and rugged barrier. Away to the north the land falls back, with coving bends, and some straight lines of precipice and shingle, to which the German Ocean sweeps, seldom free from sullen swell in the very best of weather. But to the southward of the Head a different spirit seems to move upon the face of every thing. For here is spread a peaceful bay, and plains of brighter sea more gently furrowed by the wind, and cliffs that have no cause to be so steep, and bathing-places, and scarcely freckled sands, where towns may lay their drain-pipes undisturbed. In short, to have rounded that headland from the north is as good as to turn the corner of a garden wall in March, and pass from a buffeted back, and bare shivers, to a sunny front of hope all as busy as a bee, with pears spurring forward into creamy buds of promise, peach-trees already in a flush of tasselled pink, and the green lobe of the apricot shedding the snowy bloom.
Below this point the gallant skipper of the British collier, slouching with a heavy load of grime for London, or waddling back in ballast to his native North, alike is delighted to discover storms ahead, and to cast his tarry anchor into soft gray calm. For here shall he find the good shelter of friends like-minded with himself, and of hospitable turn, having no cause to hurry any more than he has, all too wise to command their own ships; and here will they all jollify together while the sky holds a cloud or the locker a drop. Nothing here can shake their ships, except a violent east wind, against which they wet the other eye; lazy boats visit them with comfort and delight, while white waves are leaping, in the offing; they cherish their well-earned rest, and eat the lotus—or rather the onion—and drink ambrosial grog; they lean upon the bulwarks, and contemplate their shadows—the noblest possible employment for mankind—and lo! if they care to lift their eyes, in the south shines the quay of Bridlington, inland the long ridge of Priory stands high, and westward in a nook, if they level well a clear glass (after holding on the slope so many steamy ones), they may espy Anerley Farm, and sometimes Mary Anerley herself.
For she, when the ripple of the tide is fresh, and the glance of the summer morn glistening on the sands, also if a little rocky basin happens to be fit for shrimping, and only some sleepy ships at anchor in the distance look at her, fearless she—because all sailors are generally down at breakfast—tucks up her skirt and gayly runs upon the accustomed play-ground, with her pony left to wait for her. The pony is old, while she is young (although she was born before him), and now he belies his name, "Lord Keppel," by starting at every soft glimmer of the sea. Therefore now he is left to roam at his leisure above high-water mark, poking his nose into black dry weed, probing the winnow casts of yellow drift for oats, and snorting disappointment through a gritty dance of sand-hoppers.
Mary has brought him down the old "Dane's Dike" for society rather than service, and to strengthen his nerves with the dew of the salt, for the sake of her Jack who loved him. He may do as he likes, as he always does. If his conscience allows him to walk home, no one will think the less of him. Having very little conscience at his time of life (after so much contact with mankind), he considers convenience only. To go home would suit him very well, but his crib would be empty till his young mistress came; moreover, there is a little dog that plagues him when his door is open; and in spite of old age, it is something to be free, and in spite of all experience, to hope for something good. Therefore Lord Keppel is as faithful as the rocks; he lifts his long heavy head, and gazes wistfully at the anchored ships, and Mary is sure that the darling pines for his absent master.
But she, with the multitudinous tingle of youth, runs away rejoicing. The buoyant power and brilliance of the morning are upon her, and the air of the bright sea lifts and spreads her, like a pillowy skate's egg. The polish of the wet sand flickers like veneer of maple-wood at every quick touch of her dancing feet. Her dancing feet are as light as nature and high spirits made them, not only quit of spindle heels, but even free from shoes and socks left high and dry on the shingle. And lighter even than the dancing feet the merry heart is dancing, laughing at the shadows of its own delight; while the radiance of blue eyes springs like a fount of brighter heaven; and the sunny hair falls, flows, or floats, to provoke the wind for playmate.
Such a pretty sight was good to see for innocence and largeness. So the buoyancy of nature springs anew in those who have been weary, when they see her brisk power inspiring the young, who never stand still to think of her, but are up and away with her, where she will, at the breath of her subtle encouragement.
A DANE IN THE DIKE
Now, whether spy-glass had been used by any watchful mariner, or whether only blind chance willed it, sure it is that one fine morning Mary met with somebody. And this was the more remarkable, when people came to think of it, because it was only the night before that her mother had almost said as much.
"Ye munna gaw doon to t' sea be yersell," Mistress Anerley said to her daughter; "happen ye mought be one too many."
Master Anerley's wife had been at "boarding-school," as far south as Suffolk, and could speak the very best of Southern English (like her daughter Mary) upon polite occasion. But family cares and farm-house life had partly cured her of her education, and from troubles of distant speech she had returned to the ease of her native dialect.
"And if I go not to the sea by myself," asked Mary, with natural logic, "why, who is there now to go with me?" She was thinking of her sadly missed comrade, Jack.
"Happen some day, perhaps, one too many."
The maiden was almost too innocent to blush; but her father took her part as usual.
"The little lass sall gaw doon," he said, "wheniver sha likes." And so she went down the next morning.
A thousand years ago the Dane's Dike must have been a very grand intrenchment, and a thousand years ere that perhaps it was still grander; for learned men say that it is a British work, wrought out before the Danes had even learned to build a ship. Whatever, however, may be argued about that, the wise and the witless do agree about one thing—the stronghold inside it has been held by Danes, while severed by the Dike from inland parts; and these Danes made a good colony of their own, and left to their descendants distinct speech and manners, some traces of which are existing even now. The Dike, extending from the rough North Sea to the calmer waters of Bridlington Bay, is nothing more than a deep dry trench, skillfully following the hollows of the ground, and cutting off Flamborough Head and a solid cantle of high land from the rest of Yorkshire. The corner, so intercepted, used to be and is still called "Little Denmark;" and the in-dwellers feel a large contempt for all their outer neighbors. And this is sad, because Anerley Farm lies wholly outside of the Dike, which for a long crooked distance serves as its eastern boundary.
Upon the morning of the self-same day that saw Mr. Jellicorse set forth upon his return from Scargate Hall, armed with instructions to defy the devil, and to keep his discovery quiet—upon a lovely August morning of the first year of a new century, Mary Anerley, blithe and gay, came riding down the grassy hollow of this ancient Dane's Dike. This was her shortest way to the sea, and the tide would suit (if she could only catch it) for a take of shrimps, and perhaps even prawns, in time for her father's breakfast. And not to lose this, she arose right early, and rousing Lord Keppel, set forth for the spot where she kept her net covered with sea-weed. The sun, though up and brisk already upon sea and foreland, had not found time to rout the shadows skulking in the dingles. But even here, where sap of time had breached the turfy ramparts, the hover of the dew-mist passed away, and the steady light was unfolded.
For the season was early August still, with beautiful weather come at last; and the green world seemed to stand on tiptoe to make the extraordinary acquaintance of the sun. Humble plants which had long lain flat stood up with a sense of casting something off; and the damp heavy trunks which had trickled for a twelvemonth, or been only sponged with moss, were hailing the fresher light with keener lines and dove-colored tints upon their smoother boles. Then, conquering the barrier of the eastern land crest, rose the glorious sun himself, strewing before him trees and crags in long steep shadows down the hill. Then the sloping rays, through furze and brush-land, kindling the sparkles of the dew, descended to the brink of the Dike, and scorning to halt at petty obstacles, with a hundred golden hurdles bridged it wherever any opening was.
Under this luminous span, or through it where the crossing gullies ran, Mary Anerley rode at leisure, allowing her pony to choose his pace. That privilege he had long secured, in right of age, wisdom, and remarkable force of character. Considering his time of life, he looked well and sleek, and almost sprightly; and so, without any reservation, did his gentle and graceful rider. The maiden looked well in a place like that, as indeed in almost any place; but now she especially set off the color of things, and was set off by them. For instance, how could the silver of the dew-cloud, and golden weft of sunrise, playing through the dapples of a partly wooded glen, do better (in the matter of variety) than frame a pretty moving figure in a pink checked frock, with a skirt of russet murrey, and a bright brown hat? Not that the hat itself was bright, even under the kiss of sunshine, simply having seen already too much of the sun, but rather that its early lustre seemed to be revived by a sense of the happy position it was in; the clustering hair and the bright eyes beneath it answering the sunny dance of life and light. Many a handsomer face, no doubt, more perfect, grand, and lofty, received—at least if it was out of bed—the greeting of that morning sun; but scarcely any prettier one, or kinder, or more pleasant, so gentle without being weak, so good-tempered without looking void of all temper at all.
Suddenly the beauty of the time and place was broken by sharp angry sound. Bang! bang! came the roar of muskets fired from the shore at the mouth of the Dike, and echoing up the winding glen. At the first report the girl, though startled, was not greatly frightened; for the sound was common enough in the week when those most gallant volunteers entitled the "Yorkshire Invincibles" came down for their annual practice of skilled gunnery against the French. Their habit was to bring down a red cock, and tether him against a chalky cliff, and then vie with one another in shooting at him. The same cock had tested their skill for three summers, but failed hitherto to attest it, preferring to return in a hamper to his hens, with a story of moving adventures.
Mary had watched those Invincibles sometimes from a respectful distance, and therefore felt sure (when she began to think) that she had not them to thank for this little scare. For they always slept soundly in the first watch of the morning; and even supposing they had jumped up with nightmare, where was the jubilant crow of the cock? For the cock, being almost as invincible as they were, never could deny himself the glory of a crow when the bullet came into his neighborhood. He replied to every volley with an elevated comb, and a flapping of his wings, and a clarion peal, which rang along the foreshore ere the musket roar died out. But before the girl had time to ponder what it was, or wherefore, round the corner came somebody, running very swiftly.
In a moment Mary saw that this man had been shot at, and was making for his life away; and to give him every chance she jerked her pony aside, and called and beckoned; and without a word he flew to her. Words were beyond him, till his breath should come back, and he seemed to have no time to wait for that. He had outstripped the wind, and his own wind, by his speed.
"Poor man!" cried Mary Anerley, "what a hurry you are in! But I suppose you can not help it. Are they shooting at you?"
The runaway nodded, for he could not spare a breath, but was deeply inhaling for another start, and could not even bow without hinderance. But to show that he had manners, he took off his hat. Then he clapped it on his head and set off again.
"Come back!" cried the maid; "I can show you a place. I can hide you from your enemies forever."
The young fellow stopped. He was come to that pitch of exhaustion in which a man scarcely cares whether he is killed or dies. And his face showed not a sign of fear.
"Look! That little hole—up there—by the fern. Up at once, and this cloth over you!"
He snatched it, and was gone, like the darting lizard, up a little puckering side issue of the Dike, at the very same instant that three broad figures and a long one appeared at the lip of the mouth. The quick-witted girl rode on to meet them, to give the poor fugitive time to get into his hole and draw the brown skirt over him. The dazzle of the sun, pouring over the crest, made the hollow a twinkling obscurity; and the cloth was just in keeping with the dead stuff around. The three broad men, with heavy fusils cocked, came up from the sea mouth of the Dike, steadily panting, and running steadily with a long-enduring stride. Behind them a tall bony man with a cutlass was swinging it high in the air, and limping, and swearing with great velocity.
"Coast-riders," thought Mary, "and he a free-trader! Four against one is cowardice."
"Halt!" cried the tall man, while the rest were running past her; "halt! ground arms; never scare young ladies." Then he flourished his hat, with a grand bow to Mary. "Fair young Mistress Anerley, I fear we spoil your ride. But his Majesty's duty must be done. Hats off, fellows, at the name of your king! Mary, my dear, the most daring villain, the devil's own son, has just run up here—scarcely two minutes—you must have seen him. Wait a minute; tell no lies—excuse me, I mean fibs. Your father is the right sort. He hates those scoundrels. In the name of his Majesty, which way is he gone?"
"Was it—oh, was it a man, if you please? Captain Carroway, don't say so."
"A man? Is it likely that we shot at a woman? You are trifling. It will be the worse for you. Forgive me—but we are in such a hurry. Whoa! whoa! pony."
"You always used to be so polite, Sir, that you quite surprise me. And those guns look so dreadful! My father would be quite astonished to see me not even allowed to go down to the sea, but hurried back here, as if the French had landed."
"How can I help it, if your pony runs away so?" For Mary all this time had been cleverly contriving to increase and exaggerate her pony's fear, and so brought the gunners for a long way up the Dike, without giving them any time to spy at all about. She knew that this was wicked from a loyal point of view; not a bit the less she did it. "What a troublesome little horse it is!" she cried. "Oh, Captain Carroway, hold him just a moment. I will jump down, and then you can jump up, and ride after all his Majesty's enemies."
"The Lord forbid! He slews all out of gear, like a carronade with rotten lashings. If I boarded him, how could I get out of his way? No, no, my dear, brace him up sharp, and bear clear."
"But you wanted to know about some enemy, captain. An enemy as bad as my poor Lord Keppel?"
"Mary, my dear, the very biggest villain! A hundred golden guineas on his head, and half for you. Think of your father, my dear, and Sunday gowns. And you must have a young man by-and-by, you know—such a beautiful maid as you are. And you might get a leather purse, and give it to him. Mary, on your duty, now?"
"Captain, you drive me so, what can I say? I can not bear the thought of betraying any body."
"Of course not, Mary dear; nobody asks you. He must be half a mile off by this time. You could never hurt him now; and you can tell your father that you have done your duty to the king."
"Well, Captain Carroway, if you are quite sure that it is too late to catch him, I can tell you all about him. But remember your word about the fifty guineas."
"Every farthing, every farthing, Mary, whatever my wife may say to it. Quick! quick! Which way did he run, my dear?"
"He really did not seem to me to be running at all; he was too tired."
"To be sure, to be sure, a worn-out fox! We have been two hours after him; he could not run; no more can we. But which way did he go, I mean?"
"I will not say any thing for certain, Sir; even for fifty guineas. But he may have come up here—mind, I say not that he did—and if so, he might have set off again for Sewerby. Slowly, very slowly, because of being tired. But perhaps, after all, he was not the man you mean."
"Forward, double-quick! We are sure to have him!" shouted the lieutenant—for his true rank was that—flourishing his cutlass again, and setting off at a wonderful pace, considering his limp. "Five guineas every man Jack of you. Thank you, young mistress—most heartily thank you. Dead or alive, five guineas!"
With gun and sword in readiness, they all rushed off; but one of the party, named John Cadman, shook his head and looked back with great mistrust at Mary, having no better judgment of women than this, that he never could believe even his own wife. And he knew that it was mainly by the grace of womankind that so much contraband work was going on. Nevertheless, it was out of his power to act upon his own low opinions now.
The maiden, blushing deeply with the sense of her deceit, was informed by her guilty conscience of that nasty man's suspicions, and therefore gave a smack with her fern whip to Lord Keppel, impelling him to join, like a loyal little horse, the pursuit of his Majesty's enemies. But no sooner did she see all the men dispersed, and scouring the distance with trustful ardor, than she turned her pony's head toward the sea again, and rode back round the bend of the hollow. What would her mother say if she lost the murrey skirt, which had cost six shillings at Bridlington fair? And ten times that money might be lost much better than for her father to discover how she lost it. For Master Stephen Anerley was a straight-backed man, and took three weeks of training in the Land Defense Yeomanry, at periods not more than a year apart, so that many people called him "Captain" now; and the loss of his suppleness at knee and elbow had turned his mind largely to politics, making him stiffly patriotic, and especially hot against all free-traders putting bad bargains to his wife, at the cost of the king and his revenue. If the bargain were a good one, that was no concern of his.