Springhaven by R. D. Blackmore
Chapter L. 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.