He could never abide anything that competed with us in killing, whether it swam, flew or ran - fish, flesh; fowl or good red herring - and you, Stephen, you would have wept to see his barn door with hawks, falcon, owls, two ospreys and even an enormous great eagle with a white tail spread out wide, and weasels, stoats and the odd marten all nailed up - and he sold the otters' skins.
But that was when he was an active keeper and I was a boy; now he don't go out, and the vermin thrive. Though I can't say I notice much odds as far as the shooting is concerned. Ware riot, you vile bitch,' he cried, for Bess, roaming as they talked, had put up an explosive pheasant, well out of reach.
If she were younger, I should beat her. That, by the way, must have been one of Griffiths' birds, a ring-neck. Well, now, an inclosure usually starts with those who have most right in the common agreeing that it should be divided up into separate parts, into single freeholds proportionate to their rights. I do not mean all those concerned, but a good many. Then, with the blessing of the parson, the patron of the living, and as many of the gentlemen, yeomen and freeholders as are of their opinion or whom they can persuade, they appoint proper people to measure and chart everything.
When this is done they present a petition to the House, begging leave to bring in a private bill, so that parliament may authorize the sharing out - so that it may become law. After all, the country is run on those lines: the majority is always right, and those who do not like it may lump it - an expression I heard in the mouth of an officer leading a press-gang, when one of the captives expostulated with him. But in this case the majority is determined not by counting heads but by counting shares: that is to say the value of the holdings.
Griffiths, a fairly rich newcomer, has perhaps ten thousand pounds' worth. Harding and all his relations in the farms and cottages may have come by holdings worth two or three hundred in the last two or three hundred years. So what will their vote amount to? And then there are three or four other big men apart from Griffiths.
My own cousin Brampton, at Westport, longs to round out three of his farms, where the common runs deep into the estate. Well, now, when we were sweltering in the Gulf of Guinea, and while you, my poor Stephen, were not only sweltering but also turning as yellow as a guinea, they got together their precious petition, with a majority of shares supporting it - I need not tell you how easy it is for a man with a fair-sized estate to persuade cottagers who earn much of their living on that estate to put their signature or marks to a paper that takes away their share in a common - and after a long pause while it was being put into proper order and the bill drafted, Griffiths presented it to the House.
It was read twice in the usual gabble, no one paying the least attention, and it was referred to a committee, the parliamentary committee that I was telling you about. If that committee reports favourably the bill will be read a third time, almost certainly without debate, and passed as a matter of course and commissioners will come down and start the sharing out. But if I can prevent it, the committee will not report favourably. But he is not lord of the manor and I am.
So they still exist? The office or perhaps I should say the eminence I had heard of, but supposed it to belong to the distant past, when lords exercised the droit de seigneur with the utmost rigour, and the high justice and the low, with a private pair of gallows. I am amazed, amazed. He looked affectionately down, and in the simplest words explained the nature of his function. And this is where we have our football in the winter and cricket in the summer, as well as leaping and foot races.
In good years we field an eleven that can beat teams of fifteen and even seventeen from most of the nearby villages. Down there, a little south of east, do you see - no, to the left - there is the lane the fair people come up on the days before Old Lammas. Ten yards almost touching and then the hare, now out of range, jigged to the right, changed to her natural uphill pace and fairly raced away, a pleasure to behold, Jack hailooing after her, echoed by the shrill voice of the goose-girl, and Bess bounding like a cricket-ball, but with no effect, hopelessly outrun.
The hare vanished over the high bank. Bess returned, gasping, and soon after they reached the lane. Jack fired. The bird came down in a long swift glide, its wings still spread. In theory only the lord of the manor can shoot, though he can always give his friends a deputation. Jack said, 'This is the limit of the common.
Beyond the fence our south pasture begins, demesne land. You have only seen a small corner of Simmon's Lea - another day I hope to show you the mere and beyond - but it gives you an idea But I really meant an idea of what these unhappy commoners are signing away. You may say they do not value the beauty Harding does not see them, so long as it is villagers, and on a decent scale. Jack held the gate for her, calling out, 'Mrs Harris, how do you do? I will 38not stop, sir - I fairly dreaded that old gate - for the ass is so eternal sullen I should never get him to move again, if I let up to open it.
It is entirely a matter of scale and circumstance. Even at Brooks's, which is a hotbed of democracy, the place is in fact run by the managers and those that don't like it may either do the other thing or join Boodle's; while as for a man-of-war, it is either an autocracy or it is nothing, nothing at all - mere nonsense. You saw what happened to the poor French navy at the beginning of the Revolutionary War I know too much of the sea,' added Stephen, not without complacency. An inclosure belongs to this scale: it too decides men's lives. I had not realized how thoroughly it does so until I came back from sea and found that Griffiths and some of his friends had persuaded my father to join with them in inclosing Woolcombe Common: he was desperate for money at the time.
Woolcombe was never so glorious a place as Simmon's Lea, but I like it very well - surprising numbers of partridge and woodcock in the season - and when I saw it all cleared, flattened, drained, fenced and exploited to the last half-bushel of wheat, with many of the small encroachments ploughed up and the cottages destroyed, and the remaining commoners, with half of their living and all their joy quite gone, reduced to anxious cap-inhand casual labourers, it hurt my heart, Stephen, I do assure you. I was brought up rough when I was a little chap, after my mother's death, sometimes at the village school, sometimes running wild; and I knew these men intimately as boys, and now to see them at the mercy of landlords, farmers, and God help us parish officers for poor relief, hurts me so that I can scarcely bring myself to go there again.
And I am determined the same thing shall not happen to Simmon's Lea, if ever I can prevent it. The old ways had disadvantages, of course, but here - and I speak only of what I know - it was a human life, and the people knew its ways and customs through and through. He had rarely seen Jack so deeply moved and he said nothing for a furlong, when Jack cried, 'There he is!
There is your wariangle! Harding showed him to George only yesterday. I hoped we should see him. Some people call him a butcher-bird. He has horrible ways. But who are we to be prating? He followed Jack's gaze, cried, 'Oh, oh,' in an undertone, and then rather louder, 'Lalla, Lalla, acuisle. The goat stood staring from the shelter. They all walked slowly towards the house, Lalla keeping close to Stephen's side and looking into his face from time to time. She was one of a stud of Arabians that Diana had formed and then dispersed during one of Stephen's interminable absences at sea, and she was the only one he had been able to recover, the most affectionate and intelligent horse he had known.
I live at free quarters here of course, with a good deal in the way of victuals coming from the farm, while the Admiral pays a handsome rent, and his retinue looks after the garden. An admiral has a pretty numerous retinue, Stephen. She looked at him affectionately, and then suddenly away, right aft, her ears erect. It was her usual companion, the nameless goat, an unclaimed stray from some remote village, mincing delicately along behind them, distrustful of the men and the dog.
Lalla whinnied again, encouraging her, and they all walked along together, larks rising on either hand. In that case they are given an allotment in freehold. With a fair-sized common like this a man with two shares might get as much as say three quarters of an acre by his cottage. Yet three quarters of an acre will not keep a cow, half a dozen sheep and a small flock of geese, whereas the free range of a common will.
But an allotment as good as that is rare; quite often the land is in several pieces, sometimes far apart, and there may well be a provision in the act that each piece must be enclosed and sometimes drained. A poor man cannot afford it, so he sells his holding for five pounds or so, and then for the whole of his living he has to rely on wages, if he can get them - he is in the farmer's hands. I asked him to join us.
Naval History and Heritage Command
Ordinarily he and I spoke Latin, his English being as indifferent as my German, but now Liebig had to use Smith's language, and as he drank his horchata he told us that coming down the hill he met a ghost, a ghost with a beard. He was quite pale in the sun. A man was leading him with a string. Pale, bearded ghost: it must have been very rich indeed,' said Jack with relish. Not until I told him, afterwards; and then he was angry. Jack, I beg pardon. This is the end of my parenthesis. Pray go back to your inclosure; a sad subject, I am afraid.
There may be some good conscientious landowners who inclose, paying real attention to the commoners and making sure they are no worse off than they were - as far as that is possible. Men who appoint commissioners who have instructions not to take advantage of the cottagers' ignorance, their lack of papers justifying their ancestors' encroachments on the waste and the building of a cottage: men who do not put clauses in the bill insisting upon fencing, hedging, draining, paying part of the expense of the whole operation and that of fencing the tithe-owner's piece.
There may be some such men, but Griffiths and his friends are not of that nature. They want all they can get and be damned to the means; and what they and the bigger farmers hate is the possibility of the labourers growing saucy, as they call it, asking for higher wages - for a wage that keeps up with the price of corn - refusing to work if they do not get it, and falling back on what they can wring from the common.
No common, no sauciness. When at length they reached plough on the right hand and open pasture on the left Stephen said, 'One of the advantages of life at sea, for men of our condition, is freedom of speech. In the cabin or on the balcony behind, we can say what we wish, when we wish. And if you come to reflect, this is a very rare state of affairs in ordinary circumstances, by land. There are almost always reasons for discretion - servants, loved ones, visitors, innocent but receptive ears or the possibility of their presence.
In much the same way good sullen reading is rare in a house, unless one is blessed with an impregnable and sound-proof room of one's own: interruptions, restless unnecessary movements, doors opening and closing, apologies, even whisperings, God forbid, and meal-times. For the right deep swimming in a book, give me the sea: I read Josephus through between Freetown and the Fastnet rock last voyage: the howling of the mariners, the motion of the sea and the elements except perhaps in their utmost extremity are nothing, compared with domestic incursions. Since then, mere newspapers, gazettes, periodical publications, all light frothy fare apart from the Proceedings, have imperceptibly drunk the whole of my time and energy.
Now, Jack, pray tell me about this Admiral Lord Stranraer, whom you have mentioned so often. He is an agricultural sailor, like his nephew Griffiths: there are a good many of them, stuffed with high-farming theory, and sometimes owning large estates: but unlike Griffiths he is a pretty good seaman. A taut commander, with a rough side to his tongue. He is a little man, apt to bark and indeed to bite on occasion. The family name is Koop. He is a Whig, but a moderate Whig, voting sometimes against the ministry, but sometimes - and on important divisions with - which means that he is much courted.
Yet he is still enough of a Whig to dislike me for my father's sake. You may remember that before he took to Radical ways, my father was a passionate Tory, and at one election he flogged the man who stood for Hinton in the Whig interest. It made a great noise at the time. Yet on the other hand he does not object to Griffiths' way of always voting with Government on those rare occasions he attends the House: he is member for Carton, a pocket-borough like mine, though with even fewer electors.
The Admiral also dislikes me for taking parliamentary leave, which means a jobbing captain has to take my place; and he will dislike me even more, when he learns that I mean to upset this inclosure scheme, which he very strongly advised in the first place, coming down quite often and predicting vast capabilities for the common.
He is very much in favour of throwing farms together, doing away with the fifty or a hundred acre men entirely and having huge great places with good roads, modern buildings and prodigious yields - God knows how many bushels to the acre. There are men like you, who are devoted to celestial navigation and who favour others of their kind; and those who delight in surveying anything that can be surveyed however wet, remote and uncomfortable; but I believe this is the first time I have encountered a band of sea-going farmers.
I look forward to meeting the Admiral. Lord Keith was very good to me, for example, when I was young, and I will do anything I can for his mids or his officers' sons. It runs clean through the service, particularly with the old naval families, like the Herveys. The same applies to particular regions.
You find ships where the whole quarterdeck is Scotch, and many of the people. I knew one sioop whose captain hailed from the Isle of Man, and close on every hand had three legs. But as for the Admiral, you will see him soon enough: we must be aboard within the fortnight. I shall just have time to run up to the House for the committee meeting, deliver my thunderbolt, and then post down to Torbay, where Heneage Dundas will touch before the change of the moon, landing Jenkins -, 'Who him?
From them burst a little boy, George, closely pursued by a little girl, Brigid. And Cousin Diana is coming. Mama carries it in her hand itself, driving the great coach. We came through the shrubbery and then through the whins. Mother of God, I can hear them. Oh Papa dear, and may I go up on top with Padeen? George, whom she knew perfectly well, had heaved himself on to her back by halter and mane, with a hand from his father, and now Brigid, who had only met her yesterday, did much the same, but less skilfully.
Lalla gazed at her, standing firm until she was more or less seated, and then paced gently along. The lane marking the edge of the pasture came out on a much broader affair called the drift, along which all Woolhampton's cattle travelled to be marked and registered on the second Wednesday after Michaelmas: here stood the elegant coach with its four matching bays, the leader's head held by Padeen, Diana on the box. She is apt to lose her head with horses about, even geldings.
He has lost his bowsprit, foretopmast and I dare say a good many headrails. He is leaving Berenice at Dock and coaching up here with Philip and perhaps a couple of hands: they will reach us on Thursday, God willing. It was handsome to give so much notice. Lord Melville's son? I have met him. Was not his father in charge of the Navy? But now it is Heneage's elder brother who has succeeded and who is also First Lord.
I am going to stretch the horses for a couple of hours: they are in great need of exercise. We might go as far as Lyme. And George, if he would like it. He arrived shortly after the others while the drawing-room was still in something of a turmoil with introductions, enquiries after the journey, the health of friends, the likelihood of a French sortie from Brest most improbable , and Stephen noticed how well Sophie, a retiring provincial lady, coped with the situation - better, indeed, than Cholmondeley, a wealthy and obviously fashionable man.
He apologized profusely for this intrusion and protested that he should not stay five minutes; his only errand was to beg Mrs Maturin to keep his coach and horses for a while, if she could bear it. He then had the exceedingly awkward task of asking Jack whether he might see Woolcombe's head groom, to arrange for the feeding and the care of his cattle: this having been civilly but very firmly declined, he turned to his not inconsiderable social powers, cheerful, fairly amusing and not small enough to be mere prattle.
He and his friends had many acquaintances in common with Captain Dundas and Diana and news of them filled the dangerous gaps that threatened to appear before he stood up and with eloquent gratitude took his leave of Sophie and all the company - a particularly civil farewell to Dr Maturin. He had not in fact stayed long though it seemed longer and the men had little more than the impression of a wellbred man, a fairly agreeable rattle, something of a coxcomb; but it had been long enough for the ladies present to be convinced that he admired Diana extremely.
When he and his friends were gone the place seemed pleasantly empty and free. In this they were reasonably successful, in spite of the crises threatening Jack Aubrey's future. He and Dundas had a great deal of naval talk to exchange quite apart from the very highlydetailed account of how, in a dense fog off Prawle Point a lost and blundering East Indiaman had come smack across the Berenice's stem with her courses set and all the forces of the tide at three bells in the graveyard watch, shattering her head and bowsprit in the cruellest manner, so that Berenice's foretopmast came by the board and there was a butt sprung low beneath the starboard cathead - 'a perfect jet of water, like a God-damned Iceland geyser'.
Much of their talk, which was really not fit for mixed company because of its profoundly nautical character, was conducted as they walked over the common with guns or sat in hides either side of the mere, according to the direction of the wind; duck had grown more plentiful, mallard for the most part but also the occasional teal. They always invited Stephen for the dawn and evening fighting, but he rarely went: although he would eagerly shoot specimens and of course bring birds home for the pot when they were called for, he was not fond of killing; and since young Philip took care of Brigid and George entirely, he lapsed back into that contented solitude of an only child, going his own way, in silence, without reference to anyone at all.
It was a natural way of life and it suited him very well. Sometimes he went driving with Diana, but although he greatly admired her skill - the four bays were likely to be the best-drilled, best behaved, best-paced team in the county quite soon - her concentration on speed distressed him. Natterjacks were common in no part of the world - he had seen comparatively few - and now in one drive he had been swept past four.
Shrews were another of his present studies, and Diana could not be brought to like them very much, having learnt as a child that every time you touched or even saw a shrewmouse you aged a full year; and then, as everybody knew, they gave you the most excruciating rheumatism and made in-calf heifers abort. He had hoped to interest Brigid if not in shrews then at least in what flowers were still abroad and the more usual birds; but in this he was disappointed, since both children were wholly taken up with admiring Philip, Jack Aubrey's half-brother, the just legitimized son of the late General Aubrey by a dairy-maid at Woolcombe House, at present a long-legged midshipman in Captain Dundas' ship.
He was indeed a very likeable young fellow, freshfull of youth and good-nature, and he was very kind to the little creatures, showing them how to lay aloft in the coach-house with haywain ropes for shrouds, made fast to the topmast beams, whirling them to extraordinary heights on swings, teaching them the rudiments of fives, and carrying them to all manner of curious places in the attics bats by the hundred , cellars and elsewhere, for he had been born at Woolcombe and he knew the house and its even older buildings through and through.
Sometimes, if Philip would come too, they drove out with Diana, and on shopping days Sophie joined them, but only as far as the village, or Dorchester at the utmost. She was not a cowardly woman - fortitude and courage in plenty, on occasion - but she disliked driving fast; and childhood falls, hard-mouthed froward ponies and inept, sometimes cruel masters had made her reluctant to ride; and on the whole she disliked horses.
Clarissa was Diana's most usual companion, apart from the necessary groom and boy. Stephen took his disappointment philosophically. After all, he had himself reached nearly seven years of age before he paid really serious attention to voles; and shrews, in spite of the fine crimson teeth that some possessed, had certain unfortunate characteristics: not quite the best mammal to begin with.
There was time and to spare for shrews; and in any event Catalonia, where he hoped she would spend much of her time once peace was restored, was much, much richer in species. While as for botany, that would necessarily come with the return of spring. He therefore wandered alone, much as he had done when he was a boy, peering into the water-shrew's domain the streams on the common held scores and making a rough inventory of the resident birds: he also read a good deal in Woolcombe's noble but utterly neglected library, where a first folio Shakespeare stood next to Baker's Chronicle and a whole series of The Malefactor's Bloody Register mingled with Blackstone's Commentaries.
Yet some of his time he spent at the Hand and Racquet or the Aubrey Arms on the little triangular green, watching the slow, regular sequence of agricultural life and sipping a pot of audit ale. He was taken very much for granted, it being known that he was Captain Jack's surgeon, and people would sometimes come for a whispered consultation. They treated him kindly, as a person known to be on their side, like the Captain himself, and they did not conceal their opinions when he was there.
He was esteemed not only for his connexions and his pills, but for dividing his custom, trifling though it was, between these two houses and for avoiding the Goat and Compasses, a more pretentious place run by one of Griffiths' partisans; and although in each house he heard or was directly told quite different things the general burden was the same - intense opposition to the inclosures, hatred of Griffiths and his gamekeepers, who were represented as hired bullies, and of his new intruding tenants, settled on what had been Woolcombe Common, together with a great affection for Captain Aubrey, but a very anxious doubt about his ability to do anything to prevent the destruction of their whole way of life.
All this was confirmed by his slow perambulations of the common and the village with old Harding, who told him the exact nature and tenure of each small holding and cottage often merely customary, tolerated by indulgence long, long since, but with no formal, written grant together with its rights on the common. Neither Harding nor Stephen had sentimental, misty views of rural poverty: they both knew too much about the squalor, dirt, idleness, petty thieving, cruelty, frequent drunkenness and not uncommon incest that could occur to have any idyllic notion of a poor person's life in the country.
No, it ain't all beer and skittles but with the common a man is at least half his own man. And without the common he's the farmer's dog. That's why we are so main fond of Captain Jack. At all times they were kind and civil, but as the day for the committee's meeting in London came nearer, so they grew more articulate. This was particularly marked one day when Stephen was sitting outside the Hand and Racquet, sorting a handkerchief-full of mushrooms he had gathered.
He heard the greetings and blessings some way along Mill Street and before he saw Captain Aubrey and heard him say, 'Thankee, William; but where the Devil is my coxswain? Where is Bonden? Which one of Captain Dundas's men wanted to look at the pretty barmaid. Now he came out, together with Dundas' men, violently propelled by a hostile band, with Griffiths' head gamekeeper foremost. D'ye hear me, there? If you want a proper mill, have a proper mill, not a God-damned pothouse brawl.
Whenever you choose. Wednesday evening in the Dripping Pan, for a ten-pound purse, if your man will stand? Not another word, or I shall commit you for a breach of the peace. George was carrying not only the paper, as was his duty, but also the Woolcombe post-bag, as he explained when they came to the breakfast-room window. The gig had somehow run into Willet's slough, and they were puzzled to get it out.
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Oh please may we come in? We are so hungry and cold. There was nothing of that kind for him or for any of the women, but 53he did notice the black Admiralty wax on one of the covers he handed to Dundas. I do wish he would give me a decent ship: the Berenice is so old and frail she crumples like a paper nautilus. What is the point of having a brother First Lord, without he gives you a decent ship? After a while Jack said, 'So long as the Admiral don't summon me before Friday, when the committee sits, he may do as he damn well pleases: and give me a duck-punt for a tender, too.
After breakfast Stephen went to see Bonden in his quarters over the coach-house. He was sitting with his hands in a basin and he explained that he was pickling his fists against Wednesday's fight. And barber's styptic, of course. And then you have to find a right place, meadow or heath, where there is plenty of room and no busy-body magistrate likely to come down on you for unlawful assembly or breach of the peace.
With all that settled you either mark out a ring with posts and ropes or you leave it to the members of the fancy: they link their arms and stand in a circle. I prefer the ring myself, because if you are knocked down or flung down under the feet of the other man's friends you may get a very ugly kick, or worse. But no gouging, kicking or biting is allowed, nor no hitting beneath the belt or striking a man when he is down.
To be sure, that still leaves a good deal of room for rum capers, such as getting your man's head in chancery, as we call it - pinned under your left arm - and hammering away with the other fist till he can neither see nor stand. Another great thing is grappling close and then throwing your man down with a trip and falling whop on to him as hard as ever you can, accidentallydone-apurpose, if you understand me, sir.
Oh, and I was forgetting. Another of the capers used to be to catch your man by the hair and batter him something cruel with his head held down: which was reckoned fair. That is why most bruisers are cropped short nowadays and I shall tie my pigtail up uncommon tight in a bandage. Which Killick will make it right fast again after every round. I do not like to think of that fellow seizing you by the queue and whirling you about to your destruction. A ten-year tail that I can sit on, without a lie?
And then think of that cove in the Bible, and his bad luck when he was cropped. Oh sir. But tell me, how does it all begin? They are to fight for a prize of - whatever it is - and may the best man win. Is the contest set to last for a certain period - for so many glasses, as it were? It only comes to an end when one cannot come up to the scratch after a round, whatever his second may do to revive him, either because he is dead, which sometimes happens, or because he is too stunned and mazed to stand, or because an arm is broke, and that happens too, or because he don't choose to be punished any longer.
A round is when one man is knocked down, or thrown down, or flings himself down in missing his blow - I mean that is the end of the round, and it may have lasted a great while or only a minute. Then they must go back to their corners and come up to the scratch when the time-keeper calls time. But tell me, what is the usual length of a bout? But being it is your honour, I will answer that three or four rounds or say a quarter of an hour is usually enough for young fellows new to the game, fellows with some pluck but with little wind and no science; but with right bruisers, fighting for a handsome prize or from a grudge against the other cove or both, right game bruisers, with plenty of bottom, it can last a great while.
Even in just Navy fighting, I saw Jack Thorold of the Lion and Will Summers of the old Repulse knock one another about for forty-three rounds in just over an hour; and talking of myself, it took me sixty-eight rounds and an hour and twenty-six minutes to beat Jo Thwaites for who should be champion of the Mediterranean.
I had supposed it was a five or ten minutes affair, like a bout with the small-sword. Gully fought the Game Chicken for two hours and twenty minutes - the sixth round alone lasted a quarter of an hour - and Jem Beicher and Dutch Sam went on near as long before their seconds agreed to call it a draw. Both men were still game, but they could barely stand, neither could see, and their mothers would not have recognized them. Come quick! George is bleeding terribly. You only tapped his claret. It is all over now. I have mopped him up and put his shirt to soak - always remember, my dear, cold water is the only thing for blood - and he is eating sillabub in the kitchen.
If you run very fast, you may get some too. Stephen, my dear, Jack is in a great rage. He has been waiting almost five minutes to take you to see the mere. I was coming to fetch you. He wheeled his horse on catching sight of them emerging from the bushes. You could run up from Ushant in a day.. However, I hear there is to be a fight between your coxswain and my head-keeper on Wednesday. Shall you be there? Shall you attend? I dare say you know best. But' - turning his horse again - 'faint heart never won fair lady, they say.
I cannot tell you how faint mine is at present, when I consider: one unlucky fall on the part of one single unhappy horse, a postchaise losing a wheel, a friend being out of the way, and my ride to London gets me there after the fair - I do not get there for Friday's committee. I am keeping very quiet today, so as to ride with a clear mind and a firm, untroubled hand.
I have not even been to look at the Dripping Pan. I have kept perfectly calm. Yet I don't know how it is Hell and death, that's not it. But anyhow the heart has its reasons, you understand. Tell me, Stephen, did you think there was anything odd about the way that fellow talked? If I do not mistake, the relations between you and Captain Griffiths hardly warrant his riding out to ask you for news?
The barest civilities, that is all. No invitations on either side, ever since I came home and said I was dead against their scheme of inclosure and should not sign but should heartily oppose their petition. I mean, as far as you are concerned? I hardly knew him before the Bellona was sent to join his command. But as I told you, he was perfectly ready to dislike me from the start, as a Tory, as a naval member of Parliament, and as my father's son. They would have to spend a very considerable amount in hedging, ditching, draining and above all clearing, but some of the common, farmed by men with capital, would make famous wheat and root land; and with canals cut through the wet, low-lying waste it would be capital pasture in a few years' time.
Eventually I believe the whole operation would pay the promoters hands down. They would make a great deal. And above all, country inhabited by a few big tenant-farmers anxious about their leases and by a crowd of respectful villagers who have to do what they are told and accept what they are given or go on the parish. A man in that position is as much of an autocrat as the captain of a man-ofwar without the loneliness, the responsibility, the violence of the enemy and the dangers of the sea.
Then again there is the pleasure of having your own way against opposition. And it is but fair to add that they think, or have been persuaded to think, that it is all for the country's good. I know very little of him. His reputation in the service is that of a good seaman and a strict disciplinarian, but I do not think he is much liked. He has had little opportunity of showing his courage, yet as far as I know it has never been doubted. Before the recent springtide of prize-money that came to him as a flag-officer - you know, Stephen, do you not, that even now, after Mulgrave's reforms, an admiral still pockets a third of his captains' prize-money, though he may be sitting in port a thousand miles away from the battle?
So if he has several lucky, active, enterprising frigate-captains under his orders he can very soon grow rich. Yet you may see it in a different light when you hoist your flag. From the cut of his not very attractive jib, I should never have 'said he was a man to do good that evil might come of it; yet to tell you the truth, Stephen, the older I get, the less I trust in my own judgment. I have been wrong so often. He stood tall and straight, a hand behind one much-battered ear.
I will go myself. Stephen and Heneage are grown so prodigious impatient I can no longer restrain them - it is not consonant with my duty as a host to restrain them. They say it would be disrespectful to the noble art not to see the first exchange; and anyhow the Doctor should be there to revive either of the dead. If I do not get this winestain out directly, it will never go: and then I can darn a stocking with a clear conscience. A splendid old gentleman: so very kind.
Yet even so he and an equally ancient friend from Indian days drove close on forty miles to see a fight between two well-known bruisers, Ikey Pig and Dumb Burke. They came back as merry as grigs, and almost speechless with shouting. Let alone Master Philip's, who fancies a roly-poly today.
Even poor old Harding has crept off, bunions and all, agog to see this horrible murdering-match. That gamekeeper fellow, Black Evans as they call him, served, out our poor Hetty's William so cruel over some paltry rabbits that he has never been the same man since; and his wife says he never will be. They say the Beelzebub creature was fit to be matched with Tom Cribb himself but he was barred for fighting foul and gouging out the other party's eye.
Right eye. Henry, the blacksmith's young man, had a turn-up with him, oh dear me Sophie picked up her stocking and presently the thread of her discourse. But when I think of the distance Jack has to go this very night and all tomorrow Oh, how I wish it were over. Clarissa was a clever needle-woman, intent on her work; and her past was of such a nature that rather free or even licentious words made no impression on her at all. Anyway, it will not take anything like as long as that. I remember Captain Bettesworth telling me that when he had the Curieux, carrying dispatches, he anchored at Plymouth on the morning of July 7 and reached the Admiralty at eleven on the night of the eighth.
And Plymouth is nearly eighty miles west of us. Do not grieve about Jack, my dear. On a turnpike road you can do wonders in a post-chaise nowadays. A post-chaise A tall young man in naval uniform leapt out, a letter in his hand. The Ringle. And this squalid old yellow dress. Pray keep him in conversation for five minutes, and I will be down looking more or less like a Christian. I will deal with him there in the courtyard. A fine double-reef south-wester, so it was,' said the young man, his large simple face not unlike a ham beaming up at her as she stood there at the top of the steps.
The Yellow Admiral (Aubrey–Maturin series 18)
But I have brought orders for Captain Aubrey' - holding up the packet '- and brought them as swift as a bird. This is the first time I have ever been in a four-horse chaise. Captain Jenkins insisted so that Ringle might just catch her tide; there is precious little time to go. She is waiting at single anchor in West Bay. Forgive me if I seem inhospitable, but I really think you ought to hurry straight back to West Bay so that the tender may rejoin the ship at once, without missing this selfsame tide.
There is not a moment to lose. Mr Callaghan, my best compliments to Captain Jenkins, if you please. You know he is at the Dripping Pan. It would have broken his heart to miss this committee meeting and lose the common. There is a whole tribe of gypsies; and both the Aubrey Arms and the Goat have been wheeling barrels of beer out there since early dawn.
I shall put on ankle-boots and an old tippet. As far as I have seen, apart from mere brute strength they are no more formidable than we are. Less so, indeed, since most have that dogdoes-not-bite-bitch rule deeply engrained, while nothing of that kind applies to us. The referee, a knowing publican from Bridport and a former pugilist, called the men to the middle of the roped-off square: they were both stripped to close-fitting knee-length linen drawers and to pumps, and they stood on either side of him, Bonden still tanned from his seafaring and slightly taller than the other, his pigtail turned tight about his head the bandage had been disallowed, as too much like a protection , Evans broader, heavier, his flesh corpse-pale except where it was covered by a great mat of black hair.
Neither had had much time to train, but both were in reasonable shape - big, powerful men. The referee named them to cheers from either side, and having spoken the ritual words in a hoarse shout he dismissed each to his corner, scratched a mark on the green level turf, retired beyond the ropes and called, 'Now start the mill, gents; and may the best man win. There was no motion towards shaking hands. They eyed one another intently for a moment, with a few slight feints of head and stance, and at exactly the same moment exchanged a series of heavy blows to head and body, most warded off on either side, and then closed, each trying the other's weight and strength.
He was indeed - a deadly throw - but unsuccessfully, for with a sudden twist and heave Bonden flung Evans forward, flat on his face. Fall heavy. Kick him in the balls,' bellowed the Woolcombe House supporters on either side of Jack and far up the hill behind him; but Bonden only nodded and smiled, and walked back to his corner, where he sat on his bottle-holder's knee - Tom Farley, a former shipmate, who had come with Captain Dundas - while his second, Preserved Killick, sponged the blood from his face: an unimportant glancing blow that had nevertheless opened his eyebrow.
He was breathing rather quick, but he looked cheerful and composed and when the umpire called time he sprang up as lively as his friends could wish, met Evans at the scratch and instantly struck him over his guard, left and right to forehead and ear, blows that were borne with apparent indifference though they staggered him and drew a surprising flow of blood. Once again Evans closed and once again there was a long obscure struggle for mastery until Bonden, breaking away at last, leapt back and then sprang forward, leading with his left at full stretch - a punch that would have ended the match had it gone home.
But surprisingly fast for so heavy a man, Evans shifted six inches to the left and Bonden, slipping on the green grass, came down, to hoots of derision from the far side of the Dripping Pan, where the keeper's friends and Captain Griffiths' more subservient tenants sat with the hereditary opponents of Woolcombe, the men who lived in the villages of Holt, Woolcombe Major and Steeple Munstead. It was not until the third and above all the fourth and fifth round that Stephen began to see that much more than mere brute strength was involved, very much more.
Both men had been hit and hurt; their blood was up; each had taken the other's measure; and although Bonden moved quicker and had more science, Evans's blows, above all his body blows, were heavier by far. At one point they stood toe to toe in the middle of the ring, hammering one another with extraordinary rapidity and force, but he perceived that almost all the blows he could follow were diverted by the guard: indeed, in spite of the apparent confusion of arms and fists the whole was not unlike a fencing-match with its almost instant anticipation of attack, recoil, parry and lightning counter-strokes.
He sat there, watching them circle, manoeuvre, come in with a storm of blows, close and strive locked together, or break apart for a fresh attack: he watched them under the clear light of a high, veiled sky, fighting there to the roar of the opposing sides - they might have been in the arena of a small provincial Roman town - and he too was as tense as any as he urged his old friend and shipmate to go in and win, shouting for him in a voice he could barely hear for the huge din on either side.
Two long rounds close on ten minutes each, and the next, all ended in a knock-down blow, the first two in Bonden's favour; but neither was a genuine stunner, though Evans's bottle-holder had to help him back to his corner after the second. To the shrieks and yells of Foul the two umpires looked at one another and at the referee, who agreed with one of them that the match should go on, though he shook his head as he said so.
Killick and Fancy brought Bonden back to his corner, revived him as well as they could, and when time was called he came up to the scratch quite briskly. By this point both men were much marked: Evans's face and ears were mostly blood and his left eye was nearly closed; but Bonden, though showing less, had been severely punished during the in-fighting and from his attitude and breathing Stephen thought that two or three ribs might be sprung.
During this slow, laborious, grunting dance the blood from his open forehead blurred Bonden's sight and he let himself be manoeuvred to the far side, almost on the ropes of a neutral corner, where Evans's bulk hid him from the umpires and the referees. Here he felt a sudden change in the tension of the clasping arms, a different grunt, and the wicked knee came furious up between his legs. He shot back before it reached its mark, leaving Evans with dangling hands, and hit him two terrible blows, somewhat short since he was on the ropes, but full in the unguarded face.
He felt the teeth go, heard an animal shriek of pain and rage and he was heaved back against the ropes by a great hairy sweating weight.
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In the brutish grapple his head was thrust under the top rope; the lashing of his hair parted and as he forced his way back into the ring to end the fight Evans seized his pigtail in both hands and with his last remaining strength hurled him against the corner post, himself falling as he did so. In the silence that followed the enormous din the seconds carried their men away: but whereas Evans's friends could just prop him, staggering, half-conscious, half-blind to the mark when time was called, Killick and Farley could not.
Bonden lay flat on his back, his face to the placid sky; and Stephen, kneeling over him, said, 'Do not fear, Jack. There is a concussion, sure, but there is no fracture. The coma may last some hours or even days, but then, with the blessing you will have your coxswain again. Killick, now, will you find a hurdle?
We must carry him home and put him in the dark. But Killick and a shepherd had brought the hurdle, and the sad little train walked off towards Woolcombe House, disregarding the battle. Profiting from the hurdle-bearers' necessary slowness he hurried forward: Clarissa had a total confidence in him and told him exactly what was afoot, taking no more than ten words to do so.
She nodded and he rejoined the party. Please give my dear love to Sophie and tell her I am very sorry if the blunder was my fault, as I dare say it was. It had to be taken on the half-volley. Bless them I would not have missed that committee for the world, and as for the blockade during three or four days, why at this stage of the war, my withers are unwrung' A pause 'Yet I do wish to God I were going up without this damned unlucky omen. It really does cast a prodigious damp on a man's spirit. The keeper was dead beat: there was not another round in him.
And even if he had come up to the mark Bonden only had to give him a shove to floor him for good. He therefore came to a halt, said, 'Fare thee well, dear Jack, and may all the luck in the world go with thee. I must follow my patient. God bless, now. Do you suppose they meant to nobble me? I beg pardon. It is a cant word I first heard when I was breeding horses at Ashgrove: the riff-raff hanging about racing-stables and Newmarket and so on use it to mean interfering with a horse so he don't run well, and you can safely bet on him losing.
There was a nobbler called Dawson hanged for it not long since. What I should have said was: do you think Griffiths and his uncle, our commanding officer, worked out this order to rejoin so as to prevent me from attending the committee? It was a foolish question. But I hope you will see him on Sunday. I mean to come back on Friday, post down to Torbay on Saturday, and there we are sure to find some vessel belonging to the squadron that will carry us out, perhaps by Sunday.
They always put in to Torbay, you know. There they waited at the King's Head and Eight Bells, and while the smith was blowing up his forge Jack sat in the bar, where he called for a pot of ale. The petition for inclosure was rejected both for inadequate majority and above all for the lord of the manor's direct and firmlystated opposition. So the common is safe and we can go on in the way we are used to. That will wipe Black Whiskers' eye: the lads went through his pheasant coverts the night after that dirty God-damned match, and I dare say that when they hear of this they will stir up his deer.
Oh, sir, may I tell Tom, my sister Hawkins's son? She will be so relieved. She was cruel anxious - worn thin and pale - not a scrap of paper to show the place is theirs, though there are Hawkinses in the churchyard by the score. Get on your nag and tell your mam she's safe at last. The Captain did the buggers in the eye. And when it reached Woolcombe House, there was his entire family, the entire household, arranged on the broad steps, like the tableau closing a Drury Lane play with a happy ending, except that no legitimate theatre would ever have countenanced so squalid a pair of children as Brigid and George - the little girl had inherited her parents' fearless attitude towards horses and she had been showing her cousin how to muck out the stable in which the splendid borrowed team spent what time they could spare from carrying Mrs Maturin about the countryside.
Having kissed the women all round Jack shook Bonden's bandaged hand and in a low voice fit for one so battered he said, 'Well, Bonden, I hope I see you tolerably comfortable? I scarcely thought to find you on your feet so soon, after that cruel foul play. Nor was Sophie's production of the orders to rejoin his ship 'which came after you had left,' as she put it, blushing as she did so. Yet bridled as his words were obliged to be, Jack spoke pretty freely, and with growing relish. The orders he dismissed with, 'Yes, my dear, I heard about them.
I shall post down to Torbay with Stephen tomorrow, if he can manage it, or the day after. There's glory for you! I have always wanted to drive a coach and six on an English turnpike. And once or twice in Ireland - Ned Taaffe's machine,' she added, nodding to Stephen. First, as you know, Captain Griffiths is a newcomer in these parts. He has no great acquaintance in the neighbourhood; he does not know the connexions between the older families or the longstanding friendships, intermarriages and so on, and both he and the parliamentary lawyer he employed were unaware of the fact that Harry Turnbull is my cousin - indeed, my cousin twice over, since he married Lucy Brett.
And then he is not a member of any decent club and he don't know the importance of that connexion either.
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And he told me there were some other Blackses on the committee as well as Cousin Harry. Just as well, thought I, for Harry was in a horrid rage, having lost more money than he cared for to Colonel Waley - was barely civil would not lend me a shirt - should be damned if he would lend me a shirt - scarcely had a shirt to his name - barely a single shirt to his back.
You know how cross Harry Turnbull can be: he must have fought more often than any man in the country - a very dangerous shot and very apt to take offence. So when I walked into the committee-room and saw him still looking furious and contrary and bloody-minded, I felt quite uneasy: and though smiles from Crawshay and two other Blackses comforted me a little I did not really have much hope until the lawyer started proceedings.
His low soapy tone did not suit Harry, who kept telling him to speak up, to speak like a Christian for God's sake, and not mumble. When he was young, people never mumbled, he said: you could hear every word. If anyone had mumbled, he would have been kicked out of the room. Then came the petition itself: it was handed to the chairman - Harry, of course - and he began to read out the names of the petitioners and their station: Griffiths, some of his friends, some of the richer farmers. Then he cried, "But where's the parson?
Where's the patron? And where's the lord of the manor? The same person, I suppose. Why is his name not here? I stood up and said, "I am the patron of the living, sir, and the lord of the manor. My name is not there because I am very strongly opposed to the inclosure and to the petition. You have the effrontery to present this with just the barest majority by value, when you know perfectly well that three quarters or four fifths is the usual figure. And to make things worse, far, far worse, you do so against the will of the lord of the manor, your natural superior.
I have never heard of such a thing. I wonder at it, sir. I wonder at it. Their mutual hostility had kept them away from it to begin with, but intense curiosity and the useful formula 'We might either of us be sent for' had brought them to a truce and their ears were very close to the wood at this very point, when Mrs Pearce thrust indignantly between them and burst into the room. Worst of all, in the spring of , peace breaks out, and this feeds into Jack's private fears for his career. Fortunately, Jack is not left to his own devices. Stephen Maturin returns from a mission in France with the news that the Chileans, to secure their independence, require a navy, and the service of English officers.
Jack is savoring this apparent reprieve for his career, as well as Sophie's forgiveness, when he receives an urgent dispatch ordering him to Gibraltar: Napoleon has escaped from Elba. It was, unfortunately, like tripping on heroin. Wilson, Boston Globe. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin always remind me a bit of Mick and me.