Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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It was a Tuesday evening when Cradock Nowell and Amy Rosedew signed and sealed, with the moon?s approval, their bond to one another. On the following day, Dr. Hutton and wife were to dine at Kettledrum Hall; and the distance being considerable, and the roads so shockingly bad – “even dangerous, I am told, to gentlemen who have dined with me, sir,” said Kettledrum, in his proudest manner – they had accepted his offer, and that of Mrs. Kettledrum, which she herself came over to make, that they should not think of returning until after breakfast on Thursday. In consequence of her husband?s hints, Rosa felt the keenest interest in “that Mrs. Kettledrum. Leave her to me, dear Rufus. You need not be afraid, indeed. Trust me to get to the bottom of it.” And so she exerted her probing skill upon her to the uttermost, more even than ladies usually do, when they first meet one another. Of course, there was no appearance of it, nothing so ill–bred as that; it was all the sweetest refinement, and the kindest neighbourly interest. They even became affectionate in the course of half an hour, and mutual confidence proved how strangely their tastes were in unison. Nevertheless, each said good–bye with a firm conviction that she had outwitted the other. “Poor thing, she was so stupid. What a bungler, to be sure! And to think I could not see through her!”
But the return–match between these ladies, which was to have come off at Kettledrum Hall – where, by–the–by, there appeared a far greater performer than either of them – this interesting display of skill was deferred for the present; inasmuch as Rosa was taken ill during the mysteries of her toilet. It was nothing more serious, however, than the “flying spasms,” as she always called them, to which she had long been subject, and which (as she often told her husband) induced her to marry a doctor.
Rufus administered essence of peppermint, and then a dose of magnesia; but he would not hear of her coming with him, and he wanted to stop at home with her, and see that she sat by the fire. She in turn would have her way, and insisted that Rue should go, “for he had made himself such a very smart boy, that she was really quite proud of him, and they would all be so disappointed, and he was taller than Mr. Kettledrum, she felt quite sure he was.” The bearing of that last argument I do not quite perceive, but dare not say that she erred therein, and to Rue it was quite conclusive. So Ralph Mohorn was sent for, the pony–carriage countermanded, and Rufus set forth upon Polly, whose oats were now restricted.
Kettledrum Hall stood forth on a rise, and made the very most of itself. Expansive, and free, and obtrusively honest, it seemed to strike itself on the breast (as its master did) with both gables. A parochial assessment committee, or a surveyor for the property–tax, would have stuck on something considerable, if they had only seen the outside of it.Look at the balustrade that went (for it was too heavy to run) all along the front of it, over the basement windows. No stucco, either; but stone, genuine stone, that bellied out like a row of Roman amphor?, or the calves of a first–rate footman. After that, to see the portico, “decempedis metata,” which “excipiebat Eurum” – not Arcton in this climate. No wonder – although it was rotten inside, and the whole of it mortgaged ten fathom deep – that Bailey Kettledrum hit his breast, and said, “Our little home, sir!”
“Your great home, you mean,” said Rufus; “what a noble situation! You can see all over the county.”
They had come to meet him down the hill, in the kindest country fashion, Mr. and Mrs. Kettledrum, like Jack and Jill going for water.
“Not quite that,” replied Kettledrum; “but we saw you with my binocular, between two and three miles off, and became so anxious about Mrs. Hutton, that I said to my wife, ‘Put your bonnet on;’ and she only said, ‘Bailey, put your hat on;’ nothing more, sir, I assure you; nothing more, sir, upon my honour.”
Rufus could not see exactly why there should have been anything more, but he could not help thanking them for their kindness, and saying to himself, “What nice people! Quite an agricultural life, I see, in spite of that grand mansion.”
“Now,” said Mr. Kettledrum, when Polly had been committed to one of the stable–boys – but Rufus still wanted to look at her, for he never grew tired of admiring anything that belonged to him, and he knew they wouldn?t do her legs right – “now, Dr. Hutton, you have come most kindly, according to your promise, so as to give us an hour or two to spare before the dinner–time. Shall we take a turn with the guns? I can put my hand on a covey; or shall we walk round the garden, and have the benefit of your advice?”
Rufus looked in dismay at his “choice black kerseymeres;” he had taken his “antigropelos” off, and was proud to find not a flake on them. But to think of going out shooting! He ought not to have dressed before he left home, but he hated many skinnings. And he could only guess the distance from the lodge to this place. So he voted very decidedly for a walk in the kitchen–garden.
Into this he was solemnly instituted, and the beauties all pointed out to him. What a scene of weeds and rubbish! How different from Bull Garnet?s dainty and trim quarters, or from his own new style of work at Geopharmacy Lodge! Rotten beansticks crackling about, the scum of last summer?s cabbages, toad–stools cropping up like warts or arums rubbed with caustic, a fine smell of potato–disease, and a general sense of mildew; the wall–trees curled and frizzled up with aphis, coccus, and honeydew; and the standards scraggy, and full of stubs, canker, and American blight, sprawling, slouching, hump–backed, and stag–headed, like the sick ward of a workhouse fighting with tattered umbrellas.
“Ah,” said Rufus, at his wits’ end for anything to praise, “what a perfect paradise – for the songsters of the grove.”
“Oh,” replied Mr. Kettledrum, “you should hear the Dook admire it. ‘Kettledrum, my boy,’ he said, when he dined with me last Friday, ‘there is one thing I do envy you – no, sir, neither your most lady–like wife, nor yet your clever children, although I admit that neither of them can be paralleled in England – but, Kettledrum, it is – forgive me – it is your kitchen–garden.’ ‘My kitchen–garden, your grace,’ I replied, for I hate to brag of anything, ‘it is a poor thing, my lord Dook, compared to your own at Lionshill.’ ‘May I be d – d,’ his grace replied, for I never shall break him of swearing, ‘if I ever saw anything like it, dear Kettledrum, and so I told the Duchess.’ And after all, you know, Dr. Hutton, a man may think too little of what it has pleased God to give him.”
“Well,” said Rufus to himself, “I?m blessed if you do. But I don?t like you any the worse for a bit of brag. I have met great brags in India, and most of them honest fellows. But I must peg him down a bit. I must, I fear; it is my duty as an enlightened gardener.”
“But you see, now,” said Bailey Kettledrum, smacking his lips, and gazing into profundity, “you see, my dear sir, there is nothing ‘ab omni parte beatum;’ perhaps you remember the passage in the heroic epistles of – ah, Cicero it was, I believe, who wrote all those epistles to somebody.”
“No doubt of it,” said Rufus Hutton, who knew more of Hindustani than of Latin and Greek combined; “and yet St. Paul wrote some.”
“Not in Latin, my dear sir; all St. Paul?s were Greek. ‘Nihil est,’ I now remember, ‘ab omni parte beatum.’ I don?t know how it scans, which I suppose it ought to do, but that isn?t my look–out. Perhaps, however, you can tell me?”
“I?m blowed if I can,” said Rufus Hutton, in the honesty of his mind; “and I am not quite sure that it has any right to scan.”
“Well, I can?t say; but I think it ought,” – he was in the mists of memory, where most of the trees have sensitive roots, though the branches are not distinguishable. “However, that can?t matter at all; I see you are a classical scholar. And, Hutton, I like a classical scholar, because he can understand me. But you see that these trees are rather – ah, what is the expression for it – ?”
“Cankered, and scabby, and scrubs.”
“That is to say – yes, I suppose, they would crop the better, if that be possible, for a little root–pruning.”
“You have gathered the fruit for this year, I presume?”
“Well, no, not quite that. The children have had some, of course. But we are very particular not to store too early.”
“I really don?t think you need be.”
“Why, many people say, ‘let well alone;’ but my gardener talks of making – ”
“A jolly good bonfire of them, if he knows anything of his business. Then drain the ground, trench, and plant new ones.”
Mr. Kettledrum looked quite thunderstruck; he caught hold of a tree to help him, and a great cake of rotten bark, bearded with moss, came away like the mask of a mummer. It was slimy on the under side, and two of his fingers went through it.
“Nice state of things,” said Rufus, laughing. “I suppose the Dook likes lepers?”
“Why, my dear sir, you don?t mean to say – ”
“That I would leave only one of them, and I would hang the head–gardener upon it.”
That worthy was just coming round the corner, to obtain the applause of a gentleman well known to the Gardener?s Chronicle; but now he turned round abruptly, and scratched his head, and thought of his family.
When Rufus came down and entered the drawing–room, he was perfectly gorgeous; for although he had been in full dress for the main, he knew better than to ride with his Alumbaggah waistcoat on. There was nothing in all the three presidencies to come up to that waistcoat. It would hold Dr. Hutton and Rosa too, for they had stood back to back and tried it. And Rufus vainly sighed for the day when his front should come out and exhaust it. He stole it, they say, from a petty rajah, who came to a great durbar with it, worn like an Oxford hood. At any rate, there it was, and the back of Cashmere stuff would fit either baby or giant. But the front, the front – oh, bangles and jiminy! it is miles beyond me to describe it.
All simple writers, from Job and Hesiod downwards, convey an impression of some grand marvel, not by direct description of it, which would be feeble and achromatic, but by the rebound, recoil, and redouble, from the judgment of some eye–witness. If that eye–witness be self–possessed, wide–awake, experienced, and undemonstrative, the effect upon the reader?s mind is as of a shell which has struck the granite, burst there, and scattered back on him. So will I, mistrusting the value of my own impressions, give a faint idea of Rufus his waistcoat, by the dount of it on that assembly.
The host was away for the moment somewhere, perhaps blowing up the butler, for his wife was telling her sister how nervous and even fidgety her beloved Bailey was growing; but Mr. Corklemore was there, and came forth to salute the great Rufus, when his heavy eyes settled upon the waistcoat, and all his emotions exploded in a “haw” of incredulous wonder. Mrs. Kettledrum rose at the same instant, and introduced her sister.
“My sister, Dr. Hutton, whom I have so earnestly longed to make acquainted with dear Mrs. Hutton, Mrs. Nowell Corklemore; Mr. Corklemore, I know, has had the pleasure of meeting you. Georgie, dear, you will like her so – oh, goodness gracious me!”
“I don?t wonder you are surprised at me, Anna,” exclaimed Mrs. Corklemore, with wonderful presence of mind. “How stupid I am, to be sure! Oh, Nowell, why didn?t you tell me? How shameful of you! But you never look at me now, I think.” And she swept from the room in the cleverest manner, as if something wrong in her own dress had caused her sister?s ejaculation.
“Excuse me one moment,” said Mrs. Kettledrum, taking her cue very aptly; and she ran out, as if to aid her sister, but in reality to laugh herself into hysterics.
After all there was nothing absurd, per se, in Rufus Hutton?s waistcoat, only it is not the fashion, just at present, to wear pictorial raiment; but the worthy doctor could not perceive any reason why it should not be. He was pleased with the prospect of creating a genuine sensation, and possibly leading the mode; and having lost all chance of realizing these modest hopes at Nowelhurst, why, he must content himself with a narrower stage for his triumphs. He had smuggled it from home, however, without his wife?s permission: he had often threatened her with its appearance, but she always thought he was joking. And truly it required some strength of mind to present it to modern society, although it was a work of considerable art, and no little value.
The material of it was Indian silk of the very richest quality. It had no buttons, but golden eyelets and tags of golden cowries. The background of the whole was yellow, the foreground of a brilliant green, portraying the plants of the jungle. On the left bosom leaped and roared an enormous royal tiger, with two splendid jewels, called “cat?s–eyes,” flashing, and a pearl for every fang. Upon the right side a hulking elephant was turning tail ignominiously; while two officers in the howdah poked their guns at the eyes of the tiger. The eyes of the officers in their terror had turned to brilliant emeralds, and the blood of the tramping elephant was represented by seed rubies. The mahout was cutting away in the distance, looking back with eyes of diamonds.
Beyond a doubt, it required uncommonly fine breeding, especially in a lady, to meet that waistcoat at a dinner–party, and be entirely unconscious of it. And perhaps there are but few women in England who would not contrive to lead up to the subject, quite accidentally, of course, before the evening was over.
The ladies came back as grave as judges; and somehow it was managed (as if by the merest oversight) that Dr. Hutton should lead to dinner, not the lady of the house, whom, of course, he ought to have taken, but Mrs. Nowell Corklemore. He felt, as he crossed the hall with her, that the beauty of his waistcoat had raised some artistic emotion in a bosom as beautiful as its own. Oh, Rufus, think of Rosa!
Let none be alarmed at those ominous words. The tale of Cradock Nowell?s life shall be pure as that life itself was. The historian may be rough, and blunt, and sometimes too intense, in the opinion of those who look at life from a different point of view. But be that as it will, his other defects (I trust and pray) will chiefly be deficiencies. We will have no poetical seduction, no fascinating adultery, condemned and yet reprieved by the writer, and infectious from his sympathy. Georgiana Corklemore was an uncommonly clever woman, and was never known to go far enough to involve her reputation. She loved her child, and liked her husband, and had all the respect for herself which may abide with vanity. Nevertheless she flirted awfully, and all married women hated her. “Bold thing,” they called her, “sly good–for–nothing; and did you see how she ogled? Well, if I only carried on so! Oh, if I were only her husband! But, poor man, he knows no better. Such a poor dear stick, you know. Perhaps that is what makes her do it. And nothing in her at all, when you come to think of it. No taste, no style, no elegance! When will she put her back hair up? And her child fit to put into long–clothes! Did you observe her odious way of putting her lips up, as if to be kissed? My dear, I don?t know how you felt; but I could scarcely stay in the room with her.”
Nevertheless the ladies did stay, and took good care to watch her, and used to say to her afterwards, “Oh, if I were only like you, dear! Then I need not be afraid of you; but you are – now don?t tell stories —so clever, and so attractive. As if you did not know it, dear! Well, you are so simple–minded. I am always telling my Looey and Maggie to take you for their model, dear!”
On the present occasion, “Georgie Corklemore,” as she called herself, set about flirting with Rufus Hutton, not from her usual love of power, nor even for the sake of his waistcoat, but because she had an especial purpose, and a very important one. The Kettledrum–cum–Corklemore conspiracy was this – to creep in once more at Nowelhurst Hall through the interest of Dr. Hutton. They all felt perfectly certain that Cradock Nowell had murdered his brother, and that the crime had been hushed up through the influence of the family. They believed that the head of that family, in his passionate sorrow and anger, might be brought to their view of the subject, if he could only be handled properly; and who could manage that more adroitly than his first cousin once removed, the beautiful Mrs. Corklemore? Only let her get once invited, once inducted there, and the main difficulty after that would be to apportion the prey between them. They knew well enough that the old entail expired with the present baronet; and that he (before his marriage) held in fee pure and simple all that noble property. His marriage–settlement, and its effects, they could only inkle of; but their heart was inditing of a good matter, and Mr. Chope would soon pump Brockwood. Not quite so fast, my Amphictyonics; a solicitor thirty years admitted (though his original craft may not be equal) is not to be sucked dry, on the surprise, even by spongy young Chope. However, that was a question for later consideration; and blood being thicker than water, and cleaving more fast to the ground, they felt that it would be a frightful injustice if they were done out of the property.
Only two things need be added: one that Sir Cradock had always disliked, and invited them but for appearance’ sake; the other, that they fairly believed in the righteousness of their cause, and that Rufus Hutton could prove it for them, as the principal witness tampered with.
Mrs. Corklemore was now, perhaps, twenty–five years old, possibly turning thirty; for that lustrum of a lady?s life is a hard one to beat the bounds of; at any rate, she had never looked better than she did at the present moment. She was just at the age to spread open, with the memory of shyness upon them (like the dew when the sun is up), the curving petals of beauty. Who understands the magnetic current? Who can analyze ozone? Is there one of us able to formularize the polarity of light? Will there ever be an age when chemists metaphysical will weigh – no more by troy weight, and carat, as now the mode is, but by subtle heart–gas – our liking for a woman? Let us hope there never will be.
That soft Georgiana Corklemore, so lively, lovely, and gushing, focussed all her fascinations upon Rufus Hutton. She knew that she had to deal with a man of much inborn acuteness, and who must have seen a hundred ladies quite as fair as Georgie. But had he seen one with her – well, she knew not what to call it, though she thoroughly knew how to use it? So she magnetized him with all her skill; and Rufus, shrewdly suspecting her object, and confiding in a certain triarian charge, a certain thrust Jarnacian, which he would deliver at the proper moment, allowed her to smile, and to show her white teeth and dimples of volatile velvet (so natural, so inevitable, at his playful, delightful humour), and to loose whole quiverfuls of light shafts from the arch flash under her eyelids. What sweet simplicity she was, what innocent desire to learn, what universal charity. “How dreadful, Dr. Hutton! Oh, please not to tell me of it! How could any ladies do it? I should have fainted at once, and died half an hour afterwards.” She turned up her large mild eyes, deeply beaming with centralized light, in a way that said, “If I died, is there any one who would think it a very, very great pity?”
Rufus had been describing historically, not dramatically, the trials of the ladies, when following their regiment during a sudden movement in the perils of the mutiny. With a man?s far stiffer identity, he did not expect or even imagine that his delicate listener would be there, and go through every hour of it. But so it was, and without any sham; although she was misusing her strange sympathetic power. Mrs. Nowell Corklemore would have made a very great actress; she had so much self–abandonment, such warm introjection, and hot indignant sympathy; and yet enough of self–reservation to hoop them all in with judgment. Meanwhile Mrs. Kettledrum, a lady of ordinary sharpness, like a good pudding–apple – Georgie being a peach of the very finest quality – she, I say, at the top of the table was watching them very intently – delighted, amused, indignant; glad that none of her children were there to store up Auntie?s doings. As for Mr. Corklemore, he was quite accustomed to it; and looking down complacently upon the little doctor, thought to himself, “How beautifully my Georgie will cold–shoulder him, when we have got all we want out of the conceited chattering jackanapes.”
When the ladies were gone, Mr. Bailey Kettledrum, who had no idea of playing dummy even to Mrs. Corklemore, made a trick or two from his own hand.
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