Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“Mrs. Ducksacre,” said Cradock, “you utterly misunderstand me. I replied to the form of your sentence, perhaps, rather than to its meaning. What I meant was, that I should rather hope I would not think it below me to go home with this little dear. If I could suppose it any disgrace to me, I should deserve to be kicked by your errand–boy all round this shop, Mrs. Ducksacre; and I am surprised you misunderstand me so. Why, I know this little girl well; and her name is Louisa Jupp.”
“Tiss Loo,” said the little child, standing up on tiptoe, and spreading out her arms to Cradock. All the children loved him, as the little ones at Nowelhurst would run after Mr. Rosedew. Children are even better judges of character than dogs.
“Why, you poor little soul,” said Crad, as he seated her on his strong right arm with her little cheek to his, and she drew a thousand straws of light through her lashes from the gas–jet, which she had never yet been so close to, “how hot and dry your lips are! I hope you are not taking the – sickness” – he was going to say “fever,” but feared to frighten Loo.
“Mother fray,” cried the small girl, proud of the importance accruing to her, “Loo dot wever; Irishers dot bad wever on the foor below mother. Loo det nice thins, and lay abed, if me dot the wever.”
“Put the poor child?s things, whatever they are, in a basket, Mrs. Ducksacre. How odd her little legs feel! And a shilling?s worth of grapes, if you please, in a bag by themselves. Here?s the money for them. You know I?ll bring back the basket. But the bags don?t come back, do they?”
“No, sir, of course not. Half–a–crown a gross for the small ones, with the name and the cross–handle basket, and the cabbage and carrots, sir. Sixpence more for cornopean–pattern with a pineapple, and grapes and oranges. But lor, sir, the cornopean” [cornucopi?] “would frighten half our customers. The basket–pattern pays better for an advertisement than to get them back again, even if parties would bring them, which I knows well they never would, sir.”
Then Cradock set forth with the child on his arm, his coat thrown over his shoulders, and the best shilling?s worth of foreign grapes – Mrs. Ducksacre never bought English ones – and the best three farthing?s worth of potatoes and onions that was made that day by any tradesman in any part of London, not excluding “them low costers,” as the Ducksacre firm expressed it.
Little Loo Jupp?s sore throat proved to be, as Cradock feared it would, the first symptom of scarlet fever; and the young man had the pleasure – one of the highest and purest pleasures which any man can have – of saving a human life. He watched that trembling flame of life, and fostered it, and sheltered it, as if “the hopes of a nation hung” – as the penny–a–liners love to say of some babe not a whit more valuable – upon its feeble flicker. He hired another room for her, where the air was purer; he made the doctor attend to the case, which at first that doctor cared little to do; he brought her many a trifling comfort; in a word, he waited upon her so that the old women of the court called him thenceforth “Nurse Newman.”
“What, you here again, you white–livered young sneak!” cried Issachar Jupp, reeling in at the door, just as Cradock was coming out; “take that, then – ” and he lifted a great oak bludgeon, newly cut from the towing–path of the Basingstoke Canal.If Cradock had not been as quick as lightning, and caught the stick over the bargeman?s shoulder, there would have been weeping and wailing and a lifelong woe for Amy.
“Hush,” he said; “don?t make such a noise, man. Your child is at the point of death, in the room overhead.”
Poor Crad, naturally of a bright complexion, but pale from long unhappiness, might now have retorted the compliment as to the “pallor jecoris.” The bargee turned so pale, that he looked like a collier?s tablecloth. Then he planted his heavy stick on the ground; else he would have lain flat on his threshold.
“My Loo, my Loo!” was all he could say; “oh my Loo! It?s a lie, sir!”
“I wish it was,” replied Cradock; “take my arm, Mr. Jupp. Don?t be over–frightened. We hope with all our hearts to save her, and to–night we shall know. Already I think I perceive some change in her breathing, though her tongue is like a furnace.”
He spoke with a tone and in a voice which no man ever has described, nor shall, but which every born man feels to be genuine, long ere he can think.
“[Condemn] me for a [sanguineous] fool,” cried Jupp, with two enormous tears guttering down the coal–dust, and his great chest heaving and wanting to sob, only it didn?t know the way; “[condemn] my eyes for swearing so, and making such a [female dog] of myself, but what the [Hades] am I to do? Oh my Loo, my Loo! If you die, I?ll go to [Hades] after you.”
Excuse me for washing out this speech to regulation weakness; perhaps it was entered in white on high, as the turn of a life of blackness.
Cradock turned away, and trembled. Who can see a rugged man split to the bottom of his nature, and not himself be splintered? I don?t believe that any can: not even the cold iron scoundrels whom modern plays delight in.
“Now come up with me, Mr. Jupp,” said Crad, taking care not to look at him, “out at this door, in at the other. Poor little soul! she has been so good. You can?t think how good she has been. And she has taken her medicine so nicely.”
“Pray God Almighty not to [condemn] me, for not [condemning] myself enough,” said Issachar Jupp, below his breath, as he leaned on Cradock?s arm.
It was his form of prayer; and it meant more than most of ours do. Though I may be discarded by turtle–dove quill–drivers for daring to record it, will he ever be worse for uttering it? Of course, it was very shocking; but far more so to men than to angels.
Little Loo?s fever “took the turn” that night. Cradock went away, of course, now her own father was come; and the savage bargee would have gone on his knees, and crawled in that fashion – wherein all fashion crawls – down the rough stairs, every one of them, if the young man would only have let him. We are just beginning to scorn the serfdom of one mind to another. We begin to desire that no man should, without fair argument, accept our dicta as equal to his own in wisdom. And I fully believe that if fate had thrown us across Shakespeare, Bacon, or Newton, we should now refer to our own reason what they said, before admiring it. For, after all, what are we? What are our most glorious minds? Only one spark more of God.
And yet the servience, not of the mind, but of the heart to a larger one, is a fealty most honourable to the giver and the receiver. In a bold independent man, such as Issachar Jupp was, this fealty was not to be won by any of that paltry sentiment about birth, clanship, precedency, position, appearance, &c., which is our national method of circumcising the New Testament – it was only to be won by proof that the other heart was bigger than his. Prove that once, and till death it was granted.
Now, the small Loo Jupp being out of danger, and her father, grinning like a gridiron with the firelight behind it, every day at her bedside, the force of circumstances – which, in good English, means the want of money – sent Cradock Nowell once more cat?s–cradling throughout London, to answer advertisements. His heart rose within him every day as he set out in the morning, and in the same relative position fell, as he came home every evening.
“Do, sir, do,” cried Issachar Jupp, who never swore now, before Cradock, except under strongest pressure; “do come aboard our barge. I?ve a?most a–got the appointment of skipper to the Industrious Maiden, homeside of Nine Elms, as tight a barge as ever was built, and the name done in gold letters. Fact, I may say, and not tell no secrets; I be safe to be aboord of her, if my Loo allow me to go, and I don?t swear hard at the check–house. And, perhaps, I shall be able to help it, after Loo so ill, and you such a hangel.”
“Well, I don?t know,” replied Cradock, who could not bear to simulate intense determination; “I should like a trip into the country, if I could earn my wages as agent, or whatever it is. But suppose the canal is frozen up before our voyage begins, Jupp?”
“Oh, d – n that!” cried Issachar, for the idea was too much for him, even in Cradock?s presence; “I never yet knew a long winter, sir, after a wonderful stormy autumn.”
And in that conclusion he was right, to the best of my experience. Perhaps because the stormy autumn shows the set of the Gulf Stream.
By this time more than a month had passed since Cradock and Wena arrived in London; half his money was spent, and he had found no employment. He had advertised, and answered advertisements, till he was tired. He had worn out his one pair of boots with walking, for he had thought it better to walk, as it might be of service to him to know London thoroughly; and that knowledge can only be acquired by perpetual walking. No man can be said to know London thoroughly, who does not know the suburbs also – who, if suddenly put down at the Elephant and Castle, or at Shoreditch Church, cannot tell exactly whither each of the six fingers points. Such knowledge very few men possess; it requires the genius loci – to apply the expression barbarously – as well as peculiar calls upon it. Cradock, of course, could not attain such knowledge in a month. Indeed, he was obliged to ask his way to so well–known a part as Hammersmith, when he had seen an advertisement for a clerk, to help in some coal–office there.
With the water quelching in his boots (which were worn away to the welting) – for the sky was like the pulp of an orange, and the pavement wanted draining – he turned in at a little gate near the temporary terminus of the West London line. In a wooden box, with a kitchen behind it, he found Mr. Clinkers; who thought, when he saw Crad?s face, that he was come to give a large order; and when he saw his boots, that he was come to ask to be errand–boy. Clinkers was a familiar, jocular, red–faced fellow, whom his friends were fond of calling “not at all a bad sort.”
“Take a glass, mister,” said he, when Cradock had stated his purpose; “won?t do you no harm such a day as this, and I don?t fancy ‘twould me either. Jenny! Jenny! Why, bless that gal; ever since my poor wife died, she?s along of them small–coals fellows. I?ll bet a tanner she is. What do you say to it, sir? Will you bet?”
“Well,” replied Cradock, smiling, “it wouldn?t be at all a fair bet. In the first place, I know nothing of Miss Jenny?s propensities; and, in the second, I have no idea what the small–coals fellows are.”
The small–coals men are the truck–drivers and the greengrocers in the by–streets, who buy the crushings and riddlings by the sack, at the wharf or terminus, and sell them by the quarter hundred–weight, weight, at a profit of two hundred per cent. Cradock might have known this, but the Ducksacre firm was reticent upon some little matters.
Mr. Clinkers could not stop to explain; only he said to himself, “Pretty fellow to apply for a clerkship in the coal–line, and not know that!”
Jenny appeared at last, looking perfectly self–possessed.
“Jenny, you baggage, two tumblers and silver teaspoons in no time. And the little kettle; mind now, I tell you the little kettle. Can?t you understand, gal, that I may want to shave with the water, but ain?t going to have the foot–tub?”
Jenny?s broad face, mapped with coal–dust, grinned from ear to ear, as she looked at her master saucily – a proof almost infallible of a very genial government. She heard that shaving joke every day, and, the more she heard it, the more she enjoyed it. So the British public, at a theatre, or an election, appreciates a joke according to the square of the number of the times the joke has been poked at it. Hurrah for the slow perception, and the blunt knife that opens the oyster!
“Queer gal, that,” said Clinkers, producing his raw material; “uncommon queer gal, sir, as any you may have met with.”
“No doubt of it,” replied Cradock; “and now for the cause of my visit – ”
“Hang me, sir, you don?t understand that gal. I say she is the queerest gal that ever lived out of a barge. You should see her when she gets along of some of them small–coals fellows. Blow me if she can?t twist a dozen of them round her finger, sir.”
“And her master too,” thought Cradock; “unless I am much mistaken, she will be the new Mrs. Clinkers.”
Jenny heard most of her master?s commentary as she went to and fro, and she kept up a constant grin without speech, in the manner of an empty coal–scuttle.
“Ah, sir, grief is a dry thing, a sad dry thing;” and Clinkers banged down his tumbler till the spoon reeled round the brandy; “no business, if you please now, not a word of business till we both be below the fiddle; and, if it isn?t to your liking, speak out like a man, sir.”
“Below the fiddle, Mr. Clinkers! What fiddle? I don?t at all understand you.”
“Very few people does, young man; very few people indeed. Scarcely any, I may say, except Jenny and the cookshop woman; and the latter have got encumbrances as quite outweighs the business. Ain?t you ever heard of the fiddle of a teaspoon, sir?”
“Oh, very well,” said Cradock, tossing off his brandy–and–water to bring things to a point. It was a good thing for him that he got it, poor fellow, for he was sadly wet and weary.
“Lor, now, to see that!” cried Clinkers, opening his eyes; “I?m blowed if you mustn?t be a Hoxford gent.”
“To be sure, so I am,” replied Cradock, laughing; “but I should not have thought that you would have known – I mean, I am surprised that you, at this distance, should know anything of Oxford men.”
“Tell you about that presently. Come over again the fire, sir. Up with your heel–tap, and have another.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Clinkers. You are very kind; but I shall not take one drop more.”
“Then you ain?t been there very long, that?s certain. Now you have come about this place, I know; though it?s a queer one for a Hoxford gent. ‘Gent under a cloud,’ thinks I, the moment I claps eyes on you. Ah, I knows the aristocraxy, sir. Now, what might be your qualifications?”
“None whatever, except such knowledge as springs from a good education.”
“Whew!” whistled Mr. Clinkers, and that sound was worth fifty sentences.
“Then you conclude,” said Cradock, not so greatly downcast, for he had got this speech by heart now, “that I am not fitted for the post offered in your advertisement?”
“Knows what they Hoxford gents is,” continued Clinkers, reflectively; “come across a lot of them once, when I was gay and rattling. They ran into my tax–cart, coming home from Ascot, about a mile this side of Brentford. Famous good company over a glass, when they drops their aristocraxy; they runs up a tick all over town, and leaves a Skye dog to pay for it; comes home about four in the morning, and don?t know the latch from the scraper. Always pays in the end, though; nearly always pays in the end – so a Hoxford tradesman told me – and interest ten per cent. Differs in that from the medicals; the fast medicals never do pay, sir.”
“Most unjust,” said Cradock, rising, “a most unjust thing, Mr. Clinkers; you not only judge the present by the past, but you reason from the particular to the universal – the most fruitful and womanlike of the fallacies.”
“It ain?t anything about fallacy, sir, that makes me refuse you,” cried Clinkers, who liked this outburst; “I?ll tell you just what it is. You Hoxford scholars may be very honest, but you ain?t got the grease for business.”
Sorely down at heart and heel, Cradock plodded away from the yard of the hospitable Clinkers, who came to the door and looked after him, fearing to indulge his liking for that queer young fellow. But he had taken Crad?s address; for who knew but something might turn up?
“That man,” said Cradock to himself, “has a kindly heart, and would have helped me if he could. He wanted to pay my fare back to town, but of course I would not let him. It was well worth while to come all this distance, and get wet through twice over, to come across a kind–hearted man, when a fellow is down so. I began with applying for grand places; what a fool I was! Places worth 150l. or 200l. a–year. No wonder I did not get them: and what a lot of boot I have wasted! Now I am come down to 50l. per annum, and 75l. would be a fortune. If I had only begun at that mark, I might have got something by this time. ‘Vaulting ambition doth o?erleap itself.’ And I might have emigrated – good Heavens! I might have emigrated upon the bounty of Uncle John, to some land where a man is worth more than the cattle of the field. Only Amy stopped me, only the thought of my Amy. Darling love, the sweetest angel – stop, I am so unlucky; if I begin to bless her, very likely she?ll get typhus fever. After all, what does it matter what sort of life I take to? Or whether, indeed, I take the trouble to take to any at all? Only for her sake. A man who has done what I have lives no more, but drags his life. Now I?ll go in for common labour, work of the hands and muscles; many a better man has done it; and it will be far wiser for me while my brain is so loose and wandering. I wonder I never thought of that. Isn?t it raining, though! What we used, in the happy days, to call ‘Wood Fidley rain?”.
The future chironax trudged more cheerfully after this decision. But he was very sorry to get so soaked, for he had his only suit of clothes on. He had brought but one suit of his own; and all he had bought with the rector?s money was six shirts at 3s. 6d., and four pairs of cotton hose. So he could not afford to get wet.
There could be no doubt that he was shabbily dressed, no rich game to an hotel–tout, no tempting fare to a cabman; but neither could there be any doubt that he was a pure and noble gentleman; that was as clear as in the heyday of finest Oxford dandyism. Only he carried his head quite differently, and the tint of his cheeks was gone. He used to walk with his broad and well–set head thrown back, and slightly inclined to one side; now he bore it flagging, drooping, as if the spring of the neck were gone.
But still the brave clear eyes met frankly all who cared to look at him; the face and gait were of a man unhappy but not unmanly. If, at the time Sir Cradock condemned his only son so cruelly, he had looked at him once, and read the sorrow so unmistakeable in his face, the old man might have repented, and wept, and saved a world of weeping. A tear in time saves ninety–nine; but who has the sense to yield it?
Soaked and tired out at last, he reached his little lodgings – quite large enough for him, though – and found Black Wena warming the chair, the only chair he had to sit on. Unluckily, he did not do what a man who cared for himself would have done. Having no change of raiment – in plain English, only one pair of trousers – he should have gone to bed at once, or at any rate have pulled his wet clothes off. Instead of doing so, he sat and sat, with the wet things clinging closer to him, and the shivers crawling deeper, until his last inch of candle was gone, and the room was cold as an icehouse, for the rain had turned to snow at nightfall, and the fire had not been lit.
Wena sat waiting and nodding upwards, on the yard and a half of brown drugget, which now was her chiefest pulvinar, and once or twice she nudged her master, and whined about supper and bedtime. But Cradock only patted her, and improved the turn of his sentence. He was making one last effort to save from waste and ridicule his tastes and his education. A craftsman, if he have self–respect, is worthy, valuable, admirable, nearer to the perception of simple truth than some men of high refinement. Nevertheless, it is too certain – as I, who know them well, and not unkindly, can testify – that there is scarcely one in a dozen labourers, even around the metropolis, who respects himself and his calling. Whose fault this is, I pretend not – for pretence it would be – to say. Probably, the guilt is “much of a muchness,” as in all mismanaged matters. The material was as good as our own; how has it got so vitiated? It is as lowering to us as it is to themselves, that the “enlightened working–men of England” cannot go out for their holiday, cannot come home from their work, cannot even speak among their own children, and in the goodwife?s presence, without words, not of manly strength, but of hoggish coarseness. In time this must be otherwise; but the evil is not cured easily. The boy believes it manly to talk as he hears his father talk; he rejoices in it the more, perhaps, because the school forbids it. He does not know what the foul words mean; and all things strange have the grandest range. Those words tell powerfully in a story, with smaller boys round him upon the green, or at the street–corner. And so he grows up engrimed with them, and his own boys follow suit.
Cradock was young and chivalrous, and knew not much of these things, which his position had kept from him; nor in his self–abandonment cared he much about them. Nevertheless, he shrank unconsciously from the lowering of his existence. And now he sat up, writing, writing, till his wet clothes made little pools on the floor, while he answered twenty advertisements, commercial, literary, promiscuous. Then he looked at his little roll of postage–stamps, and with shivering fingers affixed them. There were only fifteen; and it was too late to get any more that night; and he felt that he could not afford to use them now so rashly. So he ran out into the slushy streets, gamboged with London snow, and posted those fifteen of his letters which were the least ambitious. By this time he knew that the best chance was of something not over–gorgeous. Wena did not go with him, but howled until he came back. Then he gave the poor little thing, with some self–reproach at his tardiness, all the rest of his cottage loaf, and his ha?porth of milk, which she took with some protestations, looking up at him wistfully now and then, to see whether he was eating.
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