Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“No, Wena, I can?t eat to–night; bilious from over–feeding, perhaps. But I?ve done a good evening?s work, and we?ll be very plucky for breakfast, girl, and have sixpenceworth of cold ham. No fear there of making a cannibal of you, you innocent little soul.”
He was desperately afraid, as most young fellows from the country are, of having unclean animals spicily served up by the London allantopol?. This terror is the result for the most part of rustic sham knowingness, and the British love of stale jokes. However, beyond all controversy, dark are the rites of sepulture of the measly pigs around London.
He crept, at last, beneath his scanty bedding – clean, although so patched and threadbare – and the iron cross–straps shook and rattled with the shudders that went through him.
Wena, who slept beneath the bed in a nest which she made of the drugget–scrap, jumped upon the blanket at midnight, to know pray what was the matter. Then she licked his face, and tried to warm him, in his broken slumbers. That day he had taken a virulent cold, which struck into his system, and harboured there for a fortnight, till it broke out in a raging fever.
The next day, Cradock received a letter, of doubtful classicality, and bearing the Hammersmith post–mark.
By the next delivery, Cradock got another letter, far more elegantly written, but not half so honest.
“Well,” said Cradock to Wena, shivering as he said it, for the cold was striking into him, “you see we are in request, my dear. Not that I have any high opinion of Mr. Hearty Wibraham; as a gentleman, I mean. But for all that he may be an honest man. And beggars – as you know, Wena, dear, when you sit up so prettily – beggars must not be choosers. Do you think you could walk so far, Wena? If you could, it would do you good, my beauty; and I?ll see that you are not run over.”
Wena agreed, rather rashly, to go; for the London stones, to a country dog, are as bad as a mussel–bank to a bather; but she thought she might find some woodcocks – and so she did, at the game–shops, and some curlews which they sold for them – but her real object in going, was that she had made some nice acquaintances in the neighbourhood, whom she wanted to see again. She wouldn?t speak to any low dog, for she meant to keep up the importance and grandeur of the Nowell family, but there were some dogs, heigho! they had such ways with them, and they were brushed so nicely, what could a poor little country dog do but fall in love with them?
Therefore Wena came after her master, and made believe not to notice them, but she lingered now and then at a scraper, and, when she snapped, her teeth had gloves on.
When Cradock and his little dog, after many a twist and turn, found Aurea Themis Buildings, the master rang at the sprightly door, newly grained and varnished. Being inducted by a young woman, with a most coquettish cap on, he told black Wena to wait outside, and she lay down upon the door–step.
Then he was shown into the “first–floor drawing–room,” according to arrangement, and requested to “take a seat, sir.” The smart maid, who carried a candle, lit the gas in a twinkling, but Cradock wondered why the coal–merchant had no coals in his fireplace.
Just when he had concluded, after a fit of shivering, that this defect was due perhaps to that extreme familiarity which breeds in a grocer contempt for figs, Mr. Wibraham came in, quite by accident, and was evidently amazed to see him.
“What! Ah, no, my good sir, not Mr. Charles Newman, a member of the University of Oxford!”
“Yes, sir, I am that individual,” replied Cradock, very uncomfortable at the prominent use of his “alias.”
“Then, allow me, sir, to shake hands with you. I am strongly prepossessed in your favour, young gentleman, from the description I received of you from our mutual friend, Mr. Clinkers. Ah, I like that Clinkers. No nonsense about Clinkers, sir.”
“So I believe,” said Cradock; “but, as I have only seen him once, it would perhaps be premature of me – ”
“Not a bit, my dear sir, not a bit. That is one of the mistakes we make. I always rely upon first impressions, and they never deceive me. Now I see exactly what you are, an upright honourable man, full of conscientiousness, but not overburdened here.”
He gave a jocular tap to his forehead, which was about half the width of Cradock?s.
“Well,” thought Cradock, “you are straightforward, even to the verge of rudeness. But no doubt you mean well, and perhaps you are nearer the truth than the people who have told me otherwise. Anyhow, it does not matter much.” But, in spite of this conclusion, he bowed in his stately manner, and said:
“If that be the case, sir, I fear it will hardly suit your purpose to take me into your employment.”
“Ah, I have hurt your feelings, I see. I am so blunt and hasty. Hearty Wibraham is my name; and hearty enough I am, God knows; and perhaps a little too hearty. ‘Hasty Wibraham, you ought to be called, by Jove, you ought,’ said one of my friends last night, and by Gad I think he was right, sir.”
“I am sure I don?t know,” said Cradock; “how can I pretend to say, without myself being hasty?”
“I suppose, Mr. Newman, you can command a little capital? It is not at all essential, you know, in a bon? fide case like yours.”
“That?s a good job,” said Cradock; “for my capital, like the new one of Canada, is below contempt.”
“To a man imbued, Mr. Newman, with the genuine spirit of commerce, no sum, however small, but may be the key of fortune.”
“My key of fortune, then, is about twenty pounds ten shillings.”
“A very, very small sum, my dear sir; but I dare say some of your friends would assist you to make it, say fifty guineas. You Oxford men are so generous; always ready to help each other. That is why I can?t help liking you so. Thoroughly fine fellows,” he added, in a loud aside, “thoroughly noble fellows, when a messmate is in trouble. Can?t apply to his family, I see; but it would be mean in him not to let his friends help him. I do believe the highest privilege of human life is to assist a friend in difficulties.”
Cradock, of course, could not reply to all this, because he was not meant to hear it; but he gazed with some admiration at the utterer of such exalted sentiments. Mr. Hearty Wibraham, now about forty–five years old, was rather tall and portly, with an aquiline face, a dark complexion, and a quick, decisive manner. His clothes were well made, and of good quality, unpretentious, neat, substantial. His only piece of adornment was a magnificent gold watch–chain, which rather shunned than courted observation.
“No,” said Cradock, at last, “I have not a single friend in the world to whom I would think of applying for the loan of a sixpence.”
“Well, we are independent,” Mr. Wibraham still held discourse with himself; “but Hearty Wibraham likes and respects him the more for that. He?ll get over his troubles, whatever they are. My good sir,” he continued, aloud, “I will not utter any opinion, lest you should think me inclined to flatter – the last thing in the world I ever would do. Nevertheless, in all manly candour, I am bound to tell you that my prepossession in your favour induces me to make you a most advantageous offer.”
“I am much obliged to you. Pray, what is it?”
“A clerkship in my counting–house, which I am just about to open, having formed a very snug little connexion to begin with.”
“Oh!” cried Cradock, for, green as he was, he would rather have had to do with a business already established.
“I see you are surprised. No wonder, sir; no wonder! But you must know that I shall have at least my quid pro quo. My connexion is of a very peculiar character. In fact, it lies entirely in the very highest circles. To meet such customers as mine, not only a man of gentlemanly manners is required, but a man of birth and education. How could I offer such a man less than 150l. per annum?”
“Your terms are very liberal, very liberal, I am sure,” replied Cradock, reddening warmly at the appraisement of his qualities. “I should not be comfortable without telling you frankly that I am worth about half that yearly sum; until, I mean, until I get a little up to business. I shall be quite content to begin upon 100l. a year.
“No! will you, though?” exclaimed Hearty Wibraham, flushed with a good heart?s enthusiasm. “You are the finest young fellow I have seen since I was your age myself. Suppose, now, we split the difference. Say 125l.; and I shall work you pretty hard, I can tell you. For we do not confine our attention exclusively to the members of the Ministry, and the House of Lords; we also deal with the City magnates, and take a contract for Somerset House. And remember one thing; you will be in exclusive charge whenever I am away negotiating. A man deserves to be paid, you know, for high responsibility.”
“And where will the” – he hardly knew what to call it – “the office, the counting–house, the headquarters be?”
“Not in any common thoroughfare,” replied Mr. Wibraham, proudly; “that would never do for a business of such a character. What do you think, sir, of Howard Crescent, Park Lane? Not so bad, sir, is it, for the sale of the grimy?”
“I really do not know,” said Cradock; “but it sounds very well. When do we open the books?”
“Monday morning, sir, at ten o?clock precisely. Let me see: to–day is Friday. Perhaps it would be an accommodation to you, to have your salary paid weekly, until you draw by the quarter. Now, remember, I rely upon you to promote my interest in every way consistent with honour.”
“That you may do, most fully. I shall never forget your kind confidence, and your liberality.”
“You will have two young gentlemen, if not three, wholly under your orders. Also a middle–aged gentleman, a sort of sleeping partner, will kindly attend pro tem., and show you the work expected of you. I myself shall be engaged, perhaps, during the forenoon, in promoting the interests of the business in a most important quarter. Now, be true to me, Newman – I take liberties, you see – keep your subordinates in their place, and make them stick to work, sir. And remember that one ounce of example is worth a pound of precept. If you act truly and honestly by me, as I know you will, you may look forward to a partnership at no distant date. But don?t be over–sanguine, my dear boy; there is hard work before you.”
“And you will not find me shrink from it,” said Cradock, throwing his shoulders back; “but we have not settled yet as to the amount of the premium, or deposit, whichever it may be.”
“Thank you. To be sure. I quite forgot that incident. Thirty guineas, I think you said, was all that would be convenient to you.”
“No, Mr. Wibraham; I said twenty pounds ten shillings.”
“Ah, yes, my mistake. I knew that there was an odd ten shillings. Say twenty–five guineas. A mere matter of form, you know; but one which we dare not neglect. It is not a premium; simply a deposit; to be returned at the expiration of the first twelve months. Will you send it to me by cheque? That, perhaps, would be the more convenient form. It will save you from coming again.”
“I am sorry to say I cannot; for now I have no banker. Neither can I by any means make it twenty–five guineas. I have stated to you the utmost figure of my present census.”
“Ah, quite immaterial. I am only sorry for your sake. The sum will be invested. I shall hold it as your trustee. But, for the sake of the books, merely to look well on the books, we must say twenty guineas. How could I invest twenty pounds ten shillings?”
This appeared reasonable to Cradock, who knew nothing about investment; and, after reflecting a minute or two, he replied as follows:
“I believe, Mr. Wibraham, that I might manage to make it twenty guineas. You said, I think, that my salary would be payable weekly.”
“To be sure, my dear boy, to be sure. At any rate until further arrangements.”
“Then I will undertake to pay you the twenty guineas. Next Monday, I suppose, will do for it?”
“Oh yes, Monday will do. But stop, I shall not be there on that morning; and, for form?s sake, it must be paid first. Let us say Saturday evening. I shall be ready with a stamped receipt. Will you meet me here at six o?clock, as you did this evening?”
Cradock agreed to this, and Mr. Hearty Wibraham shook hands with him most cordially, begging that mutual trust and amity might in no way be lessened by his own unfortunate obligation to observe certain rules and precedents.
In the highest spirits possible under such troubles as his were, Crad strode away from Aurea Themis Buildings, and whistled to black Wena, whom two of the most accomplished dog–stealers in London had been doing their best to inveigle. Failing of skill – for Wena was a deal too knowing – they at last attempted violence, putting away their chopped liver and hoof–meat, and other baits still more savoury, upon which I dare not enlarge. But, just as Black George, having lifted her boldly by the nape of the neck, was popping her into the sack tail foremost, though her short tail was under her stomach, what did she do but twist round upon him, in a way quite unknown to the faculty, and make her upper and lower canines meet through the palm of his hand? It won?t do to chronicle what he said – I am too much given to strictest accuracy; enough that he let her drop, in the manner of a red–hot potato; and Blue Bill, who made a grab at her, only got a scar on the wrist. Then she retreated to her step, and fired a royal salute of howls, never ending, ever beginning, until her master came out.
“Wena, dear,” he said, for he always looked on the little thing as an inferior piece of Amy, “you are very tired, my darling; the pavement has been too much for you. Sit upon my arm, pretty. We are both going to make our fortunes. And then you ‘shall walk in silk attire, and siller hae to spare.’”
Wena nuzzled her nose into its usual place in Cradock?s identicity, and growled if any other dog took the liberty of looking at him. And so they got home, singing snug little songs to each other upon the way; and they both made noble suppers on the strength of their rising fortunes.
The following day was Saturday, and the young fellow spent great part of it in learning the rules, the tables, and statistics of the coal trade, so far as they could be ascertained from a sixpenny work which he bought. Not satisfied with this, he went to the Geological Museum, in Jermyn–street, and pored over the specimens, and laid in a stock of carbonic knowledge that would have astonished Clinkers and Jenny. When the building was closed at four o?clock he hurried back to Mortimer–street, paid Mrs. Ducksacre for his week?s lodgings, and ran off to a pawnbroker?s to raise a little money. Without doing this, he would not be able to deposit the twenty guineas. Mr. Gill?s shopman knew Cradock well, from his having been there frequently to redeem some trifling articles for the poor people of the court, and felt some good–will towards him for his kindness to the little customers. It increased the activity of his trade, for most of the pledges were repledged or ever the week was out. And of course he got the money for issuing another duplicate.
“Hope there?s nothing amiss, Mr. Newman,” said the pawnbroker?s assistant; “sorry to see you come here, sir, on your own account.”
“Oh, you ought to congratulate me,” returned Cradock, with a knowing smile: “I am going to pay a premium, and enter into a good position upon advantageous terms; very advantageous, I may say, seeing how little I know of the coal trade.”
“Take care, sir, take care, I beg of you. People run down our line of business, and call it coining tears, &c.; but you may take my word for it, there is a deal more roguery in the coal trade, or rather in the pretence of it, than ever there is in the broking way.”
“There can be none in the present case, for the simple reason that I am not in any way committed to a partnership, neither am I to be at all dependent upon the profits.” And Cradock looked thankful for advice, but a deal too wise to want it.
“Well, sir, I hope it may be all right; for I am sure you deserve it. But there is a man, not far from here, I think you took some things out for him, by the name of Zakey Jupp; a shrewdish sort of fellow, though a deal too fond of fighting. He?ll be up to some of the coal tricks, I expect, he?s about in the yards so much; and the whippers and heavers are good uns to talk. Don?t you think it beneath you, sir, to consult with Zakey Jupp, if you have the pleasure of his acquaintance.”
“I am proud to say that I have at last,” replied Cradock, smiling grimly; “but he went on board the Industrious Maiden, at Nine Elms, yesterday morning, and may not be back for a month. He wanted me to go with him; but I did not see how to be useful, and had not given my landlady notice. Now, if you please, I have not a moment to spare.”
The shopman saw that he could not, without being really impertinent, press his advice any further; and, although Cradock was so communicative, as young men are apt to be, especially about their successes, he never afforded much temptation to any one for impertinence.
“And how much upon them little articles?” was the next question put to Cradock; and he did not ask any very high figure, for fear of not getting them out again.
As he set off full speed for Aurea Themis Buildings, without inviting Wena, it struck him that it would be but common prudence just to look at the place of business; so he dashed aside out of Oxford–street, at the rate of ten miles an hour – for he was very light of foot – and made his way to Howard–crescent, whose position he had learned from the map. Sure enough there it was, when he got to the number indicated. And what a noble plate! So large, indeed, that it was absolutely necessary to have it in two parts. What refulgent brass! What fine engraving, especially on the lower part! You might call it chalco–illumination, chromography, chromometallurgy; I do not know any word half grand enough to describe it. And the legend itself so simple, how could they have made so much of it? The upper plate, though beautifully bright, was comparatively plain, and only carried the words, “Wibraham, Fookes, and Co.;” the lower and far more elaborate part enabled the public to congratulate itself upon having the above as “Coal Merchants and Colliery Agents to Her Most Gracious Majesty and the Duchy of Lancaster. Hours of Business, from Ten till Four.”
Cradock just took time to read this, by the light of the gas–lamp close to it; then glanced at the house (which looked clean and smart, though smaller than what he expected), and, feeling ashamed of his mean suspiciousness, darted away towards Notting Hill. When he arrived at Aurea Themis Buildings, he was kept waiting at the door so long that it made him quite uneasy, lest Hearty Wibraham should have forgotten all about his little deposit. At last the smart girl opened the door, and a short young man, whose dress more than whispered that he was not given to compromise his ?sthetic views, came out with a bounce, and clapped a shilling in the hand of the smiling damsel. “There, Polly, get a peach–coloured cap–ribbon, and wear it in a true knot for my sake. I fancy I?ve done your governor. He?s a trifle green; isn?t he?” But, in spite of his conversational powers, the handmaid dismissed him summarily, when she saw Cradock waiting there.
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