Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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The gas in the drawing–room was lit this time, and a good fire burning; and Mr. Wibraham, in spirits absolutely jocular, sprang forward to meet Cradock, and cried, “Hail, oh future partner!” Then he offered him a glass of “rare old Madeira;” and, producing a blank receipt form, exclaimed, “Whatever you do, my young friend, never let it be known in the counting–house that I accepted you with so ridiculous a deposit as the sum of thirty guineas.”
“Twenty, sir, twenty was what you agreed to accept.” Poor Cradock trembled from head to foot, lest even now, at the last moment, he should be rejected. But, to his delight, his new principal replied,
“Then, sir, twenty be it: if in a weak moment I agreed. Hearty Wibraham would rather throw up all his connexion than allow any man to say of him, sir, that he had departed from his word.” His voice trembled slightly, and there was a twinkle as of tears in his eyes. Crad began to apologize, though he could not quite see what harm he had done.
“Dash it, my boy, not another word. We understand each other. There is your receipt.”
In his confidence, Hearty Wibraham passed the receipt form, now filled up, to the aspiring coal–merchant, without having seen so much as the colour of his money. Then Cradock pulled out Amy?s purse, in which he had put the cash, for good luck, and paid his footing bravely.
“Sir, I will not thank you,” said Mr. Wibraham, as he took the money, “because the act would not be genuine. And I am proudly able to declare that I have never yet done anything, even for the sake of the common courtesies of life, which has not been thoroughly genuine. My boy, this paltry twenty guineas is the opening of your mercantile life. May that life be prosperous; as I am sure you deserve.”
Cradock took another glass of Madeira, as genuine as its owner, and, after a hearty farewell, felt so rapidly on the rise, so touched, for the first time of many weeks, by the dexter wand of fortune, that he bought a quarter of an ounce of bird?s–eye with an infusion of “Latakia” (grown in the footpath field at Mitcham), and actually warmed his dear brother?s pipe, which had not once been incremated ever since the sacred fire of the Prytaneum had languished.
Wena was overjoyed to see him, and she loved the smell of tobacco, and had often come sniffing about on the hearth–rug (or the bit of baize that did for it) to know whether it was true that a big man – a mastiff of a man, they told her – had succeeded in abolishing it; now, seeing the blue curls quivering nicely, she jumped upon his lap; and, although she was rather heavy, he thought it would be practice towards the nursing of Amy, and possibly Amy?s children. Then, when he thought of that, he grew more happy than fifty emperors.
Fortune may jump on a young fellow?s heart, with both heels set together; but, the moment she takes one off, up it comes, like a bladder too big to go into the football.
On Monday morning at ten o?clock, our Crad, in a state of large excitement, appeared before the gorgeous plate, and rang the bell thereover.It was answered by an office–boy, with a grin so intensely humorous that it was worth all the guineas that could have been thrust into the great mouth he exhibited.
“Mr. Newman?” asked the boy, with a patronizing air, which a little mind would have found offensive.
“To be sure,” replied Cradock; “I suppose I am expected.”
“That you are,” said the cheeky boy, grinning harder than ever; “the other three gents is waiting, sir. Get you a penny paper for three half–pence.”
“Thank you,” answered Cradock, hoping to depress that boy, “I am not come here, young man, I trust, to waste time in reading the papers.”
“Oh no! oh lor no,” cried the boy as he led the way in; “tip–top business this is, and all of us wears out our marrow–bones. His Ro–oyal Highness will be here bumbye. ‘Spect they?ll appoint you to receive him, ‘cos you would look such a swell with our governor?s best boots on. Don?t you refoose now, mind me, don?t refoose, mate, if you loves me.”
“You want a little whipcord,” said Cradock; “and you shall have it too, my boy, if you come much into my neighbourhood.”
“There now; there now!” sighed the boy – who would have been worth something on the stage – “I have never been appreciated, and suppose I never shall. What?s the odds to a jinker? Cockalocks, there go in, and let me mind your beaver.”
Cradock was shown into a room furnished as philosophically as the wash–house of Cincinnatus; still, it looked like business. There was no temptation to sit down, even though one had rowing–trousers on. There were four tall desks of deal uncovered; each had four legs, and resembled a naked Punch–and–Judy box. Hales, the Norfolk giant, could not have written at either of them, while sitting on any of the stools there.
Three of these desks were appropriated by three very nice young gentlemen, all burning to begin their labours. Two of the men were unknown to Cradock; but the third, the very short one, who had taken a stool to stand upon, and was mending a pen most earnestly – him Cradock recognised at once as the disburser of the shilling, the sanguine youth, of broad views in apparel, who had cheated Mr. Wibraham so.
“Mr. Fookes, I presume,” he exclaimed, with a leap from the stool, and a little run towards Cradock; “you see we are all ready, sir, to receive the junior partner. Hardly know what to be up to.”
“I am sure I cannot tell you,” answered Crad, with a smile; “I do not belong to the firm as yet, although I am promised a partnership at a date not very distant.”
“So am I,” said the little man, staring; “indeed, I came up from Cambridge principally upon the strength of it.”
“The deevil you did!” cried a tall, strapping fellow, crossing suddenly from his desk; “if ye?ll hearken me, my time comes first. The agrahment was signed for Candlemas, when the gloot of business allows it. And a Durham man knows what coals are.”
“Agrayment, thin, is it?” exclaimed the fourth, a flourishing, red–haired Irishman; “do you think I?d a left me Oonivarsity, Thrinity College, Dooblin, wi?out having it down all black and white? By the same token, it?s meself as is foremost. Christmas is the time, me boys; and the farst dividend on St. Pathrick?s Day, wakely sthipend in the intherim. Divil take me sowl, but none o’ ye shall git before Manus O?Toole.”
“Gentlemen,” said Cradock, “don?t let us be in a hurry. No doubt Mr. Fookes will be here presently, and then we can settle precedence. I see there is work set out for us; and I suppose we are not all strangers here.”
“Can?t answer for the other gentlemen,” returned the little Cambridge man, “but I was never here before, except to see the place on Saturday.”
“And that?s joost my own predeecament,” cried the tall man from Hatfield Hall.
“Chop me up smarl,” said the Irishman, when they turned to him as their senior, “but the gintleman has the advantage o’ me. I niver was here at all, at all; and I hope I niver shall be.”
The four young men gathered round a desk, and gazed sadly at one another. At this moment the office–boy, seeing the distance safe, for he had been watching through the keyhole, pushed his head in at the door, and shouted, “Hi! there, young coal–merchants, don?t yer sell too much now! Telegram from the Exchange, gents; grimy is on the rise. But excoose me half an hour, gents; Her Majesty have commanded my presence, to put the ro–oyal harms on me. Ho–hoop! I?m after you, Molly. Don?t be afraid of my splashing your legs, dear.”
“Well,” said Cradock, as the rising young coal–merchants seemed to look to him for counsel, and stood in silent bewilderment – “it appears to me that there is something wrong. Let us hope that it is a mistake only; at any rate, let us stop, and see the matter out. I trust that none of you gentlemen have paid a premium, as I have.”
“I am sure I don?t know,” said the Cantab, “what the others have done; but I was allowed to enter the firm for the sum of eighty guineas, a great deal too little, considering all the advantages offered – the proper sum being a hundred; but an abatement was made in my favour.”
“Ahty guineas!” cried the Durham man; “why I was admeeted for saxty, because I had no more.”
“It?s me blessed self, then, as bates you all,” shouted the son of Dublin; “shure and I?ve made a clear sixty by it, for I hadn?t no more than forty.”
“And I,” replied Cradock, with a melancholy air, “was received for the trifling sum of twenty, on account of my being an Oxford man.”
“Why, gentlemen,” said the little Cantab, “let us shake hands all round. We represent the four chief universities, only Scotland being omitted.”
“Catch a Scotchman with salt, me frinds!” cried the red Hibernian, as they went through the ceremony. “By Jasers, but that infarnal old Jew would have had to pay the porridge–man, for the pleasure of his company.”
“Now let us fall to our work, gentlemen” (Crad tried to look hopeful as he said it); “the books before us may throw some light upon this strange, and, as it seems, very roguish matter. I was told to act for our principal, during the absence of the sleeping partner; to keep you all in your places, and make you stick to your work; and especially to remember that one ounce of practice is worth a pound of precept.”
“I should be most happy, sir, to obey orders,” said the little Cambridge man, bowing; “only I hold the identical commission, ounce of practice and all, for your benefit, my good sir, and that of all the other juniors.”
“Now that shows a want of vareaty,” cried the tall Dunelmian, “for the sole charge of all of ye is commeeted to me.”
“It?s me blessed self that got it last, and that manes to kape it. What time wur you there, gintlemen, at Ory Thamis Buildings?”
It was settled that the Irishman had received his commission last, for, some whisky having been produced, he and Hearty Wibraham had kept it up until twelve o?clock on the Saturday night. So, to his intense delight, he was now appointed captain.
“An’ if I don?t drag him from his hole, to pay him the sixty guineas I owe him, out of your money, gintlemen, say my name isn?t Manus O?Toole. Now the fust arder I give, is to have in the bhoy, and wallop him.”
Easier said than done, Mr. Toole. There was no boy to be found anywhere; and the only result of a strong demonstration in the passage was a curt note from the landlord.
The four university men looked wondrously blank at this – “gelidusque per ima cucurrit ossa tremor.”
“Well, I am blowed!” cried the little Cantab, getting smaller, and with the sky–blue stripes on his trousers quivering.
“There?s a cousin of mine, a soleecitor,” said the young north countryman, “would take up this case for us, if we made a joint deposeet.”
“Have down the landlord and fight him,” proposed the Emerald Islander.
“I don?t care a fig for the landlord,” said Cradock, who now recalled some shavings of law from the Quarter Sessions spokeshave; “he can do nothing at all to us, until twelve o?clock, and then he can send us about our business, and no more harm done. We were not parties to the original contract, and have nothing to do with the rent. Now, gentlemen, there is only one thing I would ask you, in return for my lucid legal opinion.”
“What is that?” cried all the rest; “whatever it is, you shall have it.”
“That you make over to me, viv? voce, your three–fourths of the brass–plate. I have taken a strange fancy to it; the engraving is so fine.”
“You are perfectly welcome to it,” exclaimed the other three; “but won?t it belong to the landlord?”
“Not if it is merely screwed on, as probably is the case. And I have a screw–driver in my knife, which very few screws can resist.”
“Then go and take it, by all means, before twelve o?clock, for afterwards we shall only be trespassers.”
Crad put his hat on and went out, but returned with the wonderful screw–driver snapped up into his knife–handle, and the first flush of real British anger yet seen upon his countenance. What wonderful beings we are! He had lost nearly all his substance, and he was vexed most about the brass–plate.
“Done at every point,” he said; “that glorious under–plate is gone, and only the narrow bar left with the name of the thief upon it, which of course would not suit him again.”
“Oysters all round!” cried the Cambridge man, “as the landlord cannot distrain us. An oyster is a legal esculent; I see they teach law at Oxford; let us at least die jolly. And I claim the privilege of standing oysters, because I have paid the highest premium, and am the most promising partner – at any rate, the softest fellow. Gentlemen, if you refuse me, I claim our captain?s decision. Captain O?Toole, how is it?”
“Arrah, thin, and I order eysters at this gintleman?s expinse, London stout for the waker stomiks, and a drop o’ poteen for digestion, to them as are wakest of all.”
“Done,” said the little Cantab, “if only to rile the landlord, and he may distrain the shells. Call four university men, by implication, unrespectable parties! We must have our action against him. Gentlemen. I am off for the grub, and see that I get in again.”
“Faix, then, my honey,” cried the Irishman, forgetting all university language, “and, if ye don?t, ‘twill be a quare job for the bones on the knuckles of Manus O?Toole.”
While all four were enjoying their oysters – for Cradock, being a good–natured fellow, did not withhold his assistance – a sharp rap–rap announced the postman, and Mr. O?Toole returned from the door with a large square letter, sealed with the coat of arms of the company. “Ship–letther, and eightpence to pay, begorra. Gintlemen, will we take it?”
“How is it addressed?” asked two or three.
“Most gintaal. ‘To the sanior clerk or junior partner of the firm of Wibraham, Fookes, and Co., Coal Merchants,’ and that?s meself, if it?s nobody.”
“Then it?s you to pey the eightpence,” cried the Durham man.
“Do yer think, then, it?s me who can?t do it?” answered Mr. O?Toole, angrily. And then he broke open the letter and read:
“P. & O. steamer Will o’ the Wisp, off the Start Point. —Sunday.
“Consummate scoundrel!” exclaimed the little Cantab, with the beard of an oyster in his throat.
“Detasteable heepocrite!” cried the representative of Durham.
“Raw Irishman! Oh then the powers! And the punch of the head I never giv’ him, a week will be next Saturday.” Mr. O?Toole danced round the room, caught up the desks like dolls, and dashed all their noses together. Then he summoned the landlord, and pelted him out of the room and up the stairs with oyster–shells, the books, and the whisky–bottle, and two pewter–pots after his legs, as he luckily got round the landing–place. The terrified man, and his wife worse frightened, locked themselves in, and then threw up a window and bawled out for the police.
Cradock, feeling ashamed of the uproar, seized O?Toole by the collar; and the Durham man, being sedate and steady, grasped him on the other side. So they lifted him off the ground, and bore him even into Hyde Park, and there they left him upon a bench, and each went his several way. The police, according to precedent, were in time to be too late.
Cradock Nowell shivered hard, partly from his cold, and partly at the thought of the bitter life before him. He had Amy?s five and sixpence left, an immutable peculium. In currency his means were limited to exactly four and ninepence. With the accuracy of an upright man (even in the smallest matters), he had forced upon Mr. O?Toole his twopence, the quaternary of that letter. Also he had insisted upon standing stout, when thirst increased with oysters. Now he took the shillings four, having lost all faith in his destiny, and put one in each of his waistcoat pockets; for he had little horse–shoes upwards, as well as the straight chinks below. This being done, he disposed of his ninepence with as tight a view to security.
All that day he wandered about, and regretted Issachar Jupp. Towards nightfall, he passed a railway terminus, miserably lighted, a disgrace to any style of architecture, teeming with insolence, pretence, dirt, discomfort, fuss, and confusion. Let us call it the “Grand Junction Wasting and Screwing Line;” because among railway companies the name is generally applicable.
In a window, never cleaned since the prorogation of Parliament, the following “Notice” tried to appear; and, if you rubbed the glass, you might read it.
“Wanted immediately, a smart active young man, of good education. His duties will not be onerous. Wages one pound per week. Uniform allowed. Apply to Mr. Killquick, next door to the booking–office.”
Cradock read this three times over, for his wits were dull now, and then he turned round, and felt whether all his money was safe. Yes, every blessed halfpenny, for he had eaten nothing since the oysters.
“Surely I am an active young man, of good education,” said Crad to himself, “although not very smart, perhaps, especially as to my boots; but a suit, all uniform, allowed, will cure my only deficiency. I could live and keep Wena comfortably upon a pound a week. I hope, however, that they cash up. Railway companies have no honour, I know; but I suppose they pay when they can?t help it.”
Having meditated with himself thus much, he went, growing excited on the way – for now he was no philosopher – to the indicated whereabouts of that line?s factotum, Mr. Killquick. Here he had to wait very nearly an hour, Mr. Killquick being engaged, as usual, in the company?s most active department, arranging very effectually for a collision down the line. “Successfully,” I would have said; but, though the accident came off quite according to the most sanguine, or sanguinary expectation, the result was a slur on that company?s fame; only three people being killed, and five–and–twenty wounded.
“Now, young man,” asked Mr. Killquick, when all his instructions were on the wires, “what is your business with me?”
Cradock, having stated his purpose, name, and qualifications, the traffic–manager looked at him with interest and reflection. Then he said impressively, “You can jump well, I should think?”
“I have never yet been beaten,” Crad answered, “but of course there are many who can beat me.”
“And run, no doubt? And your sight is accurate, and your nerves very good?”
“My nerves are not what they were, sir; but I can run fast and see well.”
“Why do you shiver so? That will never do. And the muscles of his calf are too prominent. We lost No. 6 through that.”
“It is only a little cold I have caught. It will go off in a moment with regular work.”
“You have no relation, I suppose, in any way connected with the law? No friends, I mean, of litigious tendencies?”
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