Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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And yet these were the very places where, most of all, the “number–taker” was bound to have his stand – where alone he could contrive to check two trains at once. “Could they help starting two trains at once?” poor Crad asked himself – for he had found no time to ask it before – when, weary to the last fibre with the work of the day, he fell upon his little bed, and could hardly notice Wena. Perhaps they could not; it was more than he knew; only he knew that, if they could, they were but wanton man–slaughterers.
After a deep sleep, all in his clothes, he awoke the next morning quite up for his work, and Morshead, who had been on duty all night, and whose eyes seemed cut out of card–board, only stayed for an hour with him, and then, feeling that Crad was quite up to the day–work, ran home and snored for ten hours, as loud as Phlegethon or Enceladus.
The most fearful thing, for a new hand, was, of course, the night–work; and Stephen Morshead, delighted to have such a mate at last, had begged to leave Cradock the day–spell, at least for the first three weeks; for to Stephen the moon was as good as the sun, and sweet sleep fell like wool when plucked at, and hushed the tramping steeds of the day–god. Only, for the sake of Stephen?s eyes, on whose accuracy hung the life–poise, it was absolutely necessary not to dilate the pupils incessantly.
But Cradock never took night–work there; and the change came about on this wise. Wena felt that she was wronged by his going away from her every day so early in the morning, and not coming home to her again till ever so late at night, and then too tired to say a word, or perhaps he didn?t care to do it. Like all females of any value – unless they are really grand ones, and, if such there be, please to keep them away – Wena grew jealous desperately. She might as well be anybody else?s dog; and the baker?s dog was with his master all day; and the butcher?s lady dog, a nasty ill–bred thing – the idea of calling her a lady! – why, even she was allowed, though the selfish thing didn?t care for it, unless there was suet on his apron, to jump up at him and taste him, all the time he was going for orders. And then look even at the Ducksacre dog, a despicable creature – his father might have been a bull–terrier, or he might have been a Pomeranian, or a quarter–bred Skye, or the Lord knows who, very likely a turnspit, and his mother, oh! the less we say of her the better; – why, that wretched, lop–eared, split–tailed thing, without an eye fit to look out of, had airs of his own; and what did it mean, she would like to know, and she who had formed some nice acquaintances, dogs that had been presented at Court, and got Eau–de–Cologne every morning, and not a blessed [run away] upon them? Why, it meant simply this: that Spot, filthy plague–spot, was allowed to go out with the baskets, and made a deal of by his owners, and might cock his tail with the best of them, while she, black Wena, who had been brought up so differently —
Here her feelings were too much for her, and she put down her soft flossy ear upon the drugget–scrap, and looked at the door despairingly, and howled until Mrs.Ducksacre was obliged to come up and comfort her. Even then she wouldn?t eat the dripping.
From that day she made her mind up. She would watch her opportunity. What was the good of being endowed with such a nose as she had, unless she could smell her master out, even through the streets of London? What did he wear such outlandish clothes for? Very likely, on purpose to cheat her. Very likely he was even keeping some other dog. At any rate, she would know that, if it cost her her life to do it. What good was her life now to her, or anybody else? Heigho!
On the following Saturday, when Cradock was gone to his fifth day?s work, what does Wena do, when Mrs. Ducksacre came up on purpose to coax and make much of her, but most ungratefully give her the slip, with a skill worthy of a better purpose, then scuttle down the stairs, all four legs at once, in that sort of a bone–slide which domestic dogs acquire. Miss Ducksacre ran out of the shop at the noise – for this process is not a silent one; but she could only cry, “Oh, Lord!” as Wena, with the full impact of her weight multiplied into her velocity; or, if that is wrong, with the cube of her impetus multiplied into the forty–two stairs – bang she came anyhow, back–foremost, against the young lady?s – nay, you there, I said, “lower limbs” – and deposited her in a bushel of carrots, just come from Covent Garden.
“Stop her, Joe, for God?s sake, stop her!” Miss Ducksacre cried to the shop–boy, as well as she could, for the tail of a carrot which had gotten between her teeth.
“Blowed if I can, miss,” the boy responded, as Wena nipped his fingers for him; the next moment she was free as the wind, and round the corner in no time.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” cried Polly Ducksacre, a buxom young lady, with fine black eyes, “whatever will Mr. Newman think of us? It will seem so unkind and careless; and he does love that dog so!”
Polly was beginning to entertain a tender regard for Cradock; especially since he had shown his proportions in “them beautiful buff pantaloons.” What a greengrocer he would make, to be sure, so hupright and so lordly like; and she?d like to see the man in the “Garden” who would tell her she had eaten sparrow–pie, with Mr. Newman to hold the basket for her.
By this time, Mrs. Ducksacre was come down the stairs, screaming “Wena!” at the top of her voice the whole way; and out they ran, boy and all, to search for her, while three or four urchins came in, without medium of exchange, and filled cap, mouth, and pocket. One brat was caught upon their return, and tied up for the day in an empty potato–sack, and exposed, behind the counter, to universal execration; in which position he took such note of manner and custom, time and place, that it was never safe for the Ducksacre firm to dine together afterwards.
Meanwhile, that little black Wena, responsive and responsible to none except her master, pursued the even tenor of her way, nosing the ground, and asking many a question of the lamp–posts, as far as the Cramjam Terminus, at least three miles from Mortimer–street. The sharp little gate–clerk, animated with railway love of privacy, ran out, and clapped his hands, and shouted “hoo” at Wena; but she only buttoned her tail down, and cut across the compound. As for the stone he threw at her, she caught it up in her mouth as it rolled, and carried it on to her master.
There was Cradock, in the thick of it, standing on a narrow pile of pig–iron, one of his chief fortalices; his book was in his hand, and he was entering, as fast as he could, all the needful particulars of a goods train sliding past him.
Creak, and squeak, and puff, and shriek, – Oh, what a scene, thought Wena, – and the rattle of the ghostly chains, and the rushing about, and the roaring. She lost her presence of mind in a moment, – she always had been such a nervous dog – she tightened her tail convulsively, and dropped her ears, while her eyes came forth; and, glancing at the horrors on every side, she fled for dear life from the evil to come.
The faster she fled, the more they closed round her. She had not espied her master yet; she could not find the way back again; she was terrified out of all memory; and a host of frightful genii, more sooty than Cocytus, and riding hideous monsters, were yelling at her on every side, clapping black hands, and hooting. The dog on the Derby course, when the race rushes round the corner, was in a position of glory and safety compared to poor Wena?s now. Already the tip of her tail was crushed, already one pretty paw was broken; for she had bolted in and out through the trains, truck bottoms, wheels, and driving–wheels. Oh, you cowards, to yell at her! with black death grating and grinding upon her soft silky back!
At last, she gave in altogether. They had hunted her to her grave. Who may contend with destiny? She lay down under a moving coal–train, and resigned herself to die. But first she must ask for sympathy, although so unlikely to get it. She looked once more at her wounded foot, and shivered and sobbed with the agony; and then gave vent to one long low cry, to ask if no one loved a poor dog there.
Cradock heard it, and started so that it was nearly all up with him too. Thoroughly he knew the cry, wherein she had wailed for Clayton. He flung down his book, and dashed to the place, and there he saw Wena, and she saw him. She began to try to limp to him, but he held up his hand to stop her; disabled as she was, she was sure to be caught by the wheel. Could she stay there, and let the train pass her? No. At its tail was an empty horse–box, almost scraping the ground, perfectly certain to crush her. Crying, “Down, down, my poor darling!” he ran down the train, which was travelling seven or eight miles an hour, seized the side of a truck, and leaped, at the risk of his life, upon the fender in front of the horse–box. Then he got astride of the coupling–chain, and kept his right hand low to the ground, to snatch her up ere the crusher came. Knowing where she was, he caught her by the neck the instant the truck disclosed her, and, with a strong swing, heaved her up into it. But he lost his balance in doing it, and fell sideways, with his head on the other coupling–chain. Stunned by the blow, he lay there, only clinging by his right calf to the chain he had sat astride upon. The first jerk of either chain, the first swing of either carriage, and he must be ground to powder.
Luckily for him and for Amy, Morshead was not gone home yet, seeing more to do than usual. Missing his mate from the proper place, he had run up in terror to look for him, when a man in a truck, who had vainly been shouting to stop the coal–train?s engine, pointed and screamed to him where and what was doing. Morshead jumped on the heap of pig–iron, and sideways thence on the board of the truck just passing, as dangerous a leap as well could be, but luckily that truck was empty. He jumped into the truck, a shallow one, where poor Wena lay quite paralysed, and, stooping over the back with both arms, he got hold of Cradock?s collar. Then, with a mighty effort, he jerked him upon the tail–board, and lugged him in, and bent over him.
Wounded Wena crawled up, and begged to have her poor foot looked at, then, obtaining no notice at all, she felt that Cradock must be killed and dead, just as Clayton had been. Upon this conclusion, she fetched such a howl, though it shook her sore tail to do it, that the engine–driver actually looked round, and the train was stopped.
Hereupon, let me offer a suggestion – everybody now is allowed to do so, though nobody ever takes it. My suggestion is, that no man should be allowed to drive an engine without having served a twelvemonth?s apprenticeship as an omnibus conductor. I don?t mean to say it would improve his morals – probably rather otherwise; but it would teach him the habit of looking round; it would let him know that there really is more than one quarter of the heavens. At present, all engine–drivers seem afraid of being turned into pillars of salt. So they fix themselves, like pillars of stone, and stare, ???????? ???????, through their square glass spectacles.
When one of the railway bajuli – who are, on the whole, very good sort of fellows, and deserve their Christmas–boxes – came home in the cab with Cradock and Wena at the expense of the Company (which was boasted of next board–day) – when one of them came home with Crad – for Morshead had double work again – Polly Ducksacre went into strong hysterics, and it required two married men and a boy to get her out of the potato–bin.
It was all up with our Crad that night. The overwork of brain and muscle, the presence of mind required all the time when his mind was especially absent, the impossibility of thinking out any of his trains of ideas when a train of trucks was upon him, the native indignation of a man at knowing that his blood is meant to ebb down a railway sewer, and a new broom will sweep him clean – all these worries and wraths together, cogging into the mill–wheel of cares already grinding, had made such a mill–clack in his head near the left temple, where the thump was, that he could only roll on his narrow bed at imminent risk of a floor–bump.
Then the cold, long harbouring, struck into his heart and reins; and he knew not that Dr. Tink came, and was learned and diagnostic upon him; nor even that Polly Ducksacre took his feet out of bed, and rubbed them until her wrists gave way; and then, half ashamed of her womanhood, sneaked away, and cried over Wena.
Wena?s foot was put into splinters, Wena?s tail was stypticised; but no skill could save her master from a furious brain–fever.
Leaving the son on his narrow hard pallet, to toss and toss, and turn and turn, and probably get bed–sores, let us see how the father was speeding.
Sir Cradock Nowell sat all alone in his little breakfast–room, soon after the funeral of his brother, and before Eoa came to him. For the simple, hot–hearted girl fell so ill after she heard of her loss, and recovered from the narcotic, that Biddy O?Gaghan, who got on famously with the people at the Crown, would not hear of her being moved yet, and drove Dr. Hutton all down the stairs, “with a word of sinse on the top of him,” when he claimed his right of attending upon the girl he had known in India.
That little breakfast–room adjoined Sir Cradock?s favourite study, and was as pretty a little room as he could have wished to sit in. He had made pretence of breakfasting, but perhaps he looked forward to lunch–time, for not more than an ounce of food had he swallowed altogether.
There he sat nervously, trying vainly to bring his mind to bear on the newspaper. Fine gush of irony, serried antithesis, placid assumption of the point at issue, then logic as terse and tight as the turns of a three–inch screw–jack, withering indignation at those who won?t think exactly as we do, the sunrise glow of metaphor, the moonlight gleam of simile, the sparkling stars of wit, and the playful Aurora of humour – alas, all these are like water on a duck?s back when the heart won?t let the brain go. If we cannot appreciate their beauty, because our opinions are different, how can we hope to do so when we don?t care what any opinions are?
It is all very well, very easy, to talk about objectivity; but a really objective man the Creator has never shown us, save once; and even He rebuked the fig–tree, to show sympathy with our impatience.
And I doubt but it is lest we deify the grand incarnations of intellect – the Platos and the Aristotles, the Bacons and the Shakespeares – that it has pleased the Maker of great and small to leave us small tales of the great ones, mean anecdotes, low traditions; lest at any time we should be dazzled, and forget that they were but sparkles from the dross which heaven hammers on. Oh vast and soaring intellects, was it that your minds flew higher because they had shaken the soul off; or was it that your souls grew sullen at the mind?s preponderance?
Fash we not ourselves about it, though we pay the consequences. If we have not those great minds in the lump, we have a deal more, taking the average, and we make it go a deal further, having learned the art of economy and the division of labour. Nevertheless, Sir Cradock Nowell, being not at all an objective man, lay deep in the pot of despondency; and, even worse than that, hung, jerked thereout every now and then, by the flesh–hook of terror and nervousness. How could he go kindly with his writer when his breakfast would not so with him?
He was expecting Bull Garnet. Let alone all his other wearing troubles, he never could be comfortable when he expected Bull Garnet. At every step in the passage, every bang of a door, the proud old gentleman trembled and flushed, and was wroth with himself for doing so.
Then Hogstaff came in, and fussed about, and Sir Cradock was fain to find fault with him.
“How careless you are getting about the letters, Hogstaff. Later and later every morning! What is the reason that you never now bring me the bag at the proper time?”
It was very strange, no doubt, of Job Hogstaff, but he could not bear to be found fault with; and now he saw his way to a little triumph, and resolved to make the most of it.
“Yes, Sir Cradock; to be sure, Sir Cradock; how my old head is failing me! Very neglectful of me never to have brought the bag to–day.” Then he turned round suddenly at the door, to which he had been hobbling. “Perhaps you?d look at the date, Sir Cradock, of the paper in your hand, sir.”
“Yesterday?s paper, of course, Hogstaff. What has that to do with it?”
“Oh, nothing, sir, nothing, of course. Only I thought it might have comed in the letter–bag. Perhaps it never does, Sir Cradock; you knows best, as you takes it out.” Here old Job gave a quiet chuckle, and added, as if to himself, “No, of course, it couldn?t have come in the letter–bag this morning, or master would never have blowed me up for not bringing him the bag, as nobody else got a key to it!”
“How stupid of me, to be sure, how excessively stupid!” exclaimed Sir Cradock, with a sigh; “of course I had the bag, a full hour ago; and there was nothing in it but this paper. Job, I beg your pardon.”
“And I hope it?s good news you?ve got there, Sir Cradock, and no cases of starvation; no one found dead in the streets, I hopes, or drownded in the Serpentine. Anyhow, there?s a many births, I see, and a deal too many. Children be now such a plenty nobody care about them.”
“Job, you quite forget yourself,” said his master, very grandly; but there came a long sigh after it, and Job was not daunted easily.
“And, if I do, Sir Cradock Nowell, I?d sooner forget myself than my children.”
Sir Cradock was very angry, or was trying to feel that he ought to be so, when a heavy tread, quite unmistakable, and yet not so firm as it used to be, shook the Minton tiles of the passage. That step used to cry to the echoes, “Make way; a man of vigour and force is coming.” Now all it said was, “Here I go, and am not in a mood to be meddled with.”
“Come in,” said Sir Cradock, fidgeting, and pretending to be up for an egg, as Mr. Garnet gave two great thumps on the panel of the door. Small as the room was, Job Hogstaff managed to be too late to let him in.
Bull Garnet first flung his great eyes on the butler; he had no idea of fellows skulking their duty. Old Hogstaff, who looked upon Garnet as no more than an upper servant, gazed back with especial obtuseness, and waved his napkin cleverly.
“Please to put that mat straight again, Mr. Garnet. You kicked it askew, as you came in. And our master can?t abide things set crooked.”
To Job?s disappointment and wonder, Bull Garnet stepped back very quietly, stooped down, and replaced the sheepskin.
“Hogstaff, leave the room this moment,” shouted Sir Cradock, wrathfully; and Job hobbled away to brag how he had pulled Muster Garnet down a peg.
“Now, Garnet, take my easy–chair. Will you have a cup of coffee after your early walk?”
“No, thank you. I have breakfasted three hours and a half ago. In our position of life, we must be up early, Sir Cradock Nowell.”
There was something in the tone of that last remark, common–place as it was, without the key to it, which the hearer disliked particularly.
“I have requested the favour of your attendance here, Mr. Garnet, that I might have the benefit of your opinion upon a subject which causes me the very deepest anxiety – at least, I mean, which interests me deeply.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Garnet: he could say “ah!” in such a manner that it held three volumes uncut.
“Yes. I wish to ask your opinion about my poor son, Cradock.”
Bull Garnet said not a word, but conveyed to the ceiling his astonishment that the housemaid had left such cobwebs there.
“I fear, Garnet, you cannot sympathize with me. You are so especially fortunate in your own domestic circumstances.”
“Oh,” said Mr. Garnet, still contemplating the cornice. “Oh exclamantis est,” beautifully observes the Eton grammar.
“Yes, your son is a perfect pattern. So gentle and gentlemanly; so amiable and poetical. I had no idea he was so brave. Shall I ever see him to thank him for saving the life of my niece?”
“He is a fine fellow, a noble fellow, Sir Cradock. The dearest and the best boy in the whole wide world.”
The old man long had known that the flaw in Bull Garnet?s armour was the thought of his dear boy, Bob.
“And can you not fancy, Garnet, that my son, whatever he is, may also be dear to me?”
“I should have said so, I must have thought so, but for the way you have treated him.”
Bull Garnet knew well enough that he was a hot and hasty man; but he seldom had felt that truth more sharply than now, when he saw the result of his words. Nevertheless, he faltered not. He had made up his mind to deliver its thoughts, and he was not the man to care for faces.
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