Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“Sir Cradock Nowell, I am a violent, hot, and passionate man. I have done many things in my fury which I would give my life to undo; but I would rather have them all on my soul than such cold–blooded, calm, unnatural cruelty as you have shown to your only – I mean to your own – son. I suppose you never cared for him; suppose! I mean of course you did not.”
He looked at Sir Cradock Nowell, with thunder and hail in his eyes. The old man could not glance it back; neither did he seem to be greatly indignant at it.
“Then – then – I suppose you don?t think – you don?t believe, I mean, Garnet – that he did it on purpose?”
Mr. Garnet turned pale as a winding–sheet, and could not speak for a moment. Then he looked away from Sir Cradock?s eyes, and asked, “Is it possible that you have ever thought so?”
“I have tried not,” answered Sir Cradock, with his wasted bosom heaving. “God knows that I have struggled against it. Garnet, have pity upon me. If you have any of our blood in you, tell me the truth, what you think.”
“I not only think, but know, that the devil only could have suggested such an idea to you. Man, for the sake of the God that made you, and made me as well as your brother, and every one of us brethren, rather put a pistol to your heart than that damned idea. In cold blood! in cold blood! And for the sake of gain! A brother to – do away with – a brother so! Oh, what things have come upon me! Where is my God, and where is yours?”
“I am sure I don?t know,” replied the old man, gazing round in wonderment, as if he expected to see Him – for the scene had quite unnerved him – “I suppose He is – is somewhere in the usual place, Mr. Garnet.”
“Then that?s not in this neighbourhood,” replied Bull Garnet, heavily; “He is gone from me, from all of us. And His curse is on my children. Poor innocents, poor helpless lambs! The curse of God is on them.”
He went away to the window; and, through his tears, and among the trees, tried to find his cottage–roof.
Sir Cradock Nowell was lost to thought, and heard nothing of those woeful words, although from the depth of that labouring chest they came like the distant sea–roar.
Bull Garnet returned with his fierce eyes softened to a woman?s fondness, and saw, with pity as well as joy, that his last words had not been heeded. “Ever hot and ever hasty, until it comes to my own death,” he muttered, still in recklessness; “perhaps then I shall be tardy. For my son?s sake, for my Bob and Pearl, I must not make such a child of myself. Nevertheless, I cannot stay here.”
“Garnet,” said Sir Cradock Nowell, slowly recovering from his stupor, a slight cerebral paralysis, “say nothing of what has passed between us – nothing, I entreat you; and not another word to me now. I only understand that you assert emphatically my son Cradock?s innocence.”
“With every fibre of my heart. With every tissue of my brain.”
“Then I love you very much for it; although you have done it so rudely.”
“Don?t say that.Never say it again. I can?t bear it now, Sir Cradock.”
“Very well, then, I won?t, Garnet. Though I think you might be proud of my gratitude; for I never bestow it rashly.”
“I am very thankful to you. Gratitude is an admirable and exceedingly scarce thing. I am come to give you notice – as well as to answer your summons – notice of my intention to quit your service shortly.”
“Nonsense!” replied Sir Cradock, gasping; “nonsense, Garnet! You never mean that – that even you would desert me?”
Bull Garnet was touched by the old man?s tone – the helplessness, the misery. “Well,” he answered, “I?ll try to bear with it for a little longer, in spite of the daily agony. I owe you everything; all I can do. I?ll get things all into first–rate order, and then I hope, most truly, your son will be back again, sir.”
“It isn?t only the stewardship, Garnet; it isn?t only that. You are now as one of the family, and there are so few of us left. Your daughter Pearl; I begin to love her as of my own flesh and blood. Who knows but what, if my Cradock comes back, he may take a liking to her? Amy Rosedew has not behaved well lately, any more than her father has.”
“Do you mean to say that you, Sir Cradock, with all your prejudices of birth, legitimacy, and station, would ever sanction – supposing it possible – any affection of a child of yours for a child of mine?”
“To be sure – if it were a true one. A short time ago I thought very differently. But oh! what does it matter? I am not what I was, Garnet.”
“Neither am I,” thought Mr. Garnet; “but I might have been, if only I could ever have dreamed this. God has left me, for ever left me.”
“Why don?t you answer me, Garnet? Why do you shut your Pearl up so? Let her come to me soon; she would do me good; and I, as you know, have a young lady coming, who knows little of English society. Pearl would do her a great deal of good. Pearl is a thorough specimen of a well–bred English maiden. I think I like her better than Amy – since Amy has been so cold to me.”
To Sir Cradock?s intense astonishment, Bull Garnet, instead of replying, rushed straight away out of the room, and, not content with that, he rushed out of the house as well, and strode fiercely away to the nearest trees, and was lost to sight among them.
“Well,” said the old man, “he always was the oddest fellow I ever did know; and I suppose he always will be. And yet what a man for business!”
That same forenoon, Mrs. Brown?s boy and donkey came with a very long message from a lady who had tucked him on the head because he could not make out her meaning. He believed her name was Mrs. Jogging, and he was to say that Miss Oh Ah was fit to come home to–day, please, if they?d please to send the shay for her. And they must please to get ready Satan?s room, where the daffodil curtains was, because the young woman loved to look at the yeast, and to have a good fire burning. And please they must send the eel–skin cloak, and the foot–tub in the shay, because the young woman was silly.
“Chilly, you stupid,” replied Mrs. Toaster. “She shall have the foot–warmer and the seal–skin cloak; but what Satan?s room with the daffodil curtains is, only the Lord in heaven knows; and how she is to see any yeast there! Are you certain that was the message?”
“Sartin, ma?am. I said it to myself ever so many times; more often than I stuck the Neddy.”
Sir Cradock Nowell, upon appeal, speedily decided that the satin room was meant – the room with the rose–coloured curtains, and the windows facing the east; but the boy stuck out for the daffodil; leastways he was certain it was some flower.
It was nearly dark when the carriage returned; and Sir Cradock came down to the great entrance–hall to meet his brother?s child. He was trembling with anxiety; for his nerves were rapidly failing him; and, from Dr. Hutton?s account, he feared to see in his probable heiress – for now he had no heir – something very outlandish and savage. Therefore he was surprised and delighted when a graceful and beautiful girl, with high birth and elegance in every movement, flung off her cloak, and skipped up to him with the lightness of a gazelle, and threw her arms round his neck, and kissed him.
“Oh, uncle, I shall love you so! You are so like my darling – you have got his nose exactly, and just the same shaped legs. Oh, to think he should ever have left me!” And she burst into tears then and there before half a dozen servants. “Oh, Uncle Cradock, you have got a fine house; but I never shall get over it.”
“Hush, my dear; come with me, my child!” Sir Cradock was always wide awake upon the subject of proprieties.
“I am not your child; and I won?t be your child, if you try to stop me like that. I must cry when I want to cry, and it is so stupid to stop me.”
“What a pretty dear you are!” said Sir Cradock, scarcely knowing what to say, but having trust in feminine vanity.
“Am I indeed? I don?t think so at all. I was very pretty, I know, until I began to cry so. But now my cheeks are come out, and my eyes gone in; but, oh dear! what does it matter, and my father never, never to take me on his lap again? Hya! Hya! Hya!”
“Faix, thin, me darlin?,” cried Mrs. O?Gaghan, stroking her down in a shampoo manner, “it?s meself as knows how to dale with you. Lave her to me; Sir Crayduck; she?s pure and parfict, every bit on her. I knows how to bring her out, and she?ll come to your room like a lamb, now jist. – Git out of the way, the lot on you” – to several officious maidens – “me honey, put your hand in my neck, your blissed leetle dove of a hand, and fale how me heart goes pat for you. Sir Crayduck, me duty to you, but you might ‘ave knowed how to git out of the way, and lave the ladies to the ladies.”
Sir Cradock Nowell marched away, thinking what a blessing it was that he had not had much to do with women. Then he reproached himself for the thought, as he remembered his darling Violet, the mother of his children. But, before he had brooded very long in the only room he liked to use now, his study just off from the library, a gentle knock came to the door – as Biddy always expressed it – and Eoa, dressed in deepest mourning (made at Lymington, from her own frock, while she lay ill at the Crown), came up to him steadily, and kissed him, and sat on a stool at his feet.
“Oh, uncle, I am so sorry,” she said, with her glorious hair falling over his knees, and her deep eyes looking up at him, “I am so sorry, Uncle Cradock, that I vexed you so, just now.”
“You did not vex me, my pretty. I was only vexed for you. Now, remember one thing, my darling – for I shall love you as my own daughter – I have been very harsh and stern where, perhaps, I had no right to be so: if I am ever unkind to you, my dear, if I ever say anything hard, only say ‘Clayton Nowell’ to me, and I will forgive you directly.”
“You mean I must forgive you, uncle. I suppose that?s what you mean. If you are unkind to me, what will you want to forgive me for? But I couldn?t do it. I couldn?t say it, even if I had done any harm. Please to remember that I either love or I hate people. I know that I shall love you. But you must not contradict me. I never could endure it, and I never will.”
“Well,” said Sir Cradock, laughing; “I will try to remember that, my dear. Though, in that respect, you differ but little from our English young ladies.”
“If you please, Uncle Cradock, I must go to–night to see where you have put my father. There, I won?t cry any more, because he told me never to vex you, and I see that my crying vexes you. Did you cry, yourself, Uncle Cradock, when you heard of it first?”
She looked at him, as she asked this question, with such wild intensity, as if her entire opinion of him would hang upon his reply, that the old man felt himself almost compelled to tell “a corker.”
“Well, my dear, I am not ashamed to confess – ”
“Ashamed to confess, indeed! I should rather hope not. But you ought to be ashamed, I know, if you hadn?t cried, Uncle Crad. But now I shall love you very much, now I know you did cry. And how much have you got a year, Uncle Crad?”
“How much what, my dear? What beautiful eyes you have, Eoa; finer than any of the Nowells!”
“Yes, I know. But that won?t do, Uncle Crad; you don?t want to answer my question. What I want to know is a very simple thing. How much money have you got a year? You must have got a good deal. I know, because everybody says so, and because this is such a great place, as big as the palaces in Calcutta.”
“Really, Eoa, it is not usual for young people, especially young ladies, to ask such very point–blank questions.”
“Oh, I did not know that, and I can?t see any harm in it. I know the English girls at Calcutta used to think of nothing else. But I am not a bit like them; it isn?t that I care for the money a quarter so much as tamarinds; but I have a particular reason; and I?ll find out in spite of you. Just you see if I don?t, now.”
“A very particular reason, Eoa, for inquiring into my income! Why, what reason can you have?”
“Is it usual for old people, especially old gentlemen, to ask such very point–blank questions?”
Sir Cradock would have been very angry with any other person in the world for such a piece of impertinence; but Eoa gave such a smile of triumph at having caught him in his own net (as she thought), and looked so exquisite in her beauty, as she rose, and the firelight flashed on her; then she tossed her black hair over her shoulders, and gave him such a kiss (with all the spices of India in it) that the old man was at her mercy quite, and she could do exactly what she liked with him.
Oh, Mrs. Nowell Corklemore – so proud of having obtained at last an invitation to Nowelhurst, so confident that, once let in, you can wedge out all before you, like Alexander?s phalanx – call a halt, and shape your wiles, and look to belt and buckler, have every lance fresh set and burnished, every sword like a razor; for verily the fight is hard, when art does battle with nature.
Previous to the matters chronicled in the preceding chapter, Mr. Garnet had received a note, of which the following is a copy: —
The circumstances beyond the fiery little doctor?s control were that he could not find any one who would undertake to carry his message.
When Bull Garnet read this letter – handed to him, with three great bows of the Chinese pattern, by the pompous Major Blazeater – his face flushed to a deep amethyst tinge, which subsided to the colour of cork. Then he rolled his great eyes, and placed one strong finger across the deep channels of his forehead, and said, “Let me think, sir!”
“Hurrah,” said the Major to himself, “now we shall have something to redeem the honour of the age. It is a disgrace for a fellow to live in a country where he can never get satisfaction, although he gets plenty of insult.”
“Major Blazeater, you will make allowances for me,” resumed Mr. Garnet; “but I have never had much opportunity of becoming acquainted with the laws – the code, perhaps, I should say – which govern the honourable practice of duelling at the present day.”
“No matter, my dear sir; no matter at all, I assure you. Your second, when I have the honour of meeting him, will settle all those little points, which are beside the general issue; we shall settle them together, sir, with the strictest regard to punctilio, and to your entire satisfaction.”
“Capital fellow!” pursued the Major, in his own reflection–room; “knew he couldn?t be a coward: just look at his forehead. No doubt he was perfectly justified in kicking out Rue Hutton; Rue is such an impudent beggar. Ah! referring to his pocket–book to find his military friend?s address; now we shall do it in style. Glorious fellow this Garnet – shall have the very best powder. Wish I was on his side.” And the Major rubbed his long brown hands upon his lanky knees.
“Will it be according to rule,” asked Mr. Garnet, looking steadily (“What an eye for a pistol!” said the Major to himself), “quite according to rule and order, if I write down for you, Major Blazeater, the name of the friend to whom I refer; also the time and place at which he will be ready to discuss this little matter with you?”
“To be sure, to be sure, my dear sir; nothing could be better. Your conduct, Mr. Garnet, does you the very highest honour.”
“Nothing, you think, can be objected to my course in this? – nothing against the high chivalric code of modern duelling?”
“No, my dear sir, nothing at all. Please to hand me the assignation; ha, ha, it is so pleasant – I mean the rendezvous.”
Mr. Garnet handed to him a card, whereon was written: “Town Hall, Lymington, Wednesday, November 2nd. Before Admiral Reale, Col. Fale, and C. Durant, Esq. Application will be made at 12 o?clock for a warrant against Rufus Hutton and Major Blazeater – Christian name unknown – for conspiring together to procure one Bull Garnet to fight a duel, against the peace of Her Majesty, and the spirit of the age.”
Major Blazeater fell back in his chair; and all his blood ran to his head. As he told his daughter afterwards, he had never had such a turn in his life. The fairest prospect blasted, the sunrise of murder quenched; what good was it to live in a world where people won?t shoot one another? Bull Garnet bent his large eyes upon him, and the Major could not answer them.
“Now, Major Blazeater,” said Mr. Garnet, “I shall bind you over to keep the peace, and your principal as well, and expose you to the ridicule of every sensible man in England, unless I receive by to morrow morning?s post at 10.15 A.M. an apology for this piece of infantile bravado. What a man does in hot passion, God knows, and God will forgive him for, if he truly strive to amend it – at least – at least, I hope so.”
Here Mr. Garnet turned away, and looked out of the window, and perhaps it was the view of Bob that made his eyes so glistening.
“But, sir,” he resumed – while the Major was wondering where on earth he should find any sureties for keeping Her Majesty?s peace, which he could not keep with his wife – “sir, I look at things of this sort from a point of view diametrically opposed to yours. Perhaps you have the breadth to admit that my view may be right, and yours may be wrong.”
“Nothing, nothing at all, sir, will I admit to a man who actually appoints the magistrates the custodians of his honour.”
“Honour, sir, as we now regard it, is nothing more than fool?s varnish. Justice, sir, and truth are things we can feel and decide about. Honour is the feminine of them, and, therefore, apt to confuse a man. Major Blazeater, the only honour I have is to wish you good morning.”
“Hang it all,” said the Major to himself, as he was shown out honourably, “I have put my foot in it this time; and won?t Mrs. Blazeater give it to me! That woman finds out everything. This is now the third time I?ve tried to get up a snug little meeting, and the fates are all against me. Dash it, now, if I?ve got to pay costs, O Boadicea Blazeater, you won?t mend my gloves for a fortnight.”
Major Blazeater wore very tight doeskin gloves, and was always wearing them out. Hence, his appeal to the female Penates took this constricted form. The household god of the Ph?nicians, and the one whose image they affixed to the bows of their galleys, hoping to steer homewards, was (as we know from many sources) nothing but a lamb; a very rude figure, certainly, – square, thick–set, inelegant; but I doubt not that some grand home–truth clung to their Agna Dea. Major Blazeater was a lamb, whose wits only went to the shearing the moment you got him upon his own hearth, and Boadicea bleated at him. He would crumple his neck up, and draw back his head, and look pleadingly at any one, as a house–lamb does on Good Friday, and feel that his father had done it before him, and he, too, must suffer for sheepishness.
Meditating sadly thus, he heard a great voice coming after him down the gravel–walk, and, turning round, was once more under Mr. Garnet?s eyes. “One more word with you, if you please, sir. It will be necessary that you two warlike gentlemen should appoint a legal second. Mine will be Mr. Brockwood, who will be prepared to show that your principal was grossly inquisitive and impertinent, before I removed him from my premises.”
“Oh!” cried the Major, delighted to find any loophole for escape, “that puts a new aspect upon the matter, if he gave you provocation, sir.”
“He gave me as strong provocation as one man can well give another, by prying into my – domestic affairs, in the presence of my son and daughter, and even tampering with my servants. He left me no other course, except to remove him from my house.”
“Which you did rather summarily. My dear sir, I should have done the same. Had I been aware of these facts, I would have declined to bear his cartel. You shall receive my apology by to–morrow morning?s post. I trust this unwise proceeding – may – may not proceed any further. Your behaviour, sir, does you credit, and requires no vindication at law.”
Thus spoke Major Blazeater, bowing and smiling elaborately under a combination of terrors – the law, public ridicule, expenses; worst of all, Mrs. Blazeater. The next morning, Mr. Garnet received from him a letter, not only apologetic, but highly eulogistic, at which Bull Garnet smiled grimly, as he tossed it into the fire. By the same post came a letter from Rufus, to the following effect: —
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