Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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Mr. Garnet did not burn this letter, but twice read it through very carefully, and then stowed it away securely. Who could tell but it might be useful as a proof of animus? During these several operations his eyes had not much of triumph in them.
Rufus Hutton rode to Lymington, carrying a life–preserver: he appeared in the Town Hall, at the petty sessions; but there was no charge made against him. Being a pugnacious little fellow, and no lover of a peaceful issue, he had a great mind then to apply for a warrant against Garnet for assaulting him. But he felt that he had given some provocation, and could not at present justify it; and he had in the background larger measures, which might be foiled by precipitancy. So that lively broil, being unfought out and unforgiven – at least on one side – passed into as rank a feud as ever the sun went down upon. Not that Mr. Garnet felt much bitterness about it; only he knew that he must guard against a powerful enemy.
Amy had told her father, long ago, what Cradock had said to her in the churchyard, and how she had replied to him. In fact, she could not keep it to herself until she went to bed that night; but mingled her bright, flowing hair with his grey locks, while her heart was still pit–a–patting, and leaned on his shoulder for comfort, and didn?t cry much before she got it. “My own dearest, life of my life,” cried John, forgetting both Greek and Latin, but remembering how he loved her mother, “my own and only child – now you do look so like your mother, darling – may the God who has made you my blessing bless your dear heart in this!”
The very next day John Rosedew fell into a pit of meditation. He forgot all about Pelethronian Lapiths, the trimming of Gruter?s lamp (which had long engaged him; for he knew the flame of learning there unsnuffed by any Smelfungus): even the Sabellian elements were but as sabellicus sus to him. It was one of his peculiarities, that he never became so deeply abstracted as when he had to take in hand any practical question.He could take in hand any glorious thesis, such as the traces still existing of a middle voice in Latin, or the indications of very early civilization in Eub?a, and the question whether the Ionians came not mainly westward – any of these things he could think of, dwell upon, and eat his dinner without knowing salt from mustard. But he could not make a treatise of Amy, nor could he get at her etymology. He began to think that his education had been neglected in some points. And then he thought about Socrates, and his symposiastic drolleries, and most philosophic reply when impeached of Xanthippic weakness.
Nevertheless, he could not make up his mind upon one point – whether or not it was his duty to go and inform Sir Cradock Nowell of his son?s attachment. If the ancient friend had been as of old, or had only changed towards John Rosedew, continuing true all the while to the son, the parson would have felt no doubt as to how his duty lay. And the more straightforward and honest course was ever the first to open upon him. But, when he remembered how sadly bitter the father already was to the son, how he had even dared in his wrath to charge him with wilful fratricide, how he had wandered far and wide from the sanity of affection, and was, indeed, no longer worthy to be called a father, John Rosedew felt himself absolved from all parental communion.
Then how was it as to expediency? Why, just at present, this knowledge would be the very thing to set Sir Cradock yet more against the outcast. For, in the days of old confidence and friendly interfusion, he had often expressed to John his hope that Clayton might love Amy; and now he would at once conclude that Cradock had been throughout the rival of his darling, and perhaps an unsuccessful one, till the other was got rid of. Therefore John Rosedew resolved, at last, to hold his peace in the matter; to which conclusion Aunt Doxy?s advice and Amy?s entreaties contributed. But these two ladies, although unanimous in their rapid conclusion, based it upon premises as different as could be.
“Inform him, indeed!” cried Miss Eudoxia, swelling grandly, and twitching her shawl upon the slope of her shoulders, of which, by–the–by, she was very proud – she had heard it showed high breeding – “inform him, brother John; as if his son had disgraced him by meditating an alliance with the great–granddaughter of the Earl of Driddledrum and Dromore! Upon such occasions, as I have always understood, though perhaps I know nothing about it, and you understand it better, John, it is the gentleman?s place to secure the acquiescence of his family. Acquiescence, indeed! What has our family ever thought of a baronetcy? There is better blood in Amy Rosedew, Brian O?Lynn, and Cadwallader, than any Cradock Nowell ever had, or ever will have, unless it is her son. Inform him, indeed! as if our Amy was nobody!”
“Pa, don?t speak of it,” said Amy, “until dear Cradock wishes it. We have no right to add to his dreadfully bad luck; and he is the proper judge. He is sure to do what is right. And, after all that he has been through, oh, don?t treat him like a baby, father.”
Mrs. Nowell Corklemore by this time was well established at the Hall, and did not mean in her kind rich heart to quit the place prematurely. Almost every day, however, she made some feint of departure, which rendered every one more alive to the value of her presence.
“How could her dear Nowell exist without her? She felt quite sure he would come that day – yes, that very day – to fetch her, in their little simple carriage, that did shake her poor back so dreadfully” – back thrown into prominence here, being an uncommonly pretty one – “but oh, how thankful she ought to be for having a carriage at all, and so many poor things – quite as good, quite as refined, and delicate – could scarcely afford a perambulator! But she hoped for dear Sir Cradock?s sake, and that sweet simple–minded Eoa – who really did require some little cultivation – that, now she understood them both, and could do her little of ministering, Mr. Corklemore would let her stay, if it were only two days longer. And then her Flore, her sweet little Flore! An angel of light among them.”
Georgie had been married twice; and she was just the sort of woman who would have been married a dozen times, if a dozen, save one, of husbands were so unfortunate as to leave her. Her first lord, or rather vassal, had been the Count de Vance – “a beggarly upstart Frenchman,” in the language of his successor, who, by–the–by, had never seen, but heard of him too often; but, according to better authority, “a man one could truly look up to; so warm–hearted, so agreeable; and never for a moment tired, dear, of his poor little simple wife.”
Perhaps it is needless to state that Mr. Corklemore long had been so scientifically henpecked that he loved the operation. Only he was half afraid to say “Haw,” when his wife was there to cry “Pshaw.”
Sir Cradock Nowell, of course, had seen a good deal of what is called the world; but his knowledge of women was only enough to teach him the extent of that subject. He never was surprised much at anything they did; but he could not pretend to tell the reason of their doing it, even when they had any, of which he did not often suspect them. He believed that they would have their way, whenever they could, wherever, and by whatever means; that very few of them meant what they said, and none of them knew what they meant; that the primal elements, in the entire body feminine, were jealousy, impulsiveness, vanity, and contrariety.
Georgie Corklemore soon found out that he had adopted this, the popular male opinion; and she did not once attempt to remove it, knowing, as she did, that nothing could be more favourable to her purposes. So she took up the part – which suited her as well as any, and enabled her to say many things which else would have given offence – the part of the soft, impulsive, warm–hearted, foolish woman, who is apt among men to become a great pet, if she happens to be good–looking.
Eoa would gladly have yielded her prerogatives to Georgie, but Mrs. Corklemore was too wide awake to accept any one of them. “No, darling,” she replied, “for your own sake I will not. It is true that Uncle Cradock wishes it, and so, no doubt, do you; but you are bound to acquire all this social knowledge of which you have now so little; and how can you do so except by instruction and practice?”
“Oh,” cried Eoa, firing up, “if Uncle Cradock wishes it, I am sure I?ll leave it to you, and not be laughed at any longer. I?ll go to him at once, and tell him so. And, as for being bound, I won?t be bound to learn any nonsense I don?t like. My papa was as wise as any of you, and a great deal better; and he never made such a fuss about rubbish as you do here.”
“Stop, sweet child, stop a moment – ”
“I am not a sweet child, and I won?t stop. And another thing I?ll tell you. I had made up my mind to it before this, mind – before you tried to turn me out of my place – and it?s this. You may call me what you like, but I don?t mean to call you ‘Cousin Georgie’ any longer. In the first place, I don?t like you, and never shall as long as I live; for I never half believe you: and, in the next place, you are no cousin of mine; and social usage (or whatever it is you are always bothering me about) may require me to tell some stories, but not that one, I should fancy. Or, at any rate, I won?t do it.”
“Very well,” replied Mrs. Corklemore, looking up from the softest of fancy–work, with the very sweetest of smiles; “then I shall be obliged, in self–defence, to address you as ‘Miss Nowell.’”
“To be sure. Why shouldn?t you?”
“Well, it can be shown, perhaps, that you are entitled to the name. Only at first it will seem absurd when applied to a baby like you.”
“A baby like me, indeed!” This was Eoa?s sore point; and Georgie, who delighted in making her outrageous, was always harping upon it. “Mrs. Corklemore, how dare you call me, at my age, a baby?”
Eoa looked down at Georgie, with great eyes flashing fire, and her clear, bright forehead wrinkling, and her light form poised like an antelope?s on the edge of a cliff. Mrs. Corklemore, not thinking it worth while to look up at her, carelessly threw back a curl, and went on with her rug–work.
“Because you are a baby, and nothing more, Eoa.”
In a moment she was tossed through the air, and sitting on Eoa?s head, low satin chair and all. She had not time to shriek, so rapid was her elation. Little Flore, running in at the moment, clapped her hands and shouted, “Oh, ma, have a yide, a nice yide, same as me have yesterday. Me next, me next. Oh, ah!”
Eoa, with the greatest ease, her figure as straight as a poplar–tree, bore the curule chair and its occupant to the end of the room, and there deposited them carefully on a semi–grand piano.
“That?s how we nurse the babies in India,” she cried, with a smile of sweet temper, “but it takes a big baby to do it, and some practice, I can tell you. Now, I?ll not let you down, Mrs. Corklemore, – and if visitors come in, what will they think of our social usages? Down you don?t come, till you have promised solemnly never to call me a baby again.”
“My dear,” began Georgie, trying hard not to look ridiculous – though the position was so unfavourable – “my dear child – ”
“No, not my dear child, even! Miss Nowell, if you please, and nothing else.”
“Miss Nowell, if you will only lift me down – oh, it is polished so nastily, I am slipping off already – I will promise solemnly to call you only what you like, all the rest of my life.”
Eoa lifted her off in an instant. “But mind, I will be even with you,” cried Georgie, through her terror, when safe on the floor once more.
“I don?t care that for you,” answered Eoa, snapping her fingers like a copper–cap; “only I will have proper respect shown to me by people I particularly dislike. People I love may call me what, or do with me what, they please. My father was just the same; and I don?t want to be any better than he was; and I don?t believe God wants it.”
“He must be easily contented, then.”
Georgie, with all her deliciousness, could never pass a chance of sarcasm.
“Now I?ll go and have it out with Uncle Cradock, about having you for my ayah.”
Mrs. Corklemore trembled far more at those words than at finding herself on the piano. This strange girl – whom she had so despised – was baffling all her tactics, and with no other sword and shield but those of truth and candour.
“I?ve been a fool,” said Georgie to herself, for about the first time in her life; “I have strangely underrated this girl, and shall have hard work now to get round her. But it must be done. Come, though I have been so rash, I have two to one in my favour, now I see the way to handle it. But she must not tell the old noodle; that will never do.”
“I thought, Miss Nowell,” she continued aloud, “that it would not be considered honourable, even among East Indians, to repeat to a third person what was said familiarly and in confidence.”
“Of course not. What makes you speak of it? Do you mean to say I would do such a thing?”
“No, I am sure you would not, knowingly. But if you think for a moment, you will see that what I said just now, especially as to Sir Cradock?s opinions, was told to you in pure confidence, and meant to go no further.”
“Oh,” answered Eoa, “then please not to tell me anything in pure confidence again, because I can?t keep secrets, and you have no right to load me with them, without ever asking my leave even. But I?ll try not to let it out, unless you provoke me before him.”
With this half promise Georgie was obliged to be content. She knew well enough that, if Eoa brought the question before her uncle, the truth would come out that Sir Cradock had never dreamed for a moment of substituting Georgie, the daughter of his cousin, for Eoa, the only daughter of his only brother Clayton. He knew, of course, that the Eastern maiden had no artificial polish; but he saw that she had an inborn truth, a delicacy of feeling, and a native sympathy, which wanted only experience to be better than any polish.
From that day forth, Mrs. Corklemore (aided perhaps by physical terror) formed a higher estimate of Eoa?s powers. So she changed her tactics altogether, and employed her daughter, that sharp little Flore, to cover the next advance. Flore was a little beauty; so far as anything artificial can be really beautiful. Dressed, as she was, in the height of French fashion, and herself nine–tenths of a Frenchwoman – for there is no such thing as a French girl, as we Englishmen understand girlhood – she always looked like a butterfly, just born in and just about to pop out of a bower; for little Flore was “divinely beautiful.”
This angel was now nearly four years old, and would look at you with the loveliest eyes that ever appealed from the cradle to heaven, and throw her exaggerated little figure back, and tell you the biggest lie that an angel ever wiped her mouth over. Oh, you lovely child! I would rather have Loo Jupp, who knows a number of bad words, which you would faint to hear of. But Loo won?t tell a lie. Her father beat her out of it the very first time she tried.
“Dear Uncle Cradock,” said Georgie next day, for she had obtained permission long ago to address her father?s cousin so, “what a very sweet girl our Eoa is!”
“I am very glad that you think so, Georgie; she reminds me very often of what my brother was at her age.”
“Oh, I do love her so. She has so much variety, and she does seem so straightforward.”
“Not only seems but is so, Georgie; at times, indeed, a little too much of it.”
“Well, I doubt if there can be too much of it,” cried Georgie, in the rapture of her own heart?s truth and simplicity, “especially among relations, uncle. Just see now how all the misunderstandings which arose between ourselves, for instance, might have been saved by a little straightforward explanation. In my opinion, our Eoa would be absolutely perfect, if we could only put a little polish, a little finish, upon her. I suppose that was what her poor father intended, in bringing her to England.”
“Ah, perhaps it was. I never thought of that. But I have thought, often enough, my dear Georgie, of my own duty towards her; and I wish to consult you about it; you are so discreet and sensible.”
“Yes,” replied Mrs. Corklemore, with a facetious curtsey, “to be sure I am, a perfect Queen of Sheba.”
As this implied, by the manner of it, that Sir Cradock was a perfect Solomon, he accepted the chaff very graciously, and said to himself, “What magnificent eyes my niece Georgie has, and what a sweet complexion, and a most exquisite figure! I wonder what Corklemore is about, in leaving her here so long! But then he has such confidence in her. Women of sense and liveliness, who have an answer for everybody, are so much more trustworthy than the sly things who drop their eyes, and think all sorts of evil.”
Meanwhile Georgie saw all this passing through his mind – more clearly, perhaps, than she would have seen it, if it had been passing through her own.
“To be sure. How thoughtful of you! You mean your duty, Uncle Cradock, as to making her your heiress, now?”
Mrs. Corklemore knew well enough that he meant nothing of the sort; but the opportunity for the suggestion was too fine to be lost.
“Oh,” said Sir Cradock, with a grim smile, “you consider that my duty, do you? No, it was not on that subject I was anxious for your opinion, but as to sending the child to school, or taking some other means to finish her education.”
“She won?t go,” replied Mrs. Corklemore, seeing some chance of a quarrel here; “of course it would be the best thing for her; but I am quite certain the sweet creature never will go.”
“The sweet creature must, if I make her.”
“To be sure, Uncle Cradock; but I don?t believe you can. Has she not favoured you with her intentions as to settling in life, rather – well, perhaps rather prematurely?”
“Yes,” replied the old man, laughing, “she has informed me, with all due ceremony, of her intention to marry Bob Garnet, the moment she is out of mourning for her dearest father.”
“Master Garnet has not asked her yet. And I have reason to believe” – here Georgie softly hesitated.
“What?” asked Sir Cradock, anxiously, for he was very fond of Eoa; she was such a novelty to him.
“That Master Bob Garnet, just come from school, loves Amy Rosedew above Eoa, toffee, rock, or peppermint.”
“Amy Rosedew is a minx,” answered the old man, hotly. “I offered to shake hands with her, when I met her on Wednesday, and was even going to kiss her, because she is my god–daughter, and – and – an uncommonly pretty girl, you know, and what do you think she said?”
“Oh don?t tell me, Uncle Cradock, if it was anything impudent. You know I could not stand it, thinking what I do of those Rosedews.”
“She threw herself back with her great eyes flashing, and the colour in her cheeks dark crimson, and she said, ‘No, thank you. No contact for me with unnatural injustice!’ And she drew her frock around her, and swept away as if the road was not wide enough for both of us. Nice behaviour, was not it? And I fear her father endorses it.”
“I know he does,” answered Georgie, whose face during that description had been a perfect study of horror contending with humour; “I know that Mr. Rosedew, one of the best men in the world, if, indeed, he is sincere – which others may doubt, but not I – he, poor man, having little perception, except of his own interest, has taken a most unfavourable view of everything we do here. Oh, I am so sorry. It almost makes one feel as if we must be in the wrong.” Beautiful Georgie sighed heavily, like a fair woman at a confessional.
“His own interest, Georgie! Ourselves in the wrong! I don?t quite understand you.”
“As if we were harsh, you know, Uncle Cradock; when, Heaven be thanked, we have not concluded, as too, too many – But, not to talk of that absurdity, and not to pain you, darling uncle, you must know what I meant about Mr. Rosedew?s interest.”
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