Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“No, indeed, I don?t, Georgie. I don?t see how John – I mean Mr. Rosedew?s interest is at all involved in the matter.”
“He had a daughter passing fair,” sang Mrs. Corklemore, without thinking. “Oh, uncle, I forgot; I am so light–headed and foolish, I forget everything now. It is Nowell?s fault for worrying me, as he does every week, about income.”
She passed her hand across her forehead, and swept the soft dark hair back, as if worldly matters were too many for her poor childish brain. Who could look at her without wishing that she really cared for herself, just a little?
“I insist upon knowing what you mean, Georgie,” said Sir Cradock, frowning heavily, for he was not at all sentimental; “John Rosedew?s daughter is Amy; and Amy, I know, is perfectly honest, though as obstinate as the dev? – hem, I beg your pardon; I mean that Amy is very obstinate, as well as exceedingly bigoted, and I might almost say insolent.”
“Oh no; I can never believe that, Uncle Cradock, even upon your authority.” In the heat of truth, Mrs. Corklemore stood up and faced Sir Cradock.
“But I tell you she is, Georgie. Don?t try to defend her. No young woman of eighteen ought to have spoken as she did to me when I met her last Wednesday. ‘Outrageous’ is the mildest word I can use to describe her manner.”
“Very likely you thought so, dearest Uncle Cradock; and so very likely I might have thought, or any of the old–school people. But we must make allowances – you know we are bound to do so – for young people brought up to look at things from a different point of view.”
“No – by – George I won?t. I have heard that stuff too often. Spirit of the age, and all that balderdash. Because a set of young jackanapes are blessed with impudence enough to throw to the dogs all the teachings of ages, just when it doesn?t suit them, is it likely that we, who are old enough to see the beauty of what they despise, are to venerate and bow down to infantile inspiration, which itself bows down to nothing? Georgie, you are too soft, too mild. Your forbearance quite provokes me. Leave me, if you please, to form my own opinions, especially about people whom I know so much better than you do.”
“I am sure, Uncle Cradock,” answered Georgie, pouting, “I never presume in any way to interfere with your opinions. Your judgment is proverbial; whereas I have none whatever. Only it was natural that I should wish you to think well of one who is likely to be so nearly related to you. What! why you look surprised, uncle? Ah, you think me wrong in alluding to it. What a simple silly I am, to be sure! But please not to be angry, uncle. I never dreamed that you wished it kept secret, dear, when all the parish is talking of it.”
“Georgie Corklemore, have the goodness to tell me what you mean.”
“Oh, don?t look at me so, uncle. I never could bear a cross look. I mean no mystery whatever, only Amy Rosedew?s engagement to your unlucky – I mean your unhappy son.Of course it has your sanction.”
“Amy engaged to my – to that crafty Cradock! I cannot believe it. I will not believe it; and at a time like this!”
“Well, I thought the time ill–chosen. But I am no judge of propriety. And they say that the poor – poor darling who is gone, was himself attached – let us hope that it was not so; however, I cannot believe, Uncle Cradock, that you have not even been told of it.”
“But I tell you, Georgie, that it is so. Perhaps you disbelieve me in your anxiety to screen them?”
“You know better than that, dear uncle. I believe you, before all the world. And I will screen them no longer, for I think it bad and ungrateful of them. And after all you have done for them! Why, surely, you gave them the living! It makes me feel quite ill. Ingratitude always does.” Georgie pressed her hand to her heart, and was obliged to get up and walk about. Presently she came back again, with great tears in her eyes, and her face full of anger and pity.
“Oh, uncle dear, I cannot tell you how grieved I am for your sake. It does seem so hard–hearted of them. How I feel my own helplessness that I cannot comfort you! What a passion my Nowell will be in, when I tell him this! His nature is so warm and generous, so upright and confiding, and he looks up to you with such devotion, and such deep respect. I must not tell him at night, poor fellow, or he would not sleep a wink. And the most contumelious thing of all: that pompous old maid, Miss Eudoxia Rosedew, to be going about and boasting of it – the title and the property – before any one had the manners even to inform so kind a friend, and so affectionate a father! The title and the property! How I hate such worldliness. I never could understand how people could scheme and plot for such things. And to make so little of you, uncle, because they relied upon the entail!”
This was quite a shot in the dark, for she knew not whether any entail subsisted; and, as it was a most essential point to discover this, Georgie fixed her swimming eyes – swimming with love and sympathy – full upon poor Sir Cradock?s. He started a little, but she scarcely knew what to augur thence. She must have another shot at it; but not on the present occasion.
It is scarcely needful, perhaps, to say, knowing Mrs. Corklemore and Miss Rosedew as we do, that there was not a syllable of truth in what the former said of the latter. Sir Cradock himself would have doubted it, if he had been any judge of women; for Miss Eudoxia Rosedew thought very little of baronets. How could she help it, she of the illustrious grandmother? Oh her indignation, if she only could have dreamed of being charged with making vaunt over such a title! Neither was it like her, even if she had thought great things of any pledged alliance, to go about and share her sentiments with the “common people.” The truth of the matter was this: Georgie, with her natural craft – no, no! skill I mean; how a clumsy pen will stumble – and ten more years of life to drill it, had elicited Amy?s sentiments; as one who, having stropped a razor, carves his lady?s pincushion, or one who blowing on bright gimlet tempts the spigot of bonded wine, or varlet who with a knowing worm giveth taste of Stilton. Or even,
So sweet Amy, being under–drawn of her native crystal by many a sly innuendo and many an Artesian auger, gushed out, like liquid diamonds, upon the skilful Georgie, and piled upon her a flood of truth, a Scamander upon Achilles. Oh water upon a duck?s back, because Georgie always swam in truth; please not to say that Castalia, rore puro, wets not the kerchief of a lady thrice dipped in Styx.
And so it came to pass that young Amy let out everything, having a natural love of candour and a natural hatred of Georgie, and expecting to overwhelm her with the rolling seventh billow of truth. Mrs. Corklemore, softly smiling, reared her honest head out of the waters, sleeked her soft luxuriant locks, and the only thing likely to overwhelm her was sympathy unfathomable. Amy did not wish for that, and begged her, very dryly, by no means to exhaust herself; for Amy had moral scent of a liar, even as her father had.
Now that father – the finest fellow, take him for all in all, whom one need wish to look upon – was (according to a good man?s luck) in fearful tribulation. Fearful, at least, to any man except John Rosedew himself; but John, though fully alive to the stigmotype of his position, allowed his epidermis to quill toward the operator, and abstracted all his too sensitive parts into a Sophistic apory.
John, sitting in his book–room, had got an apron tucked well under his rosy chin – an apron with two pockets in it, and the strings in a bow at the back of his neck; and he trembled for his ear–lobes, whenever he forgot his subject. Around him, with perpetual clatter, snip and snap and stirabout, hovered, like a Jewish maiden fingering the mill–stone, who but his Eudoxia?
In her strong right hand was a pair of shears, keen as those of Atropos, padded at the handles, lest to hurt the thumb, but the blades, the trenchant edges – oh what should keep their bright love asunder? No human ear, for a moment; nay, nor the nose of a mortal. Neither was this risk and tug, and frequent fullers?–teaseling, the whole or even the half of the agony John was undergoing. For though he sat with a pile of books heaped in fair disorder round him – though three were pushing about on his lap, dusting themselves on his well–worn kersey, like sparrows on a genial highway – though one was even perched on his right hand and another on his left, yet he had no more fruition of them (save in the cud of memory) than had Prometheus of his fire–glow in the frost of Strobilus, or than the son of Jove and Pluto, whom Ulysses saw, had of his dessert.
“Now, John, you are worse than ever, I do declare you are; why, you won?t even hold your neck straight. I try to make you look decent: I try so very hard, John; and you haven?t even the gratitude to keep your chin up from the apron. You had much better go to a barber, and get half your hair pulled out by the roots, and the other half poisoned with a leaden comb, and then you?ll appreciate me, perhaps.”
“We read,” said John Rosedew, complacently gazing at his white locks as they tumbled and took little jumps on the apron, “that when the Argives lost Thyrea, they pledged themselves to a law and a solemn imprecation, that none of the men should encourage his hair, and none of the ladies wear gold.”
“And pray what gold do I wear? Brother John, you are so personal; you never can let me alone. I do believe you have never forgiven me my poor dear grandmother?s ring, and watch, and Aunt Diana?s brooch and locket; no, nor even my own dear mother?s diamond ring with the sapphires round it. And perhaps you don?t hate even my bracelet, a mere twist of gold with cat?s eyes! Oh, John, John, how can you be my brother, and show such a little mind, John?”
“Whence we may infer,” continued John, quite unruffled; for he knew that it would be worse than useless to assure Miss Doxy that he was not even aware of the existence of the things he was impeached with; “or at least we have some grounds for supposing that the Greeks, a very sensitive and highly perceptive race, did not like to have their hair cut. Compare with this another statement – ”
“No, indeed I won?t, John. I should rather hope I would not. You can?t hold your tongue for a moment, however solemn the occasion is. There, that?s the third cut you?ve got, and I won?t take another snip at you. But you have quoted less Greek than usual; that?s one comfort, at any rate, and I will put you on some gold–beater?s skin, for being so very good, John. Only don?t tell Amy; she does make such a fuss about it. But there, I need not tell you, for you won?t know how you got them in half an hour?s time. Now, don?t make a fuss, John; one would think you were killed” – poor John had dared to put his hand up – “as if you cared indeed even if you had three great stripes of red all down your collar, or even upon your white neckerchief. You wouldn?t be at all ashamed of yourself. Have you the face to say that you would, now?”
“Well, dear Doxy, I am not convinced that you are reasonable in expecting me to be ashamed of bleeding when you have been cutting me.”
“Oh, of course not. I never am reasonable, according to your ideas. But one thing you may be convinced of, and that is, that I never will toil and degrade myself by cutting your hair again, John, after this outrageous conduct.”
John had been visited so often with this tremendous menace, that he received it with no satisfaction. Well he knew that on that day four weeks he must don the blue apron again, unless something happened worse even than Aunt Doxy?s tonsorial flourishes.
“Now, you are not done yet, John. You are in a great hurry, are you not, to get the apron off and scatter the hair all about? What?s the good of my taking the trouble to spread Jemima?s shawl down? Can you imagine you are done, when I haven?t rubbed you up with the rosemary even?”
“?Coronari marino rore!’ No wonder good Flaccus puts it after ‘mult? c?de bidentium.’ Oh, Doxy, you are inexorable. O averse Penates! By the way, that stanza is to my mind the most obscure (with one exception) in all the Odes. Either Horace had too much of the ‘lene tormentum? applied just then ‘ingenio non s?pe duro,’ or else – ”
“Please, miss” – all the girls called her miss – “Dr. Hutton, miss!”
Bang went Miss Doxy, quicker than thought, left an exclamation, semi–profane, far behind on the light air, slammed the door on the poor girl?s chilblains, bolted and locked it, and pulled out the key, and put the scutcheon over the keyhole.
“Well, why, ??? ??; ?????; unde terrarum? Women are not allowed to say ‘mehercle,’ neither men ‘mecastor;’ ‘?depol’ is common to both, but only ‘insciti? antiquitatis;’ for the most ancient men abstained from that even, and I dare say were none the worse for it – ”
“I have no patience with you, John,” cried Miss Doxy, snatching up brush, comb, scissors, extract of the sea–dew, the blue apron, Jemima?s shawl of grey hair, and we know not how many other things, and huddling all into a cupboard, and longing to lock herself in with them.
“Great truths come out,” answered John, quite placidly, “at periods of mental commotion. But why, oh Doxy, and whence this inopine hurry–scurry? There is no classic expression – except perhaps in Aristophanes – of prosody quick enough; and, doubtless, for very good reason, because the people were too wise to hurry so. ‘Rumpe moras,’ for instance, is rather suggestive of – ”
“Oh, John! oh, John! even at such a moment, John! I believe you?ll die in Latin or Greek – and I don?t know which Amen is, only I don?t believe it?s English – there, I am as bad as you are to discuss such a question now. And I am quite sure Jenny can?t tell a good story soundly. And he has got such ferret eyes! Thank Heaven, the key was inside, John.”
Poor Miss Doxy was panting so, that her brother was quite frightened for her; and the more so because he had no idea what there was to be frightened at.
“Why, Doxy,” he said, “my darling, he need never see that you have cut me.”
“As if I cared for that! Oh, John, my dearest brother, he?ll see that I?ve cut your hair!”
The idea struck John Rosedew as so gloriously novel – that man who knew the world so! – to him it appeared such a mountain of wonder that a sister should want to sink through the floor, for having saved her brother from barberism, that he laughed as hard as any man of real humour ever laughs. Miss Doxy stole on the opportunity, when he sat down to have his laugh out, to dust all the white hair with her handkerchief from his coat–collar.
Suddenly John Rosedew got up, and his laugh went away in gravity. He walked to the door more heavily than was natural to him (lest he should seem to go falsely), unlocked and unbolted it, and in his most stately manner marched into the hall. Jenny was telling a “jolly lie” – jollity down below, I suppose – to Mr. Rufus Hutton; she was doing it very clumsily, not “oculo irretorto.”
“Please, sir, yes, my master is gone round the parish, sir; and the rest, they be at the school, sir. How sorry they will be, to be sure, to hear that you have called, sir, and all of them out of the way so!”
“No, they won?t,” said Mr. Rosedew, looking over her head; “the only thing I am sorry for, Jenny, is that you can tell a falsehood so. But the fault is not yours only. I will talk to you by–and–by. Dr. Hutton, come in, if you please. I was having my hair cut by my sister, Miss Rosedew. You have met her before. Eudoxia, Dr. Hutton is kind enough to come and see us. I have told him how good and how sisterly you have been to me, and I am sure that he must wish to have a sister so capable – that is to say if he has not,” added John, who was very particular about his modal and temporal prefix.
Miss Rosedew came forward, with a few white hairs still on her dark “reps” bell–sleeve, and, being put upon her mettle, was worthy of her brother. Oh dear, that such a grand expression should be needful, even over the shell of the roasted egg of snobbery! Rufus Hutton, of course, not being quite a fool, respected, and trusted, and loved them both, more than he would have done after fifty formal dinners. And he knew quite well that there was on his own part something akin to intrusion; for he had called in the forenoon, when visits from none but an intimate friend are expected; and he had pushed his advance rather vigorously, not towards the drawing–room, but to John?s favourite book–room, where the lady Licinus plied her calling. But for this he had good reason, as he wished to see Mr. Rosedew alone, and the cause of his visit was urgent.
It was not long before the lady, feeling rather unhappy because she was not arrayed much better than the lilies of the field are, withdrew in a very noble manner, earning gratitude of Rufus. Then the doctor drew his chair close home to the parson?s, looked all round the room, and coughed to try how big the echo was. Finding no response returned by that prolific goddess, who loves not calf or sheep–skin, and seeing that no other lady was dangerously acoustic, Rufus inclined his little red head towards John?s great and black and slightly liparous waistcoat, and spake these winged words:
“Ever see a thing like that, sir?”
“No, I don?t think I ever did. Dear me, how odd it smells! Why, how grave you are, Dr. Hutton!”
“So will you be, when I have told you what I have to tell. My discovery is for your ears only; I have been to London about it, and there found out its meaning. Now I will act upon your advice. Nothing in all my experience – though I have seen a great deal of the world – nothing has ever surprised me more than what I have told you.”
“But you forget, Dr. Hutton,” cried John, imbibing excitement, “that as yet you have told me nothing at all, only shown me something which I cannot in the least make out. A cylinder, hollow, and blocked at one end; of a substance resembling book–binding, and of a most unsavoury odour!”
“Ha!” replied Rue Hutton, “ha, my dear sir, you little guess the importance of that thing no bigger than a good cigar. Ah, indeed! Ah, yes!”
“Do you mean to tell me, or not, Dr. Hutton? Your behaviour is most unusual. I am greatly surprised by your manner.”
“Ah, no doubt; no doubt of that. Very odd if you were not. I also am astonished at your apparent indifference.”
Hereupon Rufus looked so intensely knowing, so loaded with marvel and mystery, too big to be discharged even, that John Rosedew himself, so calm and large, and worthy to be called a philosopher, very nearly grew wroth with longing to know what all the matter was.
Then Dr. Hutton, having bound him by a solemn promise that he would not for the present even hint of that matter to any one, poured out the hissing contents of his mind under the white curls which still overhung the elder man?s porch of memory. And what he told him was indeed a thing not to be forgotten.
The spectator is said to see more of the game than any of the players see, and the reader of a story knows a great deal more than the actors do, or the writer either, for that matter; marry, therefore, I will not insult any candid intelligence, neither betray Rue Hutton?s faith, for he is an awkward enemy.
The very next day there came a letter, with coal enough on it to make some gas, and directed in a wandering manner to “Rev. Mr. Rosedew, Nowelhouse, somewhere in England.” Much as we abuse the Post–office people, they generally manage to find us out more cleverly than we do them; and so this letter had not been to more than six wrong places. As our good journalists love to say, “it was couched in the following terms:” —
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