Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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Cradock Nowell had written from London to the Parsonage once, and once only. He told them how he had changed his name, because his father had cast him off; and (as he bitterly added), according to filial promise, he felt himself bound to be Nowell no longer. But he did not say what name he had taken, neither did he give any address; only he would write again when he had found some good situation. Of course he longed to hear from Amy – his own loving Amy, who begged that poor letter and bore it in her own pure bosom long after the Queen?s head came off – but his young pride still lay hot upon him, and for Amy?s sake he nursed it.
A young man is never so proud of his honour, so prompt to deny himself anything, so strong in another?s lifehold, and careless about his own living, as when he has won a true love?s worth, and sees it abiding for ever. Few are the good who have such luck – for the success is not of merit, any more than it is in other things; more often indeed some fish–tailed coxcomb is a woman?s Dagon, doubly worshipped for crushing her – but when that luck does fall to the lot of a simple and honest young fellow, he piles his triple mountains up to the everlasting heaven, but makes no Babel of them. A man who chatters about his love soon exhausts himself or his subject.
John Rosedew, after receiving that letter, shut every book on his table, chairs, and desk, and chimney–piece. He must think what to do, and how: and he never could think hard on the flints of daily life, while the green pastures of the dead were tempting his wayward steps away. Of course he would go to London at once, by the very next train; but whether or no should he tell his people the reason of his going? He felt so strongly inclined to tell, even at risk of domestic hysterics and parochial convulsions, that he resolved at last not to tell; for he thought of the great philosopher?s maxim (not perhaps irrefragable), that when the right hangs dubious, we may safely conclude that it rides in the scale swinging opposite to our own wishes. To most of us (not having a quarter of John Rosedew?s ability, and therefore likely to be a hundred times less hesitant) it seems that the maxim holds good with ourselves, or any other common mortal, but makes Truth actually cut her own throat when applied to a mind like his – a mind already too timorously and humorously self–conscious.
Let 99,000 angels get on the top of John Rosedew?s pen – which generally had a great hair in it – and dance a faux pas over that question, if it was laid the wrong way; for we, whose consciences must work in corduroys and highlows, roughly conclude that right and wrong are but as button and button–hole when it comes to a question of hair–splitting. Blest are they whose conscience–edge, like the sword of Thor, can halve every wisp of wool afloat upon the brook of life.
After breakfast John mounted Cor?bus, leaving a short farewell, and set off hastily with the old–fashioned valise behind the saddle, wherein he was wont to bear wine and confections upon his parochial tours.The high–mettled steed was again amazed at the pace that could be pumped out of him; neither did he long continue ingloriously mute, but woke the echoes of Ytene with many a noble roar and shriek, so that consternation shook the heart of deer and pig and cow. But the parson did not exult as usual in these proofs of velocity, because his soul within him was sad; nevertheless he preserved cohesion, or at least coincidence, in an admirable manner, with his feet thrust strenuously into the stirrups, his bridle–hand thrown in great emergencies upon the peak of the saddle, and whip–hand reposing on the leathern outwork, which guarded and burnished his rear. Anchored thus by both strong arms – for the sake of his mission and family – he felt capable of jumping a gate, if Cor?bus had equal confidence.
That evening he entered the Ducksacre shop, and found no one there but the mistress.
“Pray excuse me, but I have been told, ma?am,” said John Rosedew, lifting his hat – as he always did to a matron – and bowing his silvery head, “that you have a lodger here who is very ill.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Mrs. Ducksacre, fetching her breath very quickly, “and dead, too, for all I know. Oh Lord, I am so put upon!”
The soft–hearted parson was shocked at this apparent apathy; and thought her no true woman. Who is not wrong sometimes? It was a very rare thing for John Rosedew to judge man or woman harshly. But only half an hour ago that poor woman had been up–stairs, neglecting till, present and future, estranging some excellent customers, leaving a wanton shop–boy to play marbles with Spanish chestnuts, while she did her most misguided best to administer to sick Cradock soup wildly beyond her own economy, and furiously beyond his powers of deglutition.
John Rosedew, with his stout legs shaking, and his stockings expressing excitement, went up three pairs (ill–assorted) of stairs into Cradock?s sick room. Then he started back from the Aristophanic climax – even the rags of Telephus; though after all, Polly Ducksacre had done her best to make the room comely. Why, there were three potato–sacks on the bed, with the names of Fulham growers done in red letters upon them, and giving the room quite a bright appearance, as if newly–marked sheep were in it. Nay, and I could almost swear there were two bast mats from Covent Garden, gloriously fixed as bed curtains, mats from that noble market where a rat prays heaven vainly to grant him the coat of a water–rat.
There, by Cradock Nowell?s bed, sat the faithful untiring nurse, the woman who had absorbed such a quantity of strap, and had so kindly assimilated it. Meek–spirited Rachel Jupp waited and watched by the bed of him through whom she had been enfranchised. Since Issachar Jupp became a Christian she had not tasted the buckle–end once, and scarcely twice the tongue–end.
She had been employed some years ago as a nurse in the Middlesex Hospital; so she knew her duties thoroughly. But here she had exceeding small chance of practising that knowledge; because scarcely anything which she wanted, and would have rung for, if there had been any bell, was ever to be found in the house. Even hot water, which the doctor had ordered, was cold again ere it came to her, and had taken an hour before it started; for there was no fireplace in the little room, nor even on the floor below it.
Uncle John could scarcely keep from crying, as he looked at poor Craddy propped up in the bed there, with his lips so pale and bloodless, cheeks sunken in and shining like dry oyster–shells, but with a round red spot in the centre, large eyes glaringly bright and starting, and red hot temples and shorn head swathed with dripping bandages; while now and then he raised his weak hands towards the surging tumult, and dropped them helpless on the sun–blind, tucked round him as part of his counterpane.
“Ah, that?s the way, sir,” said Rachel, after she had risen and curtseyed, “that?s the way he go on now, all the day and all the night; and he have left off talking now altogether, only to moan and to wamble. He used to jump up in the bed at first, and shut his left eye, and put his arms like this, as if he was shooting at something; and it pleased him so when I give him the hair–broom. He would put the flat of it to his shoulder, and smile as if he see some game, and shoot at the door fifty times a day; and then scream and fall back and cover his eyes up. But he haven?t done that these three days now; too weak, I?m afeard, too weak for it.”
John Rosedew sighed heavily for the bright young mind, so tried above what it was able to bear; then, as he kissed the flaming forehead – sometimes flaming and sometimes icy – he thought that it might be the Father?s mercy to obliterate sense of the evil. For the mind of the insane, or at least its precious part, is with Him, who showers afar both pain and pleasure, but keeps at home the happiness.
“Can you send for the doctor at once, ma?am, or tell me where to find him?” The parson still kept to the ancient fashion, and addressed every woman past thirty as “ma?am,” whatever her rank or condition. As he spoke, a heavy man entered on tiptoe, and quietly moved them aside. A raw–boned, hulking fellow he was, with a slouch and a squint, made more impressive by a black eye in the third and most picturesque stage, when mauve, and lilac, and orange intone and soften sweetly off from the purple nucleus outward; as a boy?s taw is, or used to be, shaded, with keen artistic feeling, in many a ring concentric, from the equator to the poles. Mr. Jupp?s face was a villainous one; as even the softest philanthropist would have been forced to acknowledge. The enormous jaws, the narrow forehead, the grisly, porkish eyebrows, the high cheek–bones, and the cunning skance gleam from the black, deep–ambushed squinters – all these were enough to warn any man who wished to get good out of Zakey Jupp that he must try to put it there first, and give it time to go to the devil and back, as we say that parsley–seed does.
Mr. Jupp was a man of remarkable strength, – not active elastic Achillean vigour, nor even stalwart Ajacian bulk, but the sort of strength which sometimes vanquishes both of those, by outlasting, – a slouching, slow–to–come, long–to–go heft, that had scarcely found its proper wind when better–built men were exhausted.
Men of this stamp are usually long–armed, big in the lungs and shoulders, small in the loins, knock–kneed, and splay–footed; in a word, shaped like a John Dory, or a miller?s thumb, or a banjo. They are not very “strong on their pins,” nor active; they generally get thrown in the first bout of wrestling before ever their muscles get warm; they cannot even run fast, and in jumping they spring from the heel; nevertheless, unless they are stricken quite senseless at the outset – and their heads for the most part are a deal too thick for that – the chances are that they make an example of the antagonist ere he is done with. And so, in Mr. Jupp?s recent duello with an Irish bully, who scoffed at Cradock, and said something low of his illness, the Englishman got the worst of it in the first round, the second, the third, and the fourth; but, just as Dan Sullivan?s pals and backers were wild with delight and screeching, the brave bargee settled down on his marrow, and the real business began. After twenty–five rounds, the Tipperary Slasher had three men to carry him home, and looked fit for an inquest to sit upon, without making him any flatter.
Now, Issachar being a very slow man, there was no chance that he would hurry over his present inspection of Cradock. For a very long time he looked at him from various points of view; then, at last, he shook his head, and poked his long black chin out.
“Now this here wunna do, ye know. I?ll fetch the doctor to ye, master, as ye seem to care for the pore young charp.”
And Zakey Jupp, requiring no answer, went slowly down the stairs, with a great hand on either wall to save noise; then at a long trot, rolling over all who came in his way, and rounding the corners, like a ship whose rudder–bands are broken, he followed the doctor from street to street, keeping up the same pace till he found him. Dr. Tink was coming out of a court not far from Marylebone–lane, where the small–pox always lay festering.
“Ye?ll just corm street ‘long wi’ me to the poor charp as saved our Looey,” said Mr. Jupp, coolly getting into the brougham, and sitting in the place of honour, while he dragged Dr. Tink in by the collar, and set him upon the front seat. “Fire awa’ now for Martimer–straat,” he yelled to the wondering coachman, “and if ye dunna laither the narg, mind, I?ll laither ye when we gits there.”
The nag was leathered to Mr. Jupp?s satisfaction, and far beyond his own, and they arrived at the coal and cabbage shop before John Rosedew had finished reading a paper which Mrs. Jupp had shown him, thinking that it was a prescription.
“He wrote it in his sleep, sir, without knowing a thing about it; in his sleep, or in his brain–wandering; I came in and found him at it, in the middle of the night; and my, how cold his fingers was, and his head so hot! We took it to three great chemists’ shops, but they could not make it up. They hadn?t got all the drugs, they said, and they couldn?t make out the quantities.”
“Neither can I,” said John; “but it rings well, considering that the poor boy wrote it when his brain was weak with fever. The dialects are somewhat muddled, moreover; but we must not be hypercritical.”
“No, sir, to be sure not. I am sure I meant no hypocrisy. Only you see it ain?t Christian writing; and Mr. Clinkers shake his head at it, and say it come straight from the devil, and his hoof in every line of it.”
“Mrs. Jupp, the Greek characters are beautiful, though some of the lines are not up to the mark. But, for my part, I wonder how any man can write mixed Greek in London. Nevertheless, I shall have great pleasure in talking it over with him, please God that he ever gets well. To think that his poor weary brain should still be hankering after his classics!”
It was the dirge in Cymbeline put into Greek choral metre, and John Rosedew?s tears flowed over the words, as Polydore?s had done, and Cadwal?s.
Unhappy Cradock! His misty brain had vapoured off in that sweet wild dirge, which hovers above, as if the freed soul lingered, for the clogged one to shake its wings to it.
The parson was pondering and closing his wet eyes to recover his faith in God – whom best we see with the eyes shut, except when His stars are shining – while Issachar Jupp came up the stairs, poking Dr. Tink before him, because he still thought it likely that the son of medicine would evaporate. The doctor, who knew his tricks and put up with them, lest anything worse might come of it, solaced his sense of dignity, when he got to the top, by a grand bow to Mr. Rosedew. John gave him the change in a kind one; then offered his hand, as he always did, being a man of the ancient fashion.
While they were both looking sadly at Cradock, he sat up suddenly in the bed, and stretching forth his naked arms (wherein was little nourishment), laughed as an aged man does, and then nodded at them solemnly. His glazed eyes were so prominent, that their whites reflected the tint of the rings around them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, stop him if you please, and give him a pen and ink, and my best hat to write on. Oh, don?t let him go by.”
“Stop whom, my dear sir?” asked the doctor, putting out his arms as if to do it. “Now I?ve stopped him. What?s his name?”
“The golden lad. Oh, don?t you know? You can?t have got him, if you don?t. The golden lad that came from heaven to tell me I did not do it, that I didn?t do it, do it, sir – all a mistake altogether. It makes me laugh, I declare it does; it makes me laugh for an hour, every time he comes, because they were all so wise. All but my Amy, my Amy; she was such a foolish little thing, she never would hear a word of it. And now I call you all to witness, obtestor, antestor, one, two, three, four, five; let him put it down on a sheet of foolscap, with room enough for the names below it; all the ladies and gentlemen put their names in double column, and get Mr. Clinkers, if you can, and Jenny, to go at the bottom; only be particular about the double column, ladies one side, gentlemen the other, like a country dance, you know, or the ‘carmen s?culare,’ and at the bottom, right across, Miss Amy Rosedew?s name.”
The contemplation of that last beatitude was too much for the poor fellow; he fell back, faint on the pillow, and the shop–blind, untucked by his blissful emotions, rattled its rings on the floor.
“Blow me if I can stand it,” cried Issachar Jupp, going down three stairs at a step; and when he came back his face looked clearer, and he said something about a noggin. Mrs. Ducksacre bolted after him, for business must be attended to.
“Will he ever be right again, poor fellow? Dr. Tink, I implore you to tell me your opinion sincerely.”
“Then I cannot say that I think he will. Still, I have some hopes of it. Much will depend upon the original strength of the cerebellum, and the regularity of his previous habits. If he has led a wild, loose life, he has no chance whatever of sanity.”
“No, he has led a most healthy life – temperate, gentle, and equable. His brain has always been clear and vigorous, without being too creative. He was one of the soundest scholars for his age I have ever met with.”
“But he had some terrible blow, eh?”
“Oh yes, a most terrible blow.”
John thought what a terrible blow it would be to his own life?s life, if the issue went against him, and for tears he could ask no more.
The good people assembled in Nowelhurst church were agreeably surprised, on the following Sunday, by the announcement from Mr. Pell – in that loud sonorous voice of his, which had frightened spinsters out of their wits, lest he were forbidding, instead of asking their banns of matrimony – that there would be no sermon that morning, inasmuch as he, the Rev. Octavius, was forced to hurry away, at full speed, to assuage the rampant desire of Rushford for the performance of divine service.
Mrs. Nowell Corklemore, who had the great curtained pew of the Hall entirely to herself and child – for Eoa never would go to church, because they defy the devil there – Georgie, who appeased her active mind by counting the brass–headed nails, and then multiplying them into each other, and subtracting the ones that were broken, lifted her indescribable eyes, and said, “Thank God,” almost audibly.
Octavius Pell, hurrying out of the porch, ascended Cor?bus, as had been arranged; but he did it so rapidly, and with such an air of decision, that Amy, standing at the churchyard gate, full of beautiful misgivings, could not help exclaiming,
“Oh please, Mr. Pell, whatever you do, leave your stick here till Monday. We will take such care of it.”
“Indeed, I fear I must not, Miss Rosedew,” Octavius answered, gravely, looking first at his stick, and then at the flanks of R?by, who was full of interesting tricks; “I have so far to go, you know, and I must try to keep time with them. – Whoa, you little villain!”
“Oh dear, I am so sorry. At any rate please not to strike him, only stroke him with it. He is so very high–spirited. And he has never had a weal upon him, at least since he came to papa. And I could not bear to see it. And I know you won?t, Mr. Pell.”
Octavius looked at the soft–hearted girl, blushing so in her new drawn bonnet – mauve with black, for the sake of poor Clayton. He looked at her out of his knowing dry eyes in that sort of response–to–the–Litany style which a curate adopts to his rector?s daughter.
“Can you suppose, Miss Rosedew, that I would have the heart to beat him now? – Ah, you will, will you then?” R?bus thought better of it.
“No, I hope you would not,” said Amy, in pure good faith, with a glance, however, at the thick bamboo, “because it would be so cruel. It is hollow, I hope; but it has such knots, and it looks so very hard!”
“Hollow, and thin as a piece of pie–crust; and you know how this wood splits.”
“Oh, I am so glad, because you can?t hurt him so very much. Please not to go, if you can hold him, more than three miles and a half an hour. Papa says that is the pace that always suits his health best. And please to take the saddle off, and keep it at your house, that the Rushford boy may not ride him back. And please to choose a steady boy from the head–class in your Sunday school, and, if possible, a communicant. But I?m sadly afraid there?s no trusting the boys.”
“Indeed, I fear not,” said Octavius, gravely; and adding to himself, “at any rate when you are concerned, you darling. What a love you are! But there?s no chance for me, I know; and it?s a good job for me that I knew it. Oh you little angel, I wonder who the lucky fellow is!” Aunt Eudoxia had dropped him a hint, quite in a casual way, when she saw that the stout young bachelor was going in, over head and ears.
Sweet Amy watched Mr. Pell, or rather his steed, with fond interest, until they turned the corner; and certainly the pace, so far, was very sedate indeed. Octavius was an upright man – you could see that by his seat in the saddle – as well as a kind and good–natured one; and on no account would he have vexed that gentle and beautiful girl. Nevertheless he grew impatient, as Cor?bus pricked his ears pretentiously, and snorted so as to defy the winds, and was fain to travel sidewise, as if the distance was not enough for him; and all the time he was swallowing the earth at the rate of no more than four miles an hour. Then the young parson pulled out his watch, and saw that it wanted but half an hour of the time himself had fixed for the morning service at Rushford. And he could not bear the thought of keeping the poor folk waiting about the cross, as they always did and would wait, till the parson appeared among them. As Mr. Wise has well observed, “the peasant of the New Forest is too full of veneration.”
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