Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“Corklemore, my dear fellow, you think we are all tee–totallers. On with the port, if you please, ‘cessantem Bibuli Consulis amphoram,’ never shall forget that line. The bibulous consul, eh! Capital idea. Corklemore, you can construe that?”
“Haw! Perhaps I can?t. Really don?t know; they beat a heap of stuff into me when I was a very small boy; and it was like whipping – ha, haw, something like whipping – ”
“Eggs,” said Rufus Hutton, “all came to bubbles, eh?”
“Not at all, sir, not at all; you entirely misunderstand me. I mean that it was similar to – to the result produced by the whipping of a top.”
“Only made your head go round,” said Mr. Kettledrum, winking at Rufus; and thenceforth had established a community of interest in the baiting of “long Corklemore.” “Well, at any rate,” he continued, “Hutton is a scholar – excuse my freedom, my dear sir; we are such rustics here, that I seldom come across a man who appreciates my quotations. You are a great acquisition, sir, the very greatest, to this neighbourhood. How can we have let you remain so long without unearthing you?”
“Because,” said Rufus to himself, “you did not happen to want me; when are you going to offer to introduce me to ‘the Dook?’”
“And now, gentlemen,” continued Mr. Kettledrum, rising, swelling his chest out, and thumping it athletically, “it is possible that I may be wrong; I have never been deaf to conviction; but if I am wrong, gentlemen, the fault is in yourselves. Mark me now, I am ready, such is the force of truth, I am ready here at my own board (humble as it is) once for all to admit that the fault is in yourselves. But the utterance I swell with, the great thought that is within me, is strife – no, I beg your pardon – is – is – rife and strongly inditing of a certain lady, who is an honour to her sex. I rise to the occasion, friends; I say an honour to her sex, and a blessing to the other one. Gentlemen, no peroration of mine is equal in any way to the greatness of the occasion; could I say, with Cicero, ‘Veni, vidi, vici,’ where would be my self–approval? I mean – you understand me. It is the privilege of a man in this blessed country, the first gem of the ocean – no, I don?t mean that; it applies, I believe, to Scotland, and the immortal Burns – but this, sir, I will say, and challenge contradiction, a Briton, sir, a Briton, never, never, never will be free! And now, sir, in conclusion, is there one of you, let me ask, who will not charge his eyes, gentlemen, and let his glass run over – ”
“Haw,” cried Mr. Corklemore, “charge his glass, come, Kettledrum, and let his eyes run over – haw – I think that is the way we read it, Dr. Hutton.”
“Gentlemen, I sit down; finding it impossible to obtain an adequate bearing, I close my poor attempt at cleansing my bosom of the perilous stuff, sir – you know the rest – the health of Mrs. Hutton, that most remarkable children – excuse me, most remarkable woman, whose children, I am quite convinced, will be an honour to their age and sex.Port of ‘51, gentlemen; a finer vintage than ‘47.”
He had told them that it was ‘34, but both knew better; and now “in vino veritas.”
At last Mr. Bailey Kettledrum had hit the weak point of Rufus, and, what was more, he perceived it. Himself you might butter and soap for a month, and he would take it at all its value; but magnify his Rosa, exalt the name of his Rosa, and you had him at discretion.
“Remarkable, sir,” he inquired, with a twinkle of fruity port stealing out from his keen little eyes, “you really do injustice; so many ladies are remarkable – ”
“Haw, well, I never heard – ”
“Confound you, Corklemore,” said Kettledrum to him aside, “can you never hold your tongue? Sir,” – to Rufus – “I beg your pardon, if I said ‘remarkable;’ I meant to say, sir, ‘most remarkable!’ The most remarkable lady” – this to Corklemore, in confidence – “I have ever been privileged to meet. ‘What children,’ I said to my wife, but yesterday, ‘what children they will be blest with!’ Oh, he?s a lucky dog. The luckiest dog in the world, my boy.”
However, they were not so very far from the sloping shores of sobriety when they rejoined the ladies, and made much of the small Misses Kettledrum, tidy children, rather pretty, and all of the pink ribbon pattern. After some melting melodies from soft Georgie?s lips and fingers, Mrs. Kettledrum said,
“Oh, Dr. Hutton, do you ever play chess? We are such players here; all except my poor self; I am a great deal too stupid.”
“I used to play a little when I was in India. We are obliged to play all sorts of games in India.” Dr. Hutton piqued himself not a little on his skill in the one true game. At a sign from their mother, the small Kettledrums rushed for the board most zealously, and knocked their soft heads together. Mrs. Corklemore was declared by all to be the only antagonist worthy of an Indian player, and she sat down most gracefully, protesting against her presumption. “Just to take a lesson, you know; only to take a lesson, dear. Oh, please, don?t let any one look at me.” Rufus, however, soon perceived that he had found his match, if not his superior, in the sweet impulsive artless creature, who threw away the game so neatly when she was quite sure of it.
“Oh, poor me! Now, I do declare – Isn?t it most heartbreaking? I am such a foolish thing. Oh, can you be so cruel?”
Thrilling eyes of the richest grey trembled with dewy radiance, as Rufus coolly marched off the queen, and planted his knight instead of her.
“Mrs. Corklemore, can I relent? You are far too good a player.” The loveliest eyes, the most snowy surge, in the “mare magnum” of ladies, would never have made that dry Rue Hutton, well content with his Rosa, give away so much as the right to capture a pawn in passing.
Now observe the contrariety, the want of pure reason, the confusion of principle – I am sorry and ashamed, but I can?t express these things in English, for the language is rich in emotion, but a pauper in philosophy – the distress upon the premises of the cleverest woman?s mind. She had purposely thrown her queen in his way; but she never forgave him for taking it.
A glance shot from those soft bright eyes, when Rufus could not see them, as if the gentle evening star, Venus herself, all tremulous, rushed, like a meteor, up the heavens, and came hissing down on a poor man?s head.
She took good care to win the next game, for policy allowed it; and then, of course, it was too late to try the decisive contest.
“Early hours. Liberty Hall, Liberty Hall at Kettledrum! Gentlemen stay up, and smoke if they like. But early hours, sir, for the ladies. We value their complexions. They don?t. That I know. Do you now, my dearest? No, of course you don?t.” This was Mr. Kettledrum.
“Except for your sake, darling,” said Mrs. Kettledrum, curtseying, for the children were all gone to bed ever so long ago.
“Well,” said Georgie, coming forward, because she knew her figure would look well with three lamps upon it; such a figure of eight! “my opinion is never worth having, I know, because I feel so much; but I pronounce – ” here she stood up like Portia, with a very low–necked dress on – “gentlemen, and ladies, I pronounce that one is quite as bad as the other.”
“Haw!” said Nowell Corklemore. And so they went to bed. And Rufus Hutton wondered whether they ever had family prayers.
When all the rest were at breakfast, in came Mrs. Corklemore, looking as fresh as daybreak.
“Oh, I am so ashamed of myself. What a sluggard you will think me! What is it in the divine song of that great divine, Dr. Watts? Nowell, dear, you must not scold me. I cannot bear being scolded, because I never have tit for tat. Good morning, dearest Anna; how is your headache, darling? Oh, Dr. Hutton, I forgot! No wonder I overlooked you. I shall never think much of you again, because I beat you at chess so.”
“Game and game,” said Rufus, solemnly, “and I ought to have won that last one, Mrs. Corklemore; you know I ought.”
“To be sure, to be sure. Oh, of course I do. But – a little thing perwented him – his antagonist was too good, sir. Ah, we?ll play the conqueror some day; and then the tug of war comes. Oh, Anna, I am so conceited! To think of my beating Dr. Hutton, the best player in all India.”
“Well, darling, we know all that. And we must not blame you therefore for lying in bed till ten o?clock.”
“Oh,” said Rufus, with a groan, “do look at ladies’ logic! Mrs. Corklemore gained one game out of two – only because I was – ah–hem, I mean by her very fine play – and now she claims absolute victory; and Mrs. Kettledrum accepts it as a premise for a negative conclusion, which has nothing on earth to do with it.”
But Rufus got the worst of that protest. He tilted too hard at the quintain. All came down upon him at once, till he longed for a cigar. Then Mrs. Corklemore sympathized with him, arose, their breakfast being over, and made him a pretty curtsey. She was very proud of her curtseys; she contrived to show her figure so.
“Confound that woman,” thought Rufus, “I can never tell when she is acting. I never met her like in India. And thank God for that same.”
She saw that her most bewitching curtsey was entirely thrown away upon him; for he was thinking of his Rosa, and looking out for the good mare, Polly.
“Dr. Hutton, I thank you for your condescension, in giving me that lesson. You let me win that last game out of pure good nature. I shall always appreciate it. Meanwhile I shall say to every one – ?Oh, do you know, Dr. Hutton and I play even?’ taking very good care meanwhile never to play again with you. Shocking morality! Yes, very shocking. But then I know no better, do I, Nowell, dear?”
“Haw! Well, Georgie, I am not so sure of that. My wife is absolute nature, sir, simple, absolute – haw – unartificial nature. But unartificial nature is, in my opinion – haw – yes, a very wise nature, sometimes.”
“Haw!” said his wife, exactly like him, while everybody laughed. Then she stood upon tiptoe to kiss him, she was so unartificial, even before the company. All the pretty airs and graces of a fair Parisian, combined with all the domestic snugness of an English wife! What a fine thing it is to have a yoke–mate with a playful, charming manner!
“Good–bye, Dr. Hutton. We are on the wing, as you are. I fear you will never forgive me for tarnishing your laurels so.”
Tarnishing laurels! What wonderful fellow so ingeniously mixed metaphors?
“Now or never,” thought Rufus Hutton; “she has beaten me at chess, she thinks. Now, I?ll have the change out of her. Only let her lead up to it.”
“Mrs. Corklemore, we will fight it out, upon some future occasion. I never played with a lady so very hard to beat.”
“Ah, you mean at Nowelhurst. But we never go there now. There is – I ought to say, very likely, there are mistakes on both sides – still there seems to exist some prejudice against us. – Anna, dear, you put a lump of sugar too much in my tea. I am already too saccharine.”
“Well, dear, I put exactly what you always tell me. And you sent your cup for more afterwards.”
“Matter of fact animal – how can she be my sister?” Georgie only muttered this. Rufus Hutton did not catch it. Mr. Garnet would have done so.
“Now is the time,” thought Rufus again, as she came up to shake hands with him, not a bit afraid of the morning sun upon her smooth rich cheeks, where the colour was not laid on in spots, but seemed to breathe up from below, like a lamp under water. Outside he saw pet Polly scraping great holes in the gravel, and the groom throwing all his weight on the curb to prevent her from bolting homewards. “Hang it, she won?t stand that,” he cried; “her mouth is like a sea–anemone. Take her by the snaffle–rein. Can?t you see, you fool, that she hasn?t seven coats to her mouth, like you? Excuse my opening the window,” he apologized to Mrs. Corklemore, “and excuse my speaking harshly, for if I had not stopped him, he would have thrown my horse down, and I value my Polly enormously.”
“Especially after her behaviour the other night in the forest. It is the same with all you gentlemen; the worse you are treated, the more grateful you are. Oh yes, we heard of it; but we won?t tell Mrs. Hutton.”
“No, indeed, I hope you won?t. I should be very sorry for her to get even a hint of it.”
“To be sure,” laughed Georgie, “to be sure we will keep the secret, for ever so many reasons; one of them being that Dr. Hutton would be obliged to part with Miss Polly, if her mistress knew of her conduct. But I must not be so rude. I see you want to be off quite as much as fair Polly does. Ah, what a thing it is to have a happy home!”
Here Mrs. Corklemore sighed very deeply. If a woman who always has her own way, and a woman who is always scheming, can be happy, she, Georgie, must be so; but she wanted to stir compassion.
“Come,” she said, after turning away, for she had such a jacket on – the most bewitching thing; it was drawn in tight at her round little waist, and seemed made like a horse?s body–clothes, on purpose for her to trot out in, – “come, Dr. Hutton, say good–bye, and forgive me for beating you.” Simple creature, of course she knew not the “sacra fames” of chess–players.
“We must have our return–match. I won?t say ‘good–bye’ until you have promised me that. Shall it be at my house?”
“No. There is only one place in the world where I would dare to attack you again, and that is Nowelhurst Hall.”
“And why there, more than anywhere else?”
“Because there is a set of men there, with which I can beat anybody. I believe I could beat Morphy, with those men at Nowelhurst. Ah! you think me, I see, grossly and stupidly superstitious. Well, perhaps I am. I do sympathise so with everything.”
“I hope we may meet at Nowelhurst,” replied Rufus, preparing his blow of Jarnac, “when they have recovered a little from their sad distress.”
“Ah, poor Sir Cradock!” exclaimed the lady, with her expressive eyes tear–laden, “how I have longed to comfort him! It does seem so hard that he should renounce the sympathy of his relatives at such a time as this. And all through some little wretched dissensions in the days when he misunderstood us! Of course we know that you cannot do it; that you, a comparative stranger, cannot have sufficient influence where the dearest friends have failed. My husband, too, in his honest pride, is very, very obstinate, and my sister quite as bad. They fear, I suppose, – well, it does seem ridiculous, but you know what vulgar people say in a case of that sort – they actually fear the imputation of being fortune–hunters!” Georgie looked so arrogant in her stern consciousness of right, that Rufus said, and for the moment meant it, “How absurd, to be sure!”
“Yes,” said Georgie, confidentially, and in the sweetest of all sweet voices, “between you and me, Dr. Hutton, for I speak to you quite as to an old friend of the family, whom you have known so long” – (“Holloa,” thought Rufus, “in the last breath I was a ‘comparative stranger!’”) – “I think it below our dignity to care for such an absurdity; and that now, as good Christians, we are bound to sink all petty enmities, and comfort the poor bereaved one. If you can contribute in any way to this act of Christian charity, may I rely upon your good word? But for the world, don?t tell my husband; he would be so angry at the mere idea.”
“I will do my best, Mrs. Corklemore; you may rely upon that.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you! I felt quite sure that you had a generous heart. I should have been so disappointed – perhaps, after all, we shall play our next game of chess at Christmas with the men I am so lucky with. And then, look to yourself, Dr. Hutton.”
“I trust you will find a player there who can give me a pawn and two moves. If you beat him, you may boast indeed.”
“What player do you mean?” asked Georgie, feeling rather less triumphant. “Any Indian friend of yours?”
“Yes, one for whom I have the very greatest regard. For whose sake, indeed, I first renewed my acquaintance with Sir Cradock, because I bore a message to him; for the Colonel is a bad correspondent.”
“The Colonel! I don?t understand you.” As she said these words, how those eyes of hers, those expressive eyes, were changing! And her lovely jacket, so smart and well cut, began to “draw” over the chest.
“Did you not know,” asked Rufus, watching her in a way that made her hate him worse than when he took her queen, “is it possible that you have not heard, that Colonel Nowell, Clayton Nowell, Sir Cradock?s only brother, is coming home this month, and brings his darling child with him?” Now for your acting, Georgie; now for your self–command. We shall admire, henceforth, or laugh at you, according to your present conduct.
She was equal to the emergency. She commanded her eyes, and her lips, and bosom, after that one expansion, even her nerves, to the utmost fibre – everything but her colour. The greatest actor ever seen, when called on to act in real life, can never command colour if the skin has proper spiracles. The springs of our heart will come up and go down, as God orders the human weather. But she turned away, with that lily–whiteness, because she knew she had it, and rushed up enthusiastically to her sister at the end of the room.
“Dear Anna, darling Anna, oh, I am so delighted! We have been so wretched about poor Sir Cradock. And now his brother is coming to mind him, with such delightful children! We thought he was dead, oh, so many years! What a gracious providence!”
“Haw!” said Nowell Corklemore.
“The devil!” said Bailey Kettledrum, and Rufus caught the re–echo, but hoped it might be a mistake.
Then they all came forward, gushing, rushing, rapturous to embrace him.
“Oh, Dr. Hutton, surely this is too good news to be true!”
“I think not,” said Rufus Hutton, mystical and projecting, “I really trust it is not. But I thought you must have heard it, from your close affinity, otherwise I should have told you the moment I came in; but now I hope this new arrival will heal over all – make good, I mean, all family misunderstandings.”
“Colonel Clayton Nowell,” said Mr. Nowell Corklemore, conclusively, and with emphasis, “Colonel Clayton Nowell was shot dead outside the barracks at Mhow, on the 25th day of June, sir, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty–six. Correct me, sir, if I am wrong.”
“Then,” said Rufus, “I venture to correct you at once.”
“Shot, sir,” continued Corklemore, “as I am, I may say – haw, – in a position to prove, by a man called Abdoollah Manjee, believed to be a Mussulman. Colonel Clayton Nowell, sir, commanding officer in command of Her Majesty?s Company?s native regiment, No· One hundred and sixty–three, who was called, – excuse me, sir, designated, the ‘father of his regiment,’ because he had so many illegitimate – haw, I beg your pardon, ladies – because of his – ha, yes, – patriarchal manners, sir, and kindly disposition, – he – haw, where was I?”
“I am sure I can?t say,” said Rufus.
“No, sir, my memory is more tenacious than that of any man I meet with. He, Colonel Clayton Nowell, sir, upon that fatal morning, was remonstrated with by the two – ah, yes, the two executors of his will – upon his rashness in riding forth to face those carnal, I mean to say, those incarnate devils, sir. ‘Are you fools enough,’ he replied, ‘to think that my fellows would hurt me? Give me a riding–whip, and be ready with plasters, for I shall thrash them before I let them come back.’ Now isn?t every word of that true?”
“Yes, almost every word of it,” replied Rufus, now growing excited.
“Well, sir, he took his favourite half–bred – for he understood cross–breeding thoroughly – and he rode out at the side–gate, where the heap of sand was; ‘Coming back,’ he cried to the English sentry, ‘coming back in half an hour, with all my scamps along of me. Keep the coppers ready.’ And with that he spurred his brown and black mare; and no man saw him alive thereafter, except the fellows who shot him. Haw!”
“Yes,” said Rufus Hutton, “one man saw him alive, after they shot him in the throat, and one man saved his life; and he is the man before you.”
“What you, Dr. Hutton! What you! Oh, how grateful we ought to be to you.”
“Thank you. Well, I don?t quite see that,” Rufus replied, most dryly. Then he corrected himself: “You know I only did my duty.”
“And his son?” inquired Georgie, timidly, and with sympathy, but the greatest presence of mind. She had stood with her hands clasped, and every emotion (except the impossible one of selfishness) quivering on her sweet countenance; and now she was so glad, oh, so glad, she could never tell you. “His poor illegitimate son, Dr. Hutton? Will he bring the poor child home with him? How glad we shall be to receive him!”
“The child he brings with him is Eoa, dear natural odd Eoa, his legitimate daughter.”
“Then you know her, Dr. Hutton; you could depose to her identity?”
A very odd question; but some women have almost the gift of prophecy.
“Oh, yes! I should rather think so. I have known her since she was ten years old.”
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