Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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“And now they are coming home. How pleasant! How sweet to receive them, as it were from the dead! By the overland route, I suppose, and with a lac of rupees?”
“No,” said the badgered Rufus, “you are wrong in both conjectures. They come round the Cape, by the clipper–ship Aliwal; and with very few rupees. Colonel Nowell has always been extravagant, a wonderfully fine–hearted man, but a hand that could never hold anything – except, indeed, a friend?s.”
By the moisture in Rue Hutton?s eyes, Georgie saw that her interests would fare ill with him, if brought into competition with those of Colonel Nowell. Meanwhile Polly was raving wild, and it took two grooms to hold her, and the white froth dribbling down her curb was to Rufus Hutton as the foam of the sea to a sailor. He did love a tearing gallop, only not through the thick of the forest.
“Good–bye, good–bye! I shall see you soon. Thank you, I will take a cheroot. But I only smoke my own. Good–bye! I am so much obliged to you. You have been so very kind. Mrs. Hutton will be miserable until you come over to us. Good–bye; once more, good–bye!”
Rufus Hutton, you see, was a man of the world, and could be false “on occasion.” John Rosedew could never have made that speech on the back of detected falsehood. Away went Polly, like a gale of wind; and Rufus (who was no rogue by nature, only by the force of circumstances, and then could never keep to it), he going along twenty miles an hour, set his teeth to the breeze, which came down the funnel of his cigar as down a steamer?s chimney, stuck his calves well into Polly?s sides, and felt himself a happy man, going at a rocket?s speed, to a home of happiness. All of us who have a home (and unless we leave our heart there, whenever we go away, we have no home at all), all of us who have a hole in this shifting sandy world – the sand as of an hour–glass – but whence we have spun such a rope as the devil can neither make nor break – I mean to say, we, all who love, without any hems, and haws, and rubbish, those who are only our future tense (formed from the present by adding “so”) – all of us who are lucky enough, I believe we may say good enough, to want no temporal augment from the prefix of society, only to cling upon the tree to the second aorist of our children, wherein the root of the man lurks, the grand indefinite so anomalous; all these fellows, if they can anyhow understand this sentence, will be glad to hear that Rufus Hutton had a jolly ride.
Rosa waited at the gate; why do his mare?s shoes linger? Rosa ran in, and ran out again, and was sure that she heard something pelting down the hill much too fast, for her sake! but who could blame him when he knew he was coming home at last? Then Rosa snapped poor Jonah?s head off, for being too thick to hear it.
Meanwhile, a mighty senate was held at Kettledrum Hall, Mrs. Corklemore herself taking the curule chair. After a glimpse of natural life, and the love of man and woman, we want no love of money; so we lift our laps (like the Roman envoy) and shake out war with the whole of them.
Fools who think that life needs gilding – life, whose flowing blood contains every metal but gold and silver – because they clog and poison it! Blessed is he who earns his money, and spends it all on a Saturday.He looks forward to it throughout the week; and the beacon of life is hope, even as God is its pole–star.
Mr. Garnet?s house, well away to the west, was embraced more closely and lovingly by the gnarled arms of the Forest than the Hall, or even the Rectory. Just in the scoop of a sunny valley, high enough to despise the water, and low enough to defy the wind, there was nothing to concern it much, but the sighing of the branches. Over the brown thatch hung two oak–trees, whispering leaves of history, offering the acorn cup upon the parlour hearth, chafing their rheumatic knuckles against the stone of the chimneys, wondering when the great storm should come that would give them an inside view of it. For though the cottage lay so snugly, scarcely lifting its thatched eyebrows at the draught which stole up the valley, nevertheless those guardian oaks had wrestled a bout or two with the tempests. In the cyclone on the morning of November 29th, 1836, and again on the 7th of January, 1842, they had gripped the ground, and set hard their knees, and groaned at the thought of salt water. Since then the wind had been less of a lunatic (although there had been some ruffianly work in 1854), and they hoped there was a good time coming, and so spread their branches further and further, and thought less of the price of timber. There was only one wind that frightened them much, and that was two points north of west, the very direction whence, if they fell, crash they must come on the cottage. For they stood above it, the root–head some ten feet above the back–floor of the basement, and the branches towering high enough for a wood–pigeon not to be nervous there.
Now we only get heavy pressure of squalls from the west–north–west after a thorough–going tempest which has begun in the southward, and means to box half the compass. So the two great oaks were regarded by their brethren up the hill as jolly fellows, happy dogs, born with a silver spoon in their mouths, good for another thousand years, although they might be five hundred old; unless, indeed – and here all the trees shuddered – there came such another hurricane as in 1703. But which of us knows his own brother?s condition? Those two oaks stood, and each knew it, upon a steep bank, where no room was for casting out stay–roots to east–south–east.
Bull Garnet hated those two trees, with terror added to hatred. Even if they never crushed him, which depended much on the weather, they would come in at his bedroom window when the moon was high. Wandering shapes of wavering shadow, with the flickering light between them, walking slowly as a ghost does, and then very likely a rustle and tap, a shivering, a shuddering; it made the ground–floor of his heart shake in the nightmare hours.
Never before had he feared them so much, one quarter so much, as this October; and, during the full and the waning moon after Clayton Nowell?s death, he got very little sleep for them. By day he worked harder than ever, did more than three men ought to do, was everywhere on the estates, but never swore at any one – though the men scratched their ears for the want of it – laboured hard, and early, and late, if so he might come home at night (only not in the dark), come home at night thoroughly weary. His energy was amazing. No man anywhere felling wood – Mr. Garnet?s especial luxury – no man hedging and ditching, or frithing, or stubbing up fern and brambles, but had better look out what he had in his bag, or “the governor would be there, and no mistake.” A workman could scarcely stand and look round, and wonder how his sick wife was, or why he had got to work so hard, could scarcely slap himself on the breast, or wet his hard hands for a better grip, but there was Bull Garnet before him, with sad, fierce, dogged eyes, worse than his strongest oaths had been.
Everybody said it was (and everybody believed it; for the gossip had spread from the household in spite of the maidens’ fear of him) the cause of it was, beyond all doubt, the illness of his daughter. Pearl Garnet, that very eccentric girl, as Rufus Hutton concluded, who had startled poor Polly so dreadfully, was prostrate now with a nervous fever, and would not see even the doctor. Our Amy, who pleaded hard to see her, because she was sure she could do her good, received a stern sharp negative, and would have gone away offended, only she was so sorry for her. Not that any fervid friendship, such as young ladies exult in for almost a fortnight incessant, not that any rapturous love exclusive of all mankind had ever arisen between them, for they had nothing whatever in common, save beauty and tenacity, which girls do not love in each other: only that she was always sorry for any one deep in trouble. And believing that Pearl had loved Clayton Nowell, and was grieving for him bitterly, how could Amy help contrasting that misery with her own happiness?
For Amy was nice and happy now, in spite of Cradock?s departure, and the trouble he had departed in. He loved her almost half as much, she believed, as she loved him; and was not that enough for anybody? His troubles would flow by in time; who on earth could doubt it, unless they doubted God? He was gone to make his way in the world, and her only fear was lest he should make it too grand for Amy to share in. She liked the school–children so, and the pony, and to run out now and then to the kitchen, and dip a bit of crust in the dripping–pan; and she liked to fill her dear father?s pipe, and spread a thin handkerchief over his head. Would all these pleasures be out of her sphere, when Cradock came back, with all London crowning him the greatest and best man of the age? Innocent Amy, never fear. “Nemo, nisi ob homicidium, repente fuit clarissimus.”
Mr. Garnet would have felled those oaks, in spite of Sir Cradock?s most positive orders, if there had not been another who could not command, but could plead for them. Every morning as the steward came out, frowned and shook his fist at them, the being whom he loved most on earth – far beyond himself, his daughter, and the memory of their mother, all multiplied into each other, – that boy Bob came up to him, and said, “Father, don?t, for my sake.”
We have not heard much of Bob Garnet yet; we have scarcely shaped him feebly; by no means was he a negative character, yet described most briefly by negatives. In every main point, except two, he was his father?s cardinal opposite. Those two were generosity (which combines the love of truth with a certain warmth of impulse) and persevering energy. Even those two were displayed in ways entirely different, but the staple was very similar.
Bob Garnet was a naturalist. Gentle almost as any girl, and more so than his sister, he took small pleasure in the ways of men, intense delight in those of every other creature. Bob loved all things God had made, even as fair Amy did. All his day, and all his life, he would have spent, if he had the chance, among the ferns and mosses, the desmidi? of the forest pools, the sun–dew and the fungi, the buff–tips and red underwings, privet–hawks, and emperors. He knew all the children of the spring and handmaids of the summer, all of autumn?s laden train and the comforters of winter. The happiest of mankind is he whose stores of life are endless, whose pure delights can never cloy, who sees and feels in every birth, in every growth or motion, his own Almighty Father; and loving Him is loved again, as a child who spreads his arms out.
Mr. Garnet?s affection for this boy surpassed the love of women. He petted, and patted, and coaxed him, and talked nonsense to him by the hour; he was jealous even of Bob?s attachment to his sister Pearl; in short, all the energy of his goodness, which, like the rest of his energies, transcended the force of other men?s, centred and spent itself mainly there. But of late Bob had passed all his time with his mother – I mean, of course, with Nature; for his mother in the flesh was dead many a year ago. He had now concluded, with perfect contentment, that his education was finished; and to have the run of the forest at this unwonted season more than consoled him for the disgrace of his recent expulsion from school.
Scarcely any one would believe that Bob Garnet, the best and gentlest boy that ever cried over Euripides – not from the pathos of the poet certainly, but from his own – Bob Garnet, who sang to snails to come out, and they felt that he could not beat them, should have been expelled disgracefully from a private school, whose master must needs expel his own guineas with every banished pupil. However, so it was, and the crime was characteristic. He would sit at night in the lime–trees. Those lime–trees overhung the grey stone wall of the playground near Southampton; and some wanton boys had been caught up there, holding amoib?ans with little nursemaids and girls of all work, come out to get lung–and–tongue food. Thereupon a stern ukase was issued that the next boy caught up there would be expelled without trial, as the corrupter of that pure flock. The other boys laughed, I am sorry to say, when “Bob, the natural,” as they called him, meaning thereby the naturalist, was the first to be discovered there, crawling upon a branch as cleverly as a looper caterpillar. Even then the capital sentence was commuted that time, for every master knew, as well as every boy, that Bob could never “say bo” to anything of the feminine gender capable of articulating. So Bob had to learn the fourth Georgic by heart, and did most of it (with extreme enjoyment) up in that very same tree. For he kept all his caterpillars there, his beetle–traps, his moth–nets, even some glorious pup?, which were due at the end of August; and he nursed a snug little fernery, and had sown some mistletoe seeds, and a dozen other delicious things, and the lime–hawks wanted to burrow soon; in a word, it was Bob?s hearth and heart–place, for no other boy could scale it. But just when Bob had got to the beginning of Arist?us, and the late bees were buzzing around him, although the linden had berried, an officious usher spied him out – a dirty little fellow, known and despised by all the more respectable ????????? of Southampton. With hottest indignation, that mean low beggar cried out —
“Boy in the tree there! I see you! Your name this moment, you rascal!”
“Garnet, sir, Bob Garnet. And if you please, sir, I am not a rascal.”
“Come down, sir, this very instant; or else I?ll come up after you.”
“I don?t think you can, sir,” replied Bob, looking down complacently; for, as we shall see by–and–by, he was no coward in an emergency. “If you please, sir, no boy in the school can climb this tree except me, sir, since Brown senior left.”
“I can tell you one thing, Garnet: it?s the last time you?ll ever climb it.”
“Oh, then I must collect my things; I am sorry to keep you waiting, sir. But they are such beauties, and I can?t see well to pack them.”
Bob packed up his treasures deliberately in his red pocket–handkerchief, and descended very cleverly, holding it with his teeth. The next morning he had to pack his box, and became in the school a mere legend.
His father flew into a violent passion, not with the son, but the schoolmaster: however, he was so transported with joy at getting his own Bob home again, that he soon forgave the cause of it. So the boy got the run of the potato–fields, pollard–trees, and rushy pools, and hunted and grubbed and dabbled, and came home sometimes with three handkerchiefs, not to mention his hat, full. One lovely day this October, before the frost set in – a frost of a length and severity most rare at that time of year – Bob Garnet took his basket and trowel, nets, lens, &c., and set out for a sandy patch, not far from the stream by the Rectory, where in his July holidays he had found some Gladiolus Illyricus, a bloom of which he had carried home, and now he wanted some roots of it. He could not think why his father left him so very much to himself now, and had ceased from those little caresses and fondlings, which used to make Bob look quite ashamed sometimes in the presence of strangers. He felt that his father loved him quite as much as ever, and he had found those strong eyes set upon him with an expression, as it appeared to him, of sorrow and compassion. He had a great mind to ask what the matter was; but his love for his father was a strange feeling, mixed with some dread and uncertainty. He would make Pearl tell him all about it, that would be the best way; for she as well had been carrying on very oddly of late. She sat in her own room all day long, and would never come down to dinner, and would never come out for a stroll with him, but slipped out by herself sometimes in the evening; that, at least, he was sure of. And to tell him indeed, him going on now for seventeen years of age, that he was too young to ask questions! He would let her know, he was quite resolved, that because she happened to be two years older – a pretty reason that was for treating him like a baby! She who didn?t know a wire–worm from a ring–worm, nor an elater from a tipula, and thought that the tippet–moth was a moth that fed upon tippets! Recalling fifty other instances of poor Pearl?s deep ignorance, Bob grew more and more indignant, as he thought of the way she treated him. He would stand it no longer. If she was in trouble, that was only the greater reason – Holloa!
Helter–skelter, off dashed Bob after a Queen of Spain fritillary, the first he had ever seen on the wing, and a grand prize for any collector, even of ten times his standing. It was one of the second brood, invited by the sun to sport awhile. And rare sport it afforded Bob, who knew it at once from the other fritillaries, for the shape of the wings is quite different, and he had seen it in grand collections. An active little chap it was, greatly preferring life to death, and thoroughly aware that man is the latter?s chief agent. Once Bob made quite sure of it, for it had settled on a blackberry–spray, and smack the net came down upon it, but a smack too hard, for the thorns came grinning out at the bottom, and away went the butterfly laughing. Bob made good the net in a moment with some very fine pins that he carried, and off again in still hotter pursuit, having kept his eyes on dear Lathonia. But the prey was now grown wondrous skeary since that narrow shave, and the huntsman saw that his only chance was a clever swoop in mid air. So he raised his net high, and zig–zagged recklessly round the trees, through the bushes, up the banks and down them. At last he got quite close to her, but she flipped round a great beech–trunk; Bob made a cast at hazard, and caught not the Queen, but Amy.
Amy was not frightened much, neither was she hurt, though her pretty round head came out through the net – for she had taken her hat off – and the ring lay upon her shoulders, which the rich hair had shielded from bruises. She would have been frightened terribly, only she knew what was going on, and had stepped behind the tree to avoid the appearance of interfering. For she did not wish – she knew not why – but, by some instinct, she did not wish to have much to do with the Garnets. She regarded poor Bob as a schoolboy, who was very fond of insects, and showed his love by killing them.
But if Amy was not frightened much, Bob, the captor, was. He dropped the handle of his net, and fell back against the beech–tree. Then Amy laughed, and took off the net, or the relics of the gauze at least, and kindly held out her hand to him, and said,
“Oh, how you are grown!”
“And so are you. Oh dear me, have you seen her? Have you seen her?”
“Seen whom?” asked Amy, “my Aunt Eudoxia? She is on there, by the ash–tree.”
“The Queen of Spain, Miss Rosedew, the Queen of Spain fritillary! Oh, tell me which way she went! If I lose her, I am done for!”
“Then, I fear, Master Garnet” – [“Confound it,” thought Bob, “how all the girls do patronize me!”] – “I am very much afraid you must make up your mind to annihilation, if by the ‘Queen of Spain’ you mean that common brown little butterfly you wanted just now to kill so much.”
“Is she gone across the river, then? That is nothing, I assure you. I would go through fire after her. Oh, tell me, only tell me.”
Amy could not help laughing; poor Bob looked so ridiculous, fitting a new net all the time upon the ring of the old one, the crown of his hat come to look for his head, his trousers kicked well up over his boots, and his coat an undoubted ventilator.
“I really don?t know,” said Amy; “how could you expect me to see through your shrimp–net, Master Garnet?”
“Oh, I beg your pardon – how stupid I am, to be sure – I beg your pardon a thousand times; really I might have hurt you. I would not do that for – ”
“Even the Queen of Spain. To tell you the truth, Master Garnet, if I knew where she was gone I would not tell you, because I can?t bear to have things killed. In my opinion, it is so cruel.”
“Oh!” cried Bob, a very long “oh,” drawn out into half an ell; and he looked at Amy all the time he was saying it, which was a wonderful thing for him to do. Then it occurred to his mind, for the first time possibly, what a beautiful creature she was, more softly shaded than a Chalk–hill blue, and richer than a cream–spotted tiger–moth! The moment he felt this Bob was done for; Amy had caught her captor.
Flushed as he was with the long hot chase, his cheeks grew hotter and redder, as he got a dim consciousness of a few of the things which he was feeling. He was like a chrysalis, touched in the winter, when it goes on one side from the crust of the thorax, and sometimes can never get right again. After having said “oh,” with emphasis and so much di?resis, Bob did not feel called upon for any further utterance till Amy was gone to her Aunt Eudoxia; and then he contrived to say, “Ah!” He was more put out than he had been even when his pet poplar–hawk caterpillar was devoured alive by ichneumon grubs. He went round the tree ever so many times, and wondered what was the matter with him, how he came there, and what he was doing.
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