Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 2 of 3
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Not that the honest Colonel wished to make a sickly humbug of her. His own views were wide and grand, only too philoprogenitive. Still, like most men of that class, who, upon sudden reformation, love Truth so much that they roll upon her, having no firm rules of his own, and being ashamed to profess anything, with the bad life fresh in memory, he took the opinion of old fogeys who had been every bit as unblest as himself, but had sown with a drill their wild oats. The verdict of all was one – “Miss Nowell must go to England.”
Finding his wound still troublesome, he resolved to retire from service; he had not saved half a lac of rupees, and his pension would not be a mighty one; but, between the two, there would be enough for an old man to live upon decently, and go wherever he was told that his daughter ought to go.
He had seen enough of life, and found that it only meant repentance; all that remained of it should be for the pleasure and love of his daughter. And he knew that there was a sum in England, which must have been long accumulating – a sum left on trust for him and his children, under a very old settlement. He would never touch a farthing of it; every farthing should go to Eoa. Bless her dear eyes; they had the true light of his own Bright Eyes of the Morning.
Eoa was now sixteen years old, tall, and lithe, and graceful as the creepers of tropic woodlands. Her face was of the clearest oval, a quick concise terse oval, such as we find in the eggs of wild birds rather than of tame ones. Her eyes were of bewildering brightness, always flashing, always in motion, rarely allowing the gazer a chance of guessing what their colour was. Very likely they were of no positive colour, but a pure dark lustre, such as a clear swift river has, when overhung by palm–trees. Her complexion, beautifully soft and even, was toned with a delicate eastern tinge, like that fawn–coloured light which sometimes flushes a cloudless sky before the midsummer sunrise. And her warm oriental blood suffused it, at the slightest emotion, as the leaping sun pervades that sky with a flood of limpid rubies.
She had never been flattened by education: all her qualities and feelings, like her beauty, were in excess. You could see it in the quick rise and fall of her breath, in the sudden grace of her movements, in the infinite variety of her attitudes and aspects.
Whatever she thought, she said at once; yet none ever called her a bold girl. Her modes of thought were as widely different from those of an English maiden, as a wild honeysuckle differs in form, habit, and scent, from a rose. She cared for no one?s opinion of her, any more than the wind cares how a tree swings; unless indeed it were one whom she loved, and then she would crawl to please him. For she loved with all her heart and soul, and hated with no less; and she always took care in either case to apprise the object of it. And yet, with all her depth of passion, Eoa was pure of heart and mind, – ay, as pure as our own Amy.
She soon recovered from her bruises, being perfectly healthy, and elastic as india–rubber.Nevertheless, she would not have been saved from that terrible sea but for the generosity of poor Captain Roberts, and the gallantry of Bob Garnet.
Now Bob was hurt rather seriously, and, being (as we are well aware) an uncommonly shy young fellow, he was greatly astonished, and shocked a little, when on the Friday morning a beautiful girl, very strangely dressed, ran to the side of his sofa, threw her arms round him, and kissed him till he was out of breath, and his face was wet with the dew of her tears.
“Oh, please don?t,” said Bob; “I am sure I don?t deserve it.”
“Yes, you do; and I will marry you when I am old enough. I don?t know what you are like, and I don?t care two straws, directly they told me what you had done. Only I must have papa?s leave. Kiss me again, I like it. Now where is my darling papa?”
“What, don?t you know? Haven?t they told you? Oh, poor thing!”
At the tone of his voice she leaped back, like a bird at the gun–flash, and stood with her little hands clasped on her head, her eyes with their deep light quivering, and the whole of her form swinging to and fro, from the wild push of sudden terror. Then she spoke with a hollow depth, which frightened Bob more than the kissing.
“They told me that he was well, gone to his brother somewhere, and I thought it wasn?t like him to leave me so, and – tell me the truth, or I?ll shake you to pieces.”
“No, don?t,” said Bob, as she leaped at him; “I have had shaking enough.”
“Yes, you poor boy, and for my sake. I am a brute, I know. Tell me the truth, if you love me.”
“Your dear father is dead. But they have found his body.”
“Do you mean to say that God has been so wicked as to kill my father?”
“God knows best,” said Bob; he could think of nothing else to say.
“No, He doesn?t. No, He doesn?t. No, He never knows anything. He couldn?t have known who he was, and how terribly I loved him, or He wouldn?t have the heart to do it. Oh, you wicked boy; oh, you wicked boy! I will never forgive you for saving me. Hya, hya, hya!”
Bob never saw such a thing before, and never will again. And he won?t be much the loser; although the sight was magnificent. The screams and shrieks of the clearest voice that ever puzzled echo brought up the landlord and landlady, and our good friend Rufus Hutton, who had set forth full speed from home on hearing about the Aliwal. He caught Eoa in his arms, carried her back to her room, and dosed her. He gave her some Indian specific, some powder of a narcotic fungus, which he had brought on purpose.
It stupefied her for nearly three days, and even then she awoke into the dreamy state of Nirwana, that bliss of semi–consciousness, like mild annihilation, into which the Buddha is absorbed, and to which all pious Buddhists look as their eternal happiness. Then she opened her delicate tapering arms, where you could see the grand muscles moving, but never once protruding, and she called for her darling father to come. Finding that he did not come, she was satisfied with some trifling answer, and then wanted to have Bob instead; but neither was Bob forthcoming.
On the very day when Dr. Hutton came to look for Eoa, Mr. Garnet found himself getting better from that wretched low nervous fever into which his fright had thrown him. Then he asked Dr. Hutton whether there would be any danger in moving Robert, and, finding that there would be none whatever, if it were carefully managed, he ordered a carriage immediately, and with some of his ancient spirit. The Crown, which had the cross–bar of its N set up the wrong way (as is done, by–the–by, on the roof of Hampton Court chapel, and in many other places), made public claim to be regarded as a “commercial hotel and posting–house.” No Rushford folk having yet been known to post anything, except a letter at rare intervals, and a bill at rarer, this claim of the Crown had never been challenged, and strangers entertained a languid theoretical faith in it. But Mr. Brown looked very blue when Bull Garnet in reviving accents ordered “a chaise and pair at the door in half an hour?s time; a roomy chaise, if you please, because my son must keep his feet up.”
“Yes, sir; yes, to be sure, sir; I quite understand, sir. It shall be attended to, sir.”
“Then why don?t you go and order it?”
“To be sure, sir; I forgot. I will speak to Mrs. Brown, sir.”
Mrs. Brown, being a woman of resource, mounted the boy on her donkey, the only quadruped she possessed, but a “wonner to go,” as the boy said, “when you knows the right place to prog him in,” and sent him post–haste to Lymington, whence the required conveyance arrived in about an hour and a half.
Rufus Hutton, having promised to be at home that evening, left Eoa to sleep off her heavy soporific, and followed the carriage on horseback; neither did he leave its track where the Ringwood Road turns off, for he had undertaken to tell Sir Cradock how his niece was getting on. He started nearly half an hour after the Lymington chaise, for Polly would never demean herself by trotting behind the “posters.” During that half–hour he drank hot brown brandy–and–water, although he could not bear it, to ingratiate him with Mrs. Brown for the sake of the poor Eoa. For Mrs. Brown had no other hot method of crowning the flowing bowl. And now, while I think of it, let me warn all gentle and simple people who deign on this tale of the New Forest, never to ask for pale brandy within the perambulations. How do you think they make it? By mixing brown brandy with villanous gin. Rufus was up to this, of course; and, as he must take something for the good of the house, and to get at the kindly kernel of the heavy–browed hostess, he took that which he thought would be least for his own evil. Then, leaving Mrs. Brown (who, of course, had taken her own glass at his sole charge and largesse, after fifty times “Oh no, sir, never! Oh Lord, how my Brown would be shocked!”), having imbued that good Mrs. Brown, who really was not a bad woman – which means that she was a good one, for women have no medium – with a strong aromatic impression that he was a pleasant gentleman, and no pride, not a bit of it, in him, no more than you nor me might, – off he trotted at a furious pace, smoking two cheroots at once.
I believe that there was and is – for I am happy to say that he still inhales the breeze of life down his cigar, and looks browner and redder than ever – I believe that, in spite of all his troubles in connexion with this story, which took a good deal out of him, there was and is no happier man in our merry England than the worthy Rufus Hutton. And, as all happiness is negative, and goes without our knowing it, and only becomes a positive past for us to look back upon, so his went before it came, and goes or e?er it comes. And yet he enjoys it none the less; he multiplies it by three for the past and by nine for the future, and he never finds it necessary to deduct for the present moment.
Happy man who never thinks beyond salutary average, who can accept, in perfect faith, the traditions of his forbears, and yet is shrewd enough to hope that his grandsons will discard at least a portion of them, – who looks upon the passing life as a thing he need not move in, a world which must improve itself, and every day is doing it. And all the while he sympathises with his fellow–men, enjoys a bit of human nature, laughs at the cross–purposes of native truth and training, loves whatever he finds to be true, and does his best to foster it, is pleased with his after–dinner story, and feels universally charitable; then smiles at his wife, and kisses his children; and goes to bed with the firm conviction that they are worth all the rest put together.
Yet this man?s happiness is not sound, because it is built upon selfishness.
In Nowelhurst village Dr. Hutton met Mark Stote, the gamekeeper, who begged him to stop for a moment, just to hear a word or two. Rufus, after hearing his news, resolved to take the upper road to the Hall, past Mr. Garnet?s house; it was not so very far out of his way, and perhaps he might be of service there, and – ah, yes, Dr. Hutton, this last was the real motive, though you may not have thought so – what a fine opportunity to discover something which plagued him! Perhaps I ought to say rather, the want of which was plaguing him. Rufus took so kind an interest in his neighbours’ affairs, that anything not thoroughly luculent in their dealings, mode of life or speech, or management of their households, was to him the subject–matter of continual mental scratchings. Ah, how genteel a periphrase, worthy of Bailey Kettledrum; how happily we have shown our horror of that English monosyllable, beginning with the third vowel, which must be (according to Dr. Aldrich) the correlative of scratch! Score two, and go on after Dr. Hutton.
He overtook the Garnets twain just at their front gate, whence the house could not be seen, on account of a bank of evergreens. The maid came out with her cap flying off, and all her mind perturbed. Rufus Hutton, checking his mare, for the road was very narrow, heard the entire dialogue.
“Oh, sir! oh, master! have you heard of it? Such a thing, to be sure!”
“Heard of what, Sarah? Of course I have heard of the great disaster at Rushford.”
“No, no. Here, sir, here! The two big trees is down on the house. It?s a mussy as Nanny and me wasn?t killed. And poor Miss Pearl have been in hysterics ever since, without no dinner. There, you can hear her screeching now, worse than the mangle, ever so much.”
Mr. Garnet did not say a word, but set off for the house full speed, even forgetting that Bob wanted help to get from the gate to the doorway.
Rufus Hutton jumped down from his mare, and called to the driver to come and hold her, just for a minute or two; no fear of his horses bolting. Then, helping Bob to limp along, he followed through the shrubbery. When they came within full view of the house, he was quite amazed at the mischief. The two oaks interlocked had fallen upon it, and, crashing as they did from the height above, the breaches they made were hideous. They had cloven the house into three ragged pieces, from the roof–ridge down to the first floor, where the solid joists had stopped them. It had happened in the afternoon of the second day of the tempest; when the heart of the storm was broken, but tremendous squalls came now and then from the bright north–west. Mr. Garnet?s own bed was occupied by the tree which he detested. Pearl had screamed “Judgment, judgment!” and danced among the ruins; so the maid was telling Mr. Garnet, as he feared to enter his own door.
“Judgment for what?” asked Rufus Hutton, and Mr. Garnet seemed not to hear him.
“I am sure I don?t know, sir,” answered the maid, “for none of us done any harm, sir; unless it was the bottle of pickled onions, when master were away, and there was very few of them left, sir, very few, I do declare to you, and we thought they was on the turn, sir, and it seemed such a pity to waste them. And please, sir, we?ve all been working like horses, though frightened out of our lives ‘most; and we fetched down all the things from your room, where the cupboards was broken open, for ‘fraid it should come on to rain, sir; and we?ve taken all our meals standing, sir; and made up a bed in the meat–screen, and another upon the dresser; and Miss Pearl, what turns she have given us – Here she comes, I do declare.”
“Dr. Hutton,” said Bull Garnet, hastily, “good–bye; I am much obliged to you. I shall see you, I hope, next week. Good–bye, good–bye. Excuse me.”
But, before he could get him out of the way – for Rufus lingered strangely – Pearl Garnet came into the little hall, with her eyes distended fearfully. “There, there it is,” she cried, “there it is, I tell you! No wonder the tree came down upon it. No wonder the house was crushed for it.” And she pointed to a shattered box, tilted up endwise, among a heap of account–books, clothes, and furniture.
“Oh yes, you may look at it. To be sure you may look at it. God would not have it hidden longer. I have done my best, God knows, and my heart knows, and my – I mean that man there knows. Is there anything more I can do for you, anything more, dear father? You have done so much for me, you know. And I will only ask you one little thing – put me in his coffin.”
“The girl is raving,” cried Mr. Garnet. “Poor thing, it comes from her mother.”
“No, it comes from her father,” said Pearl, going boldly up to him, and fixing her large bright eyes upon his. “Do as you like with me; I don?t care; but don?t put it on any one else. Oh, father, father, father!”
Moaning, she turned away from him; and then sprang into his arms with shrieks. He lifted her tenderly, and forgot all about his own safety. His great tears fell on her wan, sick face; and his heavy heart throbbed for his daughter only, as he felt hers bounding perilously. He carried her off to an inner room, and left them to their own devices.
“I should like uncommonly,” said Rufus Hutton, rubbing his chin, “to know what is in that box. Indeed, I feel it my duty at once to ascertain.”
“No, you shan?t,” cried Bob, limping across in front of it; “I know no more than you do, sir. But I won?t have father?s things pryed into.”
“You are very polite,” replied the Doctor; “a chip of the old block, I perceive. But, perhaps, you will believe me, my boy, when I tell you that, if ever there was a gentleman totally devoid of improper curiosity, it is Dr. Rufus Hutton, sir.”
“Oh, I am so glad,” said Bob; “because you won?t be disappointed, then.”
Rufus grinned, in spite of his wrath; but he was not to be baffled so easily. He could not push poor Bob aside, in his present disabled state, without being guilty of cowardice. So he called in an auxiliary.
“Betsy, my dear, your young mistress wished me just to examine that box. Be kind enough to bring it to the light here, unless it is too heavy for your little hands.”
Oh, if he had only said “Miss Sarah,” what a difference it might have made!
“Betsy, indeed!” cried Sarah, who had followed her mistress, but, being locked out, had come back to see the end of it; “my name, sir, is nothing so low as that. My name is Sarah Mackarness, sir, very much at your service; and my mother keeps a potato–shop, the largest business in Lyndhurst, sir. Betsy, indeed! and from a stranger, not to say a strange gentleman, for fear of making a mistake. And as for my hands” – she thought he had been ironical, for her hands were above regulation size – “my hands are such as pleased God to make them, and honest hands, anyhow, and doesn?t want to interfere with other people?s business. Oh, what will poor Nanny say, to think of me, Sarah Mackarness, be permiscuous called Betsy?”
At this moment, when Sarah Mackarness, having recovered breath, was starting into another native discourse on pr?nomina, and Rufus was calling upon his resources for some constitutional measure, Bull Garnet came back, treading heavily, defiant of all that the world could do. His quick eyes, never glimpsing that way, but taking in all the room at once, espied the box unmeddled with, and Bob upon guard in front of it. He was his own man now again. What did he care for anybody, so long as he had his children?
“Dr. Hutton, I thought that you were gone.”
“You see I am not,” said Rufus, squaring his elbows, and looking big, for he was a plucky little fellow, “and, what?s more, I don?t mean to go till I know what is in that box.”
“Box, box!” cried Bull Garnet, striking his enormous forehead, as if to recall something; “have we a box of yours, Dr. Hutton?”
“No, no; that box of yours. Your daughter told us to examine it. And, from her manner, I believe that I am bound to do so.”
“Bound to examine one of my boxes!” Bull Garnet never looked once that way, and Rufus took note of the strange avoidance; “my boxes are full of confidential papers; surely, sir, you have caught my daughter?s – I mean to say, you are labouring under some hallucination.”
“There are no papers in that box. The contents of it are metal. I have seen one article already through the broken cover, and shall not forget its shape. Beware; there have been strange things done in this neighbourhood. If you refuse to allay my suspicions, you confirm them.”
The only answer he received was a powerful hand at the back of his neck, a sensation of being lifted with no increase of facilities for placid respiration; finally, a lateral movement of great rapidity through the air, and a loud sound as of a bang. Recovering reason?s prerogative, he found himself in a dahlia, whose blossoms, turned into heel–balls by the recent frost, were flapping round his countenance, and whose stake had gone through his waistcoat back, and grazed his coxendix, or something; he knows best what it was, as a medical man deeply interested.
He had also a very unpleasant reminiscence of some such words as these, to which he had no responsive power – “You won?t take a hint like a gentleman; so take a hit like a blackguard.”
Dr. Rufus Hutton was not the man to sit down quietly under an insult of any sort. At the moment he felt that brute force was irresistibly in the ascendant, and he was wonderfully calm about it. He shook himself, and smoothed his waistcoat, and tried the stretch of his garters; then never once looked toward the house, never shook his fist, nor frowned even. He walked off to his darling Polly as if nothing at all had happened; gave the man a shilling for holding her, after looking long for a sixpence; then mounted, and rode towards Nowelhurst Hall, showing no emotion whatever. Only Polly knew that burning tears of a brave man?s sense of ignominy fell upon her glossy shoulder, and were fiercely wiped way.
At the Hall he said nothing about it; never even mentioned that he had called at Garnet?s cottage; but told Sir Cradock, like a true man, of Eoa?s troubles, of her poor forlorn condition, and power of heart to feel it. He even contrived to interest the bereaved man, now so listless, in the young life thrown upon his care, as if by the breath of heaven. We are never so eloquent for another as when our own hearts are moved deeply by the feeling of wrong to ourselves; unless, indeed, we are very small, and that subject excludes all others.
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