Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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Below this, the yellow banks break away into a scoop on either side, where a green lane of the forest comes down and wades into the water. Here is a favourite crossing–place for the cattle of the woodland, and a favourite bower for cows to rest in, and chew the cud of soft contemplation. And here is a grey wooden bridge for the footpath, adding to rather than destroying the solitude of the scene, because it is plain that a pair of feet once in a week would astonish it. Yet in the depth of loneliness, and the quiet repose of shadow, all is hope, and reassurance, sense of thanks, and breath of praise. For is not the winter gone by, and forgotten, the fury and darkness and terror, the inclination of March to rave, and the April too given to weeping? Surely the time of sweet flowers is come, and the glory of summer approaching, the freedom of revelling in the sun, the vesture of the magnificent trees, and the singing of birds among them.
Through the great Huntley Wood, and along the banks of the Millaford brook, this fine morning of the May, wander our Rosalind and Celia, Amy to wit, and Eoa. It is a long way from Nowelhurst, but they have brought their lunch, and mean to make a day of it in the forest, seeking balm for wounded hearts in good green leaf and buoyant air. Coming to the old plank–bridge, they sit upon a bank to watch the rising of the trout, for the stone–fly is on the water. Eoa has a great idea that she could catch a trout with a kidney–bean stick and a fly; but now she has not the heart for it; and Amy says it would be so cruel, and they are so pretty.
“What a lovely place!” says Amy; “I could sit here all day long. How that crab–apple, clothed with scarlet, seems to rouge the water!”
“It isn?t scarlet, I tell you, Amy, any more than you are. It?s only a deep, deep pink. You never can tell colours.”
“Well, never mind. It is very pretty. And so are you when you are good and not contradictory – ?contradictionary,’ as James Pottles calls Cor?bus.”
“Well, it does just as well. What?s the good of being so particular? I am sure I am none the better for it; and I have not jumped the brook ever so long, and have thrown away my gaiters just because Uncle John said – oh, you are all alike in England.”
“What did my father say, if you please, that possessed such odious sameness?”
“There, there, I am so glad to see you in a passion, dear; because I thought you never could be. Uncle John only said that no doubt somebody would like me better, if I gave up all that, and stayed in–doors all day. And I have been trying hard to do it; but he is worse than he was before. I sat on a bench in the chase last Monday, and he went by and never noticed me, though I made quite a noise with my hat on the wood until I was nearly ashamed of myself. But I need not have been alarmed, for my lord went by without even looking.”
“And what do you mean to do about it?” Amy took the deepest interest in Eoa?s love–affair.
“Oh, you need not smile, Amy.It is all very well for you, I dare say; but it makes me dreadfully angry. Just as if I were nobody! And after I have told Uncle Cradock of my intentions to settle.”
“You premature little creature! But my father was quite right in his advice, as he always is; and not for that reason only. You belong to a well–known family, and, for their sake as well as your own, you are bound to be very nice, dear, and to do only what is nice, instead of making a tomboy of yourself.”
“Tomboy, indeed! And nice! Nice things they did, didn?t they – shooting one another?”
Almost before she had uttered the words, she was thoroughly ashamed of herself, for she knew about Amy and Cradock from the maiden?s own confession. Amy arose without reply, and, taking her little basket, turned into the homeward path, with a little quiet sigh. Eoa thought for a moment, and then, having conquered herself, darted after the outraged friend.
“I wish to have no more to do with you. That is all,” cried Amy, with Eoa?s strong arms round her waist.
“But, indeed, you shall. You know what a brute I am. I can?t help it; but I will try. I will bite my tongue off to be forgiven.”
“I simply wish, Miss Nowell, to have nothing more to do with you.”
“Then you are a great deal worse than I am; because you are unforgiving. I thought you were so wonderfully good; and now I am sorry for you, even more than for myself. I had better go back to the devil?s people, if this is the way of Christians.”
“Could you forgive any one in a moment who had wounded you most savagely?”
“In a moment, – if they were sorry, and asked me.”
“Are you quite sure of that?”
“Sure, indeed! How could I help it?”
“Then, Eoa, you cannot help being more like a Christian than I am. I am very persistent, and steadily bitter to any one who wrongs me. You are far better than I am, Eoa; because you cannot hate any one.”
“I don?t know about being better, Amy; I only know that I don?t hate any one – with all my heart I mean – except Mrs. Nowell Corklemore.”
Here Amy could not help laughing at Eoa?s method of proving her rule; and the other took advantage of it to make her sit down, and kiss her, and beg her pardon a dozen times, because she was such a little savage; and then to open her own lunch–basket, and spread a white cloth, and cover it with slices of rusk and reindeer?s tongue, and hearted lettuce, and lemonade, and a wing of cold duck at the corner.
“I left it to Hoggy,” she cried in triumph, “and he has deserved my confidence. Beat that if you can now, my darling.”
“Oh, I can beat that out and out,” said Amy, who still was crying, just a drop now and then, because her emotions were “persistent:” then she smiled, because she knew so well no old butler could touch her in catering; but I must not tell what Amy had, for fear of making people hungry. Only in justice it should be said that neither basket went home full; for both the young ladies were “hearty;” and they kissed one another in spite of the stuffing.
“Oh, Amy, I do love you so, whenever you don?t scold me. I am sure I was meant for a Christian. Here?s that nasty sneak?s lawn handkerchief. I picked her pocket this morning. I do twice a week for practice. But I won?t wipe your pretty eyes with it, darling, because I do so loathe her. Now, if you please, no more crying, Amy. What a queer thing you are!”
“Most truly may I return the compliment,” answered Amy, smiling through the sparkle of her tears. “But you don?t mean to say that you keep what you steal?”
“Oh no; it is not worth it. And I hate her too much to keep anything. Last week I lit the fire in my dressing–room, on purpose to burn her purse. You should have seen the money melting. I took good care, of course, not to leave it in the ashes, though. I am forming quite a collection of it; for I don?t mind keeping it at all, when it has been through the fire. And you can?t think how pretty it is, all strings and dots of white and yellow.”
“Well! I never heard such a thing. Why, you might be transported, Eoa!”
“Yes, I know, if they found me out; but they are much too stupid for that. Besides, it is such fun; the only fun I have now, since I left off jumping. You know the old thing is so stingy.”
“Old thing, indeed! Why, she is not five–and–twenty!”
“I don?t care; she has got a child. She is as old as Methusalem in her heart, though she is so deucedly sentimental” – the old Colonel?s daughter had not forgotten all her beloved papa?s expressions – ”I know I shall use what you call in this country ‘physical force,’ some day, with her. I must have done it long ago, only for picking her pocket. She would be but a baby in my hands, and she is quite aware of it. Look at my arm; it?s no larger than yours, except above the elbow, and it is nearly as soft and delicate. Yet I could take you with one hand, Amy, and put you into the brook. If you like, I?ll do it.”
“Much obliged, dear; but I am quite content without the crucial test. I know your wonderful strength, which none would ever suspect, to look at you. I suppose it came to you from your mother.”
“Yes, I believe. At any rate, I have heard my father say so; and I could hold both his hands most easily. But oh, she is such a screw, Amy, that sympathetic Georgie! She never gives any one sixpence; and it is so pleasant to hear her go on about her money, and handkerchiefs, and, most of all, her gloves. She is so proud of her nasty little velvet paws. She won?t get her gloves except in Southampton, and three toll–gates to pay, and I steal them as fast as she gets them. She grumbles about it all dinner–time, and I offered her eighteenpence for turnpikes – out of her own purse, of course – because she was so poor, I said. But she flew into such a rage that I was forced to pick her pocket again at breakfast–time next morning. And the lies she told about the amount of money in her purse! Between eight and nine pounds, she said the last time, and there was only two pounds twelve. Uncle Cradock made it good to her, because he guessed that I had done it, though he was afraid to tell me so. But, thank God, I stole it again the next day when she went out walking; and that of course he had nothing to say to, because it did not occur in his house. Oh what a rage she was in! She begins to suspect me now, I think; but she never can catch me out.”
“You consummate little thief! why, I shall be afraid to come near you.”
“Oh, I would never do it to any one but her. And I should not do it to her so much, only she thinks me a clumsy stupid. Me who was called ‘Never–spot–the–dust!’ But I have got another thing of hers, and she had better take care, or I?ll open it.”
“Something else! Take care, Eoa, or I will go and tell.”
“No, you know better than that. It is nothing but a letter she wrote, and was going to post at Burley. I knew by her tricks and suspicious ways that there was something in it; and she would not let it go in the post–bag. So I resolved to have it; and of course I did. And she has been in such a fright ever since; but I have not opened it yet.”
“And I hope you never will. Either confess, or post it at once, or never call me your friend any more.”
“Oh, you need not be hot, Amy; you don?t understand the circumstances. I know that she is playing a nasty game; and I need not have any scruples with her, after what I caught her doing. Twice she has been at my desk, my own new desk Uncle Cradock gave me, where I put all the letters and relics that were found on my dear, dear father.” Here Eoa burst out crying, and Amy came near again and kissed her.
“Darling, I did not mean to be cross; if the wretch would do such a thing as that, it justifies almost anything.”
“And what do you think I did?” said Eoa, half crying, and half laughing: “I set a fishhook with a spring to it, so that the moment she lifted the cover, the barb would go into her hand; and the next day she had a bad finger, and said that little Flore bit it by accident while she was feeling her tooth, which is loose. I should like to have seen her getting the barb out of her nasty little velvet paw.”
“I am quite surprised,” cried Amy; “and we all call you so simple – a mere child of nature! If so, nature is up to much more than we give her credit for. And pray, what is your next device?”
“Oh, nothing at all, till she does something. I am quits with her now; and I cannot scheme as she does.”
Suddenly Amy put both her hands on Eoa?s graceful shoulders, and poured the quick vigour of English eyes into the fathomless lustre of darkly–fringed Oriental orbs.
“You will not tell me a story, dear, if I ask you very particularly?”
“I never tell stories to any one; you might know that by this time. At any rate, not to my friends.”
“No, I don?t think you would. Now, do you think that Mrs. Corklemore is at the bottom of this vile thing?”
“What vile thing? The viler it is, the more likely she is to have done it.”
“Oh no, she cannot have done it, though she may have had something to do with it. I mean, of course, about poor Cradock.”
“What about Cradock? I love Cousin Cradock, because he is so unlucky; and because you like him, dear.”
“Don?t you know it? You must have seen that I was in very poor spirits. And this made me feel it so much the more, when you said what you did. We have heard that an application has been made in London, at the Home Office, or somewhere, that a warrant should be issued against Cradock Nowell, and a reward be offered for him as – Oh, my Cradock, my Craddy!”
“Put your head in here, darling. What a brute you must have thought me! Oh, I do so love you. Don?t think twice about it, dear. I will take care that it all comes right. I will go to London to–day, dearest, and defy them to dare to do it. And I?ll open that letter at once. It becomes a duty now; as that nasty beast always says, when she wants to do anything wrong.”
“No, no!” sobbed Amy, “you have no right to open her letter, and you shall not do it, Eoa, unless my father says that it is right. Will you promise me that, dear? Oh, do promise me that.”
“How can I promise that, when I would not have him know, for a lac of rupees, that I had ever stolen it? He would never perceive how right it was; and, though I don?t know much about people, I am sure he would never forgive me. He is such a fidget. But I will promise you one thing, Amy – not to open it without your leave.”
Amy was obliged at last to be contented with this; though she said it was worse than nothing, for it forced the decision upon her; and, scrupulously honest and candid as she was, she would feel it right to settle the point against her own desires.
“Old Biddy knows I have got it,” cried Eoa, changing her humour: “and she patted me on the back, and said, ‘Begorra, thin, you be the cliver one; hould on to that same, me darlint, and we?ll bate every bit of her, yit; the purtiest feet and ancles to you, and the best back legs, more than iver she got, and now you bate her in the stalin?. And plase, Miss, rade yer ould Biddy every consumin? word on it. Mullygaslooce, but we?ve toorned her, this time, and thank Donats for it.’”
Eoa dramatised Biddy so cleverly, even to the form of her countenance, and her peculiar manner of standing, that Amy, with all those griefs upon her, could not help laughing heartily.
“Come along, I can?t mope any longer; when I have jumped the brook nine times, you may say something to me. What do you think of a bathe, Amy? I am up for it, if you are – and our tablecloths for towels. Nobody comes here once in a year; and if they did, they would run away again. What a lovely deep pool! I can swim like a duck; and you like a stone, I suppose.”
Amy, of course, would not hear of it, and her lively friend, having paddled with her naked feet in the water, and found it colder – oh, ever so much – than the tributaries of the Ganges, was not so very sorry (self–willed though being) to keep upon the dry land, only she must go to Queen?s Mead, and Amy must come with her, and run the entire distance, to get away from trouble.
Amy was light enough of foot, when her heart was light; but Eoa could “run round her,” as the sporting phrase is, and she gave herself the rein at will that lovely afternoon; as a high–mettled filly does, when she gets out of Piccadilly. And she chatted as fast as she walked all the time, hoping so to divert her friend from this new distress.
“I should not be one bit surprised, if we saw that – Bob, here somewhere. We are getting near one of his favourite places – not that I know anything about it; and he is always away now in Mark Ash Wood, or Puckpits, looking out for the arrival of honey–buzzards, or for a merlin?s nest. Oh, of course we shall not see him.”
“Now, you know you will,” replied Amy, laughing at Eoa?s clumsiness; “and you have brought me all this way for that very reason. Now, if we meet him, just leave him to me, and stay out of hearing. I will manage him so that he shall soon think you the best and the prettiest girl in the world.”
“Well, I wish he would,” said Eoa, blushing beautifully; “wouldn?t I torment him then?”
“No doubt you would, and yourself as well. Now where do you think he will be?”
“Oh, Amy, how can I possibly guess? But if I did guess at all, I should say there was just an atom of a chance of his being not far from the Queen?s Mead.”
“Suppose him to be there. What would bring him there? Not to see you, I should hope?”
“As if he would go a yard for that! Oh no, he is come to look for – at least, perhaps he might, just possibly, I mean – ”
“Come to look for whom?” Amy was very angry, for she thought that it was herself, under Eoa?s strategy.
“A horrid little white mole.”
“A white mole! Why, I had no idea that there was such a thing.”
“Oh yes, there is: but it is very rare; and he has set his heart upon catching this one.”
“That he shan?t. Oh, I see exactly what to do. Come quickly, for fear he should catch it before we get there. Oh, I do hate such cruelty. Ah, there, I see him! Now, you keep out of sight.”
In a sunny break of tufted sward, embayed among long waves of wood, young Bob Garnet sat, more happy than the king of all the world of fairies. At his side lay several implements of his own devising, and on his lap a favourite book with his open watch upon it. From time to time he glanced away at a chain of little hillocks about twenty yards in front of him, and among which he had stuck seven or eight stout hazel rods, and brought them down as benders. He was trying not only to catch his mole, but also to add another to his many observations as to the periods of molar exertion. Whether nature does enforce upon those clever miners any Three Hour Act, as the popular opinion is; or whether they are free to work and rest, at their own sweet will, as seems a world more natural.
Amy walked into the midst of the benders, in her self–willed, characteristic manner, as if they were nothing at all. She made believe to see nought of Bob, who, on the other side of the path was fluttering and blushing, with a mixture of emotions. “Some very cruel person,” she exclaimed, in loud self–commune, “probably a cruel boy, has been setting mole–traps here, I see. And papa says the moles do more good than harm, except perhaps in my flower–beds. Now I?ll let them all off very quietly. The boy will think he has caught a dozen; and then how the moles will laugh at him. He will think it?s a witch, and leave off, very likely, for all cruel boys are ignorant. My pretty little darlings; so glossy, and so clever!”
“Oh, please not to do that,” cried Bob, having tried in vain to contain himself, and now leaping up in agony; “I have taken so much trouble, and they are set so beautifully.”
“What, Master Robert Garnet! Oh, have you seen my companion, Miss Nowell, about here?”
“Look there, you have spoiled another! And they?ll never set so well again. Oh, you can?t know what they are, and the trouble I have had with them.”
“Oh yes, Master Garnet, I know what they are; clumsy and cruel contrivances to catch my innocent moles.”
“Your moles!” cried Bob, with great wrath arising, as she coolly destroyed two more traps; “why are they your moles, I should like to know? I don?t believe you have ever even heard of them before.”
“Suppose I have not?” answered Amy, screwing up her lips, as she always did when resolved to have her own way.
“Then how can they be your moles? Oh, if you haven?t spoiled another!”
“Well, God?s moles, if you prefer it, Master Garnet. At any rate, you have no right to catch them.”
“But I only want to catch one, Amy; a white one, oh, such a beauty! I have heard of him since he was born, and had my eye on him down all the galleries; and now he must be full–grown, for he was born quite early in August.”
“I hope he?ll live to be a hundred. And I will thank you, Master Garnet, to speak to me with proper respect.”
Up went another riser. There was only one left now, and that a most especial trap, which had cost a whole week?s cogitation.
“I declare you are a most dreadful girl. You don?t like anything I do. And I have thought so much of you.”
“Then, once for all, I beg you never more to do so. I have often wished to speak with you upon that very subject.”
“What – what subject, Miss Rosedew? I have no idea what you mean.”
“That is altogether false. But I will tell you now. I mean the silly, ungentlemanly, and very childish manner, excusable only in such a boy, in which I have several times observed you loitering about in the forest.”
Bob knew what she meant right well, although she would not more plainly express it – his tracking of her footsteps. He turned as red as meadow–sorrel, and stammered out what he could.
“I am – very – very sorry. But I did not mean it. I mean – I could not help it.”
“You will be kind enough to help it now, for once and for all. Otherwise, my father, who has not heard of it yet, shall speak to yours about it. Insufferable impudence in a boy just come from school!”
Amy was obliged to turn away, for fear he should look up again, and see the laughter in her eyes. For all her wrath was feigned, inasmuch as to her Bob Garnet was far too silly a butterfly–boy to awake any real anger. But of late he had been intrusive, and it seemed high time to stop it.
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