Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“If I have done anything wrong, Miss Rosedew, anything in any way unbecoming a gentleman – ”
“Yes, try to be a good boy again,” said Amy, very graciously; at the same time giving the stroke of grace to his masterpiece of mechanism, designed to catch the white mole alive; “now take up your playthings and go, if you please; for I expect a young lady here directly; and your little tools for cockchafer–spinning would barbarize the foreground of our sketch, besides being very ugly.”
“Oh!” cried Bob, with a sudden access of his fathers readiness – ”you spin a fellow worse than any cockchafer, and you do it in the name of humanity!”
“Then think me no more a divinity,” answered Amy; because she must have the last word; and even Bob, young as he was, knew better than to paragogize the feminine termination. Utterly discomfited, as a boy is by a woman – and Amy?s trouble had advanced her almost to that proud claim – Bob gathered up his traps and scuttled cleverly out of sight. She, on the other hand (laughing all the while at herself for her simple piece of acting, and doubting whether she had been right in doing even a little thing so much against her nature), there she sat, with her sketching–block ready, and hoped that Eoa would have the wit to come and meet her beloved Bob, now labouring under his fierce rebuff.
But Eoa could not do it. She had wit enough, but too much heart. She had heard every word of Amy?s insolence, and was very indignant at it. Was Bob to be talked to in that way? As if he knew nothing of science! As if he really had an atom of any sort of cruelty in him! Was Amy so very ignorant as not to know that all Bob did was done with the kindest consideration, and for the interest of the species, though the pins through the backs were unpleasant, perhaps? But that was over in a moment, and he always carried ether; and it was nothing to the Fakirs, or the martyrs of Christianity.
Therefore Eoa crouched away, behind a tuft of thicket, because her maidenhood forbade her to come out and comfort him, to take advantage of his wrong, and let him know how she felt it. Therefore, too, she was very sharp with Amy all the homeward road; vindicating Bob, and snapping at all proffered softness; truth being that she had suspected his boyish whim for Amy, and now was sorry for him about it, and very angry with both of them.
From that little touch of woman?s nature she learned more dignity, more pride, more reservation, and self–respect, than she could have won from a score of governesses, or six seasons of “society.”
“Not another minute to lose, and the sale again deferred! All the lots marked, and the handbills out, and the particulars and conditions ready; and then some paltry pettifogging, and another fortnight will be required to do ‘justice to my interests.’ Justice to my interests! How they do love round–mouthed rubbish! The only justice to me is, from a legal point of view, to string me up, and then quick–lime me; and the only justice to my interests is to rob my children, because I have robbed them already.Robbed them of their birth and name, their power to look men in the face, their chance of being allowed to do what God seems chiefly to want us for – to marry and have children, who may be worse than we are; though, thank Him, mine are not. Robbed them even of their chance to be met as Christians (though I have increased their right to it), in this wretched, money–seeking, servile, and contemptuous age. But who am I to find fault with any, after all my wasted life? A life which might, in its little way, have told upon the people round me, and moved, if not improved them. Which might, at least, have set them thinking, doubting, and believing. Oh the loss of energy, the loss of self–reliance, and the awful load of fear and anguish – I who might have been so different! Pearl is at the window there. I know quite well who loves her – an honest, upright, hearty man, with a true respect for women. But will he look at her when he knows – Oh God, my God, forsake me, but not my children! – Bob, what are you at with those cabbages?”
“Why, they are clubbed, don?t you see, father, beautifully clubbed already, and the leaves flag directly the sun shines. And I want to know whether it is the larva of a curculio, or anthomyia brassic?; and I can?t tell without pulling the plants up, and they can?t come to any good, you know, with all this ambury in them.”
“I know nothing of the sort, Bob. I know nothing at all about it. Go into the house to your sister. I can?t bear the sight of you now.”
Bob, without a single word, did as he was told. He knew that his father loved him, though he could not guess the depth of that love, being himself so different. And so he never took offence at his father?s odd ways to him, but thought, “Better luck next time; the governor has got red spider this morning, and he won?t be right till dinner–time.”
Bull Garnet smiled at his son?s obedience, with a mighty fount of pride in him; and then he sighed, because Bob was gone – and he never could have enough of him, for the little time remaining. He loved his son with a love surpassing that of woman, or that of man for woman. Men would call him a fool for it. But God knows how He has made us.
Thinking none of this, but fretting over fierce heart–troubles, which now began to be too many even for his power of life – as a hundred wolves kill a lion – he turned again down the espalier–walk, where the apple–trees were in blossom. Pinky shells spread to the sun, with the little close tuft in the middle; some striped, some patched, some pinched with white, some streaking as the fruit would be, and glancing every gloss of blush – no two of them were quite alike, any more than two of us are. Yet the bees knew every one among the countless multitude, and never took the wrong one; even as the angels know which of us belongs to them, and who wants visitation.
Bull Garnet, casting to and fro, and taking heed of nothing, not even of the weeds which once could not have lived before his eyes, began again in a vague loose manner (the weakness of which would have angered him, if he had been introspective) to drone about the law?s delays, and the folly of institution. He stood at last by his wicket gate, where the hedge of Irish yew was, and there carried on his grumbling.
“Lawyers indeed! And cannot manage a simple thing of that sort! Thank God, I know nothing of law.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Garnet. It is possible that you may want to know something of law, shortly.”
“By what right, sir, dare you break in upon my privacy like this?”
Pale as he was, and scorning himself for the way in which his blood shrunk back, Bull Garnet was far too strong and quick ever to be dumb–foundered. Chope looked at him, with some admiration breaking through the triumph of his small comprehensive eyes.
“Excuse me, Mr. Garnet. I forgot that a public man like you must have his private moments, even at his own gate. I am sorry to see you so hot, my dear sir; though I have heard that it is your character. That sort of thing leads to evil results, and many deplorable consequences. But I did not mean to be rude to you, or to disturb you so strangely.”
“You have not disturbed me at all, sir.”
“I am truly happy to hear it. All I meant, as to knowledge of law, was to give you notice that there is some heavy trouble brewing, and that you must be prepared to meet some horrible accusations.”
“May I trespass further upon your kindness, to ask what their subject is?”
“Oh, nothing more than a very rash and unfounded charge of murder.”
Mr. Chope pronounced that last awful word in a deeply sepulchral manner, and riveted his little eyes into Bull Garnet?s great ones. Mr. Garnet met his gaze as calmly as he would meet the sad clouded aspect of a dead rabbit, or hare, in a shop where he asked the price of them, and regarded their eyes as the test of their freshness. Chope could not tell what to make of it. The thing was beyond his experience.
But all this time Bull Garnet felt that every minute was costing him a year of his natural life, even if he ever got any chance of living it out.
“How does this concern me? Is it any one on our estates?”
“Yes, and the heir to ‘your estates.’ Young Mr. Cradock Nowell.”
Bull Garnet sighed very heavily; then he strode away, and came back again, with indignation swelling out the volume of his breast, and filling the deep dark channels of brow, and the turgid veins of his eyeballs.
“Whoever has done this thing is a fool; or a rogue – which means the same.”
“It may be so. It may be otherwise. We always hope for the best. Very likely he is innocent. Perhaps they are shooting at the pigeon in order to hit the crow.”
“Perhaps you know best what their motives are. I see no use in canvassing them. You have heard, I suppose, the rumour that Mr. Cradock Nowell has left England?”
“I know very little about it. I have nothing to do with the case; or it might have been managed differently. But I heard that the civil authorities, being called upon to act, discovered, without much trouble, that he had sailed, under a false name, in a ship called the Taprobane, bound direct for Ceylon. And that, of course, told against him rather heavily.”
“Ah, he sailed for Ceylon, did he? A wonderful place for insects. I had an uncle who died there.”
“Yes, Ceylon, where the flying foxes are. Not so cunning, perhaps, as our foxes of the Forest. And yet the fox is a passionate animal. Violent, hot, and hasty. Were you aware of that fact?”
“Excuse me; my time is valuable. I will send for the gamekeeper, if you wish to have light thrown upon that question; or my son will be only too glad – ”
“Ah, your son! Poor fellow!”
Those few short words, pronounced in a tone of real feeling, with no attempt at inquiry, quite overcame Bull Garnet. First extrinsic proof of that which he had so long foreseen with horror – the degradation of his son. He dropped his eyes, which had borne, till now, and returned the lawyer?s gaze; and the sense of his own peril failed to keep the tears from moving. Up to this time Mr. Chope had doubted, and was even beginning to reject his shrewd and well–founded conclusion. Now he saw and knew everything. And even he was overcome. Passion is infectious; and lawyers are like the rest of us. Mr. Chope had loved his mother.
Bull Garnet gave one quick strange glance at the eyes of Simon Chope, which now were turned away from him, and then he looked at the ground, and said,
“Yes; I have wronged him bitterly.”
Simon Chope drew back from him mechanically, instinctively, as our skin starts from cold iron in the arctic regions. He could not think, much less could he speak, though his mind had been prepared for it. To human nature it is so abhorrent to take the life of another: to usurp the rights of God. To stand in the presence of one who has done it, touches our pulse with death. We feel that he might have done it to us, or that we might have done it to him; and our love of ourselves is at once accelerated and staggered. And then we feel that “life for life” is such low revenge; the vendetta of a drunkard. Very slowly we are beginning to see the baseness of it.
Bull Garnet was the first to speak, and now he spoke quite calmly.
“You came with several purposes. One of them was, that I should break to Sir Cradock Nowell these tidings of new trouble; the news of the warrant which you and others have issued against his luckless son. I will see to it to–day, and I will try to tell him. Good God, he does not deserve it – I have watched him – he is no father. Oh, I wish you had a son, Chope; then you could feel for me.”
Mr. Chope had two sons, not to be freely discoursed of; whom he meant to take into the office, pseudonymously, some day; and he was rather inclined to like the poor little nullius filii. First, because they were his own; secondly, because they had big heads; thirdly, because they had cheated all the other boys. Nevertheless, he was in no hurry to be confidential about them. Yet without his knowing it, or at least with only despising it, this little matter shaped its measure upon his present action. The lawyer lifted his hat to Bull Garnet in a very peculiar manner, conveying to the quick apprehension, what it would not have been safe to pronounce – to wit, that Mr. Chope quite understood all that had occurred; that he would not act upon his discovery until he had well considered the matter, for, after all, he had no evidence; lastly, that he was very sorry for Mr. Garnet?s position, but would rather not shake hands with him.
The steward watched him walking softly among the glad young leaves, and down the dell where the sunlight flashed on the merry leaps of the water. Long after the lawyer was out of sight, Bull Garnet stood there watching, as if the forest glades would show him the approaching destiny. Strong and firm as his nature was, he had suffered now such wearing, wearying agonies, that he almost wished the weak man?s wish – to have the mastery taken from him, to have the issue settled without his own decision.
“Poor Cradock sailed in the Taprobane! What an odd name,” he continued, with that childishness to which sometimes the overtaxed brain reverts, “tap, tap–root, tap–robin! Tush, what a fool I am! Oh God, that I could think! Oh God, that I could only learn whether my first duty is to you, or to my children. I will go in and pray.”
In the passage he met his son, and kissed his forehead gently, as if to atone for the harshness with which he had sent him away.
“Father,” said Bob, “shall you want me to–day? Or may I be from home till dark? I have so many things, most important things, to see to.”
“Birds’ nests, I suppose, and grubs, field–mice, and tadpoles. Yes, my son, you are wise. Enjoy them while you can. And take your sister also for a good run, if you can. You may carry your dinner with you: I shall do well enough.”
“Oh, it?s no use asking Pearl; she never will come with me. And I am sure I don?t want her. She does much more harm than good; she can?t kill anything properly, nor even blow an egg. But I?ll ask her, as you wish it, sir; because I know that she won?t come.”
Mr. Garnet had not the heart to laugh at his children?s fine sense of duty towards him; but he saw Bob start with all his tackle, in great hopes, and high spirits. The father looked sadly after him, wondering at his enjoyment, yet loving him the more, perhaps, for being so unlike himself. And as he gazed, he could not help saying to himself, “Very likely I shall never see him thus again – only look at him when he will not care to look on me. Yet he must know, in the end, and she, the poor thing, she must know how all my soul was on them. Now God in heaven, lead me aright. Half an hour shall settle it.”
Meanwhile, supposing the warrant to issue, let us see what chance there is of its ever being served. And it may be a pleasant change awhile to flit to southern latitudes from the troubles and the drizzle, and the weeping summer of England.
Poor Cradock, as we saw him last, backed up by the ebony–tree, and with Wena crouching close to him, knew nothing of his lonely plight and miserable abandonment; until the sheets of plashing rain, and long howls of his little dog, awoke him to great wonderment. Then he arose, and rubbed his eyes, and thought that his sight was gone, and felt a heavy weight upon him, and a destiny to grope about, and a vain desire to scream, such as we have in nightmare. Meanwhile, he felt something pulling at him, always in the same direction, and he did not like to put his hand down, for he had some idea that it was Beelzebub. Suddenly a great flash of lightning, triple thrice repeated, lit up the whole of the wood, like day; and he saw black Wena tugging at him, to draw him into good shelter. He saw the shelter also, ere the gush of light was gone, an enormous and hollow mowana–tree, a little higher up the hill. Then all was blackest night again; and even Wena was swallowed up in it. But with both hands stretched out, to fend the blows of hanging branch or creeper, he committed himself to the little dog?s care, and she took him to the mowana–tree. Then another great flash lit up all the hollow; and Wena was frightened and dropped her tail, but still held on to her master.
Cradock neither knew, nor cared, what the name of the tree was, nor whether it possessed, as some trees do, especial attractions for lightning. “Any harbour in a storm,” was all he thought, if he thought at all; and he lay down very snugly, and felt for Amy?s present to him, and then, in spite of the crashing thunder and the roaring wind, snugly he went off to sleep; and at his feet lay Wena.
In the bright morning, the youth arose, and shook himself, and looked round, and felt rather jolly than otherwise. Travellers say that the baobab, or mowana–tree, is the hardest of all things to kill, and will grow along the ground, when uprooted, and not allowed to grow upright. Frenchmen have proved, to their own satisfaction, that some baobabs, now living, grew under the deluge of Noah, and not improbably had the great ark floating over their heads. Be that as it may, and though it is a Cadmeian job to cut down the baobab, for every root thereupon claims, and takes, a distinct existence; we can all of us tell the travellers of a thing yet harder to kill – the hope in the heart of a man. And, the better man he is, the more of hope?s spores are in him; and the quicker they grow again, after they have all been stamped upon. A mushroom in the egg likes well to have the ground beaten overhead with a paviour?s rammer, and comes up all the bigger for it, and lifts a pave–stone of two hundred–weight. Shall then the pluck of an honest man fail, while his true conscience stirs in him, though the result be like a fleeting fungus, supposed to be born in an hour by those who know nothing about it, and who make it the type of an upstart – shall not his courage work and spread, although it be underground, as he grows less and less defiant; and rear, perhaps in the autumn of life, a genuine crop, and a good one?
Cradock Nowell found his island not at all a bad one. There was plenty to eat at any rate, which is half the battle of life. Plenty to drink is the other half, in the judgment of many philosophers. But I think that plenty to look at it ought to be at least a third of it. The pride of the eyes, if not exercised on that vanishing point, oneself, is a pride legitimate, and condemned by no apostle. And here there was noble food for it; and it is a pride which, when duly fed, slumbers off into humility.
Oh the glory of everything, the promise, and the brightness; the large leading views of sky and sea, and the crystal avenues onward. The manner in which a fellow expands, when he looks at such things – if he be capable of expanding, which surely all of us are – the way in which he wonders, and never dreams about wondering, and the feeling of grandeur growing within him, and how it repents him of littleness, and all his foes are forgiven; and then he sees that he has something himself to do with all the beauty of it – upon my word, I am a great fool, to attempt to tell of it.
Cradock saw his lovely island, and was well content with it. It was not more than four miles long, and perhaps three miles across; but it was gifted with three grand things – beauty, health, and nourishment. It might have been ages, for all he saw then, since man had sworn or forsworn in it; perhaps none since the voyagers of Necho, whose grand truth was so incredible. There were no high hills, and no very deep holes; but a pleasant undulating place, ever full of leaves and breezes. And as for wild beasts, he had no fear; he knew that they would require more square miles than he owned. As for snakes, he was not so sure; and indeed there were some nasty ones, as we shall see by–and–by.
Then he went to the shore, and looked far away, even after the Taprobane. The sea was yet heaving heavily, and tumbling back into itself with a roar, and some fishing eagles were very busy, stooping along the foam of it; but no ship was to be seen anywhere, and far away in the south and south–east the selvage of black clouds, lopping over the mist of the horizon, showed that still the typhoon was there, and no one could tell how bad it was.
Cradock found a turtle, at which Wena looked first in mute wonder, with her eyes taking jumps from their orbits, and then, like all females, she found tongue, and ran away, and barked furiously. Presently she came back, sniffing along, and drawing her nose on the sand, yet determined to stick by her master, even if the turtle should eat him. But, to her immense satisfaction, the result was quite the converse: she and her master ate the turtle; beginning, ab ovo, that morning.
For, although Crad could not quite eat the eggs raw (by–the–by, they are not so bad that way), and although he could not quite strike a light by twirling one stick in the back of another, he had long ago found reason for, and he rapidly found that excellent goddess in, the roasting of eggs. And for that, he had to thank Amy. Only see how thoughtful women are! – yes, a mark of astonishment.
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