Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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After all his works were finished, and when he hardly knew what great public improvement he should next attempt, Cradock received visitors, unexpected and unfashionable. In fact, they were all stark naked; although that proves very little. Climbing his tree, one beautiful morning, he saw four or five little marks on the sea, as of so many housemaids? thumbs, when the cheek of the grate has been polished. Staring thereat with all his eyes – as we loosely express it – he found that the thumb–marks got bigger and bigger, until they became long canoes, paddling, like good ones, towards him.
This was not not by any means the sort of thing he had bargained for; and he became, to state the matter mildly, most decidedly nervous. He saw that there were invading him five great double canoes, each containing ten or twelve men; and he had no gun, nor a pinch of powder. Very likely they were cannibals, and would roast him slowly, to brown him nicely, and then serve up Wena for garnish. He shook so up there among the rough branches – for he did not so very much mind, being killed, but he could not bear to be eaten – that Wena began to howl down below, and he was obliged to come down to quiet her.
Then he tied up black Wena, and muzzled her, to her immense indignation, with a capistrum of mowana bark, which quite foreclosed her own, and then he crept warily through the woods to observe his black brethren?s proceedings. They were very near the shore by this time, and making straight for the trader?s hut, of which they had doubtless received some account. Cradock felt his courage rising, and therewith some indignation, for he knew that the goods could not be theirs, and by this time he considered himself in commission as supercargo. So he resolved to save the store from pillage, if it were possible, even at the risk of his life.
For this purpose he lay down in a hollow place by the water–side, where he could just see over the tide–bank without much fear of discovery, at least, till the robbers had passed the shed, which, of course, was their principal object. It was evidently a king of men who stood at the prow of the foremost canoe, with a javelin in his great black hand, poised and ready for casting. His apparel consisted of two great ear–drops, two rings upon his right wrist, and one below either knee; also a chain of teeth was dangling down his brawny bosom. He was painted red, and polished highly, which had to be done every morning; and he looked as dignified and more powerful than a don or dean. One man in each boat was painted and polished – doubtless the sign of high rank and great birth.
When the bottom of the double canoe grated upon the beach, the negro king flung back his strong arm, and cast at the shed his javelin. It passed through the roof and buried itself in the body of the fetich, which swung horribly to and fro, while the crinoline moved round it. Hereupon a yell arose from the invading flotilla, and every man trembled, waiting to see what would come of such an impiety.Finding that nothing at all ensued, for Cradock had not the presence of mind to advance at the moment, they gave another yell and landed, washing a great deal of red from their legs. But the king was brought ashore, dry and bright, sitting on some officers’ shoulders. Then they came up the bank, without any order, but each with his javelin ready, and his eyes intent on the idol. How Cradock longed for a piece of packthread, to have set the dried codfish dancing!
At last they came quite up to the shed, and held a consultation, in which it seemed the better counsel to allow the god, who looked ever so much more awful now they were near him, a certain time to vindicate himself, if he possessed the power to do so. Cradock was watching them closely, through a tussock of long sea–grass, and, in spite of their powerful frames and elastic carriage, he began to despise them in the wholesale Britannic manner. They should not steal his property, that he was quite resolved upon, although there were fifty of them. They were so near to him now that he could see their great white teeth, and hear them snapping as they talked.
When the time allowed, which their Agamemnon was telling upon his fingers, had quite expired, and Olympian Jove had sent as yet no lightnings, the king, who was clearly in front of his age, cast another javelin through the frame of crinoline, and leaped boldly, like Patroclus, following his dart. Suddenly he fell back, howling and yelling, cured for ever of scepticism, and with both his great eyes quite slewed up, and all his virtue in his heels. Away went every nigger, drowning the royal screams with their own, pell–mell down the beach, anyhow, only caring to cut hawser. Words like these came back to Cradock, as they rolled over one another —
“Mbongo, pongo; warakai, urelw?i;” which mean, as interpreted afterwards by the Yankee trader,
“He is a God, a great God; he maketh rain, yea, very great rain!”
Headlong they tumbled into their boats, not stopping to carry the king even, for which he kicked them heartily, as soon as he got on board, and every son of a woman of them plied his knotted arms at the paddle, as if grim Death was behind him.
Cradock laughed so heartily, that he rolled over with the hydropult on him, and threw his heels up in the air, and if they had not yelled so, they would have been sure to hear him. Very skilfully he had brought the nose of that noble engine to bear full upon the royal countenance, and the jet of water from the little stream passed through the ribs of the fetich. That god had asserted himself to such purpose, that henceforth you might hang him with beads, and give him a wig of tobacco, and no black man would dare to look at them.
Cradock Nowell felt almost too proud of his mighty volunteer movement, and began to think more than ever that the whole of the island was his. These things show, more than anything else can, his return to human reason; for of the rational human being – as discovered ordinarily – the very first instinct and ambition is the ownership of a peculium. What man cannot sympathize with that feeling who has got three fields and six children? Therefore when a beautiful schooner, of the true American rig, which made such lagging neddies of our yachts a few years since, came into view one afternoon, and fetched up, with the sails all shaking in the wind, abreast of the shed, ere sun–down, Cradock felt like the owner of a house who sees a man at his gate. Then he came down quietly with Wena, and sat upon a barrel, with a pipe of Cavendish in his mouth, and Wena crouched, like a chrysalis, between his pumpkin?d feet.
Even the Yankee, who had not been surprised at any incident of life since his nurse dropped him down an oil–well, when he was two years old, even he experienced some sensation, when he saw a white man sitting and smoking upon his barrel of knowingest notions, with a black dog at his feet. But Recklesome Young was not the man to be long taken aback.
“Darn me, but yoo are a cool hand. Britisher, for ten dollars. Never see none like ‘em, I don?t.”
“You are right,” answered Cradock, “I am an Englishman. Very much at your service. What is your business upon my island?”
“Waal,” said the Yankee, turning round to the four men who had rowed him ashore; “Zebedee, this is just what I likes, and no mistark about it. One of them old islanders come to dispute possession. And perhaps a cannon up the hill, and a company of sojers. Ain?t it good, Zeb, ain?t it? Lor, how I do love them!”
“Now, don?t be too premature,” said Cradock, “it is the fault of your nation, as the opposite is ours.”
“Darned well said, young Britisher, give us your hand’ upon it; for, arter all, I likes yoo.”
Cradock shook hands with him heartily, for there was something in the man?s face and manner, when you let his chaff drift by, which an Englishman recognises, as kindly, strong, and sincere, although now and then contemptuous. The contempt alone is not genuine, but assumed to meet ours or anybody?s. The active, for fear of the passive voice.
“You are welcome to all the island,” said Cradock, “and all my improvements, if you will only take me home again. The whole of it belongs to me, no doubt; but I will make it all over to you, for a passage to Southampton.”
“Can?t take you that way, young Boss, and don?t want your legal writings. How come you here, to begin with?”
Cradock told him all his story, while the men were busy; and the keen American saw at once that every word was true.
“Strikes me,” he said, with a serious drawl, which the fun in his eyes contradicted, “that yoo, after the way of the British, have made a trifle free, young man, with some of my goods and chattels he–ar; and even yoor encro–aching country can?t prove tittle to them.”
“Yes,” replied Cradock; “and I will pay you, if I have not done so already. I will give you the thing which has saved the whole from plunder, and perhaps fire afterwards.”
Then he fetched the little machine, which the Yankee recognised at once as an American invention, and he laughed till his yellow cheeks were reeking at the description of the “darned naygurs? retreat.”
“Rip me up, young man,” he said, “but yoo?d be a credit to us a?most. Darn?d if I thought as any Britisher wud ever be up to so cute a dodge. Shake hands agin, young chap, I likes yoo. And yoo?ve airned your ticket anywhor, and a hunderd dollars to back of it. We?ll take yoo to the centre of the univarsal world, and make yoo open your eyes a bit. Ship aboard of us for Noo Yerk, and if that don?t make a man of yoo, call me small pumpkins arterwards.”
“But I want to get to England,” said Cradock, looking very black; “and I have no money for passage from New York to Southampton.”
“Thur now, yoo be all over a Britisher agin, and reck–wirin enlight?ment. Yoo allays spies out fifty raisons agin a thin’ smarter than one in it?s favior. Harken, now, I?ll have yoo sot down in the docks of Suthanton, free, and with fifty dollars to trade upon, sure as my name is Recklesome Young. Thur, now! Bet, I don?t, will yoo, and pay me out o’ my spisshy?”
Not to dwell too long upon these little side–paths, it is enough to record that Captain Recklesome Young, of New York, and the schooner, Don?t you wish you may catch me, made sail two days afterwards, with half of his best cabin allotted to Cradock and to Wena. And, keen as he was to the shave of a girl?s lip, in striking a contract or cutting it, upon a large scale, he came down as nobly as the angels on Jacob?s ladder. No English duke or prince of the blood could or would have behaved to Cradock more grandly than Recklesome Young did, when once he understood him. In such things the Yankees are far ahead of us. Keen as they are, and for that same reason, they have far more trust than we have, in large and good human nature. Of the best of them I have heard many a true tale, such as I never could hope to hear of our noblest London merchants. Proofs of grand faith, and Godlike confidence in a man once approved, which enlarge the heart of him who hears them, and makes him hate small satire.
Bob Garnet, with his trowel, and box, and net, and many other impediments, was going along very merrily, in a quiet path of the Forest, thinking sometimes of Amy and her fundamental errors, and sometimes of Eoa, and the way she could catch a butterfly, but for the most part busy with the display of life around him, and the prospects of a great boring family, which he had found in a willow–tree. Suddenly, near the stag–headed oak, he chanced upon Miss Nowell, tripping along the footpath lightly, smiling and blushing rosily, and oh! so surprised to see him! She darted aside, like a trout at a shadow, then, finding it too late for that game, she tried to pass him rapidly, with her long eyelashes drooping.
“Oh, please to stop a minute, if you can spare the time,” said Bob; “what have I done to offend you?”
She stopped in a moment at his voice, and lifted her radiant eyes to him, and shyly tried to cloud away the sparkling night of hair, through which her white and slender throat gleamed like the Milky Way. The sprays of the wood and the winds of May had romped with her glorious tresses; and now she had been lectured so, that she doubted her right to exhibit her hair.
“Miss Nowell,” said Bob, as she had not answered, but only been thinking about him, “only please to stop and tell me what I have done to offend you; and you do love beetles so – and you never saw such beauties – what have I done to offend you?”
An English maiden would have said, “Oh, nothing at all, Mr. Garnet;” and then swept on, with her crinoline embracing a thousand brambles.
But Eoa stood just where she was, with her bright lips pouting slightly, and her gaze absorbed by a tuft of moss.
“Only because you are not at all good–natured to me, Bob. But it doesn?t make much difference.”
Then she turned away from him, and began to sing a little song, and then called, “Amy, Amy!”
“Don?t call Amy. I don?t want her.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon, I?m sure I rather thought you did.”
“Eoa,” said Bob; and she looked at him, and the tears were in her eyes. And then she whispered, “Yes, Bob.”
“You have got on the very prettiest dress I ever saw in all my life.”
Here Bob was alarmed at his own audacity, and durst not watch the effect of his speech.
“Oh, is that all?” she answered. “But I am very glad indeed that you like – my frock, Bob.” Here she looked down at it, with much interest.
“And, to tell you the truth,” continued he, “I think, if you will please not to be offended, that you look very well in it.”
“Oh yes, I am very well. I wish I was ill, sometimes.”
“Now, I don?t mean that. What I mean is, very nice.”
“Well, I always try to be nice. But how can I, out butterfly–hunting?”
“Now, you won?t understand me. You are as bad as a weevil that won?t take chloroform. What I mean is, very pretty.”
“I don?t know anything about that,” said Eoa, drawing back; “and I don?t see that you have any right even to talk about it. Oh, there goes a lovely butterfly!”
“Where, where? What eyes you have got! I do wish I was married to you. What a collection we would have! And you would never let my traps off. I am sure that you are a great deal better and prettier than Amy. And I like you more than anybody I have ever seen.”
“Do you, Bob? Are you sure of that?”
She fixed her large eyes upon his; and in one moment her beauty went to the bottom of his heart. It changed him from a boy to a man, from play to passion, from dreams to thought. And happy for him that it was so, with the trouble impending over him.
She saw the change; herself too young, too pure (in spite of all the evil that ever had drifted by her) to know or ask what it meant. She only felt that Bob liked her now better than he liked Amy. She had no idea of the deep anticipation of her eyes.
“Eoa, won?t you answer me?” He had been talking some nonsense. “Why are you crying so dreadfully? Do you hate me so much as all that?”
“Oh no, no, Bob. I am sure I don?t hate you at all. I only wish I did. No, I don?t, Bob. I am so glad that I don?t. I don?t care a quarter so much, Bob, for all the rest of the world put together.”
“Then only look up at me, Eoa. I can?t tell what I am saying. Only look up. You are so nice. And you have got such eyes.”
“Have I?” said Eoa, throwing all their splendour on him; “oh, I am so glad you like them.”
“Do you think that you could give me just a sort of a kiss, Eoa? People always do, you know. And, indeed, I feel that you ought.”
“I scarcely know what is right, Bob, after all the things they have told me. But now, you know, you must guide me.”
“Then, I?ll tell you what. Just let me give you one. The leaves are coming out so.”
“Well, that?s a different thing,” said Eoa. “Amy can?t see us, can she?”
Sir Cradock Nowell was very angry when his niece came home, and told him, with an air of triumph, all that Bob had said to her.
“That butterfly–hunting boy, Eoa! To think of his presuming so! A mere boy! A boy like that!”
“That?s the very thing, uncle. Perhaps if he had been a girl, you know, I should not have liked him half so much. And as for his hunting butterflies, I like him all the better for that. And we?ll hunt them all day long.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Uncle Cradock, smiling at the young girl?s earnestness in spite of all his wrath; “that is your idea of married life then, is it? But I never will allow it, Eoa: he is not your equal.”
“Of course not, uncle. He is my superior in every possible way.”
“Scarcely so, in the matter of birth; nor yet, my child, I fear, in a pecuniary sense.”
“For both of those I don?t care two pice. You know it is all very nice, Uncle Cradock, to live in large rooms, where you can put three chairs together, and jump over them all without knocking your head, and to have beautiful books, and prawns for breakfast, and flowers all the year round; and to be able to scold people without their daring to answer. But I could do without all that very well, but I never could do without Bob.”
“I fear you must, indeed, my dear. As other people have had to do.”
“Well, I don?t see why, unless God takes him; and then He should take me too. And, indeed, I had better tell you once for all, Uncle Cradock, that I do not mean to try. It would be so shabby of me, after what I told him just now, and after his saving my life; and you yourself said yesterday that no Nowell had ever been shabby. You have been very kind to me and good, and I love you very much, I am sure. But in spite of all that, I wish you clearly to understand, Uncle Cradock, that if you try any nonsense with me, I shall get my darling father?s money, and go and live away from you.”
“My dear,” said the old man, smiling at the manner and tone of her menace, which she delivered as if her departure must at least annihilate him, “you are laying your plans too rapidly. You are not seventeen until next July; and you cannot touch your poor father?s money until you are twenty–one.”
“I don?t care,” she replied; “he is sure to have been right about it. But I will tell you another thing. Everybody says that I could earn ten thousand a year as an opera–dancer in London. And I should like it very much, – that is to say, if Bob did. And I would not think of changing my name, as I have heard that most of them do. I should be ‘Miss Eoa Nowell, the celebrated dancer.’”
“God forbid!” said Sir Cradock. “My only brother?s only child! I will not trouble you about him, dear. Only I beg you to consider.”
“To be sure I will, Uncle Cradock, I have been considering ever since how long it must be till I marry him. Now give me a kiss, dear, and I won?t dance, except for your amusement. And I don?t think I can dance for a long time, after what I have been told about poor Cousin Cradock. I am sure he was very nice, uncle, from what everybody says of him, and I am almost certain that you behaved very badly to him.”
“My dear, you are allowed to say what you like, because nobody can stop you. But your own good feeling should make you spare me the pain of that sad subject.”
“Not if you deserve the pain for having been hard–hearted. And much you cared for my pain, when you spoke of Bob so. Besides, you are quite sure to hear of it; and it had better come from me, dear uncle, who am so considerate.”
“Something new? What is it, my child? I can bear almost anything now.”
“It is that some vile wretches are trying to get what they call a warrant against him, and so to put him in jail.”
“Put him in jail? My unfortunate son! What more has he been doing?”
“Nothing at all. And I don?t believe that he ever did any harm. But what the brutes say is that he did that terrible thing on purpose. Oh, uncle, don?t look at me like that. How I wish I had never told you!”
Poor Sir Cradock?s mind was not so clear and strong as it had been, although the rumours scattered by Georgie were shameful exaggerations. The habit of brooding over his grief, whenever he was alone – a habit more and more indulged, as it became a morbid pleasure – the loss moreover of his accustomed exercise, for he never would go out riding now, having no son to ride with him; these, and the ever–present dread of some inevitable inquiry, began to disturb, though not destroy, the delicate fibres of reason, which had not too much room in his brain.
He fell into the depths of an easy–chair, and wondered what it was he had heard. The lids of his mind?s eye had taken a blink, as will happen sometimes to old people, and to young ones too for that matter; neither was it the first time this thing had befallen him.
Then Eoa told him again what it was, because he made her tell it; and again it shocked him dreadfully; but that time he remembered it.
“And I have no doubt,” continued his niece, with bright tears on her cheeks, “that Mrs. Corklemore herself is at the bottom of it.”
“Georgie! What, my niece Georgie!”
“She is not your niece, Uncle Cradock. I am your niece, and nobody else; and you had better not think of wronging me. If you call her your niece any more, I know I will never call you my uncle. Nasty limy slimy thing! If you would only give me leave to choke her!”
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