Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“My darling child,” cried her uncle, who loved her the more (though he knew it not) for siding with his son so, “you are so very hot and hasty. I am sure Mrs. Corklemore speaks of you with the warmest pity and affection.”
“Shall I tell you why she does, Uncle Crad? Shall I tell you in plain English? Most likely you will be shocked, you know.”
“My dear, I am so used to you, that I am never shocked now at anything.”
“Then it is because she is such a jolly liar.”
“Eoa, I really must send you to a ‘nice institution for young ladies.’ You get worse and worse.”
“If you do, I?ll jump over the wall the first night, and Bob shall come to catch me. But now without any nonsense, uncle, for you do talk a good deal of nonsense, will you promise me one thing?”
“A dozen, if you like, my darling. Anything in reason. You did look so like your poor father then.”
“Oh, I am so glad of that. But it is not a thing of reason, uncle; it is simply a thing of justice. Now will you promise solemnly to send away Mrs. Corklemore, and never speak to her again, if she vows that she knows nothing of this, and if I prove from her own handwriting that it is her plot altogether, and also another plot against us, every bit as bad, if not worse?”
“Of course, Eoa, I will promise you that, as solemnly as you please. What a deluded child you are!”
“Am I? Now let her come in, and deny it. That?s the first part of the business.”
Without waiting for an answer, she ran to fetch Mrs. Corklemore, whom she well knew where to find, that time of the afternoon. Dear Georgie had just had her cup of tea with the darling Flore, in her private audience–chamber – ”oratory” she called it, though all her few prayers were public; and now she was meditating what dress she should wear at dinner. Those dinners were so dreadfully dull, unless she could put Eoa into a vehement passion – which was not very hard to do – and so exhibit her in a pleasant light before the serving–men. Yet, strange to say, although the young lady observed little moderation, when she was baited thus, and sunk irony in invective, the sympathies of the audience were far more often on her side than on that of the soft tormentor.
“Come, now, Sugar–plums,” said Eoa, who often addressed her so, “we want you down–stairs, if you please, for a minute.”
“Tum, pease, Oh Ah,” cried little Flore, running up; “pease tum, and tell Fore a tory.”
“Can?t now, you good little child. And your mamma tells stories so cleverly, oh, so very cleverly, it quite takes away one?s breath.”
“I?ll have my change out of you at dinner–time,” said Georgie to herself most viciously, as she followed down the passage.
Eoa led her along at a pace which made her breath quite short, for she was not wont to hurry so, and she dropped right gladly into the chair which Sir Cradock politely set for her. Then, as he himself sat down, facing her with a heavy sigh, Georgie felt rather uncomfortable.She was not quite ready for the crisis, but feared that it was coming. And she saw at a glimpse that her hated foe, “Never–spot–the–dust,” was quite ready, burning indeed to begin, only wanting to make the most of it. Thereupon Mrs. Corklemore, knowing the value of the weather–gage, and being unable to bear a slow silence, was the first to speak.
“Something has occurred, I see, to one of you two dear ones. Oh, Uncle Cradock, what can I do to prove the depth of my regard for you? Or – ”
“To be sure, the depth of your regard,” Eoa interrupted.
“Or is it for you, you poor wild thing? We all make such allowance for you, because of your great disadvantages. If you have done anything very wrong indeed, poor darling, anything which hard people would call not only thoughtless but unprincipled, I can feel for you so truly, because of your hot temperament and most unhappy circumstances.”
“You had better not go too far!” cried Eoa, grinding her little teeth.
“Thank Heaven! I see, dear, it is nothing so very disgraceful after all, because it has nothing to do with you, or you would not smile so prettily. You take it so lightly, it must be something about dear Uncle Cradock. Oh, Uncle Cradock, tell me all about it; my whole heart will be with you.”
“Black–spangled hen has broken her eggs. Nothing more,” said Eoa. “De–ar, oh we do love you so!” She made two syllables of that word, as Mrs. Corklemore used to do, in her many gushing moments. Georgie looked at Eoa with wonder. She had stupidly thought her a stupid.
Then Sir Cradock Nowell rose, in a stately manner, to put an end to all this little nonsense.
“My niece, Eoa, declares, Mrs. Corklemore, that you, in some underhand manner, have promoted a horrible charge against my poor son Cradock, a charge which no person in any way connected with our family should ever dare to utter, even if he or she believed its justice, far less dare to promulgate, and even force into the courts of law. Is this so, or is it not?”
“Oh, Uncle Cradock, how can you speak so? What charge should I ever dream of?”
“See how her hands are trembling, and how white her lips are; not with telling black lies, Uncle Cradock, but with being found out.”
“Eoa, have the kindness not to interrupt again.”
“Very well, Uncle Cradock; I won?t, unless you make me.”
“Then, as I understand, madam, you deny entirely the truth of this accusation?”
“Of course I do, most emphatically. What can you all be dreaming about?”
“Now, Eoa, it is your turn to establish what you have said.”
“I can?t establish anything, though I know it, Uncle Cradock.”
“Know it indeed, you poor wild nautch–girl! Dreamed it you mean, I suppose.”
“I mean,” continued Eoa, not even looking at her, but bending her fingers in a manner which Georgie quite understood, “that I cannot prove anything, Uncle Cradock, without your permission. But here I have a letter, with the seal unbroken, and which I promised some one not to open without her leave, and now she has given me leave to open it with your consent and in the presence of the writer. Why, how pale you are, Mrs. Corklemore!”
“My Heavens! And this is England! Stealing letters, and forging them – ”
“Which of the two do you mean, madam?” asked Sir Cradock, looking at her in his old magisterial manner, after examining the envelope; “either involves a heavy charge against a member of my family. Is this letter yours, or not?”
“Yes, it is,” replied Georgie, after a moment?s debate, for if she called it a forgery, it must of course be opened; “have the kindness to give me my property. I thought there was among well–bred people a delicacy as to scrutinizing even the directions of one another?s letters.”
“So there is, madam; you are quite right – except, indeed, under circumstances altogether exceptional, and of which this is one. Now for your own exculpation, and to prove that my niece deserves heavy punishment (which I will take care to inflict), allow me to open this letter. I see it is merely a business letter, or I would not ask even that; although you have so often assured me that you have no secret in the world from me. You can have nothing confidential to say to ‘Simon Chope, Esq.;’ and if you had, it should remain sacred and secure with me, unless it involved the life and honour of my son. Shall I open this letter?”
“Certainly not, Sir Cradock Nowell. How dare you to think of such a thing, so mean, so low, so prying?”
“After those words, madam, you cannot continue to be a guest of mine; or be ever received in this house again, unless you prove that I have wronged you, by allowing me to send for your husband, and to place this letter in his hands, before you have in any way communicated with him.”
“Give me my letter, Sir Cradock Nowell, unless your niece inherits the thieving art from you. As for you, wretched little Dacoit,” here she bent upon Eoa flashing eyes quite pale from wrath, for sweet Georgie had her temper, “bitterly you shall rue the day when you presumed to match yourself with me. You would like to do a little murder, I see. No doubt it runs in the family; and the Thugs and Dacoits are first cousins, of course.”
Never had Eoa fought so desperate a battle with herself, as now to keep her hands off Georgie. Without looking at her again, she very wisely ran away, for it was the only chance of abstaining. Mrs. Corklemore laughed aloud; then she took the letter, which the old man had placed upon the table, and said to him, with a kind look of pity:
“What a fuss you have made about nothing! It is only a question upon the meaning of a clause in my marriage–settlement; but I do not choose to have my business affairs exposed, even to my husband. Now do you believe me, Uncle Cradock?”
“No, I cannot say that I do, madam. And it does not matter whether I do or not. You have used language about my family which I can never forget. A carriage will be at your service at any moment you please.”
“Thanks for your hospitable hint. You will soon find your mistake, I think, in having made me your enemy; though your rudeness is partly excused, no doubt, by your growing hallucinations. Farewell for the present, poor dear Uncle Cradock.”
With these words, Mrs. Corklemore made him an elegant curtsey, and swept away from the room, without even the glisten of a tear to mar her gallant bearing, although she had been so outraged. But when she got little Flore?s head on her lap, she cried over it very vehemently, and felt the depth of her injury.
When she had closed the door behind her (not with any vulgar bang, but firmly and significantly), the master of the house walked over to a panelled mirror, and inspected himself uncomfortably. It was a piece of ancient glass, purchased from an Italian chapel by some former Cradock Nowell, and bearing a mystic name and fame among the maids who dusted it. By them it was supposed to have a weird prophetic power, partly, no doubt, from its deep dark lustre, and partly because it was circular, and ever so slightly, and quite imperceptibly, concave. As upon so broad a surface no concavity could be, in the early ages of mechanism, made absolutely true – and for that matter it cannot be done ad unguem, even now – there were, of course, many founts of error in this Italian mirror. Nevertheless, all young ladies who ever beheld it were charmed with it, so sweetly deeply beautiful, like Galatea watching herself and finding Polypheme over her shoulder, in the glass of the blue Sicilian sea.
To this glass Sir Cradock Nowell went to examine his faded eyes, time–worn, trouble–worn, stranded by the ebbing of the brain. He knew too well what Mrs. Corklemore meant by her last thrust; and the word “hallucination” happened, through a great lawsuit then in progress, to be invested with an especial prominence and significance. While he was sadly gazing into the convergence of grey light, and feebly reassuring himself, yet like his image wavering, a heavy step was heard behind him, and beside his flowing silvery locks appeared the close–cropped massive brow and the gloomy eyes of Bull Garnet.
As the brothers confronted one another, the legitimate and the base–born, the man of tact and the man of force, the luxurious and the labourer, strangely unlike in many respects, more strangely alike in others; each felt kindly and tenderly, yet timidly, for the other.
The old man thought of the lying wrong inflicted upon the stronger one by their common father; the other felt the worse wrong – if possible – done by himself to his brother. The measure of such things is not for us. God knows, and visits, and forgives them.
Even by the failing light – for the sun was westering, and a cloud flowed over him – each could see that the other?s face was not as it should be, that the flight of weeks was drawing age on, more than the lapse of years should.
“Garnet, you do a great deal too much. I shall recall my urgent request, if you look so harassed and haggard. Take a holiday now for a month, before the midsummer rents fall due. I will try to do without you; though I may want you any day.”
“I will do nothing of the sort; work is needful for me – without it I should die. But you also look very unwell. You must not attempt to prescribe for me.”
“I have not been happy lately. By–and–by things will be better. What is your impression of Mrs. Nowell Corklemore?”
“That she is an arrant hypocrite, unscrupulous, foul, and deadly.”
“Well, that is plain speaking; by no means complimentary. Poor Georgie, I hope you misjudge her, as she says bad people do. But for the present she is gone. There has been a great fight, all along, between her and Eoa; they could not bear one another. And now my niece has discovered a thing which brings me to her side in the matter, for she at least is genuine.”
“That she is indeed, and genuinely passionate; you may trust her with anything. She has been very rude indeed to me; and yet I like her wonderfully. What has she discovered?”
“That Mrs. Corklemore is at the bottom of this horrible application for a warrant against my son.”
“I can well believe it. It struck me in a moment; though I cannot see her object. I never understand plotting.”
“Neither do I, Garnet; I only know she has made me insult the dearest friend I had on earth.”
“Yes, Mr. Rosedew; I heard of it, and wondered at your weakness. But it did not become me to interfere.”
“Certainly not: most certainly not. You could not expect me to bear it. And the Rosedews never liked you.”
“That has nothing to do with it. Very probably they are right; for I do not like myself. And you will not dislike, but hate me, when you know what I have to say.”
Bull Garnet?s mind was now made up. For months he had been thinking, forecasting, doubting, wavering – a condition of mind so strange to him, so adrift from all his landmarks, that this alone, without sense of guilt, must have kept him in wretchedness.
Sir Cradock Nowell only said, “Keep it for another time. I cannot bear any more excitement; I have had so much to–day.”
Bull Garnet looked at him sorrowfully. He could not bear to see his brother beaten so by trouble, and to feel his own hard hand in it.
“Don?t you know what they say of me? Oh, you know what they say of me; and nothing of the kind in the family!” The old man seemed to prove that there was, by the vague flashing of his eyes: “Garnet, you are my brother; after all, you are my brother. And they say I am going mad; and I know they will try to shut me up, without a horse, or a book, or a boy to brush my trousers. Oh, Garnet, you have been bitterly wronged, shamefully wronged, detestably; but you will not let your own brother – brother, who has no sons now to protect him, – be shut up, and made nothing of? Bull Garnet, promise me this, although we have so wronged you.”
Garnet knew not what to do. Even he was taken aback, shocked by this sudden outburst, which partly proved what it denied. And this altogether changed the form of the confession he was come to make – and changed it for the better.
“My brother” – it was the first time he had ever so addressed him; not from diffidence, but from pride – ”my brother, let us look at things, if possible, as God made them. I have been injured no doubt, and so my mother was; blasted, both of us, for life, according to the little ideas of this creeping world. In many cases, the thief is the rogue; in even more, the robbed one is the only villain. Now can you take the large view of things which is forced upon us outsiders when we dare to think at all?”
“I cannot think now of such abstract things. My mind is astray with trouble. Did I ever tell you your mother?s words, when she came here ten or twelve years ago, and demanded a share of the property? Not for her own sake, but for yours, to get you into some business.”
“No, I never heard of it. How it must have hurt her!” Bull Garnet was astonished; because it had long been understood that his mother should not be spoken of.
“And me as well. I gave her a cheque for a liberal sum, as I thought. She tore it, and threw it at me. What more could I do? Did I deserve her curse, Garnet? Is all this trouble come upon me because I did not obey her?”
“I believe that you meant to do exactly what was right.”
“I hope – I believe, I did. And see how wrong she was in one part of her prediction. She said that I and my father also should be punished through you, through you, her only son. What a mistake that has proved! You, who are my right arm and brain; my only hope and comfort!”
The old man came up, and looked with the deepest trust and admiration at his unacknowledged brother. A few months ago, Bull Garnet would have taken such a look as his truest and best revenge for the cruel wrong to his mother. But now he fell away from it, and muttered something, in a manner quite unlike his own. His mind was made up, he was come to tell all; but how could he do it now, and wrench the old man?s latest hope away?
Then suddenly he remembered, or knew from his own feelings, that an old man?s last hope in earthly matters should rest upon no friend or brother, not even upon a wife, but upon his own begotten, his successors in the world. And what he had to say, while tearing all reliance from himself, would replace it where it should be.
Meanwhile Sir Cradock Nowell, thinking that Garnet was too grateful for a few kind words, followed him, and placed his slender tremulous and pure–bred hand in the useful cross–bred palm which had sent Mr. Jupp down the coal–shaft.
“Bull, you are my very best friend. After all, we are brothers. Promise to defend me.”
But Garnet only withdrew his hand, and sighed, and could not look at him.
“Oh, then, even you believe it; I see you do! It must be true. God have mercy upon me!”
“Cradock, it is a cursed lie; you must not dwell upon it. Such thoughts are spawn of madness; turn to another subject. Just tell me what is the greatest thing one man can do to another?”
“To love him, I suppose, Garnet. But I don?t care much for that sort of thing, since I lost my children.”
“Yes, it is a grand thing to love; but far grander to forgive.”
“Is it? I am glad to hear it. I always could forgive.”
“Little things, you mean, no doubt. Slights and slurs – and so forth?”
“Yes, and great things also. But I am not what I was, Bull. You know what I have been through.”
“Can you forgive as deep a wrong as one man ever did to another?”
“Yes, I dare say. I am sure I don?t know. What makes you look at me like that?”
“Because I shot your son Clayton; and because I did it on purpose.”
“Viley! my boy Viley! Oh, I had forgotten. What a stupid thing of me! I thought he was dead somehow. Now, I will open the door for him, because his hands are full. And let him put his game on the table – never mind the papers – he always likes me to see it. Oh, Viley, how long you have been away! What a bag you must have made! Come in, my boy; come in.”
Bull Garnet?s heart cleaved to his side, as the old man opened the door, and looked, with the leaping joy of a father?s love, for his pet, his beloved, his treasured one. But nothing except cold air came in.
“The passage is empty. Perhaps he is waiting, because his boots are dirty. Tell him not to think twice about that. I am fidgety sometimes, I know; and I scolded him last Friday. But now he may come anyhow, if he will only come to me. I am so dull without him.”
“You will never see him more” – Bull Garnet whispered through a flood of tears, like grass waving out of water – ”until it pleases God to take you home, where son and father go alike; sometimes one first, sometimes other, as His holy will is. He came to an unholy end. I tell you again – I shot him.”
“Excuse me; I don?t quite understand. There was a grey hare, with a nick in her ear, who came to the breakfast–room window all through the hard weather last winter, and he promised me not to shoot her; and I am sure that he cannot have done it, because he is so soft–hearted, and that is why I love him so. Talk of Cradock – talk of Cradock! Perhaps he is cleverer than Viley – though I never will believe it – but is he half so soft and sweet? Will the pigeons sit on his shoulder so, and the dogs nuzzle under his coat–lap? Tell me that – tell me that – Bull Garnet.”
He leaned on the strong arm of his steward, and looked eagerly for his answer; then trembled with an exceeding great fear, to see that he was weeping. That such a man should weep! But Garnet forced himself to speak.
“You cannot listen to me now; I will come again, and talk to you. God knows the agony to me; and worst of all that it is for nothing. Yet all of it not a thousandth part of the anguish I have caused. Perhaps it is wisest so. Perhaps it is for my children?s sake that I, who have killed your pet child, cannot make you know it. Yet it adds to my despair, that I have killed the father too.”
Scarcely knowing voice from silence, dazed himself, and blurred, and giddy – so strong is contagion of the mind – Bull Garnet went to the stables, saddled a horse without calling groom, and rode off at full gallop to Dr. Buller. By the time he got there his business habits and wonted fashion of thought had returned, and he put what he came for in lucid form, tersely, crisply, dryly, as if in the world there were no such thing as ill–regulated emotion – except on the part of other people.
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