Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“Not a bit of it,” said Dr. Buller; “his mind is as sound as yours or mine, and his constitution excellent. He has been troubled a good deal; but bless me – I know a man who lost his three children in a month, and could scarcely pay for their coffins, sir. And his wife only six weeks afterwards. That is what I call trouble, sir!”
Bull Garnet knew, from his glistening eyes, and the quivering of his grey locks, that the man he spoke of was himself. Reassured about Sir Cradock, yet fearing to try him further at present, Mr. Garnet went heavily homewards, after begging Dr. Buller to call, as if by chance, at the Hall, observe, and attend to the master.
Heavily and wearily Bull Garnet went to the home which once had been so sweet to him, and was now beloved so painfully. The storms of earth were closing round him, only the stars of heaven were bright. Myriad as the forest leaves, and darkly moving in like manner, fears, and doubts, and miseries sprang and trembled through him.
No young maid at his door to meet him lovingly and gaily. None to say, “Oh, darling father, how hungry you must be, dear!” Only Pearl, so wan and cold, and scared of soft affection. And as she timidly approached, then dropped her eyes before his gaze, and took his hat submissively, as if she had no lips to kiss, no hand to lay on his shoulder, he saw with one quick glance that still some new grief had befallen her, that still another trouble was come to make its home with her.
“What is it, Pearl?” he asked her, sadly; “come in here and tell me.” He never called her his Pearly now, his little native, or pretty pet, as he used to do in the old days. They had dropped those little endearments.
“You will be sorry to hear it – sorry, I mean, that it happened; but I could not have done otherwise.”
“I never hear anything, now, Pearl, but what I am sorry to hear. This will make little difference.”
“So I suppose,” she answered. “Mr. Pell has been here to–day, and – and – oh, father, you know what.”
“Indeed I have not been informed of anything. What do I know of Mr. Pell?”
“More than he does of you, sir. He asked me to be his wife.”
“He is a good man. But of course you said ‘No.’”
“Of course I did. Of course, of course. What else can I ever say?”
She leaned her white cheek on the high oak mantel, and a little deep sob came from her heart.
“Would you have liked to say ‘Yes,’ Pearl?” her father asked very softly, going to put his arm round her waist, and then afraid to do it.
“Oh no! oh no! At least, not yet, though I respect him very highly. But I told him that I never could, and never could tell him the reason. And oh, I was so sorry for him – he looked so hurt and disappointed.”
“You shall tell him the reason very soon, or rather the newspapers shall.”
“Father, don?t say that; dear father, you are bound for our sake. I don?t care for him one atom, father, compared with – compared with you, I mean.Only I thought I must tell you, because – oh, you know what I mean. And even if I did like him, what would it matter about me? Oh, father, I often think that I have been too hard upon you, and all of it through me, and my vile concealment!”
“My daughter, I am not worthy of you. Would God that you could forgive me!”
“I have done it long ago, father. Do you think a child of yours could help it, after all your sorrow?”
“My child, look kindly at me; try to look as if you loved me.”
She turned to him with such a look as a man only gets once in his life, and then she fell upon his neck, and forgot the world and all it held, except her own dear father. Wrong he might have done, wrong (no doubt) he had done; but who was she, his little child, to remember it against him? She lay for a moment in his arms, overcome with passion, leaning back, as she had done there, when a weanling infant. For him it was the grandest moment of his passionate life – a father?s powerful love, ennobled by the presence of his God. Such a moment teaches us the grandeur of our race, the traces of a higher world stamped on us indelibly. Then we feel, and try to own, that in spite of satire, cynicism, and the exquisite refinements of the purest selfishness, there is, in even the sharpest and the shallowest of us, something kind and solid, some abiding element of the all–pervading goodness.
“Now I will go through with it” – Bull Garnet was recovering – ”my own child; go and fetch your brother, if it will not be too much for you. If you think it will, only send him.”
“Father, I will fetch him. I may be able to help you both. And now I am so much better.”
Presently she returned with Bob, who looked rather plagued and uncomfortable, with a great slice of cork in one hand and a bottle of gum in the other, and a regular housewife of needles in the lappet of his coat. He was going to mount a specimen of a variety of “devil?s coach–horse,” which he had never seen before, and whose tail was forked like a trident.
“Never can let me alone,” said Bob; “just ready to begin I was; and I am sure to spoil his thorax. He is getting stiff every moment.”
Bull Garnet looked at him brightly and gladly, even at such a time. Little as he knew or cared about the things that crawl and hop – as he ignorantly put it – skilled no more in natural history than our early painters were, yet from his own strong sense he perceived that his son had a special gift; and a special gift is genius, and may (with good luck) climb eminence. Then he thought of what he had to tell him, and the power of his heart was gone.
It was the terror of this moment which had dwelt with him night and day, more than the fear of public shame, of the gallows, or of hell. To be loathed and scorned by his only son! Oh that Pearl had not been so true; oh that Bob suspected something, or had even found it out for himself! Then the father felt that now came part of his expiation.
Bob looked at him quite innocently with wonder and some fear. To him “the governor” long had been the strangest of all puzzles, sometimes so soft and loving, sometimes so hard and terrible. Perhaps poor Bob would catch it now for his doings with Eoa.
“Sit down there, my son. Not there, but further from me. Don?t be at all afraid, my boy. I have no fault to find with you. I am far luckier in my son, than you are in your father. You must try to bear terrible news, Bob. Your sister long has borne it.”
Pearl, who was ghastly pale and trembling, stole a glance at each of them from the dark end of the room, then came up bravely into the lamplight, took Bob?s hand and kissed him, and sat close by to comfort him.
Bull Garnet sighed from the depths of his heart. His children seemed to be driven from him, and to crouch together in fear of him.
“It serves me right. I know that, of course. That only makes it the worse to bear.”
“Father, what is it?” cried Bob, leaping up, and dropping his cork–slice and gum–bottle; “whatever the matter is, father, tell me, that I may stand by you.”
“You cannot stand by me in this. When you know what it is, you will fly from me.”
“Will I, indeed! A likely thing. Oh, father, you think I am such a soft, because I am fond of little things.”
“Would you stand by your father, Bob, if you knew that he was a murderer?”
“Oh come,” said Bob, “you are drawing it a little too strong, dad. You never could be that, you know.”
“I not only can be, but am, my son.”
Father and son looked at one another. The governor standing square and broad, with his shoulders thrown well back, and no trace of emotion in form or face, except that his quick wide nostrils quivered, and his lips were white. The stripling gazing up at him, seeking for some sign of jest, seeking for a ray of laughter in his father?s eyes; too young to comprehend the power and fury of large passion.
Ere either spoke another word – for the father was hurt at the son?s delay, and the son felt all abroad in his head – between them glided Pearl, the daughter, the sister, the gentle woman – the one most wronged of all, and yet the quickest to forgive it.
“Darling, he did it for my sake,” she whispered to her brother, though it cut through her heart to say it. “Father, oh father, Bob is so slow; don?t be angry with him. Come to me a moment, father. Oh, how I love and honour you!”
Those last few words to the passionate man were like heaven poured into hell. That a child of his should still honour him! He kissed her with tenfold the love young man has for maiden; then he turned away and wept, as if the earth was water.
Very little more was said. Pearl went away to Bob, and whispered how the fatal grief befell; and Bob wept great tears for the sake of all, and most of all for his father?s sake. Then, as the father lay cramped up upon the little sofa, wrestling with the power of life and the promise of death, Bob came up, and kissed him dearly on his rugged forehead.
“Is that you, my own dear son? God is far too good to me.”
That night the man of violence enjoyed the first sweet dreamless sleep that had spread its velvet shield between him and his guilt and sorrow. Pearl, who had sat up late with Bob, comforting and crying with him, listened at her father?s door, and heard his quiet breathing. Through many months of trouble, now, she had watched him kindly, tenderly, fearing ever some wild outbreak upon others or himself, hiding in her empty heart all its desolation.
The very next day, Bull Garnet resolved to have it out with his son; not to surprise him by emotion to a hasty issue, but now to learn what he thought and felt, after taking his time about it. All this we need not try to tell, only so much as bears upon the staple of the story.
“Father, I know that you had – you had good reason for doing it.”
“There could be no good reason. There might be, and were, many bad ones. Of this I will not speak to you. I did it in violence and fury, and under a false impression. When I saw him, with his arm cast round my pure and darling Pearl, Satan?s rage is but a smile compared to the fury of my heart. He had his gun, and I had mine; I had taken it to shoot a squirrel which meddled with our firework nonsense. I tore her from him before I could speak, thrust her aside, stepped back two paces, gave him ‘one, two, three,’ and fired. He had time to fire in self–defence, and his muzzle was at my head, and his finger on the trigger; but there it crooked, and he could not pull. Want of nerve, I suppose. I saw his finger shaking, and then I saw him fall. Now, my son, you know everything.”
“Why, father, after all then, it was nothing worse than a duel. He had just the same chance of killing you, and would have done it, only you were too quick for him.”
“Even to retain your love, I will have no lie in the matter, Bob, although a duel, in my opinion, is only murder made game of. But this was no duel, no manslaughter even, but an act of downright murder. No English jury could help convicting me, and I will never plead insanity. It was the inevitable result of inborn violence and self–will, growing and growing from year to year, and strengthened by wrongs of which you know nothing. God knows that I have fought against it; but my weapon was pride, not humility. Now let this miserable subject never be recurred to by us, at least in words, till the end comes. As soon as I hear that poor innocent Cradock is apprehended, and brought to England, I shall surrender myself and confess. But for your sake and poor Pearly?s, I should have done so at the very outset. Now it is very likely that I may not have the option. Two persons know that I did it, although they have no evidence, so far as I am aware; a third person more than suspects it, and is seeking about for the evidence. Moreover, Sir Cradock Nowell, to whom, as I told you, I owned my deed, although he could not then understand me, may have done so since, or may hereafter do so, at any lucid interval.”
“Oh, father, father, he never would be so mean – ”
“He is bound by his duty to do it – and for his living son?s sake he must. I only tell you these things, my son, to spare you a part of the shock. One month now is all I crave, to do my best for you two darlings. I will not ruin the chance by going again to Sir Cradock. God saved me from my own rash words, doubtless for your pure sake. Now, knowing all, and reflecting upon it, can you call me still your father, Bob?”
This was one of the times that tell whether a father has through life thought more of himself or of his children. If of himself, they fall away, like Southern ivies in a storm, parasites which cannot cling, but glide on the marble surface. But if he has made his future of them, closer they cling, and clasp more firmly, like our British ivy engrailed into the house wall.
So the Garnet family clung together, although no longer blossoming, but flagging sorely with blight and canker, and daily fear of the woodman. Bob, of course, avoided Eoa, to her great indignation, though he could not quite make up his mind to tell her that all was over, without showing reason for it. In the forcing temperature of trouble, he was suddenly become a man, growing daily more like his father, in all except the violence. He roamed no more through the wilds of the forest, but let the birds nest comfortably, the butterflies hover in happiness, and the wireworm cast his shard unchallenged. He would care for all those things again, if he ever recovered his comfort.
Now Eoa, as everybody knew, did not by any means embody the spirit of toleration. She would hardly allow any will but her own in anything that concerned her. In a word, she was a child, a very warm–hearted and lovely one, but therefore all the more requiring a strong will founded on common sense to lead her into the life–brunt. And so, if she must have Bob some day, she had better have him consolidated, though reduced to three per cent.
Not discerning her own interests, she would have been wild as a hare ought to be at the vernal equinox, but for one little fact. There was nobody to be jealous of. Darling Amy, whom she loved as all young ladies love one another – until they see cause to the contrary – sweet thing, she was gone to Oxford with her dear, good father. They had slipped off without any fuss at all (except from Biddy O?Gaghan, who came and threw an old shoe at them), because Mr. Rosedew, in the first place, felt that he could not bear it, and thought, in the second place, that it would be an uncourteous act towards Sir Cradock Nowell to allow any demonstration. And yet it was notorious that even Job Hogstaff had arranged to totter down on Mark Stote?s arm, followed by a dozen tenants (all of whom had leases), and the rank and file of Nowelhurst, who had paid their house–rent; and then there would be a marshalling outside the parsonage–gate; and upon the appearance of the fly, Job with his crutch would testify, whereupon a shout would arise pronouncing everlasting divorce between Church and State in Nowelhurst, undying gratitude to the former, and defiance to the latter power.
Yet all this programme was nullified by the departure of John and his household gods at five o?clock one May morning. Already he had received assurance from some of his ancient co–mates at Oriel (most cohesive of colleges) that they would gladly welcome him, and find him plenty of work to do. In less than six weeks’ time, of course, the long vacation would begin. What of that? Let him come at once, and with his widespread reputation he must have the pick of all the men who would stay up to read for honours. For now the fruit of a lifetime lore was ripening over his honoured head, not (like that of Tantalus) wafted into the cloud–land, not even waiting to be plucked at, but falling unawares into his broad and simple bosom, where it might lie uncared for, except for the sake of Amy. So large a mind had long outlived the little itch for fame, quite untruly called “the last infirmity of noble minds.” Their first it is, beyond all doubt; and wisely nature orders it. Their last is far more apt to be – at least in this generation – contempt of fame, and man, and God, except for practical purposes.
Mr. Rosedew?s careful treatises upon the Sabellian and Sabello–Oscan elements had stirred up pleasant controversy in the narrow world of scholars; and now at the trito–megistic blow of the Roseo–rorine hammer, ringing upon no less a theme than the tables of Iguvium, the wise men who sit round the board of classical education, even Jupiter Grabovius (the original of John Bull), had clapped their hands and cried, “Hear, hear! He knows what he is talking of; and he is one of us.”
That, after all, is the essence of it – to know what one is talking of. And the grand advantage of the ancient universities is, not the tone of manners, not the knowledge of life – rather a hat–box thing with them – not even the high ideal, the manliness, and the chivalry, which the better class of men win; but the curt knowledge, whether or not they are talking of what they know. Scire quod nescias is taught, if they teach us nothing else. And though we are all still apt to talk, especially among ladies, of things beyond our acquaintance – else haply we talk but little – we do so with a qualm, and quasi, and fluttering sense that effrontery is not – but leads to – ”pluck.”
Nevertheless, who am I to talk, proving myself, by every word, false to Alma Mater, having ventured all along to talk of things beyond me?
As they rose the hill towards Carfax, Amy (tired as she was) trembled with excitement. Her father had won a cure in St. Oles – derived no doubt from oleo– and all were to lodge in Pembroke Lane, pending mature arrangements. Though they might have turned off near the jail, and saved a little cab fare, John would go by the broader way, as his fashion always was; except in a little posthumous matter, wherein perhaps we have over–defined with brimstone the direction–posts.
Be that as it may, – not to press the scire quod nescias (potential in such a case, I hope, rather than conjunctive) – there they must be left, all three, with Jenny and Jemima outside, and Jem Pottles on the pavement, amazed at the cheek of everything. Only let one thing be said. Though prettier girl than Amy Rosedew had never stepped on the stones of Oxford since the time of Amy Robsart, if even then, – never once, was she insulted.
Lowest of all low calumnies. There are blackguards among university men, as everybody knows, and as there must be among all men. But even those blackguards can see the difference between a lady, or rather between a pure girl and – another. And even those blackguards have an intensified reverence for the one; – but let the matter pass; for now we hide in gold these subjects, and sham not to see their flaunting.
Be it, however, confessed that Amy (whose father soon had rooms in college, not to live, but to lecture in), being a very shy young maiden, never could be brought to come and call him to his tea, – oh no. So many young men in gorgeous trappings, charms, and dangles, and hooks of gold, and eye–glasses very knowing – not to mention volunteer stuff, and knickerbockers demonstrant of calf – oddly enough they would happen to feel so interested in the architecture of the porter?s lodge whenever Amy came by, never gazing too warmly at her, but contriving to convey their regret at the suppression of their sentiments, and their yearning to be the stones she trod on, and their despair at the possibility of her not caring if they were so – really all this was so trying, that Amy would never go into college without Aunt Doxy before her, gazing four–gunned cupolas even at scouts and manciples. And this was very provoking of her, not only to the hearts that beat under waistcoats ordered for her sake, but also to the domestic kettle a–boil in Pembroke Lane. For, over and over again, Uncle John, great as he was in chronology and every kind of “marmora,” and able to detect a flaw upon Potamogeiton?s tombstone, lost all sense of time and place, me and te, and hocce and Doxy, and calmly went home some two hours late, and complacently received Doxology.
But alas, we must abandon Amy to the insidious designs of Hebdomadal Board, the velvet approaches of Proctor and Pro, and the brass of the gentlemen Bedels, while we regard more rugged scenes, from which she was happily absent.
Rufus Hutton had found the missing link, and at the same time the strongest staple, of the desired evidence. The battered gun–barrels had been identified, and even the number deciphered, by the foreman of Messrs. L – and Co. And the entry in their books of the sale of that very gun (number, gauge, and other particulars beyond all doubt corresponding) was – ”to Bull Garnet, &c., Nowelhurst Dell Cottage,” whom also they could identify from his “strongly–marked physiognomy,” and his quick, decisive manner. And the cartridge–case, which had lain so long in Dr. Hutton?s pocket, of course they could not depose to its sale, together with the gun; but this they could show, that it fitted the gauge, was not at all of a common gauge, but two sizes larger – No. 10, in fact – and must have been sold during the month in which they sold the gun, because it was one of a sample which they had taken upon approval, and soon discarded for a case of better manufacture.
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