Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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Then as to motive, Rufus Hutton himself could depose to that, or the probability of it, from what he had seen, but not understood, at the fixing of the fireworks; neither had he forgotten the furious mood of Bull Garnet, both then and in his garden.
While he was doubting how to act – for, clearly as he knew his power to hang the man who had outraged him, the very fact of his injury made him loth to use that power; for he was not at all a vindictive man, now the heat of the thing was past, and he saw that the sudden attack had been made in self–defence – while he was hesitating between his sense of duty and pity for Cradock on one hand, and his ideas of magnanimity and horror of hanging a man on the other, he was thrown, without any choice or chance, across the track of Simon Chope.
Perhaps there is no more vulgar error, no stronger proof of ignorance and slavery to catchwords, than to abuse or think ill of any particular class of men, solely on account of their profession – although, perhaps, we might justly throw the onus probandi their merit upon hangmen, body–snatchers, informers, and a few others – yet may I think (deprecating most humbly the omen of this conjunction) that solicitors, tailors, and Methodist parsons fight at some disadvantage both in fact and in fiction? Yet can they hold their own; and sympathy, if owing, is sure to have to pay them – notwithstanding, goose, and amen.
Away with all feeble flippancy! Heavy tidings came to Nowelhurst Hall, Dell Cottage, and Geopharmacy Lodge, simultaneously, as might be, on the 20th of June. The Taprobane had been lost, with every soul on board; and this is the record of it, enshrined in many journals: —
“By recent advices from Capetown, per the screw–steamer Sutler, we sincerely regret to learn that the magnificent clipper–built ship Taprobane, of 2200 tons (new system), A 1 at Lloyd?s for 15 years, and bound from the Thames to Colombo, with a cargo valued by competent judges at 120,000l., took the shore in Benguela Bay during a typhoon of unprecedented destructiveness. It is our melancholy duty to add that the entirety of the valuable cargo was entirely lost, although very amply assured in unexceptionable quarters, and that every soul on board was consigned to a watery grave. A Portuguese gentleman of good family and large fortune, who happened to be in the neighbourhood, was an eye–witness to the catastrophe, and made superhuman exertions to rescue the unfortunate mariners, but, alas! in vain. Senhor Jos? de Calcavello has arrived at the conclusion that some of her copper may be saved. The ill–fated bark broke up so rapidly, from the powerful action of the billows, that her identity could only be established from a portion of her sternpost, which was discovered half buried in sand three nautical miles to the southward. We have been informed, upon good authority, although we are not at liberty to mention our source of information, that Her Britannic Majesty?s steamcorvette Mumbo Jumbo, pierced for twenty–eight guns, and carrying two, is under orders to depart, as soon as ever she can be coaled, for the scene of the recent catastrophe.Meanwhile, the tug Growler has arrived with all the memorials of the calamity, after affording the rites of sepulture to the poor shipwrecked mariners cast up by the treacherous billows. The set of the current being so adverse, we have reason to fear that the rest of the bodies must have fallen a prey to the monsters of the deep. There are said to be some hopes of recovering a portion of the specie.”
Mrs. Corklemore happened to be calling at Geopharmacy Lodge, when the London papers arrived in the early afternoon. Rufus begged pardon, and broke the cover, to see something in which he was interested. Presently he cried, “Good God!” and let the paper fall; and, seasoned as he was, and shallowed by the shifting of his life, it was not in his power to keep two little tears from twinkling.
“Too late all my work,” he said; “Heaven has settled it without me.”
“How very sad!” cried Mrs. Corklemore, dashing aside an unbidden tear, when she came to the end of the story; “to think of all those brave men lost! And perhaps you knew some of them, Dr. Hutton? Oh, I am so sorry!”
“Why, surely you know that the Taprobane was the ship in which poor Cradock Nowell sailed, under Mr. Rosedew?s auspices.”
“Oh, I hope not. Please not to say so. It would be so very horrible! That he should go without repenting – ”
“You must have forgotten, Mrs. Corklemore; for I heard Rosa tell you the name of the ship, and her destination.”
“Oh, very likely. Ah, now I remember. For the moment it quite escaped me. How truly, truly grieved – it has quite overcome me. Oh, please not to notice me – please not. I am so stupidly soft–hearted. Oh – ea, isha, ea!”
No woman in the world could cry more beautifully than poor Georgie. And now she cried her very best. It would have gone to the heart of the driest and bitterest sceptic that ever doubted all men and women because they would doubt him. But Rufus, whose form of self–assertion was not universal negation, in what manner then do you suppose that Rufus Hutton was liquefied? A simple sort of fellow he was (notwithstanding all his shrewdness), although, or perhaps I should say because, he thought himself so knowing; and his observation was more the result of experience than the cause of it. So away he ran to fetch Rosa, and Rosa wiped dear, sensitive Georgie?s eyes, and coaxed her very pleasantly, and admired her more than ever.
Bull Garnet rode home at twelve o?clock from a long morning?s work. He never could eat any breakfast now, and his manner was to leave home at six (except when he went to Winchester), gallop fiercely from work to work, or sometimes walk his horse and think, often with glistening eyes (when any little thing touched him), and return to his cottage and rest there during the workmen?s dinner–time. Then he had some sort of a meal himself, which Pearl began to call “dinner,” and away with a fresh horse in half an hour, spending his body if only so he might earn rest of mind. All this was telling upon him fearfully; even his muscular force was going, and his quickness of eye and hand failing him. He knew it, and was glad.
Only none should ever say, though every crime was heaped upon him, that he had neglected his master?s interests.
He tore the paper open in his sudden turbulent fashion, as if all paper was rags, and no more; and with one glance at each column knew all that was in the ‘tween–ways. Suddenly he came to a place at the corner of a page which made him cease from eating. He glanced at Pearl, but she was busy, peeling new potatoes for him. Bob was not come in yet.
“Darling, I must go to London. If possible I shall return to–night, if I catch the one o?clock up express.”
Then he opened the window, and ordered a horse, his loud voice ringing and echoing round every corner of the cottage, and in five minutes he was off at full gallop, for the express would not stop at Brockenhurst.
At 3.15 he was in London, and at 3.40 in the counting–house of Messrs. Brown and Smithson, owners, or at any rate charterers, of the Taprobane, Striped–ball Chambers, Fenchurch Street. There he would learn, if he could, what their private advices were.
The clerks received him very politely, and told him that they had little doubt of the truth of the evil tidings. Of course the fatality might have been considerably exaggerated, &c. &c., but as to the loss of the ship, they had taken measures to replace her. Would he mind waiting only ten minutes, though they saw that he was in a hurry? The Cape mail–ship had been telegraphed from Falmouth; they had sent to the office already, and expected to get the reply within a quarter of an hour. Every information in their power, &c. – we all know the form, though we don?t always get the civility.
Bull Garnet waited heavily with his great back against a stout brass rail, having declined the chair they offered him; and in less than five minutes he received authentic detail of everything. He listened to nothing except one statement, “every soul on board was lost, sir.”
Then he went out, in a lumpish manner, from the noble room, and was glad to get hold of the iron rail in the bend of the dark stone staircase.
So now he was a double murderer. Finding it not enough to have killed one brother in his fury, he had slain the other twin through his cowardly concealment. Floating about in tropical slime, without a shark to eat him, leaving behind him the fair repute of a money–grabbing fratricide. And he, the man who had done it all, who had loved the boy and ruined him, miserably plotting for his own far inferior children. No, no! Not that at any rate, – good and noble children: and how they had borne his villainy! God in mercy only make him, try to make him, over again, and how different his life would be. All his better part brought out; all his lower kicked away to the devil, the responsible father of it. “Good God, how my heart goes! Death is upon me, well I know, but let me die with my children by – unless I turn hymn–writer – ”
Quick as he was in his turns of thought – all of them subjective – he was scarcely a match for the situation, when Mr. Chope and Bailey Kettledrum brushed by the sleeves of his light overcoat, and entered the doors with “push – pull” on them, but, being both of the pushing order rather than the pulling, employed indiscriminate propulsion, and were out of sight in a moment. Still, retaining some little of his circumspective powers, Bull Garnet knew them both from a corner flash of his sad tear–laden eyes. There was no mistaking that great legal head, like the breech–end of a cannon. Mr. Kettledrum might have been overlooked, for little men of a fussy nature are common enough in London, or for that matter everywhere else. But Garnet?s attention being drawn, he knew them both of course, and the errand they were come upon, and how soon they were likely to return, and what they would think of his being there, if they should happen to see him. Nevertheless, he would not budge. Nothing could matter much now. He must think out his thoughts.
When this puff of air was past which many breathe almost long enough to learn that it was “life,” some so long as to weary of it, none so long as to understand all its littleness and greatness – when that should be gone from him, and absorbed into a boundless region even more unknown, would not the wrong go with it, if unexpiated here, and abide there evermore? And not to think of himself alone – what an example now to leave to his innocent injured children! The fury hidden by treachery, the cowardice sheathed in penitence! D – n it all, he would have no more of it. His cursed mind was made up. A man can die in the flesh but once. His spirit had been dying daily, going to the devil daily, every day for months; and he found no place for repentance. As for his children, they must abide it. No man of any mind would blame them for their father?s crime. If it was more than they could bear, let them bolt to America. Anywhither, anywhere, so long as they came home in heaven – if he could only get there – to the father who had injured, ruined, bullied, cursed, and loved them so.
After burning out this hell of thought in his miserable brain, he betook himself to nature?s remedy, – instant, headlong action. He rushed down the stairs, forgetting all about Chope and Bailey Kettledrum, shouted to the driver of a hansom cab so that he sawed his horse?s mouth raw, leaped in, and gave him half a sovereign through the pigeon–hole, to get to D – ?s bank before the closing time. But at Temple Bar, of course, there was a regular Chubb?s lock, after a minor Bramah one at the bottom of Ludgate Hill. Cabby was forced to cut it, and slash up Chancery Lane, and across by King?s College Hospital, and back into the Strand by Wych Street. It is easy to imagine Bull Garnet?s state of mind; yet the imagination would be that, and nothing more. He sat quite calmly, without a word, knowing that man and horse were doing their utmost of skill and speed, and having dealt enough with both to know that to worry them then is waste.
The Bank had been closed, the day–porter said, as he girded himself for his walk to Brixton, exactly – let him see – yes, exactly one minute and thirty–five seconds ago. Most of the gentlemen were still inside, of course, and if the gentleman?s business was of a confidential – Here he intimated, not by words, that there were considerations —
“Bow Street police–office,” Mr. Garnet cried to the driver, not even glancing again at the disappointed doorkeeper. In five minutes he was there. Man and horse seemed strung and nerved with his own excitement.
A stolid policeman stood at the door, as Bull Garnet leaped out anyhow, with his high colour gone away as in death, and his wiry legs cramped with vehemence. Then Bobby saw that he had met his master, the perception being a mental feat far beyond the average leap of police agility. Accordingly he touched his hat, and crinkled his eyes in a manner discovered by policemen, in consequence of the suggestion afforded by the pegging of their hats.
“Mr. Bennings gone?” asked Bull Garnet, pushing towards the entrance.
“His wusship is gone arf an hour, sir; or may be at most fifty minutes. Can we do anything for you, sir? His wusship always go according to the business as is on.”
“Thank you,” replied Mr. Garnet; “that is quite enough. What time do they leave at Marlborough Street?”
“According to the business, sir, but gone afore us a?most always. We sits as long as anybody, and gets through twice the business. But any message you like to leave, or anything to be entered, I can take the responsibility.”
“No. It does not matter. I will only leave my card. Mr. Bennings knows me. Be kind enough to give him this, when he comes to–morrow morning. Perhaps I may call to–morrow. At present I cannot say.”
The policeman lifted his hat again, like a cup taken up from a saucer, and Bull Garnet sat heavily down in the cab, and banged the door–shutters before him. “Strand,” he called out to the driver; “D – and C – ?s, the watchmakers.” There he bought a beautiful watch and gold chain for his daughter Pearl, giving a cheque for nearly all his balance at the banker?s. The cheque was so large that in common prudence the foreman declined to cash it without some confirmation; but Mr. Garnet gave him a reference, which in ten minutes was established, and in ten more he was off again with his very handsome trinkets, and a large sum in bank–notes and gold, the balance of his draft.
“Where now, sir?” shouted the driver, delighted with his fare, and foreseeing another half–sovereign.
“I will tell you in thirty seconds.”
“Well, if he ain?t a rum ‘un,” Cabby muttered to himself, while amid volleys of strong language he kept his horse gyrating, like a twin–screw ship trying circles; “but rum customers is our windfalls. Should have thought it a reward case, only for the Bobby. Keep a look–out, anyhow; unless he orders me back to Bedlam.”
“Not Bedlam. Waterloo Station, main line!” said Bull Garnet, standing up in front, and looking at him over the roof. “Five minutes is all I give you, mind.”
“What a blessed fool I am,” said the cabman below his breath, but lashing his horse explosively – ”to throw away half a sovereign sooner than hold my tongue! He must be the devil himself to have heard me – and as for eyes – good Lord, I shouldn?t like to drive him much.”
“You are wrong,” replied Mr. Garnet through the pigeon–hole, handing him twopence for the tollman; “I am not the devil, sir; as you may some day know. Have no fear of ever driving me again. You shall have your half–sovereign when I have got my ticket. Follow me in, and you shall know for what place I take it.”
The cabman was too dumb–foundered to do anything but resolve that he would go straight home when he got his money, and tell his old woman about it. Then he applied himself to the whip in earnest, for he could not too soon be rid of this job; and so Bull Garnet won his train, and gave the driver the other half–sovereign, with a peculiar nod, having noticed that he feared to approach while the ticket was applied for.
Bull Garnet took a second–class ticket. His extravagance towards the cabman was the last he would ever exhibit. He felt a call upon him now to save for his family every farthing. All was lost to them but money, and alas, too much of that. Now if he cut his throat in the train, could he be attainted of felony? And would God be any the harder on him? No, he did not think He would. It might be some sort of atonement even. But then the shock to Pearl and Bob, to see him brought home with his head hanging back, and hopeless red stitches under it. It would make the poor girl a maniac, after all the shocks and anguish he had benumbed her with already. What a fool he had been not to buy strychnine, prussic acid, or laudanum! And yet – and yet – and yet – He would like to see them just once more – blessed hearts – once more.
He sat in the last compartment of the last carriage in the train, which had been added, in a hurry, immediately behind the break van, and the swinging and the jerking very soon became tremendous. He knew not, neither cared to know, that Simon Chope and Bailey Kettledrum were in a first–class carriage near the centre of the train. Presently the violent motion began to tell upon him, and he felt a heavy dullness creeping over his excited mind; and all the senses, which had been during several hours of tension as prompt and acute as ever they were in his prime of power, began to flag, and daze, and wane, and he fell into a waking dream, a “second person” of sorrow. But first – whether for suicide, or for self–defence, he had tried both doors and found them locked; and he was far too large a man to force his way through the window.
He dreamed, with a loose sense of identity, about the innocent childhood, the boyhood?s aspiration, the young man?s sense of ability endorsing the right to aspire. Even his bodily power and vigour revived in the dream before him, and he knitted his muscles, and clenched his fists, and was ready to fight fools and liars. Who had fought more hard and hotly against the hard cold ways of the age, the despite done to the poor and lowly, the sarcasm bred by self–conscious serfdom in clever men of the world, the preference of gold to love, and of position to happiness? All the weak gregarious tricks, shifts of coat, and pupa–ism, whereby we noble Christians reduce our social history to a passage in entomology, and quench the faith of thinking men in Him whose name we take in vain – the great Originator – all these feminine contradictions, and fond things foully invented, fables Atellan (if they be not actually Fescennine) had roused the combatism of young Bull, ere he learned his own disgrace.
And when he learned it, such as it was – a proof by its false incidence how infantile our civilization is – all his mother?s bitter wrong, her lifelong sense of shame and crushing (because she had trusted a liar, and the hollow elder–stick “institution” was held up against her, and none would take her part without money, even if she had wished it), then he had chosen his mother?s course, inheriting her strong nature, let the shame lie where it fell by right and not by rule, and carried all his energies into Neo–Christian largeness.
All that time of angry trial now had passed before him, and the five years of his married life (which had not been very happy, for his wife never understood him, but met his quick moodiness with soft sulks); and then in his dream–review he smiled, as his children began to toddle about, and sit on his knees, and look at him.
Once he awoke, and gazed about him. The train had stopped at Winchester. He was all alone in the carriage still, and all his cash was safe. He had stowed it away very carefully in a hidden pocket. To his languid surprise, he fell back on the seat. How unlike himself, to be sure; and with so much yet to do! He strove to arise and rouse himself. He felt for the little flask of wine, which Pearl had thrust into his pocket, but he could not pull it out and drink; such a languor lay upon him. He had felt it before, but never before been so overcome by it. Once or twice, an hour or so before the sun came back again, this strange cold deadness (like a mammoth nightmare frozen) had lain on him, in his lonely bed, and then he knew what death was, and only came back to life again through cold sweat and long fainting.
He had never consulted any doctor about the meaning of this. With his bold way of thinking, and judging only by his own experience and feeling, he had long ago decided that all medical men were quacks. What one disorder could they cure? All they had learned, and that by a fluke, was a way to anticipate one: and even that way seemed worn out now.
Now he fell away, and feared, and tried to squeeze his breast, and tried to pray to God; but no words came, nor any thoughts, only sense of dying, and horror at having prayed for it. A coldness fell upon his heart, and on his brain an ignorance; he was falling into a great blank depth, and nothing belonged to him any more – only utter, utter loss, and not a dream of God.
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