Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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Happy and religious folk, who have only died in theory, contemplating distant death, knowing him only as opportune among kinsfolk owning Consols, these may hope for a Prayer–book end, sacrament administered, weeping friends, the heavenward soul glad to fly through the golden door, animula, vagula, blandula, yet assured of its reception with a heavenly smile of foretaste – this may be; no doubt it may be, after the life of a Christian Bayard; though it need not always be, even then. All we who from our age know death, and have taken little trips into him, through fits, paralysis, or such–like, are quite aware that he has at first call as much variety as life has. But the death of the violent man is not likely to be placid, unless it come unawares, or has been graduated through years of remorse, and weakness, weariness, and repentance.
Then he tried to rise, and fought once more, with agony inconceivable, against the heavy yet hollow numbness in the hold of his deep, wide chest, against the dark, cold stealth of death, and the black, narrow depth of the grave.
The train ran lightly and merrily into Brockenhurst Station, while the midsummer twilight floated like universal gossamer. In the yard stood the Kettledrum “rattletrap,” and the owner was right glad to see it. In his eyes it was worth a dozen of the lord mayor?s coach.
“None of the children come, dear?” asked Bailey, having kissed his wife, as behoves a man from London.
“No, darling, not one. That – ” here she used an adjective which sounded too much like “odious” for me to trust my senses – ”Georgie would not allow them. Now, darling, did you do exactly what I told you?”
“Yes, darling Anna, I did the best I could. I had a basin of mulligatawny at Waterloo going up, and one of mock–turtle coming back, and at Basingstoke ham–sandwiches, a glass of cold cognac and water, and some lemon–chips. Since that, nothing at all, because there has been no time.”
“You are a dear,” said Mrs. Kettledrum, “to do exactly as I told you. Now come round the corner a moment, and take two glasses of sherry; I can see quite well to pour it out. I am so glad of her new crinoline. She won?t get out. Don?t be afraid, dear.”
Oh, Georgie, Georgie! To think that her own sister should be so low, so unfeeling, and treacherous! Mr. Kettledrum smacked his lips, for the sake of euphony, after the second glass of sherry; but his wife would not give him any more, for fear of spoiling his supper. Then they came back, and both got in, and squeezed themselves up together in the front seat of the old carriage, for Mrs. Corklemore occupied the whole of the seat of honour.
“You are very polite, to keep me so long. Innocent turtles; sweet childish anxiety! The last survivor of a wrecked train! So you took advantage, Anna dear, of my not being dressed quite so vulgarly as you are, to discuss this little matter with him, keeping me in ignorance.”
The carriage was off by this time, and open as it was, they had no fear of old coachey hearing, for it took a loud hail to reach him.
“Take the honour of a Kettledrum,” cried Bailey, smiting his bosom, “that the subject has not even been broached between my wiser part and myself.Ladies, in this pure aerial – no, I mean ethereal – air, with the shades of night around us, and the breezes wafting, would an exceedingly choice and delicately aromatic cigar – ”
“Oh, I should so like it, Bailey; and perhaps we shall have the nightingales.”
“I fear we must not think of it,” interposed Mrs. Corklemore, gently; “my dress is of a fabric quite newly introduced, very beautiful, but (like myself) too retentive of impressions. If Mr. Kettledrum smokes, I shall have to throw it away.”
“There goes the cigar instead,” cried Bailey; “the paramount rights of ladies ever have been, and ever shall be, sacred with Bailey Kettledrum.”
But Mrs. Kettledrum was so vexed that she jumped up, as if to watch the cigar spinning into the darkness, and contrived with sisterly accuracy to throw all her weight upon a certain portion of a certain lovely foot, whereupon there ensued the neatest little passes, into which we need not enter. Enough that Mrs. Corklemore, having higher intellectual gifts, “won,” in the language of the ring, “both events” – first tear, and first hysterical symptom.
“Come,” cried Mr. Kettledrum, at the very first opportunity, to wit, when both were crying; “we all know what sisters are: how they mingle the – the sweetness of their affection with a certain – ah, yes – a piquancy of expression, most pleasant, most improving, because so highly conducive to self–examination!” Here he stood up, having made a hit, worthy of the House of Commons. “All these little breezes, ladies, may be called the trade–winds of affection. They blow from pole to pole.”
“The trade–winds never do that,” said Georgie.
“They pass us by as the idle wind, when the clouds are like a whale, ladies, having overcome us for a moment, like a summer dream. Hark to that thrush, sitting perhaps on his eggs” – ”Oh, Oh!” from the gallery of nature – ”can there be, I pause for a reply, anything but harmony, where the voices of the night pervade, and the music of the spheres?”
“You – you do speak so splendidly, dear,” sobbed Mrs. Kettledrum from the corner; “but it is a nasty, wicked, cruel story, about dear papa saying that of me, and he in his grave, poor dear, quite unable to vindicate himself. I have always thought it so unchristian to malign the dead!”
“What?s that?” cried Georgie, starting up, in fear and hot earnest; “you are chattering so, you hear nothing.”
A horse dashed by them at full gallop, with his rider on his neck, shouting and yelling, and clinging and lashing.
“Missed the wheel by an inch,” cried Kettledrum, drawing his head in faster than he had thrust it out; “a fire, man, or a French invasion?” But the man was out of hearing, while the Kettledrum horses, scared, and jumping as from an equine thunderbolt, tried the strength of leather and the courage of ladies.
Meanwhile at the station behind them there was a sad ado. A man was lifted out of the train, being found in the last compartment by the guard who knew his destination – a big man, and a heavy one; and they bore him to the wretched shed which served there as a waiting–room.
“Dead, I believe,” said the guard, having sent a boy for brandy, “dead as a door–nail, whoever he be.”
“Not thee knaw who he be?” cried a forester, coming in. “Whoy, marn, there be no mistaking he. He be our Muster Garnet.”
“Whew!” And the train whistled on, as it must do, whether we live or die, or when Cyclops has made mince of us.
That night there had been great excitement in the village of Nowelhurst. A rumour had reached it that Cradock Nowell, loved in every cottage there, partly as their own production, partly as their future owner, partly for his own sake, and most of all for his misfortunes, was thrown into prison to stand his trial for the murder of his brother. Another rumour was that, to prevent any scandal to the nobility, he had been sent to sea alone in a seventy–four gun ship, with corks in her bottom tied with wire arranged so as to fly all at once, same as if it was ginger–beer bottles, on the seventh day, when the salt–water had turned the wires rusty.
It is hard to say of these two reports which roused the greater indignation; perhaps on the whole the former did, because the latter was supposed to be according to institution. Anyhow, all the village was out in the street that night; and the folding of arms, and the self–importance, the confidential winks, and the power to say more (but for hyper–Nestorean prudence) were at their acme in a knot of gaffers gathered around Rufus Hutton, and affording him good sport.
Nothing now could be done in Nowelhurst without Rufus Hutton. He had that especial knack (mistaken sometimes in a statesman for really high qualities) which becomes in a woman true capacity for gossip. By virtue thereof Rufus Hutton was now prime–minister of Nowelhurst; and Sir Cradock, the king, being nothing more now than the shadow of a name, his deputy?s power was absolute. He knew the history by this time of every cottage, and pigsty, and tombstone in the churchyard; how much every man got every week, and how much he gave his wife out of it, what he had for dinner on Sundays, and how long he made his waistcoat last. Suddenly the double–barrelled noise which foreruns a horse at full gallop came from the bridge, and old folk hobbled, and young got ready to run.
“Hooraw – hooraw!” cried a dozen and a half of boys, “here be Hempror o’ Roosia coming.”
Boys will believe almost anything, when they get excited (having taken the trick from their fathers), but even the women were disappointed, when the galloping horse stopped short in the crowd, and from his withers shot forward, and fell with both hands full of mane, a personage not more august than the porter at Brockenhurst Station.
“Catch the horse, you fool!” cried Rufus.
“Cuss the horse,” said the porter, trying to draw breath; “better been under a train I had. Don?t stand gaping, chawbacons. Is ever a sawbones, surgeon, doctor, or what the devil you call them in these outlandish parts, to be got for love or money?”
“I am a sawbones,” said Rufus Hutton, coming forward with his utmost dignity; “and it?s a mercy I don?t saw yours, young man, if that?s all you know of riding.”
The porter touched his hair instead of his hat (which was gone long ago), while the “chawbacons” rallied, and laughed at him, and one offered him a “zide–zaddle,” and all the women of the village felt that Dr. Hutton had quenched the porter, and vindicated Nowelhurst.
“When you have recovered your breath, young man,” continued Rufus, pushing, as he always did, his advantage; “and thanked God for your escape from the first horse you ever mounted, perhaps you will tell us your errand, and we chawbacons will consider it.”
A gruff haw–haw and some treble he–he?s added to the porter?s discomfiture, for he could not come to time yet, being now in the second tense of exhaustion, which is even worse than the first, being rather of the heart than lungs.
“Station – Mr. Garnet – dead!” was all the man could utter, and that only in spasms, and with great chest–heavings.
Rufus Hutton leaped on the horse in a moment, caught up old Channing?s stick, and was out of sight in the summer dusk ere any one else in the crowd had done more than gape, and say, “Oh Lor!” By dint of skill he sped the old horse nearly as quickly to the station as the fury of Jehu had brought him thence, and landed him at the door with far less sign of exhaustion. Then walking into the little room, in the manner of a man who thoroughly knows his work, he saw a sight which never in this world will leave him.
Upon a hard sofa, shored up with an ash–log where the mahogany was sprung, and poked up into a corner as if to get a bearing there, with blankets piled upon him heavily and tucked round the collar of his coat, and his great head hanging over the rise where the beading of the brass ends, lay the ill–fated Bull Garnet, – a man from birth to death a subject for pity more than terror. Fifty years old – more than fifty years – and scarce a twelvemonth of happiness since the shakings of the world began, and childhood?s dream was over. Toiling ever for the future, toiling for his children, ever since he had them, labouring to make peace with God, if only he might have his own, where passion is not, but love abides. The room smelled strongly of bad brandy, some of which was oozing now down his broad square chin, and dripping from the great blue jaw. Of course he could not swallow it; and now one of the women (for three had rushed in) was performing that duty for him.
“Turn out that drunken hag!” cried Dr. Hutton, feeling he had no idea how. “Up with the window. Bring the sofa here; and take all but one of those blankets off.”
“But, master,” objected another woman, “he?ll take his death of cold.”
“Turn out that woman also!” He was instantly obeyed. “Now roll up one of those blankets, and put it under his head here – this side, can?t you see? Good God, what a set of fellows you are to let a man?s head hang down like that! Hot water and a sponge this instant. Nearly boiling, mind you. Plenty of it, and a foot–tub. Now don?t stare at me.”
With a quick light hand he released the blue and turgid throat from the narrow necktie, then laid his forefinger upon the heart and watched the eyelids intently.
“Appleplexy, no doubt, master,” said the most intelligent of the men; “I have ‘eared that if you can bleed them – ”
“Hold your tongue, or I?ll phlebotomise you.” That big word inspired universal confidence, because no one understood it. “Now, support him in that position, while I pull his boots off. One of you run to the inn for a bottle of French cognac – not this filthy stuff, mind – and a corkscrew and a teaspoon. Now the hot water here! In with his feet, and bathe his legs, while I sponge his face and chest – as hot as you can bear your hands in it. His heart is all but stopped, and his skin as cold as ice. That?s it; quicker yet! Don?t be afraid of scalding him. There, he begins to feel it.”
The dying man?s great heavy eyelids slowly and feebly quivered, and a long deep sigh arose, but there was not strength to fetch it. Dr. Hutton took advantage of the faint impulse of life to give him a little brandy, and then a little more again, and by that time he could sigh.
“Bo,” he whispered very softly, and trying to lift his hand for something, and Rufus Hutton knew somehow (perhaps by means of his own child) that he was trying to say, “Bob.”
“Bob will be here directly. Cheer up, cheer up, till he comes, my friend.”
He called him his friend, and the very next day he would have denounced him as murderer to the magistrates at Lymington. Now his only thought was of saving the poor man?s life.
The father?s dull eyes gleamed again when he heard those words, and a little smile came flickering over the stern lines of his face. They gave him more brandy on the strength of it, while he kept on looking at the door.
“Rub, rub, rub, men; very lightly, but very quickly. Keep your thumbs up, don?t you see? Mustn?t get cold again for the world. There now, he?ll keep his heart up until his dear son arrives. And then his children shall nurse him, much better than any one else could; and how glad they will be, John Thomas, to see him looking so well and so strong again!”
All this time, Rue Hutton himself, with a woman?s skill and tenderness, was encouraging, by gentle friction over the stagnant heart, each feeble impulse yet to live, each little bubble faintly rising from the well of hope, every clinging of the soul to the things so hard to leave behind. “While there is life, there is hope.” True and genial saying! And we hope there is hope beyond it.
Poor Bull Garnet was taken home, even that very night. For Dr. Hutton saw how much he was longing for his children, who (until he was carried in) knew nothing of his danger. “Please God,” said Rufus to himself, as he crouched in the fly by the narrow mattress, even foregoing his loved cheroot, and keeping his hand on his patient?s pulse; “please God, the poor fellow shall breathe his last with a child at either side of him.”
Meanwhile, an urgent message from Sir Cradock Nowell was awaiting the sick man at his cottage. Eoa herself had brought word to Pearl (of whom she longed to make a friend) that her uncle was walking about the house, perpetually walking, calling aloud in every room for Mr. Garnet and John Rosedew. He had heard of no disaster, any more than she had, for he seldom read the papers now; but Mr. Brockwood had been with him a very long time that morning, and Dr. Buller came in accidentally; and Eoa could almost vow that there was some infamous scheme on foot, and she knew whose doing it was; and oh that Uncle John would come back! But now they wanted Mr. Garnet, and he must hurry up to the Hall the moment he came home.
Mr. Garnet, of course, they could not have: his strength was wrecked, his heart benumbed, his mind incapable of effort, except to know his children, if that could ever be one. And in this paralytic state, never sleeping, never waking, never wholly conscious, he lay for weeks; and time for him had neither night nor morning.
But Mr. Rosedew could be brought to help his ancient friend, if only it was in his power to overlook the injury. He did not overlook it. For that he was too great a man. He utterly forgot it. To his mind it was thenceforth a thing that had never happened:
Truly so our Horace saith. And yet that Father gives, sometimes, to the noblest of his children, power to revoke the evil, or at least annul it, – grandeur to undo the wrong done by others to them. Not with any sense of greatness, neither hope of self–reward, simply from the loving–kindness of the deep humanity.
In truth it was a noble thing, such as not even the driest man, sapped and carked with care and evil, worn with undeserved rebuff, and dwelling ever underground, in the undermining of his faith, could behold and not be glad with a joy unbidden, could turn away from without wet eyes, and a glimpse of the God who loves us, – and yet the simplest, mildest scene that a child could describe to its mother. So will I tell it, if may be, casting all long words away, leaning on an old man?s staff, looking over the stile of the world.
It was the height of the summer–time, and the quiet mood of the setting sun touched with calm and happy sadness all he was forsaking. Men were going home from work; wives were looking for them; maidens by the gate or paling longed for some protection; children must be put to bed, and what a shame, so early! Puce and purple pillows lay, holding golden locks of sun, piled and lifted by light breezes, the painted eider–down of sunset. In the air a feeling was – those who breathe it cannot tell – only this, that it does them good; God knows how, and why, and whence – but it makes them love their brethren.
The poor old man, more tried and troubled than a lucky labourer, wretched in his wealth, worse hampered by his rank and placement, sat upon a high oak chair – for now he feared to lean his head back – and prayed for some one to help him. Oh, for any one who loved him; oh, for any sight of God, whom in his pride he had forgotten! Eoa was a darling, his only comfort now; but what could such a girl do? Who was she to meet the world? And the son he had used so shamefully. Good God, his only son! And now he knew, with some strange knowledge, loose, and wide, and wandering, that his son was innocent after all, and lost to him for ever, through his own vile cruelty. And now they meant to prove him mad – what use to disguise it? – him who once had the clearest head, chairman of the Quarter Sessions —
Here he broke down, and lay back, with his white hair poured against the carved black oak of the chair, and his wasted hands flung downward, only praying God to help him, anyhow to help him.
Then John Rosedew came in softly, half ashamed of himself, half nervous lest he were presuming, overdrawing the chords of youth, the bond of the days when they went about with arm round the neck of each other. In his heart was pity, very deep and holy; and yet, of all that filled his eyes, the very last to show itself.
Over against the ancient friend, the loved one of his boyhood, he stopped and sadly gazed a moment, and then drew back with a shock and sorrow, as of death brought nearer. At the sound, Sir Cradock Nowell lifted his weary eyes and sighed; and then he looked intently; and then he knew the honest face, the smile, the gentle forehead. Quietly he arose, with colour flowing over his pallid cheeks, and in his eyes strong welcome, and ready with his lips to speak, yet in his heart unable. Thereupon he held the chair, and bowed with the deepest reverence, such as king or queen receives not till a life has earned it. Even the hand which he was raising he let fall again, drawn back by a bitter memory, and a nervous shame.
But his friend of olden time would not have him so disgraced, wanted no repentance. With years of kindness in his eyes and the history of friendship, he came, without a bow, and took the hand that now was shy of him.
“Cradock, oh, I am so glad.”
“John, thank God for this, John!”
Then they turned to other subjects, with a sort of nervousness – the one for fear of presuming on pardon, the other for fear of offering it. Only both knew, once for all, that nothing more could come between them till the hour of death.
The rector accepted once again his well–beloved home and cares, for the vacancy had not been filled, only Mr. Pell had lived a short time at the Rectory. The joy of all the parish equalled, if not transcended, that of parson and of patron.
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