Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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And, over and above the ease of conscience, and the sense of comfort, it was a truly happy thing for poor Sir Cradock Nowell, when the loss of the Taprobane could no longer be concealed from him, that now he had the proven friend to fall back upon once more. He had spent whole days in writing letters – humble, loving, imploring letters to the son in unknown latitudes – directing them as fancy took him to the Cape, to Port Natal, Mozambique, or even Bombay (in case of stress of weather), Point de Galle, Colombo, &c. &c., in all cases to be called for, and invariably marked “urgent.” Then from this labour of love he awoke to a vague form of conviction that his letters ought to have been addressed to the bottom of the sea.
Autumn in the Forest now, once again the autumn. All things turning to their rest, bird, and beast, and vegetable. Solemn and most noble season, speaking to the soul of man, as spring speaks to his body. The harvest of the ample woods spreading every tint of ripeness, waiting for the Maker?s sickle, when His breath is frost. Trees beyond trees, in depth and height, roundings and massive juttings, some admitting flaws of light to enhance their mellowness, some very bright of their own accord, when the sun thought well of them, others scarcely bronzed with age, and meaning to abide the spring. It was the same in Epping Forest, Richmond Park, and the woods round London, only on a smaller scale, and with less variety. And so upon his northern road, every coppice, near or far, even “Knockholt Beeches” (which reminded him of the “beechen hats”), every little winding wood of Sussex or of Surrey brought before Cradock Nowell?s eyes the prospect of his boyhood. He had begged to be put ashore at Newhaven, from the American trader, which had rescued him from Pomona Island, and his lonely but healthful sojourn, and then borne him to New York. Now, with his little store of dollars, earned from the noble Yankee skipper by the service he had rendered him, freely given and freely taken, as behoves two gentlemen, and with his great store of health recovered, and recovered mind, he must walk all the way to London, forty miles or more; so great a desire entered into him of his native land, that stable versatility, those free and ever–changing skies, which all her sons abuse and love.
Cradock looked, I do assure you, as well, and strong, and stout, and lusty, as may consist with elegance at the age of two–and–twenty. And his dress, though smacking of Broadway, “could not conceal,” as our best writers say, “his symmetrical proportions.” His pantaloons were of a fine bright tan colour, with pockets fit for a thousand dollars, and his boots full of eyelets, like big lampreys, and his coat was a thing to be proud of, and a pleasing surprise for Regent–street. His hat, moreover, was umbratile, as of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a measure of liquid capacity (betwixt the cone and the turned–up rim) superior to that of the ordinary cisterns of the London water–companies.Nevertheless he had not acquired the delightful hydropultic art, distinctive of the mighty nation which had been so kind to him. And, in spite of little external stuff (only worthy of two glances – one to note, and the other to smile at it), the youth was improved in every point worth a man?s observation. Three months in New York had done him an enormous deal of good; not that the place is by any means heavenly (perhaps there are few more hellish), only that he fell in with men of extraordinary energy and of marvellous decision, the very two hinges of life whereupon he (being rather too “philosophical”) had several screws loose, and some rust in the joints.
As for Wena, she (the beauty) had cocked her tail with great arrogance at smelling English ground again. To her straight came several dogs, who had never travelled far (except when they were tail–piped), and one and all cried, “Hail, my dear! Have you seen any dogs to compare with us? Set of mongrel parley–woos, can?t bark or bite like a Christian. Just look round the corner, pretty, while we kill that poodle.”
To whom Wena —leniter atterens caudam– ”Cordially I thank you. So much now I have seen of the world that my faith is gone in tail–wags. If you wish to benefit by my society, bring me a bit from the hock of bacon, or a very young marrowbone. Then will I tell you something.” They could not comply with her requisitions, because they had eaten all that themselves. And so she trotted along the beach, like the dog of Polyphemus, or the terrier of Hercules, who tinged his nose with murex.
‘Tis a very easy thing to talk of walking fifty miles, but quite another pair of shoes to do it; especially with pack on back, and feet that have lost habitual sense of Macadam?s tender mercies. Moreover, the day had been very warm for the beginning of October – the dying glance of Summer, in the year 1860, at her hitherto foregone and forgotten England. The highest temperature of the year had been 72° (in the month of May); in June and July, 66° and 68° were the maxima, and in August things were no better. Persistent rain, perpetual chill, and ever–present sense of icebergs, and longing for logs of dry wood. But towards the end of September some glorious weather set in; and people left off fires at the time when they generally begin them. Therefore, Cradock Nowell was hot, footsore, and slightly jaded, as he came to the foot of Sydenham Hill, on the second day of his journey. The Crystal Palace, which long had been his landmark through country crossroads, shone with blue and airy light, as the sun was sinking. Cradock admired more and more, as the shadows sloped along it, the fleeting gleams, the pellucid depth, the brightness of reflection framed by the softness of refraction.
He had always loved that building, and now, at the top of the hill, he resolved (weary as he was) to enter and take his food there. Accordingly Wena was left to sup and rest at the stables; he paid the shilling that turns the wheel, and went first to the refreshment court. After doing his duty there, he felt a great deal better; then buttoned his coat like a Briton, and sauntered into the transept. It had been a high and mighty day, for the Ancient Order of Mountaineers (who had never seen a mountain) were come to look for one at Penge, with sweethearts, wives, contingencies, and continuations. It boots not now to tell their games; enough that they had been very happy, and were gathering back in nave and transept for a last parade. To Cradock, so long accustomed to sadness, solitude, and bad luck, the scene, instead of being ludicrous (as a youth of fashion would have found it), was interesting and impressive, and even took a solemn aspect as the red rays of the sun retired, and the mellow shades were deepening. He leaned against the iron rail in front of the grand orchestra, and seeing many pretty faces, thought about his Amy, and wondered what she now was like, and whether she were true to him. From Pomona Island he could not write; from New York he had never written; not knowing the loss of the Taprobane, and fearing lest he should seem once more to be trying the depth of John Rosedew?s purse. But now he was come to England, with letters from Captain Recklesome Young, to his London correspondents, which ensured him a good situation, and the power to earn his own bread, and perhaps in a little while Amy?s.
As he leaned and watched the crowd go by, like a dream of faces, the events of the bygone year passed also in dark parade before him. Sad, mysterious, undeserved – at least so far as he knew – how had they told upon him? Had they left him in better, or had they left him in bitter, case with his God and his fellow–man? That question might be solved at once, to any but himself, by the glistening of his eyes, the gentleness of his gaze around, the smile with which he drew back his foot when a knickerbocked child trod on it. He loved his fellow–creatures still; and love is law and gospel.
While he thought these heavy things, feeling weary of the road, of his life half weary, shrinking from the bustling world again to be encountered, suddenly a grand vibration thrilled his heart, and mind, and soul. From the great concave above him, melody was spreading wide, with shadowy resistless power, like the wings of angels. The noble organ was pealing forth, rolling to every nook of the building, sweeping over the heads of the people and into their hearts (with one soft passport), “Home, sweet home!” The men who had come because tired of home, the wives to give them a change of it, the maidens perhaps to get homes of their own, the children to cry to go home again; – all with one accord stood still, all listened very quietly, and said nothing at all about it. Only they were the better for it, with many a kind old memory rising, at least among the elder ones, and many a large unselfish hope making the young people look, with trust, at one another.
And what did Cradock Nowell feel? His home was not a sweet one; bitter things had been done against him; bitter things he himself had done. None the less, he turned away and wept beneath a music–stand, as if his heart would never give remission to his eyes. None could see him in the dark there, only the God whose will it was, and whose will it often is, that tears should bring us home to Him.
“I will arise, and go home to my father. I will cry, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and against thee.’”
And so he had. Not heavily, not wilfully, not wittingly, not a hundredth part so badly as that father had sinned against him. Yet it was wrong in him not to allow the old man to recover himself, but, forgetting a son?s love–duty, so to leave him – hotly, hastily, with a proud defiance. Till now he had never felt, or at least confessed to himself, that wrong. Now, as generous natures do, he summed up sternly against himself, leniently against others. And then he asked, with yearning and bitter self–reproach, “Is the old man yet alive?”
The woods were still as rich and sweet, and the grass as soft as in May month; the windings of the pleasant dells were looped with shining waters; but she who used to love them so and brighten at their freshness, to follow the steps of each wandering breeze, and call to the sun as a flower does – now she came through her favourite places, and hardly cared to look at them. Only three short months ago she had returned to her woodland home, and the folk that knew and loved her, in the highest and brightest spirits of youth, conscious beauty, and hopefulness. All her old friends were rejoicing in her, and she in their joy delighted, when her father thought it his sorrowful duty, in this world of sorrow, to tell her the bad news about her ever unlucky Cradock. At first she received it with scorn – as the high manner of her mind was – utter unbelief, because God could not have done it. Being simple, and very young, she had half as much faith in her heavenly Father as she had in the earthly and fallible parent; neither was she quite aware that we do not buy, but accept from God.
But, as week upon back of week, and month after tardy month, went by, Amy?s faith began to wane, and herself to languish. She watched the arrival of every mail from the Cape, from India, from anywhere; her heart leaped up as each steamer came in, and sank at each empty letterbag. Meanwhile her father was growing very unhappy about her, and so was good Aunt Doxy. At first John had said, when she took it so calmly, “Thank God! How glad I am! But her mother cared for me more than that.” Like many another loving father, he had studied, but never learned his child.
Now it was the fifth day of October, the weather bright and beautiful, the English earth and trees and herbage trying back for the summer of which they had been so cheated. Poor pale Amy asked leave to go out. She had long been under Rue Hutton?s care, not professionally, but paternally (for Rufus would have his own way when he was truly fond of any one), and she asked so quietly, so submissively, without a bit of joke about it, that when she was gone her father set to and shook his head, till a heavy tear came and blotted out a reference which had taken all the morning. As for Aunt Doxy, she turned aside, and took off her spectacles quickly, because the optician had told her to keep them perfectly dry.
Where the footpath wanders to and fro, preferring pleasure to duty, and meeting all remonstrance by quoting the course of the brook, Amy Rosedew slowly walked, or heavily stopped every now and then, caring for nothing around her. She had made up her mind to cry no more, only to long for the time and place when and where no crying is. Perhaps in a year or so, if she lived, she might be able to see things again, and attend to her work as usual. Till then she would try to please her father, and keep up her spirits for his sake. Every one had been so kind to her, especially dear Eoa, who had really cried quite steadily; and the least thing that girl Amy could do was to try and deserve it. Thinking thus, and doing her best to feel as well as think it, yet growing tired already, she sat down in a chair as soft as weary mortal may rest in. A noble beech, with a head of glory overlooking the forest, had not neglected to slipper his feet with the richest of nature?s velvet. From the dove–coloured column?s base, two yards above the ground–spread, drifts of darker bulk began, gnarled crooks of grapple, clutching wide at mother earth, deeply fanged into her breast, sureties against every wind. Ridged and ramped with many a hummock, rift, and twisted sinew, forth these mighty tendons stretched, some fathoms from the bole itself. Betwixt them nestled, all in moss, corniced with the golden, and cushioned with the greenest, nooks of cool, delicious rest, wherein to forget the world, and dream upon the breezes. “As You Like It,” in your lap, Theocritus tossed over the elbow, because he is too foreign, – what sweet depth of enjoyment for a hard–working man who has earned it!
But, in spite of all this voluptuousness, the “moss more soft than slumber,” and the rippling leafy murmur, there is little doubt that Miss Amy Rosedew managed to have another cry ere ever she fell asleep. To cry among those arms of moss, fleecing, tufting, pillowing, an absorbent even for Niobe! Can the worn–out human nature find no comfort in the vegetable, though it does in the mineral, kingdom?
Back, and back, and further back into the old relapse of sleep, the falling thither whence we came, the interest on the debt of death. Yet as the old Stagyrite hints, some of day?s emotions filter through the strain of sleep; it is not true that good and bad are, for half of life, the same. Alike their wits go roving haply after the true Owner, but some may find Him, others fail – Father, who shall limit thus Thine infinite amnesty?
It would not be an easy thing to find a fairer sight. Her white arms on the twisted plumage of the deep green moss, the snowy arch of her neck revealed as the clustering hair fell from it, and the frank and playful forehead resting on the soft grey bark. She smiled in her sleep every now and then, for her pleasant young humour must have its own way when the schoolmaster, sorrow, was dozing; and then the sad dreaming of trouble returned, and the hands were put up to pray, and the red lips opened, whispering, “Come home! Only come to Amy!”
And then, in her dream, he was come – raining tears upon her cheek, holding her from all the world, fearing to thank God yet. She was smiling up at him; oh, it was so delicious! Suddenly she opened her eyes. What made her face so wet? Why, Wena!
Wena, as sure as dogs are dogs; mounted on the mossy arm, lick–lick–licking, mewing like a cat almost, even offering taste of her tongue, while every bit of the Wena dog shook with ecstatic rapture.
“Oh, Wena, Wena! what are you come to tell me, Wena? Oh that you could speak!”
Wena immediately proved that she could. She galloped round Amy, barking and yelling, until the great wood echoed again; the rabbits, a mile away, pricked their ears, and the yaffingales stopped from tapping. Then off set the little dog down the footpath. Oh, could it be to fetch somebody?
The mere idea of such a thing made Amy shake so, and feel so odd, she was forced to put one hand against the tree, and the other upon her heart. She could not look, she was in such a state; she could not look down the footpath. It seemed, at least, a century, and it may have been half a minute, before she heard through the bushes a voice – tush, she means the voice.
“Wena, you bad dog, come in to heel. Is this all you have learned by travelling?”
But Wena broke fence and everything, set off full gallop again to Amy, tugged at her dress, and retrieved her.
What happened after that Amy knows not, neither knows Cradock Nowell. So anything I could tell would be a fond thing vainly invented. All they remember is – looking back upon it, as both of them may, to the zenith of their lives – that neither of them could say a word except “darling, darling, darling!” all pronounced as superlatives, with “my own,” once or twice between, and an exclusive sense of ownership, illiberal and unphilosophical. What business have we with such minor details? Who has sworn us accountants of kisses? All we have any right to say is, that after a long spell of inarticulate tautology, Amy looked up when Cradock proposed to add another cipher; very gravely, indeed, she looked up; except in the deepest depth of her eyes.
“Oh no, Cradock. You must not think of it. Seriously now, you must not, love.”
“Why? I should like to know, indeed! After all the time I have been away!”
“I have so little presence of mind. I forgot to tell you in time, dear. Why, because Wena has licked my face all over, darling. Darling, yes, she has, I say. You are too bad not to care about it. Now come to my own best father, dear. Offer your arm like a gentleman.”
So they – as Milton concisely says. Homer would have written “they two.” How sadly our language wants a dual! We, the domestic race, have we rejected it because the use would have seemed a truism?
That same afternoon Bull Garnet lay dying, calmly and peacefully going off, taking his accounts to a larger world. He knew that there were some heavy items underscored against him; but he also knew that the mercy of God can even outdo the hope He gives us for token and for keepsake. A greater and a grander end, after a life of mark and power, might, to his early aspirations and self–conscious strength, have seemed the bourne intended. If it had befallen him – as but for himself it would have done – to appear where men are moved by passion, vigour, and bold decision, his name would have been historical, and better known to the devil. As it was, he lay there dying, and was well content. The turbulence of life was past, the torrent and the eddy, the attempt at fore–reaching upon his age, and sense of impossibility, the strain of his mental muscles to stir the great dead trunks of “orthodoxy,” and then the self–doubt, the chill, the depression, which follow such attempts, as surely as ague tracks the pioneer.
Thank God, all this was over now, and the violence gone, and the dark despair. Of all the good and evil things which so had branded him distinct, two yet dwelled in his feeble heart, only two still showed their presence in his dying eyes. Each of those two was good, if two indeed they were – faith in the heavenly Father, and love of the earthly children.
Pearl was sitting on a white chair at the side of the bed away from the window, with one hand in his failing palm, and the other trying now and then to enable her eyes to see things. She was thinking, poor little thing, of what she should do without him, and how he had been a good father to her, though she never could understand him. That was her own fault, no doubt. She had always fancied that he loved her as a bit of his property, as a thing to be managed; now she knew that it was not so; and he was going away for ever, and who would love or manage her? And the fault of all this was her own.
Rufus Hutton had been there lately, trying still to keep up some little show of comfort, and a large one of encouragement; for he was not the man to say die till a patient came to the preterite. Throughout the whole, and knowing all, he had behaved in the noblest manner, partly from his own quick kindness, partly from that protective and fiduciary feeling which springs self–sown in the hearts of women when showers of sorrow descend, and crops up in the manly bosom at the fee of golden sunshine. Not that he took any fees; but that his professional habits revived, with a generosity added, because he knew that he would take nothing, though all were in his power.
Suddenly Mr. Pell came in, our old friend Octavius, sent for in an urgent manner, and looking as a man looks who feels but cannot open on the hinge of his existence. Like a thorough gentleman, he had been shy of the cottage, although aware of their distress; eager at once and reluctant, partly because it stood not in his but his rector?s parish, partly for deeper reasons.
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