Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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Though Pell came in so quietly, Bull Garnet rose at his entry, or tried to rise on the pillow, swept his daughter back by a little motion of his thumb, which she quite understood, and cast his eyes on the parson?s with a languid yet strong intelligence. He had made up his mind that the man was good, and yet he could not help probing him.
The last characteristic act of poor Bull Garnet?s life, a life which had been all character, all difference, from other people.
“Will you take my daughter?s hand, Pell?”
“Only too gladly,” answered Pell; but she shrank away, and sobbed at him.
“Pearl, come forward this moment. It is no time for shilly–shallying.”
The poor thing timidly gave her hand, standing a long way back from Pell, and with her large eyes streaming, yet fixed upon her father, and no chance at all of wiping them.
“Now, Pell, do you love my daughter? I am dying, and I ask you.”
“That I do, with all my heart,” said Pell, like a downright Englishman. “I shall never love any other.”
“Now, Pearl, do you love Mr. Pell?” Her father?s eyes were upon her in a way that commanded truth. She remembered how she had told a lie, at the age of seven or eight, and that gaze had forced it out of her, and she had never dared to tell one since, until no lie dared come near her.
“Father, I like him very much. Very soon I should love him, if – if he loved me.”
“Now, Pell, you hear that!”
“Beyond all doubt I do,” said Octave, whose dryness never deserted him in the heaviest rain of tears; “and it is the very best thing for me I have heard in all my life.”
Bull Garnet looked from one to the other, with the rally of his life come hot, and a depth of joyful sadness. Yet must he go a little further, because he had always been a tyrant till people understood him.
“Do you want to know how much money, sir, I intend to leave her, when I die to–night or to–morrow morning?”
Cut–and–dry Pell was taken aback. A thoroughly upright and noble fellow, but of wholly different and less rugged road of thought. Meanwhile Pearl had slipped away; it was more than she could bear, and she was so sorry for Octavius. Then Pell up and spake bravely:
“Sir, I would be loth to think of you, my dear one?s father, as anything but a gentleman; a strange one, perhaps, but a true one. And so I trust you have only put such a question to me in irony.”
“Pell, there is good stuff in you. I know a man by this time. What would you think of finding your dear one?s father a murderer?”
Octavius Pell was not altogether used to this sort of thing. He turned away with some doubt whether Pearl would be a desirable mother of children (for he, after all, was a practical man), and hereditary insanity – Then he turned back, remembering that all mankind are mad. Meanwhile Bull Garnet watched him, with extraordinary wrinkles, and a savage sort of pleasure. He felt himself outside the world, and looking at the stitches of it.But he would not say a word. He had always been a bully, and he meant to keep it up.
“Sir,” said Octave Pell, at last, “you are the very oddest man I ever saw in all my life.”
“Ah, you think so, do you, Pell? Possibly you are right; possibly you are right, Pell. I have no time to think about it. It never struck me in that light. If I am so very odd, perhaps you would rather not have my daughter?”
“If you intend to refuse her to me, you had better say so at once, sir. I don?t understand all this.”
“I wish you to understand nothing at all beyond the simple fact. I shot Clayton Nowell, and did it on purpose, because I found him insulting her.”
“Good God! You don?t mean to say it?”
“I never yet said a thing, Pell, which I did not mean to say.”
“You did it in haste? You have repented? For God?s sake, tell me that.”
“Treat this as a question of business. Look at the deed and nothing else. Do you still wish to marry my daughter?”
Pell turned away from the great wild eyes now solemnly fixed upon him. His manly heart was full of wonder, anguish, and giddy turbulence. The promptest of us cannot always “come to time,” like a prizefighter.
Pearl came in, with her chest well forward, and then drew back very suddenly. She thought her fate must be settled now, and would like to know how they had settled it. Then, like a genuine English lady, she gave a short sigh and went away. Pride makes the difference between us and all other nations.
But the dignified glance she had cast on Pell settled his fate and hers for life. He saw her noble self–respect, her stately reservation, her deep sense of her own pure value (which never would assert itself), and her passing contempt of his hesitation.
“At all risks I will have her,” he said to himself, for his manly strength gloried in her strong womanhood; “if she can be won I will have her. Oh, how I am degrading her! What a fool–bound fellow I am!”
Then he spoke to her father, who had fallen back, and was faintly gazing, wondering what the stoppage was.
“Sir, I am not worthy of her. God knows how I love her. She is too good for me.”
Bull Garnet gathered his fleeting life, and looked at Pell with a love so deep that it banished admiration. Then his failing heart supplied, for the last, last time of all, the woe–worn fountain of his eyes. Strong and violent as he was, a little thing had often touched him to the turn of tears. What impulse is there but has this end? Even comic laughter.
Pell lifted from the counterpane the broad but shrunken hand, which was on the way to be offered to him, until sad memory stopped it. Then he looked down at the poor grey face, where the forehead, from the fall of the rest, appeared almost a monstrosity, and the waning of strong emotions left a quivering of hollowness. The young parson looked down with noble pity. Much he knew of his father–in–law! Bull Garnet would never be pitied. He drew his hand back with a little jerk, and placed it against his broad, square chin.
“I can?t bear to die like this, Pell. I wish to God you could shave me.”
Pell went suddenly down on his knees, put his strong brown hands up, and said nothing except the Lord?s Prayer. Bull Garnet tried to raise his palms, but the power of his wrists was gone, and so he let them fall together. Then at every grand petition he nodded at the ceiling, as if he saw it going upward, and thought of the lath and plaster.
He had said he should die at four o?clock, for the paroxysms of heart–complaint returned at measured intervals, and he felt that he could not outlast another. So with his usual mastery and economy of labour, he had sent a man to get the keys and begin to toll the great church bell, as soon as ever the clock struck four. “Not too long apart,” he said, “steadily, and be done with it.” When the boom of the sluggish bell came in at the open window, Bull Garnet smiled, because the man was doing it as he had ordered him.
“Right,” he whispered, “yes, quite right. I have always been before my time. Just let me see my children.” And then he had no more pain.
Amy came in very softly, to know if he was dead. They had told her she ought to leave it alone, but she could not see it so. Knowing all and feeling all, she felt beyond her knowledge. If it would – oh, if it would help him with a spark of hope in his parting, help him in the judgment–day, to have the glad forgiveness of the brother with the deeper wrong – there it was, and he was welcome.
A little whispering went on, pale lips into trembling ears, and then Cradock, with his shoes off, was brought to the side of the bed.
“He won?t know you,” Pearl sobbed softly; “but how kind of you to come!” She was surprised at nothing now.
Her father raised his languid eyes, until they met Cradock?s eager ones; there they dwelt with doubt, and wonder, and a slow rejoicing, and a last attempt at expression.
John Rosedew took the wan stiffening hand, lying on the sheet like a cast–off glove, and placed it in Cradock?s sunburnt palm.
“He knows all,” the parson whispered; “he has read the letter you left for him; and, knowing all, he forgives you.”
“That I do, with all my heart,” Cradock answered firmly. “May God forgive me as I do you. Wholly, purely, for once and for all!”
“Kind – noble – Godlike – ” the dying man said very slowly, but with his old decision.
Bull Garnet could not speak again. The great expansion of heart had been too much for its weakness. Only now and then he looked at Cradock with his Amy, and every look was a prayer for them, and perhaps a recorded blessing.
Then they slipped away, in tears, and left him, as he ought to be, with his children only. And the telegraph of death was that God would never part them.
Now, think you not this man was dying a great deal better than he deserved? No doubt he was. And, for that matter, so perhaps do most of us. But does our Father think so?
Softly and quietly fell the mould on the coffin of Bull Garnet. A great tree overhung his sleep, without fear of the woodman. Clayton Nowell?s simple grave, turfed and very tidy, was only a few yards away. That ancient tree spread forth its arms on this one and the other, as a grandsire lays his hands peacefully and placidly on children who have quarrelled.
A lovely spot, as one might see, for violence to rest in, for long remorse to lose the track, and deep repentance hopefully abide the time of God. To feel the soft mantle of winter return, and the promising gladness of spring, the massive depths of the summer–tide, and the bright disarray of autumn. And to be, no more the while, oppressed, or grieved, or overworked.
There shall forest–children come, joining hands in pleasant fear, and, sitting upon grassy mounds, wonder who inhabits them, wonder who and what it is that cannot wonder any more. And haply they shall tell this tale – become a legend then – when he who writes, and ye who read, are dust.
Ay, and tell it better far, more simply, and more sweetly, never having gone astray from the inborn sympathy. For every grown–up man is apt to mar the uses of his pen with bitter words, and small, and twaddling; conceiting himself to be keen in the first, just in the second, and sage in the third. For all of these let him crave forgiveness of God, his fellow–creatures, and himself, respectively.
Sir Cradock Nowell, still alive to the normal sense of duty, tottered away on John Rosedew?s arm, from the grave of his half–brother. He had never learned whose hand it was that dug the grave near by, and no one ever forced that unhappy knowledge on him. This last blow, which seemed to strike his chiefest prop from under him, had left its weal on his failing mind in great marks of astonishment. That such a strong, great man should drop, and he, the elder and the weaker, be left to do without him! He was going to the Rectory now, to have a glass of wine, after fatigue of the funeral, a vintage very choice and rare, according to Mr. Rosedew, and newly imported from Oxford. And truly that was its origin. It might have claimed “founder?s kin fellowship,” like most of the Oxford wine–skins.
“Wonderful, wonderful man!” said poor Sir Cradock, doing his best to keep his back very upright, from a sudden suffusion of memory, – ”to think that he should go first, John! Oh, if I had a son left, he should take that man for his model.”
“Scarcely that,” John Rosedew thought, knowing all the circumstances; “but of the dead I will say no harm.”
“So quick, so ready, so up for anything! Ah, I remember he knocked a man down just at the corner by this gate here, where the dandelion–seed is. And afterwards he proved how richly he deserved it. That is the way to do things, John.”
“I am not quite sure of that,” said the conscientious parson; “it might be wiser to prove that first; and then to abstain from doing it. I remember an instance in point – ”
“Of course you do. You always do, John, and I wish you wouldn?t. But that has nothing to do with it. You are always cutting me short, John; and worse than ever since you came back, and they talked of you so at Oxford. I hope they have not changed you, John.”
He looked at the white–haired rector, with an old man?s jealousy. Who else had any right to him?
“My dear old friend,” replied John Rosedew, with kind sorrow in his eyes, “I never meant to cut you short. I will try not to do it again. But I know I am rude sometimes, and I am always sorry afterwards.”
“Nonsense, John; don?t talk of it. I understand you by this time; and we allow for one another. But now about my son, my poor unlucky boy.”
“To be sure, yes,” said the other old man, not wishing to hurry matters. And so they stopped and probed the hedge instead of one another.
“I don?t know how it is,” at last Sir Cradock Nowell said, being rather aggrieved with John Rosedew for not breaking ground upon him – ”but how hard those stubs of ash are! Look at that splinter, almost severed by a man who does not know how to splash; Jem, his name is, poor Garnet told me, Jem – something or other – and yet all I can do with my stick won?t fetch it away from the stock.”
“Like a child who will not quit his father, however his father has treated him.”
“What do you mean by that, John? Are you driving at me again? I thought you had given it over.”
“I never give over anything,” John answered, in a manner for him quite melodramatic, and beyond his usual key.
“No. We always knew how stubborn you were. And now you are worse than ever.”
“No fool like an old fool,” John Rosedew answered, smiling sweetly, yet with some regret. “Cradock, I am such a fool I shall let out everything.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sir Cradock Nowell, leaning heavily on his staff, and setting his white face rigidly, yet with every line of it ready to melt; “John, I have heard strange rumours, or I have dreamed strange dreams. In the name of God, what is it, John? My son! – my only son – ”
He could say no more, but turned away, and bowed his head, and trembled.
“Your only son, your innocent son, has been at my house these three days; and when you like, you can see him.”
“When I like – ah, to be sure! I don?t like many people. I am getting very old, John. And no one to come after me. It seems a pity, don?t you think, and every one against me so?”
“You can take your own part still, my friend. And you have to take your son?s part.”
“Yes, to be sure, my son?s part. Perhaps he will come back some day. And I know he did not do it, now; and I was very hard to him – don?t you think I was, John? – very hard to my poor Craddy, and he was so like his mother!”
“But you will be very kind to him now; and he will be such a comfort to you, now he is come back again, and going away no more.”
“I declare you make me shake, John. You do talk such nonsense. One would think you knew all about him, – more than his own father does. What have I done, to be kept like this in the dark, all in the dark? And you seem to think that I was hard to him.”
“Cradock, all you have to do is just to say the word; just to say that you wish to see him, and your son will come and talk to you.”
“Talk to me! Oh yes, I should like to talk to him – very much – I mean, of course, if he is at leisure.”
He leaned on his stick, and tried to think, while John Rosedew hurried off; and of all his thoughts the foremost were, “What will Cradock my boy be like; and what shall I give him for dinner?”
Cradock came up shyly, gently, looking at his father first, then waiting to be looked at. The old man fixed his eyes upon him, at first with some astonishment – for his taste in dress was somewhat outraged by the Broadway style – then, in spite of all the change, remembrance of his son returned, and love, and sense of ownership. Last of all, auctorial pride in the young man?s width of shoulder, blended with soft recollections of the time he dandled him.
“Why, Cradock! It is my poor son Cradock! What a size you are grown, my boy, my boy!”
“Oh, father, I am sure you want me. Only try me once again. I am not at all a radical.”
“Crad, you never could be. I knew you must come round at last to my way of thinking. When you had seen the world, Crad; when you had seen the world a bit, as your father did before you.”
And so they made the matter up, in politics, and dress, and little touches of religion, and in the depth of kindred love which underlies the latter; and never after was there word, except of migrant petulance, between the crotchety old man, and the son who held his heart?s key.
All this while we have been loth to turn to Mrs. Corklemore, and contemplate her discomfiture, although in strict sequence of events we ought to have done so long ago. But it is so very painful – and now–a–days all writers agree with Epicurus, in regarding pain as the worst of evils – so bitter is the task to describe a lovely mother failing, in spite of all exertion, to do her duty by her child, in robbing other people, that really – ah well–a–day, physic must be taken.
At the time of her dismissal from the halls of Nowelhurst, Mr. Corklemore had been so glad to see his pretty wife again, and that queer little Flore, who amused him so by pinching his stiff leg, and crying “haw,” and he had found the house so desolate, and the absence of plague so unwholesome, and the responsibility of having a will of his own so horrible, that he scarcely cared to ask the reason why they were come home. And Georgie – who was not thoroughly heartless, else how could she have got on so? – thought Coo Nest very snug and nice, with none to contradict her. So she found relief awhile, in banishing her worse, while she indulged her better half.
Let me do the same by suppressing here that evil tendency to moralise. In Georgie?s case, as well as mine, the indulgence possessed at any rate the attractions of change and variety. But, knowing how strictly we are bound by the canons of philosophy to suspect and put the curb on every natural bias, that good young woman soon refrained from over–active encouragement of her inclination to goodness. Rallying her sense of right, she vanquished very nobly all the seductions of honesty, and, by a virtuous effort, marched from the Capua of virtue.
She stood upon the wood–crowned heights which look upon Coo Nest, and as the smoke came curling up, the house seemed very small to her. What a thing to call a garden! And the pigeon–house at Nowelhurst was nearly as large as our stable! And oh that little vinery, where one knew every single bunch, and came every day to watch its ripening, and the little fuss of its colouring, like an ogre watching a pet babe roasting. Surely nature never meant her to live upon so small a scale; or why had she been gifted with such large activities?
She turned her back upon Coo Nest, and her face to Nowelhurst Hall, and in her mind?s eye saw a place ever so much larger.
Then a pleasant sound came up the hollow, a nice ring of revolving wheels coquetting with the best C springs and all the new improvements. Well–mettled horses, too, were there, stepping together sonipedally, and a footman could be seen, whose legs must stand him in 60l. a year.
“That odious old Sir Julius Wallop and his wizen–faced wife come to patronize us again and say, ‘Ha, Corklemore, snug little place, charming situation; but I think I should pull it down and rebuild; no room for Chang to stand in it. And how is my old friend, Sir Cradock, your forty–fifth cousin, I believe? Ah, he has a nice place.’ I haven?t the heart to meet them now, and their patronizing disparagement. Heigho! It is a nice turn–out. And yet they have at Nowelhurst three more handsome carriages. And it does look so much better to have two footmen there behind; and I do like watered linings so. How nice Flo did look by my side in that new barouche! Oh, my darling child, I must not give way to selfish feelings. I must do my duty towards you.”
Therefore she proceeded, against her better nature, in the face of prudence, with her attempt to set aside poor Sir Cradock Nowell, and obtain fiduciary possession of his property. Cradock was lost in the Taprobane, – of that there could be no doubt; and so she was saved all further trouble of laying before the civil authorities the stronger evidence they required before issuing a warrant. But all was going very nicely towards the commencement of an inquiry as to the old man?s state of mind. Then suddenly she was checkmated, and never moved a pawn again.
One afternoon, Mrs. Corklemore was sitting in her drawing–room, expecting certain visitors, and quite ready to be bored with them, because they were leading gossips – ladies who gave the first complexion to any nascent narrative. And Georgie knew how to handle them. In the county talk which must ensue, only let them take her side, and all the world would feel for her in her very painful position.
After a rumble of rapid wheels, and a violent pull at the bell, which made the lady of the house to jump, because they had just had the bell–hanger, into her sanctuary came with a cooler than curcumine temperature, not indeed Lady Alberta Smith and her daughter Victorina Beatrice, but Eoa Nowell and her cousin Cradock.
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