Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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But Eliza Ducksacre, though little versed in mintage, and taking pig–rings for halfpence, knew when her presence had better be absence, as well as a sleeping partner does at the association?s bankruptcy. So, after showing them up to the door, she slipped away into the side–cupboard which Mr. Rosedew had called a “sitting–room.”
Then John took Amy?s bonnet off (after ruining the strings), and stroked her pretty hair down, and took her young cheeks in his hands, and begged her not to tremble so, because she would quite upset him. Only she might cry a little, if she thought it would do her good. But when she put her hand up, and gave a dry sob only, the father led her very tenderly into the little chamber.
It was a wretched little room, like a casual pauper?s home, when he gets one, only much lower and smaller. Amy took all of it in at a glance, for in matters of that sort a woman?s perception is, when compared to a man?s, as forked lightning compared to a blunt dessert fork.
She even knew why the bed was awry; which her father could sooner have written ten scolia than discover. The bed was placed so because poor Cradock, jumping up all of a sudden in an early stage of illness, and before his head grew soft, had knocked a great piece of plaster away from the projecting hip–beam.
Now Craddy was looking away from them, sitting up in the sack–cloth bed, and trying with the sage gravity of fixed hallucination to read some lines which his fancy had written on the glazed dirt that served for a window. That window perhaps pronounced itself more by candlelight than by daylight, and the landlord had forbidden any attempt at cleaning it, because he knew that the frame would drop out. Two candles, the residue of two pounds which Mr. Rosedew had paid for, only helped to interpret the squalid room more forcibly.
While Amy stood there, shocked and frightened, and her father was thinking what to say, the poor sick fellow turned towards them, and his eyes met hers. She saw that the tint of her lover?s eyes was gone from a beautiful deep grey to the tone of a withered oak–leaf, the pupils forthstanding haggardly, the whites dull and chased with blood veins, the sockets marked with a cloudy blue, and channeled with storms of sorrow; the countenance full of long suffering – gaunt, and wan, and weary.
Amy could not weep, but gazed, never thinking anything, with all the love and pity, devotion and faith eternal, which are sure to shine in a woman?s eyes when trouble strikes its light there. How different from the shy maid?s glance which, only a month or two ago, would have met his youthful overtures! And how infinitely grander! Something of the good All–Father?s power and mercy in it.
She kept her eyes upon him. She had no power to move them. And they changed exactly as his did. The pale glance wandering into her gaze, with an appealing submissive motion, eager to settle somewhere, but too faint to ask for sympathy, began to feel its way and fasten, began to quiver with vibrant light and sense of resting somewhere, began to quicken, flush, and deepen – from what fountain God only knows – then to waver and suffuse (in feeble consciousness of grief), retire and return again, fluttering to some remembered home, as a bird in the dark comes to his nest; then to thrill, and beam, and sparkle with the light, the life, the love.
So with a weak but joyful cry, like a shipwrecked man at his hearth again, he stretched out both his wasted arms, and Amy was there without knowing it.She laid his white cheek on her shoulder, and let her hair flow over it; she held him up with her own pure breast, till his worn heart beat on her warm one. Then she sobbed, and laughed, and sobbed, and called him her world, and heart, and heaven, and kissed his nestling forehead, and looked, and asked, oh, where the love was. All she begged for was one word, just one little word, if you please, to know who was to come to comfort him. Oh, he must know her – of course he must – wouldn?t she know him, that was all, though she hadn?t a breath of life left? His own, his faith, his truth, his love – his own – let him say who, and she never would cry again. Only say it once, his own —
“Yes, your Amy, Amy, Amy. Say it again, oh! say it again, my poor everlasting love!”
Suddenly the barriers of his frozen grief were loosened. With a feeble arm staying on her, although it could not cling to her, he burst into a flood of tears, from the fountain of great waters whose source and home is God.
Then John, who had stood at the door all the time, with his white head bowed on his coat–sleeve, came forward and took a hand of each, knelt by the bed, and gave thanks. They wanted not to talk of it, nor any doctor to tell them. Because they had an angel?s voice, that God would be gracious to them.
“Darlings, didn?t I tell you,” said Amy, looking up at them, with her rich curls tear–bespangled, like a young grape–leaf in the vinery; “don?t you know that I was sure our Father would never forsake us; and that even a simple thing like me might fetch back my own blessing? Oh, you never would have loved me so; only God knew it was good for us.”
While she spoke, Cradock looked at her with a faint far–off intelligence, not entering into her arguments. He only cared to hear her voice; to see her every now and then; and touch her to make sure of it; then to dream that it was an angel; then to wake and be very glad that it was not, but was Amy.
Slowly from that night, but surely, Cradock?s mind began to return, like a child to its mother, who is stretching forth her arms to it; timid at first and wondering, and apt for a long time to reel and stagger at very slight shocks or vibrations. Then as the water comes over the ice in a gradual gentle thaw, beginning to gleam at the margin first, where the reeds are and the willow–trees, then gliding slowly and brightly on, following every skate–mark or line where a rope or stick has been, till it flows into a limpid sheet; so crystal reason dawned and wavered, felt its way and went on again, tracing many a childish channel, many a dormant memory, across that dull lethargic mind, until the bright surface was restored, and the lead line of judgment could penetrate.
Mr. Rosedew quartered himself and his Amy at the Portland Hotel hard by, and reckless of all expense moved Cradock into Mrs. Ducksacre?s very best room. He would have done this long ago, only the doctor would not allow it. Then Amy, who did not like London at all, because there were so few trees in it, hired some of the Christmas–grove from the fair greengrocers, and decked out the little sitting–room, so that Cradock had sweet visions of the Queen?s bower mead. As for herself, she would stay in the shop, perhaps half an hour together, and rejoice in the ways of the children. All her pocket–money went into the till as if you had taken a shovel to it. Barcelonas, Brazils, and cob–nuts she was giving all day to the “warmints;” and golden oranges rolled before her as from Atalanta?s footstep.
It is a most wonderful fact, and far beyond my philosophy, that instead of losing her roses in London, as a country girl ought to have done, Amy bloomed with more Jacqueminot upon very bright occasions – more Louise Odier constantly, with Goubalt in the dimples, then toning off at any new fright to Malmaison, or Devoniensis – more of these roses now carmined or mantled in the delicate turn of her cheeks than ever had nestled and played there in the free air of the Forest. Good Aunt Doxy was quite amazed on the Saturday afternoon, when meeting her brother and niece at the station – for it made no difference in the outlay, and the drive would do her good – she found, not a pale and withered child, worn out with London racket, and freckled with dust and smokespots, but the loveliest Amy she had ever yet seen – which was something indeed to say, – with a brilliance of bloom which the good aunt at once proceeded to test with her handkerchief.
But before the young lady left town – to wit, on the Friday evening – she had a little talk with Rachel Jupp, or rather with strapping Issachar, which nearly concerns our story.
“Oh, Miss Amy,” said Rachel that morning – ”Miss Amy” sounded more natural somehow than “Miss Rosedew” did – ”so you?re going away, miss, after all, and never see my Looey; and a pretty child she is, and a good one, and a quiet one, and father never lift hand to her now; and the poor young gentleman saved her life, and he like her so much, and she like him.”
“I will come and see her this evening, as you have so kindly asked me. That is, with my papa?s leave, and if you don?t mind coming for me to the inn at six o?clock. I am afraid of walking by myself after dark in London. My papa has found some books at the bookstalls, and he is so delighted with them he never wants me after dinner.”
“Dear Miss Amy, would you mind, then – would you mind taking a drop of tea with us?”
“To be sure I will. I mean, if it is quite convenient, and if you can be spared here, and if – oh nothing else, Mrs. Jupp, only I shall be most happy.” She was going to say, “and if you won?t make any great preparations,” but she knew how sensitive poor people are at restraints upon hospitality.
So grand preparations were made; and grander still they would have been, and more formal and uncomfortable, if Amy had finished her sentence. Rachel at once rushed off to her lord, whose barge–shaped frame was moored alongside of his wharf, dreaming as stolidly as none except a bargee can dream. He immediately shelled out seven and sixpence from the cuddy of his inexpressibles, and left his wife to her own devices, except in the matter of tea itself. The tea he was resolved to fetch from a little shop in the barge–walk, where, as Mother Hamp declared, who kept the tobacco–shop by the gate, they sold tea as strong as brandy.
“If you please to excuse our Zakey, miss, taking no more tea,” said Mrs. Jupp, after Issachar had laboured very hard at it, the host being bound, in his opinion, to feast even as the guest did; “because he belong to the antiteatotallers, as takes nothing no stronger than gin, miss.”
“Darrn?t take more nor one noggin of tay, miss,” cried Mr. Jupp, touching his short front curl with a hand scrubbed in quick–lime and copperas; “likes it, but it don?t like me, miss. Makes me feel quite intemperant like, – so narvous, and queer, and staggery. Looey, dear, dad?s mild mixture, for to speak the young lady?s health in. Leastways, by your lave, miss.”
Dad?s mild mixture soon made its appearance in a battered half–gallon can, and Mr. Jupp was amazed and grieved that none but himself would quaff any. The strongest and headiest stuff it was, which even the publicans of London, alchymists of villainy, can quassify, and cocculise, and nux–vomicise up to proof. Then, the wrath of hunger and thirst being mollified, Issachar begged leave to smoke, if altogether agreeable, and it would all go up the chimney; which, however, it refrained from doing.
Now, while he is smoking, I may admit that the contents of Mr. Jupp?s census–paper (if, indeed, he ever made legal entries, after punching the collector?s head) have not been transcribed to the satisfaction of the Registrar–General or Home–Office, or whoever or whatever he or it is, who or which insists upon knowing nine times as much about us as we know about ourselves. Mr. Jupp was a bargee of Catholic views; “it warn?t no odds to he” whether he worked upon wharf or water, sea or river or canal, at coal, or hay, or lime, breeze, or hop–poles, or anything else. Now and then he went down to Gravesend, or up the river to Kingston or Staines; but his more legitimate area was navigable by three canals, where a chap might find time to eat his dinner, and give his wife and nag their?n. Issachar?s love of nature always culminated at one o?clock; and then how he loved to halt his team under a row of alders, and see the painted meadows gay, and have grub and pipe accordin?. His three canals, affording these choice delights unequally, were the Surrey, the Regent?s, and the Basingstoke.
That last was, indeed, to his rural mind, the nearest approach to Paradise; but as there is in all things a system of weights and measures, Mr. Jupp got better wages upon the other two, and so could not very often afford to indulge his love of the beautiful. Hence he kept his household gods within reach of the yellow Tibers, and took them only once a year for a treat upon the Anio. Then would Rachel Jupp and Looey spend a summer month afloat, enjoying the rural glimpses and the sliding quietude of inland navigation, and keeping the pot a–boiling in the state–cabin of the Enterprise or the Industrious Maiden.
Now Amy having formed Loo?s acquaintance, and said what was right and pretty in gratitude for their entertainment and faithful kindness to Cradock, was just about to leave them, when Issachar Jupp delivered this speech, very slowly, as a man who has got to the marrow and pope?s–eye of his pipe: —
“Now ‘scuse me for axing of you, miss, and if any ways wrong in so doing, be onscrupulous for to say so, and no harm done or taken. But I has my raisons for axing, from things as I?ve a ‘ear?d him say, and oncommon good raisons too. If you please, what be the arkerate name and dwellin?–place of the young gent as saved our Loo? Mr. Clinkers couldn?t find out, miss, though he knowed as it warn?t ‘Charles Newman.’”
“Don?t you know his story, then?” asked Amy, in some astonishment. “I thought you knew all about it, and were so kind to him partly through that, though you were kind enough not to talk to me about it.”
“We guesses a piece here and there, miss, since he talk so wild in his illness. And that?s what made me be axing of you; for I knowed one name right well as he out with once or twice; not at all a common name nother. But we knows for sartin no more nor this, that he be an onlucky young gent, and the best as ever come into these parts.”
“There can be no harm in my telling you, such faithful friends as you are. And the sad tale is known to every one, far and wide, in our part of Hampshire.”
“Hampshire, ah!” said Mr. Jupp, with a very mysterious look; “we knowed Mr. Rosedew come from Hampshire, and that set us the more a–thinkin? of it. Loo, child, run for dad?s bacco–box, as were left to Mother Richardson?s, and if it ain?t there, try at Blinkin’ Davy?s, and if he ain?t got it, try Mother Hamp.”
The child, sadly disappointed, for her eyes were large with hopes of a secret about her “dear gentleman,” as she called Cradock, departed upon her long errand. Then Amy told, as briefly as possible, all she knew of the great mishap, and the misery which followed it. From time to time her soft voice shook, and her tears would not be disciplined; while Rachel Jupp?s strayed anyhow. But Issachar listened dryly and sternly, with one great brown hand on his forehead. Not once did he interrupt the young lady, by gesture, look, or question. But when she had finished, he said very quietly,
“One name, miss, as have summat to do with it, I?ve not ‘ear?d you sinnify; and it were the sound o’ that very name as fust raised my coorosity. ‘Scuse me, miss, but I wouldn?t ax, only for good raison.”
“I hardly know what right I have to mention any other names,” replied Amy, blushing and hesitating, for she did not wish to speak of Pearl Garnet; “there is only one other name connected at all with the matter, and that one of no importance.”
“Ah,” returned Jupp, with a glance as intense as a cat?s through a dairy keyhole, “maybe the tow–rope ain?t nothin’ to do with the goin’ of the barge, miss. That name didn?t happen permiskious now to be the name of Garnet, ma?am?”
“Yes, indeed it did. But how could you know that, Mr. Jupp?”
“Pearl Garnet were the name I ‘ear?d on, and that ain?t a very common name, leastways to my experience. Now, could it ‘ave ‘appened by a haxident that her good father?s name were Bull Garnet?”
Amy drew back, for Mr. Jupp, in his triumph and excitement, had laid down his pipe, and was stretching out his unpeeled crate of a hand, as if to take her by the shoulder, and shake the whole truth out of her. It was his fashion with Rachel, and he quite forgot the difference. Mrs. Jupp cried, “Zakey, Zakey!” in a tone of strong remonstrance. But he was not abashed very seriously.
“It couldn?t be now, could it, miss; it worn?t in any way possible that Pearl Garnet?s father was ever known by the name of Bull Garnet?”
“But indeed that is his name, Mr. Jupp. Why should you be so incredulous?”
“Oncredulous it be, miss; oncredulous, as I be a sinner. Rachey, who?d ha’ thought it? How things does come about, to be sure! Now please to tell me, miss – very careful, and not passin? lightly of anything; never you mind how small it seem – every word you knows about Pearl Garnet and that there – job there; and all you knows on her father too.”
“You must prove to me first, Mr. Jupp, that I have any right to do so.”
Issachar now was strongly excited, a condition most unusual with him, except when his wife rebelled, and that she had, years ago, ceased to do. He put his long black face, which was working so that the high cheek–bones almost shut the little eyes, quite close to Amy?s little white ear, and whispered,
“If ye dunna tell me, ye?ll cry for it arl the life long, ye?ll never right the innocent, and ye?ll let the guilty ride over ye. I canna tell no more just now, but every word is gospel. I be no liar, miss, though I be rough enough, God knows. Supposes He made me so.”
Then Amy, trembling at his words, and thinking that she had hurt his feelings, put her soft little hand, for amends, into Zakey?s great black piece of hold, which looked like the bilge of a barge; and he wondered what to do with it, such a sort of chap as he was. He had never heard of kissing a hand, and even if he had it would scarcely be a timely offering, for he was having a chaw to compose himself – yet he knew that he ought not, in good manners, to let go her hand in a hurry; so what did he do but slip off a ring (one of those so–called galvanic rings, in which sailors and bargemen have wonderful faith as an antidote to rheumatics, tick dolorous, and the Caroline Morgan), and this ring he passed down two of her fingers, for all females do love trinkets so. Amy kept it carefully, and will put it on her chatelaine, if ever she institutes one.
Then, being convinced by his words and manner, she told him everything she knew about the Garnet family – their behaviour in and after the great misfortune; the strange seclusion of Pearl, and Mr. Garnet?s illness. And then she recurred to some vague rumours which had preceded their settlement in the New Forest. To all this Issachar listened, without a word or a nod, but with his narrow forehead radiant with concentration, his lips screwed up in a serrate ring, after the manner of a medlar, and a series of winks so intensely sage that his barge might have turned a corner with a team of eight blind horses, and no nod wanted for one of them.
“Ain?t there no more nor that, miss?” he asked, with some disappointment, when the little tale was ended; “can?t you racollack no more?”
“No, indeed I cannot. And if you had not some important object, I should be quite ashamed of telling you so much gossip. If I may ask you a question now, what more did you expect me to tell you?”
“That they had know?d, miss, as Bull Garnet were Sir Cradock Nowell?s brother.”
“Mr. Garnet Sir Cradock?s brother! You must be mistaken, Mr. Jupp. My father has known Sir Cradock Nowell ever since he was ten years old; and he could not have failed to know it, if it had been so.”
“Most like he do know it, miss. But dunna you tell him now, nor any other charp. It be true as gospel for all that, though.”
“Then Robert and Pearl are Cradock?s first cousins, and Mr. Garnet is his uncle!”
“Not ezackly as you counts things,” answered the bargeman, looking at the fire; “but in the way as we does.”
Amy felt that she must ask no more, at least upon that subject; and that she was not likely to speak of it even to her father.
“Let him go, miss,” continued Issachar, referring now to Cradock; “let him go for a long sea–vohoyage, same as doctor horders un. He be better out of the way for a spell or two. The Basingstoke ain?t fur enoo, whur I meant to ‘ave took him. ‘A mun be quite out o’ the kintry till this job be over like. And niver a word as to what I thinks to coom anigh his ear, miss, if so be you vallies his raison.”
“But you forget, Mr. Jupp, that you have not told me, as yet, at all what it is you do think. You said some things which frightened me, and you told me one which astonished me. Beyond that I know nothing.”
“And better so, my dear young leddy, a vast deal better so. Only you have the very best hopes, and keep your spirits roaring. Zakey Jupp never take a thing in hand but what he go well through with it. Ask Rachey about that. Now this were a casooal haxident, mind you, only a casooal haxident – ”
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