Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“Of course we all know that, Mr. Jupp. No one would dare to think anything else.”
“Yes, yes; all right, miss. And we?ll find out who did the casooal haxident – that?s all, miss, that?s all. Only you hold your tongue.”
She was obliged to be content with this, and on the whole it greatly encouraged her. Then she returned to the Portland Hotel under convoy of all the Jupp family, and Issachar got into two or three rows by hustling every one out of her way. Although poor Amy was frightened at this, no doubt it increased her faith in him through some feminine process of dialectics unknown to the author of the Organon.
Though Amy could not bear to keep anything secret from her father, having given her word she of course observed it, and John was greatly surprised at the spirits in which his daughter took leave of Cradock. But there were many points in Amy?s character, as has been observed before, which her father never understood; and he concluded that this was a specimen of them, and was delighted to see her so cheerful.
Now, being returned to Nowelhurst, he held counsel with sister Eudoxia, who thoroughly deserved to have a vote after contributing so to the revenue. And the result of their Lateran – for they both were bricks – council was as follows: That John was bound, howsoever much it went against his proud stomach after his previous treatment, to make one last appeal from the father according to the spirit to the father according to the flesh, in favour of the unlucky son who was now condemned to exile, so as at least to send him away in a manner suitable to his birth. That, if this appeal were rejected, and the appellant treated unpleasantly – which was almost sure to follow – he could not, consistently with his honour and his clerical dignity, hold any longer the benefices (paltry as they were), the gifts of a giver now proved unkind. That thereupon Mr. Rosedew should first provide for Cradock?s voyage so far as his humble means and small influence permitted; and after that should settle at Oxford, where he might get parochial duty, and where his old tutorial fame and repute (now growing European from a life of learning) would earn him plenty of pupils —
“And a professorship at least!” Miss Eudoxia broke in; for, much as she nagged at her brother, she was proud as could be of his knowledge.
“Marry, ay, and a bishopric,” John answered, smiling pleasantly; “you have often menaced me, Doxy dear, with Jemima?s apron.”
So, on a bright day in January, John Rosedew said to Jem Pottles, “Saddle me the horse, James.” And they saddled him the “horse” – not so called by his master through any false aggrandisement (such as maketh us talk of “the servants,” when we have only got a maid–of–all–work), but because the parson, in pure faith, regarded him as a horse of full equine stature and super–equine powers.
After tightening up the girths, then – for that noble cob, at the saddling period, blew himself out with a large sense of humour (unappreciated by the biped who bestraddled him unwarily), an abdominal sense of humour which, as one touch of nature makes the whole world kin, induced the pigskin to circulate after the manner of a brass dog?s collar – tush, I mean a dog?s brass collar – in order to learn what the joke was down in those festive regions; therefore, having buckled him up six inches, till the witty nag creaked like a tight–laced maid, away rode the parson towards the Hall.Much liefer would he have walked by the well–known and pleasant footpath, but he felt himself bound, as one may say, to go in real style, sir.
The more he reflected upon the nature of his errand, the fainter grew his hopes of success; he even feared that his ancient friendship would not procure him a hearing, so absorbed were all the echoes of memory in the pique of parental jealousy, and the cajoleries of a woman. And the consequences of failure – how bitter they must be to him and his little household! Moreover, he dearly loved his two little quiet parishes; and, though he reaped more tithe from them in kindness than in kind or by commutation, to his contented mind they were far sweeter than the incumbency of Libya–cum–Gades, and both P?ni for his beadles.
He thought of Amy with a bitter pang, and of his sister with heaviness, as he laid his hand – for he never used whip – on the fat flank of the pony to urge him almost to a good round trot, that suspense might sooner be done with. And when the Hall was at last before him, he rode up, not to the little postern hard by the housekeeper?s snuggery (which had seemed of old to be made for him), but to the grand front entrance, where the orange–trees in tubs were, and the myrtles, and the pilasters.
Most of the trees had been removed, with the aid of little go–carts, before the frosts began; but they impressed John Rosedew none the less, so far as his placid and simple mind was open to small impressions.
Dismounting from Cor?bus, whose rusty snaffle and mildewed reins would have been a disgrace to any horse, as Amy said every day, he rang the main entrance bell, and wondered whether they would let him in.
That journey had cost him a very severe battle, to bear himself humbly before the wrong, and to do it in the cause of the injured. In the true and noble sense of pride, there could not be a prouder man than the gentle parson. But he ruled that noble human pride with its grander element, left in it by the Son of God, His incarnation?s legacy, the pride which never apes, but is itself humility.
At last the door was opened, not by the spruce young footman (who used to look so much at Amy, and speer about as to her expectations, because she was only a parson?s daughter), but by that ancient and most respectable Job Hogstaff, patriarch of butlers. Dull and dim as his eyes were growing, Job, who now spent most of his time in looking for those who never came, had made out Mr. Rosedew?s approach, by virtue of the pony?s most unmistakable shamble. Therefore he pulled down his best coat from a jug–crook, twitched his white hair to due stiffness, pushed the ostiary footman back with a scorn which rankled for many a day under a zebra waistcoat, and hobbled off at his utmost pace to admit the visitor now so strange, though once it was strange without him.
Mr. Rosedew walked in very slowly and stiffly, then turned aside to a tufted mat, and began to wipe his shoes in the most elaborate manner, though there was not a particle of dirt upon them. Old Job?s eyes blinked vaguely at him: he felt there was something wrong in that.
“Don?t ye do that, sir, now; for God?s sake don?t do that. I can?t abear it; and that?s the truth.”
Full well the old man remembered how different, in the happy days, had been John Rosedew?s entrance; and now every scrub on the mat was a rub on his shaky hard–worn heart.
Mr. Rosedew looked mildly surprised, for his apprehension (as we know) was swifter on paper than pavement. But he held forth his firm strong hand, and the old man bowed tearfully over it.
“Any news of our boy, sir? Any news of my boy as was?”
“Yes, Job; very bad news. He has been terribly ill in London, and nobody there to care for him.”
“Then I?ll throw up my situation, sir. Many?s the time I have threatened them, but didn?t like to be too hard like. And pretty goings on there?d be, without old Job in the pantry. But I bain?t bound to stand everything for the saving of them as goes on so. And that Hismallitish woman, as find fault with my buckles, and nice things she herself wear – I?d a given notice a week next Monday, but that I likes Miss Oa so, and feel myself bound, as you may say, to see out this Sir Cradock; folk would say I were shabby to leave him now he be gettin’ elderly. Man and boy for sixty year, and began no more than boot–cleaning; man and boy for sixty–three year, come next Lammas–tide. I should like it upon my tombstone, sir, with what God pleases added, if I not make too bold, and you the master of the churchyard, if so be you should live long enough, when my turn come, God willing.”
“It will not be in my power, Job. But if ever it is, you may trust me.”
“And I wants that in I was tellin’ my niece about, ‘Put Thy hand in the hollow of my thigh.’ Holy Bible, you know, sir, and none can?t object to that.”
“Come, Job, my good friend, you must not talk so sepulchrally. Leave His own good time to God.”
“To be sure, sir; I bain?t in no hurry yet. I?ve a sight of things to see to, and my master must go first, he be so very particular. I?ll live to see the young master yet, as my duty is for to do. He ‘ont carry on with a Hismallitish woman; he ‘ont say, ‘What, Hogstaff, are your wits gone wool–gatherin??’ and his own wits all the time, sir, fleeced, fleeced, fleeced – ”
Here John Rosedew cut short the contrast between the present and the future master (which would soon have assumed a golden tinge as of the Fourth Eclogue), for the parson was too much a gentleman to foster millennial views at the expense of the head of the household.
“Job, take my card to your master; and tell him, with my compliments, that I wish to see him alone, if he will so far oblige me. By–the–by, I ought to have written first, to request an interview; but it never occurred to me.”
He could scarcely help sighing as he thought of formality re–established on the ruins of familiarity.
“He?ll be in the little coved room, no doubt, long o’ that Hismallitish woman. But step in here a moment, sir.”
Instead of passing the doorway, which the butler had thrown open for him, Mr. Rosedew stood scrupulously on the mat, as if it marked his territory, until the old man came back and showed him into the black oak parlour.
The little coved room was calmly and sweetly equal to the emergency. The moment Job?s heels were out of sight, Mrs. Corklemore, who had been indulging in a nice little chat with Sir Cradock, “when she ought to have been at work all the while, plain–sewing for her little household, for who was to keep the wolf from the door, if she shrank from a woman?s mission – though irksome to her, she must confess, for it did hurt her poor fingers so” – here she held up a dish–cloth rather rougher than a coal–sack, which she had stolen cleverly from her host?s own lower regions, and did not know from a glass–cloth; but it suited her because it was brown, and set off her lily hands so; – ”oh, Uncle Cradock, in all this there is something sweetly sacred, because it speaks of home!” She was darning it all the while with white silk, and took good care to push it away when any servant came in. It had lasted her now for a week, and had earned her a hundred guineas, having made the most profound impression upon its legitimate owner. She would earn another hundred before the week was out by knitting a pair of rough worsted socks for her little Flore, “though it made her heart bleed to think how that poor child hated the feel of them.”
Now she rose in haste from her chair, and pushed the fortunate dish–cloth, with a very expressive air, into her pretty work–basket, and drew the strings loudly over it.
“What are you going for, Georgie? You need not leave the room, I am sure.”
“Yes, uncle dear, I must. You are so clear and so honest, I know; and most likely I take it from you. But I could not have anything to do with any secret dealings, uncle, even though you wished it, which I am sure you never could. I never could keep a secret, uncle, because I am so shallow. Whenever secrecy is requested, I feel as if there was something dishonest, either done or contemplated. Very foolish of me, I know, but my nature is so childishly open. And of course Mr. Rosedew has a perfect right, and is indeed very wise, to conceal his scheme with respect to his daughter.”
“Georgie, stay in this room, if you please; he is not coming here.”
“But that poor simple Amy will, if he has brought her with him. Well, I will stay here and lecture her, uncle, about her behaviour to you.”
After all this the old man set forth, in some little irritation, to receive his once–loved friend. He entered the black oak parlour in a cold and stately manner, and bowed without a word to John, who had crossed the room to meet him. The parson held out his hand, as a lover and preacher of peace should do; but the offer, ay, and the honour too, not being at all appreciated, he withdrew it with a crimson blush all over his bright clear cheeks, as deep as his daughter?s would have been.
Then Sir Cradock Nowell, trying to seem quite calm and collected, addressed his visitor thus:
“Sir, I am indebted to you for the honour of this visit. I apologize for receiving you in a room without a fire. Pray take a chair. I have no doubt that your intentions are kind towards me.”
“I thank you,” replied the parson, speaking much faster than usual, and with the frill of his shirt–front rising; “I thank you, Sir Cradock Nowell; but I will not sit down in the house of a gentleman who declines to take my hand. I am here much against my own wishes, and only because I supposed that it was my duty to come. I am here on behalf of your son, a noble but most unfortunate youth, and now in great trouble of mind.”
If he had only said “in great bodily danger,” it might have made a difference.
“Your interest in him is very kind; and I trust that he will be grateful, which he never was to me. He has left his home in defiance of me. I can do nothing for him until he comes back, and is penitent. But surely the question concerns me rather than you, Mr. Rosedew.”
“I am sorry to find,” answered John, quite calmly, “that you think me guilty of impertinent meddling. But even that I would bear, as becomes my age and my profession,” – here he gave Sir Cradock a glance, which was thoroughly understood, because they had been at school together, – ”and more than that I would do, Cradock Nowell, for a man I have loved like you, sir.”
That “sir” came out very oddly. John poked it in, as a retractation for having called him “Cradock Nowell,” and as a salve to his own self–respect, lest he should have been too appealing. And to follow up this view of the subject, he made a bow such as no man makes to one from whom he begs anything. But Sir Cradock Nowell lost altogether the excellence of the bow. The parson had put up his knee in a way which took the old man back to Sherborne. His mind was there playing cob–nut as fifty years since, with John Rosedew. Once more he saw the ruddy, and then pugnacious, John bringing his calf up, and priming his knee, for the cob–nut to lie upon it. This he always used to do, and not care a flip for the whack upon it, instead of using his blue cloth cap, as all the rest of the boys did; because his father and mother were poor, and could only afford him one cap in a year.
And so the grand bow was wasted, as most formalities are: but if John had only known when to stop, it might have been all right after all, in spite of Georgie Corklemore. But urged by the last infirmity (except gout) of noble minds, our parsons never do know the proper time to stop. Excellent men, and admirable, they make us shrink from eternity, by proving themselves the type of it. Mr. Rosedew spoke well and eloquently, as he was sure to do; but it would have been better for his cause if he had simply described the son?s distress, and left the rest to the father?s heart. At one time, indeed, poor old Sir Cradock, who was obstinate and misguided, rather than cold and unloving, began to relent, and a fatherly yearning fluttered in his grey–lashed eyes.
But at this critical moment, three little kicks at the door were heard, and the handle rattled briskly; then a shrill little voice came through the keyhole:
“Oh pease let Fore tum in. Pease do, pease do, pease do. Me ‘ost me ummy top. Oh you naughty bad door!”
Then another kick was administered by small but passionate toe–toes. Of course your mother did not send you, innocent bright–haired popples, and with a lie so pat and glib in that pouting pearl–set mouth. Foolish mother, if she did, though it seal Attalic bargain!
Sir Cradock went to the door, and gently ordered the child away. But the interruption had been enough —ibi omnis effusus labor. When he returned and faced John Rosedew the manner of his visage was altered. The child had reminded him of her mother, and that graceful, gushing, loving nature, which tried so hard not to doubt the minister. So he did what a man in the wrong generally does instinctively; he swept back the tide of war into his adversary?s country.
“You take a very strong interest, sir, in one whose nearest relations have been compelled to abandon him.”
“I thought that your greatest grievance with him was that he had abandoned you.”
“Excuse me; I cannot split hairs. All I mean is that something has come to my knowledge – not through the proper channel, not from those who ought to have told me – something which makes your advocacy seem a little less disinterested than I might have supposed it to be.”
“Have the kindness to tell me what it is.”
“Oh, perhaps a mere nothing. But it seems a significant rumour.”
“What rumour, if you please?”
“That my – that Cradock Nowell is attached to your daughter, who behaved so ill to me. Of course, it is not true?”
“Perfectly true, every word of it.” And John Rosedew looked at Sir Cradock Nowell as proudly as ever a father looked. Amy, in his opinion, was peeress for any mortal. And perhaps he was not presumptuous.
“Ah!” was the only reply he received: an “ah” drawn out into half an ell.
“Why, I would have told you long ago, the moment that I knew it, but for your great trouble, and your bitterness towards him. You have often wished that a son of yours should marry my daughter Amy. Surely you will not blame him for desiring to do as you wished?”
“No, because he is young and foolish; but I may blame you for encouraging it, now that he is the only one.”
“Do you dare to think that I am in any way influenced by interested motives?”
“I dare to think what I please. No bullying here, John, if you please. We all know how combative you are. And, now you have forced me to it, I will tell you what will be the conviction, ay, and the expression of every one in this county, except those who are afraid of you. ‘Mr. Rosedew has entrapped the future Sir Cradock Nowell, hushed up the crime, and made all snug for his daughter at Nowelhurst Hall.’”
Sir Cradock did not mean half his words, any more than the rest of us do, when hurt; and he was bitterly sorry for them the moment they were uttered. They put an impassable barrier between him and John Rosedew, between him and his own conscience, for many a day and night to come.
Have you ever seen a pure good man, a man of large intellect and heart, a lover of truth and justice more than of himself, confront, without warning, some black charge, some despicable calumny, in a word (for I love strong English, and nothing else will tell it), some damned lie? If not, I hope you never may, for it makes a man?s heart burn so.
John Rosedew was not of the violent order. Indeed, as his sister Eudoxia said, and to her own great comfort knew, his cistern of wrathfulness was so small, and the supply–pipe so unready – as must be where the lower passions filter through the intellect – that most people thought it impossible “to put the parson out.” And very few of those who knew him could have borne to make the trial.
Even now, hurt as he was to the very depth of his heart, he was indignant more than angry.
“It would have been more manly of you, Sir Cradock Nowell, to have said this very mean thing yourself, than to have put it into the mouths of others. I grieve for you, and for myself, that so mean a man was ever my friend. Perhaps you have still some relics of gentlemanly feeling which will lead you to perform a host?s duty towards his visitor. Have the kindness to order my horse.”
Then John Rosedew, so punctilious, so polite to the poorest cottager, turned his broad back upon the baronet, and as he slowly walked to the door, these words came over his shoulder: —
“To–day you will receive my resignation of your two benefices. If I live a few years more, I will repay you all they have brought me above a curate?s stipend. My daughter is no fortune–hunter. She never shall see your son again, unless he renounce you and yours for ever, or you come and implore us humbly as now you have spoken arrogantly, contemptibly, and meanly.”
Then, fearing lest he had been too grand about a little matter – not his daughter?s marriage, but the aspersion upon himself – he closed the door very carefully, so as not to make any noise, and walked away towards his home, forgetting Cor?bus utterly. And, before his fine solid face began to recover its healthy and bashful pink, he was visited by sore misgivings as to his own behaviour; to wit, what claim had any man, however elate with the pride of right and the scorn of wrong, to talk about any fellow–man becoming humble to him? Nevertheless, he could not manage to retract the wrong expression in his letter of resignation; not from any false pride – oh no! – but for fear of being misunderstood. But that very night he craved pardon of Him before whom alone we need humbly bow; who alone can grant us anything.
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