Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“Wants a wet swab on his nob,” said the first mate, tersely; “never come to himself sure as my name is Cracklins.”
“Don?t agree with you,” answered the captain, who always snubbed the mate; “he?s a sight better now than at Blackwall. Poor young gent, I like him.”
“So do I,” said the mate, pouring out more boiling beer; “but that ain?t much to do with it. There?s the wet swab anyhow.”
About an hour before sunset, when the sky was purple, and the hot vapours piling away in slow drifts, like large haycocks walking, a gentle breeze came up and made little finger–marks on the water. First it awoke shy glances and glosses, light as the play upon richly–glazed silk, or the glimpse upon mother–of–pearl. Then it breathed on the lips of men, and they sucked at it as at spring–water. Then it came sliding, curling, ruffling, breaking the image of sky upon sea, but bringing earthly life and courage, hope, and the spirit of motion. Many a rough and gruff tar shed tears, not knowing the least about them, only from nature?s good–will and power, as turpentine flows from the pine–wood.
“Hearty, my lads, and bear a hand.” “Pipe my eye, and be blessed to me!” They rasped it off with their tarry knuckles, and would knock down any one of canine extraction, who dared to say wet was the white of their eyes.
The gurgling of the water sounded like the sobs of a sleeping child, as it went dapping and lipping and lapping, under the bows and along the run of the sweetly–gliding curvature. Soon you could see the quiet closure of the fluid behind her, the fibreing first (as of parted hair) convergent under the counter, the dimples circling in opposite ways on the right and left of the triangle, and then the linear ruffles meeting, and spreading away in broad white union, after a little jostling. You may see the same at the tail of a mill–stream, when the water is bright in July, and the alder–shade falls across it. For the sails were beginning to draw again now, and the sheets and tacks were tightening, and the braces creaking merrily, and every bit of man–stuff on board felt his heart go, and his lungs work. Therefore all were glad and chaffing, as the manner is of Britons, when the man in the foretop shouted down, “Land upon the port–bow.”
“I have looked for it all day,” said the captain; “I was right to half a league, Smith.”
The skipper had run somewhat out of his course to avoid a cyclone to the westward, but he had not allowed sufficiently for the indraught of the Gulf of Guinea, and was twenty leagues more to the eastward than he had any idea of being. Nevertheless, they had plenty of sea–room, and now from the trending of the coast might prudently stand due south. They had passed Cape Lopez three days ago, of course without having sighted it, and had run by the log three hundred miles thence, despite the dead calm of that day. So they knew that they could not be very far from the mouth of the river Congo.
As they slipped along with that freshening breeze, the water lost its brightness, and soon became of a yellowish hue, as if mixed with a turbulent freshet.Then they lay to in fifteen fathoms, and sent off a boat to the island, for the intense heat of the last few days had turned their water putrid. The first and second mates were going, and the supercargo took his gun, and declared that he would stretch his legs and bring home some game for supper. What island it was they were not quite sure, for there was nothing marked on the charts just there, to agree with their reckoning and log–run. But they knew how defective charts are.
When the water–casks were lowered, and all were ready to shove off, and the mast of the yawl was stepped, and the sail beginning to flap and jerk in a most impatient manner, Cracklins, who was a good–natured fellow, hollaed out to Cradock —
“Come along of us, Newman, old fellow. You want bowsing up, I see. Bring your little dog for a run, to rout up some rabbits or monkeys for Tippler. And have a good run yourself, my boy.”
Without stopping to think – for his mind that day had only been a dream to him – Cradock Nowell went down the side, with Wena on his arm, and she took advantage of the occasion to lick his face all over. Then he shuddered unconsciously at the gun which lay under the transoms.
“Look sharp, Cracklins,” shouted the captain from his window; “the glass is down, I see, half an inch. I can only give you two hours.”
“All right, sir,” answered the mate; “but we can?t fill the casks in that time, unless we have wonderful luck.”
The land lay about a mile away, and with the sail beginning to tug, and four oars dipping vigorously, – for the men were refreshed by the evening breeze, and wild for a run on shore, – they reached it in about ten minutes, and nosed her in on a silvery beach strewn with shells innumerable. A few dwarf rocks rose here and there, and the line of the storms was definite, but for inland view there was nothing more than a crescent terrace of palm–trees. The air felt beautifully fresh and pure, and entirely free from the crawling miasma of the African coast. No mangrove swamps, no festering mud, no reedy bayou of rottenness.
But the boat–crew found no fresh water at first; and they went in three parties to search for it. The mate with three men struck off to the right, the boatswain with three more made away to the left, only Cradock and the supercargo walked directly inland. Wena found several rabbits, all of a sandy colour, and she did enjoy most wonderfully her little chivies after them. Most of the birds were going to rest, as the rapid twilight fell, but the trees were full of monkeys, and here and there a squirrel shook the light tracery of the branches.
Tippler and Cradock wandered inland for half a mile or more, keeping along a pleasant hollow which they feared to leave, lest they should lose the way back, and as yet they had seen neither spring nor brook, although from the growth and freshness they knew that water must be near them. Then suddenly the supercargo fired his gun at a flying green pigeon, whose beauty had caught his eyes.
To his great amazement Cradock fell down, utterly helpless, pale as a corpse, not trembling, but in a syncope. His comrade tried to restore him, but without any effect, then managed to drag him part way up the slope, and set him with his back to an ebony–tree, while he ran to fetch assistance. Suddenly then an ominous sound trembled through the thick wood, a mysterious thrill of the earth and air, at the coming of war between them. It moved the wild grapes, the flowering creepers, the sinuous caoutchouc, the yellow nuts of the palm–oil–tree, and the pointed leaves of the ebony.
When the supercargo ran down to the boat, the men were pushing off hastily, the water curling and darkening, and a sullen swell increasing. A heavy mass of cloud hung to leeward, and the tropical night fell heavily, till the ship was swallowed up in it.
“Jump in, Tippler! Just in time,” cried the first mate, seizing the tiller–ropes; “not a moment to lose. We must go without water; we shall have enough out of the sky to–night. I could not tell what to do about you, and the signal?s ‘Return immediately.’”
“But I tell you, we can?t go, Cracklins. Poor Newman is up there in a fit or something. Send two men with me to fetch him.”
“How far off is he?”
“Nearly a mile.”
“Then I daren?t do it. We are risking our lives already. The typhoon will be on us in half an hour. Said so this morning – skipper wouldn?t listen. Jump in, man, jump in; or we?re off without you. Can?t you see how the sea is rising? Ease off the sheet, you lubber there. We must down with the sail in two minutes, lads, soon as ever we?ve got way on her. Lend a grip of your black fist, Julep, instead of yawing there like a nigger. Now will you come, or won?t you?”
Tippler was a brave and kind–hearted man; but he thought of his wife and children, and leaped into the boat. Although he was not a sailor, he saw the urgency of the moment, and confessed that nine lives must not be sacrificed for the sake of one. The power of the wind was growing so fast, and the lift of the waves so menacing, that the nine men needed both skill and strength to recover their ship, ere the storm burst.
And a terrible storm it was, of the genuine Capricorn type, sudden, deluging, laced with blue lightning, whirling in the opposite direction to that which our cyclones take. At midnight the Taprobane was running under bare poles, shipping great seas heavily, with an electric coronet gleaming and bristling all around truck and dog–vane. And by that time she was sixty miles from her under–supercargo.
Dr. Hutton?s baby was getting better, and Rosa, who had been, as the nurse said, “losing ground so sadly, poor dear,” was beginning to pick up her crumbs again. Therefore Rufus, who (in common with Rosa and all the rest of the household) regarded that baby as the noblest and grandest sublimation of humanity, if not as the final cause of this little world?s existence, was beginning now to make up his mind that he really might go to London that week, without being (as his wife declared he must be, if he even thought about it) cruel, inhuman, unfatherly, utterly void of all sense of duty, not to say common affection. And she knew quite well what he wanted. All he wanted was to go and see Mr. Rivers?s peach–trees in blossom, as if that was such a sight as her baby. Yes, her baby, ma?s own darling, a dove of a dumpling dillikins; to think that his own pa should prefer nasty little trees without a hair on them, and that didn?t even know what bo meant, to the most elegant love of a goldylocks that ever was, was, was!
Master Goldylocks had received, from another quarter, a less classical, and less pleasing, but perhaps (from an objective point of view) a more truthful and unprismatic description of the hair it pleased God to give him.
“Governor?s carrots, and no mistake,” cried Mrs. O?Gaghan the moment she saw him, which, of course, was upon his first public appearance – catch Biddy out of the way when any baby, of any father or mother she had ever heard of, was submitted even to the most privileged inspection – ”knew he must have ‘em, of course. You niver can conquer that, ma?am, if your own hair was like a sloe, and you tuk me black briony arl the time. Hould him dacent, will ye, nurse? Not slot his head down that fashion! He don?t want more blood in his hair, child. Oh yes, I can see, ma?am! Niver knowed more nor two wi’ that red–hot poker colour, colour of the red snuff they calls ‘Irish blackguard’ in the top of a hot shovel; and one of the two were Mr. Hutton, ma?am, saving your presence to spake of it; and the other were of Tim Brady, as were hung at the crossroads, near Clonmel, for cutting the throat of his grandmother.”
“Oh, Mary, take her away. What a horrid woman!”
Here Mrs. O?Gaghan was marched away, amid universal indignation, which she could not at all understand. But she long had borne against Rufus Hutton the bitterest of all bitter spites (such as only an Irishwoman can bear), for the exposure of her own great mistake, and the miserable result which (as she fully believed) had sprung from all his meddling. And yet she was a “good–hearted” woman. But a good heart is only the wad upon powder, when a violent will is behind it.
Not to attach undue importance to Biddy?s prepossessions, yet to give every facility for a verdict upon the question, I am bound to state what an old–young lady, growing every month more satirical, because nobody would have her, yet quite unconscious that the one drawback was the main cause of the other (for all men hate sarcastic women), – how tersely she expressed herself.
“Ridiculous likeness! Was he born with two cheroots in his mouth?”
But a lady, who would marry for ever because she was so soft and nice, came to see darling baby again, the moment she was quite assured that he was equal to the interview, having denied herself from day to day, although it had affected her appetite, and was telling upon her spirits. Neither would she come alone – that would be too selfish: she must make a gala day of it, and gratify her relatives. So Mrs. Hutton had the rapture of sitting behind her bedroom curtain, and seeing no less than three carriages draw up in a thundering manner, while Rufus was in the greatest fright that they would not find room to turn, but must cut up his turf. Luckily the roller was in the way; or else those great coachmen, who felt themselves lowered by coming to a place of that size, would have had their revenge on the sod. The three carriages were, of course, that of Nowelhurst Hall in the van (no pun, if you please), with two noble footmen behind it, and Georgie in state inside. Then the “Kettledrum rattletrap,” as the hypercritical termed it, with Mr. Kettledrum driving, and striking statuesque attitudes for the benefit of the horses, and Mrs. Kettledrum inside, entreating him not to be rash. Last of all the Coo Nest equipage, a very neat affair, with Mr. Corklemore inside, wanting to look at his wife in the distance, and wondering what she was up to.
“Oh, such shocking taste, I know,” cried Georgie, directly the lower order were supposed to be out of hearing, “horribly bad taste to come in such force; but what could we do, Dr. Hutton? There was my sister, there was my husband, there was my own silly self, all waiting, as for a bulletin, to know when baby would receive. And so, at the very first moment, by some strange coincidence, here we are all at once. And I do hope darling Rosa will allow some of us to come in.”
“Jonah,” shouted Rufus Hutton, going away to the door very rudely (according to our ideas, but with Anglo–Indian instincts), “see that all those men have beer.”
“Plaise, sir, there bain?t none left. Brewer hain?t a been since you drank.” As every one in the house heard this, dear Georgie had some revenge.
However, babe Rufus received his ovation; and the whole thing went off well, as most things do in the counties of England, when plenty of good wine produces itself. Lunch was ready in no time; and, as all had long ago assented to Mrs. Corklemore?s most unselfish proposition that she, as privileged of pet Rosa, should just steal up–stairs for a minute, and then come down again – after giving notice, of course, that dear baby should have all his lace on – the pleasant overture of the host was accepted with little coyness —
“Let us suppose that we have dined: because the roads are so very bad. Let us venture upon a light dessert. I have a few pears, even now in April, which I am not altogether afraid to submit to the exquisite taste of ladies, – ‘Madame Millet? and ‘Josephine.’ May we think that we have dined?”
As the company not only thought, but felt that they had made an uncommonly good dinner, this little proposal did pleasant violence to their sense of time. It would be so charmingly novel to think that they had dined at three o?clock! Oh, people of brief memory! For Kettledrum Hall and Coo Nest loved nothing better than to dine at two; which, perhaps, is two hours too late, according to nature versus fashion.
“For such an occasion as this,” said Rufus, under all the excitement of hospitality multiplied by paternity, “we will have a wine worth talking of. Clicquot, of course, and Paxarette for the ladies, if they prefer it; which perhaps they will do because it is sweeter than port. But I do hope that some will deign to taste my 1820, President?s unrefreshed.”
Georgie?s pretty lip came out, like the curl of an opening convolvulus; to think of offering her sweet wine, when choice port was forthcoming. There are few better judges of a good glass of port than Mrs. Nowell Corklemore.
“Port, sir, for my wife, if you please. She likes a rather dry wine, sir, but with plenty of bouquet. There is no subject, I may say, in which she has – ha, haw – a more profound capacity.”
“My dear Nowell, why you are perfectly calumnious. Thank you, no champagne. It spoils the taste of – your beautiful water. How dreadfully we were alarmed in Ringwood. We all but drove over a child. What a providential escape! I have scarcely yet recovered it. It has made me feel so nervous. What, Dr. Hutton, port for a lady, at this time of day, and not ordered medically!”
Thereupon, of course Rufus prescribed it, till Georgie, being quite overcome by the colour, as the host himself decanted it, capitulated at last for “strictly half a glass.”
After a little, the ladies withdrew, to see double perfections in the baby, and Mrs. Hutton, who knew quite well what they had been doing, while she was discussing arrowroot, received them at first rather stiffly. But she had no chance with Georgie, who entered beautifully into the interesting room, and exclaimed with great vivacity —
“Oh, dear Mrs. Hutton, as the little boys say, ‘here we are again.’ And so glad to get away, because your husband is so hospitable, and we thought of you all the time. I wanted so much to bring you a glass of that very exquisite – let me see, I think it must have been port, though I never know one wine from another – only I feared it might seem rude, if I had ventured to propose it. Of course Dr. Hutton knew best.”
“Of course he didn?t,” said Rosa, pettishly; “he never thought about it. Not that I would have taken it; oh dear no! Ladies cannot have too little wine, I think. It seems to make them so masculine.”
“Well, dear, you know best. Very likely you heard us laughing. I assure you we were quite merry. We drank his health ‘three times three? – don?t they call it about a baby? And I was nearly proposing yours; only a gentleman ought to do that. Oh, it was so interesting, and the wine superb – at least, so said the gentlemen; I do wish they had brought you some, dear.”
“I am very glad they did not. It is so very lowering to a fine sense of the ideal. I heard you laughing, or making some noise; only I was so absorbed in these lovely poems. ‘To my Babe’ is so very beautiful, so expressive, so elevating! I feel every single word of it. And this sonnet about the first cropper! And the stanzas to his little red shoes, terminating with ‘pinch his nose!’ You have had so many husbands, dear; you must know all about it.”
“My darling child, how I feel for you! But, in all probability, he will come up when both decanters are empty; let him find you in a good temper, dear.”
But this (which must have grown into a row, for Georgie had even more spirit than tact, and Rosa was equal to anything), all this evil was averted, and harmony restored by the popping in of nurse, who had not taken her half–crowns yet, but considered them desirable, and saw them now endangered.
“Goldylocks, Goldylocks! Oh, bring him here, nurse. Skillikins, dillikins! oh, such a dove! And if nobody else cares for poor mamma, he has got so much better taste, hasn?t he?”
Goldylocks very soon proved that he had; and Georgie, having quite recovered her temper, admired him so ecstatically, that even his mother thought her judgment was really worth something.
“Give him to me; I can?t do without him. O you beautiful cherub! Kicklewick, I am sure you never saw any one like him.”
“That indeed I never did, ma?am,” answered nurse Kicklewick, holding her arms out, as if she must have him back again; “many a fine child I have seen, and done for to my humble ability, ma?am, since the time I were at Lord Eldergun?s; and her ladyship said to me – ?Kicklewick,’ says she – ”
“Oh, his love of a nosey–posey! Oh, then his bootiful eyes, dick, dock! And then his golden hair, you know, so lovely, chaste, and rare, you know! Will um have a dancey–prancey?”
And Georgie, forgetting all dignity, went through a little Polish dance, with the baby in her arms, to his very grave amazement, and the delight of all beholders.
Although of the genuine Hutton strain, he was too young to crow yet, nevertheless he expressed approval in the most emphatic water–colours. Mrs. Hutton?s heart was won for ever.
“Oh, darling, I am so obliged to you. He has positively popped two bubbles. A thing he never did before! How can I ever repay you?”
“By letting me come over and dance him twice a week. Oh, that I only had a boy! – because I do love boy–babies so.”
“One would think that you must have had fifty, at least, before you were five–and–twenty! How on earth do you understand him so? I only know half what he means, though I try for hours and hours.”
“Simply by sympathizing with him. I feel all his ideas come home to me, and I put them into shape.”
“You are the loveliest creature I ever saw.” And, indeed, Georgie did look very well, for it was not all mere humbug now, though perhaps it was at first. “Oh, no wonder baby loves you. Kicklewick, isn?t it wonderful?”
“Indeed, then, and it would be, ma?am,” replied Mrs. Kicklewick, rapturously – for now she had four half–crowns in her pocket – “only for it bein? nature, ma?am. Nature it is as does it, as must be. Nothing else no good again it. And how I should like to be?long of you, ma?am, when your next time come, please God. Would you mind to accept of my card, ma?am, unpretenshome but in good families, – Sarah Kicklewick, late to Lord Eldergun, and have hopes to be again, ma?am, if any confidence in head–footman. ‘Mrs. Kicklewick,’ he says, and me upon the bridge, ma?am, with the wind a blowin? – ”
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