Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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“To be sure,” said Georgie, “and the water flowing; how clearly you describe it!”
But we must cut her short, even as she cut nurse Kicklewick. Enough that she won such influence over the kind but not too clever Rosa, that Rufus Hutton?s plans and acts, so far as they were known to his wife, were known also to his wife?s best friend. But one thing there was which Mrs. Corklemore could not at all understand, – why should he be going to London so, and wanting to go again, in spite of domestic emergencies? She very soon satisfied herself that Rosa was really in the dark upon this point, and very indignant at being so. This indignation must be fostered and pointed to a practical end. Mrs. Kettledrum, of course, had been kept in the background all this time, and scarcely allowed to dandle the baby, for fear of impairing her sister?s triumph.
“How wonderfully kind and thoughtful of you!” said Rosa, as Georgie came in again. “Have you really brought me a glass of wine? And no one else in the house to suppose that I ought to have any nourishment! How can I thank you, Mrs. Corklemore?”
“No more ‘Mrs. Corklemore,’ if you please. I have begun to call you ‘Rosa? – it is such a pretty name – and you must call me ‘Georgie,’ darling. Every one does who loves me.”
“Then I am sure all the world must. Dearest Georgie, how did you get it? I am sure I would not touch it, only for your sake.”
“Oh, I did such a shameful thing. Such a liberty I never took before! I actually sent the servant to say, with Mrs. Corklemore?s compliments, that she felt the effect of the fright this morning, and would like another glass of port, but would not touch it if any of the gentlemen left the table even for a moment. And they actually sent me a dock–glass, in pleasantry, I suppose: but I am very glad they did.”
“I will take some, if you take half, dear.”
“Not a drop. My poor weak head is upset in a moment. But you really need it, dear; and I can so thoroughly feel for you, because the poor Count, when my Flore was born, waited on me with such devotion, day and night, hand and foot.”
“And I am sure Mr. Corklemore must do the same. No husband could help adoring you.”
“Oh, he is very good, ‘according to his lights,’ as they say. But I have known him let me cough three times without getting up for the jujubes. And once – but perhaps I ought not to tell you: it was so very bad.”
“Oh, you may safely tell me, dear. I will never repeat it to any one.”
“He actually allowed me to sneeze in the carriage without saying that I must have a new fur cloak, or even asking if I had a cold.”
“Oh dear, is that all? I may sneeze six times in an hour, and my husband take no notice, but run out and leave the front door open, and prune his horrid little trees. And then he shouts for his patent top–dressing. He thinks far more of dressing them than he does of dressing me.”
“And don?t you know the reason? Don?t cry, sweet child; don?t cry.I have had so much experience. I understand men so thoroughly.”
“Oh yes, I know the reason. I am cross to him sometimes. And of course I can?t expect a man with a mind like his – ”
“You may expect any man to be as wise as Solomon, if you only know how to manage him. It is part of the law of nature.”
“Then I am sure I don?t know what that means: except that people must get married, and ought to love one another.”
“The law of nature is this. Between a wife and a husband there never must be a secret, except when the lady keeps one. Now, your husband is, to some extent, a rather superior man – ”
“Oh yes, to the very greatest extent. No one of any perception can help perceiving that.”
“Then he is quite sure to attempt it; to reserve himself, upon some point, in an unsympathetic attitude. This is just what you must not allow. You have no idea how it grows upon them, and how soon it supplants affection, and makes a married man a bachelor.”
“Oh, how dreadful! But I really do think, dear, that you must be wrong this once. My husband has never kept anything from me; anything, I mean, which I ought to know.”
“Then he told you about that poor wild Polly? How very good and kind of him!”
“Polly! What Polly? You don?t mean to say – ”
“No, no, dear, nothing of that sort! Only the mare running away with him at night through the thickest part of the forest.”
“My Polly that eats from my hand! Run away with Rufus!”
“Yes, your Polly. A perfect miracle that both of them were not killed. But, of course, he must have told you.”
Then, after sundry ejaculations, Rosa learned all about that matter, and was shocked first, and then thankful, and then hurt.
“And now,” said Mrs. Corklemore, when the sense of wrong was paramount, “he has some secret, I am almost sure, about our sad affair at Nowelhurst. And I am sure, even if you were not his wife, dear, he need not conceal any matter of that sort from the daughter of Sir Cradock Nowell?s old friend, Mr. Ralph Mohorn.”
“I will tell you another thing,” answered Rosa, shaking all her pillows with the vehemence of her emotions, “whether he ought or not, he shall not do it, Georgie, darling. As sure as I am his lawful wife I will know every word of it before I sleep one wink. If not, he must take the consequences upon both his wife and child.”
“Darling, I think you are quite right. Only don?t tell me a word of it. It is such a dreadful matter, it would make me so unhappy – ”
“I will tell you every single word, just to prove to you, Georgie, that I have found the whole of it out.”
After this laudable resolution, Rosa may be left to have it out with Rufus. It requires greater skill than ours to interfere between man and wife, even without the tertium quid of an astounding baby.
The ides of March were come and gone, the balance of day and night was struck; and Sleep, the queen of half the world, had wheeled across the equator her poppy–chintzed throne, or had got the stars to do it for her, because she was too lazy. Ha, that sentence is almost worthy of a great stump–orator. All I mean to say is, that All Fools? Day was over. Blessed are the All Fools who begin the summer (which accounts for its being a mull with us); and blessed be the All Saints who begin the winter, and then hand it over to Beelzebub.
“In April she tunes her bill.” Several nightingales were at it, for the spring was early, and right early were many nests conned, planned, and contracted for. Blessed birds, that never say, “What are your expectations, sir?” or “How much will you give your daughter?” – but feather their nests without waiting for an appointment in the Treasury. Nest–eggs, too, almost as sweet as those of addled patronage, were beginning to accumulate; and it took up half a bird?s time to settle seniority and precedence among them, fettle them all with their heads the right way, and throw overboard the cracked ones. Perhaps, in this last particular, they exercised a discretion, not only unknown to, but undreamed of, by any British Government.
It was nearly dark by this time, and two nightingales, across the valley, strove in Amoib?an song till the crinkles of the opening leaves fluttered with soft melody.
Mr. Garnet heeded neither crisp young leaf nor bulbul; neither did his horse appear to be a judge of music. Man and horse were drooping, flagging, jaded and bespent; wanting only the two things which, according to some philosophers, are all that men want here below – a little food, and a deal of sleep.
Bull Garnet was on his return from Winchester, whither he now went every week, for some reason known only to himself, or at least unknown to his family. It is a long and hilly ride from the west of Ytene to Winton, and to travel that distance twice in a day takes the gaiety out of a horse, and the salience out of a man. No wonder then that Mr. Garnet slouched his heavy shoulders, and let his great head droop; for at five–and–forty a powerful man jades sooner than does a slight one.
Presently he began to drowse; for the stout grey gelding knew every step of the road, and would take uncommonly good care to avoid all circumambience: and of late the rider had never slept, only dozed, and dreamed, and started. Then he muttered to himself, as he often did in sleep, but never at home, until he had seen to the fastening of the door.
“Tried it again – tried very hard and failed. Thought of Bob, at last moment. Bob to stand, and see me hang – and hate me, and go to the devil. No, I don?t think he would hate me, though; he would say, ‘Father could not help it.’ And how nice that would be for me, to see Bob take my part. To see him with his turn–down collars standing proudly up, and saying, ‘Father was a bad man – according to your ideas – I am not going to dispute them – but for all that I love him, and so my children shall.’ If I could be sure that Bob would only think so, only make his mind up, his mind up, his mind up – for there is nothing like it – whoa, Grayling, what be looking at? – and take poor little Pearl with him, I would go to–morrow morning, and do it over at Lymington.”
“Best do it to–night, gov?nor. No time like the praysent, and us knows arl about it.”
A tall man had leaped from behind a tree, and seized Bull Garnet?s bridle. The grey gelding reared and struck him; but he kept his hold, till the muzzle of a large revolver felt cold against his ear. Then Issachar Jupp fell back; he knew the man he had to deal with, how stern in his fury, how reckless, despite the better part of him. And Issachar was not prepared to leave his Loo an orphan.
“No man robs me,” cried Mr. Garnet, in his most tremendous voice, “except at the cost of my life, and the risk of his. I have seven and sixpence about me; I will give it up to no man. Neither will I shoot any man, unless he tries to get it.”
“Nubbody wants to rob you, gov?nor, only to have a little rattysination with you. Possible you know me now?”
Bull Garnet fell back in his saddle. He would rather have met a dozen robbers. By the voice he recognised a man whom he had once well known, and had good cause to know; – through his outrage upon whom, he had left the northern counties; the man whom he had stricken headlong down a coal–shaft, as the leader of rebellion, the night after Pearl was christened, nigh twenty years ago.
“Yes, I know you; Jupp your name is. Small credit it is to know you.”
“And smarler still to know you, Bull Garnet. Try your pistol thing, if you like. You must have rare stommick, I should think, to be up for another murder.”
“Issachar, I am sorry for you. Do you call it a murder to keep such a fellow as you off?”
“No, I dunna carl that a murder, because I be arl alive. But I do carl a murder what you did to young Clayton Nowell.”
“Fool, what do you know of it? Let go my horse, I say. You know pretty well what I am.”
“I know you ha?n?t much patience, gov?nor, and be arlways in a hurry.”
Jupp hesitated, but would not be beaten, whatever might be the end of it.
“I am in no hurry now, Jupp; I will listen to all you have to say. But not with your hand on my bridle.”
“There goeth free then. Arl knows you be no liar.”
“I am glad you remember that, Issachar. Hold the horse, while I get off. Now throw the bridle over that branch, and I will sit down here. Come here into the moonlight, man; and look me in the face. Here is the pistol for you, if you bear me any revenge.”
Scarcely knowing what he did, because he had no time to think, Jupp obeyed Bull Garnet?s orders even to the last – for he took the pistol in his hand, and tried to look straight at his adversary; but his eyes would not co–operate. Then he laid the pistol on the bank; but so that he could reach it.
“Issachar Jupp,” said Mr. Garnet, looking at him steadily, and speaking very quietly; “have you any children?”
“Only one – a leetle gal, but an oncommon good un.”
“How old is she?”
“Five year old, plase God, come next Valentine?s Day.”
“Now, when she grows up, and is pure and good, would you like to have her heart broken?”
“I?d break any cove?s head as doed it.”
“But supposing she were betrayed and ruined, made a plaything, and then thrown away – what would you do then?”
“God Almighty knows, man. I can?t abide to think of it.”
“And if the – the man who did it, was the grandson of the man who had ruined your own mother, lied before God in the church to her, and then left her to go to the workhouse, with you his outcast bastard – while he rolled in gold, and laughed at her – what would you do then, Jupp?”
“By the God that made me, I?d have my revenge, if I went to hell for it.”
“I have said enough. Do exactly as you please. Me you cannot help or harm. Death is all I long for – only for my children.”
Still he looked at Issachar, but now without a thought of him; only as a man looks out upon the sea or sky, expecting no return. And Issachar Jupp, so dense and pig–headed – surly and burly, and weasel–eyed – in a word, retrospectively British – gazing at Bull Garnet then, got some inkling of an anguish such as he who lives to feel – far better were it for that man that he had never been born.
To bar the entail of crime. A bitter and abortive task; at least, in this vindictive world, where Christians dwell more on Mount Sinai than on the mount that did not quake and burn with fire.
And yet for this, and little else, still clung to fair fame and life the man who rather would have lain beneath the quick–lime of Newgate. It was not for the empty part, the reputation, the position, the respect of those who prove the etymon of the word by truly looking backward – not for these alone, nor mainly, did Bull Garnet bear the anguish now from month to month more bitter, deeper, less concealable. He strove with himself, and checked himself, and bit his tongue, and jerked back his heart, and nursed that shattered lie, his life, if so might be that Pearl and Bob should start anew in another land, with a fair career before them. Not that he cared, more than he could help, whether they might be rich or poor; only that he would like them to have the chance of choosing.
This chance had not been fair for him, forsaken as he was, and outcast; banned by all the laws of men, because his mother had been trustful, and his father treacherous. Yet against all chances, he, by his own rightful power, deeply hating and (which was worse) conscientiously despising every social prejudice, made his way among smaller men, taught himself by day and night, formed his own strong character, with the hatred of tyranny for its base, and tyranny of his own for its apex; and finally gained success in the world, and large views of Christianity. And in all of this he was sincere!
It was a vile and bitter wrong to which he owed his birth. Sir Cradock Nowell, the father of the present baronet, had fallen in love of some sort with a comely Yorkshire maiden, whose mother?s farm adjoined the moors, whereon the shooting quarters were. Then, in that period of mean license, when fashionable servility was wriggling, like a cellar–slug, in the slime–track of low princes, Sir Cradock Nowell did what few of his roystering friends would have thought of – unfashionable Tarquinian, he committed a quiet bigamy. He had lived apart from Lady Nowell, even before her second confinement; because he could not get on with her. So Miss Garnet went with him to the quiet altar of a little Yorkshire church, and fancied she was Lady Nowell; only that must be a secret, “because they had not the king?s consent, for he was not in a state to give it.”
When she learned her niddering wrong, and the despite to her unborn child, she cast her curse upon the race, not with loud rant, but long scorn, and went from her widowed mother, to a cold and unknown place.
So soon as Bull Garnet was old enough to know right from wrong, and to see how much more of the latter had fallen to his share, two courses lay before him. Two, I mean, were possible to a strong and upright nature; to a false and weak one fifty would have offered, and a little of each been taken. Conscious as he was of spirit, energy, and decision, he might apply them all to very ungenial purposes, to sarcasm, contemptuousness, and general misanthropy. Or else he might take a larger view, pity the poor old–fashioned prigs who despise a man for his father?s fault, and generously adapt himself to the broadest Christianity.
The latter course was the one he chose; in solid earnest, too, because it suited his nature. And so perhaps we had better say that he chose no course at all, but had the wiser one forced upon him. Yet the old Adam of damnable temper too often would rush out of Paradise, and prove in strong language that he would not be put off together with his works. Exeter Hall would have owned him, in spite of all his backslidings, as a very “far–advanced Christian;” because he was so “evangelical.” And yet he never dealt in cant, nor distributed idyllic tracts, Sabbatarian pastorals, where godly Thomas meets drunken John, and converts him to the diluted vappa of an unfermented Sunday.
And now this man, whom all who knew him either loved or hated, felt the troubles closing around him, and saw that the end was coming. He had kept his own sense of justice down, while it jerked (like a thistle on springs) in his heart; he had worn himself out with thinking for ever what would become of his children, whom he had wronged more heavily than his own bad father had wronged him – only the difference was that he loved them; and most of all he had let a poor fellow, whom he liked and esteemed most truly, bear all the brunt, all the misery, all the despair of fratricide.
Now all he asked for, all he prayed for – and, indeed, he prayed more than ever now, and with deeper feeling; though many would have feared to do it – now his utmost hope was to win six months of life. In that time all might be arranged for his children?s interest; his purchase of those five hundred acres from the Crown Commissioners – all good land, near the Romsey–road, but too full of juice – would soon be so completed that he could sell again at treble the price he gave, so well had he reclaimed the land, while equitably his; and then Bob should have half, and Pearl take half (because she had been so injured), and, starting with the proceeds of all his earthly substance before it should escheat, be happy in America, and think fondly of dead father.
This was all he lived for now. It may seem a wild programme; but, practical as he was in business, and not to be wronged of a halfpenny, Bull Garnet was vague and sentimental when he “took on” about his children. Furious if they were wronged, loving them as the cow did (who, without a horn to her head, pounded dead the leopard), ready to take most liberal views of everything beyond them, yet keeping ever to his eyes that parental lens, whose focus is so very short, and therefore, by the optic laws, its magnifying power and aberration glorious.
Now three foes were closing round him; all of whom, by different process, and from different premises, had arrived at the one conclusion. The three were, as he knew too well, Rufus Hutton, Issachar Jupp, and Mr. Chope, of Southampton. Of the first he held undue contempt (not knowing all his evidence); the second he had for the time disarmed, by an appeal ad hominem; the third was the most to be feared, the most awful, because so crafty, keen, and deep, so utterly impenetrable.
Mr. Chope, the partner and “brains” of Cole, the coroner, was absent upon a lawyer?s holiday at the time of the inquest. When he came home, and heard all about it, and saw the place, and put questions, he scarcely knew what to think. Only upon one point he was certain – the verdict had been wrong. Either Cradock Nowell had shot his brother purposely, or some one else had done so. To Chope?s clear intuition, and thorough knowledge of fire–arms – for his one relaxation was shooting – it was plain as possible that there had been no accident. To the people who told him about the cartridge “balling,” he expressed no opinion; but to himself he said, “Pooh! I have seen Cradock Nowell shoot. He always knew all he was doing. He never would put a green cartridge into his gun for a woodcock. And the others very seldom ball. And even if he had a green cartridge, look at the chances against it. I would lay my life Clayton Nowell was shot on purpose.”
Then, of course, Mr. Chope set to, not only with hope of reward, but to gratify his own instinct, at the puzzle and wards of the question. If he had known the neighbourhood well, and all the local politics, he must have arrived at due conclusion long before he did. But a heavy piece of conveyancing came into the office of Cole, Chope, and Co., and, being far more lucrative than amateur speculations, robbed them of their attention. But now that stubborn piece was done with, and Mr. Chope again at leisure to pursue his quest. Twice or thrice every week he was seen, walking in his deliberate way, as if every step were paid for, through the village of Nowelhurst, and among the haunts of the woodcutters. He carried his great head downwards, as a bloodhound on the track does, but raised it, and met with a soft sweet smile all who cared to look at him. In his hand he bore a fishing–rod, and round his hat some trout–flies; and often he entered the village inn, and had bread and cheese in the taproom, though invited into the parlour. Although his boots were soaked and soiled as if he had been wading, and the landing–net, slung across his back, had evidently been dripping, he opened to none his fishing creel, neither had any trout fried, but spoke in a desponding manner of the shyness of the fish, and the brightness of the water, and vowed every time that his patience was now at last exhausted. As none could fish in that neighbourhood without asking Sir Cradock?s permission, or trespassing against him, and as the old baronet was most duly tenacious of all his sporting rights, everybody wondered what Mark Stote was about to allow a mere far–comer to carry on so in Nowelhurst water. But Mark Stote knew a great deal better what was up than they did.
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