Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 3 of 3
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Four or five times now, Bull Garnet, riding on his rounds of business, had met Simon Chope, and bowed politely to him. On the first occasion, Mr. Chope, knowing very little of Garnet, and failing to comprehend him (as we fail, at first sight, with all antipodes), lost his slow sequacious art, because he over–riddled it. All very cunning men do this; even my Lord Bacon, but never our brother Shakespeare.
But Mr. Garnet read him truly, and his purpose also, by the aid of his own consciousness; and a thrill of deep, cold fear went through that hot and stormy heart. Nevertheless, he met the case in his usual manner, and puzzled Mr. Chope on the third or fourth encounter by inviting him to dinner. The lawyer found some ready plea for declining this invitation; sleuth and cold–blooded as he was, he could not accept hospitality to sift his host for murder. Of course Mr. Garnet had foreseen the refusal of this overture; but it added to his general alarm, even more than it contributed to his momentary relief. Clearly enough he knew, or felt, that now he was running a race against time; and if he could only win that race, and give the prize to his children, how happily would he yield himself to his only comfort – death. With his strong religious views – right or wrong, who shall dare to say? for the matter is not of reason – he doubted God?s great mercy to him in another world no more than he doubted his own great love to his own begotten.
And sad it was, enough to move the tears of any Stoic, to behold Bull Garnet now sitting with his children. Instead of being shy and distant (as for a while he had been, when the crime was new upon him) he would watch them, word by word, smile by smile, or tear for tear, as if he never could have enough of the little that was left to him. They had begun to talk again carelessly in his presence, as the manner of the young is. Bob had found that the vague, dark cloud, of whose origin he knew nothing, was lifted a little, and lightened; and Pearl, who knew all about it, was trying to slip from beneath its shadow, with the self–preservation of youth, and into the long–obscured but native sunlight of a daughter?s love. And all the while their father, the man of force and violence, would look from one to the other of them, perceiving, with a curious smile, little traits of himself; often amused at, and blessing them for, their very sage inexperience; thinking to show how both were wrong, yet longing not to do it. And then he would begin to wonder which of them he loved more deeply. Pearl had gained upon him so, by the patience of her wrong, by coming to the hearth for shelter from the storms of outer love.
In all races against time, luck, itself the child of time, is apt to govern the result more than highest skill may. So far, most of the luck had been in Mr. Garnet?s favour; the approach of unlucky Cradock that day, the distraction of his mind – the hurried and jostled aim which even misled himself; the distance of John Rosedew; the blundering and timid coroner and the soft–hearted jury; even the state of the weather; and since that time the perversion and weakness of the father?s mind: all these had prevented that close inquiry which must have led to either his conviction or confession.For, of course, he would have confessed at once, come what might, if an innocent man had been apprehended for his guilt.
Only in one important matter – so far at least as he knew yet, not having heard of Jem?s discovery, and Mr. Hutton?s advance upon it – had fortune been against him; that one was the crashing of his locked cupboard, and the exposure of the broken gun–case to Rufus Hutton?s eyes. And now it was an adverse fate which brought Mr. Chope upon the stage, and yet it was a kindly one which kept him apart from Hutton. For Simon Chope and Rufus Hutton disliked one another heartily; as the old repulsion is between cold blood and hot blood.
As it happened, Mr. Chope was Mrs. Corklemore?s pet lawyer: he had been employed to see that she was defrauded of no adequate rights uxorial upon her second marriage. And uncommonly good care he took to secure the lion?s share for her. Indeed, had it been possible for him to fall in love at all with anything but money, that foolish lapse would have been his, at the very first sight of Georgie. Sweetly innocent and good, she did so sympathize with “to wit, whereas, and notwithstanding;” she entered with such gush of heart into the bitter necessity of making many folios, and charging for every one of them, which the depravity of human nature has forced on a class whose native bias rather tends to poetry; she felt so acutely (when all was made plain to her, and Mr. Corklemore paid the bill) how very very wrong it was not to have implicit confidence – ”in being cheated,” under her breath, and that shaft was Cupid?s to Mr. Chope – in a word, he was so smitten, that he doubled all his charges, and inserted an especial power of appointment, for (Mr. Corklemore having the gout) he looked on her as his reversion.
“Hang it,” he said, for his extreme idea of final punishment was legal; “hang it, if I married that woman, our son would be Lord Chancellor. I never saw such a liar.”
Now it was almost certain that, under Sir Cradock Nowell?s settlement upon marriage, an entail had been created. The lawyers, who do as they like in such matters, and live in a cloud of their own breath, are sure to provide for continuance, and the bills of their grandchildren.
“Alas, how sad!” thought Georgie, as she lay back in the Nowelhurst carriage on her way to Cole, Chope, and Co.; “how very sad if it should be so. Then there will be no cure for it, but to get up the evidence, meet the dreadful publicity, and get the poor fellow convicted. And they say he is so good–looking! Perhaps I hate ugly people so much, because I am so pretty. Oh, how I wish Mr. Corklemore walked a little more like a gentleman. But as a sacred duty to my innocent darling, I must leave no stone unturned.”
Fully convinced of her pure integrity, Georgie drove up in state and style to the office of Cole, Chope, and Co., somewhere in Southampton. She would make no secret of it, but go in Sir Cradock Nowell?s carriage, and then evil–minded persons could not misinterpret her. Mr. Chope alone could tell her, as she had said to “Uncle Cradock” (with a faint hope that he might let slip something), what really was the nature and effect of her own marriage–settlement. Things of that sort were so far beyond her, so distasteful to her; sufficient for the day was the evil thereof; she could sympathize with almost any one, but really not with a person who looked forward to any disposal of property, unless it became, for the sake of the little ones, a matter of strict duty; and even then it must cause a heart–pang – oh, such a bitter heart–pang!
“Cole?s brains” was not the man to make himself too common. He always required digging out, like a fossil, from three or four mural septa. Being disinterred at last from the innermost room, after winks, and nods, and quiet knocks innumerable, he came out with both hands over his eyes, because the light was too much for him, he had been so hard at work.
And the first thing he always expressed was surprise, even though he had made the appointment. Mr. Simon Chope, attorney and solicitor, was now about five–and–thirty years old, a square–built man, just growing stout, with an enormous head, and a frizzle of hair which made it look still larger. There was a depth of gravity in his paper–white countenance – slightly marked with small–pox – a power of not laughing, such as we seldom see, except in a man of great humour, who says odd things, but rarely smiles till every one else is laughing. But if Chope were gifted, as he may have been, with a racy vein of comedy, nobody ever knew it. He was not accustomed to make a joke gratis, neither to laugh upon similar terms at the jokes of other people. Tremendous gravity, quiet movements, very clear perception, most judicious reticence – these had been his characteristics since he started in life as an office–boy, and these would abide with him until he got everything he wanted; if any man ever does that.
With many a bow and smile, expressing surprise, delight, and deference, Mr. Chope conducted to a special room that lady in whom he felt an interest transcending contingent remainder. Mrs. Corklemore swam to her place with that ease of movement which was one of her chief fascinations, and fixed her large grey eyes on the lawyer with the sweetest expression of innocence.
“I fear, Mr. Chope – oh, where is my husband? he promised to meet me here – I fear that I must give you, oh, so much trouble again. But you exerted yourself so very kindly on my behalf about eighteen months ago, that I cannot bear to consult any other gentleman, even in the smallest matter.”
“My services, such as they are, shall ever be at the entire disposal of Madame la Comtesse.”
Mr. Chope would always address her so; “a countess once, a countess for ever,” was his view of the subject. Moreover, it ignored Mr. Corklemore, whom he hated as his supplanter; and, best reason of all, the lady evidently liked it.
“You are so very kind, I felt sure that you would say so. But in this case, the business is rather Mr. Corklemore?s than my own. But he has left it entirely to me, having greater confidence, perhaps, in my apprehension.”
She knew, of course, that so to disparage her husband, by implication, was not in the very best taste; but she felt that Mr. Chope would be pleased, as she quite understood his sentiments.
“And not without excellent reason,” answered the lawyer, softly; “if any lady would be an ornament to our profession, it is Madame la Comtesse.”
“Oh no, Mr. Chope, oh no! I am so very simple. And I never should have the heart to do the things you are compelled to do. But to return: this little matter, in which I hope for your assistance, is a trifling exchange of mixed land with Sir Cradock Nowell.”
“Ah, to be sure!” said Chope, feeling slightly disappointed, for he had some idea that the question would be more lucrative; “if you will give me particulars, it shall have our best attention.”
“I think I have heard,” said Georgie, knowing thoroughly all about it, “that there is some mode of proceeding, under some Act of Parliament, which lightens, perhaps, to some extent, the legal difficulties – and, oh yes, the expenses.”
Mrs. Corklemore knew how Mr. Chope had drawn her a very long bill – upon his imagination.
“Oh, of course,” replied Mr. Chope, smitten yet more deeply with the legal knowledge, and full of the future Lord Chancellor; “there is a rough and ready way of dealing with almost anything. What they call a statutory proceeding, shockingly careless and haphazard, and most ungermainely thrust into an Enclosure Act. But we never permit any clients of ours to imperil their interests so, for the sake, perhaps, of half a sovereign. There is such a deal of quackery in all those dabblesome interferences with ancient institutions. For security, for comfort of mind, for scientific investigation, there is nothing like the exhaustive process of a good common law conveyance. Look at a proper abstract of title! A charming thing to contemplate; and still more charming, if possible, the requisitions upon it, when prepared by eminent counsel. But the tendency of the present age is to slur and cut short everything. Melancholy, most melancholy!”
“Especially for the legal gentlemen, I suppose, Mr. Chope?”
“Yes. It does hurt our feelings so to see all the grand safeguards, invented by men of consummate ability, swept away like old rubbish. I even heard of a case last week, where a piece of land, sold for 900l., actually cost the purchaser only 50l. for conveyance!”
“Oh, how disgraceful!” cried Georgie, so nicely, that Chope detected no irony: “and now, I presume, if we proceed in the ordinary way, we must deliver and receive what you call ‘abstracts of title.’”
“Quite so, quite so, whichever way you proceed. It is a most indispensable step. It will be my duty and privilege to deduce Mr. Corklemore?s title; and Mr. Brockwood?s, I presume, to show Sir Cradock Nowell?s. All may be completed in six months’ time, if both sides act with energy. If you will favour me with the description of parcels, I will write at once to Mr. Brockwood; or, indeed, I shall see him to–night. He will be at the Masons? dinner.”
For a moment Mrs. Corklemore was taken quite aback. It is needless to say that no interchange of land had ever been dreamed of, except by herself, as a possible method of learning “how the land lay;” and indeed there was no intermixed land at all, as Mr. Chope strongly suspected. Neither was he, for the matter of that, likely to meet Mr. Brockwood; but when it becomes a professional question, a man can mostly out–lie a woman, because he has more experience.
“Be guided by me, if you please,” said Georgie, smiling enough to misguide any one; “we must not be premature, lest we seem too anxious about the bargain. And, I am sure, we have done our very best to be perfectly fair with Sir Cradock. Only we trust you, of course, to be sure that he has reposing, composing – oh, how stupid I am! I mean disposing power; that there is no awkward entail.”
Here she looked so preternaturally simple, which she would never have done but for her previous flutter, that Simon Chope in a moment knew exactly what her game was. Nevertheless, he answered nicely in that tantalizing way which often makes a woman flash forth.
“We shall see, no doubt, ere long. Of course Sir Cradock would not propose it, unless he had full power. Is it quite certain that poor Clayton Nowell left no legitimate offspring?”
Oh, what a horrible suggestion! Such a thing would quite upset every scheme. Georgie had never thought of it. And yet it might even be so. There was something in the tone of Mr. Chope?s whisper, which convinced her that he had heard something.
And only think; young men are so little looked after at Oxford, that they can get married very easily, without anything being heard of it. At least, so thought Mrs. Corklemore. And then oh, if poor Clayton had left a child, how his grandfather would idolize him! Sir Cradock would slip from her hands altogether; and scarcely any hope would remain of diverting the succession. Even if the child was a daughter, probably she would inherit, and could not yet have committed felony. Oh, what a fearful blow it would be!
All this passed through that rapid mind in about half a second, during which time, however, the thinker could not help looking nonplussed. Mr. Chope of course perceived it, and found himself more and more wide–awake.
“Well, what a strange idea!” she exclaimed, with unfeigned surprise. “There has not been the slightest suggestion of anything of the kind. And indeed I have lately heard what surprised me very much, that he had formed an – an improper attachment in a quarter very near home.”
“Indeed! Do you know to whom?” It was Mr. Chope who was trying now to appear indifferent.
“Yes. I was told. But it does not become me to repeat such stories.”
“It not only becomes you in this case, but it is your absolute duty, and – and your true interest.”
“Why, you quite frighten me, Mr. Chope. Your manner is so strange.”
“It would grieve me deeply indeed to alarm Madame la Comtesse,” answered the lawyer, trying in vain to resume his airiness; “but I cannot do justice to any one who does not fully confide in me. In a case like this, especially, such interests are concerned, the title is so – so complicated, that purely as a matter of business we must be advised about everything.”
“Well, I see no reason why I should not tell you. It cannot be of any importance. Poor Clayton Nowell had fallen in love with a girl very far beneath him – the daughter, I think she was, of a Mr. Garnet.”
“Oh, I think I had heard a report of that sort” – he had never heard, but suspected it – ”it can, of course, signify nothing, if the matter went no further; nevertheless, I thank you for your gratifying confidence. I apologize if I alarmed you; there is nothing alarming at all in it. I was thinking of something very different.” This was utterly false; but it diverted her from the subject.
“Oh, yes, I see. Of something, you mean, which might have caused a disagreement between the unfortunate brothers. Now tell me your opinion – in the strictest confidence, of course – as to that awful occurrence. Do you think – oh, I hope not – ”
“I was far away at the time, and can form no conclusion. But I know that my partner, Mr. Cole, the coroner, was too sadly convinced, – oh, I beg your pardon, I forgot for the moment that Madame la Comtesse – ”
“Pray forget my relationship, or rather consider it as a reason; oh, I would rather know the sad, sad truth. It is the suspense, oh the cruel suspense. What was Mr. Cole?s conclusion?”
“That if Cradock Nowell were put on his trial, he would not find a jury in England but must convict him.”
“Oh, how inexpressibly shocking! Excuse me, may I ask for a glass of water? Oh, thank you, thank you. No wine, if you please. I must hurry away quite rudely. The fresh air will revive me. I cannot conclude my instructions to–day. How could I think of such little matters? Please to do nothing until you hear from me. Yes, I hear the carriage. I told Giles to allow me ten minutes only, unless Mr. Corklemore came. You see how thoroughly well I know the value of your time. We feel it so acutely; but I must not presume; no further, if you please!”
Having thus appraised Mr. Chope, and apprised him of his distance, from a social point of view, Georgie gave him a smile which disarmed him, at least for the moment. But he was not the lawyer, or the man, to concede her the last word.
“We lawyers never presume, madam, any more than we assume. We must have everything proved.”
“Except your particulars of account, which you leave to prove themselves.”
“Ha, ha! You are too clever for the whole profession. We can only prove our inferiority.”
He stood, with his great bushy head uncovered, looking after the grand apparatus, and three boys sitting behind it; and then he went sadly back, and said, “Our son might have been Lord Chancellor. But I beat her this time in lying.”
Two months of opening spring are past, and the forest is awaking. Up, all we who love such things; come and see more glorious doings than of man or angel. However hearts have been winter–bound with the nip of avarice, and the iron frost of selfishness, however minds have checked their sap in narrowness of ideal, let us all burst bands awhile before the bright sun, as leaves do. Heaven?s young breath is stirring through crinkled bud and mossy crevice, peaceful spears of pensioned reeds, and flags all innocent of battle. Lo, where the wind goes, while we look, playing with and defying us, chasing the dip of a primrose–bank, and touching sweet lips with dalliance. Lifting first the shining tutsan, gently so, and apologizing, then after a tender whisper to the nodding milkwort, away to where the soft blue eyes of the periwinkle hesitate. Last, before he dies away, the sauntering ruffler looks and steps into a quiet tufted nook, overhung with bank, and lintelled with the twisted oak–roots. Here, as in a niche of Sabbath, dwells the nervous soft wood–sorrel, feeding upon leaf–mould, quivering with its long–stalked cloves, pale of hue, and shunning touch, delicate wood–sorrel, coral–rooted, shamrock–leafed, loved and understood of few, except good Fra Angelico.
Tut – we want stronger life than that; and here we have it overhead, with many a galling boss and buff, yet, on the whole, worth tree?s exertion, and worth man?s inspection. See the oak–leaves bursting out, crimped and crannied at their birth, with little nicks and serrate jags like “painted lady” chrysalids, or cowries pushing their tongues out, throwing off the hidesome tuck, and frilled with pellucid copper. See, as well, the fluted beech–leaves, started a full moon ago, offering out of fawn–skin gloves, and glossed with waterproof copal. Then the ash – but hold, I know not how the ash comes out, because it gives so little warning; or rather, it warns a long, long time, and then does it all of a sudden. Tush – what man cares now to glance at the yearly manuscript of God? Let the leaves go; they are not inscripti nomina regum.
Yet the brook – though time flees faster, who can grudge one glance at brooklet? Where the mock–myrtle begins to dip, where the young agrimony comes up, and the early forget–me–not pushes its claim upon our remembrance, and the water–lily floats half–way up, quivering dusk in the clearness, like a trout upon the hover. Look how the little waves dance towards us, glancing and casting over, drawing a tongue with limpid creases from the broad pool above, then funnelling into a narrow neck over a shelf of gravel, and bubbling and babbling with petulant freaks into corners of calmer reflection. There an old tree leans solemnly over, with brows bent, and arms folded, turning the course of the brook with his feet, and shedding a crystal darkness.
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