Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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I was not thinking of Caldo. I hope I did not mean it. God knows, I am very wicked.
So we are all, my boy. I should like to see a fellow that wasn?t. I?d pay fifty pounds for his body, and dissect him into an angel.
Cradock Nowell smiled a little at such a reward for excellence, and then renewed his gaze of dreary bewilderment at the water.
Now let me show you my tracings, Cradock. Three times I have pulled them out, and you won?t condescend to glance at them. You have made up your mind to abdicate upon my ipse dixi. Now look at the bend sinister, that is yours; the bend dexter is for the elder brother.
Dr. Hutton, it may be, and is, I believe, false shame on my part; but I wish to hear nothing about it. Perhaps, if my mother were living, I might not have been so particular. But giving, as she did, her life for mine, I cannot regard it medically. The question is now for my father. I will not enter into it.
Oh the subjectiveness of the age! said Rufus Hutton, rising, then walking to and fro on the bank, as he held discourse with himself; here is a youth who ought to be proud, although at the cost of his inheritance, of illustrating, in the most remarkable manner, indeed I may say of originating, my metrostigmatic theory. He carries upon the cervical column a clear impression of grapes, and they say that before the show at Romsey the gardener was very cross indeed about his choice Black Hamburgs. His brother carries the identical impress, only with the direction inverted dexter in fact, and dexter was the mark of the elder son. This I can prove by the tracing made at the time, not with any view to future identification, but from the interest I felt, at an early stage of my experience, in a question then under controversy. If I prove this, what happens? Why, that he loses everything the importance, the house, the lands, the title; and becomes the laughingstock of the county as the sham Sir Cradock. What ought he to do at once, then? Why, perhaps to toss me into that hole, where I should never get out again. By Gad, I am rash to trust myself with him, and no other soul in the secret! Here Dr. Hutton shuddered to think how little water it would take to drown him, and the river so dark and so taciturn! At any rate, he ought to fall upon me with forceps, and probe, and scalpel, and tear my evidence to atoms. For, after all, what is it, without corroboration? But instead of that, he only says, Dr. Hutton, no more of this, if you please, no more of this! The question is now for my father. And he must know well enough to which side his father will lean in the inquiry. Confound the boy! If he had only coaxed me with those great eyes, I would have kept it all snug till Doomsday. Oh what will my Rosa say to me? She has always loved this boy, and admired him so immensely.
Perhaps it was his pretty young wife?s high approval of Cradock which first had made the testy Rufus a partisan of Clayton.The cause of his having settled at Geopharmacy Lodge was, that upon his return from India he fell in love with a Hampshire maiden, whom he met above bar at Southampton. How he contrived to get introduced to her, he alone can tell; but he was a most persevering fellow, and little hampered with diffidence. She proved to be the eldest daughter of Sir Cradock?s largest tenant, a man of good standing and education, who lived near Fordingbridge. As Rufus had brought home tidy pickings from his appointment in India, the only thing he had to do was to secure the lady?s heart. And this he was not long about, for many ladies like high colour even more than hairiness. First she laughed at his dancing ways, incessant mobility, and sharp eyes; but very soon she began to like him, and now she thought him a wonderful man. This opinion (with proper change of gender) was heartily reciprocated, and the result was that a happier couple never yet made fools of themselves, in the judgment of the world; never yet enjoyed themselves, in the sterling wisdom of home. They suited each other admirably in their very differences; they laughed at each other and themselves, and any one else who laughed at them.
Well, I shall be off, said Dr. Hutton at last, in feigned disgust; you will stare at the water all day, Mr. Cradock, and take no notice of me.
I beg your pardon, I forgot myself; I did not mean to be rude, I assure you.
I know you did not. I know you would never be rude to any one. Goodbye, I have business on hand.
You will be back, Dr. Hutton, when my father returns from his ride? It is very foolish of me, but I cannot bear this suspense.
Trust me. I will see to it. But he will not be back, they tell me, till nearly four o?clock.
Oh, what a time to wait! Don?t send for me if you can help it. But, if he wants me, I will come.
Goodbye, my lad. Keep your pecker up. There are hundreds of men in the world with harder lines than yours.
I should rather think so. I only wish there were not.
Cradock attempted a lively smile, and executed a pleasant one, as Rufus Hutton shook his hand, and set off upon his business. And his business was to ride at once as far as the Jolly Foresters, that lonely inn on the Beaulieuroad, at the eastern end of the parish, whereat John Rosedew baited Cor?bus at the turn of the pastoral tour. The little doctor knew well enough, though he seldom passed that way, how the smart Miss Penny of former days, Mrs. O?Gaghan?s assistant, was now the important Mrs. George Cripps, hostess of the Jolly Foresters, where the four roads met.
Meanwhile, the scaffolds went on merrily under Mr. Garnet?s care, and so did the awnings, marquees, &c., and the terraces for the ladies. The lamps in the old oak being fixed, the boughs were manned, like a frigate?s yards, with dexterous fellows hoisting flags, devices, and transparencies, all prepared to express in fire the mighty name of Cradock. All the men must finish that night, lest any one lose his legitimate chance of being ancestrally drunk on the morrow. Cradock Nowell, wandering about, could not bear to go near them. Those two hours seemed longer to him than any year of his previous life. He went and told Caldo all about it; and that helped him on a little.
Caldo was a noble setter, pure of breed, and high of soul, and heavily feathered on legs and tail. His colour was such a lily white, that you grieved for him on a wet fallow; and the bright red spots he was endowed with were like the cheeks of Helen. Delicate carmine, enriched with scarlet, mapped his back with islands; and the pink of his cheeks, where the whiskers grew, made all the young ladies kiss him. His nostrils were black as a doublelined tunnel leading into a pencilmine; and his gums were starred with violet, and his teeth as white as new mushrooms. In all the county of Hants there was no dog to compare with him; for he came of a glorious strain, made perfect at Kingston, in Berkshire. Lift but a finger, and down he went, in the height of his hottest excitement; wave the finger, and off he dashed, his great eyes looking back for repression. For style of ranging, all dogs were rats to him, anywhere in the New Forest; so freely he went, so buoyant, so careful, and yet all the while so hilarious. Only one fault he had, and I never knew dog without one; he was jealous to the backbone.
Cradock was dreadfully proud of him. Anything else he had in the world he would have given to Clayton, but he could not quite give Caldo; even though Clayton had begged, instead of backing his Wena against him. Wena was a very nice creature, anxious to please, and elegant; but of a different order entirely from the highminded Caldo. Dogs differ as widely as we do. Who shall blame either of us?
Cradock now leaned over Caldo, with the hot tears in his eyes, and gently titillating the sensitive part of his ears, and looking straight into his heart, begged to inform him of the trouble they were both involved in. Have they taken the shooting from us? was Caldo?s first inquiry; and his eyes felt rather sore in his head that he should have to ask the question. No, my boy, they haven?t. But we must not go shooting any more, until the whole matter is settled. I hate putting off things till tomorrow, Caldo replied, impatiently; the cockpheasants come almost up to my kennel. What the deuce is to come of it? Caldo, please to be frigido. You shall come to my room byandby. I shall be able then to smoke a pipe, and we will talk about it together. You know that I have never cared about the title and all that stuff.
I know that well enough, said Caldo; nevertheless, I do. It gives me a status as a dog, which I thoroughly appreciate. Am I to come down from goodly paunches to liver and lights and horses heads and hounds food? I don?t think I could stand it. But I would live on a crust a day, if you would only come and live with me. And he nuzzled up to his master, in a way that made his tears come.
Cradock was sent for suddenly. Old Hogstaff trotted across the yard (wherein he seldom ventured) to say that Sir Cradock Nowell wished to see his son. Cradock following hastily, with all his heart in his mouth, wondered at the pennywort, the wallrue, and the snapdragons, which he had never seen before. Hogstaff tottered along before him, picking uneasily over the stones, bobbing his chin, and muttering.
Sir Cradock sat in the long heavy room known as the justicehall, where he and his brother magistrates held oyer of many a culprit. The great oak table was dabbed with ink, and the grey walls with mopshaped blotches, where sullen prisoners had thrown their heads back, and refused to answer. At the lower end was Rufus Hutton, jerky, dogmatical, keenly important; while the old man sat at the head of the table, with his back to the pointed window, and looked (perhaps from local usage) more like a magistrate than a father. Straight up the long room Cradock walked, as calmly as if he were going to see where his quoit was stuck; then he made salutation to his father, as his custom was, for many bygone fashions were retained in the ancient family. Sir Cradock was proud of his son?s selfcommand and dignified manly carriage, and if Dr. Hutton had not been there, he would have arisen to comfort him. As it was, he only said, with a faint and doubtful smile
So, sir, I find that, after all, you are but an impostor.
Young Cradock was a proud man man from that day forth, I shall call him lad no longer ay, a prouder man, pile upon pile, than the father who once had spoiled him. But his pride was of the right sort selfrespect, not selfesteem. So he did not appeal, by word or look, to the sympathy lurking, and no doubt working, in the pith of his father?s heart, but answered calmly and coldly, though his soul was hot with sorrow
Sir, I believe it is so. His eyes were on his father?s. He longed to look him down, and felt the power to do it; but dropped them as should a good son. Although the whitehaired man was glad at the promotion of his favourite, his heart was yearning towards the child more worthy to succeed him. But his notions of filial duty which himself had been called upon to practise chiefly in memory, having seen very little of his father, and having lost him early were of the stern, cold order now, the buckle and buckram style; though much relaxed at intervals in Master Clayton?s favour. Finding no compunction, no humility in his son?s look, for a mistake which was wholly of others, and receiving no expression of grief at the loss of heirship, Sir Cradock hardened back again into his proper dignity, and resumed his air of inquiry. I wish John Rosedew were here, he thought, and then it repented him of the wish, for he knew how stubborn the parson was, and how he would have Craddy the foremost.
Rufus Hutton, all this time, was in the agony of holding his tongue. He tried to think of his Rosa, and so to abstract himself airily from the present scene. He had ridden over to see her yesterday, and now dwelt upon their doings. Rosa was to come tomorrow, and he would go to fetch his wife in a carriage that would amaze her. Then he met Cradock Nowell?s eyes, and wondered what he was thinking of.
Now, Sir Cradock Nowell, this won?t do at all. How long are we to play fast and loose with a finer fellow than either of us? Oh, that hotheaded Rufus, what mischief he did then! Although I have not the honour, sir, of being in the commission of peace for this little county, I have taken magisterial duty in a district rather larger than Ireland thrown into Great Britain. And I can grow, per acre, thrice the amount of corn that any of your farmers can. His colour deepened with selfassertion, like the central quills of a dahlia.
We must have you to teach us, Dr. Hutton. It is a thing to be thought about. But at present you are kindly interested in in giving your evidence.
Even then, if Dr. Hutton, with all his practised acumen, had mixed one grain of the knowledge of men, he might have done what he liked with Sir Cradock, and reestablished the dynasty; unless, indeed, young Cradock were bent upon going through with everything. But the only mode Rufus Hutton knew of meeting the world was antagonism.
Yes, sir, you may think nothing of it. But I have hunted a thing for three hundred leagues, and got at it through the biggest liars that ever stole a white man?s galligaskins.
Thank you, Dr. Hutton, said Cradock, diverting the contest; ????????? is the word you mean. And I fear it applies to me also.
Perhaps, young man, cried Rufus Hutton, you know more Hindustani than I do. Translate , and he poured out a sentence which I dare not try to write down. But, my good fellow, you forget it is we who are stealing yours.
I think, said Sir Cradock, slowly, and seriously displeased Good Heavens! to joke about the succession to the Nowelhurst title and lands! I think, sir, this can hardly be looked upon as evidence. I always cut short the depositions, sir. As Chairman of the Quarter Sessions, I always cut short the depositions.
And so you wish to cut short, sir, the deposition of your son. Rufus laughed at his own bad joke, and expected the others to laugh with him. It made things worse than ever. Sir Cradock was afraid to speak, lest he might say anything unseemly to a visitor. The young man saw his opportunity, and took advantage of it.
Father, I beg you to let me go. You would not wish me, I am sure, to be here; only you think it my right to be. If you please, I will waive that right; I can wholly trust your decision.
He bowed to his father with cold respect, being hurt at his rapid conviction, to Rufus Hutton with some contempt and a smile at the situation. Then he marched down the long room placidly, and whistled when he was out of it. The next moment he bolted away to his bedroom, and wept there very heavily.
Glorious fellow! cried Dr. Hutton. But we don?t at all appreciate him. Requires a man of mind to do that. And now for Mrs. O?Gaghan! Leaving Sir Cradock this speech to digest, he arose and rang the bell sharply. He felt himself fully invested now with supreme judicial authority, and he longed to be at the Irishwoman, who had called him a red gossoon.
Biddy O?Gaghan was hard at work, boiling down herbs and blessing them, drying and bottling cleverly, scraping, and picking the cloves out. She had turned the stillroom of the house into her private laboratory; and she saved all the parish and half of the hundred from them pisoners, as called theirselves doctors. Now, she was one of those powerful women common enough, bytheby who can work all the better for talking; and, between her sniffs at the saucepanlids, and her tests upon the dryingpans, she had learned that something strange was up, and had made fifty guesses about it. Blowing the scum and the pearly beads from a pot of pellitory of the wall (one of her staunch panaceas), she received a command most peremptory to present herself in the justiceroom.
Thin was that the way as they said it, Dick? No sinse nor manners but that! An every bit of the blessed while they knowed it for my bilin?day! Muckstraw, thin, is Bridget O?Gaghan no more count than a pisonin doctor? Hould that handle there, Dick. If iver you stirs it the bridth of one on your carroty whiskers from that smut on the firebar, till such time as you sees me agin, I?ll down with it arl in your crooked back bilin?, and your chilthers shall disinherit it.
Leaving Dick rooted in trepidation, for she was now considered a witch, she hurried into her little bedroom; for she had the strongest sense of propriety, and would not make herself common. Then she dashed her apron aside, and softened the fireglow from her nose, and smoothed the creases of her jetblack hair, which curled in bars like crochetwork. This last she did, with some lubricous staple of her own discovery, applying it with the ball of her thumb. The hairs of me head, as she always called them, were thick of number and strong of fibre, and went zigzag on their road to her ears, like a string of jockey?s horses shying, or a flight of jacksnipes. Then a final glance at her fungous lookingglass, just to know if she were all right; the glass gave her back a fine, warmhearted face, still young in its rapid expression, Irish in every line of it, glazed with lies for hatred, and beaming with truth for love. So Biddy gave two or three nods thereat, and knew herself match for fifty crossexaminers, if she could only keep her temper.
As she marched up to the table, with her head thrown back, her portly shape made the most of, and the front of her strong arms glistening, then dropped a crisp curtsey to Sir Cradock without deigning to notice his visitor, the little doctor?s experience told him that he had caught a thorough Tartar. All his solemn preparations were thrown away upon her, though the biggest Testament in the house lay on the table before him; and a most impressive desk was covered with pens, and paper, and sealingwax.
Dr. Hutton would not yet open his mouth, because he wished to begin augustly. Meanwhile, Sir Cradock kept waiting for him, till Biddy could wait no longer. Turning her broad back full upon Rufus, who appreciated the compliment, she made another short scrape to her master, and asked, with an ogle suppressed to a mince
And what wud your honour be pleased to want with the poor widow, Bridget O?Gaghan, then?
Bridget, that gentleman, Dr. Hutton, has made an extremely important discovery, affecting most nearly my honour and that of the family. And now I rely upon you, Bridget, as a faithful and valued dependent of ours, to answer, without reservation or attempt at equivocation, all the questions he may put to you.
Quistions, your honour? and Biddy looked stupid in the cleverest way imaginable.
Yes, questions, Bridget O?Gaghan. Inquiries, interrogations ah! that quite explains what I mean.
Is it axing any harm, thin, any ondacency of a poor lone widder woman, your honour wud be afther? She took to her brogue as a tower of refuge. Bilingual races are up to the tactics of rats with a double hole.
Sir Cradock Nowell, said Rufus, from the bottom of his chest, you, I believe, are a magistrate for this county of Hants, ViceLieutenant, Colonel of Yeomanry, the representative of the sovereign. I call upon you now, in all these capacities, to administer the oath to this prevaricating woman.
The penultimate word rather terrified Bridget, for she never had heard it before; but the last word of all reassured her.
She turned round suddenly on little Rufus, who had jumped from his chair in excitement, and standing by head and shoulders above him, she opened her great eyes down upon him, like the portholes of a frigate.
Faix, thin, and I niver seen this young man at all at all. It?s between the airms of the cheer he were, and me niver to look so low for him! Tis the black measles as he?ve tuk, and I?ve seen as bad a case brought through with. The luck o? the blessed saints in glory! I?ve been bilin up for the same. If it?s narse him I can to the toorn of it, I?m intirely at your sairvice, Sir Craduck. I likes to narse a base little chap, sin there?s no call to fear for his beauty.
This last was uttered gently, and quite as a private reflection; but it told more than all the rest. For ever since Dr. Hutton had married a woman half his age, he had grown exceedingly sensitive as to his personal appearance. By a very great effort he kept silent, but his face was almost black with wrath, as he handed the great book to Sir Cradock. The magistrate presented it very solemnly to Bridget, who took it as patly as if it had been a flat iron. A score of times she had sworn according to what was thought good for her, years ago, in Ireland. At the right moment of dictation, she gave the book a loud smack that required good binding to stand it, and then crossed herself very devoutly, to take the taste away. Of a heretic oath she had little fear, though she would not have told a big lie to her priest. Then she dropped her eyes, and chastened her aspect, as if overcome by the sense of solemn responsibility.
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