Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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These reflections of Master Cradock were not so lucid as usual. At least he made a false antithesis. If it had been possible to doubt Mr. Garnet?s sincerity, he would not have been by any means so extraordinary as he was.
“Not much trouble, after all”, cried Rufus Hutton, rollicking up like a man of thrice his true cubic capacity; “ah, these things are simple enough for a man with a little ????. I shall explain the whole process to Mrs. Hutton, she is so fond of information. Never saw a firework before, sir – at least, I mean the machinery of them – and now I understand it thoroughly; much better, indeed, than the foreman does. Did not I hear you say so, George”?
“Eh, my mon, I deed so” – the foreman was a shrewd, dry Scotchman – “in your own opeenion mainly. But ye havena peyed us yet, my mon, for the dustin’ o’ your shoon”.
Rufus Hutton began, amid some laughter, to hunt his French purse for the siller, when the foreman leaped up as if he were shot, and dashed behind the oak–tree. “Awa, mon, awa, if ye value your life! Dinna ye see the glue–pot burstin?”?
Rufus dropped the purse, and fled for his life, and threw himself flat, fifty yards away, that the explosion might pass over him. Even then, when the laugh was out, and Mr. Garnet had said to him, “Perhaps, sir, you will explain that process for the benefit of Mrs. Hutton”, instead of being disconcerted he was busier than ever, and took Mr. Garnet aside some little way down the chase.
“They want to make a job of it, I can see that well enough. To charge for it, sir; to charge for it”.
“Thank you for your advice, Dr. Hutton”, replied Bull Garnet, crustily; he was very morose that afternoon, and surly betwixt his violence; “but perhaps you had better leave them to me, for fear of the glue–pot bursting”.
“Ah, I suppose I shall never hear the last of that most vulgar pleasantry. But I tell you they can?t see it, or else it is they won?t. They are determined to do it all over again, and they need only change four letters, and the fixings all come in again. For the R they should put an L, for the D a Y – Bless my soul, Mr. Garnet, what is it you see there”?
No wonder Rufus Hutton asked what Mr. Garnet saw, for the steward?s eyes were fixed intently, wrathfully, ferociously, upon something not very far from the place where his home lay among the trees. His forehead rolled in three heavy furrows, deep and red at the bottom, his teeth were set hard, and the muscles of his shoulders swelled as he clenched his hands fast. Dr. Hutton, gazing in the same direction, could see only trees and heather. “What is it you see there, Mr. Garnet”? Rufus Hutton by this time was quivering with curiosity.
“I?d advise you, sir, not to ask me”: then he added, in a different tone, “the most dastardly scoundrel poacher that ever wanted an ounce of lead, sir. Let us go back to the men, for I have little time to waste”.
“Cool fellow”, thought Rufus; “waste of time to talk to me, is it? But what eyes the man must have”!
And so he had, and ears too.Bull Garnet saw and heard every single thing that passed within the rim of his presence. No matter what he was doing, or to whom he was talking, no matter what was afoot, or what temper he was in, he saw and heard as clearly as if his whole attention were on it, every moving, breathing, speaking, or spoken thing, within the range of human antenn?. So a spider knows if even a midge or a brother spider?s gossamer floats in the dewy unwoven air beyond his octagonal subtlety. From this extraordinary gift of Bull Garnet, as well as from his appearance, and the force of his character, the sons of the forest were quite convinced that he was under league to the devil.
In half an hour?s time or less, when the dusk come down like wool, Cradock cast loose his favourite Caldo, and set out for the Coffin Wood. From habit more than forethought, and to give his dog some pleasure, there by the kennel he loaded his double–barrelled gun. He had made up his mind to shoot no more upon his father?s land, until he had express permission from Sir Cradock Nowell. This was a whim, no doubt, and a piece of pride on his part; but the scene of that afternoon, and his father?s bearing towards him, had left some bitter feeling, and a sense of alienation. This was the reason why he would not go with Clayton, much as he longed to do so. Now, with some dull uncertainty and vague depression clouding him, he loaded his gun in an absent manner; putting loose shot, No. 6, in one barrel, and a cartridge in the other. “Hie away, boy”! he cried to Caldo, who had crouched at his feet the while; then he struck off hot foot for the westward, with the gun upon his shoulder. But just as he started, one of the lads, who was often employed as a beater, ran up, and said, with his cap in his hand, in a manner most insinuating —
“Take I ’long of ’ee, Meestur Craduck. I?ll be rare and keerful, sir”.
“No, thank you, Charley, not this time. I am not even going shooting, and I mean to go quite alone”.
Poor Cradock, unlucky to the last. Almost everything he had done that day had been a great mistake; and now there was only one more to come, the deadliest error of all.
Whistling a dreamy old tune, he hurried over the brown and tufted land, sometimes leaping a tussock of bed–furze, sometimes following a narrow hare–run, a soft green thread through the heather.
The sun had been down for at least half an hour, and under the trees there was twilight; but here, in the open, a tempered brightness flowed from some yellow clouds still lingering in the west. You might still know a rabbit from a hare at fifty or sixty yards off. And in truth both bunnies and hares were about; the former hopping, and stopping, and peeping, and pricking their ears as the fern waved, and some sitting gravely upon a hillock, with their backs like a home–made loaf; the hares, on the other hand, lopping along, with their great ears drooping warily, and the spring of their haunches gathered up for a dash away any whither: but all alike come abroad to look for the great and kind God who feeds them. Then, from either side of the path, or the sandy brows of the gravel–pit, the diphthong cry of the partridge arose, the call that tells they are feeding. Convivial and good–hearted bird, who cannot eat without conversation, nor without it be duly eaten; no marvel that the Paphlagonians assign you a brace of hearts. The pheasants were flown to the coverts long ago (they are fearful of losing the way to bed), two or three brown owls were mousing about, and a horned fellow came sailing smoothly from the deep settlements of the thicket, as Cradock Nowell leaped up the hedge, a hedge overleaning, overtwisting, stubby, and crowded with ash, rose, and hazel, the fence of the Coffin Wood. Though Caldo had stood picturesquely at least a dozen times, and looked back at his master reproachfully, turning the white of his eye, and champing his under lip, and then dropped as if he himself were shot, when the game sped away with a whirr, Cradock, true to his resolution, had not pulled trigger yet. And though the repression was not entirely based upon motives humane, our Cradock felt a new delight in sparing the lives of those poor things who have no other life to look to. At least so we dare to restrict them. So merry and harmless to him they seemed, so glad that the dangerous day was done, so thankful for having been fed and saved by the great unknown, but felt, Feeder, Father, and Saviour.
Meanwhile Sir Cradock Nowell had found, at the peaceful Rectory, a tumult nearly as bad as that which he had left in his own household. In a room which was called by others the book–room, by herself “the library”, Miss Eudoxia sat half choked, in a violent fit of hysterics, Amy and fat Jemima doing their utmost to console her and bring her round. Sir Cradock had little experience of women, and did the worst thing he could have done – that is to say, he stood gazing.
“Amy”, groaned Miss Eudoxia – “Amy, if you don?t want to kill me, get him out of the room, my child”.
“Go, go, go”! cried Amy, in desperation. “Can?t you see, godpapa, that we shall do better without you; oh, ever, ever so much”?
Sir Cradock Nowell felt a longing to box pretty Amy?s ears; he had always loved his godchild, Amy, and chastened her accordingly. He now loved Amy best in the world, next to his pet son, Clayton. To tell the truth, he had bathed himself in the sunset–glow of match–making, all the way down the chase. Clayton, proclaimed the heir and all that, should marry Amy Rosedew; what could it matter to him about money, and where else would he find such a maiden? Then, in the course of a few more years – so soon as ever there were five, or, say at the most six children – he, Sir Cradock, would make over the management of the property; that is, if he felt tired of it, and they were both very steady. And what of Cradock, you planning father, what of your other son, Cradock? In faith, he must do for a parson.
Sir Cradock retired in no small flurry, and went to the garden to look for Jem. Miss Eudoxia became at once unconscious, as she ought to have been long ago; and thenceforth she would never acknowledge that she had seen the intruder at all; or, indeed, that there had been one. However, it cured her, for a very long time, of those sad attacks of hysteria.
This present attack was the natural result of a violent conflict with Amy, who was not going to be trampled upon, even by Aunt Doxy. It appears that, early in the afternoon, the good aunt began to wonder what on earth was become of her niece. Of course she could not be at the school, because Wednesday was a half–holiday; she was not in the library, nor in the back–kitchen, nor even out at Pincher?s kennel. No, nor even in the garden, although she had a magnificent lot of bulbs to plant, for which she had saved up ever so much of her little pocket–money. “Well”, said Miss Eudoxia, who was thirsting for her gossip, which she always held after lunch – “well, I must say this is most inconsiderate of her. And I promised John to take her to the park, and how am I to get ready? Girls are not what they used to be, though Amy is such a good girl. They read all sorts of trashy books, and then they go eloping”.
That last idea sent the good aunt in hot haste to Amy?s bedroom; and who should be there, sitting by the window, with a small book in her hand, but beautiful Amy herself.
“Well”! cried Miss Eudoxia, heavily offended; “indeed, I am surprised. So this is what you prefer, is it, to your own aunt?s conversation? And, I declare, what a colour you have! And panting, as if you had asthma! Let me see that book this moment, miss”!
“To be sure, Aunt Eudoxia”, said Amy, rather indignantly; “but you need not be in a pet, you know”.
“Oh, needn?t I, indeed, when you read such books as this! Oh, what will your poor father say? And you to have a class in the Sunday–school”!
Of all the grisly horrors produced to make the traveller?s hair creep, one of the most repulsive and glaring was in Amy?s delicate hand. A hideous ape, with an open razor, was about to cut a young lady?s throat. Chuckling, he drew her fair neck to the blade by her dishevelled hair. At her feet lay an elderly woman, dead; while a man with a red cap was gazing complacently in at the window. The back of the volume was relieved by a ghost, a death?s head, and a pair of cross–bones.
“Well”! said Miss Eudoxia. Her breath was gone for a long while, and she could say nothing more.
“I know the cover is ugly, aunt, but the inside is so beautiful. Oh, and so very wonderful! I can?t think how any one ever could imagine such splendid horrible things. Oh, so clever, Aunt Doxy; and full of things that make me tingle, as if my brain were gone to sleep. And I want to ask papa particularly about galvanizing the mummy”.
“Indeed; yes, galvanizing! and pray does your father know of your having this horrible book”?
“No; but I mean to tell him, the moment I have got to the end of it”.
“Good child, and most dutiful! When you have swallowed the poison, you?ll tell us”.
“Poison indeed, Aunt Eudoxia! How dare you talk to me like that? Do you dare to suppose that I would read a thing that was unfit for me”?
“No, I don?t think you would, knowingly. But you are not the proper judge. Why did you not ask your father or me, before you began this book”?
“Because I thought you wouldn?t let me read it”.
“Well, that does beat everything. Candid impudence, I call that, perfectly candid insolence”! Aunt Doxy?s throat began to swell; there was weak gorge in the family. Meanwhile, Miss Amy, who all the time had been jerking her shoulders and standing upright, in a manner peculiarly her own – Amy felt that her last words required some explanation. She had her father?s strong sense of justice, though often pulled crooked by womanhood.
“You know well enough what I mean, aunt, though you love to misrepresent me so. I mean that you would not let me read it, not because it was wrong (which it isn?t), but for fear of making me nervous. And upon that subject, at least, I think I have a right to judge for myself”.
“Oh, I dare say; you, indeed! And pray who lent you that book? Unless, indeed, in your self–assertion, you went to a railway and bought it”.
“That is just the sort of thing I would rather die than tell, after all the fuss you have made about it”.
“Thank you; I quite perceive. A young gentleman – not to be betrayed —scamp, whoever he is”. It was Clayton Nowell who had lent the book.
“Is he indeed? I wish you were only half as upright and honourable”.
Hereupon Miss Eudoxia, who had dragged her niece down to the book–room, with dialogue all down the stairs, muttered something about her will, that she had a little to leave, though not much, but honestly her own – God knew – and down she went upon the chair, with both hands to her side. At the sequel, as we have seen, Sir Cradock Nowell assisted, and took little for his pains.
After this, of course, there was a great reconciliation. For they loved each other thoroughly; and each was sure to be wild with herself for having been harsh to the other. They agreed that their eyes were much too red now to go and see the nascent fireworks.
“A gentleman?s party to–night; my own sweet love, how glad I am! I ought to know better, Amy dearest; and they have never sent the goulard. I ought to know, my own lovey pet, that we can trust you in everything”.
“No, aunty dear, you oughtn?t. I am as obstinate as a pig sometimes; and I wish you would box my ears, aunt. I hope my hair won?t be right for a month, dearest aunt, where you pulled it; and as for the book, I have thrown it into the kitchen–fire long ago, though I do wish, darling aunt, you could have read about the descent into the M?elstrom. I declare my head goes round ever since! What amazing command of language! And he knows a great deal about cooking”.
James Pottles, groom and gardener, who even aspired to the hand, or at any rate, to the lips, of the plump and gaudy Jemima, was not at all the sort of fellow you would appreciate at the first interview. His wits were slow and mild, and had never yet been hurried, for his parents were unambitious. It took him a long time to consider, and a long time again to express himself, which he did with a roll of his tongue. None the less for that, Jem Pottles was quoted all over the village as a sayer of good things. No conclusion was thought quite safe, at least by the orthodox women, until it had been asked with a knowing look – “And what do Jem Pottles say of it”? Feeling thus his responsibility, and the gravity of his opinion, Jem grew slower than ever, and had lately contracted a habit of shutting one eye as he cogitated. As cause and effect always act and react, this added enormously to his repute, until Mark Stote the gamekeeper, and Reuben Cuff the constable, ached and itched with jealousy of that “cock–eyed, cock–headed boy”.
Sir Cradock found Jem quite at his leisure, sweeping up some of the leaves in the shrubbery, and pleasantly cracking the filberts which he discovered among them. These he peeled very carefully, and put them in the pocket of his stable waistcoat, ready for Jemima by–and–by. He swished away very hard with the broom the moment he saw the old gentleman, and touched his hat in a way that showed he could scarcely spare time to do it.
“What way, my lad, do you think it likely your master will come home to–day”?
This was just the sort of question upon which Jem might commit himself, and lose a deal of prestige; so he pretended not to hear it, and brushed the very ground up. These tactics, however, availed him not, for Sir Cradock repeated his inquiry in a tone of irritation. Jem leaned his chin on the broom–handle, and closed one eye deliberately.
“Well, he maight perhaps come the haigher road, and again a maight come the lower wai, and I?ve a knowed him crass the chase, sir, same as might be fram alongside of Meester Garnet?s house. There never be no telling the wai, any more than the time of un. But it?s never no odds to me”.
“And which way do you think the most likely now”?
“Not to say ‘now’, but bumbai laike. If so be a cooms arly, a maight come long of the haigher road as goes to the ‘Jolly Foresters;’ and if a com?th middlin’ arly, you maight rackon may be on the town wai; but if he cometh unoosial late, and a heap of folks be sickenin’ or hisself hath pulled a book out, a maight goo round by Westacot, and come home by Squire Garnet?s wai”. Rich in alternatives, Jem Pottles opened the closed eye, and shut the open one.
“What a fool the fellow is”! said Sir Cradock to himself; “I?ll try the first way, at any rate. For if John is so late, I could not stop for him, with all those people coming. How I wish we were free from strangers to–night, with all these events in the family! But perhaps, if we manage it well, it will carry it off all the better”.
Sir Cradock Nowell was in high spirits as he started leisurely for a saunter along the higher road. This was the road which ran eastward, both from the Hall and the Rectory, into the depth of the forest. In all England there is no lovelier lane, if there be one to compare with it. Many of the forest roads are in fault, because they are too open. You see too far, you see too much, and you are not truly embowered. In a forest we do not want long views, except to rejoice in the amplitude. And a few of those, just here and there, enlarge the great enjoyment. What we want, as the main thing of all, as the staple feeling, is the deep, mysterious, wondering sense of being swallowed up, and knowing it: swallowed up, not as we are in catacombs, or wine–vaults, or any railway tunnel; but in our own mother?s love, with God around us everywhere. To many of us, perhaps to most, so placed at fall of evening, there is a certain awe, a dread which overshades enjoyment. If so, it springs in part at least from our unnatural nature; that is to say, the education which teaches us so very little of the things around us.
How the arches spring overhead, and the brown leaves flutter among them! In and out, and through and through, across and across, with delicacy, veining the very shadows. For miles we may wander beneath them, and see no two alike. How, for fear of wearying us, after infinite twists and turns – but none of them contortions – after playing across the heavens, and sweeping away the sunshine, now in this evening light they hover, and rustle like the skirts of death. Is there one of them with its lichen–mantle copied from its neighbour?s? Is there one that has borrowed a line, a character, even a cast of complexion from its own brother rubbing against it? Their arms bend over us as we walk, we are in their odour and influence, we know that, like the Magi of old, they adore only God and His sun; and, when we come out from under them, we never ask why we are sad.
There is a long, mysterious thrill, a murmur rather felt than heard, a shudder of profundity, which traverses the woodland hollows at the sun?s departure. In autumn most especially, when the glory of trees is saddening, and winter storms are in prospect, this dark disquietude moves the wood, this horror at the nightfall, and doubt of the coming hours. Touched as with a subtle stream, the pointlets of the oak–leaves rise, the crimped fans of the beech are fluttered, and lift their glossy ovals, the pendulous chains of the sycamore swing; while the poplar flickers its silver skirts, the tippets and ruffs of the ivy are ruffling, and even the three–lobed bramble–leaf cannot repress a shiver.
Touched with a stream at least as subtle, we, who are wandering among the dark giants, shiver and shrink, we know not why; and our hearts beat faster, to feel how they beat. The cause is the same both for tree and for man. Earthly nature has not learned to count upon immortality. Therefore all her works, unaided, loathe to be undone.
Whether it were this, or his craving for his dinner, that made Sir Cradock Nowell feel chilled, as he waited under the shuddering trees for his friend John Rosedew – far be it from me to say, because it may have been both, sir. And the other cause to which he always ascribed it – after the event – to wit, a divine afflatus of diabolical presentiment, is one we have no faith in, until we own to nightmare. Anyhow, there he was, for upwards of an hour; and no John Rosedew came up the hill, which Sir Cradock did not feel it at all his duty to descend, on the very safe presentiment of the distress revocare gradum.
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