Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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Meanwhile John Rosedew was speeding merrily, according to his ideas of speed (which were relative to the last degree), along a narrow bridle–way, some two miles to the westward. It would be a serious insult – so the parson argued – to the understanding of any man who understood a horse, and now John Rosedew had owned Cor?bus very nearly nine months, and though he had never owned a horse before, surely by this time he could set papers in the barbara celarent of the most recondite horse–logic – or was it dialectics? – an insult it would be to that Hippicus who felt himself fit now to go to a fair and discuss many points with the jockeys, if anybody suggested to him that Cor?bus ought to trot.
“Trot, sir”! cried John Rosedew, to an imaginary Hippodamas, “hasn?t he been trotting for nearly an hour to–day, sir? Quite an equus tolutarius. And upon my word, I only hope he is not so sore as I am”. Then he threw the reins over the pony?s neck, and let him crop some cytisus.
“Cor?bus, have no fear, my horse, you shall not be overworked. Or if Epirus or Mycen? be thy home and birthplace —incertus ibidem sudor– thrice I have wiped it off, and no oaten particles in it; urit aven?, so I suppose oats must dry the skin. ‘Ad terramque fluit devexo pondere cervix’, a line not to be rendered in English, even by my Cradock. How fine that whole description, but made up from alien sources! Oh how Lucretius would have done it! Most sad that he was not a Christian”.
A believer was what John Rosedew meant. But by this time he was beginning to look upon all his classical friends as in some sort Christians, if they only believed in their own gods. Wherein, I fear, he was far astray from the text of one of the Articles.
Cob Cor?bus by this time knew his master thoroughly; and exercising his knowledge cleverly, made his shoes last longer. If the weather felt muggy and “trying” – from an equine view of probation – if the road was rough and against the grain, even if the forest–fly came abroad upon business, Cor?bus used (in sporting parlance) to “shut up” immediately. This he did, not in a defiant tone, not in a mode to provoke antagonism; he was far too clever a horse for that; but with every appearance of a sad conviction that his master had no regard for him. At this earnest appeal to his feelings, John Rosedew would dismount in haste, and reflect with admiration upon the weeping steeds of Achilles, or the mourning horse of Mezentius, while he condemned with acrimony the moral conveyed by a song he had heard concerning the “donkey wot wouldn?t go”. Then he would loosen the girths, and, remonstrating with Cor?bus for his want of self–regard, carefully wipe with his yellow silk pocket–handkerchief first all the accessible parts of the cob that looked at all uncomfortable, and then his own capacious forehead. This being done, he would search around for a juicy mouthful of grass, or dive for an apple or slice of carrot – Cor?bus at the same time diving nasally – into the depths of his black coat pocket, where he usually discovered his lunch, which he had altogether forgotten.While the horse was discussing this little refreshment, John would put his head on one side, and look at him very knowingly, revolving in his mind a question which very often presented itself, whether Cor?bus were descended from Corytha or Hirpinus.
However this may have been – and from his “staying qualities” one would have thought him rather a chip from the old block of Troy – he was the first horse good John Rosedew had ever called his own; and he loved and admired him none the less for certain calumnies spread by the envious about seedy–toes, splints, and spavins. Of these crimes, whatever they might be, the parson found no mention in Xenophon, Pliny, or Virgil, and he was more than half inclined to believe them clumsy modern figments. As for the incontestable fact that Cor?bus began to whistle when irrationally stimulated beyond his six miles an hour, why, that John Rosedew looked upon as a classical accomplishment, and quoted a line from Theocritus. Very swift horses were gifted with this peculiar power, for the safety of those who would otherwise be the victims of their velocity, even as the express train always whistled past Brockenhurst station.
After contemplating the animal till admiration was exhausted, and wondering why some horses have hairy, while others have smooth ankles, he would refresh himself with a reverie about the Numidian cavalry; then declaring that Jem Pottles was “impoliti? notandus”, he would pass his arm through the bridle, and calling to mind the P?on young lady who unduly astonished Darius, pull an old book from some inner pocket, and stroll on, with Cor?bus sniffing now and then at his hat–brim.
To any one who bears in mind what a punctual body Time is, this account of the rector?s doings will make it not incredible that he was often late for dinner. But he never lost reckoning altogether in his circumnavigation, because his leisure did not begin till he had passed the “Jolly Foresters”; for there he must be by a certain hour, or Cor?bus would feel aggrieved, and so would Mrs. Cripps, who always looked for him at or about 1.30 P.M. For some mighty fine company was to be had by a horse who could behave himself, in the stable of the “Jolly Foresters”, about middle–day on a Wednesday. Several high–stepping buggy–mares, one or two satirical Broughamites, even some nags who gave a decided tone to the neighbourhood, silver–hamed Clevelands, and champ–the–bit Clydesdales: even these were not too proud – that they left for vulgarian horses – to snort and blow hard at the “Foresters?” oats, and then eat them up like winking. To this select circle our own Cor?bus had been admitted already, and his conversational powers admired, when he had produced an affidavit that his master was in no way connected with trade.
Cor?bus now bade fair to be spoiled by all this grand society. Every Wednesday he came home less natural, more coxcombical. He turned up his nose at many good horses, whom he had once respected, fellows who wandered about in the forest, and hung down their chins when the rain came! And then he became so affected and false, with an interesting languor, when Amy jumped out to caress him! Verily, friend Cor?bus, thou shalt pay out for this! What call, pray, hast thou to become a humbug, from seeing how men do flourish?
John Rosedew awoke quite suddenly to the laws of time and season, as the hazel branches came over his head, and he could see to read no longer. The grey wood closed about him, to the right hand and to the left; the thick shoots of the alder, the dappled ash, and the osier, hustled among the taller trees whose tops had seen the sunset; tufts of grass, and blackberry–tangles, hipped dog–roses leaning over them, stubby clumps of buckthorn, brake–fern waving six feet high where the ground held moisture – who, but an absent man, would have wandered at dusk into such a labyrinth?
“?Actum est’ with my dinner”, exclaimed the parson aloud, when he awoke to the situation; “and what, perhaps, is more important to thee, at least, Cor?bus, thine also is ‘pessum datum’. And there is no room to turn the horse round without scratching his eyes and his tail so. Nevertheless, this is a path, or at one time must have been so; ‘semita, callis, trames? – that last word is the one for it, if it be derived from ‘traho’ (which, however, I do not believe) – for, lo! there has been a log of wood dragged here even during a post–diluvial period: we will follow this track to the uttermost; what says the cheerful philosopher: – ‘???????? ??????? ?????? ????’. Surely a gun, nay, two, or, more accurately, two explosions; now for some one to show us the way. Cor?bus, be of good cheer, there is supper yet in thy ?????, not ???????; advance then thy best foot. Why not? – seest thou an ???????? Come on, I say, mine horse – Great God! – ” And he was silent.
Tired as he was, Cor?bus had leaped back from the leading rein, then cast up his head and snorted, and with a glare of terror stood trembling. What John Rosedew saw at that moment was stamped on his heart for ever. Across his narrow homeward path, clear in the grey light, and seeming to creep, was the corpse of Clayton Nowell, laid upon its left side, with one hand to the heart, the wan face stark and spread on the ground, the body stretched by the final throe. The pale light wandered over it, and showed it only a shadow. John Rosedew?s nerves were stout and strong, as of a man who has injured none; he had buried hundreds of fellow–men, after seeing them die; but, for the moment, he was struck with a mortal horror. Back he fell, and drove back his horse; he could not look at the dead man?s eyes fixed intently upon him. One minute he stood shivering, and the ash–leaves shivered over him. He was conscious somehow of another presence which he could not perceive. Then he ran up, like a son of God, to what God had left of his brother. The glaze (as of ground glass) in the eyes, the smile that has swooned for ever, the scarlet of the lips turned out with the chalky rim of death, the bulge of the broad breast, never again to rise or fall in breathing – is there one of these changes we do not know, having seen them in our own dearest ones?
But a worse sight than of any dead man – dead, and gone home to his Father – met John Rosedew?s quailing eyes, as he turned towards the opening. It was the sight of Cradock Nowell, clutching his gun with one hand, and clinging hard with the other, while he hung from the bank (which he had been leaping) as a winding–sheet hangs from a candle. The impulse of his leap had failed him, smitten back by horror; it was not in him to go back, nor to come one foot forward. The parson called him by his name, but he could not answer; only a shiver and a moan showed that he knew his baptism. The living was more startled, and more startling, than the dead.
There was a little dog that crept and moaned by Clayton?s body, a little dog that knew no better, never having been taught much. It was a small black Swedish spaniel, skilful only in woodcocks, and pretty well up to a snipe or two, but actually afraid of a pheasant on account of the dreadful noise he made. She knew not any more than the others why her name was “Wena”, and she was perfectly contented with it, though it must have been a corruption. The men said it ought to be “Winifred”; the maids, more romantic, “Rowena”; but very likely John Rosedew was right, being so strong in philology, when he maintained that the name was a syncopated form of “Wadstena”, and indicated her origin.
However, she knew her master?s name better than her own. You had only to say “Clayton”, anywhere or anywhen, and she would lift her tangled ears in a moment, jerk her little whisk of a tail, till you feared for its continuity, and trot about with a sprightly air, seeking all around for him. Now she was cuddled close into his bosom, moaning, and shivering, and licking him, staring wistfully at his eyes and the wound where the blood was welling. She would not let John Rosedew touch him, but snapped as he leaned over; and then she began to whimper softly, and nuzzle her head in closer. “Wena”, he said, in a very low voice – “pretty Wena, let me”. And then she understood that he meant well, and stood up, and watched him intently.
John knew in a moment that all was over between this world and Clayton Nowell. He had felt it from the first glance indeed, but could not keep hope from fluttering. Afterwards he had no idea what he did, or how he did it, but the impression left by that short gaze was as stern as the death it noted. Full in the throat was the ghastly wound, and the charge had passed out at the back of the neck, through the fatal grape–cluster. Though the bright hair flowed in a pool of blood, and the wreck of life was pitiful, the face looked calm and unwrung by anguish, yet firm and staunch, with the courage summoned to ward death rather than meet it.
John Rosedew, shy and diffident in so many little matters, was not a man to be dismayed when the soul is moving vehemently. Now he leaped straight to the one conclusion, fearful as it was.
“Holy God, have mercy on those we love so much! No accident is this, but a savage murder”.
He fell upon his knees one moment, and prayed with a dead hand in his own. He knew, of course, that the soul was gone, a distance thought can never gaze; but prayer flies best in darkness.
Then, with the tears all down his cheeks, he looked round once, as if to mark the things he would have to tell of. In front of the corpse lay the favourite gun, with the muzzle plunged into the bushes, as if the owner had fallen with the piece raised to his shoulder. The hammer of one barrel was cocked, of the other on half–cock only; both the nipples were capped, and, of course, both barrels loaded. The line of its fire was not towards Cradock, but commanded a little by–path leading into the heart of the wood.
Meanwhile, Cradock had fallen forward from the steep brow of the hedge–bank; the branch to which he clung in that staggering way had broken. Slowly he rose from the ground, and still intent and horror–struck, unable to come nearer, looked more like one of the smitten trees which they call in the forest “dead men”, than a living and breathing body. John Rosedew, not knowing what he did, ran to the wretched fellow, and tried to take his hand, but the offer was quite unnoticed. With his eyes still fixed on his twin–brother?s corpse, the youth began fumbling clumsily in the pocket of his shooting–coat; he pulled out a powder–flask, and rapidly, never once looking at it, dropped a charge into either barrel. John heard the click of the spring – one, two, as quick as he could have said it. Then the young man drew from his waistcoat–pocket two thick patent wads, and squeezed one into either cylinder. All at once it struck poor “Uncle John” what he was going to do. Preparing to shoot himself!
“Cradock, my boy, is this all the fear of God I have taught you”?
Cradock looked at him curiously, and nodded his head in acknowledgment. It was plain that his wits were wandering. The parson immediately seized the gun, and sowed the powder broadcast, then wrenched the flask away from him with a hand there was no resisting. Then for the first time he observed Caldo in the hedge, “down–charging”; the well–trained dog had never moved from the moment his master fired.
“Come with me at once, come home, Cradock; boy, you shall come home with me”!
But the man of threescore was not quick enough for the young despair. Cradock was out of sight in the thicket, and Caldo galloped after him. Wild with himself for his slowness of wit, John Rosedew ran to poor Clayton?s gun, for fear of his brother finding it. Then he took from the dead boy?s pocket his new and burnished powder–flask, though it went to his heart to do it, and leaped upon the back of Cor?bus, without a thought of Xenophon. Only Wena was left to keep her poor master company.
How the rector got to the Hall I know not, neither has he any recollection; but he must have sat his horse like a Nimrod, and taken a hedge and two ditches. All we know is that he did get there, with Cor?bus as frightened as he was, and returned to the place of disaster and death, with three men, of whom Dr. Hutton was one. Sir Cradock was not yet come back to his home, and the servants received proper orders.
As the four men, walking in awe and sorrow, cast the light of a lamp through the bushes, they heard a quick rustle of underwood, and crackle of the dead twigs, but saw no one moving.
“Some one has been here since I left”, exclaimed John Rosedew, trembling; “some one has lain beside the body, and put marks of blood on the forehead”.
Each of the men knew, of course, what it was – Cradock embracing his brother!
“A good job you took the gun away; wonder you had the sense, though”, said Rufus Hutton, sharply, to pretend he wasn?t crying; “I only know what I should have done, if I had shot my brother so – blown out the remains of my brains, sir”!
“Hush”! said John Rosedew, solemnly, and his deep voice made their hearts thrill; “it is not our own life to will or to do with. In the hands of the Lord are our life and our death”.
They knelt around the pale corpse tenderly, shading the lamp from the eyes of it; even Rufus could not handle it in a medical manner. One of the men, who always declared that he had saved Clayton?s life in his childhood, fell flat on the ground, and sobbed fearfully. I cannot dwell on it any more; it makes a fellow cry to think of it. Only, thank God, that I am not bound to tell how they met his father.
Mark Stote, the head–gamekeeper on the Nowelhurst estate, was a true and honest specimen of the West Saxon peasant – slow, tenacious, and dogged, faithful and affectionate, with too much deference, perhaps, to all who seemed “his betters”. He was now about fifty years old, but sturdy and active as ever, with a weather–beaten face and eyes always in quest of something. His home was a lonely cottage in one of the plantations, and there he had a tidy and very intelligent wife, and a host of little anxieties. His children, the sparrow–hawks, the weasels, the young fellows who “called theirselves under–keepers, and all they kept was theirselves, sir”, – what with these troubles, and (worst, perhaps, of all) that nest of charcoal–burners by the bustle–headed oak, with Black Will at the head of them, sometimes, Mark Stote would assure us, his head was gone “all wivvery11
A mizzly, drizzly rain set in before the poor people got home that evening with the body of Clayton Nowell. Long mournful soughs of wind ensued, the boughs of the trees went heavily, and it blew half a gale before morning; but it takes a real storm to penetrate some parts of the forest. Once, however, let the storm get in, and it makes the most of the opportunity, raging with triple fury, as a lion does in a compound – the rage of the imperious blast, when it finds no exit.
In the grey of the morning, two men met, face to face, in the overhanging of the Coffin Wood. Which was the more scared of the two, neither could have said; although each felt a little pleased at the terror of the other. The one of strong nerves was superstitious; the other, though free from much superstition, was nervous under the circumstances. The tall and big man was Mark Stote, the little fellow who frightened him Dr. Rufus Hutton. The latter, of course was the first to recover presence of mind, for Mark Stote?s mental locomotion was of ponderous metal.
“What brings you here, Mr. Stote, at this time of the morning”?
“And what brings you here, Dr. Hutton”?
Mark might have asked with equal reason. He wondered afterwards why he did not; the wonder would have been if he had. As it was, he only said —
“To see the rights o’ my young meester, sir”.
“The wrongs, you mean”, said Rufus; “Mark Stote, there is more in this matter than any man yet has guessed at”.
“You be down upon the truth of it, my word for it but you be, sir. I?ve a shot along o’ both of ’em, since ’em wor that haigh, and see?d how they thought of their guns, sir; Meester Clayton wor laike enough to shoot Meester Cradock ’xidentually; but never wicey warse, sir, as the parson sayeth, never wicey warse, sir, for I niver see no one so cartious laike”.
“Mark Stote, do you mean to say that Cradock shot his brother on purpose”?
Mark stared at Rufus for several moments, then he thrust forth his broad brown hand and seized him by the collar. Dr. Hutton felt that he was nothing in that big man?s grasp, but he would not play the coward.
“Stote, let me go this instant. I?ll have you discharged this very day unless you beg my pardon”.
“That you moy then, if you can, meester. A leetle chap coom fram Ingy, an’ we bin two hunner and feefty year ’long o’ the squire and his foregoers”! Nevertheless he let Rufus go, and looked over his hat indignantly.
“You are an honest fellow”, cried Hutton, when he got his breath again; “an uncommonly honest fellow, although in great need of enlightenment. It is not in my nature, my man”, here he felt like a patron, getting over his shaking, so elastic was his spirit; “I assure you, Luke – ah no, your name is Matthew; upon my word, I beg your pardon, I am almost sure it is Mark – Mr. Mark, I shall do my utmost for your benefit. Now talk no more, but act, Mark”.
“I oodn?t a talked nothing, but for mating with your honour”.
“Then resume your taciturnity, which I see is habitual with you, and perhaps constitutional”.
Mark Stote felt sore all over. Dr. Hutton now was the collarer. Mark, in his early childhood, had been to school for a fortnight, and ran away with a sense of rawness, which any big word renewed.
“Mr. Stote, I will thank you to search in that direction, while I investigate this way”.
Mark Stote longed to suggest that possibly Dr. Hutton, being (as you might say) a foreigner, was not so well skilled in examining ground as a woodman of thirty years’ standing; and therefore that he, old Mark, should have the new part assigned to him, before it was trampled by Rufus. But the gamekeeper knew not how to express it; sure though he was (as all of us are, when truth hits the heart like a hammer) that something evil would come of slurring the matter so feebly. But who are we to blame him? – we who transport a poor ignorant girl for trying to hide her ignominy, while we throttle, before she can cry, babe Truth, who should be received in society with a “Welcome, little stranger”!
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