Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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“Well, dear Rufus, and so I can. To please you, I don?t mind at all throwing aside my banner–screen, and leaving my letter to cousin Magnolia”.
“No, no. I don?t mean that. I mean, how I wish you understood it”.
“Understood it, Rue! Well, I?m sure! As if anybody couldn?t plant a tree! And I, who had a pair of gardening gloves when I was only that high”!
“Roe, now listen to me. Not one in a hundred even of professional gardeners, who have been at it all their lives, knows how to plant a tree”.
“Well, then, Rufus, if that is the case, I think it very absurd of you to expect that I should. But Jonah will teach me, I dare say. I?ll begin to learn this afternoon”.
“No, indeed, you won?t. At any rate, you must not practise on my trees; nor in among them, either. But you may plant the mop, dear, as often as you like, in that empty piece of ground where the cauliflowers were”.
“Plant the mop, indeed! Well, Dr. Hutton, you had better ride back to Nowelhurst, where all the grand people are, if you only come home for the purpose of insulting your poor wife. It is there, no doubt, that you learn to despise any one who is not quite so fine as they are. And what are they, I should like to know? What a poor weak thing I am, to be sure; no wonder no one cares for me. I can have no self–respect. I am only fit to plant the mop”.
Hereupon the blue founts welled, the carmine of the cheeks grew scarlet, the cherry lips turned bigarreaux, and a very becoming fur–edged jacket lifted, as if with a zephyr stealing it.
Rufus felt immediately that he had been the lowest of all low brutes; and almost made up his mind on the spot that it would be decidedly wrong of him to go to Nowelhurst that evening. We will not enter into the scene of strong self–condemnation, reciprocal collaudation, extraordinary admiration, because all married people know it; and as for those who are single, let them get married and learn it. Only in the last act of it, Jonah, from whom they had retreated, came up again, looking rather sheepish – for he had begun to keep a sweetheart – and spake these winged words:
“Plase, sir, if you be so good, it baint no vault o’ maine nohow”.
“Get all those trees at once laid in by the heels. What is no fault of yours, pray? Are you always at your dinner”?
“Baint no vault o’ maine, sir; but there coom two genelmen chaps, as zays they musten zee you”.
“Must see me, indeed, whether I choose it or no! And with all those trees to plant, and the mare to be ready at three o?clock”!
“Zo I tould un, sir; but they zays as they must zee you”.
“In the name of the devil and all his works, but I?ll give them a bitter reception. Let them come this way, Jonah”.
“Oh dear, if you are going to be violent! You know what you are sometimes, Rue – enough to frighten any man”.
“Never, my darling, never. You never find Rufus Hutton formidable to any one who means rightly”.
“No, no, to be sure, dear.But then, perhaps, they may not. And after all that has occurred to–day, I feel so much upset. Very foolish of me, I know. But promise me not to be rash, dear”.
“Have no fear, my darling Rosa. I will never injure any man who does not insult you, dear”.
While Rufus was looking ten feet high, and Mrs. Rufus tripping away, after a little sob and a whisper, Jonah came pelting down the walk with his great feet on either side of it, as if he had a barrow between them. At the same time a voice came round the corner past the arbutus–tree, now quivering red with strawberries, and the words thereof were these:
“Perfect Paradise, my good sir! I knew it must be, from what I heard of him. Exactly like my friend the Dook?s, but laid out still more tastefully. Bless me, why, his Grace must have copied it! Won?t I give him a poke in the ribs when he dines with me next Toosday! Sly bird, a sly bird, I say, though he is such a capital fellow. Knew where to come, I?m blest if he didn?t, for taste, true science, and landscape”.
“Haw! Yes; I quite agree with you. But his Grace has nothing so chaste, so perfect as this, in me opeenion, sir. Haw”!
The cockles of the Rufine heart swelled warmly; for of course he heard every word of it, though, of course, not intended to do so. “Now Rosa ought to have heard all that”, was passing in his mind, when two gentlemen stood before him, and were wholly amazed to see him. One of them was a short stout man, not much taller than Rufus, but of double his cubic contents; the other a tall and portly signor, fitted upon spindle shins, with a slouch in his back, grey eyebrows, long heavy eyes, and large dewlaps.
The short gentleman, evidently chief spokesman and proud of his elocution, waved his hat most gracefully, when he recovered from his surprise, drew back for a yard or so, in his horror at intruding, and spoke with a certain flourish, and the air of a man above humbug.
“Mr. Nowell Corklemore, I have the honour of making you known to the gentleman whose scientific fame has roused such a spirit among us. Dr. Hutton, sir, excuse me, the temptation was too great for us. My excellent friend, Lord Thorley, who has, I believe, the honour of being related to Mrs. Hutton, pressed his services upon us, when he knew what we desired. But, sir, no. ‘My lord’, said I, ‘we prefer to intrude without the commonplace of society; we prefer to intrude upon the footing of common tastes, my lord, and warm, though far more rudimental and vague pursuit of science’. Bless me, all this time my unworthy self, sir! I am too prone to forget myself, at least my wife declares so. Bailey Kettledrum, sir, is my name, of Kettledrum Hall, in Dorset. And I have the enlightenment, sir, to aspire to the honour of your acquaintance”.
Rufus Hutton bowed rather queerly to Mr. Nowell Corklemore and Mr. Bailey Kettledrum; for he had seen a good deal of the world, and had tasted sugar–candy. Moreover, the Kettledrum pattern was known to him long ago; and he had never found them half such good fellows as they pretend to think other people. Being, however, most hospitable, as are nearly all men from India, he invited them to come in at once, and have some lunch after their journey. They accepted very warmly; and Mrs. Hutton, having now appeared and been duly introduced, Bailey Kettledrum set off with her round the curve of the grass–plot, as if he had known her for fifty years, and had not seen her for twenty–five. He engrossed her whole attention by the pace at which he talked, and by appeals to her opinion, praising all things, taking notes, red–hot with admiration, impressively confidential about his wife and children, and, in a word, regardless of expense to make himself agreeable. Notwithstanding all this, he did not get on much, because he made one great mistake. He rattled and flashed along the high road leading to fifty other places, but missed the quiet and pleasant path which leads to a woman?s good graces – the path, I mean, which follows the little brook called “sympathy”, a winding but not a shallow brook, over the meadow of soft listening.
Mr. Nowell Corklemore, walking with Rufus Hutton, was, as he was forced to be by a feeble nature enfeebled, a dry and pompous man.
“Haw! I am given to understand you have made all this yourself, sir. In me ’umble opeenion, it does you the greatest credit, sir; credit, sir, no less to your heart than to your head. Haw”!
Here he pointed with his yellow bamboo at nothing at all in particular.
“Everything is in its infancy yet. Wait till the trees grow up a little. I have planted nearly all of them. All except that, and that, and the weeping elm over yonder, where I sit with my wife sometimes. Everything is in its infancy”.
“Excuse me; haw! If you will allow me, I would also say, with the exception of something else”. And he looked profoundly mystic.
“Oh, the house you mean”, said Rufus. “No, the house is not quite new; built some seven years back”.
“Sir, I do not mean the house – but the edifice, haw! – the tenement of the human being. Sir, I mean, except just this”.
He shut one eye, like a sleepy owl, and tapped the side of his head most sagely; and then he said “Haw”! and looked for approval.
And he might have looked a very long time, in his stupidly confident manner, without a chance of getting it; for Rufus Hutton disliked allusions even to age intellectual, when you came to remember that his Rosa was more than twenty years younger.
“Ah, yes, now it strikes me”, continued Mr. Corklemore, as they stood in front of the house, “that little bow–window – nay, I am given to understand, that bay–window is the more correct – haw! I mean the more architectural term – I think I should have felt inclined to make that nice bay–window give to the little grass–plot. A mere question, perhaps, of idiosyncrasy, haw”!
“Give what”? asked Rufus, now on the foam. That his own pet lawn, which he rolled every day, his lawn endowed with manifold curves and sweeps of his own inventing, with the Wellingtonia upon it, and the plantain dug out with a cheese–knife – that all this should be called a “little grass–plot”, by a fellow who had no two ideas, except in his intonation of “Haw”!
“Haw! It does not signify. But the term, I am given to understand, is now the correct and recognised one”.
“I wish you were given to understand anything except your own importance”, Rufus muttered savagely, and eyed the yellow bamboo.
“Have you – haw! excuse my asking, for you are a great luminary here; have you as yet made trial of the Spergula pilifera”?
“Yes; and found it the biggest humbug that ever aped God?s grass”.
Dr. Hutton was always very sorry when he had used strong language; but being a thin–skinned, irritable, cut–the–corner man, he could not be expected to stand Nowell Corklemore?s “haws”.
And Mr. Corklemore had of “haw” no less than seven intonations. First, and most common of all, the haw of self–approval. Second, the haw of contemplation. Third, the haw of doubt and inquiry. Fourth, that of admiration. Fifth, that of interlude and hiatus, when words or ideas lingered. Sixth, the haw of accident and short–winded astonishment; e. g. he had once fallen off a hayrick, and cried “Haw”! at the bottom. Seventh, the haw of indignation and powerful remonstrance, in a totally different key from the rest; and this last he now adopted.
“Haw – then! – haw! – I have been given to understand that the Spergula pilifera succeeds most admirably with people who have – haw! – have studied it”.
“Very likely it does”, said Rufus, though he knew much better, but now he was on his own door–step, and felt ashamed of his rudeness; “but come in, Mr. Corklemore; our ways are rough in these forest outskirts, and we are behind you in civilization. Nevertheless, we are heartily glad to welcome our more intelligent neighbours”.
At lunch he gave them home–brewed ale and pale sherry of no especial character. But afterwards, being a genial soul, and feeling still guilty of rudeness, he went to the cellar himself and fetched a bottle of the richest Indian gold. Mrs. Hutton withdrew very prettily; and the three gentlemen, all good judges of wine, began to warm over it luminously, more softly indeed than they would have done after a heavy dinner. Surely, noble wine deserves not to be the mere operculum to a stupidly mixed hot meal.
“Have another bottle, gentlemen; now do have another bottle”.
“Not one drop more for the world”, exclaimed they both, with their hands up. None the less for that, they did; and, what was very unwise of them, another after that, until I can scarcely write straight in trying to follow their doings. Meanwhile Jonah had prigged three glassfuls out of the decanter left under the elm–tree.
“Now”, said Rufus, who alone was almost in a state of sobriety, “suppose we take a turn in the garden and my little orchard–house? I believe I am indebted to that for the pleasure of your very disagreeable – ahem, most agreeable company to–day”.
Bailey Kettledrum sprang up with a flourish. “No, sir, no, sir! Permit me to defend myself and this most marketable – I – I mean remarkable gentleman here present, Mr. Nowell Corklemore, from any such dis – dish – sparagus, disparagizing imputations, sir. An orchard, sir, is very well, and the trees in it are very well, and the fruit of it is very good, sir; but an orchard can never appear, sir, to a man of exalted sentiments, and temporal – I mean, sir, strictly intemperate judgment, in the light of an elephant – irrelevant – no, sir, I mean of course an equilevant – for a man, sir, for a man”! Here Mr. Bailey Kettledrum hit himself hard on the bosom, and broke the glass of his watch.
“Mr. Kettledrum”, said Rufus, rising, “your sentiments do you honour. Mine, however, is not an orchard, but an orchard–house”.
“Ha, ha, good again! House in an orchard! yes, I see. Corklemore, hear that, my boy? Our admirable host – no, thank you, not a single drop more wine – I always know when I have had enough. Sir, it is the proud privi – prilivege of a man – Corklemore, get up, sir; don?t you see we are waiting for you”?
Mr. Corklemore stared heavily at him; his constitution was a sleepy one, and he thought he had eaten his dinner. His friend nodded gravely at Dr. Hutton; and the nod expressed compassion tempering condemnation.
“Ah, I see how it is. Ever since that fall from the hayrick, the leastest little drop of wine, prej – prej – ”
“Prejudge the case, my lord”, muttered Mr. Corklemore, who had been a barrister.
“Prejudicially affects our highly admired friend. But, sir, the fault is mine. I should have stretched forth long ago the restraining hand of friendship, sir, and dashed the si – si – silent bottle – ”
“Chirping bottle, possibly you mean”.
“No, sir, I do not, and I will thank you not to interrupt me. Who ever heard a bottle chirp? I ask you, sir, as a man of the world, and a man of common sense, who ever heard a bottle chirp? What I mean, sir, is the siren – the siren bottle from his lips. What is it in the Latin grammar – or possibly in the Greek, for I have learned Greek, sir, in the faulchion days of youth; – is it not, sir, this: improba Siren desidia? Perhaps, sir, it may have been in your grammar, if you ever had one, improba chirping desidia”. As he looked round, in the glow and sparkle of lagenic logic, Rufus caught him by the arm, and hurried him out at the garden door, where luckily no steps were. The pair went straight, or, in better truth, went first, to the kitchen garden; Rufus did not care much for flowers; all that he left to his Rosa.
“Now I will show you a thing, sir”, cried Rufus in his glory, “a thing which has been admired by the leading men of the age. Nowhere else, in this part of the world, can you see a piece of ground, sir, cropped in the manner of that, sir”.
And to tell the plain, unvinous truth, the square to which he pointed was a triumph of high art. The style of it was wholly different from that of Mr. Garnet?s beds. Bull Garnet was fond of novelties, but he made them square with his system; the result was more strictly practical, but less nobly theoretical. Dr. Hutton, on the other hand, travelled the entire porker; obstacles of soil and season were as nothing to him, and when the shape of the ground was wrong, he called in the navvies and made it right.
A plot of land four–square, and measured to exactly half an acre, contained 2400 trees, cutting either way as truly as the spindles of machinery; there was no tree more than five feet high, the average height was four feet six inches. They were planted just four feet asunder, and two feet back from the pathway. There was every kind of fruit–tree there, which can be made by British gardeners to ripen fruit in Britain, without artificial heat. Pears especially, and plums, cherries, apples, walnuts (juglans pr?parturiens), figs, and medlars, quinces, filberts, even peaches, nectarines, and apricots – though only one row, in all, of those three; there was scarcely one of those miniature trees which had not done its duty that year, or now was bent upon doing it. Still the sight was beautiful; although far gone with autumn, still Cox?s orange–pippin lit the russet leaves with gold, or Beurr? Clairgeau and Capiaumont enriched the air with scarlet.
Each little tree looked so bright and comely, each plumed itself so naturally, proud to carry its share of tribute to the beneficent Maker, that the two men who had been abusing His choice gift, the vine, felt a little ashamed of themselves, or perhaps felt that they ought to be.
“Magnificent, magnificent”! cried Kettledrum, theatrically; “I must tell the Dook of this. He will have the same next year”.
“Will he, though”? said Rufus, thinking of the many hours he had spent among those trees, and of his careful apprenticeship to the works of their originator; “I can tell you one thing. He won?t, unless he has a better gardener than I ever saw in these parts. Now let us go to the orchard–house”.
The orchard–house was a span–roofed building, very light and airy; the roof and ends were made of glass, the sides of deal with broad falling shutters, for the sake of ventilation. It was about fifty feet in length, twenty in width, and fifteen in height. There was no ventilation at the ridge, and all the lights were fixed. The free air of heaven wandered through, among peaches, plums, and apricots, some of which still retained their fruit, crimson, purple, and golden. The little trees were all in pots, and about a yard apart. The pots were not even plunged in the ground, but each stood, as a tub should, on its own independent bottom. The air of the house was soft and pleasant, with a peculiar fragrance, the smell of ripening foliage. Bailey Kettledrum saw at once – for he had plenty of observant power, and the fumes of wine were dispersing – that this house must have shown a magnificent sight, a month or two ago. And having once more his own object in view, he tripled his true approval.
“Dr. Hutton, this is fine. Fine is not the word for it; this is grand and gorgeous. What a triumph of mind! What a lot you must pay for wages”!
“Thirteen shillings a week in summer, seven shillings a week in the winter”. This was one of his pet astonishments.
“What! I?ll never believe it. Sir, you must either be a conjuror, the devil, or – or – ”
“Or a liar”, said Rufus, placidly; “but I am none of the three. Jonah has twelve shillings a week, but half of that goes for housework. That leaves six shillings for gardening; but I never trust him inside this house, for he is only a clumsy dolt, who does the heavy digging. And besides him I have only a very sharp lad, at seven shillings a week, who works under my own eye. I have in some navvies, at times, it is true, when I make any alterations. But that is outlay, not working expense. Now come and see my young trees just arrived from Sawbridgeworth”.
“Stop one moment. What is this stuff on the top of the pots here? What queer stuff! Why, it goes quite to pieces in my hands”.
“Oh, only a little top–dressing, just to refresh the trees a bit. This way, Mr. Kettledrum”.
“Pardon me, sir, if I appear impertinent or inquisitive. But I have learned so much this afternoon, that I am anxious to learn a little more. My friend, the Dook, will cross–examine me as to everything I have seen here. He knew our intention of coming over. I must introduce you to his Grace, before you are a week older, sir; he has specially requested it. In fact, it was only this morning he said to Nowell Corklemore – but Corklemore, though a noble fellow, a gem of truth and honour, sir, is not a man of our intelligence; in one word, he is an ass”!
“Haw! Nowell Corklemore, Nowell Corklemore is an ass, is he, in the wise opeenion of Mr. Bailey Kettledrum? Only let me get up, good Lord – and perhaps he told the Dook so. There, it?s biting me again, oh Lord! Nowell Corklemore an ass”!
By the door of the orchard–house grew a fine deodara, and behind it lay Mr. Corklemore, beyond all hope entangled. His snores had been broken summarily by the maid coming for the glasses, and he set forth, after a dozen “haws”, to look for his two comrades. With instinct ampeline he felt that his only chance of advancing in the manner of a biped lay or stood in his bamboo. So he went to the stick–stand by the back–door, where he muzzily thought it ought to be. Mrs. Hutton, in the drawing–room, was rattling on the piano, and that made his head ten times worse. His bamboo was not in the stick–stand; nevertheless he found there a gig–umbrella with a yellow handle, like the top of his fidus Achates. Relying upon this, he made his way out, crying “haw”! at every star in the oilcloth. He progged away all down the walk, with the big umbrella; but the button that held the cord was gone, and it flapped like a mutinous windmill. However, he carried on bravely, until he confronted a dark, weird tree, waving its shrouded arms at him. This was the deodara; so he made a tack to the left, and there was hulled between wind and water by an unsuspected enemy. This was Rufus Hutton?s pet of all pet pear–trees, a perfect model of symmetry, scarce three feet six in height, sturdy, crisp, short–jointed, spurred from keel to truck, and carrying twenty great pears. It had been so stopped and snagged throughout, that it was stiffer than fifty hollies; and Rosa was dreadfully jealous of it, because Rufus spent so much time there. He used to go out in the summer forenoon, whenever the sun was brilliant, and draw lines down the fruit with a wet camel?s hairbrush, as the French gardeners do. He had photographed it once or twice, but the wind would move the leaves so.
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