Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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“You have indeed”, said Rufus, pushing his advantage: a generous man would have said, “No, you haven?t”, at seeing the parson?s distress, and so would Rufus have said, if he had happened to be in the right; “so violent, Mr. Rosedew, that I believe you almost frightened me”.
“Dear me”! said John, reflecting, “and he has just leaped an oak–tree! I must have been very bad”.
“Don?t mention it, my dear sir, I entreat you say no more about it. We all know what a father is”. And Rufus Hutton, who did not yet, but expected to know in some three months, grew very large, and felt himself able to patronise the rector. “Mr. Rosedew, I as well am to blame. I am thoughtless, sir, very thoughtless, or rather I should say too thoughtful; I am too fond of seeing round a corner, which I have always been famous for. Sir, a man who possesses this power, this gift, this – I don?t know the word for it, but I have no doubt you do – that man is apt to – I mean to – ”
“Knock his head against a wall”? suggested the parson, in all good faith.
“No, you mistake me; I don?t mean that at all; I mean that a man with this extraordinary foresight, which none can understand except those who are gifted with it, is liable sometimes, is amenable – I mean to – to – ”
“See double. Ah, yes, I can quite understand it”. John Rosedew shut his eyes, and felt up for a disquisition, yet wanted to hear of his daughter.
“No, my dear sir, no. It is something very far from anything so commonplace as that. What I mean is – only I cannot express it, because you interrupt me so – that a man may have this faculty, this insight, this perception, which saves him from taking offence where none whatever is meant, and yet, as it were by some obliquity of the vision, may seem, in some measure, to see the wrong individual”. Here Rufus felt like the dwarf Alypius, when he had stodged Iamblichus.
“That is an interesting question, and reminds me of the state of ??????? as described in the life of Pyrrho by Diogenes Laertius; whose errors, if I may venture to say it, have been made too much of by the great Isaac Casaubon, then scarcely mature of judgment. It will give me the greatest pleasure to go into that question with you. But not just now. I am thrown out so sadly, and my memory fails me” – John Rosedew had fancied this, by–the–by, ever since he was thirty years old – “only tell me one thing, Dr. Hutton, and I am very sorry for my violence; you meant no harm about my daughter”? Here the grey–haired man, with the mighty forehead, opened his clear blue eyes, and looked down upon Rufus beseechingly.
“Upon my honour as a gentleman, I mean no harm whatever. I made the greatest mistake, and I see the mistake I made”.
“Will you tell me, sir, what it was? Just to ease my mind. I am sure that you will”.
“No, I must not tell you now, until I have worked the matter out. You will thank me for not doing so. But I apologise most heartily. I feel extremely uncomfortable.No claret, sir, but the port, if you please. I was famous, in India, for my nerve; but now it seems to be failing me”.
Rufus, as we now perceive, had fully discovered his mistake, and was trying to trace the consequences. The beautiful girl whom he saw in the wood, that evening, with Clayton Nowell, was not our Amy at all, but Mr. Garnet?s daughter. He knew the face, though changed and white, when it frightened his mare in the moonlight; and, little time as he had to think, it struck him then as very strange that Miss Rosedew should be there. Bull Garnet?s cottage, on the other hand, was quite handy in the hollow.
At this melancholy time, John Rosedew had quite enough to do without any burden of fresh anxieties about his own pet Amy. Nevertheless, that burden was added; not by Dr. Hutton?s vague questions, although they helped to impose it, but by the father?s own observation of his darling?s strange condition. “Can it be”, he asked himself, and often longed to ask her, as he saw only lilies where roses had been, and little hands trembling at breakfast–time, “can it be that this child of mine loved the poor boy Clayton, and is wasting away in sorrow for him? Is that the reason why she will not meet Cradock, nor Cradock meet her, and she trembles at his name? And then that book which Aunt Doxy made her throw on the kitchen fire – very cruel I now see it was of my good sister Eudoxia, though at first I did not think so – that book I know was poor Clayton?s, for I have seen it in his hand. Well, if it truly is so, there is nothing to be done, except to be unusually kind to her, and trust to time for the cure, and give her plenty of black–currant jam”.
These ideas he imparted to the good Aunt Doxy, who delivered some apophthegms (which John did not want to listen to), but undertook, whatever should happen, to be down upon Amy sharply. She knew all about her tonsils and her uvula, and all that stuff, and she did not want John?s advice, though she had never had a family; and thank God heartily for it!
On Monday, when the funeral came to Nowelhurst churchyard, John Rosedew felt his heart give way, and could not undertake it. At the risk of deeply offending Sir Cradock, whose nerves that day were of iron, he passed the surplice to his curate, Mr. Pell, of Rushford; and begged him, with a sad slow smile, to do the duty for him. Sir Cradock Nowell frowned, and coloured, and then bowed low with an icy look, when he saw the change which had been made, and John Rosedew fall in as a mourner. People said that from that day the old friendship was dissevered.
John, for his part, could not keep his eyes from the nook of the churchyard, where among the yew–trees stood, in the bitterness of anguish, he who had not asked, nor been asked, to attend as mourner. Cradock bowed his head and wept, for now his tears came freely, and prayed the one Almighty Father, who alone has mercy, not to take his misery from him, but to take him from it.
When the mould was cast upon the coffin, black Wena came between people?s legs, gave a cry, and jumped in after it, thinking to retrieve her master, like a stick from the water. She made such a mournful noise in the grave, and whimpered, and put her head down, and wondered why no one said “Wena, dear”, that all the school–girls burst out sobbing – having had apples from Clayton lately – and Octavius Pell, the great cricketer, wanted something soft for his throat.
That evening, when all was over, and the grave heaped snugly up, and it was time to think of other things and begin to wonder at sorrow, John Rosedew went to Sir Cradock Nowell, not only as a fellow–mourner and a friend of ancient days, but as a minister of Christ. It had cost John many struggles; and, what with his sense of worldly favours, schoolday–friendship, delicacy, he could scarce tell what to make of it, till he just went down on his knees and prayed; then the learned man learned his duty.
Sir Cradock turned his head away, as if he did not want him. John held out his hand, and said nothing.
“Mr. Rosedew, I am surprised to see you. And yet, John, this is kind of you”.
John hoped that he only said “Mr. Rosedew”, because the footman was lingering, and he tried not to feel the difference.
“Cradock, you know what I am, as well as I know what you are. Fifty years, my dear fellow, fifty years of friendship”.
“Yes, John, I remember when I was twelve years old, and you fought Sam Cockings for me”.
“And, Cradock, I thrashed him fairly; you know I thrashed him fairly. They said I got his head under the form; but you know it was all a lie. How I do hate lies! I believe it began that day. If so, the dislike is subjective. Perhaps I ought to reconsider it”.
“John, I know nothing in your life which you ought to reconsider, except what you are doing now”.
Sir Cradock Nowell began the combat, because he felt that it must be waged; and perhaps he knew in that beginning that he had the weaker cause.
“Cradock, I am doing nothing which is not my simple duty. When I see those I love in the deepest distress, can I help siding with them”?
“Upon that principle, or want of it, you might espouse, as a duty, the cause of any murderer”.
The old man shuddered, and his voice shook, as he whispered that last word. As yet he had not worked himself up, nor been worked up by others, to the black belief which made the living lost beyond the dead.
“I am sure I don?t know what I might do”, said John Rosedew, simply, “but what I am doing now is right; and in your heart you know it. Come, Cradock, as an old man now, and one whom God has visited, forgive your poor, your noble son, who never will forgive himself”.
But for one word in that speech, John Rosedew would perhaps have won his cause, and reconciled son and father.
“My noble son indeed, John! A very noble thing he has done. Shall I never hear the last of his nobility? And who ever called my Clayton noble? You have been unfair throughout, John Rosedew, most unfair and blind to the merits of my more loving, more simple–hearted, more truly noble boy, I tell you”.
Mr. Rosedew, at such a time, could not of course contest the point, could not tell the bereaved old man that it was he himself who had been unfair.
“And when”, asked Sir Cradock, getting warmer, “when did you know my poor boy Violet stick up for political opinions of his own at the age of twenty, want to drain tenants’ cottages, and pretend to be better and wiser than his father”?
“And when have you known Cradock do, at any rate, the latter”?
“Ever since he got that scholarship, that Scotland thing at Oxford” – Sir Cradock knew the name well enough, as every Oxford man does – “he has been perfectly insufferable; such arrogance, such conceit, such airs! And he only got it by a trick. Poor Viley ought to have had it”.
John Rosedew tried to control himself, but the gross untruth and injustice of that last accusation were a little too much for him.
“Perhaps, Sir Cradock Nowell, you will allow that I am a competent judge of the relative powers of the two boys, who knew all they did know from me, and from no one else”.
“Of course, I know you are a competent judge, only blinded by partiality”.
John allowed even that to go by.
“Without any question of preference, simply as a lover of literature, I say that Clayton had no chance with him in a Greek examination. In Latin he would have run him close. You know I always said so, even before they went to college. I was surprised, at the time, that they mentioned Clayton even as second to him”.
“And grieved, I dare say, deeply grieved, if the truth were told”!
“It is below me to repel mean little accusations”.
“Come, John Rosedew”, said Sir Cradock, magnanimously and liberally, “I can forgive you for being quarrelsome, even at such a time as this. It always was so, and I suppose it always will be. To–day I am not fit for much, though perhaps you do not know it. Thinking so little of my dead boy, you are surprised that I should grieve for him”.
“I should be surprised indeed if you did not. God knows even I have grieved deeply, as for a son of my own”.
“Shake hands, John; you are a good fellow – the best fellow in the world. Forgive me for being petulant. You don?t know how my heart aches”.
After that it was impossible to return for the moment to Cradock Nowell. But the next day John renewed the subject, and at length obtained a request from the father that his son should come to him.
By this time Cradock hardly knew when he was doing anything, and when he was doing nothing. He seemed to have no regard for any one, no concern about anything, least of all for himself. Even his love for Amy Rosedew had a pall thrown over it, and lay upon the trestles. The only thing he cared at all for was his father?s forgiveness: let him get that, and then go away and be seen no more among them. He could not think, or feel surprise, or fear, or hope for anything; he could only tell himself all day long, that if God were kind He would kill him. A young life wrecked, so utterly wrecked, and through no fault of its own; unless (as some begin to dream) we may not slay for luxury; unless we have but a limited right to destroy our Father?s property.
Sir Cradock, it has been stated, cared a great deal more for his children than he did for his ancestors. He had not been wondering, through his sorrow, what the world would say of him, what it would think of the Nowells; he had a little too much self–respect to care a fig for fool?s–tongue. Now he sat in his carved oak–chair, expecting his only son, and he tried to sit upright. But the flatness of his back was gone, never to return; and the shoulder–blades showed through his coat, like a spoon left under the tablecloth. Still he appeared a stately man, one not easily bowed by fortune, or at least not apt to acknowledge it.
Young Cradock entered his father?s study, with a flush on his cheeks, which had been so pale, and his mind made up for endurance, but his wits going round like a swirl of leaves. He could not tell what he might say or do. He began to believe he had shot his father, and to wonder whether it hurt him much. Trying in vain to master his thoughts, he stood with his quivering hands clasped hard, and his chin upon his breast.
So perhaps Adrastus stood, Adrastus son of Gordias, before the childless Cr?sus; and the simple words are these.
“After this there came the Lydians carrying the corpse. And behind it followed the slayer. And standing there before the corpse, he gave himself over to Cr?sus, stretching forth his hands, commanding to slay him upon the corpse, telling both his own former stress, and how upon the top of that he had destroyed his cleanser, nor was his life now liveable. Cr?sus, having heard these things, though being in so great a trouble of the hearth, has compassion on Adrastus, and says to him – ”
“But Adrastus, son of Gordias, son of Midas, this man, I say, who had been the slayer of his womb–brother, and slayer of him that cleansed him, when there was around the grave a quietude from men, feeling that he was of all men whom he had ever seen the most weighed down with trouble, kills himself dead upon the tomb”.
But the father now was not like Croesus, the generous–hearted Lydian, although the man who stood before him was not a runagate from Phrygia, but the son of his own loins. The father did not look at him, but kept his eyes fixed on the window, as though he knew not any were near him. Then the son could wait no more, but spoke in a hollow, trembling voice:
“Father, I am come, as you ordered”.
“Yes. I will not keep you long. Perhaps you want to go out” (“shooting” he was about to say, but could not be quite so cruel). “I only wish so to settle matters that we may meet no more”.
“Oh, father – my own father! – for God?s sake! – if there be a God – don?t speak to me like that”!
“Sir, I shall take it as a proof that you are still a gentleman, which at least you used to be, if you will henceforth address me as ‘Sir Cradock Nowell’, a title which soon will be your own”.
“Father, look me in the face, and ask me; then I will”.
Sir Cradock Nowell still looked forth the heavily–tinted window. His son, his only, his grief–worn son, was kneeling at his side, unable to weep, too proud to sob, with the sense of deep wrong rising.
If the father once had looked at him, nature must have conquered.
“Mr. Nowell, I have only admitted you that we might treat of business. Allow me to forget the face of a fratricide, perhaps murderer”.
Cradock Nowell fell back heavily, for he had risen from his knees. The crown of his head crashed the glass of a picture, and blood showered down his pale face. He never even put his hand up, to feel what was the matter. He said nothing, not a syllable; but stood there, and let the room go round. How his mother must have wept, if she was looking down from heaven!
The old man, having all the while a crude, dim sense of outrunning his heart, gave the youth time to recover himself, if it were a thing worth recovering.
“Now, as to our arrangements – the subject I wished to speak about. I only require your consent to the terms I propose, until, in the natural course of events, you succeed to the family property”.
“What family property, sir”? Cradock?s head was dizzy still, the bleeding had done him good.
“Why, of course, the Nowelhurst property; all these entailed estates, to which you are now sole heir”.
“I will never touch one shilling, nor step upon one acre of it”.
“Under your mother?s – that is to say, under my marriage–settlement”, continued Sir Cradock, in the same tone, as if his son were only bantering, “you are at once entitled to the sum of 50,000l. invested in Three per Cent. Consols – which would have been – I mean, which was meant for younger children. This sum the trustees will be prepared – ”
“Do you think I will touch it? Am I a thief as well as a murderer”?
“I shall also make arrangements for securing to you, until my death, an income of 5000l. per annum. This you can draw for quarterly, and the cheques will be countersigned by my steward, Mr. Garnet”.
“Of course, lest I should forge. Once for all, hear me, Sir Cradock Nowell. So help me the God who has now forsaken me, who has turned my life to death, and made my own father curse me – every word of yours is a curse, I say – so help me that God (if there be one to help, as well as to smite a man), till you crave my pardon upon your knees, as I have craved yours this day, I will never take one yard of your land, I will never call myself ‘Nowell’, or own you again as my father. God knows I am very unlucky and little, but you have shown yourself less. And some day you will know it”.
In the full strength of his righteous pride, he walked for the first time like a man, since he leaped that deadly hedge. From that moment a change came over him. There was nothing to add to his happiness, but something to rouse his manhood. The sense of justice, the sense of honour – that flower and crown of justice – forbade him henceforth to sue, and be shy, and bemoan himself under hedges. From that day forth he was as a man visited of God, and humbled, but facing ever his fellow–men, and not ashamed of affliction.
With an even step, and no frown on his forehead, nor glimpse of a tear in his eyes, young Cradock walked to his own little room, his “nest”, as he used to call it; where pipes, and books, and Oxford prints – no ballet–girls, however, and not so very many hunters – and whips, and foils, and boxing–gloves —cum multis aliis qu? nunc describere longum est; et cui non dicta long ago? – were handled more often than dusted. All these things, except one pet little pipe, which he was now come to look for, and which Viley had given him a year ago, when they swopped pipes on their birthday (like Diomed and the brave Lycian), all the rest were things of a bygone age, to be thought of no more for the present, but dreamed of, perhaps, on a Christmas–eve, when the air is full of luxury.
Caring but little for any of them, although he had loved them well until they seemed to injure him, Cradock proceeded with great equanimity to do a very foolish thing, which augured badly for the success of a young man just preparing to start for himself in the world. He poured the entire contents of his purse into a little cedar tray, then packed all the money in paper rolls with a neatness which rather astonished him, and sealed each roll with his amethyst ring. Then he put them into a little box of some rare and beautiful palm–wood, which had been his mother?s, laid his cheque–book beside them (for he had been allowed a banking account long before he was of age), and placed upon that his gold watch and chain, and trinkets, the amethyst ring itself, his diamond studs, and other jewellery, even a locket which had contained two little sheaves of hair, bound together with golden thread, but from which he first removed, and packed in silver paper, the fair hair of his mother. This last, with the pipe which Clayton had given him, and the empty purse made by Amy?s fingers, were all he meant to carry away, besides the clothes he wore.
After locking the box he rang the bell, and begged the man who answered it to send old Hogstaff to him. That faithful servant, from whom he had learned so many lessons of infancy, came tottering along the passage, with his old eyes dull and heavy. For Job had gloried in those two brothers, and loved them both as the children of his elder days. And now one of them was gone for ever, in the height of his youth and beauty, and a whisper was in the household that the other would not stay. Of him, whom Job had always looked upon as his future master (for he meant to outlive the present Sir Cradock, as he had done the one before him), he had just been scoring upon his fingers all the things he had taught him – to whistle “Spankadillo”, while he drummed it with his knuckles; to come to the pantry–door, and respond to the “Who?s there”? – “A grenadier”! shouldering a broomstick; to play on the Jew?s–harp, with variations, “An old friend, and a bottle to give him”; and then to uncork the fictitious bottle with the pop of his forefinger out of his mouth, and to decant it carefully with the pat of his gurgling cheeks! After all that, how could he believe Master Crad could ever forsake him?
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