Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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Now Mr. Hogstaff?s legs were getting like the ripe pods of a scarlet–runner (although he did not run much); here they stuck in, and there they stuck out, abnormally in either case; his body began to come forward as if warped at the small of the back; and his honest face (though he drank but his duty) was September?d with many a vintage. And yet, with the keenness of love and custom, he saw at once what the matter was, as he looked up at the young master.
“Oh, Master Crad, dear Master Crad, whatever are you going to do? Don?t, for good now, don?t, I beg on you. Hearken now; do?ee hearken to an old man for a minute”. And he caught him by both arms to stop him, with his tremulous, wrinkled hands.
“O Hoggy, dear, kind Hoggy! you are about the only one left to care about me now”.
“No, don?t you say that, Master Crad; don?t you say that, whatever you do. Whoever tell you that, tell a lie, sir. It was only last night Mrs. Toaster, and cook, and Mrs. O?Gaghan, the Irishwoman, was round the fire boiling, and they cried a deal more than they boiled, I do assure you they did, sir. And Mr. Stote, he come in with some rabbits, and he went on like mad. And the maids, so sorry every one of them, they can?t be content with their mourning, sir; I do assure you they can?t. Oh, don?t ’ee do no harm to yourself, don?t ’ee, Mr. Cradock, sir”.
“No, Hoggy”, said Cradock, taking his hands; “you need not fear that now of me. I have had very wicked thoughts, but God has helped me over them. Henceforth I am resolved to bear my trouble like a man. It is the part of a dog to run, when the hoot begins behind him. Now, take this little box, and this key, and give them yourself to Sir Cradock Nowell. It is the last favour I shall ask of you. I am going away, my dear old friend; don?t keep me now, for I must go. Only give me your good wishes; and see that they mind poor Caldo: and, whatever they say of me behind my back, you won?t believe it, Job Hogstaff, will you”?
Job Hogstaff had never been harder put to it in all his seventy years. Then, as he stood at the open door to see the last of his favourite, he thought of the tall, dark woman?s words so many years ago. “A bonnie pair ye have gat; but ye?ll ha’ no luck o’ them. Tak’ the word of threescore year, ye?ll never get no luck o’ ’em”.
Cradock turned aside from his path, to say good–bye to Caldo. It would only take just a minute, he thought, and of course he should never see him again. So he went to that snuggest and sweetest of kennels, and in front of it sat the king of dogs.
The varieties of canine are as manifold and distinct as those of human nature. But the dog, be he saturnine or facetious, sociable or contemplative, mercurial or melancholic, is quite sure to be one thing – true and loyal ever. Can we, who are less than the dogs of the Infinite, say as much of ourselves to Him? Now Caldo, as has been implied, if not expressed before, was a setter of large philosophy and rare reflective power.I mean, of course, theoretical more than practical philosophy; as any dog would soon have discovered who tried to snatch a bone from him. Moreover, he had some originality, and a turn for satire. He would sit sometimes by the hour, nodding his head impressively, and blinking first one eye and then the other, watching and considering the doings of his fellow–dogs. How fashionably they yawned and stretched, in a mode they had learned from a pointer, who was proud of his teeth and vertebr?; how they hooked up their tails for a couple of joints, and then let them fall at a right angle, having noticed that fashion in ladies’ bustles, when they came on a Sunday to talk to them; how they crawled on their stomachs to get a pat, as a provincial mayor does for knighthood; how they sniffed at each other?s door, with an eye to the rotten bones under the straw, as we all smell about for the wealthy; how their courtesy to one another flowed from their own convenience – these, and a thousand other dog–tricks, Caldo, dwelling apart, observed, but did not condemn, for he felt that they were his own. Now he hushed his bark of joy, and looked up wistfully at his master, for he knew by the expression of that face all things were not as they ought to be. Why had Wena snapped at him so, and avoided his society, though he had always been so good to her, and even thought of an alliance? Why did his master order him home that dull night in the covert, when he was sure he had done no harm? Above all, what meant that moving blackness he had seen through the trees only yesterday, when the other dogs (muffs as they were) expected a regular battue, and came out strong at their kennel doors, and barked for young Clayton to fetch them?
So he looked up now in his master?s face, and guessed that it meant a long farewell, perhaps a farewell for ever. He took a fond look into his eyes, and his own pupils told great volumes. Then he sat up, and begged for a minute or two, with a most beseeching glance, to share his master?s fortunes, though he might have to steal his livelihood, and never get any shooting. Seeing that this could never be, he planted his fore–paws on Cradock?s breast (though he felt that it was a liberty) and nestled his nose right under his cheek, and wanted to keep him ever so long. Then he howled with a low, enduring despair, as the footfall he loved grew fainter.
Looking back sadly, now and then, at the tranquil home of his childhood, whose wings, and gables, and depths of stone were grand in the autumn sunset, Cradock Nowell went his way toward the simple Rectory: he would say good–bye there to Uncle John and the kind Aunt Doxy; Miss Rosedew the younger, of course, would avoid him, as she had done ever since. But suddenly he could not resist the strange desire to see once more that fatal, miserable spot, the bidental of his destiny. So he struck into a side–path leading to the deep and bosky covert.
The long shadows fell from the pale birch stems, the hollies looked black in the sloping light, and the brown leaves fluttered down here and there as the cold wind set the trees shivering. Only six days ago, only half an hour further into the dusk, he had slain his own twin–brother. He crawled up the hedge through the very same gap, for he could not leap it now; his back ached with weakness, his heart with despair, as he stayed himself by the same hazel–branch which had struck his gun at the muzzle. Then he shivered, as the trees did, and his hair, like the brown leaves, rustled, as he knelt and prayed that his brother?s spirit might appear there and forgive him. Hoping and fearing to find it there, he sidled down into the dark wood, and with his heart knocking hard against his ribs, forced himself to go forward.
All at once his heart stood still, and every nerve of his body went creeping – for he saw a tall, white figure kneeling where his brother?s blood was – kneeling, never moving, the hands together as in prayer, the face as wan as immortality, the black hair – if it were hair – falling straight as a pall drawn back from an alabaster coffin–head. The power of the entire form was not of earth, nor heaven; but as of the intermediate state, when we know not we are dead yet.
Cradock could not think nor breathe. The whole of his existence was frozen up in awe. It showed him in the after time, when he could think about it, the ignorance, the insolence, of dreaming that any human state is quit of human fear. While he gazed, in dread to move (not knowing his limbs would refuse him), with his whole life swallowed up in gazing at the world beyond the grave, the tall, white figure threw its arms up to the darkening sky, rose, and vanished instantly.
What do you think Cradock Nowell did? We all know what he ought to have done. He ought to have walked up calmly, with measured yet rapid footsteps, and his eyes and wits well about him, and investigated everything. Instead of that, he cut and ran as hard as he could go; and I know I should have done the same, and I believe more than half of you would, unless you were too much frightened. He would never turn back upon living man; but our knowledge of Hades is limited. We pray for angels around our bed; if they came, we should have nightmare.
Cradock, going at a desperate pace, with a handsome pair of legs, which had recovered their activity, kicked up something hard and bright from a little dollop of leaves, caught it in his hand like a tennis–ball, and leaped the hedge uno impetu. Away he went, without stopping to think, through the splashy sides of the spire–bed, almost as fast, and quite as much frightened, as Rufus Hutton?s mare. When he got well out into the chase, he turned, and began to laugh at himself; but a great white owl flapped over a furze–bush, and away went Cradock again. The light had gone out very suddenly, as it often does in October, and Cradock (whose wind was uncommonly good) felt it his duty to keep good hours at the Rectory. So, with the bright thing, whatever it was, poked anywhere into his pocket, he came up the drive at early tea–time, and got a glimpse through the window of Amy.
“Couldn?t have been Amy, at any rate”, he said to himself, in extinction of some very vague ideas; “I defy her to come at the pace I have done. No, no; it must have been in answer to my desperate prayer”.
Amy was gone, though her cup was there, when Cradock entered the drawing–room. “Well”, he thought, “how hard–hearted she is! But it cannot matter now, much. Though I never believed she would be so”.
Being allowed by his kind entertainers to do exactly as he pleased, poor Cradock had led the life of a hermit more than that of a guest among them. He had taken what little food he required in the garret he had begged for, or carried it with him into the woods, where most of his time was spent. Of course all this was very distressing to the hospitable heart of Miss Doxy; but her brother John would have it so, for so he had promised Cradock. He could understand the reluctance of one who feels himself under a ban to meet his fellow–creatures hourly, and know that they all are thinking of him. So it came to pass that Miss Eudoxia, who now sat alone in the drawing–room, was surprised as well as pleased at the entrance of their refugee. As he hesitated a moment, in doubt of his reception, she ran up at once, took both his hands, and kissed him on the forehead.
“Oh, Cradock, my dear boy, this is kind of you; most kind, indeed, to come and tell me at once of your success. I need not ask – I know by your face; the first bit of colour I have seen in your poor cheeks this many a day”.
“That?s because I have been running, Miss Rosedew”.
“Miss Rosedew, indeed; and now, Cradock! Aunt Eudoxia, if you please, or Aunt Doxy, with all my heart, now”.
He used to call her so, to tease her, in the happy days gone by; and she loved to be teased by him, her pet and idol.
“Dear Aunt Eudoxia, tell me truly, do you think – I can hardly ask you”.
“Think what, Cradock? My poor Cradock; oh, don?t be like that”!
“Not that I did – I don?t mean that – but that it was possible for me to have done it on purpose”?
“Done what on purpose, Cradock”?
“Why, of course, that horrible, horrible thing”.
“On purpose, Cradock! My poor innocent! Only let me hear any one dream of it, and if I don?t come down upon them”.
An undignified sentence, that of Aunt Doxy?s, as well as a most absurd one. How long has she been in the habit of hearing people dream?
“Some one not only dreams it, some one actually believes that I did it so”.
“The low wretch – the despicable – who”?
“My own father”.
I will not repeat what Miss Rosedew said, when she recovered from her gasp, because her language was stronger than becomes an elderly lady and the sister of a clergyman, not to mention the Countess of Driddledrum and Dromore, who must have been wholly forgotten.
“Then you don?t think, dear Aunt Eudoxia, that – that Uncle John would believe it”?
“What, my brother John! Surely you know better than that, my dear”.
“Nor – nor – perhaps not even cousin Amy”?
“Amy, indeed! I do believe that child is perfectly mad. I can?t make her out at all, she is so contradictory. She cries half the night, I am sure of that; and she does not care for her school, though she goes there; and her flowers she won?t look at”.
Seeing that Cradock?s countenance fell more and more at all this, Miss Rosedew, who had long suspected where his heart was dwelling, told him a thing to cheer him up, which she had declared she would never tell.
“Darling Amy is, you know, a very odd girl indeed. Sometimes, when something happens very puzzling and perplexing, some great visitation of Providence, Amy becomes so dreadfully obstinate, I mean she has such delightful faith, that we are obliged to listen to her. And she is quite sure to be right in the end, though at the moment, perhaps, we laugh at her. And yet she is so shy, you can never get at her heart, except by forgetting what you are about. Well, we got at it somehow this afternoon; and you should have heard what she said. Her beautiful great eyes flashed upon us, like the rock that was struck, and gushed like it, before she ended. ‘Can we dare to think’, she cried, ‘that our God is asleep like Baal – that He knows not when He has chastened His children beyond what they can bear? I know that he, who is now so trampled and crushed of Heaven, is not tried thus for nothing. He shall rise again more pure and large, and fresh from the hand of God, and do what lucky men rarely think of – the will of his Creator’. And, when John and I looked at her, she fell away and cried terribly”.
Cradock was greatly astonished: it seemed so unlike young Amy to be carried away in that style. But her comfort and courage struck root in his heart, and her warm faith thawed his despair. Still he saw very little chance, at present, of doing anything but starving.
“How wonderfully good you all are to me! But I can?t talk about it, though I shall think of it as long as I live. I am going away to–night, Aunt Doxy, but I must first see Uncle John”.
Of course Miss Rosedew was very angry, and proved it to be quite impossible that Cradock should leave them so; but, before very long, her good sense prevailed, and she saw that it was for the best. While he stayed there, he must either persist to shut himself up in solitude, or wander about in desert places, and never look with any comfort on the face of man. So she went with him to the door of the book–room, and left him with none but her brother.
John Rosedew sat in his little room, with only one candle to light him, and the fire gone out as usual: his books lay all around him, even his best–loved treasures, but his heart was not among them. The grief of the old, though not wild and passionate as a young man?s anguish, is perhaps more pitiable, because more slow and hopeless. The young tree rings to the keen pruning–hook, the old tree groans to the grating saw; but one will blossom and bear again, while the other gapes with canker. None of his people had heard the rector quote any Greek or Latin for a length of time unprecedented. When a sweet and playful mind, like his, has taken to mope and be earnest, the effect is far more sad and touching than a stern man?s melancholy. Ironworks out of blast are dreary, but the family hearth moss–grown is woeful.
Uncle John leaped up very lightly from his brooding (rather than reading), and shook Cradock Nowell by the hand, as if he never would let him go, all the time looking into his face by the light of a composite candle. It was only to know how he had fared, and John read his face too truly. Then, as Cradock turned away, not wanting to make much of it, John came before him with sadness and love, and his blue eyes glistened softly.
“My boy, my boy”! was all he could say, or think, for a very long time. Then Cradock told him, without a tear, a sigh, or even a comment, but with his face as pale as could be, and his breath coming heavily, all that his father had said to him, and all that he meant to do through it.
“And so, Uncle John”, he concluded, rising to start immediately, “here I go to seek my fortune, such as it will and must be. Good–bye, my best and only friend. I am ten times the man I was yesterday, and shall be grander still to–morrow”. He tried to pop off like a lively cork, but John Rosedew would not have it.
“Young man, don?t be in a hurry. It strikes me that I want a pipe; and it also strikes me that you will smoke one with me”.
Cradock was taken aback by the novelty of the situation. He had never dreamed that Uncle John could, under any possible circumstances, ask him to smoke a pipe. He knew well enough that the rector smoked a sacrificial pipe to Morpheus, in a room of his own up–stairs; only one, while chewing the cud of all he had read that day. But Mr. Rosedew had always discouraged, as elderly smokers do, any young aspirants to the mystic hierophancy. It is not a vow to be taken rashly, for the vow is irrevocable; except with men of no principle.
And now he was to smoke there – he, a mere bubble–blowing boy, to smoke in the middle of deepest books, to fumigate a manuscript containing a lifeful of learning, which John could no more get on with; and – oh Miss Eudoxia! – to make the hall smell and the drawing–room! The oxymoron overcame him, and he took his pipe: John Rosedew had filled it judiciously, and quite as a matter of course; he filled his own in the self–same manner, with a digital skill worthy of an ancient fox trying on a foxglove. All the time, John was shyly wondering at his own great force of character.
“Now”, said John Rosedew, still keeping it up, “I have a drop of very old Schiedam – Schnapps I think, or something – of which I want your opinion; Crad, my boy, I want your opinion, before we import any more. I am no judge of that sort of thing; it is so long since I was at Oxford”.
Without more ado, he went somewhither, after lighting Cradock?s yard of clay – which the young man burnt his fingers about, for he wouldn?t let the old man do it – and came back like a Bacchanal, with a square black–jack beneath his arm, and Jenny after him, wondering whether they had not prayed that morning enough against the devil. It was a good job Miss Amy was out of the way; the old cat was bewitched, that was certain, as well as her dear good master. Miss Doxy was happy in knowing not that she was called “the old cat” in the kitchen.
“Now, Craddy, my dear, dear boy”, said Uncle John, when things had been done with lemon and cold water, and all that wherein discussion so utterly beats description, “you know me too well to suppose that I wish to pass things lightly. I know well enough that you will look the hard world full in the face. And so should I do, in your case. All I wish is that you should do it, not with spite, or bile, or narrowness, but broadly as a Christian”.
“It is hard to talk about that now”, said Cradock, inhaling charity, and puffing away all acrimony; “Uncle John, I hope I may come to it as my better spirit returns to me”.
“I hope it indeed, and believe it, Crad; I don?t see how it can be otherwise, with a young man of your breadth of mind, and solid faith to help you. An empty lad, who snaps up stuff because he thinks it fine, and garbles it into garbage, would become an utter infidel, under what you have suffered. With you, I believe, it will be otherwise; I believe you will be enlarged and purified by sorrow – the night which makes the guiding–star so much the clearer to us”. John Rosedew was drinking no Schiedam – allow me to explain – though pretending rare enjoyment of it, and making Cradock drink a little, because his heart was down so.
After they had talked a pipeful longer, not great weighty sentiments, but a deal of kindly stuff, the young fellow got up quietly, and said, “Now, Uncle John, I must go”.
“My boy, I can trust you anywhere, after what you have been telling me. Of human nature I know nothing, except” – for John thought he did know something – “from my own little experience. I find great thoughts in the Greek philosophers; but somehow they are too general, and too little genial. One thing I know, we far more often mistrust than trust unwisely. And now I can trust you, Cradock; in the main, you will stand upright. Stop, my boy; you must have a scrip; I was saving it for your birthday”.
“You don?t despise me, I hope”? said Cradock; “you don?t think me a coward for running away so? After what has happened to–day, I should go mad, if I stopped here. Not that that would matter much; only that, if it were so, I should be sure to do it”.
John Rosedew had no need to ask what he meant by the last two words, for the hollow voice told him plainly. But for him, it is likely enough that it would have been done ere this; at any rate, in the first horror, his hand alone had prevented it. The parson trembled at the idea, but thought best not to dwell upon it.
“‘Reformidare mortem est animi pusillanimi’, but ‘reformidare vitam’ is ten times worse, because impious. Therefore in your case, my boy, it is utterly impossible, as well as ignoble towards us who love you so. Remember that you will break at least two old hearts you owe some duty to, if you allow your own to be broken. And now for your viaticum; see how you have relieved me. While you lived beneath Hymettian beams in the goods of Tyre and Cyprus, I, even I your godfather, knew not what to give you. The thought has been vexing me for months, and now what a simple solution! You shall have it in the original dross, to pay the toll on the Appian road, at least the South–Western Railway. Figs to Athens, I thought it would be, or even as eels to Copa?s; and now ‘serves iturum C?sarem’. I believe it is at the twenty–first page of my manuscript, such as it is, upon the Sabellian elements”.
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