Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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Perhaps on the whole they were none the worse for the want of public–school training. What they lost thereby in quickness, suspicion, and effrontery, was more than balanced by the gain in purity, simplicity, love of home, and kindliness. For nature had not gifted them with that vulgar arrogance, for which the best prescription is “calcitration nine times a day, and clean the boots for kicking you”. Every year their father took them for a month or two to London, to garnish with some courtly frilling the knuckles of his Hampshire hams. But they only hated it; thorough agricoles they were, and well knew their own blessings: and sweet and gladsome was the morning after each return, though it might be blowing a gale of wind, or drizzling through the ash–leaves. And then the headlong rush to see beloved Uncle John. Nature they loved in any form, sylvan, agrarian, human, when that human form was such as they could climb and nestle in. And there was not in the parish, nor in all the forest, any child so rough and dirty, so shock–headed, and such a scamp, that it could not climb into the arms of John Rosedew?s fellow–feeling.
But I must not dwell on these pleasant days, the father?s glory, the hopes of the sons, the love of all who came near them, and the blessings of Mrs. O?Gaghan.
They were now to go to Oxford, and astonish the natives there, by showing that a little hic, h?c, hoc, may come even out of Galilee; that a youth never drawn through the wire–gauge of Eton, Harrow, or Rugby, may carry still the electric spark, and be taper and well–rounded. Half their learning accrued sub dio, in the manner of the ancients. Uncle John would lead them between the trees and down to some forest dingle, the boy on his right hand construing aloud or parsing very slowly, the little spark at his left all glowing to explode at the first mistake. ??????????? made the running, until he tripped and fell mentally, and even then he was set on his legs, unless the other was down upon him; but in the latter case the yoke–mate leaped into the harness. The stroke–oar on the river that evening was awarded to the one who paced the greatest number of stades in the active voice of expounding. The accuracy, the caution, born of this warm rivalry, became at last so vigilant, that the boy who won the toss for the right–hand place at starting, was almost sure of the stroke–oar.
So they passed the matriculation test with consummate ease, and delighted the college tutor by their clear bold writing. They had not read so much as some men have before entering the University, but all their knowledge was close and firm, and staunch enough for a spring–board. And they wrote most excellent Latin prose, and Greek verse easily flowing. However, Sir Cradock was very nervous on the eve of their departure for the first term of Oxford residence, and led John Rosedew, in whose classical powers he placed the highest confidence, into his private room, and there begged him, as a real friend, tested now for forty years, to tell him bluntly whether the boys were likely to do him credit.
“Don?t spare me, John, and don?t spare them: only let us have no disappointment about it”.
“My dear fellow, my dear fellow”! cried John, tugging at his collar, as he always did when nonplussed, for fear of losing himself; “how on earth can I tell? Most likely the men know a great deal more in the University now than they did when I had lectures.Haven?t I begged you fifty times to have down a young first–classman”?
“Yes, I know you have, John. But I am not quite such a fool, nor so shamelessly ungrateful. To upset the pile of your ten years’ labour, and rebuild it upon its apex! And talk to me of young first–classmen! Why, you know as well as I do, John, that there is not one of them, however brilliant, with a tenth part of your knowledge. It could never be, any more than a young tree can carry the fruit of an old one. Why, when you took your own first–class, they could only find one man to put with you, and you have never ceased to read, read, read, ever since you left old Oriel, and chiefly in taste and philology. And such a memory as you have! John, I am ashamed of you. You want to impose upon me”.
And Sir Cradock fixed the parson?s eyes with that keen and point–blank gaze, which was especially odious to the shy John Rosedew.
“I am sure I don?t. You cannot mean that”, he replied, rather warmly, for, like all imaginative men, when of a diffident cast, he was desperately matter–of–fact the moment his honour was played with. His friend began to smile at him, drawing up his grey moustache, and saying, “Yes, John, you are a donkey”.
“I know that I am”, said John Rosedew, shutting his eyes, as he loved to do when he got on a favourite topic; “by the side of those mighty critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – the Scaligers, the Casaubons, the Vossii, the Stephani, – what am I but a starving donkey, without a thistle left for him? But as regards our English critics – at least too many of them – I submit that we have been misled by the superiority of their Latin, and their more slashing style. I doubt whether any of them had a tenth part of the learning, or the sequacity of genius – ”
“Come, John, I can?t stand this, you know; and the boys will be down here directly, they are so fond of brown sherry”.
“Well, to return to the subject – I own that I was surprised and hurt when a former Professor of Greek actually confounded the ?olic form of the plusquam perfectum of so common a verb as – ”
“Yes, John, I know all about that, and how it spoiled your breakfast. But about the boys, the boys, John”?
“And again, as to the delicate sub–significance, not the well–known tortuousness of ???? in composition, but – ”
“Confound it, John. They?ve got all their things packed. They?ll be here in a moment, pretending to rollick for our sakes; and you won?t tell me what you think of them”.
“Well, I think there never were two finer fellows to jump a gate since the days of Castor and Pollux. ‘Hunc equis, illum superare pugnis.’ You remember how you took me down for construing ‘pugnis’ wrongly, when we were at Sherborne”?
“Yes, and how proud I was, John! You had been at the head of the form for three months, and none of us could stir you; but you came back again next day in the fifth ?neid. But here come the villains – now it?s all over”.
And so the boys went away, and their father could not for his life ascertain what opinion his ancient friend had formed as to the chances of their doing something good at Oxford. Simple and straightforward as Mr. Rosedew was, no man ever lived from whom it was harder to force an opinion. He saw matters from so many aspects, everything took so many facets, shifting lights, and playing colours, from the versatility of his mind, that whoso could fix him at such times, and extort his real sentiments, might spin a diamond ring, and shave by it. He had golden hopes about his “nephews”, as he often called them, but he would not pronounce those hopes at present, lest the father should be disappointed. And so the boys went up to Oxford, half a moon before the woodcocks came.
I do not mean to write at large upon University life, because the theme has been out–thesed by men of higher powers. It is a brief Olympic, a Derby premature, wherein to lose or win depends – training, health, ability, and industry being granted – upon the early stoning or late kernelling of the brain. Without laying claim to much experience, any one may protest that our brains are worked a deal too hard at the time of adolescence. We lose thereby their vivific powers and their originality. The peach throws off at the critical period all the fruit it cannot ripen; the vine has no such abjective prudence, and cripples itself by enthusiasm.
The twins were entered at Merton, and had the luck to obtain adjoining garrets. Sir Cradock had begun to show a decided preference for Clayton, as he grew year by year more and more like his mother. But this was not the only reason why he would not listen to some fool?s suggestion, that Cradock, the heir to the property, should be ranked as a “gentleman–commoner”. That stupid distinction he left for men who require self–assertion, admiring as he did the sense and spirit of that Master, well known in his day, who, to some golden cad insisting that his son should be entered in that college as a gentleman–commoner, angrily replied, “Sir, all my commoners are gentlemen”.
But the brothers were very soon parted. Clayton got sleeved in a scholar?s gown, while Cradock still fluttered the leading–strings. “Et tunic? manicas– you effeminate Viley”! said Cradock, admiring hugely, when his twin ran up to show himself off, after winning a Corpus scholarship; “and the governor won?t allow me a chance of a parasol for my elbows”. Sir Cradock, a most determined man, and a very odd one to deal with, had forbidden his elder son to stand for any scholarship, except those few which are of the University corporate. “A youth of your expectations”, he exclaimed, with a certain bitterness, for he often repined in secret that Clayton was not the heir, “a boy placed as you are, must not compete for a poor young lad?s viaticum. You may go in for a University scholarship, though of course you will never get one; an examination does good, I have heard, to the unsuccessful candidates. But don?t let me hear about it, not even if, by some accident, you should be the lucky one”. Craddy was deeply hurt; he had long perceived his father?s partiality for the son more dashing, yet more effeminate, more pretentious, and less persistent. So Cradock set his heart upon winning Craven, Hertford, or Ireland, and never even alluding to it in the presence of his father. Hence it will be evident that the youth was proud and sensitive.
“Amy amata, peramata a me”, cried the parson to his daughter, now a lovely girl of sixteen, straight, slender, and well–poised; “how glad and proud we ought to be of Clayton?s great success”!
“Pa, dear, he would never have got it, I am quite certain of that, if Cradock had been allowed to go in; and I think it is most unfair, shamefully unjust, that because he is the eldest son he is never to have any honour”. And Amy coloured brilliantly at the warmth of her own championship; but her father could not see it.
“So I am inclined to think” – John Rosedew was never positive, except upon great occasions – “perhaps I should say perpend, if I were fond of hybrid English. I don?t mean about the unfairness, Amy; for I think I should do the same if I were in Sir Cradock?s place. I mean that our Crad would have got it, instead of Clayton, with health and fortune favouring. But it stands upon a razor?s edge, ??? ?????? ??????? ?????. You can construe that, Amy”?
“Yes, pa, when you tell me the English. How the green is coming out on the fir–trees! So faint and yet so bright. Oh, papa, what Greek sub–significance, as you sometimes call it, is equal to that composition”?
“Well, my poppet, I am so short–sighted, I would much rather have a triply composite verb – ”
“Than three good kisses from me, daddy? Well, there they are, at any rate, because I know you are disappointed”. And the child, herself more bitterly disappointed, as becomes a hot partisan, ran away to sit under a sprawling larch, just getting new nails on its fingers, for the spring was awaking early.
It was not more than a week after this, and not very far from All–Fools?–day, when Clayton, directly after chapel, rushed into Cradock?s garret, hot, breathless, and unphilosophical. Cradock, calm and thoughtful, as he usually was, poked his head through the open slide of the dusthole called a scout?s room, and brought out three willow–pattern plates, a little too retentive of the human impress, and an extra knife and fork, dark–browed at the tip of the handle. Then he turned up a corner of tablecloth, where it cherished sombre memories of a tearful teapot, and set the mustard–pot to control it. Nor long before he doubled the coffee in the strainer of the biggin, and shouted “Corker”! thrice, far as human voice would gravitate, down the well of the staircase. Meanwhile Master Clayton stood fidgeting, and doffed not his scholarly toga. Corker, the scout, a short fat man, came up the stairs with dignity and indignation contending. He was amazed that any freshman “should have the cheek to holler so”. Mr. Nowell was such a quiet young man, that the scout looked for some apology. “Corker, a commons of bread and butter, and a cold fowl and some tongue. Be quick now, before the buttery closes. And, as I see I am putting you out in your morning work, get a quart of ale at your dinner–time”. “Yes, sir, to be sure, sir; I wish all the gentlemen was as thoughtful”.
“No, Craddy, never mind that”, cried his brother, reddening richly, for Clayton was fair as a lady, “I only want to speak to you about – well, perhaps, you know what it is I have come for. Is that fellow gone from the door”?
“I am sure I don?t know. Go and look yourself. But, dear Viley, what is the matter”?
“Oh, Cradock, you can so oblige me, and it can?t matter much to you. But to me, with nothing to look to, it does make such a difference”.
Cradock never could bear to hear this – that his own twin–brother should talk, as he often did, so much in the pauper strain. And all the while Clayton was sure of 50,000l. under their mother?s settlement. But Crad was full of wild generosity, and had made up his mind to share Nowelhurst, if he could do so, with his brother. He began to pull Clayton?s gown off; he would have blacked his shoes if requested. He always thought himself Viley?s prime minister.
“Whatever it is, my boy, Viley, you know I will do it for you, if it is only fair and honourable”.
“Oh, it is no great thing. I was sure you would do it for me. To do just a little bit under your best in this hot scrimmage for the Ireland. I am not much afraid of any man, Crad, except you, and Brown, of Balliol”.
“Viley, I am very sorry that you have asked me such a thing. Even if it were in other ways straightforward, I could not do it, for the sake of the father, and Uncle John, and little Amy”.
“Don?t you know that the governor doesn?t want you to get it? You are talking nonsense, Cradock, downright nonsense, to cover your own selfishness. And that frizzle–headed Amy, indeed”!
“I would rather talk nonsense than fraud, Clayton. And I can?t help telling you that what you say about my father may be true, but is not brotherly; and your proposal does you very little honour; and I never could have thought it of you; and I will do my very utmost. And as for Amy, indeed, she is too good for you to speak of – and – and – ” He was highly wroth at the sneer about Amy?s hair, which he admired beyond all reason, as indeed he did every bit of her, but without letting any one know it. He leaned upon the table, with his thumb well into the mustard–pot. This was the first real quarrel with the brother he loved so much; and it felt like a skewer poked into his heart.
“Well, elder brother by about two seconds”, cried Clayton, twitching his plaits up well upon his coat–collar. “I?ll do all I can to beat you. And I hope Brown will have it, not you. There?s the cash for my commons. I know you can?t afford it, until you get a scholarship”.
Clayton flung half–a–crown upon the table, and went down the stairs with a heavy tramp, knocking over a dish with the college arms on, wherein Corker was bringing the fowl and the tongue. Corker got all the benefit of the hospitable doings, and made a tidy dinner out of it, for Cradock could eat no breakfast. It was the first time bitter words had passed between the brothers since the little ferments of childhood, which are nothing more than sweetword the moment they settle down. And he doubted himself; he doubted whether he had not been selfish about it.
It was the third day of the examination, and when he appeared at ten o?clock among the forty competitors, he was vexed anew to see that Clayton had removed to a table at the other end of the room, so as not to be even near him. The piece of Greek prose which he wrote that morning dissatisfied him entirely; and then again he rejoiced at the thought that Viley need not be afraid of him. He had never believed in his chance of success, and went in for the scholarship to please others and learn the nature of the examination. Next year he might have a fairer prospect; this year – as all the University knew – Brown, of Balliol, was sure of it.
Nevertheless, by the afternoon he was in good spirits again, and found a mixed paper which suited him as if Uncle John had set it. One of the examiners had been, some twenty years ago, a pupil of John Rosedew, and this, of course, was a great advantage to any successor alumnus; though neither of them knew the other. It is pleasant to see how the old ideas germinate and assimilate, as the olive and the baobab do, after the fires of many summers.
Clayton, a placable youth (even when he was quite in the wrong, as in the present instance), came to Craddy?s rooms that evening, begged him not to apologise for his expressions of the morning, and compared notes with him upon the doings of the day.
“Bless you, Crad”, he cried, after a glass of first–rate brown sherry – not the vile molassied stuff, thick as the sack of Falstaff, but the genuine thing, with the light and shade of brown olives in the sunset, and not to be procured, of course, from any Oxonian wine–dealer; – “oh, Crad, if we could only wallop that Brown, of Balliol, between us, I should not care much which it was. He has booked it for such a certainty, and does look so cocky about it. Did you see the style he walked off, before hall, arm in arm with a Master of Arts, and spouting his own iambics”?
“First–rate ones, I dare say, Viley. Have a pipe, old fellow. After all, it doesn?t matter much. Folk who have never been in them think a deal the most of these things. The wine–merchant laughs at beeswing; and so, I suppose, it is with all trades”. Cradock was not by any means prone to the discourse sententious; and the present lapse was due, no doubt, to the reaction ensuing upon his later scene with Viley, wherein each had promised heartily to hold fast by the brotherhood.
On the following Saturday morning, John Rosedew?s face flushed puce–colour as he opened his letters at breakfast–time. “Hurrah! Amy, darling; hurrah, my child! Terque quaterque, et novies evoe! Eat all the breakfast, melimel; I won?t tell you till I come back”.
“Oh, won?t you, indeed”? cried Amy, with her back against the door and her arms in mock grimness folded. “I rather think you will, papa; unless you have made up your mind to choke me. And you are half way towards it already”.
John saw that peculiar swell of her throat which had frightened him so often – her dear mother had died of bronchitis, and he knew nothing of medical subjects – and so he allayed her excitement at once, gave her over to Miss Eudoxia, who was late in her bedroom as usual, and then set off at his utmost speed to tell his old friend, Sir Cradock. And a fine turn of speed he still could show, though the whiskers under his college–cap (stuck on anyhow in the hurry) were as white as the breast of a martin quivering under the eaves. Since he lost his wife he had never cared to walk fast, subsiding into three miles an hour, as thoughtful and placid men will do, when they begin to thumb their waistcoats. But now through the waking life of “the Chase”, where the brown fern–stalks bent over the Ammon horn of the lifting frond, and the fescue grass was beading rough with dew already, here and among the rabbit–holes, nimbly dodging the undermine, ran as hard as a boy of twelve, the man of threescore, John Rosedew. Without stopping to knock as usual, he burst in upon Sir Cradock, now sitting all alone at his simple, old–fashioned breakfast. Classical and theological training are not locomotive, as we all know to our cost; and the rector stood gasping ever so long, with both hands pressed to his side.
“Why, John; quick, quick! You frighten me. Is your house on fire”?
“Old fellow – old fellow; such news! Shake hands – ever since the charta forest?; shake hands again. Oh, I feel rather sick; pray excuse me; ??? ???? ?????????”.
“What is it, John? Do be quick. I must send for Mrs. O?Gaghan and the stomach–pump”. Biddy was now the licensed doctoress of the household, and did little harm with her simples, if she failed of doing good.
“Times there? Open it; look, University news! Crad and Clayton”.
Wondering, smiling, placidly anxious, Sir Cradock tore open the paper, and found, after turning a great many corners, the University news. Then he read out with a trembling voice, after glancing over it silently:
“The Ireland scholarship has been awarded to Cradock Nowell, of Merton College. Proxime accessit Clayton Nowell, scholar of Corpus Christi. Unless we are misinformed, these gentlemen are twin–brothers”.
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