Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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So John Rosedew quoted in the fulness of his glory from an old New Forest rhyme. John?s delight transcended everything, because he had never expected it. He had taken his own degree ere ever the Ireland was heard of; but three pupils of his had won it while he was still in residence. Of that he had not thought much. But now to win it by proxy in his extreme old age, as he began to consider it, and from all the crack public schoolmen, and with his own pet alumni, whom no one else had taught anything – such an Ossa upon Pelion, such an Olympus on Ossa – no wonder that the snow of his whiskers shook and the dew trembled under his eyelids.
Sir Cradock, on the other hand, had never a word to say, but turned his head like one who waits for a storm of dust to go by.
“Why, Cradock, old friend, what on earth is the matter? You don?t seem at all delighted”.
“Yes, I am, of course, John; as delighted as I ought to be. But I wish it had been Viley; he wants it so much more, and he is so like his mother”.
“So is Crad; every bit as much; an enlarged and grander portrait. Can?t you see the difference between a large heart and a mere good one? Will no one ever appreciate my noble and simple Craddy”?
John Rosedew spoke warmly, and was sorry before the breath from his lips was cold. Not that he had no right to say it, but because he felt that he had done far more harm than good.
Honours flash in the summer sun, as green corn does in the morning; then they gleam mature and mellow at the time of reaping; they are bagged, perhaps by a woman?s arm, with a cut “below the knees”; set on their butt for a man to sit under while eating his bread and cheese; then they wither, and are tossed into chaff by a contumelious steam–engine with a leathern strap inflexible.
Cradock?s “Ireland” has gone by, and another has succeeded it, and this has fallen, as most things fall, to the sap of perseverance, steel–tipped with hard self–confidence – this Ireland has fallen to the lot of Brown Balliolensis. Clayton would not go in for it; his pride, or rather vanity, would not allow him to do so. Was he going to take Cradock?s leavings, and be a year behind him, when he was only two minutes younger? However, he went in for the Hertford, and, what was a great deal more, he got it; for Cradock would not stand; and, even if he had, perhaps the result would have been the same. Viley had made up his mind to win it, and worked very hard indeed; and so won it very easily. Cradock could usually beat him in Greek, but not so often in Latin. And Clayton wrote the prettiest, most tripping, coquettish, neat–ankled hendecasyllables that ever whisked roguishly round a corner, wondering where Catullus was.
Ah! light–hearted poet, sensitively sensuous, yet withal deep–hearted, with a vein of golden philosophy, and a pensive tenderness, now–a–days we overlook thee.Horace is more fashionable, more suited to a flippant age, because he has no passion.
Early on a sunripe evening in the month of June, “when the sun was shifting the shadows of the hills, and doffed the jaded oxen?s yoke, distributing the love time from his waning chariot”, a forest dell, soft, clear, and calm, was listening to its thrushes. And more than at the throstle?s flute, or flageolet of the blackbird, oaks and chestnuts pricked their ears at the voice of a gliding maiden. Where the young fern was pluming itself, arching, lifting, ruffling in filigree, light perspective, and depth of Gothic tracery, freaked by the nip of fairy fingers, tremulous as a coral grove in a crystal under–current, the shyer fronds still nestling home, uncertain of the world as yet, and coiled like catherine–wheels of green; where the cranesbill pushed like Zedekiah, and the succory reared its sky–blue windmill (open for business till 8 P.M.); where the violet now was rolled up in the seed–pod, like a stylite millipede, and the great bindweed, in its crenate horn, piped and fluted spirally, had forgotten the noonday flaunt: here, and over the nibbled sward, where the crisp dew was not risen yet, here came wandering the lightest foot that ever passed, but shook not, the moss–bed of the glow–worm. Under the rigorous oaks (so corded, seamed, and wenned with humps of grey), the stately, sleek, mouse–coloured beech, the dappled, moss–beridden ash, and the birch–tree peeling silverly, beneath the murmuring congress of the sunproof leaves; and again in the open breaks and alleys, where light and shade went see–saw; by and through and under all, feeling for and with every one, glanced, and gleamed, and glistened, and listened the loveliest being where all was love, the pet in the nest of nature.
Of all the beauty in that sweet dell, where the foot of man came scarcely once in a year; of all the largesse of earth and heaven; of all the grace which is Nature?s gratitude to her heavenly Father: there was not one, from the lily–bell to the wild rose and the heather–sprig, fit for a man to put in his bosom, and look at Amy Rosedew.
It is told of a certain good man?s child, whose lineage still is cherished, that when she was asked by her father (half–bantering, half in earnest) to tell him the reason why everybody loved her so, she cast down her eyes with a puzzled air, then opened them wide, as a child does to the sunrise of some great truth – “Father, perhaps it is because I love everybody so”. Lucan has it in a neater form: “amorem qu?ris amando”. And that was Amy Rosedew?s secret, by herself undreamed of – lovely, because she could not help loving all our God has made. And of all the fair things He has made, and pronounced to be very good, since sunshine first began to gleam, to glow, and to fade away, what home has beauty found so bright, so rich in varied elegance, so playfully receptive of the light shed through creation – the light of the Maker?s smile – as a young maiden, pure of heart, natural, true, and trusting?
She came to the brink of a forest pool, and looked at herself in the water. Not that she thought more than she could help of the outward thing called “Amy”, but that she wondered how her old favourites, Cradock and Clayton Nowell, would esteem her face and style of dress now she was turned seventeen. Most likely they had seen ever so many girls, both at Oxford and in London, compared with whom poor Amy was but a rustic Phidyle, just fit to pick sticks in the New Forest.
The crystal mirror gave her back even the shade on her own sweet face, which fell from the cloud of that simple thought; for she stood where the westering sunshine failed to touch the water, but flushed with rich relief of gold the purity of her figure. Every sapling, dappled hazel, sloughing birch, or glabrous maple, glistened with the plumes of light, and every leaf was twinkling. The columns of the larger trees stood like metal cylinders, whereon the level gleam rules a streak, and glints away round the rounding. Elbows, arms, and old embracings, backed with a body–ground of green, laced with sunset?s golden bodkin, ever shifting every eyelet, – branch, and bough, and trunk, and leaves, ruffling and twisting, or staunch and grand, they seemed but a colonnade and arch, for the sun to peep through at the maiden, and tell of her on the calm waters.
Floating, fleeting, shimmering there, in a frame of stately summer flags, vivid upon the crystal shade, and twinkling every now and then to the plash of a distant moorhen, or the dip of a swallow?s wing, lay her graceful image, wondering in soft reply to her play of wonder. She took off her light chip hat, and laughed; lo! the courteous picture did the same. She offered, with a mincing air, her little frail of wood–strawberries; and the shadowy Amy put them back with the prettiest grace ever dreamed of. Then she cast the sparkling night of her tresses down the white shoulders and over her breast; and the other Amy was looking at her through a ripple of cloudiness, with the lissom waist retiring. She smoothed her hair like a scarf around her, withdrew her chin on the curving neck, and bowed the shapely forehead, well pleased to see thus the foreshortening undone, and the pure, bright oval shown as in a glass. Then, frightened almost at the lustrous depth of her large grey eyes, deep–fringed with black, she thought of things all beyond herself, and woke, from Nature?s innocent joy in her own brief luck of beauty, to the bashful consciousness, the down of a maiden?s dreamings. Bridling next at her mirrored face, with a sudden sense of humour, all the time she watched the red lips, and the glimmer of pearls between them, “Amy”, she cried, “now, after this, don?t come to me for a character, unless you want one, you pretty dear, for conceit and self–admiration”.
So saying, she tossed her light head at herself, and looked round through her flickering cloudlets. What did she see? What made the dark water flame upon the instant with a richer glow than sunset? The delicate cheeks, the fair forehead and neck, even the pearly slope of the shoulders, were flooded with deepest carmine. Her pride fell flat, as the cistus stamen at a touch droops away on the petal. Then she shrank back into a flowering broom, and cowered among the spikelets, and dared not move to wipe away the tears she was so mad with. Oh! the wretched abasement earned by a sweet little bit of vanity!
How she hated herself, and the light, and the water, her senseless habit of thinking aloud, above all, her despicable fancy that she was growing – what nonsense! – such a pretty girl! Thenceforth and for ever, she felt quite sure, she never could look in a glass again, unless it were just for a moment, to put her hair to rights, when she got home.
“To think of my hair all down my neck, and the way I had turned in the gathers”! – the poor little thing had been making experiments how she would look in a low–necked dress – “Oh! that was the worst thing of all. I might have laughed at it but for that. And now I am sure I can never even peep at his face again. Whatever will he think of me, and what would my papa say”?
After crying until she began to laugh, she resolved to go straight home, and confess all her crime to Aunt Eudoxia, John Rosedew?s maiden sister, who had come to live with him when he lost his wife, three dreary years agone. So Amy rolled up her long hair anyhow, without a bit of pride in it, shrank away and examined herself, to be sure that all was right, and, after one peep, came bravely forth, trying to look as much as possible like her good Aunt Doxy; then she walked at her stateliest, with the basket of strawberries, picked for papa, in one hand, and the other tightly clasped upon the bounding of her heart. But her eyes were glancing right or left, like a fawn?s when a lion has roared; and even the youngest trees saw quite well that, however rigid with Miss Eudoxia the gliding form might be, it was poised for a dart and a hide behind them at every crossing shadow.
But fortune favours the brave. She won her own little sallyport without the rustle of a blackberry–leaf, and thereupon rushed to a hasty and ostrich–like conclusion. She felt quite sure that, after all, none but the waters and winds could tell the tale of her little coquetry. Beyond all doubt, Cradock Nowell was deep in the richest mental metallurgy, tracing the vein of Greek iambics, as he did before his beard grew; and she never, never would call them “stupid iambics” again.
Cradock, who had seen her, but turned away immediately (as became a gentleman), did not, for the moment, know his little Amy Rosedew. A year and a half had changed her from a stripling, jumping girl to a shy and graceful maiden, dreadfully afraid of sweethearts. She had not been away from Nowelhurst throughout that year and a half, for her father could not get on without her for more than a month at a time, and all that month he fretted. But the twins had spent the last summer in Germany, with a merry reading (or talking) party; and their Christmas and Easter vacations were dragged away in London, through a strange whim of Sir Cradock Nowell; at least, they thought it strange, but there was some reason for it.
Young Cradock Nowell was not such a muff as to be lost in Greek senarii; no trimeter acatalectics of truest balance and purest fall could be half so fair to scan; not “Harmony of the golden hair”, and her nine Pierid daughters round the crystal spring, were worth a glance of the mental eye, when fortune granted bodily vision of our unconscious Amy. But he did not stand there watching mutely, as some youths would have done; for a moment, indeed, he forgot himself in the flush of admiration. The next moment he remembered that he was a gentleman; and he did what a gentleman must have done – whether marquis or labourer: he slipped away through the bushes, feeling as if he had done some injury. Then the maiden, glancing round, caught one startled glimpse, as Nyssia did of the stealthy Gyges, or Diana of Act?on. From that one glimpse she knew him, though he was so like his brother; but he had failed to recognise the Amy of his boyhood.
Miss Eudoxia was now the queen of the little household, and the sceptre she bore was an iron one to all except her niece. John – that easy, good–natured parson, who, coming in from the garden or parish, any summer forenoon, would halt in the long low kitchen, if a nice crabbed question presented itself, take his seat outright upon the corner of the ancient dresser, and then and there discuss some moot point in the classics, or tie and untie over again some fluffy knot historical (which after all is but a pucker in the tatters of a scarecrow); and all the while he would appeal to the fat cook or the other maid – for the house only kept two servants; and all the while Miss Amy, ????????????? ????? would poke in little pike–points of impudence and ignorance – John, I must confess at last, was threatened so with dishclouts, pepper, and even rolling–pins, that the cook began to forget the name of Plato (which had struck her), and the housemaid could not justly tell what Tibullus says of Pales.
“John, you are so lamentably deficient in moral dignity! And the mutton not put down yet, and the kidney–beans getting ropy! If you must sit there, you might as well begin to slice the cucumber. I dare say you?d do that even”.
“To be sure, Doxy; so I will. I sharpened my knife this morning”.
“Doxy, indeed! And before the servants! I am sure Johanna must have heard you, though she makes such a rattle in there with the rolling–pin, like a doctor?s pestle and mortar. She always does when I come out, to pretend she is so busy; and most likely she has been listening for half an hour, and laughing at your flummery. What do I care about Acharnius? – now don?t tell me any jokes, if you please, brother John; with butter on both your legs, too! Oh, if I could only put you in a passion! I might have some hopes of you then. But I should like to see the woman that could; you have so little self–respect”.
“Eudoxia, that is the very converse of Seneca?s proposition”.
“Then Seneca didn?t know how to converse, and I won?t be flouted with him. Seneca to me, indeed, or any other heathen! Let me tell you one thing, John Rosedew” – Miss Eudoxia now was wrathful, not nettlesome only, but spinous; perhaps it would be rude to hint that in this latter word may lurk the true etymon of “spinster” – “let me tell you one thing, and perhaps you?ll try to remember it; for, with all your wonderful memory, you never can tell to–morrow what I said to–day”.
“Surely not, dear Doxy, because you talk so much. It is related of that same Seneca that he could repeat – ”
“Fiddlesticks. Now you want to turn off the home–truth you feel to be coming. But you shall have it, John Rosedew, and briefly, it is this: Although you do sit on the dresser, your taste is too eclectic. You are a very learned man, but your learning gilds foul idols. You spend all your time in pagans’ company, while the epistles and gospels have too little style for you”.
“Oh, Aunt Eudoxia, how dare you talk to my papa like that, my own daddy, and me to hear you? And just now you flew into a pet because you fancied Johanna heard him call you ‘Doxy’. I am astonished at it, Aunt Doxy; and it is not true, not a word of it. Come with me, father, dearest, and we won?t say a word to her all the afternoon”.
Even young Amy saw that her father was hit very hard. There was so much truth in the accusation, so much spiteful truth – among thy beauties, nuda veritas, a smooth skin is not one – that poor John felt as if Aristophanes were sewn up henceforth in a pig–sack. He slunk away quietly to his room, and tried to suck some roots Hebraic, whence he got no satisfaction. He never could have become a great theological scholar. After all, a man must do what God has shaped his mind for. So in a week John Rosedew got back to his native element; but sister Doxy?s rough thrust made the dresser for many a month like the bottom of a pincushion, when the pins are long, and the bran has leaked out at the corner.
Now Miss Eudoxia Rosedew was always very sorry when she had indulged too much in the pleasure of hurting others. It was not in her nature to harm any living creature; but she could not understand that hurt is the feminine of harm – the feminine frequentative, if I may suggest that anomaly. She had a warm, impulsive heart, and sided almost always with the weaker party. Convinced profoundly, as she was, of her brother?s great ability, she believed, whenever a question arose, that the strength was all on his side, and so she went “dead against him”. One thing, and the most material one, she entirely overlooked, as a sister is apt to do: to wit, the breadth and modesty of her brother?s nature. One thing, I say, for the two are one, so closely are they united.
It is a goodly sight to see John Rosedew and his sister upon their way to church. She supporting the family dignity, with a maid behind her to carry the books – that it may please thee to defend us with a real footman! – just touching John?s arm with the tips of her glove, because he rolls so shockingly, and even his Sunday coat may be greasy; then, if a little girl comes by, “Lady Eudoxia” – as the village, half in joke, and half in earnest, has already dubbed her – Lady Eudoxia never looks at her (they are so self–important now, even those brats of children!), but she knows by instinct whether that little girl has curtseyed. If she has, it is nicely acknowledged; but if she has not, what a chill runs down the lady?s rigid spine!
“John, did you see that”?
“See what, Doxy? – Three sugar–plums, my little dear, and a few of our cough–lozenges. I heard you cough last Sunday; and you may suck them in the sermon time, because they don?t smell of peppermint, and they are quite as nice as liquorice. How is your mammy, my darling”?
“Well, John – well, Mr. Rosedew! – If you have no more sense of propriety – and so near the house of God – ”
And Miss Eudoxia walks on in front, while the girl who failed to curtsey has thrust one brown hand long ago into the parson?s ample palm, and with the other is stoking that voracious engine whose vernacular name is “mouth”. Amy, of course, is at the school, where this little girl ought by rights to have been, only for her cough, which would come on so dreadfully when the words were hard to spell; and, when they meet Amy by the gate (the double gate of the churchyard – both sides only opened for funerals), how smooth, and rich, and calm she looks – calm, yet with a heart of triumph, as her own class clusters round her, and won?t even glimpse at the boys – not even the very smallest boy – one of whom has the cheek to whistle, and pretends that he meant the “Old Hundredth”.
But, in spite of all this Eudoxian grandeur, there was not a poor man in Nowelhurst – no, nor even a woman – who did not feel, in earnest heart, faith and good–will towards her. For the worldly nonsense was cast aside when she stood in the presence of trouble, and her native kindness and vigour shone forth, till the face of grief was brightened. Then she forgot her titled grandmother – so often quoted and such a bore, the Countess of Driddledrum and Dromore – and glowed and melted, as all must do who are made of good carbon and water. So let her walk into the village church with the pride which she is proud of, her tall and comely figure shown through the scarf of lavender crape, her dark silk dress on the burial flags, wiping dust from the memory of John Stiles and his dear wife Susan. And oh, Johanna, thou goodly fat cook–maid, dishing up prayer–books, and Guides to the Altar, and thy gloves on the top ostentatiously – gloves whose fingers are to thine as vermicelli to sausages: Johanna, spoil not our procession by loitering under the hollow oak to wink at thy sweetheart, Jem Pottles. Neither do thou, oh hollow oak, look down upon us, and tell of the tree only one generation before thee. Under thy branches, the Arab himself had better not talk of lineage. Some acorn spat forth, half–crunched and bedribbled, by the deer or the swine of the forest, and in danger perhaps of being chewed afterwards by the ancestors of royalty – our family–trees are young fungus to thee, and our roots of nobility pignuts.
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