Richard Blackmore.

Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3





Whoever saw Bull Garnet once was sure to know him again. If you met him in a rush to save the train, your eyes would turn and follow him. There goes a man remarkable, whether for good or evil. Tall though he was, and large of frame, with swinging arms, and a square expression, it was none of this that stopped the bystander?s glance into a gaze. It was the cubic mass of the forehead, the span between the enormous eyes, and the depth of the thickset jowl, which rolled with the volume of a tiger?s. The rest of the face was in keeping therewith: the nose bold, broad, and patulous, the mouth large and well banked up, the chin big and heavily rounded. No shade of a hair was ever allowed to dim his healthy colouring, his head was cropped close as a Puritan?s, and when beard grew fast he shaved twice in a day. High culture was a necessity to him, whether of mind, or body, or of the world external; he would no more endure a moustache on his lip than a frouzy hedgerow upon his farm. That man, if you came to think about him, more and more each time you saw how different he was from other men. Distinctness is a great merit in roses, especially when the French rosarians have so overpiled the catalogue. It is pleasant to walk up to a standard, and say, You are Jules Margottin, and your neighbour the Keepsake of Malmaison; I cannot mistake you for any other, however hot the weather may be. Distinctness is also a merit in apples, pears, and even peaches; but most of all in man. And so, without knowing the reason, perhaps, we like a man whom we cannot mistake for any other of our million brethren. The same principle tells in love at first sight. But, lo! here again we are wandering.

Mr. Garnet?s leading characteristic was not at first sight amiable. It was, if I may be allowed for once, upon the strength of my subject, not to mince words into entremetsa furious, reckless, damnable, and thoroughly devilish temper. All great qualities, lovingkindness, yearnings for Christian ideals, fell like sugarcanes to a hurricane in the outburst and rush of that temper. He was always grieved and deeply humbled, when the havoc was done; and, being a man of generous nature, would bow his soul in atonement. But in the towering of his wrath, how grand a sight he afforded! as fine as the rush of the wild Atlantic upon St. David?s Head. For a time, perhaps, he would chafe and fret within the straits of reason, his body surging to and fro, and his mind making grasp at boundaries. Then some little aggravation, some trifle which no other man would notice and out would leap all the pentup fury of his soul. His great eyes would gather volume, and spring like a mastiff from a kennel; his mighty forehead would scarp and chine like the headland when the plough turns; and all his aspect grow foursquare with more than hydraulic pressure. Whoever then could gaze unmoved at the raging fire of his eyes must be either a philosopher or a fool and often the two are synonymous.

But touch him, even then, with a single word of softness, the thought of some one dear to him, a large and genial sentiment, or a tender memory and the lines of his face would relax and quiver, the blazing eyes be suffused and subdued to a tremulous glow; and the man, so far beyond reason?s reach, be led back, like a boy, by the feelings.

All who think they can catch and analyze that composite, subtle, volatile gas neither body nor spirit, yet in fief to the laws of either which men call human nature, these, I say, will opine at once, from even this meagre description, that Mr.

Bull Garnet?s nature was scant of that playful element, humour. If thought be (as German philosophers have it) an electric emanation, then wit is the forked flash, gone in a moment; humour the soft summer lightning that shows us the clouds and the depth, the background and night of ourselves. No man of large humour can be in a passion, without laughing inwardly at himself. And wrath, which laughs at itself, is not of much avail in business. Mr. Garnet?s wrath, on the contrary, was a fine, freeboiling, British anger, not at all amenable to reason, and therefore very valuable. By dint of it, he could score at night nearly twice as much work done in the day as a peaceable man could have reckoned. Man or woman, boy or girl, Mr. Garnet could extract from each all the cubic capacity, leaving them just enough of power to crawl home stiff, and admire him. For the truth of it is, as all know to their cost, who have had much to do with spade or plough, hod or hammer, that the British workman admires most the master who makes him sweat most. Perhaps it ought not to be so. Theoretically, we regard it thus, that a man ought to perspire, upon principle, when he is working for another man. But tell us where, and oh! where, to find the model British labourer who takes that view of the subject.

Sith it will na better be, let us out and look for him. The sky is bright blue, and the white clouds flock off it, like sheep overlapping each other. What man but loves the open air, and to walk about and think of it, with fancies flitting lazily, like fluff of dandelion? What man but loves to sit under a tree, and let the winds go wandering, and the shadows come and play with him, to let work be a pleasant memory, and hurry a storm of the morning? Everybody except Bull Garnet.

CHAPTER XII

All the leaves of the New Forest, save those of the holly and mistletoe, some evergreen spines, and the blinder sort, that know not a wink from a nod all the leaves, I mean, that had sense of their position, and when to blush and when to retire, and how much was due to the roots that taught them all these leaves were beginning to feel that their time in the world was over. The trees had begun to stand tier upon tier, in an amphitheatrical fashion, and to sympathise more with the sunset; while the sun every evening was kissing his hands, and pretending to think them younger. Some outspoken trees leaned forward, well in front of the forestgalleries, with amber sleeves, and loops of gold, and braids of mellow abandonment, like liberal Brazilian ladies, bowing from the balconies. Others drew away behind them, with their mantles folded, leaning back into unprobed depths of semitransparent darkness, as the forest of the sky amasses, when the moon is rising. Some had cast off their children in parachutes, swirling as the linden berries do throughout September; some were holding their treasures grimly, and would, even when they were naked. Now the flush of the grand autumnal tide had not risen yet to its glory, but was freaking, and glancing, and morrising round the bays and the juts of the foliage. Or it ruffled, among the ferny knaps, and along the winding alleys. The sycamores truly were reddening fast, and the chestnut palms growing bronzy; the limes were yellowing here and there, and the sere leaves of the woodbine fluttered the cob of clear red berries. But the great beechen hats, which towered and darkened atop of the moorland hollows and across the track of the woodman these, and the oaks along the rise, where the turtledove was cooing, had only shown their sense of the age by an undertint of olive.

It was now the fifth day of October a day to be remembered long by all the folk of Nowelhurst. Mr. Garnet stood at the end of his garden, where a narrow pinewood gate opened to one of the forest rides. Of course he was doing something, and doing it very forcibly. His life was a fire that burned very fast, having plenty of work to poke it. But the little job which he now had in hand was quite a relaxation: there was nothing Bull Garnet enjoyed so much as cutting down a tree. He never cared what time of year it was, whether the leaves were on or off, whether the sap were up or down, as we incorrectly express it. The sap of a tree is ever moving, like our own lifeblood; only it feels the change of season more than we who have no roots. Has a dormouse no circulation, when he coils himself up in his elbowed hole? Is there no evaporation from the frozen waters? The two illustrations are wide apart, but the principle is the same. Nature admits no absolute stoppage, except as death, in her cradle of life; and then she sets to, and transmutes it. Why Bull Garnet so enjoyed the cutting down of a tree, none but those who themselves enjoy it may pretend to say. Of course, we will not refer it to the reason assigned in the wellknown epigram, which contains such a wholesale condemnation of this arboricidal age. In another century, London builders will perhaps discover, when there are no trees left, that a bit of tuckpointing by the gate, and a dab of mudplaster beside it, do not content the heart of man like the leaves, and the drooping shadowy rustle, which is the type of himself.

Bull Garnet stood there in the October morning, with the gate wide open, flung back by his strong hand upon its hinges, as if it had no right to them. The round bolt dropped from the quivering force, dropped through the chase of the loop, and bedded deep in the soft, wet ground. With much satisfaction the gate brought up, and felt itself anchored safely; Bull Garnet gave the bolt a kick, which hurled all the rusty screws out. Then he scarcely stopped to curse the blacksmith; he wanted the time for the woodcutters. At a glint from the side of his vast round eyes eyes that took in everything, and made all the workmen swear and believe that he could see round a corner he descried that the axemen were working the tree askew to the strain of the ropes. The result must be that the comely young oak, just proud of its first big crop of acorns, would swerve on the bias of the wind, stagger heavily, and fall headlong upon the smart new fence. There was no time for words in a moment he had kicked the men right and left, torn off his coat, and caught up an axe, and dealt three thundering strokes in the laggard twist of the breach. Away went the young oak, swaying wildly, trying once to recover itself, then crashing and creaking through the brushwood, with a swish from its boughs and leaves, and a groan from its snaggy splinters. A branch took one of the men in his face, and laid him flat in a tussock of grass.

Serve you right, you lubber; I?m devilish glad, cried Bull Garnet; and I hope you won?t move for a week.

The next moment, he went up and raised him, felt that his limbs were sound, and gave him a dram of brandy.

All right, my fine fellow. Next time you?ll know something of the way to fell a tree. Go home now, and I?ll send you a bottle of wine.

But the change of his mood, the sudden softening, the glisten that broke through the flash of his eyes, was not caused this time by the inroad of rapid Christian feeling. It was the approach of his son that stroked the down of his heart the right way. Bull Garnet loved nothing else in this world, or in the world to come, with a hundredth part of the love wherewith he loved his only son. Lo, the word love thrice in a sentence nevertheless, let it stand so. For is there a word in our noble tongue, or in any other language, to be compared for power and beauty with that little word love?

Bob came down the path of the kitchen garden at his utmost speed. He was like his father in one or two things, and most unlike in others. His nature was softer and better by far, though not so grand and striking Bull Garnet in the young Adam again, ere ever the devil came. All this the father felt, but knew not: it never occurred to him to inquire why he adored his son.

The boy leaped the new X fence very cleverly, through the fork of the fingers, and stood before his father in a flame of indignation. Mr. Garnet, with that queer expression which the face of a middleaged man wears when he recalls his boyhood, ere yet he begins to admire it, was looking at his own young life with a contemplative terror. He was saying to himself, What cheek this boy has got! and he was feeling all the while that he loved him the more for having it.

Hurrah, Bob, my boy; you?re come just in time.

Mr. Garnet tried very hard to look as if he expected approval. Well enough all the time he knew that he had no chance of getting it. For Bob loved nature in any form, especially as expressed in the noble eloquence of a tree. And now he saw why he had been sent to the village on a trifling errand that morning.

Just in time for what, sir? Bob?s indignation waxed yet more. That his father should dare to chaff him!

Just in time to tell us all about these wonderful redcombed fungi. What do you call them some long name, as wonderful as themselves?

Bob kicked them aside contemptuously. He could have told a long story about them, and things which men of thrice his age, who have neglected their mother, would be glad to listen to. Nature, desiring not revenge, has it in the credulous itch of the sons who have turned their backs on her.

Oh, father, said Bob, with the tears in his eyes; father, you can?t have known that three purple emperors came to this oak, and sat upon the top of it, every morning for nearly a week, in the middle of July. And it was the most handsomest thirtyyear oak till you come right to Brockenhurst bridge.

Most handsomest, Bob! cried Mr. Garnet, glad to lay hold of anything; come along with me, my son; I must see to your education.

Near them stood a young spruce fir, not more than five feet high. It had thrown up a straight and tapering spire, scaled with tender green. Below were tassels, tufts, and pointlets, all in triple order, pluming over one another in a pile of beauty. The tips of all were touched with softer and more glaucous tone. But all this gentle tint and form was only as a framework now, a loom to bear the web of heaven. For there had been a white mist that morning autumn?s breath made visible; and the tree with its net of spider?s webs had caught the lucid moisture. Now, as the early sunlight opened through the layered vapours, that little spruce came boldly forth a dark bay of the forest, and met all the spears of the orient. Looped and traced with threads of gauze, the lacework of a fairy?s thought, scarcely daring to breathe upon its veil of tremulous chastity, it kept the wings of light on the hover, afraid to weigh down the whiteness. A maiden with the lovedream nestling under the bridal faldetta, a child of genius breathing softly at his own fair visions, even an infant?s angel whispering to the weeping mother what image of humanity can be so bright and exquisite as a common tree?s apparel?

Father, can you make that? Mr. Garnet checked his rapid stride; and for once he admired a tree.

No, my son; only God can do such glorious work as that.

But it don?t take God to undo it. Smash!

Bob dashed his fists through the whole of it, and all the draped embroidery, all the pearly filigree, all the festoons of silver, were but as a dream when a yawning man stretches his scraggy arms forth. The little tree looked wobegone, stale, and draggled with drunken tears.

Why, Bob, I am ashamed of you.

And so am I of you, father.

Before the bold speech was well out of his mouth, Bob took heartily to his heels; and, for once in his life, Mr. Garnet could not make up his mind what to do. After all, he was not so very angry, for he thought that his son had been rather clever in his mode of enforcing the moral; and a man who loves ability, and loves his boy still more, regards with a liberal shrewdness the proof of the one in the other.

Alas, it is hard to put Mr. Garnet in a clear, bold stereoscope, without breach of the third commandment. Somehow or other, as fashion goes and happily it is on the go always a man, and threefold thrice a woman, may, at this especial period, in the persons of his or her characters, break the sixth commandment lightly, and the seventh with great applause. Indeed, no tale is much approved without l?semajest? of them both. Then for what subterranean reason, or by what diabolical instrumentality (that language is strictly parliamentary, because it is words and water), is a writer now debarred from reporting what his people said, unless they all talked tracts and milk, or rubrics and pommelsaddles? In a word for sometimes any fellow must come to the point Why do our judicious and highlyrespected Sosii score out all our d ns?

Is it not true that our generation swears almost as hard as any? And yet it will not allow a writer to hint the truth in the matter. Of course we should do it sparingly, and with due reluctance. But, unless all tales are written for women, and are so to be accepted, it is a weak attempt at imposture on our sons and grandsons to suppress entirely in our pictures any presence not indecent, however unbecoming.

Mr. Garnet was a Christian of the most advanced intelligence, so far as our ideas at the present time extend. He felt the beauty and perfection of the type which is set before us. He never sneered, as some of us do, at things which were too large for him, neither did he clip them to the shape of his own ?sophagus. Only in practice, like the rest of us, he was sadly centrifugal.

Now with his nostrils widely open, and great eyes on the ground, he was pacing rapidly up and down his sheltered kitchen garden. Every square was in perfect order, every tree in its proper compass, all the edging curt and keen. The ground was cropped with that trim luxuriance which we never see except under firstrate management. All the coleworts for the winter, all the wellearthed celery, all the buttoning Brussels sprouts, salsify just fit to dig, turnips lifting whitely forth (as some ladies love to show themselves), modest savoys just hearting in and saying no to the dewbeads, prickly spinach daily widening the clipped arrowhead they all had room to eat and drink, and no man grudged his neighbour; yet Puck himself could not have skipped through with dry feet during a hoarfrost. As for weeds, Bull Garnet well, I must not say what he would have done. Suddenly a small, spare man turned the corner upon him, where a hedge of hornbeam, trimmed and dressed as if with a pocketcomb, broke the southwestern violence. Most men would have shown their hats above the narrow spine, but Rufus Hutton was very short, and seldom carried a chimneypot.

Sir, what can I do for you? said Mr. Garnet, much surprised, but never taken aback.

Excuse me, sir, but I called at your house, and came this way to find you. You know me well, by name, I believe; as I have the pleasure of knowing you. Rufus Hutton; ahem, sir! Delightful occupation! I, too, am a gardener. Dumelow Seedling, I flatter myself. Know them well by the eye, sir. But what a difference the soil makes! Ah, yes, let them hang till the frost comes. What a plague we have had with earwigs! Get into the seat of the fruit; now just let me show you. Ah, you beggars, there you are. Never take them by the head, sir, or they?d nip my fingers. Take them under the abdomen, and they haven?t room to twist upon you. There, now; what can he do?

Not even thank you, sir, for killing him. And now what can I do for you?

Mr. Garnet, I will come to the point. A man learns that in India. Too hot, sir, for much talking. Bless my heart, I have known the thermometer at 10 o?clock p. m., sir not in the barracks, mind me, nor in a stifling nullah

Excuse me, I have read of all that. I have an engagement, Dr. Hutton, at eight minutes past eleven.

Bless my heart, and I have an appointment at 11.9 and five seconds. How singular a coincidence!

Bull Garnet looked down at the little doctor, and thought him too small to be angry with. Moreover, he was a practical man, and scarcely knew what chaff meant. So he kept his temper wonderfully, while Rufus looked up at him gravely, with his little eyes shining like glowworms between the brown stripes of his countenance.

I have heard of you, Dr. Hutton, as a very skilful gardener. Perhaps you would like to look round my garden, while I go and despatch my business. If so, I will be with you again in exactly thirtyfive minutes.

Stop, stop, stop! you?ll be sorry all your life, if you don?t hear my news.

So Rufus Hutton thought. But Mr. Garnet was sorry through all the rest of his life that he ever stopped to hear it.





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