Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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Bull Garnet forgot his appointment for eight minutes after eleven; indeed it was almost twelve o?clock when he came out of the summerhouse (made of scarlet–runners) to which he had led Dr. Hutton, when he saw that his tale was of interest. As he came forth, and the noonday sun fell upon his features, any one who knew him would have been surprised at their expression. A well–known artist, employed upon a fresco in the neighbourhood, had once described Mr. Garnet?s face in its ordinary aspect as “violence in repose”. Epigrammatic descriptions of the infinite human nature are like tweezers to catch a whale with. The man who unified so rashly all the Garnetian impress, had only met Mr. Garnet once – had never seen him after dinner, or playing with his children.
Now Rufus Hutton, however garrulous, was a kind and sensible man, and loth to make any mischief. He ran after Mr. Garnet, hotly. Bull Garnet had quite forgotten him, and would take no notice. The doctor made a short cut through a quarter of Brussels sprouts (which almost knocked off his wide–awake hat) and stood in the arch of trimmed yew–tree, opening at the western side upon the forest lane. Here he stretched his arms to either upright, and mightily barred all exit. He knew that the other would not go home, because he had told him so.
Presently Bull Garnet strode up: not with his usual swing, however; not with his wonted self–confidence. He seemed to walk off from a staggering blow, which had dulled his brain for the moment. He stopped politely before Mr. Hutton (who expected to be thrust aside), and asked as if with new interest, and as if he had not heard the tale out —
“Are you quite sure, Dr. Hutton, that you described the dress correctly”?
“As sure as I am of the pattern of my own unmentionables. Miss Rosedew wore, as I told you, a lavender serge, looped at the sides with purple – a pretty dress for Christmas, but it struck me as warm for Michaelmas. Perhaps it was meant for the Michaelmas daisies; or perhaps she suffers from rheumatism, or flying pains in the patella”.
“And the cloak and hat, as you described them – are you sure about them”?
“My dear sir, I could swear to them both if I saw them on a scarecrow. How can I speak of such a thing after that lovely creature? Such an exquisite fall of the shoulders – good wide shoulders too – and such a delicious waist! I assure you, my dear sir, I have seen fine women in India – ”
“Dr. Hutton”, said Mr. Garnet, sternly, “let me hear no more of that. You are a newly–married man, a man of my time of life. I will have no warm description of – of any young ladies”.
Rufus Hutton was a peppery man, and not very easily cowed. Nevertheless, his mind was under the pressure of a stronger one. So he only relieved himself with a little brag.
“Why, Mr. Garnet, you cross–examine me as I did the natives when I acted as judge in Churramuttee, when the two chuprassies came before me, and the water–carrier.I tell you, sir, I see more in a glance than most men do in a long set stare, when they are called in to appraise a thing. I could tell every plait in your shirt–front, and the stuff and cut of your coat, before you could say ‘good morning’. It was only last Thursday that Mrs. Hutton, who is a most remarkable woman, made an admirable observation about my rapid perception”.
“I have not the smallest doubt of it. And I believe that you fully deserved it. You will therefore perceive at once that this matter must go no further. Did you see my – son at the house here”?
“No. Only the maid–servant, who directed me where to find you”.
“Then you did not go in at all, I suppose”?
“No; but I admired greatly your mode of training that beautiful trop?olum over the porch. I must go and look at it again, with your kind permission. I never neglect the chance of a wrinkle such as that”.
“Another time, Dr. Hutton, I shall hope to show it to you; though you must have seen it all at a glance, for it is simpler than my shirt–fronts. But my business takes me now to the Hall, and I shall be glad of your company”.
“Hospitable fellow, with a vengeance”! thought little Rufus. “And I heard he had some wonderful sherry, and it?s past my time for a snack. Serves me right for meddling with other people?s business”.
But while he stood hesitating, and casting fond glances towards the cottage, Mr. Garnet, without any more ado, passed his powerful long arm through the little wing of Rufus, and hurried him down the dingle.
“Excuse me, sir, but I have never much time to waste. This, as you know, is a most busy day, and all the preparations are under my sole charge. I laugh at the fuss, as a matter of course. But that question is not for me. Cradock Nowell is a noble fellow, and I have the highest respect for him”.
“Well, I rather prefer young Clayton. Having brought them both into the world, I ought to understand them. But I hope he won?t make a fool of himself in this matter we have been talking of”.
Mr. Garnet jerked his companion?s arm, and his face went pale as Portland stone.
“Make a d – d rogue more likely. And he won?t be the first of his family”.
“Yes, as you say”, replied the doctor to all he could catch of the muttered words, which flew over the crown of his hat, “beyond all doubt the first family in this part of the kingdom, and so they must have their jubilee. But I trust you will use with the utmost caution what I thought it best to confide to you, under the bond of secrecy. Of course, I could not think of telling papa, either of lady or gentleman; and knowing how you stand with the family, you seemed to me the proper person to meet this little difficulty”.
“Beyond a doubt, I am”.
“Pooh, sir, a boy and a girl. I wonder you think so much about it. Men never know their own minds in the matter until they arrive at our age. And as for the chits on the other side – whew, they blow right and left, as the feathers on their hats do”.
“That is not the case with my family. We make up our minds, and stick to them”.
“Then your family is the exception, which only proves my rule; and I am glad that it is not concerned in the present question”.
When they came to that part of the lawn in front of the ancient Hall where the fireworks’ stage had been reared on a gently–rising mound, Cradock Nowell met them, with a book in his hand. To–morrow he would be twenty–one; and a more honest, open–hearted fellow, or a better built one, never arrived at man?s estate, whether for wealth or poverty. He had not begun to think very deeply; indeed, who could expect it, where trouble had never entered? It is pain that deepens the channel of thought, and sorrow that sweeps the bar away. Cradock as yet was nothing more than a clever, fine young man, an elegant and accurate scholar, following thought more than leading it. Nevertheless, he had the material of a grand unselfish character – of a nature which, when perfected, could feel its imperfections. Sorrow and trial were needed for him; and God knows he soon got enough of them.
He shoved away his Tauchnitz Herodotus in his shooting–coat pocket. Neither of the men he met was a scholar; neither would feel any interest in it. Being driven forth by his father?s grumbling at the little pleasure he showed in the fuss that was making about him, he had brought his genial, true cosmopolite to show him a thing which his heart would have loved. Cradock had doubled down the leaf whereon was described the building of the boat–bridge over the Hellespont. Neither had he forgotten the interment of the Scythian kings. It was not that he purposed to instruct the carpenters thence, or to shed any light on their doings; but that he hoped to learn from them some words to jot down on the margin. He had discovered already, being helped thereto by the tongue of Ytene, that hundreds of forcible Saxon words still lurk in the crafts to which the beaten race betook itself – words which are wanted sadly, and pieced out very unpleasantly by roundabout foreign fanglements.
Even the gratitude now due to the good–will of all the neighbourhood, had failed to reconcile his mind to the turgid part before him. At Oxford he had been dubbed already “Caradoc the Philosopher”; and the more he learned, the less he thought of his own importance. He had never regarded the poor around him as dogs made for him to whistle to; he even knew that he owed them some duties, and wondered how to discharge them. Though bred of high Tory lineage, and corded into it by the twists of habit and education, he never could hang by neck and gullet; he never could show basement only, as a well–roped onion does. Encased as he was by strict surroundings, he never could grow quite straight and even, without a seed inside him, as a prize cucumber does in the cylinder of an old chimney–glass.
Some of this dereliction sprang, no doubt, from his granulation, and some from the free trade of his mind with the great heart called “John Rosedew”.
Now he came up, and smiled, like a boy of fourteen, in Mr. Garnet?s face; for he liked Bull Garnet?s larger qualities, and had no fear of his smaller ones. Mr. Garnet never liked; he always loved or hated. He loved Cradock Nowell heartily, and heartily hated Clayton.
“Behind my time, you see, Cradock. I am glad you are doing my duty. – Ha, there! I see you, my man”.
The man was skulking his work, in rigging out with coloured lamps an old oak fifty yards off. That ancient oak, the pride of the chase, was to represent, to–morrow night, a rainbow reflecting “Cradock Nowell”. Young Crad, who regarded it all as ill–taste, if it were not positive sin, had lifted his voice especially against that oak?s bedizenment. “It will laugh at us from every acorn”, he had said to his father. But Sir Cradock was now a man of sixty; and threescore resents being budded. The incision results in gum only.
At the sound of that tremendous voice, the man ran recklessly out on the branch, the creaking of which had alarmed him. Snap went the branch at a cankered part, and the poor fellow dropped from a height of nearly forty feet. But the crashing wood caught in the bough beneath, which was sound and strong, and there hung the man, uninjured as yet, clinging only by one arm, and struggling to throw his feet up. In a moment Cradock had seized a ladder, reared, and fixed, and mounted it, and helped the poor fellow to slide off upon it, and stayed him there gasping and quivering. Bull Garnet set foot on the lowest rung, and Rufus Hutton added his weight, which was not very considerable. A dozen workmen came running up, and the man, whose nerves had quite failed him, was carefully eased to the ground.
“Mr. Garnet”, said Cradock, with flashing eyes, “would you have walked on that branch yourself”?
“To be sure I would, after I had looked at it”.
“But you gave this poor man no time to look. Is it brave to make another do what you yourself would fear”?
“Give me your hand, my boy. I was wrong, and you are right. I wish every man to hear me. Jem, come to my house this evening. You owe your life to Mr. Cradock”.
Nature itself is better than the knowledge of human nature. Mr. Garnet, by generosity quicker than quickest perception, had turned to his credit an incident which would have disgraced a tyrant. A powerful man?s confession of wrong always increases his power. While the men were falling to work again, every one under the steward?s eyes, Sir Cradock Nowell and Clayton his son came cantering up from the stables. The dry leaves crackled or skirred away crisply from their horses? feet, for the day was fine and breezy; the nags were arching their necks and pricking their ears with enjoyment; but neither of the riders seemed to be in high spirits. The workmen touched their hats to them in a manner very different from that with which they received Mr. Garnet or Cradock Nowell. There was more of distant respect in it, and less of real interest.
Sir Cradock now was a perfect specimen of the well–bred Englishman at threescore years of age. Part of his life had been touched by sorrow, but in the main he had prospered. A man of ability and high culture, who has not suffered deeply, is apt, after passing middle age, to substitute tact for feeling, and common sense for sympathy. Mellow and blest is the age of the man who soberly can do otherwise.
Sir Cradock Nowell knew his age, and dressed himself accordingly. Neither stiffness nor laxity, neither sporting air nor austerity, could be perceived in his garb or manner. He respected himself and all whom he met, until he had cause to the contrary. But his heart, instead of expanding, had narrowed in the loneliness of his life; and he really loved only one in the world – the son who rode beside him. He had loved John Rosedew well and truly for many an honest year; of late, admiration was uppermost, and love grown a thing to be thought about. The cause of the change was his own behaviour, and John?s thorough hate of injustice. That old friend of the family could not keep silence always at the preference of Clayton, and the disparagement of Cradock. The father himself could not have told whence arose this preference. Year by year it had been growing, for a long time unsuspected; suspected then and fought with, then smothered at once and justified; allowed at last to spread and thrive on the right of its own existence. And yet any one, to look at Sir Cradock, would have thought him justice personified. And so he was, as Chairman of the Quarter Sessions. Clear intelligence, quick analysis, keen perception of motive in others, combined with power to dispense (when nature so does) with reason, and used with high sense of honour – all these things made him an oracle to every one but himself. Although he had never been in the army, he looked like a veteran soldier; and his seat on horseback was stiff and firm, rather than easy and graceful. Tall, spare figure, and grey moustache, Roman nose, and clear, bright eyes, thin lips, and broad white forehead – the expression of the whole bespoke an active, resolute, upright man, not easily pleased or displeased.
As every one was to keep holiday, the farmers had challenged the Ringwood club to play them a game of cricket, and few having seen a bat till now, some practice seemed indispensable. Accordingly, while Bull Garnet was busy among the working men, the farmers, being up for play, were at it in hard earnest, labouring with much applause and merriment, threshing or churning, mowing or ploughing, and some making kicks at the ball. Rufus Hutton looked on in a spirited manner, and Cradock was bowling with all his might at the legs of a petty tyrant, when his father and brother rode up between the marquees and awnings. The tyrannical farmer received a smart crack on the shin, and thought (though he feared to say) “d – n”.
“Hurrah, Crad! more jerk to your elbow”! cried Clayton, who also disliked the man; “Blackers, you mustn?t break the ball, it?s against the laws of cricket”.
Grinning sympathy and bad wit deepened the bruise of the tibia, till Farmer Blackers forgot all prudence in the deep jar of the marrow.
“Boul awai, meester, and be honged to you. I carries one again you, mind”.
To the great surprise of all present there, Sir Cradock did not look at the speaker, but turned on his son with anger.
“Sir, you ought to know better. Your sense of justice will lead you, I hope, to apologise to that man”.
He did not wait to see the effect of this public reproof, which was heard by a hundred people, but struck his mare hastily on the shoulder, called Clayton, and rode away. Cradock, who now had the ball in his hands, threw it a hundred feet high.
“Catch it who will”, he said; “I shall bowl no more to–day. Farmer Blackers, I apologise to you; I did not know you were so tender”.
Feeling far more tender himself (for all that was the youth?s bravado), he went away, doubting right and wrong, to his own little room on the ground floor. There he would smoke his pipe, and meditate, and condemn himself, if the verdict were true. That young fellow?s sense of justice was larger, softer, more deeply fibred, than any Sir Cradock Nowell?s.
Men of high culture and sensitive justice, who have much to do with ill–taught workmen, lie under a terrible disadvantage. They fear to presume upon the mere accident of their own position, they dread to extract more dues from another than they in his place would render, they shrink from saying what may recall the difference betwixt them, they cannot bear to be stiff and dogmatic, yet they know that any light word may be taken in heavy earnest. True sympathy is the only thing to bring master and man together; and sympathy is a subtle vein, direct when nature hits it, but crooked and ungrammatical to the syntax of education. Cradock Nowell often touched it, without knowing how; and hence his popularity among the “lower classes”. Clayton hit upon it only in the softer sex. Bull Garnet knew how to move it deeply, and owed his power to that knowledge, even more than to his energy.
Cradock was pondering these things in the pipe of contemplation, when a pair of keen eyes twinkled in at the window, and a shrewd, shrill voice made entry.
“Pray let me in, Mr. Cradock Nowell; I want to inquire about the grapes”.
“What a wonderful man that is”! said Cradock to himself, as he came from his corner reluctantly to open the French window; “there is nothing he doesn?t inquire about. Erotetic philosopher! He has only been here some three or four days, and he knows all our polity better than we do! I wish his wife would come; though I believe he is an honest fellow”.
Unconscious of any satirical antithesis, he opened the window, and admitted the polypragmonic doctor; and, knowing that hom?opathic treatment is the wisest for garrulous subjects, he began upon him at once. Nor omitted a spice of domesticity, which he thought would be sovereign.
“Now, Dr. Hutton, it is too bad of you to wander about like a bachelor. How long before we have the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Hutton”?
“My dear boy, you know the reason; I hope you know the reason. Your roads are very rough for ladies, especially when in delicate health, and our four–wheel is being mended. So I rode over alone; and what a lovely ride it is! Ah, Clayton – yes, I saw Clayton somewhere. But your father has promised most kindly to send a carriage to–morrow to Geopharmacy Lodge – the name of our little place, sir”.
At the thought of his home, the little doctor pulled up both his shirt–collars, and looked round the room disparagingly.
“Oh, I am very glad to hear it. Meanwhile, you would like to see our grapes. Let me show you the way to the vinery; though I cannot take you without misgivings. Your gardening fame has frightened us. Our old man, Snip, is quite afraid of your new lights and experience”.
“Sensible lad”, muttered Rufus Hutton, who was pleasantly conceited – “uncommonly sensible lad! I am not at all sure that he isn?t a finer fellow than Clayton. But I must take my opportunity now, while he has his stock off. There is something wrong: I am sure of it”.
“Excuse me a moment”, said Cradock; “I am sorry to keep you waiting, but I must just put on my neckerchief, if I can only find it. How very odd! I could have declared I put it on that table”.
“What?s that I see on the floor there, by the corner of the bookcase”? Rufus pointed his cane at the tie, which lay where himself had thrown it.
“Oh, thank you; I must be getting blind, for I am sure I looked there just now”.
While the young man stooped forward, the little doctor, who had posted himself for the purpose, secured a quick glimpse at the back of his neck, where the curling hair fell sideways. That glance increased his surprise, and confirmed his strange suspicions. The surprise and suspicion had broken upon him, as he stood by the farmer?s wicket, and Cradock sprang up to the bowling crease; now, in his excitement and curiosity, he forgot all scruples. It was strange that he had felt any, for he was not very sensitive; but Cradock, with all his good nature, had a certain unconscious dignity, from which Dr. Hutton retreated.
“The grapes I came to inquire about”, said Rufus, with much solemnity, “are not those in the vinery, which I have seen often enough, but those on your neck, Mr. Nowell”.
Cradock looked rather amazed, but more at the inquirer?s manner than at his seeming impertinence.
“I really cannot see how the ‘grapes’, as some people call the blue lines on my neck, can interest you, sir, or are important enough to be spoken of”.
“Then I do, Cradock Nowell. Do you refuse to let me see them”?
“Certainly not; though I should refuse it to almost any one else. Not that I am sensitive about such a trifle. You, as a medical man, and an old friend of my father, are welcome to your autopsy. Is not that what you call it, sir”?
Nevertheless, from the tone of his voice, Rufus Hutton knew that he liked it not – for it was a familiarity, and seemed to the youth a childish one.
“Sit down, young man, sit down”, said the doctor, very pompously, and waiving further discussion. “I am not – I mean to say you are taller than when I first – ah, yes, manipulated you”.
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