Cradock Nowell: A Tale of the New Forest. Volume 1 of 3
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As the doctor warmed to his subject, he grew more and more professional, and perhaps less gentlemanly, until his good feelings came into play, for his heart, after all, was right. All the terms which he used shall not be repeated, because of their being so medical. Only this, that he said at last, after a long inspection —
“Sir, this confirms to a nicety my metrostigmatic theory”.
“Dr. Hutton, I know not what you mean, neither do I wish to know”.
Cradock put on his neckerchief anyhow, and walked to his chair by the mantelpiece, although no fire was burning. The medical man said nothing, but gravely looked out of the window. Presently the young gentleman felt that he was not acting hospitably.
“Excuse me, sir, if I have seemed rude; but you do not know how these things – I mean, when I think of my mother. Let me ring for some sherry and sandwiches; you have had no lunch”.
“Ring for some brandy, my boy; and give me a cheroot. Fine property! Look at the sweep of the land – and to think of losing it all”!
Instead of ringing, Cradock went and fetched the cognac himself, and took down a glass from a cupboard.
“Two glasses, my dear boy, two”.
“No, sir; I never touch it”.
“Then take it now, for the first time. Here, let me feel your pulse”.
“Once for all, I beg you to tell me what is all this mystery? Do you think I am a child”?
“Fill your pipe again, while I light a cigar”.
Cradock did as he was told, although with trembling hands. Rufus Hutton went for a wine–glass, filled it with brandy, and pushed it across, then gulped down half a tumblerful; but Cradock did not taste his.
“Now, my boy, can you bear some very bad news indeed”?
“Anything better than this suspense. I have heard some bad news lately, which has seasoned me for anything”.
He referred to Amy Rosedew.
“It is this. You are not your father?s heir; you are only the younger son”.
“Is that all”?
“All! Isn?t that enough? Good God! What more would you have? – you don?t deserve brandy”.
“My father will be glad, and so will Clayton, and – perhaps one other. But I don?t mean to say that I am”.
“I should rather fancy not. But you take it most philosophically”!
Dr. Hutton gazed at the poor young fellow in surprise and admiration, trying vainly to make him out. Then he reached over to Cradock?s elbow, took his glass of cognac, and swallowed it.
“This has upset me, my boy, more than you. How miserable I felt about it! But perhaps you place no faith in the assertion I have made”?
“Indeed, it has quite amazed me; and I have had no time to think of it. My head seems spinning round. Please to say no more just for a minute or two, unless you find it uncomfortable”.
He leaned back in his chair, and tried to think, but could not.
Rufus Hutton said nothing. In spite of all his experience, the scene was very strange to him; and he watched it out with interest, which deepened into strong feeling.
“Now, Dr.Hutton”, said the youth, trying to look as he thought he ought, though he could not keep the tears back, “I beg you to think of me no more. Let us have the strictest justice. I have not known you so long – so long as you have known me – but I feel that you would not say what you have said, without the strongest evidence”.
“Confound me for a meddlesome fool! My dear boy, no one has heard us. Let us sink the matter entirely. Least said, soonest mended”.
“What do you mean? Do you think for a moment that I would be a blackguard”?
“Hush! – don?t get so excited. Why, you look as fierce as Bull Garnet. All I mean is – you know the old saying – ?Quieta non movere’”.
“The motto of fools and dastards. ‘Have it out’, is an Englishman?s rule. No sneaking tricks for me, sir. Oh, what a fool I am! I beg your pardon with all my heart; you will make allowances for me. Instead of being rude, I ought to be grateful for kindness which even involves your honour”.
And he held out his hand to the doctor.
“Crad, my dear boy”, exclaimed Mr. Hutton, with a big tear twinkling in each little eye, “the finest thing I ever did was showing you to the daylight. If I rob you of what has appeared your birthright, curse all memorandum–books, and even my metrostigmatic treatise, which I fully meant to immortalize me”.
“And so I hope it may do. I am not so calm as I ought to be. Somehow a fellow can?t be, when he is taken off the hooks so. I know you will allow for this; I beg you to allow for nothing else, except a gentleman?s delicacy. Give me your reasons, or not, as you like. The matter will be for my father”.
Cradock looked proud and beautiful. But the depth of his eyes was troubled. A thousand thoughts were moving there, like the springs that feed a lake.
“Hah, ho, very hard work”! said Rufus Hutton, puffing; “I vote that we adjourn. I do love the open air so, ever since I took to gardening”.
Rufus Hutton hated “sentiment”, but he could not always get rid of it.
On the morning of that same day, our Amy at her father?s side, in the pretty porch of the Rectory, uttered the following wisdom: “Darling Papples, Papelikidion – is there any other diminutivicle half good enough for you, or stupid enough for me? – my own father (that?s best of all), you must not ride Cor?bus to–day”.
“Amy amata, peramata a me, aim of my life, amicula, in the name of sweet sense, why not”?
“Because, pa, he has had ten great long carrots, and my best hat full of new oats; and I know he will throw you off”.
“Scrupulum injecisti. I shouldn?t like to come off to–day. And it rained the night before last”. So said the rector, proudly contemplating a pair of new kerseymeres, which Channing the clerk had made upon trial. “Nevertheless, I think that I have read enough on the subject to hold on by his mane, if he does not kick unreasonably. And if he gives me time to soothe him – that horse is fond of Greek – and, after all, the ground is soft”.
“No, dad, I don?t think it is prudent. And you won?t have me there, you know”.
“My own pet, that is too true. And with all your knowledge of riding! Why, my own seems quite theoretical by the side of yours. And yet I have kept my seat under very trying circumstances. You remember the time when Cor?bus met the trahea”?
“Yes, pa; but he hadn?t had any oats; and I was there to advise you”.
“True, my child, quite true. But I threw my equilibrium just as a hunter does. And I think I could do it again. I bore in mind what Xenophon says – ”
“Pa, here he is! And he does look so fat, I know he will be restive”.
“Prepare your Aunt Doxy?s mind, my dear, not to scold more than she can help, in case of the worst – I mean, if the legs of my trousers want rubbing. How rash of me, to be sure, to have put them on to–day! Prius dementat. I trust sincerely – and old Channing is so proud of them, and he says the cut is so fashionable. Nevertheless, I heard our Clayton, as he went down the gravelwalk, treating, with what he himself would have called ‘colores orationis’, upon Uncle John?s new bags; ???????, I suppose he meant, as opposed to ??????????. I was glad that the subject possessed so lively an interest for him; notwithstanding which, I was very glad Mr. Channing did not hear him”.
“The impudence! Well, I am astonished. And to see the things he brought back from Oxford – quince–coloured, with a stripe that wide, like one of my fancy gourds. I?ll be sure to have it out with him. No, I can?t, though; I forgot”. And Amy looked down with a rosy smile, remembering the delicacy of the subject. “But I am quite sure of one thing, pa: Mr. Cradock would never have done it. R?bus, don?t kick up the gravel. Do you suppose we can roll every day? Oh, you are so fat, you darling”!
“When the sides are deep”, said the rector, quoting from Xenophon, “and somewhat protuberant at the stomach, the horse is generally more easy to ride. What a comfort, Amy! Stronger, moreover, and more capable of enjoying food”.
“He has enjoyed a rare lot this morning. At least I hope you have, you sweetest. Why, pa, I declare you are whistling”!
“It also behoves a horseman to know that it is a time–honoured precept to soothe the steed by whistling, and rouse him by a sharp sound made between the tongue and the palate”.
“Oh, father, don?t do that. Promise me now, dear, won?t you”?
“I will promise you, my child, because I don?t know how to do it. I tried very hard last Wednesday, and only produced a guttural. But I think I shall understand it, after six or seven visiting days. At least, if the air is sharp”.
“No, pa, I hope you won?t. It would be so reckless of you; and I know you will get a sore throat”.
“Sweet of my world, cor cordium, you have wrapped me with three involucres tighter than any hazel–nut. They will all go into my pocket the moment I am round the corner”.
“No, daddy, you won?t be so cruel. And after the rime this morning! R?bus will tell if you do. Won?t you now, my pretty”?
Cor?bus was a handsome pony, but not a handsome doer. He could go at a rare pace when he liked, but he did not often like it. His wind was short, and so was his temper, and he looked at things unpleasantly. Perhaps he had been disappointed in love in the tenderness of his youth. Nevertheless he had many good points, and next to himself loved Amy. He would roll his black eyes, put his nose to her lips, and almost leave oats to look at her. His colour varied sensitively according to the season. In the height of summer, a dappled bay; towards the autumnal equinox, a tendency to nuttiness; then a husky bristle of deepest brown flaked with hairs of ginger; after the clips a fine mouse–colour, with a spirited sense of nakedness, fierce whiskers, and a love of buck jumps. Then ere the blessed Christmas–tide, nature began to blanket him with a nap the colour of black frost; and so through the grizzle of spring he came round to his proper bay once more. Amy declared she could tell every month by the special hue of Cor?bus; but, albeit she was the most truthful of girls, her heart was many degrees too warm for her lips to be always at dew–point.
Both in the stable and out of it, that pony had a bluff way with his heels, which none but himself thought humorous. He never meant any harm, however – it was only his mode of expressing himself; and he liked to make a point when he felt his new shoes tingling. But as for kicking his Amy, he was not quite so low as that. He would not even jump about, when she was on his back, more than was just the proper thing to display her skill and figure. “Oh, you sad Cor?by”, always brought him to sadness; and he expected a pat from her little gloved hand, and cocked his tail with dignity the moment he received it. Nevertheless, for her father, the rector of the parish, he entertained, when the oats were plentiful, nonconformist sentiments, verging almost upon scepticism. He liked him indeed, as the whole world must; he even admired his learning, and turned up his eyes at the Greek; but he was not impressed, as he should have been, by the sacerdotal office. Fatal defect of all, he knew that the rector could not ride. John Rosedew was a reasoning man, and uncommonly strong in the legs, but a great deal too philosophical to fit himself over a horse well. He had written a treatise upon the Pelethronian Lapiths (which he could never be brought to read before a learned society), he knew all about the Olympics and Pythics, and Xenophon gave him a text–book; but, for all that, he never put his feet the right way into the stirrups.
“Look at him now”, said John, as the boy led the pony up and down, while Amy was knotting the mufflers so that they never might come undone again; “how beautifully Xenophon describes him! ‘When the horse is excited to assume that artificial air which he adopts when he is proud, he then delights in riding, becomes magnificent, terrific, and attracts attention!’ And again, ‘persons beholding such a horse pronounce him generous, free in his motions, fit for military exercise, high–mettled, haughty, and both pleasant and terrible to look on’. Pleasant, I suppose, for other people, and terrible for the rider. But why our author insists so much upon the horse being taught to ‘rear gracefully’, I am not horseman enough as yet to understand. It has always appeared to me that Cor?bus rears too much already. And then the direction – ?but if after riding, and copious perspiration, and when he has reared gracefully, he be relieved immediately both of the rider and reins, there is little doubt that he will spontaneously advance to rear when necessary’. What does that mean, I ask you? I never find it necessary, except, indeed, when the little girls jump up and pull my coat–tails, in their inquisition for apples, and then I am always afraid that they may suffer some detriment. But let us not overtask his patience; here he comes again. Jem, my boy, lead him up to the chair”.
“Any jam in your pocket, father”?
“No, my child, not any. Your excellent Aunt Eudoxia has it all under lock and key. Now I will mount according to Xenophon, though I do not find that he anywhere prescribes a Windsor chair. ‘When he has well prepared himself for the ascent, let him support his body with his left hand, and stretching forth his right hand let him leap on horseback, and when he mounts thus he will not present an uncomely spectacle to those behind. There, I am up, most accurately; excellent horse, and great writer! And now for the next direction: ‘We do not approve of the same bearing a man has in a carriage, but that an upright posture be observed, with the legs apart’”.
“How could they be otherwise, pa, when the horse is between them”?
“Your criticisms are rash, my child. Jem, how dare you laugh, sir? I will buy a pair of spurs, I declare, the next time I go to Ringwood. Good–bye, darling; Aunt Doxy will take you up to the park, when the sun comes out, to see all the wonderful doings. I shall be home in time to dress for the dinner at the Hall”.
Sweet Amy kissed her hand, and curtseyed – as she loved to do to her father; and, after two or three wayward sallies (repressed by Jem with the gardening broom), Cor?bus pricked his little ears, and shook himself into a fair jog–trot. So with his elbows well stuck out, and shaking merrily to and fro, his right hand ready to grasp the pommel in case of consternation, and one leg projected beyond the other, after the manner of a fowl?s side–bone, away rode John Rosedew in excellent spirits, to begin his Wednesday parochial tour.
Being duly victualled, and thoroughly found, for a voyage of long duration and considerable hazard, the good ship “John Rosedew” set sail every Wednesday for commerce with the neighbourhood. This expedition was partly social, partly ministerial, in a great measure eleemosynary, and entirely loving and amicable. There was no bombardment of dissenters, no firing of red–hot shot at Papists, no up with the helm and run him down, if any man launched on the mare magnum, or any frail vessel missed stays. And yet there was no compromise, no grand circle sailing, no luffing to a trade–wind; straight was the course, and the chart most clear, and the good ship bound, with favour of God, for a haven beyond the horizon. Barnacles and vile teredoes, alg? and desmidious trailers: – I doubt if there be more sins in our hearts to stop us from loving each other than parasites and leeching weeds to clog a stout ship?s bottom. Nevertheless she bears them on, beautifies and cleanses them, until they come to temperate waters, where the harm has failed them. So a good man carries with him those who carp and fasten on him; content to take their little stings, if the utterance purify them.
The parish of Nowelhurst straggles away far into the depths of the forest. To the southward indeed it has moorland and heather, with ridges, and spinneys, and views of the sea, and fir–trees naked and worn to the deal by the chafing of the salt winds. But all away to the west, north, and east, the dark woods hold dominion, and you seem to step from the parish churchyard into the grave of ages. The village and the village warren, the chase, and the Hall above them, are scooped from out the forest shadow, in the shape of a hunting boot. Lay the boot on its side with the heel to the east, and the top towards the north, and we get pretty near the topography. The village scattered along the warren forms the foot and instep, the chase descending at right angles is the leg and ankle, the top will serve to represent the house with its lawns and gardens, the back seam may run as the little river which flows under Nowelhurst bridge. The shank of the spur is the bridge and road, the rowel the church and rectory. Away to the west beyond the toe, some quarter of a mile on the Ringwood–road, stands the smithy kept by the well–known Roger Sweetland, who can out–swear any man in the parish, and fears no one except Bull Garnet. Our sketchy boot will leave unshown the whereabouts of the Garnet cottage, unless we suppose the huntsman to insert just his toe in the stirrup. Then the top of the iron rung will mark the house of the steward, a furlong or so north–west of the village, with its back to the lane which leads from the smithy to the Hall. And this lane is the short cut from Nowelhurst Hall to Ringwood. It saves three–quarters of a mile, and risks a little more than three–quarters of the neck. Large and important as the house is, it has no high road to Ringwood, and gets away with some difficulty even towards Lyndhurst or Lymington. Bull Garnet was always down upon the barbarity of the approaches, but Sir Cradock never felt sore on the subject, save perhaps for a week at Christmas–tide. He had never been given to broad indiscriminate hospitality, but loved his books and his easy–chair, and his friend of ancient standing.
The sun came out and touched the trees with every kind of gilding, as John Rosedew having done the village, and learned every gammer?s alloverishness, and every gaffer?s rheumatics, drew the snaffle upon Cor?bus longside of Job Smith?s pigsty, and plunged southward into the country. He saw how every tree was leaning forth its green with yellowness; even proud of the novelty, like a child who has lost his grandmother. And though he could not see very far, he observed a little thing which he had never noticed before. It was that while the other trees took their autumn evenly, the elm was brushed with a flaw of gold while the rest of the tree was verdure. A single branch would stand forth from the others, mellow against their freshness, like a harvest–sheaf set up perhaps on the foreground of a grass–plot. The rector thought immediately of the golden spray of ?neas, and how the Brazilian manga glistens in the tropic moonlight. Then soothing his pony with novel sounds, emulous of equestrianism, he struck into a moorland track leading to distant cottages. Thence he would bear to the eastward, arrive at his hostel by one o?clock, visit the woodmen, and home through the forest, with the evening shadows falling.
Beside the embowered stream that forms the eastern verge of the chase, young Cradock Nowell sat and gazed, every now and then, into the water. Through a break in the trees beyond it, he could see one chimney–top and a streak of the thatch of the Rectory. In vain he hoped that Dr. Hutton would leave him to himself; for he did not wish to go into the proofs, but to meditate on the consequences. Some bitterness, no doubt, there was in the corner of his heart, when he thought of all that Clayton now had to offer Amy Rosedew. He had lately been told, as a mighty secret, something which grieved and angered him; and the more, that he must not speak of it, as his straightforward nature urged him. The secret was that innocent Amy met his brother Clayton, more than once, in the dusk of the forest, and met him by appointment. It grieved poor Cradock, because he loved Amy with all his unchangeable heart; it angered him, because he thought it very mean of Clayton to take advantage of one so young and ignorant of the world. But never until the present moment, as he looked at the homely thatch in the distance, and the thin smoke curling over it, had it occurred to his honest mind, that his brother might not be like himself – that Clayton might mean ill by the maiden.
And now for the moment it seemed more likely, as he glanced back at the lordly house, commanding the country for miles around, and all that country its fief and its thrall, and now the whole destined for Clayton. He thought of the meanness about the Ireland, and two or three other little things, proofs of a little nature. Then he gazed at the Rectory thatch again, and the smoke from the kitchen chimney, and seemed to see pure playful Amy making something nice for her father.
“Good God! I would shoot him if he did; or strike him dead into this water”.
In the hot haste of youth he had spoken aloud, with his fist gathered up, and his eyes flashing fire. Rufus Hutton saw and heard him, and thought of it many times after that day.
“Oh, you are thinking of Caldo, because he snapped at me. There are no signs of hydrophobia. You must not think of shooting him”.
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