Two Years Ago, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter xviii.

The Black Hound.

Pah! Let us escape anywhere for a breath of fresh air, for even the scent of a clean turf. We have been watching saints and martyrs — perhaps not long enough for the good of our souls, but surely too long for the comfort of our bodies. Let us away up the valley, where we shall find, it not indeed a fresh healthful breeze (for the drought lasts on), at least a cool refreshing down-draught from Carcarrow Moor before the sun gets up. It is just half-past four o’clock, on a glorious August morning. We shall have three hours at least before the heavens become one great Dutch-oven again.

We shall have good company, too, in our walk; for here comes Campbell fresh from his morning’s swim, swinging up the silent street toward Frank Headley’s lodging.

He stops, and tosses a pebble against the window-pane. In a minute or two Thurnall opens the street-door and slips out to him.

“Ah, Major! Overslept myself at last; that sofa is wonderfully comfortable. No time to go down and bathe. Ill get my header somewhere up the stream.”

“How is he?”

“He? sleeping like a babe, and getting well as fast as his soul will allow his body. He has something on his mind. Nothing to be ashamed of, though, I will warrant; for a purer, nobler fellow I never met.”

“When can we move him?”

“Oh, to-morrow, if he will agree. You may all depart and leave me and the Government man to make out the returns of killed and wounded. We shall have no more cholera. Eight days without a new case. We shall do now. I’m glad you are coming up with us.”

“I will just see the hounds throw off, and then go back and get Headley’s breakfast.”

“No, no! you mustn’t, sir: you want a day’s play.”

“Not half as much as you. And I am in no hunting mood just now. Do you take your fill of the woods and the streams, and let me see our patient. I suppose you will be back by noon?”

“Certainly.” And the two swing up the street, and out of the town, along the vale toward Trebooze.

For Trebooze of Trebooze has invited them, and Lord Scoutbush, and certain others, to come out otter-hunting; and otter-hunting they will go.

Trebooze has been sorely exercised, during the last fortnight, between fear of the cholera and desire of calling upon Lord Scoutbush —“as I ought to do, of course, as one of the gentry round; he’s a Whig, of course, and no more to me than anybody else; but one don’t like to let politics interfere;” by which Trebooze glosses over to himself and friends the deep Hunkeydom with which he lusteth after a live lord’s acquaintance, and one especially in whom he hopes to find even such a one as himself. . . . “Good fellow, I hear he is, too — good sportsman, smokes like a chimney,” and so forth.

So at last, when the cholera has all but disappeared, he comes down to Penalva, and introduces himself, half swaggering, half servile; begins by a string of apologies for not having called before — “Mrs. Trebooze so afraid of infection, you see, my lord,”— which is a lie: then blunders out a few fulsome compliments to Scoutbush’s courage in staying; then takes heart at a little joke of Scoutbush’s, and tries the free and easy style; fingers his lordship’s high-priced Hudsons, and gives a broad hint that he would like to smoke one on the spot; which hint is not taken, any more than the bet of a “pony” which he offers five minutes afterwards, that he will jump his Irish mare in and out of Aberalva pound; is utterly “thrown on his haunches” (as he informs his friend Mr. Creed afterwards) by Scoutbush’s praise of Tom Thurnall, as an “invaluable man, a treasure in such an out-of-the-way place, and really better company than ninety-nine men out of a hundred;” recovers himself again when Scoutbush asks after his otter-hounds, of which he has heard much praise from Tardrew; and launches out once more into sporting conversation of that graceful and lofty stamp which may be perused and perpended in the pages of “Handley Cross,” and “Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour,” books painfully true to that uglier and baser side of sporting life, which their clever author has chosen so wilfully to portray.

So, at least, said Scoutbush to himself, when his visitor had departed.

“He’s just like a page out of Sponge’s Tour, though he’s not half as good a fellow as Sponge himself; for Sponge knew he was a snob, and lived up to his calling honestly: but this fellow wants all the while to play at being a gentleman; and — Ugh! how the fellow smelt of brandy, and worse! His hand, too, shook as if he had the palsy, and he chattered and fidgetted like a man with St. Vitus’s dance.”

“Did he, my lord?” quoth Tom Thurnall, when he heard the same, in a very meaning tone.

And Trebooze, “for his part, couldn’t make out that lord — uncommonly agreeable, and easy, and all that: but shoves a fellow off, and sets him down somehow, and in such a —— civil way, that you don’t know where to have him.”

However, Trebooze departed in high spirits; for Lord Scoutbush has deigned to say that he will be delighted to see the otter-hounds work any morning that Trebooze likes, and anyhow — no time too early for him. “He will bring his friend Major Campbell?”

“By all means.”

“Expect two or three sporting gentlemen from the neighbourhood, too. Regular good ones, my lord — though they are county bucks — very much honoured to make your lordship’s acquaintance.”

Scoutbush expresses himself equally honoured by making their acquaintance, in a tone of bland simplicity, which utterly puzzles Trebooze, who goes a step further.

“Your lordship’ll honour us by taking pot luck afterwards. Can’t show you French cookery, you know, and your souffleys and glacys, and all that. Honest saddle o’ mutton, and the grounds of old port. — My father laid it down, and I take it up, eh?” And Trebooze gave a wink and a nudge of his elbow, meaning to be witty.

His lordship was exceedingly sorry; it was the most unfortunate accident: but he had the most particular engagement that very afternoon, and must return early from the otter-hunt, and probably sail the next day for Wales. “But,” says the little man, who knows all about Trebooze’s household, “I shall not fail to do myself the honour of calling on Mrs. Trebooze, and expressing my regret,” etc.

So to the otter-hunt is Scoutbush gone, and Campbell and Thurnall after him; for Trebooze has said to himself, “Must ask that blackguard of a doctor — hang him! I wish he were an otter himself; but if he’s so thick with his lordship it won’t do to quarrel.” For, indeed, Thurnall might tell tales. So Trebooze swallows his spite and shame — as do many folk who call themselves his betters, when they have to deal with a great man’s hanger-on — and sends down a note to Tom:

“Mr. Trebooze requests the pleasure of Mr. Thurnall’s company with his hounds at ——”

And Tom accepts — why not? and chats with Campbell, as they go, on many things; and among other things on this —

“By the by,” said he, “I got an hour’s shore-work yesterday afternoon, and refreshing enough it was. And I got a prize, too. The sucking barnacle which you asked for: I was certain I should get one or two, if I could have a look at the pools this week. Jolly little dog! he was paddling and spinning about last night, and enjoying himself, ’ere age with creeping’— What is it? —‘hath clawed him in his clutch.’ That fellow’s destiny is not a hopeful analogy for you, sir, who believe that we shall rise after we die into some higher and freer state.”

“Why not?”

“Why, which is better off, the free swimming larva, or the perfect cirrhipod, rooted for ever motionless to the rock?”

“Which is better off, the roving young fellow who is sowing his wild oats, or the man who has settled down, and become a respectable landowner with a good house over his head?”

“And begun to propagate his species? Well, you have me there, sir, as far as this life is concerned; but you will confess that the barnacle’s history proves that all crawling grubs don’t turn into butterflies.”

“I daresay the barnacle turns into what is best for him; at all events, what he deserves. That rule of yours will apply to him, to whomsoever it will not.”

“And so does penance for the sins of his youth, as some of us are to do in the next world?”

“Perhaps yes; perhaps no; perhaps neither.”

“Do you speak of us, or the barnacle?”

“Of both.”

“I am glad of that; for on the popular notion of our being punished a million years hence for what we did when we were lads, I never could see anything but a misery and injustice in our having come into the world at all.”

“I can,” said the Major quietly.

“Of course I meant nothing rude: but I had to buy my experience, and paid for it dearly enough in folly.”

“So had I to buy mine.”

“Then why be punished over and above? Why have to pay for the folly, which was itself only the necessary price of experience’?”

“For being, perhaps, so foolish as not to use the experience after it has cost you so dear.”

“And will punishment cure me of the foolishness?”

“That depends on yourself. If it does, it must needs be so much the better for you. But perhaps you will not be punished, but forgiven.”

“Let off? That would be a very bad thing for me, unless I become a very different man from what I have been as yet. I am always right glad now to get a fall whenever I make a stumble. I should have gone to sleep in my tracks long ago else, as one to do in the back woods on a long elk hunt.”

“Perhaps you may become a very different man.”

“I should be sorry for that, even if it were possible.”

“Why? Do you consider yourself perfect?”

“No. . . . But somehow, Thomas Thurnall is an old friend of mine, the first I ever had; and I should be sorry to lose his company.”

“I don’t think you need fear doing so. You have seen an insect go through strange metamorphoses, and yet remain the same individual; why should not you and I do so likewise?”

“Well?”

“Well — There are some points about you, I suppose, which you would not be sorry to have altered?”

“A few,” quoth Tom, laughing. “I do not consider myself quite perfect yet.”

“What if those points were not really any part of your character, but mere excrescences of disease: or if that be too degrading a notion, mere scars of old wounds, and of the wear and tear of life; and what if, in some future life, all those disappeared, and the true Mr. Thomas Thurnall, pure and simple, were alone left?”

“It is a very hopeful notion. Only, my dear sir, one is quite self-conceited enough in this imperfect state. What intolerable coxcombs we should all be if we were perfect, and could sit admiring ourselves for ever and ever!”

“But what if that self-conceit and self-dependence were the very root of all the disease, the cause of all the scars, the very thing which will have to be got rid of, before our true character and true manhood can be developed?”

“Yes, I understand. Faith and humility. . . . You will forgive me, Major Campbell. I shall learn to respect those virtues when good people have defined them a little more exactly, and can show me somewhat more clearly in what faith differs from superstition, and humility from hypocrisy.”

“I do not think any man will ever define them for you. But you may go through a course of experiences, more severe, probably, than pleasant, which may enable you at last to define them for yourself.”

“Have you defined them?” asked Tom, bluntly, glancing round at his companion.

“Faith? — Yes, I trust. Humility? — No, I fear.”

“I should like to hear your definition of the former, at least.”

“Did I not say that you must discover it for yourself?”

“Yes. Well. When the lesson comes, if it does come, I suppose it will come in some learnable shape; and till then, I must shift for myself — and if self-dependence he a punishable sin, I shall, at all events, have plenty of company whithersoever I go. There is Lord Scoutbush and Trebooze!”

Why did not Campbell speak his mind more clearly to Thurnall?

Because he knew that with such men words are of little avail. The disease was entrenched too strongly in the very centre of the man’s being. It seemed at moments as if all his strange adventures and hairbreadth escapes had been sent to do him harm, and not good; to pamper and harden his self-confidence, not to crush it. Therefore Campbell seldom argued with him: but he prayed for him often; for he had begun, as all did who saw much of Tom Thurnall, to admire and respect him, in spite of all his faults.

And now, turning through a woodland path, they descend toward the river, till they can hear voices below them; Scoutbush laughing quietly, Trebooze laying down the law at the top of his voice.

“How noisy the fellow is, and how he is hopping about!” says Campbell.

“No wonder: he has been soaking, I hear, for the last fortnight, with some worthy compeers, by way of keeping off cholera. I must have my eye on him to-day.”

Scrambling down through the brushwood, they found themselves in such a scene as Creswick alone knows how to paint: though one element of beauty, which Creswick uses full well, was wanting; and the whole place was seen, not by slant sun-rays, gleaming through the boughs, and dappling all the pebbles with a lacework of leaf shadows, but in the uniform and sober grey of dawn.

A broad bed of shingle, looking just now more like an ill-made turnpike road than the bed of Alva stream; above it, a long shallow pool, which showed every stone through the transparent water; on the right, a craggy bank, bedded with deep wood sedge and orange-tipped king ferns, clustering beneath sallow and maple bushes already tinged with gold; on the left, a long bar of gravel, covered with giant “butter-bur” leaves; in and out of which the hounds are brushing — beautiful black-and-tan dogs, of which poor Trebooze may be pardonably proud; while round the burleaf-bed dances a rough white Irish terrier, seeming, by his frantic self-importance, to consider himself the master of the hounds.

Scoutbush is standing with Trebooze beyond the bar, upon a little lawn set thick with alders. Trebooze is fussing and fidgetting about, wiping his forehead perpetually; telling everybody to get out of the way, and not to interfere; then catching hold of Scoutbush’s button to chatter in his face; then, starting aside to put some part of his dress to rights. His usual lazy drawl is exchanged for foolish excitement. Two or three more gentlemen, tired of Trebooze’s absurdities, are scrambling over the rocks above, in search of spraints. Old Tardrew waddles stooping along the line where grass and shingle meet, his bulldog visage bent to his very knees.

“Tardrew out hunting?” says Campbell. “Why, it is but a week since his daughter was buried!”

“And why not? I like him better for it. Would he bring her back again by throwing away a good day’s sport? Better turn out, as he has done, and forget his feelings, if he has any.”

“He has feelings enough, don’t doubt. But you are right. There is something very characteristic in the way in which the English countryman never shows grief, never lets it interfere with business, even with pleasure.”

“Hillo! Mr. Trebooze!” says the old fellow, looking up. “Here it is!”

“Spraint? — Spraint? — Spraint? — Where? Eh — what?” cries Trebooze.

“No; but what’s as good: here on this alder stump, not an hour old. I thought they beauties starns weren’t flemishing for nowt.”

“Here! Here! Here! Here! Musical, Musical! Sweetlips! Get out of the way!”— and Trebooze runs down.

Musical examines, throws her nose into the air, and answers by the rich bell-like note of the true otter hound; and all the woodlands ring as the pack dashes down the shingle to her call.

“Over!” shouts Tom. “Here’s the fresh spraint our side!”

Through the water splash squire, viscount, steward, and hounds, to the horror of a shoal of par, the only visible tenants of a pool, which, after a shower of rain, would be alive with trout. Where those trout are in the meanwhile is a mystery yet unsolved.

Over dances the little terrier, yapping furiously, and expending his superfluous energy by snapping right and left at the par.

“Hark to Musical! hark to Sweetlips! Down the stream? — No! the old girl has it; right up the bank!”

“How do, Doctor? How do, Major Campbell? Forward! — Forward! — Forward!” shouts Trebooze, glad to escape a longer parley, as with his spear in his left hand, he clutches at the overhanging boughs with his right, and swings himself up, with Peter, the huntsman, after him. Tom follows him; and why?

Because he does not like his looks. That bull-eye is red, and almost bursting; his cheeks are flushed, his lips blue, his hand shakes; and Tom’s quick eye has already remarked, from a distance, over and above his new fussiness, a sudden shudder, a quick half-frightened glance behind him; and perceived, too, that the moment Musical gave tongue, he put the spirit-flask to his mouth.

Away go the hounds at score through tangled cover, their merry peal ringing from brake and brier, clashing against the rocks, moaning musically away through distant glens aloft.

Scoutbush and Tardrew “take down” the riverbed, followed by Campbell. It is in his way home; and though the Major has stuck many a pig, shot many a gaur, rhinoceros, and elephant, he disdains not, like a true sportsman, the less dangerous but more scientific excitement of an otter-hunt.

“Hark to the merry merry Christchurch bells! She’s up by this time; — that don’t sound like a drag now!” cries Tom, bursting desperately, with elbow-guarded visage, through the tangled scrub.

“What’s the matter, Trebooze? No, thanks! ‘Modest quenchers’ won’t improve the wind just now.”

For Trebooze has halted, panting and bathed in perspiration; has been at the brandy flask again; and now offers Tom a “quencher,” as he calls it.

“As you like,” says Trebooze, sulkily, having meant it as a token of reconciliation, and pushes on.

They are now upon a little open meadow, girdled by green walls of wood; and along the river-bank the hounds are fairly racing. Tom and Peter hold on; Trebooze slackens.

“Your master don’t look right this morning, Peter.”

Peter lifts his hand to his mouth, to signify the habit of drinking; and then shakes it in a melancholy fashion, to signify that the said habit has reached a lamentable and desperate point.

Tom looks back. Trebooze has pulled up, and is walking, wiping still at his face. The hounds have overrun the scent, and are back again, flemishing about the plashed fence on the river brink.

“Over! over! over!” shouts Peter, tumbling over the fence into the stream, and staggering across.

Trebooze comes up to it, tries to scramble over, mutters something, and sits down astride of a bough.

“You are not well, Squire?”

“Well as ever I was in my life! only a little sick — have been several times lately; couldn’t sleep either — haven’t slept an hour this week. — Don’t know what it is.”

“What ducks of hounds those are!” says Tom, trying, for ulterior purposes, to ingratiate himself. “How they are working there all by themselves, like so many human beings. Perfect!”

“Yes — don’t want us — may as well sit here a minute. Awfully hot, eh? What a splendid creature that Miss St. Just is! I say, Peter!”

“Yes, sir,” shouts Peter, from the other side.

“Those hounds ain’t right!” with an oath.

“Not right, sir?”

“Didn’t I tell you? — five couple and a half — no, five couple — no, six. Hang it! I can’t see, I think! How many hounds did I tell you to bring out?”

“Five couple, sir.”

“Then . . . why did you bring out that other?”

“Which other?” shouts Peter, while Thurnall eyes Trebooze keenly.

“Why that! He’s none o’ mine! Nasty black cur, how did he get here?”

“Where? There’s never no cur here!”

“You lie, you oaf — no — why — Doctor — How many hounds are there here?”

“I can’t see,” says Tom, “among those bushes.”

“Can’t see, eh? Why don’t those brutes hit it off?” says Trebooze, drawling, as if he had forgotten the matter, and lounging over the fence, drops into the stream, followed by Tom, and wades across.

The hounds are all round him, and he is couraging them on, fussing again more than ever; but without success.

“Gone to hole somewhere here,” says Peter.

“. . . .!” cries Trebooze, looking round, with a sudden shudder, and face of terror. “There’s that black brute again! there, behind me! Hang it, he’ll bite me next!” and he caught up his leg, and struck behind him with his spear.

There was no dog there.

Peter was about to speak; but Tom silenced him by a look, and shouted —

“Here we are! Gone to holt in this alder root!”

“Now then, little Carlingford! Out of the way, puppies!” cries Trebooze, righted again for the moment by the excitement, and thrusting the hounds right and left, he stoops down to put in the little terrier.

Suddenly he springs up, with something like a scream, and then bursts out on Peter with a volley of oaths.

“Didn’t I tell you to drive that cur away?”

“Which cur, sir?” cries Peter, trembling, and utterly confounded.

“That cur! . . . Can’t I believe my own eyes? Will you tell me that the beggar didn’t bolt between my legs this moment, and went into the hole before the terrier?”

Neither answered. Peter with utter astonishment; Tom because he saw what was the matter.

“Don’t stoop, Squire. You’ll make the blood fly to your head. Let me —”

But Trebooze thrust him back with curses.

“I’ll have the brute out, and send the spear through him!” and flinging himself on his knees again, Trebooze began tearing madly at the roots and stones, shouting to the half-buried terrier to tear the intruder.

Peter looked at Tom, and then wrung his hands in despair.

“Dirty work — beastly work!” muttered Trebooze. “Nothing but slugs and evats! — Toads, too — hang the toads! What a plague brings all this vermin? Curse it!” shrieked he, springing back, “there’s an adder! and he’s gone up my sleeve! Help me! Doctor! Thurnall! or I’m a dead man!”

Tom caught the arm, thrust his hand up the sleeve, and seemed to snatch out the snake, and hurl it back into the river.

“All right now! — a near chance, though!”

Peter stood open mouthed.

“I never saw no snake!” cried he.

Tom caught him a buffet which sent him reeling. “Look after your hounds, you blind ass! How are you now, Trebooze?” And he caught the squire round the waist, for he was reeling.

“The world! The world upside down! rocking and swinging! Who’s put me feet upwards, like a fly on a ceiling? I’m falling, falling off, into the clouds — into hell-fire — hold me! — Toads and adders! and wasps — to go to holt in a wasp’s nest! Drive ’em away — get me a green bough! I shall be stung to death!”

And tearing off a green bough, the wretched man rushed into the river, beating wildly right and left at his fancied tormentors.

“What is it?” cry Campbell and Scoutbush, who have run up breathless.

“Delirium tremens. Campbell, get home as fast as you can, and send me up a bottle of morphine. Peter, take the hounds home. I must go after him.”

“I’ll go home with Campbell, and send the bottle up by a man and horse,” cries Scoutbush; and away the two trot at a gallant pace, for a cross-country run home.

“Mr. Tardrew, come with me, there’s a good man! — I shall want help.”

Tardrew made no reply, but dashed through the river at his heels.

Trebooze had already climbed the plashed fence, and was running wildly across the meadow. Tom dragged Tardrew up it after him.

“Thank ‘ee, sir,” but nothing more. The two had not met since the cholera.

Trebooze fell, and lay rolling, trying in vain to shield his face from the phantom wasps.

They lifted him up, and spoke gently to him.

“Better get home to Mrs. Trebooze, sir,” said Tardrew, with as much tenderness as his gruff voice could convey.

“Yes, home! home to Molly! My Molly’s always kind. She won’t let me be eaten up alive. Molly, Molly!”

And shrieking for his wife, the wretched man started to run again.

“Molly, I’m in hell! Only help me! you’re always right! only forgive me! and I’ll never, never again —”

And then came out hideous confessions; then fresh hideous delusions.

Three weary up-hill miles lay between them and the house: but home they got at last.

Trebooze dashed at the house-door, tore it open; slammed and bolted it behind him, to shut out the pursuing fiends.

“Quick, round by the back-door!” said Tom, who had not opposed him for fear of making him furious, but dreaded some tragedy if he were left alone.

But his fear was needless. Trebooze looked into the breakfast-room. It was empty; she was not out of bed yet. He rushed upstairs into her bed-room, shrieking her name; she leaped up to meet him; and the poor wretch buried his head in that faithful bosom, screaming to her to save him from he knew not what.

She put her arms round him, soothed him, wept over him sacred tears. “My William! my own William! Yes, I will take care of you! Nothing shall hurt you — my own, own!”

Vain, drunken, brutal, unfaithful. Yes: but her husband still.

There was a knock at the door.

“Who is that?” she cried, with her usual fierceness, terrified for his character, not terrified for herself.

“Mr. Thurnall, madam. Have you any laudanum in the house?”

“Yes, here! Oh, come in! Thank God you are come! What is to be done?”

Tom looked for the laudanum bottle, and poured out a heavy dose.

“Make him take that, madam, and put him to bed. I will wait downstairs awhile!”

“Thurnall, Thurnall!” calls Trebooze, “don’t leave me, old fellow! you are a good fellow. I say, forgive and forget. Don’t leave me! Only don’t leave me, for the room is as full of devils as —”

An hour after, Tom and Tardrew were walking home together.

“He is quite quiet now, and fast asleep.”

“Will he mend, sir?” asks Tardrew.

“Of course, he will: and perhaps in more ways than one. Best thing that could have happened — will bring him to his senses, and he’ll start fresh.”

“We’ll hope so — he’s been mad, I think, ever since he heard of that cholera.”

“So have others: but not with brandy,” thought Tom: but he said nothing.

“I say, sir,” quoth Tardrew, after a while, “how’s Parson Headley?”

“Getting well, I’m happy to say.”

“Glad to hear it, sir. He’s a good man, after all; though we did have our differences. But he’s a good man, and worked like one.”

“He did.”

Silence again.

“Never heard such beautiful prayers in all my life, as he made over my poor maid.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Tom. “He understands his business at heart, though he may have his fancies.”

“And so do some others,” said Tardrew in a gruff tone, as if half to himself, “who have no fancies. . . . Tell you what it is, sir: you was right this time; and that’s plain truth. I’m sorry to hear talk of your going.”

“My good sir,” quoth Tom, “I shall be very sorry to go. I have found place and people here as pleasant as man could wish: but go I must.”

“Glad you’re satisfied, sir; wish you was going to stay,” says Tardrew. “Seen Miss Harvey this last day or two, sir?”

“Yes. You know she’s to keep her school?”

“I know it. Nursed my girl like an angel.”

“Like what she is,” said Tom.

“You said one true word once: that she was too good for us.”

“For this world,” said Tom; and fell into a great musing.

By those curt and surly utterances did Tardrew, in true British bulldog fashion, express a repentance too deep for words; too deep for all confessionals, penances, and emotions or acts of contrition; the repentance not of the excitable and theatric southern, unstable as water, even in his most violent remorse: but of the still, deep-hearted northern, whose pride breaks slowly and silently, but breaks once for all; who tells to God what he will never tell to man; and having told it, is a new creature from that day forth for ever.

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:48