R. D. (Richard Doddridge) Blackmore.

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CRIPPS, THE CARRIER***


E-text prepared by sp1nd and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
(http://www.pgdp.net) from page images generously made available by
Internet Archive (https://archive.org)



Note:
Transcriber's note:

Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).





CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.

A WOODLAND TALE.

by

RICHARD DODDRIDGE BLACKMORE,

Author of "Lorna Doone," "Alice Lorraine," etc.


[Greek: ar estin hêmin logidion gnômên echon,
humn men autôn ouchi dexiôteron,
kômpsdias de photikês sophôteron;]

AR. VESP. 64.


New Edition







London:
Sampson Low, Marston & Company, Limited,
St. Dunstan's House,
Fetter Lane, Fleet Street, E.C.
1892.

[All rights reserved.]


* * * * * *

BY THE SAME AUTHOR.


LORNA DOONE.

(_Illustrated, édition de luxe, parchment, 35s.; plainer
bindings, 31s. 6d., 21s., and 7s. 6d._)

ALICE LORRAINE.
CLARA VAUGHAN.
CRADOCK NOWELL,
CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.
MARY ANERLEY.
EREMA: or, My Father's Sin.
CHRISTOWELL: A Dartmoor Tale.
TOMMY UPMORE.
SPRINGHAVEN.
KIT AND KITTY.

LONDON:
SAMPSON LOW, MARSTON & COMPANY, LIMITED.
FETTER LANE. FLEET STREET, E.C.

* * * * * *


CONTENTS.


CHAPTER PAGE

I. THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY 1
II. THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE 7
III. OAKLEAF POTATOES 14
IV. CRIPPS IN A QUANDARY 21
V. A RIDE THROUGH THE SNOW 24
VI. THE PUBLIC OF THE "PUBLIC" 30
VII. THE BEST FOOT FOREMOST 37
VIII. BALDERDASH 43
IX. CRIPPS IN AFFLICTION 50
X. ALL DEAD AGAINST HIM 55
XI. KNOCKER VERSUS BELL-PULL 60
XII. MR. JOHN SMITH 68
XIII. MR. SMITH IS ACTIVE 74
XIV. SO IS MR. SHARP 79
XV. A SPOTTED DOG 85
XVI. A GRAND SMOCK-FROCK 91
XVII. INSTALLED AT BRASENOSE 98
XVIII. A FLASH OF LIGHT 104
XIX. A STORMY NIGHT 110
XX. CRIPPS DRAWS THE CORK 120
XXI. CINNAMINTA 127
XXII. A DELICATE SUBJECT 132
XXIII. QUITE ANOTHER PAIR OF SOCKS! 141
XXIV. SUO SIBI BACULO 149
XXV. MISS PATCH 157
XXVI. RUTS 164
XXVII. RATS 173
XXVIII. BOOTS ON 180
XXIX. A SPIDER'S DINNER-PARTY 190
XXX. THE FIRE-BELL 198
XXXI. THROW PHYSIC TO THE DOGS 206
XXXII. CRIPPS ON CELIBACY 214
XXXIII. KIT 223
XXXIV. A WOOLHOPIAN 230
XXXV. NIGHTINGALES 237
XXXVI. MAY MORN 242
XXXVII. MAY-DAY 248
XXXVIII. THE DIGNITY OF THE FAMILY 259
XXXIX. A TOMBSTONE 267
XL. LET ME OUT 276
XLI. REASON AND UNREASON 284
XLII. MEETING THE COACH 291
XLIII. THE MOTIVE 300
XLIV. THE MANNER 307
XLV. THE POSITION 313
XLVI. IN THE MESHES 324
XLVII. COMBINED WISDOM 335
XLVIII. MASCULINE ERROR 342
XLIX. PROMETHEUS VINCTUS 351
L. FEMININE ERROR 361
LI. UNFILIAL 367
LII. UNPATERNAL 375
LIII. "THIS WILL DO" 386
LIV. CRIPPS BRINGS HOME THE CROWN 391
LV. SMITH TO THE RESCUE 402
LVI. FATAL ACCIDENT TO THE CARRIER 410




CRIPPS, THE CARRIER.




CHAPTER I.

THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY.


The little village of Beckley lies, or rather lay many years ago, in
the quiet embrace of old Stow Wood, well known to every Oxford man who
loves the horn or fusil. This wood or forest (now broken up into many
straggling copses) spread in the olden time across the main breadth of
the highland to the north of Headington, between the valley of the
Cherwell and the bogs of Otmoor. Beckley itself, though once
approached by the Roman road from Alchester, must for many a century
have nursed its rural quietude, withdrawn as it was from the
stage-waggon track from High Wycombe to Chipping Norton, through
Wheatley, Islip, and Bletchingdon, and lying in a tangle of narrow
lanes leading only to one another. So Beckley took that cheerful view
of life which enabled the fox to disdain the blandishments of the
vintage, and prided itself on its happy seclusion and untutored
honesty.

But as all sons of Adam must have something or other to say to the
rest, and especially to his daughters, this little village carried on
some commerce with the outer world; and did it through a carrier.

The name of this excellent man was Cripps; and the Carrier's mantle,
or woolsey coat, had descended on this particular Cripps from many
generations. All the Cripps family had a habit of adding largely to
their number in every generation. In this they resembled most other
families which have to fight the world, and therefore recruit their
forces zealously; but in one great point they were very distinct - they
agreed among one another. And ever since roads were made, or rather
lanes began trying to make themselves, one great tradition had
confirmed the dynasty of Crippses.

This was that the eldest son should take the carrying business; the
second son (upon first avoidance) should have the baker's shop in
Oxford over against old Balliol College; the third should have the
queer old swine-farm in the heart of Stow Forest; the fourth should be
the butcher of Beckley, and the fifth its shoemaker. If ever it
pleased the Lord to proceed with the masculine fork of the family (as
had happened several times), the sixth boy and the rest were expected
to start on their travels, when big enough. As for the girls, the
Carrier, being the head of the family, and holding the house and the
stable and cart, was bound to take the maids, one by one, to and fro
under his tilt twice a week, till the public fell in love with them.

Now, so many things come cross and across in the countless ins and
outs of life, that even the laws of the Crippses failed sometimes, in
some jot or tittle. Still there they stuck, and strong cause was
needed ere they could be departed from. Of course the side-shoots of
the family (shoemakers' sons, and so on) were not to be bound by this
great code, however ambitious to be so. To deal with such rovers is
not our duty. Our privilege is to trace the strict succession of the
Crippses, the deeds of the Carrier now on the throne and his second
best brother, the baker, with a little side-peep at the man on the
farm, and a shy desire to be very delicate to the last unmarried
"female."

The present head of the family, Zacchary Cripps, the Beckley carrier,
under the laws of time (which are even stricter than the Cripps'
code), was crossing the ridge of manhood towards the western side of
forty, without providing the due successor to the ancestral
driving-board. Public opinion was already beginning to exclaim at him;
and the man who kept the chandler's shop, with a large small family to
maintain, was threatening to make the most of this, and set up his own
eldest son on the road; though "dot and carry one" was all he knew
about the business. Zacchary was not a likely man to be at all upset
by this; but rather one of a tarrying order, as his name might
indicate.

Truly intelligent families living round about the city of Oxford had,
and even to this day have, a habit of naming their male babies after
the books of the Bible, in their just canonical sequence; while
infants of the better sex are baptized into the Apocrypha, or even the
Epistles. So that Zacchary should have been "Genesis," only his father
had suffered such pangs of mind at being cut down, by the
ever-strengthening curtness of British diction, into "Jenny Cripps,"
that he laid his thumb to the New Testament when his first man-child
was born to him, and finding a father in like case, quite relieved of
responsibility, took it for a good sign, and applied his name
triumphantly.

But though the eldest born was thus transferred into the New
Testament, the second son reverted to the proper dispensation; and the
one who went into the baker's shop was Exodus, as he ought to be. The
children of the former Exodus were turned out testamentarily, save
those who were needed to carry the bread out till their cousin's boys
should be big enough.

All of these doings were right enough, and everybody approved of them.
Leviticus Cripps was the lord of the swine, and Numbers bore the
cleaver, while Deuteronomy stuck to his last, when the public-house
could spare him. There was only one more brother of the dominant
generation, whose name was "Pentachook," for thus they pronounced the
collective eponym, and he had been compendiously kicked abroad, to
seek his own fortune, right early.

But as for the daughters (who took their names from the best women of
the Apocrypha, and sat up successively under the tilt until they were
disposed of), for the moment it is enough to say that all except one
were now forth and settled. Some married farmers, some married
tradesmen, one took a miller's eldest son, one had a gentleman more or
less, but all with expectations. Only the youngest was still in the
tilt, a very pretty girl called Esther.

All Beckley declared that Esther's heart had been touched by a College
lad, who came some five years since to lodge with Zacchary for the
long vacation, and was waited on by this young girl, supposed to be
then unripe for dreaming of the tender sentiment. That a girl of only
fifteen summers should allow her thoughts to stray, contrary to all
common sense and her duty to her betters, for no other reason (to
anybody's knowledge) than that a young man ate and drank with less
noise than the Crippses, and went on about the moonlight and the
stars, and the rubbishy things in the hedges - that a child like that
should know no better than to mix what a gentleman said with his inner
meaning - put it right or left, it showed that something was amiss with
her. However, the women would say no more until it was pulled out of
them. To mix or meddle with the Crippses was like putting one's
fingers into a steel trap.

With female opinion in this condition, and eager to catch at anything,
Mrs. Exodus Cripps, in Oxford, was confined rather suddenly. She had
kneaded a batch of two sacks of flour, to put it to rise for the
morning, and her husband (who should not have let her do it) was
smoking a pipe, and exciting her. Nevertheless, it would not have
harmed her (as both the doctor and the midwife said) if only she had
kept herself from arguing while about it. But, somehow or other, her
husband said a thing she could not agree with, and the strength of her
reason went the other way, and it served him right that he had to rush
off in his slippers to the night-bell.

On the next day, although things were quite brought round, and the
world was the richer by the addition of another rational animal, Mr.
Exodus sent up the crumpet-boy all the way from Broad Street in Oxford
to Beckley, to beg and implore Miss Esther Cripps to come down and
attend to the caudle. And the crumpet-boy, being short of breath,
became so full of power that the Carrier scarcely knew what to do in
the teeth of so urgent a message. For he had made quite a pet of his
youngest sister, and the twenty years of age betwixt them stopped the
gap of rivalry. It was getting quite late in the afternoon when the
crumpet-boy knocked at the Carrier's door, because he had met upon
Magdalen Bridge a boy who owed him twopence; and eager as he was to
fulfil his duty, a sense of justice to himself compelled him to do his
best to get it. His knowledge of the world was increased by the
failure of this Utopian vision, for the other boy offered to toss him
"double or quits," and having no specie, borrowed poor Crumpy's last
penny to do it; then, being defeated in the issue, he cast the young
baker's cap over the bridge, and made off at fine speed with his coin
of the realm. What other thing could Crumpy do than attempt to outvie
his activity? In a word, he chased him as far as Carfax, with
well-winged feet and sad labour of lungs, but Mercury laughed at
Astræa, and Crumpy had a very distant view of fivepence. Recording a
highly vindictive vow, he scratched his bare head, and set forth
again, being further from Beckley than at his first start.

It certainly was an unlucky thing that the day of the week should be
Tuesday - Tuesday, the 19th of December, 1837. For Zacchary always had
to make his rounds on a Wednesday and a Saturday, and if he were to
drive his poor old Dobbin into Oxford on a Tuesday evening, how could
he get through his business to-morrow? For Dobbin insisted on a day in
stable whenever he had been in Oxford. He was full of the air of the
laziest place, and perhaps the most delightful, in the world. He
despised all the horses of low agriculture after that inspiration, and
he sighed out sweet grunts at the colour of his straw, instead of
getting up the next morning.

Zacchary Cripps was a thoughtful man, as well as a very kind-hearted
one. In the crown of his hat he always carried a monthly calendar
gummed on cardboard, and opposite almost every day he had dots, or
round O's, or crosses. Each of these to his very steady mind meant
something not to be neglected; and being (as time went) a pretty fair
scholar - ere School Boards destroyed true scholarship - with the help
of his horse he could make out nearly every place he had to call at.
So now he looked at the crumpet-boy, to receive and absorb his
excitement, and then he turned to young Esther, and let her speak
first, as she always liked to do.

"Oh, please to go back quite as fast as you can," said Esther to the
Crumpy, "and say that I shall be there before you; or, at any rate, as
soon as you are. And, Crumpy, there ought to be something for you.
Dear Zak, have you got twopence?"

"Not I," said the Carrier, "and if I had, it would do him a deal more
harm than good. Run away down the hill, my lad, and you come to me at
the Golden Cross, perhaps as soon as Saturday, and I'll look in my bag
for a halfpenny. Run away, boy; run away, or the bogies will be after
you."




CHAPTER II.

THE SWING OF THE PICKAXE.


The baker's boy felt that his luck was askew upon this day of his
existence, for Carrier Cripps was vexed so much at this sudden demand
for his sister that he never even thought of asking the boy to have a
glass of home-brewed ale.

"Zak, what made you send the boy away?" Esther asked, when she came
downstairs, with her bonnet and short cloak on. "Of course, I am very
foolish; but he would have been some little company."

"There, now, I never thought of it! I am doiled, a do believe,
sometimes. Tramp with you to the Bar mysell, I wull. Sarve me right
for a-doin' of it."

"Indeed, then, you won't," she answered firmly. "There's a hard day's
work for you, Zak, to-morrow, with all the Christmas parcels, and your
touch of rheumatics so bad last week."

"Why, bless the cheeld, I be as hearty as ever!"

"Of course you are, Zak; of course you are, and think nought of a sack
of potatoes. But if you declare to come with me one step, backward is
the only step I take."

"Well, well," said the Carrier, glad on the whole to escape a long
walk and keep conscience clear; "when you say a thing, Etty, what good
is it? Round these here parts none would harm 'ee. And none of they
furriners be about just now."

"Good-night, Zak, good-night, dear," cried Esther, to shorten
departure, for Cripps was a man of a slow turn of mind, and might go
on for an hour or two; "I shall sleep there to-night, of course, and
meet you at the Golden Cross to-morrow. When had I best be there?"

"Well, you know better than I do. It might be one o'clock, or it might
be two, or it might be half-past three a'most. All you have to do is
this - to leave word at the bar with Sally Brown."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," she answered; "I don't like bars,
and I don't like Miss Brown. I shall look in the yard for the cart,
brother."

"You'll do pretty much as you like. That much a may be cock-sure of."
But before he could finish his exposition of his sister's character,
she was out of sight; and he dropped his grumble, and doubted his mind
about letting her go. Nor that any one at all of the neighbourhood
would hurt her; but that there had been much talk about a camp of
dark-skinned people in Cowley Marsh, not long ago. Therefore he laid
his palm flat from his eyebrows, to follow the distance further; and
seeing no more than the hedges of the lane (now growing in the cold
wind naked) and the track of the lane (from wet mud slaking into
light-coloured crustiness), without any figures, or sound, or shadow,
or sense of life moving anywhere - he made for the best side of his
cottage-door, and brightened up the firelight.

The weather had been for some few weeks in a good constitutional
English state; that is to say, it had no settled tendency towards
anything. Or at any rate, so it seemed to people who took little heed
of it. There had been a little rain, and then a little snow, and a
touch of frost, and then a sample of fog, and so on: trying all
varieties, to suit the British public. True Britons, however, had
grumbled duly at each successive overture; so that the winter was now
resolving henceforth only to please itself. And this determined will
was in the wind, the air, and the earth itself, just when night began
to fall on this dark day of December.

As Esther turned the corner from the Beckley lane into the road, the
broad coach road to Oxford, she met a wind that knew its mind coming
over the crest of Shotover, a stern east wind that whistled sadly over
the brown and barren fields, and bitterly piped in the roadway. To the
chill of this blast the sere oak-leaves shivered in the dusk and
rattled; the grey ash saplings bent their naked length to get away
from it; and the surly stubs of the hedge went to and fro to one
another. The slimy dips of the path began to rib themselves, like the
fronds of fern, and to shrink into wrinkles and sinewy knobs; while
the broader puddles, though skirred by the breeze, found the network
of ice veiling over them. This, as it crusted, began to be capable of
a consistent quivering, with a frail infinitude of spikelets, crossing
and yet carrying into one another. And the cold work (marred every now
and then by the hurry of the wind that urged it) in the main was going
on so fast, that the face of the water ceased to glisten, and instead
of ruffling lifted, and instead of waving wavered. So that, as the
surface trembled, any level eye might see little splinters (held as
are the ribs and harl of feathers) spreading, and rising like stems of
lace, and then with a smooth, crisp jostle sinking, as the wind flew
over them, into the quavering consistence of a coverlet of ice.

Esther Cripps took little heed of these things, or of any other in the
matter of weather, except to say to herself now and then how bitter
cold the wind was, and that she feared it would turn to snow, and how
she longed to be sitting with a cup of "Aunt Exie's" caudle in the
snug room next to the bakehouse, or how glad she would be to get only
as far as the first house of St. Clement's, to see the lamps and the
lights in the shops, and be quit of this dreary loneliness. For now it
must be three market days since fearful rumours began to stir in
several neighbouring villages, which made even strong men discontent
with solitude towards nightfall; and as for the women - just now poor
Esther would rather not think of what they declared. It was all very
well to pretend to doubt it while hanging the clothes out, or turning
the mangle; but as for laughing out here in the dark, and a mile away
from the nearest house - Good Lord! How that white owl frightened her!

Being a sensible and brave girl, she forced her mind as well as she
could into another channel, and lifted the cover of the basket in
which she had some nice things for "Aunt Exie," and then she set off
for a bold little run, until she was out of breath, and trembling at
the sound of her own light feet. For though all the Crippses were
known to be of a firm and resolute fibre, who could expect a young
maid like this to tramp on like a Roman sentinel?

And a lucky thing for her it was that she tried nothing of the sort,
but glided along with her heart in her mouth, and her short skirt
tucked up round her. Lucky also for her that the ground (which she so
little heeded, and so wanted to get over) was in that early stage of
freezing, or of drying to forestall frost, in which it deadens sound
as much as the later stage enlivens it, otherwise it is doubtful
whether she would have seen the Christmas-dressing of the shops in
Oxford.

For, a little further on, she came, without so much as a cow in the
road or a sheep in a field for company, to a dark narrow place, where
the way hung over the verge of a stony hollow, an ancient pit which
had once been worked as part of the quarries of Headington. This had
long been of bad repute as a haunted and ill-omened place; and even
the Carrier himself, strong and resolute as he was, felt no shame in
whispering when he passed by in the moonlight. And the name of the
place was the "Gipsy's Grave." Therefore, as Esther Cripps approached
it, she was half inclined to wait and hide herself in a bush or gap
until a cart or waggon should come down the hill behind her, or an
honest dairyman whistling softly to reassure his shadow, or even a
woman no braver than herself.

But neither any cart came near, nor any other kind of company, only
the violence of the wind, and the keen increase of the frost-bite. So
that the girl made up her mind to put the best foot foremost, and run
through her terrors at such a pace that none of them could lay hold of
her.

Through yards of darkness she skimmed the ground, in haste only to be
rid of it, without looking forward, or over her shoulders, or
anywhere, when she could help it. And now she was ready to laugh at
herself and her stupid fears, as she caught through the trees a
glimpse of the lights of Oxford, down in the low land, scarcely more
than a mile and a half away from her. In the joy of relief she was
ready to jump and pant without fear of the echoes, when suddenly
something caught her ears.

This was not a thing at first to be at all afraid of, but only just
enough to rouse a little curiosity. It seemed to be nothing more nor
less than the steady stroke of a pickaxe. The sound came from the
further corner of the deserted quarry, where a crest of soft and
shingly rock overhung a briary thicket. Any person working there would
be quite out of sight from the road, by reason of the bend of the
hollow.

The blow of the tool came dull and heavy on the dark and frosty wind;
and Esther almost made up her mind to run on, and take no heed of it.
And so she would have done, no doubt, if she had not been a Cripps
girl. But in this family firm and settled opinions had been handed
down concerning the rights of property - the rights that overcome all
wrongs, and outlive death. The brother Leviticus of Stow Wood had sown
a piece of waste at the corner of the clevice with winter carrots for
his herd of swine. The land being none of his thus far, his right so
to treat it was not established, and therefore likely to be attacked
by any rapacious encroacher. Esther felt all such things keenly, and
resolved to find out what was going on.



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