The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXV

Vae Victis

Crosbie had two engagements for that day; one being his natural engagement to do his work at his office, and the other an engagement, which was now very often becoming as natural, to dine at St. John’s Wood with Lady Amelia Gazebee. It was manifest to him when he looked at himself in the glass hat he could keep neither of these engagements.

“Oh, laws, Mr Crosbie,” the woman of the house exclaimed when she saw him.

“Yes, I know,” said he. “I’ve had an accident and got a black eye. What’s a good thing for it?”

“Oh! an accident!” said the woman, who knew well that that mark had been made by another man’s fist. “They do say that a bit of raw beef is about the best thing. But then it must be held on constant all the morning.”

Anything would be better than leeches, which tell long-enduring tales, and therefore Crosbie sat through the greater part of the morning holding the raw beef to his eye. But it was necessary that he should write two notes as he held it, one to Mr Butterwell at his office, and the other to his future sister-in-law. He felt that it would hardly be wise to attempt any entire concealment of the nature of his catastrophe, as some of the circumstances would assuredly become known. If he said that he had fallen over the coal-scuttle, or on to the fender, thereby cutting his face, people would learn that he had fibbed, and would learn also that he had had some reason for fibbing. Therefore he constructed his notes with a phraseology that bound him to no details. To Butterwell he said that he had had an accident — rather a row — and that he had come out of it with considerable damage to his frontispiece. He intended to be at the office on the next day, whether able to appear decently there or not. But for the sake of decency he thought it well to give himself that one half-day’s chance. Then to the Lady Amelia he also said that he had had an accident, and had been a little hurt.

“It is nothing at all serious, and affects only my appearance, so that I had better remain in for a day. I shall certainly be with you on Sunday. Don’t let Gazebee trouble himself to come to me, as I shan’t be at home after today.” Gazebee did trouble himself to come to Mount Street so often, and South Audley Street, in which was Mr Gazebee’s office, was so disagreeably near to Mount Street, that Crosbie inserted this in order to protect himself if possible. Then he gave special orders that he was to be at home to no one, fearing that Gazebee would call for him after the hours of business — to make him safe and carry him off bodily to St. John’s Wood.

The beefsteak and the dose of physic and the cold-water application which was kept upon it all night was not efficacious in dispelling that horrid, black-blue colour by ten o’clock on the following morning.

“It certainly have gone down, Mr Crosbie; it certainly have,” said the mistress of the lodgings, touching the part affected with her finger.

“But the black won’t go out of them all in a minute; it won’t indeed. Couldn’t you just stay in one more day?”

“But will one day do it, Mrs Phillips?”

Mrs Phillips couldn’t take upon herself to say that it would. “They mostly come with little red streaks across the black before they goes away,” said Mrs Phillips, who would seem to have been the wife of a prize-fighter, so well was she acquainted with black eyes.

“And that won’t be till tomorrow,” said Crosbie, affecting to be mirthful in his agony.

“Not till the third day — and then they wears themselves out, gradual. I never knew leeches do any good.”

He stayed at home the second day, and then resolved that he would go to his office, black eye and all. In that morning’s newspaper he saw an account of the whole transaction, saying how Mr C— of the office of General Committees, who was soon about to lead to the hymeneal altar the beautiful daughter of the Earl de C — had been made the subject of a brutal personal attack on the platform of the Great Western Railway Station, and how he was confined to his room from the injuries which he had received. The paragraph went on to state that the delinquent had, as it was believed, dared to raise his eyes to the same lady, and that his audacity had been treated with scorn by every member of the noble family in question.

“It was, however, satisfactory to know,” so said the newspaper, “that Mr C— had amply avenged himself, and had so flogged the young man in question, that he had been unable to stir from his bed since the occurrence.”

On reading this Crosbie felt that it would be better that he should show himself at once, and tell as much of the truth as the world would he likely to ascertain at last without his telling. So on that third morning he put on his hat and gloves, and had himself taken to his office, though the red-streaky period of his misfortune had hardly even yet come upon him. The task of walking along the office passage, through the messengers’ lobby, and into his room, was very disagreeable. Of course everybody looked at him, and, of course, he failed in his attempt to appear as though he did not mind it.

“Boggs,” he said to one of the men as he passed by, “just see if Mr Butterwell is in his room,” and then, as he expected, Mr Butterwell came to him after the expiration of a few minutes.

“Upon my word, that is serious,” said Mr Butterwell, looking into the secretary’s damaged face.

“I don’t think I would have come out if I had been you.”

“Of course it’s disagreeable,” said Crosbie; “but it’s better to put up with it. Fellows do tell such horrid lies if a man isn’t seen for a day or two. I believe it’s best to put a good face upon it.”

“That’s more than you can do just at present, eh, Crosbie?” And then Mr Butterwell tittered.

“But how on earth did it happen? The paper says that you pretty well killed the fellow who did it.”

“The paper lies, as papers always do. I didn’t touch him at all.”

“Didn’t you, though? I should like to have had a poke at him after getting such a tap in the face as that.”

“The policemen came, and all that sort of thing. One isn’t allowed to fight it out in a row of that kind as one would have to do on Salisbury heath. Not that I mean to say that I could lick the fellow. How’s a man to know whether he can or not?”

“How, indeed, unless he gets a licking — or gives it? But who was he, and what’s this about his having been scorned by the noble family?”

“Trash and lies, of course. He had never seen any of the De Courcy people.”

“I suppose the truth is, it was about that other — eh, Crosbie? I knew you’d find yourself in some trouble before you’d done.”

“I don’t know what it was about, or why he should have made such a brute of himself. You have heard about those people at Allington?

“Oh, yes; I have heard about them.”

“God knows, I didn’t mean to say anything against them. They knew nothing about it.”

“But the young fellow knew them? Ah, yes, I see all about it. He wants to step into your shoes. I can’t say that he sets about it in a bad way. But what do you mean to do?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing! Won’t that look queer? I think I should have him before the magistrates.”

“You see, Butterwell, I am bound to spare that girl’s name. I know I have behaved badly.”

“Well, yes; I fear you have.”

Mr Butterwell said this with some considerable amount of decision in his voice, as though he did not intend to mince matters, or in any way to hide his opinion. Crosbie had got into a way of condemning himself in this matter of his marriage, but was very anxious that others, on hearing such condemnation from him, should say something in the way of palliating his fault. It would be so easy for a friend to remark that such little peccadilloes were not altogether uncommon, and that it would sometimes happen in life that people did not know their own minds. He had hoped for some such benevolence from Fowler Pratt, but had hoped in vain. Butterwell was a good-natured, easy man, anxious to stand well with all about him, never pretending to any very high tone of feeling or of morals; and yet Butterwell would say no word of comfort to him. He could get no one to slur over his sin for him, as though it were no sin — only an unfortunate mistake; no one but the De Courcys, who had, as it were, taken, possession of him and swallowed him alive.

“It can’t be helped now,” said Crosbie.

“But as for that fellow who made such a brutal attack on me the other morning, he knows that he is safe behind her petticoats. I can do nothing which would not make some mention of her name necessary.” “Ah, yes; I see,” said Butterwell.

“It’s very unfortunate; very. I don’t know that I can do anything for you. Will you come before the Board today?”

“Yes; of course I shall,” said Crosbie, who was becoming very sore. His sharp ear had told him that all Butterwell’s respect and cordiality were gone — at any rate for the time. Butterwell, though holding the higher official rank, had always been accustomed to treat him as though he, the inferior, were to be courted. He had possessed, and had known himself to possess, in his office as well as in the outside world, a sort of rank much higher than that which from his position he could claim legitimately. Now he was being deposed. There could be no better touchstone in such a matter than Butterwell. He would go as the world went, but he would perceive almost intuitively how the world intended to go.

“Tact, tact, tact,” as he was in the habit of saying to himself when walking along the paths of his Putney villa. Crosbie was now secretary, whereas a few months before he had been simply a clerk; but, nevertheless, Mr Butterwell’s instinct told him that Crosbie had fallen. Therefore he declined to offer any sympathy to the man in his misfortune, and felt aware, as he left the secretary’s room, that it might probably be some time before he visited it again.

Crosbie resolved in his soreness that henceforth he would brazen it out. He would go to the Board, with as much indifference as to his black eye as he was able to assume, and if any one said aught to him he would be ready with his answer. He would go to his club, and let him who intended to show him any slight beware of him in his wrath. He could not turn upon John Eames, but he could turn upon others if it were necessary.

He had not gained for himself a position before the world, and held it now for some years, to allow himself to be crushed at once because he had made a mistake. If the world, his world, chose to go to war with him, he would be ready for the fight. As for Butterwell-Butterwell the incompetent, Butterwell the vapid — for Butterwell, who in every little official difficulty had for years past come to him, he would let Butterwell know what it was to be thus disloyal to one who had condescended to be his friend. He would show them all at the Board that he scorned them, and could be their master. Then, too, as he was making some other resolves as to his future conduct, he made one or two resolutions respecting the De Courcy people. He would make it known to them that he was not going to be their very humble servant. He would speak out his mind with considerable plainness; and if upon that they should choose to break off this “alliance,” they might do so; he would not break his heart. And as he leaned back in his arm chair, thinking of all this, an idea made its way into his brain — a floating castle in the air, rather than the image of a thing that might by possibility be realised; and in this castle in the air he saw himself kneeling again at Lily’s feet, asking her pardon, and begging that he might once more be taken to her heart.

“Mr Crosbie is here today,” said Mr Butterwell to Mr Optimist.

“Oh, indeed,” said Mr Optimist, very gravely; for he had heard all about the row at the railway station.

“They’ve made a monstrous show of him.”

“I am very sorry to hear it. It’s so-so-so — If it were one of the younger clerks, you know, we should tell him that it was discreditable to the department.”

“If a man gets a blow in the eye, he can’t help it, you know. He didn’t do it himself, I suppose,” said Major Fiasco.

“I am well aware that he didn’t do it himself,” continued Mr Optimist; “but I really think that, in his position, he should have kept himself out of any such encounter.”

“He would have done so if he could, with all his heart,” said the major.

“I don’t suppose he liked being thrashed any better than I should.”

“Nobody gives me a black eye,” said Mr Optimist.

“Nobody has as yet,” said the major.

“I hope they never will,” said Mr Butterwell. Then, the hour for their meeting having come round, Mr Crosbie came into the Board-room.

“We have been very sorry to hear of this misfortune,” said Mr Optimist, very gravely.

“Not half so sorry as I have been,” said Crosbie, with a laugh.

“It’s an uncommon nuisance to have a black eye, and to go about looking like a prize-fighter.”

“And like a prize-fighter that didn’t win his battle, too,” said Fiasco.

“I don’t know that there’s much difference as to that, said Crosbie.

“But the whole thing is a nuisance, and, if you please, we won’t say anything more about it.”

Mr Optimist almost entertained an opinion that it was his duty to say something more about it. Was not he the chief Commissioner, and was not Mr Crosbie secretary to the Board? Ought he, looking at their respective positions, to pass over without a word of notice such a manifest impropriety as this? Would not Sir Raffle Buffle have said something had Mr Butterwell, when secretary, come to the office with a black eye? He wished to exercise all the full rights of a chairman; but, nevertheless, as he looked at the secretary he felt embarrassed, and was unable to find the proper words.

“H-m, ha, well; we’ll go to business now, if you please,” he said, as though reserving to himself the right of returning to the secretary’s black eye, when the more usual business of the Board should be completed. But when the more usual business of the Board had been completed, the secretary left the room without any further reference to his eye.

Crosbie, when he got back to his own apartment, found Mortimer Gazebee waiting there for him.

“My dear fellow,” said Gazebee, “this is a very nasty affair.”

“Uncommonly nasty,” said Crosbie; so nasty that I don’t mean to talk about it to anybody.”

“Lady Amelia is quite unhappy.” He always called her Lady Amelia, even when speaking of her to his own brothers and sisters. He was too well behaved to take the liberty of calling an earl’s daughter by her plain Christian name even though that earl’s daughter was his own wife. She fears that you have been a good deal hurt.”

“Not at all hurt; but disfigured, as you see.”

“And so you beat the fellow well that did it?

“No, I didn’t,” said Crosbie very angrily.

“I didn’t beat him at all. You don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers; do you?”

“No, I don’t believe everything. Of course I didn’t believe about his having aspired to an alliance with Lady Alexandrina. That was untrue, of course.” Mr Gazebee showed by the tone of his voice that imprudence so unparalleled as that was quite incredible.

“You shouldn’t believe anything; except this — that I have got a black eye.”

“You certainly have got that. Lady Amelia thinks you would be more comfortable if you would come up to us this evening. You can’t go out, of course; but Lady Amelia said, very good-naturedly, that you need not mind with her.”

“Thank you, no; I’ll come on Sunday.”

“Of course Lady Alexandrina will be very anxious to hear from her sister; and Lady Amelia begged me very particularly to press you to come.”

“Thank you, no; not today.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, simply because I shall be better at home.”

“How can you be better at home? You can have anything that you want. Lady Amelia won’t mind, you know.”

Another beefsteak to his eye, as he sat in the drawing-room, a cold-water bandage, or any little medical appliance of that sort — these were the things which Lady Amelia would, in her domestic good nature, condescend not to mind!

“I won’t trouble her this evening,” said Crosbie.

“Well, upon my word, I think you’re wrong. All manner of stories will get down to Courcy Castle, and to the countess’s ears; and you don’t know what harm may come of it. Lady Amelia thinks she had better write and explain it; but she can’t do so till she has heard something about it from you.”

“Look here, Gazebee. I don’t care one straw what story finds its way down to Courcy Castle.”

“But if the earl were to hear anything, and be offended?

“He may recover from his offence as he best likes.”

“My dear fellow; that’s talking wildly, you know.”

“What on earth do you suppose the earl can do to me? Do you think I’m going to live in fear of Lord de Courcy all my life, because I’m going to marry his daughter? I shall write to Alexandrina myself today, and you can tell her sister so. I’ll be up to dinner on Sunday, unless my face makes it altogether out of the question.”

“And you won’t come in time for church?”

“Would you have me go to church with such a face as this?”

Then Mr Mortimer Gazebee went and when he got home, he told his wife that Crosbie was taking things with a high hand.

“The fact is, my dear, that he’s ashamed of himself, and therefore tries to put a bold face upon it. It was very foolish of him throwing himself in the way of that young man — very; and so I shall tell him on Sunday. If he chooses to give himself airs to me, I shall make him understand that he is very wrong. He should remember now that the way in which he conducts himself is a matter of moment to all our family.”

“Of course he should,” said Mr Gazebee.

When the Sunday came the red-streaky period had arrived, but had by no means as yet passed away. The men at the office had almost become used to it; but Crosbie, in spite of his determination to go down to the club, had not yet shown himself elsewhere. Of course he did not go to church, but at five he made his appearance at the house in St. John’s Wood. They always dined at five on Sundays, having some idea that by doing so they kept the Sabbath better than they would have done had they dined at seven. If keeping the Sabbath consists in going to bed early, or is in any way assisted by such a practice, they were right. To the cook that semi-early dinner might perhaps be convenient, as it gave her an excuse for not going to church in the afternoon, as the servants’ and children’s dinner gave her a similar excuse in the morning. Such little, attempts at goodness — proceeding half the way, or perhaps, as in this instance, one quarter of the way, on the disagreeable path towards goodness, are very common with respectable people, such as Lady Amelia. If she would have dined at one o’clock, and have eaten cold meat one perhaps might have felt that she was entitled to some praise.

“Dear, dear, dear; this is very sad, isn’t it, Adolphus?” she said on first seeing him.

“Well, it is sad, Amelia,” he said. He always called her Amelia, because she called him Adolphus; but Gazebee himself was never quite pleased when he heard it. Lady Amelia was older than Crosbie, and entitled to call him anything she liked; but he should have remembered the great difference in their rank.

“It is sad, Amelia,” he said. “But will you oblige me in one thing?”

“What thing, Adolphus?”

“Not to say a word more about it. The black eye is a bad thing, no doubt, and has troubled me much; but the sympathy of my friends has troubled me a great deal more. I had all the family commiseration from Gazebee on Friday, and if it is repeated again, I shall lie down and die.”

“Shall ‘oo die Uncle Dolphus, ‘cause ‘oo’ve got a bad eye? asked De Courcy Gazebee, the eldest hope of the family, looking up into his face.

“No, my hero,” said Crosbie, taking the boy up into his arms, “not because I’ve got a black eye. There isn’t very much harm in that, and you’ll have a great many before you leave school. But because the people will go on talking about it.”

“But Aunt Dina on’t like ‘oo, if oo’ve got an ugly bad eye.”

“But, Adolphus,” said Lady Amelia, settling herself for an argument, “that’s all very well, you know — and I’m sure I’m very sorry to cause you any annoyance — but really one doesn’t know how to pass over such a thing without speaking of it. I have had a letter from mamma.”

“I hope Lady de Courcy is quite well.”

“Quite well, thank you. But as a matter of course she is very anxious about this affair. She had read what has been said in the newspapers, and it may be necessary that Mortimer should take it up, as the family solicitor.”

“Quite out of the question,” said Adolphus.

“I don’t think I should advise any such step as that,” said Gazebee.

“Perhaps not; very likely not. But you cannot be surprised, Mortimer, that my mother under such circumstances should wish to know what are the facts of the case.”

“Not at all surprised,” said Gazebee.

“Then once for all, I’ll tell you the facts. As I got out, of the train a man I’d seen once before in my life made an attack upon me, and before the police came up, I got a blow in the face. Now you know all about it.”

At that moment dinner was announced.

“Will you give Lady Amelia your arm?” said the husband.

“It’s a very sad occurrence,” said Lady Amelia with a slight toss of her head, “and, I’m afraid, will cost my sister a great deal of vexation.”

“You agree with De Courcy, do you, that Aunt Dina won’t like me with an ugly black eye”

“I really don’t think it’s a joking matter,” said the Lady Amelia. And then there was nothing more said about it during the dinner.

There was nothing more said about it during the dinner, but it was plain enough from Lady Amelia’s countenance, that she was not very well pleased with her future brother-in-law’s conduct. She was very hospitable to him, pressing him to eat; but even in doing that she made repeated little references to his present unfortunate state. She told him that she did not think fried plum-pudding would be bad for him, but that she would recommend him not to drink port wine after dinner.

“By-the-by, Mortimer, you’d better have some claret up,” she remarked.

“Adolphus shouldn’t take anything that is heating.”

“Thank you,” said Crosbie.

“I’ll have some brandy-and-water, if Gazebee will give it me.”

“Brandy-and-water!” said Lady Amelia. Crosbie in truth was not given to the drinking of brandy-and-water; but he was prepared to call for raw gin, if he were driven much further by Lady Amelia’s solicitude.

At these Sunday dinners the mistress of the house never went away into the drawing-room, and the tea was always brought into them at the table on which they had dined. It was another little step towards keeping holy the first day of the week. When Lady Rosina was there, she was indulged with the sight of six or seven solid good books which were laid upon the mahogany as soon as the bottles were taken off it. At her first prolonged visit she had obtained for herself the privilege of reading a sermon; but as on such occasions both Lady Amelia and Mr Gazebee would go to sleep — and as the footman had also once shown a tendency that way — the sermon had been abandoned. But the master of the house, on these evenings, when his sister-in-law was present, was doomed to sit in idleness, or else to find solace in one of the solid good books. But Lady Rosina just now was in the country, and therefore the table was left unfurnished.

“And what am I to say to my mother?” said Lady Amelia, when they were alone.

“Give her my kindest regards,” said Crosbie. It was quite clear both to the husband and to the wife, that he was preparing himself for rebellion against authority.

For some ten minutes there was nothing said. Crosbie amused himself by playing with the boy whom he called Dicksey, by way of a nickname for De Courcy.

“Mamma, he calls me Dicksey. Am I Dicksey? I’ll call oo old Cross and then Aunt Dina on’t like ‘oo.”

“I wish you would not call the child nicknames, Adolphus. It seems as though you would wish to cast a slur upon the one which he bears.”

“I should hardly think that he would feel disposed to do that,” said Mr Gazebee.

“Hardly, indeed,” said Crosbie.

“It has never yet been disgraced in the annals of our country by being made into a nickname,” said the proud daughter of the house. She was probably unaware that among many of his associates her father had been called Lord de Curse’ye, from the occasional energy of his language.

“And any such attempt is painful in my ears. I think something of my family, I can assure you, Adolphus, and so does my husband.”

“A very great deal,” said Mr Gazebee.

“So do I of mine,” said Crosbie.

“That’s natural to all of us. One of my ancestors came over with William the Conqueror. I think he was one of the assistant cooks in the king’s tent.”

“A cook!” said young De Courcy.

“Yes, my boy, a cook. That was the way most of our old families were made noble. They were cooks, or butlers to the kings — or sometimes something worse.”

“But your family isn’t noble?

“No — I’ll tell you how that was. The king wanted this cook to poison half-a-dozen of his officers who wished to have a way of their own; but the cook said, ‘No, my Lord King; I am a cook, not an executioner.’ So they sent him into the scullery, and when they called all the other servants barons and lords, they only called him Cookey. They’ve changed the name to Crosbie since that, by degrees.”

Mr Gazebee was awestruck, and the face of the Lady Amelia became very dark. Was it not evident that this snake, when taken into their innermost bosoms that they might there Warm him, was becoming an adder, and preparing to sting them? There was very little more conversation that evening, and soon after the story of the cook, Crosbie got up and went away to his own home.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43