The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 15

Madame Gordeloup

On the afternoon of the day following his dinner at the Beaufort with Count Pateroff Harry Clavering called on the Count’s sister in Mount Street. He had doubted much as to this, thinking at any rate he ought, in the first place, to write and ask permission. But at last he resolved that he would take the count at his word, and presenting himself at the door, he sent up his name. Madame Gordeloup was at home, and in a few moments he found himself in the room in which the lady was sitting, and recognized her whom he had seen with Lady Ongar in Bolton Street. She got up at once, having glanced at the name upon the card, and seemed to know all about him. She shook hands with him cordially, almost squeezing his hand, and bade him sit down near her on the sofa. “She was so glad to see him, for her dear Julie’s sake. Julie, as of course he knew, was at ‘Ongere’ Park. Oh! so happy”— which, by the by, he did not know —“and would be up in the course of next week. So many things to do, of course, Mr. Clavering. The house, and the servants, and the park, and the beautiful things of a large country establishment! But it was delightful, and Julie was quite happy!”

No people could be more unlike to each other than this brother and his sister. No human being could have taken Madame Gordeloup for an English-woman, though it might be difficult to judge, either from her language or her appearance, of the nationality to which she belonged. She spoke English with great fluency, but every word uttered declared her not to be English. And when she was most fluent she was most incorrect in her language. She was small, eager, and quick, and appeared quite as anxious to talk as her brother had been to hold his tongue. She lived in a small room on the first floor of a small house; and it seemed to Harry that she lived alone. But he had not been long there before she had told him all her history, and explained to him most of her circumstances. That she kept back something is probable; but how many are there who can afford to tell everything?

Her husband was still living, but he was at St. Petersburg. He was a Frenchman by family, but had been born in Russia. He had been attached to the Russian embassy in London, but was now attached to diplomacy in general in Russia. She did not join him, because she loved England — oh, so much! And, perhaps, her husband might come back again some day. She did not say that she had not seen him for ten years, and was not quite sure whether he was dead or alive; but had she made a clean breast in all things, she might have done so. She said that she was a good deal still at the Russian embassy; but she did not say that she herself was a paid spy. Nor do I say so now, positively; but that was the character given to her by many who knew her. She called her brother Edouard, as though Harry had known the count all his life; and always spoke of Lady Ongar as Julie. She uttered one or two little hints which seemed to imply that she knew everything that had passed between “Julie” and Harry Clavering in early days; and never mentioned Lord Ongar without some term of violent abuse.

“Horrid wretch!” she said, pausing over all the r’s in the name she had called him. “It began, you know, from the very first. Of course he had been a fool. An old roué is always a fool to marry. What does he get, you know, for his money? A pretty face. He’s tired of that as soon as it’s his own. Is it not so, Mr. Clavering? But other people ain’t tired of it, and then he becomes jealous. But Lord Ongar was not jealous. He was not man enough to be jealous. Hor-r-rid wr-retch!” She then went on telling many things which, as he listened, almost made Harry Clavering’s hair stand on end, and which must not be repeated here. She herself had met her brother in Paris, and had been with him when they encountered the Ongars in that capital. According to her showing, they had, all of them, been together nearly from that time to the day of Lord Ongar’s ‘death. But Harry soon learned to feel that he could not believe all that the little lady told him.

“Edouard was always with him. Poor Edouard!” she said. “There was some money matter between them about écarté. When that wr-retch got to be so bad, he did not like parting with his money — not even when he had lost it! And Julie had been so good always! Julie and Edouard had done everything for the nasty wr-retch.” Harry did not at all like this mingling of the name of Julie and Edouard, though it did not for a moment fill his mind with any suspicion as to Lady Ongar. It made him feel, however, that this woman was dangerous, and that her tongue might be very mischievous if she talked to others as she did to him. As he looked at her — and being now in her own room she was not dressed with scrupulous care — and as he listened to her, he could not conceive what Lady Ongar had seen in her that she should have made a friend of her. Her brother, the count, was undoubtedly a gentleman in his manners and way of life, but he did not know by what name to call this woman, who called Lady Ongar Julie. She was altogether unlike any ladies whom he had known.

“You know that Julie will be in town next week?”

“No; I did not know when she was to return.”

“Oh, yes; she has business with those people in South Audley Street on Thursday. Poor dear! Those lawyers are so harassing! But when people have seven — thousand — pounds a year, they must put up with lawyers.” As she pronounced those talismanic words, which to her were almost celestial, Harry perceived for the first time that there was some sort of resemblance between her and the count. He could see that they were brother and sister. “I shall go to her directly she comes, and of course I will tell her how good you have been to come to me. And Edouard has been dining with you? How good of you. He told me how charming you are”— Harry was quite sure then that she was fibbing —“and that it was so pleasant! Edouard is very much attached to Julie; very much. Though, of course, all that was mere nonsense; just lies told by that wicked lord. Bah! what did he know?” Harry by this time was beginning to wish that he had never found his way to Mount Street.

“Of course they were lies,” he said roughly.

“Of course, mon cher. Those things always are lies, and so wicked! What good do they do?”

“Lies never do any good,” said Harry.

To so wide a proposition as this madame was not prepared to give an unconditional assent; she therefore shrugged her shoulders, and once again looked like her brother.

“Ah!” she said. “Julie is a happy woman now. Seven — thousand — pounds a year! One does not know how to believe it; does one?”

“I never heard the amount of her income,” said Harry.

“It is all that,” said the Franco-Pole, energetically; “every franc of it, beside the house! I know it. She told me herself. Yes. What woman would risk that, you know; and his life, you may say, as good as gone? Of course they were lies.”

“I don’t think you understand her, Madame Gordeloup.”

“Oh, yes; I know her, so well. And love her — oh, Mr. Clavering, I love her so dearly! Is she not charming? So beautiful, you know, and grand. Such a will, too! That is what I like in a woman. Such a courage! She never flinched in those horrid days, never. And when he called her — you know what — she only looked at him, just looked at him, miserable object. Oh, it was beautiful!” And Madame Gordeloup, rising in her energy from her seat for the purpose, strove to throw upon Harry such another glance as the injured, insulted wife had thrown upon her foul-tongued, dying lord.

“She will marry,” said Madame Gordeloup, changing her tone with a suddenness that made Harry start; “yes, she will marry, of course. Your English widows always marry if they have money. They are wrong, and she will be wrong; but she will marry.”

“I do not know how that may be,” said Harry, looking foolish.

“I tell you I know she will marry, Mr. Clavering; I told Edouard so yesterday. He merely smiled. It would hardly do for him, she has so much will. Edonard has a will also.”

“All men have, I suppose.”

“Ah, yes; but there is a difference. A sum of money down, if a man is to marry, is better than a widow’s dower. If she dies, you know, he looks so foolish. And she is grand and will want to spend everything. Is she much older than you, Mr. Clavering? Of course I know Julie’s age, though perhaps you do not. What will you give me to tell?” And the woman leered at him with a smile which made Harry think that she was almost more than mortal. He found himself quite unable to cope with her in conversation, and soon after this got up to take his leave. “You will come again,” she said. “Do. I like you so much. And when Julie is in town, we shall be able to see her together, and I will be your friend. Believe me.”

Harry was very far from believing her, and did not in the least require her friendship. Her friendship, indeed! How could any decent English man or woman wish for the friendship of such a creature as that? It was thus that he thought of her as he walked away from Mount Street, making heavy accusations, within his own breast, against Lady Ongar as he did so. Julia! He repeated the name over to himself a dozen times, thinking that the flavor of it was lost since it had been contaminated so often by that vile tongue. But what concern was it of his? Let her be Julia to whom she would, she could never be Julia again to him. But she was his friend — Lady Ongar, and he told himself plainly that his friend had been wrong in having permitted herself to hold any intimacy with such a woman as that. No doubt Lady Ongar had been subjected to very trying troubles in the last months of her husband’s life, but no circumstances could justify her, if she continued to endorse the false cordiality of that horribly vulgar and evil-minded little woman. As regarded the grave charges brought against Lady Ongar, Harry still gave no credit to them, still looked upon them as calumnies, in spite of the damning advocacy of Sophie and her brother; but he felt that she must have dabbled in very dirty water to have returned to England with such claimants on her friendship as these. He had not much admired the count, but the count’s sister had been odious to him. “I will be your friend. Believe me.” Harry Clavering stamped upon the pavement as he thought of the little Pole’s offer to him. She be his friend! No, indeed; not if there were no other friend for him in all London.

Sophie, too, had her thoughts about him. Sophie was very anxious in this matter, and was resolved to stick as close to her Julie as possible. “I will be his friend or his enemy; let him choose.” That had been Sophie’s reflection on the matter when she was left alone.

Ten days after his visit in Mount Street, Harry received the note which Lady Ongar had written to him on the night of her arrival in London. It was brought to Mr. Beilby’s office by her own footman early in the morning; but Harry was there at the time, and was thus able to answer it, telling Lady Ongar that he would come as she had desired. She had commenced her letter “Dear Harry,” and he well remembered that when she had before written she had called him “Dear Mr. Clavering.” And though the note contained only half-a-dozen ordinary words, it seemed to him to be affectionate, and almost loving. Had she not been eager to see him, she would hardly thus have written to him on the very instant of her return. “Dear Lady Ongar,” he wrote, “I shall dine at my club, and be with you about eight. Yours always, H.C.” After that he could hardly bring himself to work satisfactorily during the whole day. Since his interview with the Franco-Polish lady he had thought a good deal about himself and had resolved to work harder and to love Florence Burton more devotedly than ever. The nasty little woman had said certain words to him which had caused him to look into his own breast and to tell himself that this was necessary. As the love was easier than the work, he began his new tasks on the following morning by writing a long and very affectionate letter to his own Flo, who was still staying at Clavering rectory — a letter so long and so affectionate that Florence, in her ecstasy of delight, made Fanny read it, and confess that, as a love-letter, it was perfect.

“It’s great nonsense, all the same,” said Fanny.

“It isn’t nonsense at all,” said Florence; “and if it were it would not signify. Is it true? That’s the question.”

“I’m sure it’s true,” said Fanny.

“And so am I,” said Florence. “I don’t want any one to tell me that.”

“Then why did you ask, you simpleton?” Florence indeed was having a happy time of it at Clavering rectory. When Fanny called her a simpleton, she threw her arms round Fanny’s neck and kissed her.

And Harry kept his resolve about the work too, investigating plans with a resolution to understand them which was almost successful. During those days he would remain at his office till past four o’clock, and would then walk away with Theodore Burton, dining sometimes in Onslow Crescent, and going there sometimes in the evening after dinner. And when there he would sit and read; and once when Cecilia essayed to talk to him, he told her to keep her apron-strings to herself. Then Theodore laughed and apologized, and Cecilia said that too much work made Jack a dull boy; and then Theodore laughed again, stretching out his legs and arms as he rested a moment from his own study, and declared that, under those circumstances, Harry never would be dull. And Harry, on those evenings, would be taken up-stairs to see the bairns in their cots; and as he stood with their mother looking down upon the children, pretty words would be said about Florence and his future life; and all was going merry as a marriage bell. But on that morning, when the note had come from Lady Ongar, Harry could work no more to his satisfaction. He scrawled upon his blotting-paper, and made no progress whatsoever toward the understanding of anything. It was the day on which, in due course, he would write to Florence; and he did write to her. But Florence did not show this letter to Fanny, claiming for it any need of godlike perfection. It was a stupid, short letter, in which he declared that he was very busy and that his head ached. In a postcript he told her that he was going to see Lady Ongar that evening. This he communicated to her under an idea that by doing so he made everything right. And I think that the telling of it did relieve his conscience.

He left the office soon after three, having brought himself to believe in the headache, and sauntered down to his club. He found men playing whist there, and, as whist might be good for his head, he joined them. They won his money, and scolded him for playing badly till he was angry, and then he went out for a walk by himself. As he went along Piccadilly, he saw Sophie Gordeloup coming toward him, trotting along, with her dress held well up over her ankles, eager, quick, and, as he said to himself clearly intent upon some mischief. He endeavored to avoid her by turning up the Burlington Arcade, but she was too quick for him, and was walking up the arcade by his side before he had been able to make up his mind as to the best mode of ridding himself of such a companion.

“Ah, Mr. Clavering, I am so glad to see you. I was with Julie last night. She was fagged, very much fagged; the journey, you know, and the business. But yet so handsome! And we talked of you. Yes, Mr. Clavering; and I told her how good you had been in coming to me. She said you were always good; yes, she did. When shall you see her?”

Harry Clavering was a bad hand at fibbing, and a bad hand also at leaving a question unanswered. When questioned in this way he did not know what to do but to answer the truth. He would much rather not have said that he was going to Bolton Street that evening, but he could find no alternative. “I believe I shall see her this evening,” he said, simply venturing to mitigate the evil of making the communication by rendering it falsely doubtful. There are men who fib with so bad a grace and with so little tact that they might as well not fib at all. They not only never arrive at success, but never even venture to expect it.

“Ah, this evening. Let me see. I don’t think I can be there to-night; Madame Berenstoff receives at the embassy.”

“Good afternoon,” said Harry, turning into Truefit’s, the hairdresser’s, shop.

“Ah, very well,” said Sophie to herself; “just so. It will be better, much better. He is simply one lout, and why should he have it all? My God, what fools, what louts, are these Englishmen!” in having read Sophie’s thoughts so far, we will leave her to walk up the remainder of the arcade by herself.

I do not know that Harry’s visit to Truefit’s establishment had been in any degree caused by his engagement for the evening. I fancy that he had simply taken to ground at the first hole, as does a hunted fox. But now that he was there he had his head put in order, and thought that he looked the better for the operation. He then went back to his club, and when he sauntered into the card-room one old gentleman looked askance at him, as though inquiring angrily whether he had come there to make fresh misery. “Thank you; no — I won’t play again,” said Harry. Then the old gentleman was appeased, and offered him a pinch of snuff. “Have you seen the new book about whist?” said the old gentleman. “It is very useful — very useful. I’ll send you a copy if you will allow me.” Then Harry left the room, and went down to dinner.

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