The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 21

The Blue Posts

“Oh; so you’ve come to see me. I am so glad.” With these words Sophie Gordeloup welcomed Harry Clavering to her room in Mount Street early one morning not long after her interview with Captain Archie in Lady Ongar’s presence. On the previous evening Harry had received a note from Lady Ongar, in which she upbraided him for having left unperformed her commission with reference to Count Pateroff. The letter had begun quite abruptly. “I think it unkind of you that you do not come to me. I asked you, to see a certain person on my behalf, and you have not done so. Twice he has been here. Once I was in truth out. He came again the next evening at nine, and I was then ill, and had gone to bed. You understand it all, and must know how this annoys me. I thought you would have done this for me, and I thought I should have seen you. — J.”

This note he found at his lodgings when he returned home at night, and on the following morning he went in his despair direct to Mount Street, on his way to the Adelphi. It was not yet ten o’clock when he was shown into Madam Gordeloup’s presence, and as regarded her dress, he did not find her to be quite prepared for morning visitors. But he might well be indifferent on that matter, as the lady seemed to disregard the circumstance altogether. On her head she wore what he took to be a nightcap, though I will not absolutely undertake to say that she had slept in that very head-dress. There were frills to it, and a certain attempt at prettinesses had been made; but then the attempt had been made so long ago, and the frills were so ignorant of starch and all frillish propensities, that it hardly could pretend to decency. A great white wrapper she also wore, whieh might not have been objectionable had it not been so long worn that it looked like a university college surplice at the end of a long vacation. Her slippers had all the ease which age could give them, and above the slippers, neatness, to say the least of it, did not predominate. But Sophie herself seemed to be quite at her ease in spite of these deficiencies, and received our hero with an eager, pointed welcome, which I can hardly describe as affectionate, and which Harry did not at all understand.

“I have to apologize for troubling you,” he began.

“Trouble, what trouble? Bah! You give me no trouble. It is you have the trouble to come here. You come early and I have not got my crinoline. If you are contented, so am I.” Then she smiled, and sat herself down suddenly, letting herself almost fall into her special corner in the sofa. “Take a chair, Mr. Harry; then we can talk more comfortable.”

“I want especially to see your brother. Can you give me his address?”

“What? Edouard — certainly; Travellers’ Club.”

“But he is never there.”

“He sends every day for his letters. You want to see him. Why?”

Harry was at once confounded, having no answer. “A little private business,” he said.

“Ah; a little private business. You do not owe him a little money, I am afraid, or you would not want to see him. Ha, ha! You write to him, and he will see you. There; there is paper and pen and ink. He shall get your letter this day.”

Harry, nothing suspicious, did as he was bid, and wrote a note in which he simply told the count he was specially desirous of seeing him.

“I will go to you anywhere,” said Harry, “if you will name a place”

We, knowing Madam Gordeloup’s habits, may feel little doubt but that she thought it her duty to become acquainted with the contents of the note before she sent it out of her house, but we may also know that she learned very little from it.

“It shall go almost immediately,” said Sophie, when the envelope was closed.

Then Harry got up to depart, having done his work. “What, you are going in that way at once? You are in a hurry?”

“Well, yes; I am in a hurry, rather, Madam Gordeloup. I have got to be at my office, and I only just came up here to find out your brother’s address.” Then he rose and went, leaving the note behind him.

Then Madam Gordeloup, speaking to herself in French, called Harry Clavering a lout, a fool, an awkward, overgrown boy, and a pig. She declared him to be a pig nine times over, then shook herself in violent disgust, and after that betook herself to the letter.

The letter was at any rate duly sent to the count, for before Harry had left Mr. Beilby’s chambers on that day, Pateroff came to him there. Harry sat in the same room with other men, and therefore went out to see his acquaintance in a little antechamber that was used for such purposes. As he walked from one room to the other, he was conscious of the delicacy and difficulty of the task before him, and the color was high in his face as he opened the door. But when he had done so, he saw that the count was not alone. A gentleman was with him whom he did not introduce to Harry, and before whom Harry could not say that which he had to communicate.

“Pardon me,” said the count, “but we are in a railroad hurry. Nobody ever was in such a haste as I and my friend. You are not engaged to-morrow? No, I see. You dine with me and my friend at the Blue Posts. You know the Blue Posts?”

Harry said he did not know the Blue Posts.

“Then you shall know the Blue Posts. I will be your instructor. You drink claret. Come and see. You eat beefsteaks. Come and try. You love one glass of port wine with your cheese. No. But you shall love it when you have dined with me at the Blue Posts. We will dine together after the English way — which is the best way in the world when it is quite good. It is quite good at the Blue Posts — quite good! Seven o’clock. You are fined when a minute late; an extra glass of port wine a minute. Now I must go. Ah; yes. I am ruined already.”

Then Count Pateroff, holding his watch in his hand, bolted out of the room before Harry could say a word to him.

He had nothing for it but to go to the dinner, and to the dinner he went. On that same evening, the evening of the day on which he had seen Sophie and her brother, he wrote to Lady Ongar, using to her the same manner of writing that she had used to him, and telling her that he had done his best; that he had now seen whom he had been desired to see, but that he had not been able to speak to him. He was, however, to dine with him on the following day, and would call in Bolton Street as soon as possible after that interview.

Exactly at seven o’clock, Harry, having the fear of the threatened fine before his eyes, was at the Blue Posts; and there, standing in the middle of the room, he saw Count Pateroff. With Count Pateroff was the same gentleman whom Harry had seen at the Adelphi, and whom the count now introduced as Colonel Schmoff; and also a little Englishman with a knowing eye and a bull-dog neck, and whiskers cut very short and trim — a horsey little man, whom the count also introduced. “Captain Boodle says he knows a cousin of yours, Mr. Clavering.”

Then Colonel Schmoff bowed, never yet having spoken a word in Harry’s hearing, and our friend Doodles with glib volubility told Harry how intimate he was with Archie, and how he knew Sir Hugh, and how he had met Lady Clavering, and how “doosed” glad he was to meet Harry himself on this present occasion.

“And now, my boys, we’ll set down,” said the count. “There’s just a little soup, printanier; yes, they can make soup here; then a cut of salmon — and after that the beefsteak. Nothing more. Schmoff, my boy, can you eat beefsteak?”

Schmoff neither smiled nor spoke, but simply bowed his head gravely, and sitting down, arranged with slow exactness his napkin over his waistcoat and lap.

“Captain Boodle, can you eat beefsteak,” said the count; “Blue Posts’ beefsteak?”

“Try me,” said Doodles. “That’s all. Try me.”

“I will try you, and I will try Mr. Clavering. Schmoff would eat a horse if he had not a bullock, and a piece of jackass if he had not a horse.”

“I did eat a horse in Hamboro’ once. We was besieged.”

So much said Sebmoff, very slowly, in a deep bass voice, speaking from the bottom of his chest, and frowning very heavily as he did so. The exertion was so great that he did not repeat it for a considerable time.

“Thank God we are not besieged now,” said the count, as the soup was handed round to them. “Ah, Albert, my friend, that is good soup; very good soup. My compliments to the excellent Stubbs. Mr. Clavering, the excellent Stubbs is the cook. I am quite at home here, and they do their best for me. You need not fear you will have any of Schmoff’s horse.”

This was all very pleasant, and Harry Clavering sat down to his dinner prepared to enjoy it; but there was a sense about him during the whole time that he was being taken in and cheated, and that the count would cheat him and actually escape away from him on that evening without his being able to speak a word to him. They were dining in a public room, at a large table which they had to themselves, while others were dining at small tables round them. Even if Schmoff and Boodle had not been there, he could hardly have discussed Lady Ongar’s private affairs in such a room as that. The count had brought him there to dine in this way with a premeditated purpose of throwing him over, pretending to give him the meeting that had been asked for, but intending that it should pass by and be of no avail. Such was Harry’s belief; and he resolved that, though he might have to seize Pateroff by the tails of his coat, the count should not escape him without having been forced at any rate to hear what he had to say. In the meantime the dinner went on very pleasantly.

“Ah,” said the count, “there is no fish like salmon early in the year; but not too early. And it should come alive from Grove, and be cooked by Stubbs.”

“And eaten by me,” said Boodle.

“Under my auspices,” said the count, “and then all is well. Mr. Clavering, a little bit near the head? Not care about any particular part? That is wrong. Everybody should always learn what is the best to eat of everything, and get it if they can.”

“By George, I should think so,” said Doodles. “I know I do.”

“Not to know the bit out of the neck of the salmon from any other bit, is not to know a false note from a true one. Not to distinguish a ‘51 wine from a ‘58, is to look at an arm or a leg on the canvas, and to care nothing whether it is in drawing, or out of drawing. Not to know Stubbs’ beefsteak from other beefsteaks, is to say that every woman is the same thing to you. Only, Stubbs will let you have his beefsteak if you will pay him — him or his master. With the beautiful woman it is not always so — not always. Do I make myself understood?”

“Clear as mud,” said Doodles. “I’m quite along with you there. Why should a man be ashamed of eating what’s nice? Everybody does it.”

“No, Captain Boodle; not everybody. Some cannot get it, and some do not know it when it comes in their way. They are to be pitied. I do pity them from the bottom of my heart. But there is one poor fellow I do pity more even than they.”

There was something in the tone of the count’s words — a simple pathos, and almost a melody, which interested Harry Clavering. No one knew better than Count Pateroff how to use all the inflexions of his voice, and produce from the phrases he used the very highest interest which they were capable of producing. He now spoke of his pity in a way that might almost have made a sensitive man weep. “Who is that you pity so much?” Harry asked.

“The man who cannot digest,” said the count, in a low, clear voice. Then he bent down his head over the morsel of food on his plate, as though he were desirous of hiding a tear. “The man who cannot digest!” As he repeated the words he raised his head again, and looked round at all their faces.

“Yes, yes; mein Gott, yes,” said Schmoff, and even he appeared as though he were almost moved from the deep quietude of his inward indifference.

“Ah; talk of blessings! What a blessing is digestion!” said the count. “I do not know whether you have ever thought of it, Captain Boodle? You are young, and perhaps not. Or you, Mr. Clavering? It is a subject worthy of your thoughts. To digest! Do you know what it means? It is to have the sun always shining, and the shade always ready for you. It is to be met with smiles, and to be greeted with kisses. It is to hear sweet sounds, to sleep with sweet dreams, to be touched ever by gentle, soft, cool hands. It is to be in paradise. Adam and Eve were in paradise. Why? Their digestion was good. And then they took liberties, eat bad fruit — things they could not digest. They what we call, ruined their constitutions, destroyed their gastric juices, and then they were expelled from paradise by an angel with a flaming sword. The angel with the flaming sword, which turned two ways, was indigestion! There came a great indigestion upon the earth because the cooks were bad, and they called it a deluge. Ah, I thank God there is to be no more deluges. All the evils come from this. Macbeth could not sleep. It was the supper, not the murder. His wife talked and walked. it was supper again. Milton had a bad digestion because he is always so cross; and your Carlyle must have the worst digestion in the world, because he never says any good of anything. Ah, to digest is to be happy! Believe me, my friends, there is no other way not to be turned out of paradise by a fiery, two-handed turning sword.”

“It is true,” said Schmoff; “yes, it is true.”

“I believe you,” said Doodles. “And how well the count describes it, don’t he, Mr. Clavering? I never looked at it in that light; but, after all, digestion is everything. What is a horse worth, if he won’t feed?”

“I never thought much about it,” said Harry.

“That is very good,” said the great preacher. “Not to think about it ever is the best thing in the world. You will be made to think about it if there be necessity. A friend of mine told, me he did not know whether he had a digestion. My friend, I said, you are like the husbandmen; you do not know your own blessings. A bit more steak, Mr. Clavering; see, it has come up hot, just to prove that you have the blessing.”

There was a pause in the conversation for a minute or two, during which Schmoff and Doodles were very busy giving the required proof; and the count was leaning back in his chair with a smile of conscious wisdom on his face, looking as though he were in deep consideration of the subject on which he had just spoken with so much eloquence. Harry did not interrupt the silence, as, foolishly, he was allowing his mind to carry itself away from the scene of enjoyment that was present, and trouble itself with the coming battle which he would be obliged to fight with the count. Schmoff was the first to speak. “When I was eating a horse at Hamboro’—” he began.

“Schmoff,” said the count, “if we allow you to get behind the ramparts of that besieged city, we shall have to eat that horse for the rest of the evening. Captain Boodle, if you will believe me, I eat that horse once for two hours. Ah, here is the port wine. Now, Mr. Clavering, this is the wine for cheese —‘34. No man should drink above two glasses of ‘34. if you want port after that, then have ‘20.”

Schmoff had certainly been hardly treated. He had scarcely spoken a word during dinner, and should, I think, have been allowed to say something of the flavor of the horse. It did not, however, appear from his countenance that he had felt, or that he resented the interference; though he did not make any further attempt to enliven the conversation.

They did not sit long over their wine, and the count, in spite of what he had said about the claret, did not drink any. “Captain Boodle,” he said, “you must respect my weakness as well as my strength. I know what I can do, and what I cannot. If I were a real hero, like you English — which means, if I had an ostrich in my inside — I would drink till twelve every night, and eat broiled bones till six every morning. But alas! the ostrich has not been given to me. As a common man I am pretty well, but I have no heroic capacities. We will have a little chasse, and then we will smoke.”

Harry began to be very nervous. How was he to do it? It had become clearer and clearer to him through every ten minutes of the dinner, that the count did not intend to give him any moment for private conversation. He felt that he was cheated and ill-used, and was waxing angry. They were to go and smoke in a public room, and he knew, or thought he knew, what that meant. The count would sit there till he went, and had brought the Colonel Schmoff with him, so that he might be sure of some ally to remain by his side and ensure silence. And the count, doubtless, had calculated that when Captain Boodle went, as he soon would go, to his billiards, he, Harry Clavering, would feel himself compelled to go also. No! It should not result in that way. Harry resolved that he would not go. He had his mission to perform and he would perform it, even if he were compelled to do so in the presence of Colonel Schmoff.

Doodles soon went. He could not sit long with the simple gratification of a cigar, without gin-and-water or other comfort of that kind, even though the eloquence of Count Pateroff might be excited in his favor. He was a man, indeed, who did not love to sit still, even with the comfort of gin-and-water. An active little man was Captain Boodle, always doing something or anxious to do something in his own line of business. Small speculations in money, so concocted as to leave the risk against him smaller than the chance on his side, constituted Captain Boodle’s trade; and in that trade he was indefatigable, ingenious, and, to a certain extent, successful. The worst of the trade was this: that though he worked at it about twelve hours a day, to the exclusion of all other interests in life, he could only make out of it an income which would have been considered a beggarly failure at any other profession. When he netted a pound a day he considered himself to have done very well; but he could not do that every day in the week. To do it often required unremitting exertion. And then, in spite of all his care, misfortunes would come. “A cursed garron, of whom nobody had ever heard the name! If a man mayn’t take the liberty with such a brute as that, when is he to take a liberty?” So had he expressed himself plaintively, endeavoring to excuse himself when on some occasion a race had been won by some outside horse which Captain Boodle had omitted to make safe in his betting-book. He was regarded by his intimate friends as a very successful man; but I think myself that his life was a mistake. To live with one’s hands ever daubed with chalk from a billiard-table, to be always spying into stables and rubbing against grooms, to put up with the narrow lodgings which needy men encounter at race meetings. to be day after day on the rails running after platers and steeple-chasers, to be conscious on all occasions of the expediency of selling your beast when you are hunting, to be counting up little odds at all your spare moments — these things do not, I think, make a satisfactory life for a young man. And for a man that is not young, they are the very devil! Better have no digestion when you are forty than find yourself living such a life as that! Captain Boodle would, I think, have been happier had he contrived to get himself employed as a tax-gatherer or an attorney’s clerk.

On this occasion Doodles soon went, as had been expected, and Harry found himself smoking with the two foreigners. Pateroff was no longer eloquent, but sat with his cigar in his mouth as silent as Colonel Schmoff himself. It was evidently expected of Harry that he should go.

“Count,” he said at last, “you got my note?” There were seven or eight persons sitting in the room beside the party of three to which Harry belonged.

“Your note, Mr. Clavering! which note? Oh, yes; I should not have had the pleasure of seeing you here to-day but for that.”

“Can you give me five minutes in private?”

“What! now! here! this evening! after dinner? Another time I will talk with you by the hour together.”

“I fear I must trouble you now. I need not remind you that I could not keep you yesterday morning; you were so much hurried.”

“And now I am having my little moment of comfort! These special business conversations after dinner are so bad for the digestion!”

“If I could have caught you before dinner, Count Pateroff, I would have done so.”

“If it must be, it must. Schmoff, will you wait for me ten minutes? I will not be more than ten minutes.” And the count, as he made this promise, looked at his watch. “Waiter,” he said, speaking in a sharp tone which Harry had not heard before, “show this gentleman and me into a private room.”

Harry got up and led the way out, not forgetting to assure himself that he cared nothing for the sharpness of the count’s voice.

“Now, Mr. Clavering, what is it?” said the count, looking full into Harry’s eye.

“I will tell you in two words.”

“In one if you can.”

“I came with a message to you from Lady Ongar.”

“Why are you a messenger from Lady Ongar?”

“I have known her long and she is connected with my family.”

“Why does she not send her messages by Sir Hugh — her brother-in-law?”

“It is hardly for you to ask that!”

“Yes; it is for me to ask that. I have known Lady Ongar well, and have treated her with kindness. I do not want to have messages by anybody. But go on. If you are a messenger, give your message.”

“Lady Ongar bids me tell you that she cannot see you.”

“But she must see me. She shall see me!”

“I am to explain to you that she declines to do so. Surely, Count Pateroff, you must understand —”

“Ah, bah; I understand everything — in such matters as these, better, perhaps, than you, Mr. Clavering. You have given your message. Now, as you are a messenger, will you give mine?”

“That will depend altogether on its nature.”

“Sir, I never send uncivil words to a woman, though sometimes I may be tempted to speak them to a man; when, for instance, a man interferes with me; do you understand? My message is this: Tell her ladyship, with my compliments, that it will be better for her to see me — better for her, and for me. When that poor lord died — and he had been, mind, my friend for many years before her ladyship had heard his name — I was with him; and there were occurrences of which you know nothing and need know nothing. I did my best then to be courteous to Lady Ongar, which she returns by shutting her door in my face. I do not mind that. I am not angry with a woman. But tell her that when she has heard what I now say to her by you, she will, I do not doubt, think better of it; and therefore I shall do myself the honor of presenting myself at her door again. Good-night, Mr. Clavering; au revoir; we will have another of Stubbs’ little dinners before long.” As he spoke these last words the count’s voice was again changed, and the old smile had returned to his face.

Harry shook hands with him, and walked away homeward, not without a feeling that the count had got the better of him, even to the end. He had, however, learned how the land lay, and could explain to Lady Ongar that Count Pateroff now knew her wishes and was determined to disregard them.

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