The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 50

Madam Gordeloup Retires From British Diplomacy

The reader must be asked to accompany me once more to that room in Mount Street in which poor Archie practised diplomacy, and whither the courageous Doodles was carried prisoner in those moments in which he was last seen of us. The Spy was now sitting alone before her desk, scribbling with all her energy — writing letters on foreign policy, no doubt, to all the courts of Europe, but especially to that Russian court to which her services were more especially due. She was hard at work, when there came the sound of a step upon the stairs. The practised ear of the Spy became erect, and she at once knew who was her visitor. It was not one with whom diplomacy would much avail, or who was likely to have money ready under his glove for her behoof. “Ah! Edouard, is that you? I am glad you have come,” she said, as Count Pateroff entered the room.

“Yes, it is I. I got your note yesterday.”

“You are good — very good. You are always good.” Sophie, as she said this, went on very rapidly with her letters — so rapidly that her hand seemed to run about the paper wildly. Then she flung down her pen, and folded the paper on which she had been writing with marvellous quickness. There was an activity about the woman in all her movements which was wonderful to watch. “There,” she said, “that is done; now we can talk. Ah! I have nearly written off my fingers this morning.” Her brother smiled, but said nothing about the letters. He never allowed himself to allude in any way to her professional duties.

“So you are going to St. Petersburg?” he said.

“Well — yes, I think. Why should I remain here spending money with both hands and through the nose?” At this idea the brother again smiled pleasantly. He had never seen his sister to be culpably extravagant as she now described herself. “Nothing to get and every thing to lose,” she went on saying.

“You know your own affairs best,” he answered.

“Yes, I know my own affairs. If I remained here I should be taken away to that black building there;” and she pointed in the direction of the workhouse, which fronts so gloomily upon Mount Street. “You would not come to take me out.”

The count smiled again. “You are too clever for that, Sophie, I think.”

“Ah! it is well for a woman to be clever, or she must starve — yes, starve! Such a one as I must starve in this accursed country if I were not what you call clever.” The brother and sister were talking in French, and she spoke now almost as rapidly as she had written. “They are beasts and fools, and as awkward as bulls — yes, as bulls. I hate them — I hate them all. Men, women, children, they are all alike. Look at the street out there. Though it is Summer, I shiver when I look out at its blackness. It is the ugliest nation! And they understand nothing. Oh, how I hate them!”

“They are not without merit. They have got money.”

“Money — yes. They have got money, and they are so stupid you may take it from under their eyes. They will not see you. But of their own hearts they will give you nothing. You see that black building — the workhouse. I call it Little England. It is just the same. The naked, hungry, poor wretches lie at the door, and the great fat beadles swell about like turkey-cocks inside.”

“You have been here long enough to know, at any rate.”

“Yes, I have been here long — too long. I have made my life a wilderness, staying here in this country of barracks. And what have I got for it? I came back because of that woman, and she has thrown me over. That is your fault — yours — yours!”

“And you have sent for me to tell me that again?”

“No, Edouard. I sent for you that you might see your sister once more — that I might once more see my brother.” This she said leaning forward on the table, on which her arms rested, and looking steadfastly into his face with eyes moist — just moist, with a tear in each. Whether Edouard was too unfeeling to be moved by this show of affection, or whether he gave more credit to his sister’s histrionic powers than to those of her heart, I will not say, but he was altogether irresponsive to her appeal. “You will be back again before long,” he said.

“Never! I will come back to this accursed country never again. No, I am going once and for all. I will soil myself with the mud of its gutters no more. I came for the sake of Julie; and now — how has she treated me?” Edouard shrugged his shoulders. “And you — how has she treated you?”

“Never mind me.”

“Ah! but I must mind you. Only that you would not let me manage, it might be yours now — yes, all. Why did you come down to that accursed island?”

“It was my way to play my game. Leave that alone, Sophie.” And there came a frown over the brother’s brow.

“Your way to play your game! Yes; and what has become of mine? You have destroyed mine, but you think nothing of that. After all that I have gone through, to have nothing; and through you — my brother! Ah! that is the hardest of all — when I was putting all things in train for you.”

“You are always putting things in train. Leave your trains alone, where I am concerned.”

“But why did you come to that place in the accursed island? I am ruined by that journey. Yes, I am ruined. You will not help me to get a shilling from her — not even for my expenses.”

“Certainly not. You are clever enough to do your own work without my aid.”

“And is that all from a brother? Well! And, now that they have drowned themselves — the two Claverings — the fool and the brute, and she can do what she pleases —”

“She could always do as she pleased since Lord Ongar died.”

“Yes; but she is more lonely than ever now. That cousin who is the greatest fool of all, who might have had every thing — mon Dieu! yes, every thing — she would have given it all to him with a sweep of her hand if he would have taken it. He is to marry himself to a little brown girl who has not a shilling. No one but an Englishman could make follies so abominable as these. Ah! I am sick — I am sick when I remember it!” And Sophie gave unmistakable signs of a grief which could hardly have been self interested. But, in truth, she suffered pain in seeing a good game spoiled. It was not that she had any wish for Harry Clavering’s welfare. Had he gone to the bottom of the sea in the same boat with his cousins, the tidings of his fate would have been pleasurable to her rather than otherwise. But when she saw such cards thrown away as he had held in his hand, she encountered that sort of suffering which a good player feels when he sits behind the chair of one who plays up to his adversary’s trump, and makes no tricks of his own kings and aces.

“He may marry himself to the devil if he please — it is nothing to me,” said the count.

“But she is there — by herself — at that place — what is it called? Ten — bie. Will you not go now, when you can do no harm?”

“No, I will not go now.”

“And in a year she will have taken some other one for her husband.”

“What is that to me? But look here, Sophie, far you may as well understand me at once, if I were ever to think of Lady Ongar again as my wife, I should not tell you.”

“And why not tell me — your sister?”

“Because it would do me no good. If you had not been there she would have been my wife now.”

“Edouard!”

“What I say is true. But I do not want to reproach you because of that. Each of us was playing his own game, and your game was not my game. You are going now, and if I play my game again I can play it alone.”

Upon hearing this, Sophie sat a while in silence, looking at him. “You will play it alone,” she said at last. “You would rather do that?”

“Much rather, if I play any game at all.”

“And you will give me something to go?”

“Not one sou.”

“You will not — not a sou?”

“Not half a sou — for you to go or stay. Sophie, are you not a fool to ask me for money?”

“And you are a fool — a fool who knows nothing. You need not look at me like that. I am not afraid. I shall remain here. I shall stay and do as the lawyer tells me. He says that if I bring my action she must pay me for my expenses. I will bring my action. I am not going to leave it all to you. No. Do you remember those days in Florence? I have not been paid yet, but I will be paid. One hundred and seventy-five thousand francs a year — and, after all, I am to have none of it! Say — should it become yours, will you do something for your sister?”

“Nothing at all — nothing. Sophie, do you think I am fool enough to bargain in such a matter?”

“Then I will stay. Yes, I will bring my action. All the world shall hear, and they shall know how you have destroyed me and yourself. Ah! you think I am afraid — that I will not spend my money. I will spend all — all — all; and I will be revenged.”

“You may go or stay, it is the same thing to me. Now, if you please, I will take my leave.” And he got up from his chair to leave her.

“It is the same thing to you?”

“Quite the same.”

“Then I will stay, and she shall hear my name every day of her life — every hour. She shall be so sick of me and of you that — that — that — Oh, Edouard!” This last appeal was made to him because he was already at the door, and could not be stopped in any other way.

“What else have you to say, my sister?”

“Oh, Edouard, what would I not give to see all those riches yours? Has it not been my dearest wish? Edouard, you are ungrateful. All men are ungrateful.” Now, having succeeded in stopping him, she buried her face in the corner of the sofa and wept plentifully. It must be presumed that her acting before her brother must have been altogether thrown away; but the acting was, nevertheless, very good.

“If you are in truth going to St. Petersburg,” he said, “I will bid you adieu now. If not — au revoir.”

“I am going. Yes, Edouard, I am. I can not bear this country longer. My heart is being torn to pieces. All my affections are outraged. Yes, I am going — perhaps on Monday — perhaps on Monday week. But I go in truth. My brother, adieu.” Then she got up, and, putting a hand on each of his shoulders, lifted up her face to be kissed. He embraced her in the manner proposed, and turned to leave her. But before he went she made to him one other petition, holding him by the arm as she did so. “Edouard, you can lend me twenty napoleons till I am at St. Petersburg?”

“No, Sophie, no.”

“Not lend your sister twenty napoleons!”

“No, Sophie. I never lend money. It is a rule.”

“Will you give me five? I am so poor. I have almost nothing.”

“Things are not so bad with you as that, I hope?”

“Ah! yes, they are very bad. Since I have been in this accursed city — now, this time, what have I got? Nothing — nothing. She was to be all in all to me, and she has given me nothing! It is very bad to be so poor. Say that you will give me five napoleons — oh my brother.” she was still hanging by his arm, and, as she did so, she looked up into his face with tears in her eyes. As he regarded her, bending down his face over hers, a slight smile came upon his countenance. Then he put his hand into his pocket, and, taking out his purse, handed to her five sovereigns.

“Only five!” she said.

“Only five,” he answered.

“A thousand thanks, oh my brother.” Then she kissed him again, and after that he went. She accompanied him to the top of the stairs, and from thence showered blessings on his head till she heard the lock of the door closed behind him. When be was altogether gone she unlocked an inner drawer in her desk, and, taking out an uncompleted rouleau of gold, added her brother’s sovereigns thereto. The sum he had given her was exactly wanted to make up the required number of twenty-five. She counted them half a dozen times to be quite sure, and then rolled them carefully in paper, and sealed the little packet at each end. “Ah!” she said, speaking to herself, “they are very nice. Nothing else English is nice, but only these.” There were many rolls of money there before her in the drawer of the desk — some ten, perhaps, or twelve. These she took out one after another, passing them lovingly through her fingers, looking at the little seals at the ends of each, weighing them in her hand as though to make sure that no wrong had been done to them in her absence, standing them up one against another to see that they were of the same length. We may be quite sure that Sophie Gordeloup brought no sovereigns with her to England when she came over with Lady Ongar after the earl’s death, and that the hoard before her contained simply the plunder which she had collected during this her latest visit to the “accursed” country which she was going to leave.

But before she started she was resolved to make one more attempt upon that mine of wealth which, but a few weeks ago, had seemed to lie open before her. She had learned from the servants in Bolton Street that Lady Ongar was with Lady Clavering at Clavering Park, and she addressed a letter to her there. This letter she wrote in English, and she threw into her appeal all the pathos of which she was capable.

Mount Street, October 186 —

DEAREST JULIE:— I do not think you would wish me to go away from this country forever — forever, without one word of farewell to her I love so fondly. Yes, I have loved you with all my heart, and now I am going away — forever. Shall we not meet each other once, and have one embrace? No trouble will be too much to me for that. No journey will be too long. Only say, Sophie, come to your Julie.

I must go, because I am so poor. Yes, I can not live longer here without the means. I am not ashamed to say to my Julie, who is rich, that I am poor. No; nor would I be ashamed to wait on my Julie like a slave if she would let me. My Julie was angry with me because of my brother! Was it my fault that he came upon us in our little retreat, where we were so happy? Oh, no. I told him not to come. I knew his coming was for nothing — nothing at all. I knew where was the heart of my Julie — my poor Julie! But he was not worth that heart, and the pearl was thrown before a pig. But my brother — Ah! he has ruined me. Why am I separated from my Julie but for him? Well, I can go away, and in my own countries there are those who will not wish to be separated from Sophie Gordeloup.

May I now tell my Julie in what condition is her poor friend? She will remember how it was that my feet brought me to England — to England, to which I had said farewell forever — to England, where people must be rich like my Julie before they can eat and drink. I thought nothing then but of my Julie. I stopped not on the road to make merchandise — what you call a bargain — about my coming. No; I came at once, leaving all things — my little affairs — in confusion, because my Julie wanted me to come! It was in the Winter. Oh, that Winter! My poor bones shall never forget it. They are racked still with the pains which your savage winds have given them. And now it is Autumn. Ten months have I been here, and I have eaten up my little substance. Oh, Julie, you, who are so rich, do not know what is the poverty of your Sophie!

A lawyer have told me — not a French lawyer, but an English — that somebody should pay me everything. He says the law would give it me. He have offered me the money himself, just to let him make an action. But I have said no. No, Sophie will not have an action with her Julie. She would scorn that; and so the lawyer went away. But if my Julie will think of this, and will remember her Sophie — how much she have expended, and now at last there is nothing left. She must go and beg among her friends. And why? Because she have loved her Julie too well. You, who are so rich, would miss it not at all. What would two-three hundred pounds be to my Julie?

Shall I come to you? Say so; say so, and I will go at once, if I did crawl on my knees. Oh, what a joy to see my Julie! And do not think I will trouble you about money. No, your Sophie will be too proud for that. Not a word will I say but to love you. Nothing will I do but to print one kiss on my Julie’s forehead, and then to retire forever, asking God’s blessing for her dear head.

Thine-always thine,

Sophie.

Lady Ongar, when she received this letter, was a little perplexed by it, not feeling quite sure in what way she might best answer it. It was the special severity of her position that there was no one to whom, in such difficulties, she could apply for advice. Of one thing she was quite sure — that, willingly, she would never again see her devoted Sophie. And she knew that the woman deserved no money from her; that she had deserved none, but had received much. Every assertion in her letter was false. No one had wished her to come, and the expense of her coming had been paid for her over and over again. Lady Ongar knew that she had money, and knew also that she would have had immediate recourse to law if any lawyer would have suggested to her, with a probability of success, that he could get more for her. No doubt she had been telling her story to some attorney, in the hope that money might thus he extracted, and had been dragging her Julie’s name through the mud, telling all she knew of that wretched Florentine story. As to all that Lady Ongar had no doubt, and yet she wished to send the woman money!

There are services for which one is ready to give almost any amount of money payment, if only one can be sure that that money payment will be taken as sufficient recompense for the service in question. Sophie Gordeloup had been useful. She had been very disagreeable, but she had been useful. She had done things which nobody else could have done, and she had done her work well. That she had been paid for her work over and over again there was no doubt; but Lady Ongar was willing to give her yet further payment, if only there might be an end of it. But she feared to do this, dreading the nature and cunning of the little woman — lest she should take such payment as an acknowledgment of services for which secret compensation must be made, and should then proceed to further threats. Thinking much of all this, Julie at last wrote to her Sophie as follows:

Lady Ongar presents her compliments to Madam Gordeloup, and must decline to see Madam deloup again after what has passed. Lady Ongar is very sorry to hear that Madam Gordeloup is in want of funds. Whatever assistance Lady Ongar might have been willing to afford, she now feels that she is prohibited from giving any by the allusion which Madam Gordeloup has made to legal advice. If Madam Gordeloup has legal demands on Lady Ongar which are said by a lawyer to be valid, Lady Ongar would strongly recommend Madam Gordeloup to enforce them.

Clavering Park, October, 186 —.

This she wrote, acting altogether on her own judgment, and sent off by return of post. She almost wept at her own cruelty after the letter was gone, and greatly doubted her own discretion. But of whom could she have asked advice? Could she have told all the story of Madam Gordeloup to the rector or to the rector’s wife? The letter, no doubt, was a discreet letter, but she greatly doubted her own discretion, and when she received her Sophie’s rejoinder, she hardly dared to break the envelope.

Poor Sophie! Her Julie’s letter nearly broke her heart. For sincerity little credit was due to her — but some little was perhaps due. That she should be called Madam Gordeloup, and have compliments presented to her by the woman — by the countess with whom and with whose husband she had been on such closely familiar terms, did in truth wound some tender feelings within her breast. Such love as she had been able to give, she had given to her Julie. That she had always been willing to rob her Julie — to make a milch-cow of her Julie — to sell her Julie — to threaten her Julie — to quarrel with her Julie, if aught might be done in that way — to expose her Julie — nay, to destroy her Julie, if money was to be made — all this did not hinder her love. She loved her Julie, and was broken-hearted that her Julie should have written to her in such a strain.

But her feelings were much more acute when she came to perceive that she had damaged her own affairs by the hint of a menace which she had thrown out. Business is business, and must take precedence of all sentiment and romance in this hard world in which bread is so necessary. Of that Madam Gordeloup was well aware. And therefore, having given herself but two short minutes to weep over her Julie’s hardness, she applied her mind at once to the rectification of the error she had made. Yes, she had been wrong about the lawyer — certainly wrong. But then these English people were so pig-headed! A slight suspicion of a hint, such as that she had made, would have been taken by a Frenchman, by a Russian, by a Pole, as meaning no more than it meant. “But these English are bulls the men and the women are all like bulls — bulls!”

She at once sat down and wrote another letter — another in such an ecstasy of eagerness to remove the evil impressions which she had made, that she wrote it almost with the natural effusions of her heart:

DEAR FRIEND:— Your coldness kills me — kills me! But perhaps I have deserved it. If I said there were legal demands I did deserve it. No, there are none. Legal demands! Oh, no. What can your poor friend demand legally? The lawyer — he knows nothing; he was a stranger. It was my brother spoke to him. What should I do with a lawyer? Oh, my friend, do not be angry with your poor servant. I write now not to ask for money, but for a kind word — for one word of kindness and love to your Sophie before she have gone forever — yes, forever. Oh, Julie — oh, my angel, I would lie at your feet and kiss them if you were here.

Yours till death, even though you should still be hard to me,

Sophie.

To this appeal Lady Ongar sent no direct answer, but she commissioned Mr. Turnbull, her lawyer, to call upon Madam Gordeloup and pay to that lady one hundred pounds, taking her receipt for the same. Lady Ongar, in her letter to the lawyer, explained that the woman in question had been useful in Florence, and explained also that she might pretend that she had further claims. “If so,” said Lady Ongar, “I wish you to tell her that she can prosecute them at law, if she pleases. The money I now give her is a gratuity made for certain services rendered in Florence during the illness of Lord Ongar.” This commission Mr. Turnbull executed, and Sophie Gordeloup, when taking the money, made no demand for any further payment.

Four days after this a little woman, carrying a very big bandbox in her hands, might have been seen to scramble with difficulty out of a boat in the Thames up the side of a steamer bound from thence for Boulogne; and after her there climbed up an active little man, who, with peremptory voice, repulsed the boatman’s demand for further payment. He also had a bandbox on his arm, belonging, no doubt, to the little woman. And it might have been seen that the active little man, making his way to the table at which the clerk of the boat was sitting, out of his own purse paid the passage-money for two passengers through to Paris. And the head, and legs, and neck of that little man were like to the head, and legs, and neck of — our friend Doodles, alias Captain Boodle, of Warwickshire.

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