The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVI

The First Wedding

In spite, however, of Norman and his anger, on a cold snowy morning in the month of February, Gertrude stood at the altar in Hampton Church, a happy trusting bride, and Linda stood smiling behind her, the lovely leader of the nuptial train. Nor were Linda’s smiles false or forced, much less treacherous. She had taught herself to look on Alaric as her sister’s husband, and though in doing so she had suffered, and did still suffer, she now thought of her own lost lover in no other guise.

A housemaid, not long since, who was known in the family in which she lived to be affianced to a neighbouring gardener, came weeping to her mistress.

‘Oh, ma’am!’

‘Why, Susan, what ails you?’

‘Oh, ma’am!’

‘Well, Susan — what is it? — why are you crying?’

‘Oh, ma’am — John!’

‘Well — what of John? I hope he is not misbehaving.’

‘Indeed, ma’am, he is then; the worst of misbehaviour; for he’s gone and got hisself married.’ And poor Susan gave vent to a flood of tears.

Her mistress tried to comfort her, and not in vain. She told her that probably she might be better as she was; that John, seeing what he had done, must be a false creature, who would undoubtedly have used her ill; and she ended her good counsel by trying to make Susan understand that there were still as good fish in the sea as had ever yet been caught out of it.

‘And that’s true too, ma’am,’ said Susan, with her apron to her eyes.

‘Then you should not be downhearted, you know.’

‘Nor I han’t down’arted, ma’am, for thank God I could love any man, but it’s the looks on it, ma’am; it’s that I mind.’

How many of us are there, women and men too, who think most of the ‘looks of it’ under such circumstances; and who, were we as honest as poor Susan, ought to thank God, as she did, that we can love anyone; anyone, that is, of the other sex. We are not all of us susceptible of being torn to tatters by an unhappy passion; not even all those of us who may be susceptible of a true and honest love. And it is well that it is so. It is one of God’s mercies; and if we were as wise as Susan, we should thank God for it.

Linda was, perhaps, one of those. She was good, affectionate, tender, and true. But she was made of that stuff which can bend to the north wind. The world was not all over with her because a man had been untrue to her. She had had her grief, and had been told to meet it like a Christian; she had been obedient to the telling, and now felt the good result. So when Gertrude was married she stood smiling behind her; and when her new brother-inlaw kissed her in the vestry-room she smiled again, and honestly wished them happiness.

And Katie was there, very pretty and bonny, still childish, with her short dress and long trousers, but looking as though she, too, would soon feel the strength of her own wings, and be able to fly away from her mother’s nest. Dear Katie! Her story has yet to be told. To her belongs neither the soft easiness of her sister Linda nor the sterner dignity of Gertrude. But she has a character of her own, which contains, perhaps, higher qualities than those given to either of her sisters.

And there were other bridesmaids there; how many it boots not now to say. We must have the spaces round our altars greatly widened if this passion for bevies of attendant nymphs be allowed to go on increasing — and if crinolines increase also. If every bride is to have twelve maidens, and each maiden to stand on no less than a twelve-yard circle, what modest temple will ever suffice for a sacrifice to Hymen?

And Mrs. Woodward was there, of course; as pretty to my thinking as either of her daughters, or any of the bridesmaids. She was very pretty and smiling and quiet. But when Gertrude said ‘I will,’ she was thinking of Harry Norman, and grieving that he was not there.

And Captain Cuttwater was there, radiant in a new blue coat, made specially for the occasion, and elastic with true joy. He had been very generous. He had given £1,000 to Alaric, and settled £150 a year on Gertrude, payable, of course, after his death. This, indeed, was the bulk of what he had to give, and Mrs. Woodward had seen with regret his exuberant munificence to one of her children. But Gertrude was her child, and of course she could not complain.

And Charley was there, acting as best man. It was just the place and just the work for Charley. He forgot all his difficulties, all his duns, and also all his town delights. Without a sigh he left his lady in Norfolk Street to mix gin-sling for other admirers, and felt no regret though four brother navvies were going to make a stunning night of it at the ‘Salon de Seville dansant,’ at the bottom of Holborn Hill. However, he had his hopes that he might be back in time for some of that fun.

And Undy Scott was there. He and Alaric had fraternized so greatly of late that the latter had, as a matter of course, asked him to his wedding, and Mrs. Woodward had of course expressed her delight at receiving Alaric’s friend. Undy also was a pleasant fellow for a wedding party; he was full of talk, fond of ladies, being no whit abashed in his attendance on them by the remembrance of his bosom’s mistress, whom he had left, let us hope, happy in her far domestic retirement. Undy Scott was a good man at a wedding, and made himself specially agreeable on this occasion.

But the great glory of the day was the presence of Sir Gregory Hardlines. It was a high honour, considering all that rested on Sir Gregory’s shoulders, for so great a man to come all the way down to Hampton to see a clerk in the Weights and Measures married.

Cum tot sustineas, et tanta negotia solus,

— for we may call it ‘solus,’ Sir Warwick and Mr. Jobbles being sources of more plague than profit in carrying out your noble schemes — while so many things are on your shoulders, Sir Gregory; while you are defending the Civil Service by your pen[?], adorning it by your conduct, perfecting it by new rules, how could any man have had the face to ask you to a wedding?

Nevertheless Sir Gregory was there, and did not lose the excellent opportunity which a speech at the breakfast-table afforded him for expressing his opinion on the Civil Service of his country.

And so Gertrude Woodward became Gertrude Tudor, and she and Alaric were whirled away by a post-chaise and post-boy, done out with white bows, to the Hampton Court station; from thence they whisked up to London, and then down to Dover; and there we will leave them.

They were whisked away, having first duly gone through the amount of badgering which the bride and bridegroom have to suffer at the wedding breakfast-table. They drank their own health in champagne. Alaric made a speech, in which he said he was quite unworthy of his present happiness, and Gertrude picked up all the bijoux, gold pencil-cases, and silver cream-jugs, which were thrown at her from all sides. All the men made speeches, and all the women laughed, but the speech of the day was that celebrated one made by Sir Gregory, in which he gave a sketch of Alaric Tudor as the beau idéal of a clerk in the Civil Service. ‘His heart,’ said he, energetically, ‘is at the Weights and Measures;’ but Gertrude looked at him as though she did not believe a word of it.

And so Alaric and Gertrude were whisked away, and the wedding guests were left to look sheepish at each other, and take themselves off as best they might. Sir Gregory, of course, had important public business which precluded him from having the gratification of prolonging his stay at Hampton. Charley got away in perfect time to enjoy whatever there might be to be enjoyed at the dancing saloon of Seville, and Undy Scott returned to his club.

Then all was again quiet at Surbiton Cottage. Captain Cuttwater, who had perhaps drunk the bride’s health once too often, went to sleep; Katie, having taken off her fine clothes, roamed about the house disconsolate, and Mrs. Woodward and Linda betook themselves to their needles.

The Tudors went to Brussels, and were made welcome by the Belgian banker, whose counters he had deserted so much to his own benefit, and from thence to Paris, and, having been there long enough to buy a French bonnet and wonder at the enormity of French prices, they returned to a small but comfortable house they had prepared for themselves in the neighbourhood of Westbourne Terrace.

Previous to this Norman had been once, and but once, at Hampton, and, when there, he had failed in being comfortable himself, or in making the Woodwards so; he could not revert to his old habits, or sit, or move, or walk, as though nothing special had happened since he had been last there. He could not talk about Gertrude, and he could not help talking of her. By some closer packing among the ladies a room had now been prepared for him in the house; even this upset him, and brought to his mind all those unpleasant thoughts which he should have endeavoured to avoid.

He did not repeat his visit before the Tudors returned; and then for some time he was prevented from doing so by the movements of the Woodwards themselves. Mrs. Woodward paid a visit to her married daughter, and, when she returned, Linda did the same. And so for a while Norman was, as it were, divided from his old friends, whereas Tudor, as a matter of course, was one of themselves.

It was only natural that Mrs. Woodward should forgive Alaric and receive him to her bosom, now that he was her son-inlaw. After all, such ties as these avail more than any predilections, more than any effort of judgement in the choice of the objects of our affections. We associate with those with whom the tenor of life has thrown us, and from habit we learn to love those with whom we are brought to associate.

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