The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVII

The Honourable Mrs. Val and Miss Golightly

The first eighteen months of Gertrude’s married life were not unhappy, though, like all persons entering on the realities of the world, she found much to disappoint her. At first her husband’s society was sufficient for her; and to give him his due, he was not at first an inattentive husband. Then came the baby, bringing with him, as first babies always should do, a sort of second honeymoon of love, and a renewal of those services which women so delight to receive from their bosoms’ lord.

She had of course made acquaintances since she had settled herself in London, and had, in her modest way, done her little part in adding to the gaiety of the great metropolis. In this respect indeed Alaric’s commencement of life had somewhat frightened Mrs. Woodward, and the more prudent of his friends. Grand as his official promotion had been, his official income at the time of his marriage did not exceed £600 a year, and though this was to be augmented occasionally till it reached £800, yet even with this advantage it could hardly suffice for a man and his wife and a coming family to live in an expensive part of London, and enable him to ‘see his friends’ occasionally, as the act of feeding one’s acquaintance is now generally called.

Gertrude, like most English girls of her age, was at first so ignorant about money that she hardly knew whether £600 was or was not a sufficient income to justify their present mode of living; but she soon found reason to suspect that her husband at any rate endeavoured to increase it by other means. We say to suspect, because he never spoke to her on the subject; he never told her of Mary Janes and New Friendships; or hinted that he had extensive money dealings in connexion with Undy Scott.

But it can be taken for granted that no husband can carry on such dealings long without some sort of cognizance on his wife’s part as to what he is doing; a woman who is not trusted by her lord may choose to remain in apparent darkness, may abstain from questions, and may consider it either her duty or her interest to assume an ignorance as to her husband’s affairs; but the partner of one’s bed and board, the minister who soothes one’s headaches, and makes one’s tea, and looks after one’s linen, can’t but have the means of guessing the thoughts which occupy her companion’s mind and occasionally darken his brow.

Much of Gertrude’s society had consisted of that into which Alaric was thrown by his friendship with Undy Scott. There was a brother of Undy’s living in town, one Valentine Scott — a captain in a cavalry regiment, and whose wife was by no means of that delightfully retiring disposition evinced by Undy’s better half. The Hon. Mrs. Valentine, or Mrs. Val Scott as she was commonly called, was a very pushing woman, and pushed herself into a prominent place among Gertrude’s friends. She had been the widow of Jonathan Golightly, Esq., umquhile sheriff of the city of London, and stockbroker, and when she gave herself and her jointure up to Captain Val, she also brought with her, to enliven the house, a daughter Clementina, the only remaining pledge of her love for the stockbroker.

When Val Scott entered the world, his father’s precepts as to the purposes of matrimony were deeply graven on his heart. He was the best looking of the family, and, except Undy, the youngest. He had not Undy’s sharpness, his talent for public matters, or his aptitude for the higher branches of the Civil Service; but he had wit to wear his sash and epaulets with an easy grace, and to captivate the heart, person, and some portion of the purse, of the Widow Golightly. The lady was ten years older than the gentleman; but then she had a thousand a year, and, to make matters more pleasant, the beauteous Clementina had a fortune of her own.

Under these circumstances the marriage had been contracted without any deceit, or attempt at deceit, by either party. Val wanted an income, and the sheriff’s widow wanted the utmost amount of social consideration which her not very extensive means would purchase for her. On the whole, the two parties to the transaction were contented with their bargain. Mrs. Val, it is true, kept her income very much in her own hands; but still she consented to pay Val’s tailors’ bills, and it is something for a man to have bed and board found him for nothing. It is true, again, the lady did not find that the noble blood of her husband gave her an immediate right of entry into the best houses in London; but it did bring her into some sort of contact with some few people of rank and fame; and being a sensible woman, she had not been unreasonable in her expectations.

When she had got what she could from her husband in this particular, she did not trouble him much further. He delighted in the Rag, and there spent the most of his time; happily, she delighted in what she called the charms of society, and as society expanded itself before her, she was also, we must suppose, happy. She soon perceived that more in her immediate line was to be obtained from Undy than from her own member of the Gaberlunzie family, and hence had sprung up her intimacy with Mrs. Tudor.

It cannot be said that Gertrude was very fond of the Honourable Mrs. Val, nor even of her daughter, Clementina Golightly, who was more of her own age. These people had become her friends from the force of circumstances, and not from predilection. To tell the truth, Mrs. Val, who had in her day encountered, with much patience, a good deal of snubbing, and who had had to be thankful when she was patronized, now felt that her day for being a great lady had come, and that it behoved her to patronize others. She tried her hand upon Gertrude, and found the practice so congenial to her spirits, so pleasantly stimulating, so well adapted to afford a gratifying compensation for her former humility, that she continued to give up a good deal of her time to No. 5, Albany Row, Westbourne Terrace, at which house the Tudors resided.

The young bride was not exactly the woman to submit quietly to patronage from any Mrs. Val, however honourable she might be; but for a while Gertrude hardly knew what it meant; and at her first outset the natural modesty of youth, and her inexperience in her new position, made her unwilling to take offence and unequal to rebellion. By degrees, however, this feeling of humility wore off; she began to be aware of the assumed superiority of Mrs. Val’s friendship, and by the time that their mutual affection was of a year’s standing, Gertrude had determined, in a quiet way, without saying anything to anybody, to put herself on a footing of more perfect equality with the Honourable Mrs. Val.

Clementina Golightly was, in the common parlance of a large portion of mankind, a ‘doosed fine gal.’ She stood five feet six, and stood very well, on very good legs, but with rather large feet. She was as straight as a grenadier, and had it been her fate to carry a milk-pail, she would have carried it to perfection. Instead of this, however, she was permitted to expend an equal amount of energy in every variation of waltz and polka that the ingenuity of the dancing professors of the age has been able to produce. Waltzes and polkas suited her admirably; for she was gifted with excellent lungs and perfect powers of breathing, and she had not much delight in prolonged conversation. Her fault, if she had one, was a predilection for flirting; but she did her flirtations in a silent sort of way, much as we may suppose the fishes do theirs, whose amours we may presume to consist in swimming through their cool element in close contiguity with each other. ‘A feast of reason and a flow of soul’ were not the charms by which Clementina Golightly essayed to keep her admirers spell-bound at her feet. To whirl rapidly round a room at the rate of ten miles an hour, with her right hand outstretched in the grasp of her partner’s, and to know that she was tightly buoyed up, like a horse by a bearing-rein, by his other hand behind her back, was for her sufficient. To do this, as she did do it, without ever crying for mercy, with no slackness of breath, and apparently without distress, must have taken as much training as a horse gets for a race. But the training had in nowise injured her; and now, having gone through her gallops and run all her heats for three successive seasons, she was still sound of wind and limb, and fit to run at any moment when called upon.

We have said nothing about the face of the beauteous Clementina, and indeed nothing can be said about it. There was no feature in it with which a man could have any right to find fault; that she was a ‘doosed fine girl’ was a fact generally admitted; but nevertheless you might look at her for four hours consecutively on a Monday evening, and yet on Tuesday you would not know her. She had hair which was brownish and sufficiently silky — and which she wore, as all other such girls do, propped out on each side of her face by thick round velvet pads, which, when the waltzing pace became exhilarating, occasionally showed themselves, looking greasy. She had a pair of eyes set straight in her head, faultless in form, and perfectly inexpressive. She had a nose equally straight, but perhaps a little too coarse in dimensions. She had a mouth not over large, with two thin lips and small whitish teeth; and she had a chin equal in contour to the rest of her face, but on which Venus had not deigned to set a dimple. Nature might have defied a French passport officer to give a description of her, by which even her own mother or a detective policeman might have recognized her.

When to the above list of attractions it is added that Clementina Golightly had £20,000 of her own, and a reversionary interest in her mother’s jointure, it may be imagined that she did not want for good-winded cavaliers to bear her up behind, and whirl around with her with outstretched hands.

‘I am not going to stay a moment, my dear,’ said Mrs. Val, seating herself on Gertrude’s sofa, having rushed up almost unannounced into the drawing-room, followed by Clementina; ‘indeed, Lady Howlaway is waiting for me this moment; but I must settle with you about the June flower-show.’

‘Oh! thank you, Mrs. Scott, don’t trouble yourself about me,’ said Gertrude; ‘I don’t think I shall go.’

‘Oh! nonsense, my dear; of course you’ll go; it’s the show of the year, and the Grand duke is to be there — baby is all right now, you know; I must not hear of your not going.’

‘All the same — I fear I must decline,’ said Gertrude; ‘I think I shall be at Hampton.’

‘Oh! nonsense, my dear; of course you must show yourself. People will say all manner of things else. Clementina has promised to meet Victoire Jaquêtanápes there and a party of French people, people of the very highest ton. You’ll be delighted, my dear.’

‘M. Jaquêtanápes is the most delicious polkist you ever met,’ said Clementina. ‘He has got a new back step that will quite amaze you.’ As Gertrude in her present condition was not much given to polkas, this temptation did not have great effect.

‘Oh, you must come, of course, my dear — and pray let me recommend you to go to Madame Bosconi for your bonnet; she has such darling little ducks, and as cheap as dirt. But I want you to arrange about the carriage; you can do that with Mr. Tudor, and I can settle with you afterwards. Captain Scott won’t go, of course; but I have no doubt Undecimus and Mr. Tudor will come later and bring us home; we can manage very well with the one carriage.’

In spite of her thousand a year the Honourable Mrs. Val was not ashamed to look after the pounds, shillings, and pence. And so, having made her arrangements, Mrs. Val took herself off, hurrying to appease the anger of Lady Howlaway, and followed by Clementina, who since her little outburst as to the new back step of M. Jaquêtanápes had not taken much part in the conversation.

Flower-shows are a great resource for the Mrs. Scotts of London life. They are open to ladies who cannot quite penetrate the inner sancta of fashionable life, and yet they are frequented by those to whom those sancta are everyday household walks. There at least the Mrs. Scotts of the outer world can show themselves in close contiguity, and on equal terms, with the Mrs. Scotts of the inner world. And then, who is to know the difference? If also one is an Honourable Mrs. Scott, and can contrive to appear as such in the next day’s Morning Post, may not one fairly boast that the ends of society have been attained? Where is the citadel? How is one to know when one has taken it?

Gertrude could not be quite so defiant with her friends as she would have wished to have been, as they were borne with and encouraged by her husband. Of Undy’s wife Alaric saw nothing and heard little, but it suited Undy to make use of his sister-inlaw’s house, and it suited Alaric to be intimate with Undy’s sister-inlaw. Moreover, had not Clementina Golightly £20,000, and was she not a ‘doosed fine girl?’ This was nothing to Alaric now, and might not be considered to be much to Undy. But that far-seeing, acute financier knew that there were other means of handling a lady’s money than that of marrying her. He could not at present acquire a second fortune in that way; but he might perhaps acquire the management of this £20,000 if he could provide the lady with a husband of the proper temperament. Undy Scott did not want to appropriate Miss Golightly’s fortune, he only wanted to have the management of it.

Looking round among his acquaintance for a fitting parti for the sweet Clementina, his mind, after much consideration, settled upon Charley Tudor. There were many young men much nearer and dearer to Undy than Charley, who might be equally desirous of so great a prize; but he could think of none over whom he might probably exercise so direct a control. Charley was a handsome gay fellow, and waltzed au ravir; he might, therefore, without difficulty, make his way with the fair Clementina. He was distressingly poor, and would therefore certainly jump at an heiress — he was delightfully thoughtless and easy of leading, and therefore the money, when in his hands, might probably be manageable. He was also Alaric’s cousin, and therefore acceptable.

Undy did not exactly open his mind to Alaric Tudor in this matter. Alaric’s education was going on rapidly; but his mind had not yet received with sufficient tenacity those principles of philosophy which would enable him to look at this scheme in its proper light. He had already learnt the great utility, one may almost say the necessity, of having a command of money; he was beginning also to perceive that money was a thing not to be judged of by the ordinary rules which govern a man’s conduct. In other matters it behoves a gentleman to be open, above-board, liberal, and true; good-natured, generous, confiding, self-denying, doing unto others as he would wish that others should do unto him; but in the acquirement and use of money — that is, its use with the object of acquiring more, its use in the usurer’s sense — his practice should be exactly the reverse; he should be close, secret, exacting, given to concealment, not over troubled by scruples; suspicious, without sympathies, self-devoted, and always doing unto others exactly that which he is on his guard to prevent others from doing unto him — viz., making money by them. So much Alaric had learnt, and had been no inapt scholar. But he had not yet appreciated the full value of the latitude allowed by the genius of the present age to men who deal successfully in money. He had, as we have seen, acknowledged to himself that a sportsman may return from the field with his legs and feet a little muddy; but he did not yet know how deep a man may wallow in the mire, how thoroughly he may besmear himself from head to foot in the blackest, foulest mud, and yet be received an honoured guest by ladies gay and noble lords, if only his bag be sufficiently full.

Rem . . ., quocunque modo rem!

The remainder of the passage was doubtless applicable to former times, but now is hardly worth repeating.

As Alaric’s stomach was not yet quite suited for strong food, Undy fitted this matter to his friend’s still juvenile capacities. There was an heiress, a ‘doosed fine girl’ as Undy insisted, laying peculiar strength on the word of emphasis, with £20,000, and there was Charley Tudor, a devilish decent fellow, without a rap. Why not bring them together? This would only be a mark of true friendship on the part of Undy; and on Alaric’s part, it would be no more than one cousin would be bound to do for another. Looking at it in this light, Alaric saw nothing in the matter which could interfere with his quiet conscience.

‘I’ll do what I can,’ said Undy. ‘Mrs. Val is inclined to have a way of her own in most things; but if anybody can lead her, I can. Charley must take care that Val himself doesn’t take his part, that’s all. If he interferes, it would be all up with us.’

And thus Alaric, intent mainly on the interest of his cousin, and actuated perhaps a little by the feeling that a rich cousin would be more serviceable than a poor one, set himself to work, in connexion with Undy Scott, to make prey of Clementina Golightly’s £20,000.

But if Undy had no difficulty in securing the co-operation of Alaric in this matter, Alaric by no means found it equally easy to secure the co-operation of Charley. Charley Tudor had not yet learnt to look upon himself as a marketable animal, worth a certain sum of money, in consequence of such property in good appearance, address, &c., as God had been good enough to endow him withal.

He daily felt the depth and disagreeable results of his own poverty, and not unfrequently, when specially short of the Queen’s medium, sighed for some of those thousands and tens of thousands with which men’s mouths are so glibly full. He had often tried to calculate what would be his feelings if some eccentric, good-natured old stranger should leave him, say, five thousand a year; he had often walked about the street, with his hands in his empty pockets, building delicious castles in the air, and doing the most munificent actions imaginable with his newly-acquired wealth, as all men in such circumstances do; relieving distress, rewarding virtue, and making handsome presents to all his friends, and especially to Mrs. Woodward. So far Charley was not guiltless of coveting wealth; but he had never for a moment thought of realizing his dreams by means of his personal attractions. It had never occurred to him that any girl having money could think it worth her while to marry him. He, navvy as he was, with his infernal friends and pot-house love, with his debts and idleness and low associations, with his saloons of Seville, his Elysium in Fleet Street, and his Paradise near the Surrey Gardens, had hitherto thought little enough of his own attractions. No kind father had taught him that he was worth £10,000 in any market in the world. When he had dreamt of money, he had never dreamt of it as accruing to him in return for any value or worth which he had inherent in himself. Even in his lighter moments he had no such conceit; and at those periods, few and far between, in which he did think seriously Of the world at large, this special method of escaping from his difficulties — never once presented itself to his mind.

When, therefore, Alaric first spoke to him of marrying £20,000 and Clementina Golightly, his surprise was unbounded.

‘£20,000!’ said Alaric, ‘and a doosed fine girl, you know;’ and he also laid great stress on the latter part of the offer, knowing how inflammable was Charley’s heart, and at the same time how little mercenary was his mind.

But Charley was not only surprised at the proposed arrangement, but apparently also unwilling to enter into, it. He argued that in the first place no girl in her senses would accept him. To this Alaric replied that as Clementina had not much sense to speak of, that objection might fall to the ground. Then Charley expressed an idea that Miss Golightly’s friends might probably object when they learnt what were the exact pecuniary resources of the expectant husband; to which Alaric argued that the circumstances of the case were very lucky, inasmuch as some of Clementina’s natural friends were already prepossessed in favour of such an arrangement.

Driven thus from two of his strongholds, Charley, in the most modest of voices, in a voice one may say quite shamefaced and conscious of its master’s weakness — suggested that he was not quite sure that at the present moment he was very much in love with the lady in question.

Alaric had married for love, and was not two years married, yet had his education so far progressed in that short period as to enable him to laugh at such an objection.

‘Then, my dear fellow, what the deuce do you mean to do with yourself? You’ll certainly go to the dogs.

Charley had an idea that he certainly should; and also had an idea that Miss Clementina and her £20,000 might not improbably go in the same direction, if he had anything to do with them.

‘And as for loving her,’ continued Alaric, ‘that’s all my eye. Love is a luxury which none but the rich or the poor can afford. We middle-class paupers, who are born with good coats on our backs, but empty purses, can have nothing to do with it.’

‘But you married for love, Alaric?’

‘My marriage was not a very prudent one, and should not be taken as an example. And then I did get some fortune with my wife; and what is more, I was not so fearfully in want of it as you are.’

Charley acknowledged the truth of this, said that he would think of the matrimonial project, and promised, at any rate, to call on Clementina on an early occasion. He had already made her acquaintance, had already danced with her, and certainly could not take upon himself to deny that she was a ‘doosed fine girl.’

But Charley had reasons of his own, reasons which he could not make known to Alaric, for not thinking much of, or trusting much to, Miss Golightly’s fortune. In the first place, he regarded marriage on such a grand scale as that now suggested, as a ceremony which must take a long time to adjust; the wooing of a lady with so many charms could not be carried on as might be the wooing of a chambermaid or a farmer’s daughter. It must take months at least to conciliate the friends of so rich an heiress, and months at the end of them to prepare the wedding gala. But Charley could not wait for months; before one month was over he would probably be laid up in some vile limbo, an unfortunate poor prisoner at the suit of an iron-hearted tailor.

At this very moment of Alaric’s proposition, at this instant when he found himself talking with so much coolness of the expedience or inexpedience of appropriating to his own purpose a slight trifle of £20,000, he was in dire strait as to money difficulties.

He had lately, that is, within the last twelve months, made acquaintance with an interesting gentleman named Jabesh M’Ruen. Mr. Jabesh M’Ruen was in the habit of relieving the distresses of such impoverished young gentlemen as Charley Tudor; and though he did this with every assurance of philanthropic regard, though in doing so he only made one stipulation, ‘Pray be punctual, Mr. Tudor, now pray do be punctual, sir, and you may always count on me,’ nevertheless, in spite of all his goodness, Mr. M’Ruen’s young friends seldom continued to hold their heads well up over the world’s waters.

On the morning after this conversation with Alaric, Charley intended to call on his esteemed old friend. Many were the morning calls he did make; many were the weary, useless, aimless walks which he took to that little street at the back of Mecklenburg Square, with the fond hope of getting some relief from Mr. M’Ruen; and many also were the calls, the return visits, as it were, which Mr. M’Ruen made at the Internal Navigation, and numerous were the whispers which he would there whisper into the ears of the young clerk, Mr. Snape the while sitting by, with a sweet unconscious look, as though he firmly believed Mr. M’Ruen to be Charley’s maternal uncle.

And then, too, Charley had other difficulties, which in his mind presented great obstacles to the Golightly scheme, though Alaric would have thought little of them, and Undy nothing. What was he to do with his Norfolk Street lady, his barmaid houri, his Norah Geraghty, to whom he had sworn all manner of undying love, and for whom in some sort of fashion he really had an affection? And Norah was not a light-of-love whom it was as easy to lay down as to pick up. Charley had sworn to love her, and she had sworn to love Charley; and to give her her due, she had kept her word to him. Though her life rendered necessary a sort of daily or rather nightly flirtation with various male comers — as indeed, for the matter of that, did also the life of Miss Clementina Golightly — yet she had in her way been true to her lover. She had been true to him, and Charley did not doubt her, and in a sort of low way respected her; though it was but a dissipated and debauched respect. There had even been talk between them of marriage, and who can say what in his softer moments, when his brain had been too weak or the toddy too strong, Charley may not have promised?

And there was yet another objection to Miss Golightly; one even more difficult of mention, one on which Charley felt himself more absolutely constrained to silence than even either of the other two. He was sufficiently disinclined to speak to his cousin Alaric as to the merits either of Mr. Jabesh M’Ruen or of Miss Geraghty, but he could have been eloquent on either rather than whisper a word as to the third person who stood between him and the £20,000.

The school in which Charley now lived, that of the infernal navvies, had taught him to laugh at romance; but it had not been so successful in quelling the early feelings of his youth, in drying up the fountains of poetry within him, as had been the case with his cousin, in that other school in which he had been a scholar. Charley was a dissipated, dissolute rake, and in some sense had degraded himself; but he had still this chance of safety on his side, that he himself reprobated his own sins. He dreamt of other things and a better life. He made visions to himself of a sweet home, and a sweeter, sweetest, lovely wife; a love whose hair should not be redolent of smoke, nor her hands reeking with gin, nor her services at the demand of every libertine who wanted a screw of tobacco, or a glass of ‘cold without.’

He had made such a vision to himself, and the angel with which he had filled it was not a creature of his imagination. She who was to reign in this ethereal paradise, this happy home, far as the poles away from Norfolk Street, was a living being in the sublunar globe, present sometimes to Charley’s eyes, and now so often present to his thoughts; and yet she was but a child, and as ignorant that she had ever touched a lover’s heart by her childish charms as though she had been a baby.

After all, even on Charley’s part, it was but a vision. He never really thought that his young inamorata would or could be to him a real true heart’s companion, returning his love with the double love of a woman, watching his health, curing his vices, and making the sweet things of the world a living reality around him. This love of his was but a vision, but not the less on that account did it interfere with his cousin Alaric’s proposition, in reference to Miss Clementina Golightly.

That other love also, that squalid love of his, was in truth no vision — was a stern, palpable reality, very difficult to get rid of, and one which he often thought to himself would very probably swallow up that other love, and drive his sweet dream far away into utter darkness and dim chaotic space.

But at any rate it was clear that there was no room in his heart for the beauteous Clementina, ‘doosed fine girl’ as she undoubtedly was, and serviceable as the £20,000 most certainly would have been.

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