The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIX

A Day with One of the Navvies. — Afternoon

The ‘Banks of Jordan’ was a public-house in the city, which from its appearance did not seem to do a very thriving trade; but as it was carried on from year to year in the same dull, monotonous, dead-alive sort of fashion, it must be surmised that some one found an interest in keeping it open.

Charley, when he entered the door punctually at two o’clock, saw that it was as usual nearly deserted. One long, lanky, middle-aged man, seedy as to his outward vestments, and melancholy in countenance, sat at one of the tables. But he was doing very little good for the establishment: he had no refreshment of any kind before him, and was intent only on a dingy pocket-book in which he was making entries with a pencil.

You enter the ‘Banks of Jordan’ by two folding doors in a corner of a very narrow alley behind the Exchange. As you go in, you observe on your left a little glass partition, something like a large cage, inside which, in a bar, are four or five untempting-looking bottles; and also inside the cage, on a chair, is to be seen a quiet-looking female, who is invariably engaged in the manufacture of some white article of inward clothing. Anything less like the flashy-dressed bar-maidens of the western gin palaces it would be difficult to imagine. To this encaged sempstress no one ever speaks unless it be to give a rare order for a mutton chop or pint of stout. And even for this she hardly stays her sewing for a moment, but touches a small bell, and the ancient waiter, who never shows himself but when called for, and who is the only other inhabitant of the place ever visible, receives the order from her through an open pane in the cage as quietly as she received it from her customer.

The floor of the single square room of the establishment is sanded, and the tables are ranged round the walls, each table being fixed to the floor, and placed within wooden partitions, by which the occupier is screened from any inquiring eyes on either side.

Such was Mr. Jabesh M’Ruen’s house-of-call in the city, and of many a mutton chop and many a pint of stout had Charley partaken there while waiting for the man of money. To him it seemed to be inexcusable to sit down in a public inn and call for nothing; he perceived, however, that the large majority of the frequenters of the ‘Banks of Jordan’ so conducted themselves.

He was sufficiently accustomed to the place to know how to give his orders without troubling that diligent barmaid, and had done so about ten minutes when Jabesh, more punctual than usual, entered the place. This Charley regarded as a promising sign of forthcoming cash. It very frequently happened that he waited there an hour, and that after all Jabesh would not come; and then the morning visit to Mecklenburg Square had to be made again; and so poor Charley’s time, or rather the time of his poor office, was cut up, wasted, and destroyed.

‘A mutton chop!’ said Mr. M’Ruen, looking at Charley’s banquet. ‘A very nice thing indeed in the middle of the day. I don’t mind if I have one myself,’ and so Charley had to order another chop and more stout.

‘They have very nice sherry here, excellent sherry,’ said M’Ruen. ‘The best, I think, in the city — that’s why I come here.’

‘Upon my honour, Mr. M’Ruen, I shan’t have money to pay for it until I get some from you,’ said Charley, as he called for a pint of sherry.

‘Never mind, John, never mind the sherry today,’ said M’Ruen. ‘Mr. Tudor is very kind, but I’ll take beer;’ and the little man gave a laugh and twisted his head, and ate his chop and drank his stout, as though he found that both were very good indeed. When he had finished, Charley paid the bill and discovered that he was left with ninepence in his pocket.

And then he produced the bill stamp. ‘Waiter,’ said he, ‘pen and ink,’ and the waiter brought pen and ink.

‘Not today,’ said Jabesh, wiping his mouth with the table-cloth. ‘Not today, Mr. Tudor — I really haven’t time to go into it today — and I haven’t brought the other bills with me; I quite forgot to bring the other bills with me, and I can do nothing without them,’ and Mr. M’Ruen got up to go.

But this was too much for Charley. He had often before bought bill stamps in vain, and in vain had paid for mutton chops and beer for Mr. M’Ruen’s dinner; but he had never before, when doing so, been so hard pushed for money as he was now. He was determined to make a great attempt to gain his object.

‘Nonsense,’ said he, getting up and standing so as to prevent M’Ruen from leaving the box; ‘that’s d —— nonsense.’

‘Oh! don’t swear,’ said M’Ruen —‘pray don’t take God’s name in vain; I don’t like it.’

‘I shall swear, and to some purpose too, if that’s your game. Now look here ——’

‘Let me get up, and we’ll talk of it as we go to the bank — you are so unpunctual, you know.’

‘D—— your punctuality.’

‘Oh! don’t swear, Mr. Tudor.’

‘Look here — if you don’t let me have this money today, by all that is holy I will never pay you a farthing again — not one farthing; I’ll go into the court, and you may get your money as you can.’

‘But, Mr. Tudor, let me get up, and we’ll talk about it in the street, as we go along.’

‘There’s the stamp,’ said Charley. ‘Fill it up, and then I’ll go with you to the bank.’

M’Ruen took the bit of paper, and twisted it over and over again in his hand, considering the while whether he had yet squeezed out of the young man all that could be squeezed with safety, or whether by an additional turn, by giving him another small advancement, he might yet get something more. He knew that Tudor was in a very bad state, that he was tottering on the outside edge of the precipice; but he also knew that he had friends. Would his friends when they came forward to assist their young Pickle out of the mire, would they pay such bills as these or would they leave poor Jabesh to get his remedy at law? That was the question which Mr. M’Ruen had to ask and to answer. He was not one of those noble vultures who fly at large game, and who are willing to run considerable risk in pursuit of their prey. Mr. M’Ruen avoided courts of law as much as he could, and preferred a small safe trade; one in which the fall of a single customer could never be ruinous to him; in which he need run no risk of being transported for forgery, incarcerated for perjury, or even, if possibly it might be avoided, gibbeted by some lawyer or judge for his malpractices.

‘But you are so unpunctual,’ he said, having at last made up his mind that he had made a very good thing of Charley, and that probably he might go a little further without much danger. ‘I wish to oblige you, Mr. Tudor; but pray do be punctual;’ and so saying he slowly spread the little document before him, across which Scatterall had already scrawled his name, and slowly began to write in the date. Slowly, with his head low down over the table, and continually twisting it inside his cravat, he filled up the paper, and then looking at it with the air of a connoisseur in such matters, he gave it to Charley to sign.

‘But you haven’t put in the amount,’ said Charley.

Mr. M’Ruen twisted his head and laughed. He delighted in playing with his game as a fisherman does with a salmon. ‘Well — no — I haven’t put in the amount yet. Do you sign it, and I’ll do that at once.’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Charley; ‘I’ll say £15, and you’ll give me £10 on that.’

‘No, no, no!’ said Jabesh, covering the paper over with his hands; ‘you young men know nothing of filling bills; just sign it, Mr. Tudor, and I’ll do the rest.’ And so Charley signed it, and then M’Ruen, again taking the pen, wrote in ‘fifteen pounds’ as the recognized amount of the value of the document. He also took out his pocket-book and filled a cheque, but he was very careful that Charley should not see the amount there written. ‘And now,’ said he, ‘we will go to the bank.’

As they made their way to the house in Lombard Street which Mr. M’Ruen honoured by his account, Charley insisted on knowing how much he was to have for the bill. Jabesh suggested £3 10s.; Charley swore he would take nothing less than £8; but by the time they had arrived at the bank, it had been settled that £5 was to be paid in cash, and that Charley was to have the three Seasons for the balance whenever he chose to send for them. When Charley, as he did at first, positively refused to accede to these terms, Mr. M’Ruen tendered him back the bill, and reminded him with a plaintive voice that he was so unpunctual, so extremely unpunctual.

Having reached the bank, which the money-lender insisted on Charley entering with him, Mr. M’Ruen gave the cheque across the counter, and wrote on the back of it the form in which he would take the money, whereupon a note and five sovereigns were handed to him. The cheque was for £15, and was payable to C. Tudor, Esq., so that proof might be forthcoming at a future time, if necessary, that he had given to his customer full value for the bill. Then in the outer hall of the bank, unseen by the clerks, he put, one after another, slowly and unwillingly, four sovereigns into Charley’s hand.

‘The other — where’s the other?’ said Charley.

Jabesh smiled sweetly and twisted his head.

‘Come, give me the other,’ said Charley roughly.

‘Four is quite enough, quite enough for what you want; and remember my time, Mr. Tudor; you should remember my time.’

‘Give me the other sovereign,’ said Charley, taking hold of the front of his coat.

‘Well, well, you shall have ten shillings; but I want the rest for a purpose.’

‘Give me the sovereign,’ said Charley, ‘or I’ll drag you in before them all in the bank and expose you; give me the other sovereign, I say.’

‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed Mr. M’Ruen; ‘I thought you liked a joke, Mr. Tudor. Well, here it is. And now do be punctual, pray do be punctual, and I’ll do anything I can for you.’

And then they parted, Charley going westward towards his own haunts, and M’Ruen following his daily pursuits in the city.

Charley had engaged to pull up to Avis’s at Putney with Harry Norman, to dine there, take a country walk, and row back in the cool of the evening; and he had promised to call at the Weights and Measures with that object punctually at five.

‘You can get away in time for that, I suppose,’ said Harry.

‘Well, I’ll try and manage it,’ said Charley, laughing.

Nothing could be kinder, nay, more affectionate, than Norman had been to his fellow-lodger during the last year and a half. It seemed as though he had transferred to Alaric’s cousin all the friendship which he had once felt for Alaric; and the deeper were Charley’s sins of idleness and extravagance, the wider grew Norman’s forgiveness, and the more sincere his efforts to befriend him. As one result of this, Charley was already deep in his debt. Not that Norman had lent him money, or even paid bills for him; but the lodgings in which they lived had been taken by Norman, and when the end of the quarter came he punctually paid his landlady.

Charley had once, a few weeks before the period of which we are now writing, told Norman that he had no money to pay his long arrear, and that he would leave the lodgings and shift for himself as best he could. He had said the same thing to Mrs. Richards, the landlady, and had gone so far as to pack up all his clothes; but his back was no sooner turned than Mrs. Richards, under Norman’s orders, unpacked them all, and hid away the portmanteau. It was well for him that this was done. He had bespoken for himself a bedroom at the public-house in Norfolk Street, and had he once taken up his residence there he would have been ruined for ever.

He was still living with Norman, and ever increasing his debt. In his misery at this state of affairs, he had talked over with Harry all manner of schemes for increasing his income, but he had never told him a word about Mr. M’Ruen. Why his salary, which was now £150 per annum, should not be able to support him, Norman never asked. Charley the while was very miserable, and the more miserable he was, the less he found himself able to rescue himself from his dissipation. What moments of ease he had were nearly all spent in Norfolk Street; and such being the case how could he abstain from going there?

‘Well, Charley, and how do ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ go on?’ said Norman, as they sauntered away together up the towing-path above Putney. Now there were those who had found out that Charley Tudor, in spite of his wretched, idle, vagabond mode of life, was no fool; indeed, that there was that talent within him which, if turned to good account, might perhaps redeem him from ruin and set him on his legs again; at least so thought some of his friends, among whom Mrs. Woodward was the most prominent. She insisted that if he would make use of his genius he might employ his spare time to great profit by writing for magazines or periodicals; and, inspirited by so flattering a proposition, Charley had got himself introduced to the editor of a newly-projected publication. At his instance he was to write a tale for approval, and ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ was the name selected for his first attempt.

The affair had been fully talked over at Hampton, and it had been arranged that the young author should submit his story, when completed, to the friendly criticism of the party assembled at Surbiton Cottage, before he sent it to the editor. He had undertaken to have ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ ready for perusal on the next Saturday, and in spite of Mr. M’Ruen and Norah Geraghty, he had really been at work.

‘Will it be finished by Saturday, Charley?’ said Norman.

‘Yes — at least I hope so; but if that’s not done, I have another all complete.’

‘Another! and what is that called?’

‘Oh, that’s a very short one,’ said Charley, modestly.

‘But, short as it is, it must have a name, I suppose. What’s the name of the short one?’

‘Why, the name is long enough; it’s the longest part about it. The editor gave me the name, you know, and then I had to write the story. It’s to be called “Sir Anthony Allan-a-dale and the Baron of Ballyporeen.”’

‘Oh! two rival knights in love with the same lady, of course,’ and Harry gave a gentle sigh as he thought of his own still unhealed grief. ‘The scene is laid in Ireland, I presume?’

‘No, not in Ireland; at least not exactly. I don’t think the scene is laid anywhere in particular; it’s up in a mountain, near a castle. There isn’t any lady in it — at least, not alive.’

‘Heavens, Charley! I hope you are not dealing with dead women.’

‘No — that is, I have to bring them to life again. I’ll tell you how it is. In the first paragraph, Sir Anthony Allan-a-dale is lying dead, and the Baron of Ballyporeen is standing over him with a bloody sword. You must always begin with an incident now, and then hark back for your explanation and description; that’s what the editor says is the great secret of the present day, and where we beat all the old fellows that wrote twenty years ago.’

‘Oh! — yes — I see. They used to begin at the beginning; that was very humdrum.’

‘A devilish bore, you know, for a fellow who takes up a novel because he’s dull. Of course he wants his fun at once. If you begin with a long history of who’s who and all that, why he won’t read three pages; but if you touch him up with a startling incident or two at the first go off, then give him a chapter of horrors, then another of fun, then a little love or a little slang, or something of that sort, why, you know, about the end of the first volume, you may describe as much as you like, and tell everything about everybody’s father and mother for just as many pages as you want to fill. At least that’s what the editor says.’

Meleager ab ovo may be introduced with safety when you get as far as that,’ suggested Norman.

‘Yes, you may bring him in too, if you like,’ said Charley, who was somewhat oblivious of his classicalities. ‘Well, Sir Anthony is lying dead and the Baron is standing over him, when out come Sir Anthony’s retainers ——’

‘Out — out of what?’

‘Out of the castle: that’s all explained afterwards. Out come the retainers, and pitch into the Baron till they make mincemeat of him.’

‘They don’t kill him, too?’

‘Don’t they though? I rather think they do, and no mistake.’

‘And so both your heroes are dead in the first chapter.’

‘First chapter! why that’s only the second paragraph. I’m only to be allowed ten paragraphs for each number, and I am expected to have an incident for every other paragraph for the first four days.’

‘That’s twenty incidents.’

‘Yes — it’s a great bother finding so many. — I’m obliged to make the retainers come by all manner of accidents; and I should never have finished the job if I hadn’t thought of setting the castle on fire. ‘And now forked tongues of liquid fire, and greedy lambent flames burst forth from every window of the devoted edifice. The devouring element ——.’ That’s the best passage in the whole affair.’

‘This is for the Daily Delight, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, for the Daily Delight. It is to begin on the 1st of September with the partridges. We expect a most tremendous sale. It will be the first halfpenny publication in the market, and as the retailers will get them for sixpence a score — twenty-four to the score — they’ll go off like wildfire.’

‘Well, Charley, and what do you do with the dead bodies of your two heroes?’

‘Of course I needn’t tell you that it was not the Baron who killed Sir Anthony at all.’

‘Oh! wasn’t it? O dear — that was a dreadful mistake on the part of the retainers.’

‘But as natural as life. You see these two grandees were next-door neighbours, and there had been a feud between the families for seven centuries — a sort of Capulet and Montague affair. One Adelgitha, the daughter of the Thane of Allan-a-dale — there were Thanes in those days, you know — was betrothed to the eldest son of Sir Waldemar de Ballyporeen. This gives me an opportunity of bringing in a succinct little account of the Conquest, which will be beneficial to the lower classes. The editor peremptorily insists upon that kind of thing.’

Omne tulit punctum,’ said Norman.

‘Yes, I dare say,’ said Charley, who was now too intent on his own new profession to attend much to his friend’s quotation. ‘Well, where was I? — Oh! the eldest son of Sir Waldemar went off with another lady and so the feud began. There is a very pretty scene between Adelgitha and her lady’s-maid.’

‘What, seven centuries before the story begins?’

‘Why not? The editor says that the unities are altogether thrown over now, and that they are regular bosh — our game is to stick in a good bit whenever we can get it — I got to be so fond of Adelgitha that I rather think she’s the heroine.’

‘But doesn’t that take off the interest from your dead grandees?’

‘Not a bit; I take it chapter and chapter about. Well, you see, the retainers had no sooner made mincemeat of the Baron — a very elegant young man was the Baron, just returned from the Continent, where he had learnt to throw aside all prejudices about family feuds and everything eke, and he had just come over in a friendly way, to say as much to Sir Anthony, when, as he crossed the drawbridge, he stumbled over the corpse of his ancient enemy — well, the retainers had no sooner made mincemeat of him, than they perceived that Sir Anthony was lying with an open bottle in his hand, and that he had taken poison.’

‘Having committed suicide?’ asked Norman.

‘No, not at all. The editor says that we must always have a slap at some of the iniquities of the times. He gave me three or four to choose from; there was the adulteration of food, and the want of education for the poor, and street music, and the miscellaneous sale of poisons.’

‘And so you chose poisons and killed the knight?’

‘Exactly; at least I didn’t kill him, for he comes all right again after a bit. He had gone out to get something to do him good after a hard night, a Seidlitz powder, or something of that sort, and an apothecary’s apprentice had given him prussic acid in mistake.’

‘And how is it possible he should have come to life after taking prussic acid?’

‘Why, there I have a double rap at the trade. The prussic acid is so bad of its kind, that it only puts him into a kind of torpor for a week. Then we have the trial of the apothecary’s boy; that is an excellent episode, and gives me a grand hit at the absurdity of our criminal code.’

‘Why, Charley, it seems to me that you are hitting at everything.’

‘Oh! ah! right and left, that’s the game for us authors. The press is the only censor morum going now — and who so fit? Set a thief to catch a thief, you know. Well, I have my hit at the criminal code, and then Sir Anthony comes out of his torpor.’

‘But how did it come to pass that the Baron’s sword was all bloody?’

‘Ah, there was the difficulty; I saw that at once. It was necessary to bring in something to be killed, you know. I thought of a stray tiger out of Wombwell’s menagerie; but the editor says that we must not trespass against the probabilities; so I have introduced a big dog. The Baron had come across a big dog, and seeing that the brute had a wooden log tied to his throat, thought he must be mad, and so he killed him.’

‘And what’s the end of it, Charley?’

‘Why, the end is rather melancholy. Sir Anthony reforms, leaves off drinking, and takes to going to church everyday. He becomes a Puseyite, puts up a memorial window to the Baron, and reads the Tracts. At last he goes over to the Pope, walks about in nasty dirty clothes all full of vermin, and gives over his estate to Cardinal Wiseman. Then there are the retainers; they all come to grief, some one way and some another. I do that for the sake of the Nemesis.’

‘I would not have condescended to notice them, I think,’ said Norman.

‘Oh! I must; there must be a Nemesis. The editor specially insists on a Nemesis.’

The conclusion of Charley’s novel brought them back to the boat. Norman, when he started, had intended to employ the evening in giving good counsel to his friend, and in endeavouring to arrange some scheme by which he might rescue the brand from the burning; but he had not the heart to be severe and sententious while Charley was full of his fun. It was so much pleasanter to talk to him on the easy terms of equal friendship than turn Mentor and preach a sermon.

‘Well, Charley,’ said he, as they were walking up from the boat wharf — Norman to his club, and Charley towards his lodgings — from which route, however, he meant to deviate as soon as ever he might be left alone —‘well, Charley, I wish you success with all my heart; I wish you could do something — I won’t say to keep you out of mischief.’

‘I wish I could, Harry,’ said Charley, thoroughly abashed; ‘I wish I could — indeed I wish I could — but it is so hard to go right when one has begun to go wrong.’

‘It is hard; I know it is.’

‘But you never can know how hard, Harry, for you have never tried,’ and then they went on walking for a while in silence, side by side.

‘You don’t know the sort of place that office of mine is,’ continued Charley. ‘You don’t know the sort of fellows the men are. I hate the place; I hate the men I live with. It is all so dirty, so disreputable, so false. I cannot conceive that any fellow put in there as young as I was should ever do well afterwards.’

‘But at any rate you might try your best, Charley.’

‘Yes, I might do that still; and I know I don’t; and where should I have been now, if it hadn’t been for you?’

‘Never mind about that; I sometimes think we might have done more for each other if we had been more together. But remember the motto you said you’d choose, Charley — Excelsior! We can none of us mount the hill without hard labour. Remember that word, Charley — Excelsior! Remember it now — now, to-night; remember how you dream of higher things, and begin to think of them in your waking moments also;’ and so they parted.

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