The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

Hampton Court Bridge

Before the following Saturday afternoon Charley’s spirits had somewhat recovered their natural tone. Not that he was in a happy frame of mind; the united energies of Mr. M’Ruen and Mrs. Davis had been too powerful to allow of that; not that he had given over his projected plan of saying a long farewell to Mrs. Woodward, or at any rate of telling her something of his position; he still felt that he could not continue to live on terms of close intimacy both with her daughters and with Norah Geraghty. But the spirits of youth are ever buoyant, and the spirits of no one could be endowed, with more natural buoyancy than those of the young navvy. Charley, therefore, in spite of his misfortunes, was ready with his manuscript when Saturday afternoon arrived, and, according to agreement, met Norman at the railway station.

Only one evening had intervened since the night in which he had ratified his matrimonial engagement, and in spite of the delicate nature of his position he had for that evening allowed Mr. Peppermint to exercise his eloquence on the heart of the fair Norah without interruption. He the while had been engaged in completing the memoirs of ‘Crinoline and Macassar.’

‘Well, Charley,’ they asked, one and all, as soon as he reached the Cottage, ‘have you got the story? Have you brought the manuscript? Is it all finished and ready for that dreadful editor?’

Charley produced a roll, and Linda and Katie instantly pounced upon it.

‘Oh! it begins with poetry,’ said Linda.

‘I am so glad,’ said Katie. ‘Is there much poetry in it, Charley? I do so hope there is.’

‘Not a word of it,’ said Charley; ‘that which Linda sees is a song that the heroine is singing, and it isn’t supposed to be written by the author at all.’

‘I’m so sorry that there’s no poetry,’ said Katie. ‘Can’t you write poetry, Charley?’

‘At any rate there’s lots of love in it,’ said Linda, who was turning over the pages.

‘Is there?’ said Katie. ‘Well, that’s next best; but they should go together. You should have put all your love into verse, Charley, and then your prose would have done for the funny parts.’

‘Perhaps it’s all fun,’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘But come, girls, this is not fair; I won’t let you look at the story till it’s read in full committee.’ And so saying, Mrs. Woodward took the papers from her daughters, and tying them up, deposited them safe in custody. ‘We’ll have it out when the tea-things are gone.’

But before the tea-things had come, an accident happened, which had been like to dismiss ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ altogether from the minds of the whole of the Woodward family. The young men had, as usual, dined in town, and therefore they were all able to spend the long summer evening out of doors. Norman’s boat was down at Hampton, and it was therefore determined that they should row down as far as Hampton Court Park and back. Charley and Norman were to row; and Mrs. Woodward agreed to accompany her daughters. Uncle Bat was left at home, to his nap and rum and water.

Norman was so expert a Thames waterman, that he was quite able to manage the boat without a steersman, and Charley was nearly his equal. But there is some amusement in steering, and Katie was allowed to sit between the tiller-ropes.

‘I can steer very well, mamma: can’t I, Harry? I always steer when we go to the island, and we run the boat straight into the little creek, only just broad enough to hold it.’ Katie’s visits to the island, however, were not so frequent as they had heretofore been, for she was approaching to sixteen years of age, and wet feet and draggled petticoats had lost some of their charms. Mrs. Woodward, trusting more to the experience of her two knights than to the skill of the lady at the helm, took her seat, and they went off merrily down the stream.

All the world knows that it is but a very little distance from Hampton Church to Hampton Court Bridge, especially when one has the stream with one. They were very soon near to the bridge, and as they approached it, they had to pass a huge barge, that was lazily making its way down to Brentford.

‘There’s lots of tune for the big arch,’ said Charley.

‘Pull away then,’ said Harry.

They both pulled hard, and shot alongside and past the barge. But the stream was strong, and the great ugly mass of black timber moved behind them quicker than it seemed to do.

‘It will be safer to take the one to the left,’ said Harry.

‘Oh! there’s lots of tune,’ said Charley.

‘No,’ said Harry,’ do as I tell you and go to the left. — Pull your left hand a little, Katie.’

Charley did as he was bid, and Katie intended to do the same; but unfortunately she pulled the wrong hand. They were now very near the bridge, and the barge was so close to them as to show that there might have been danger in attempting to get through the same arch with her.

‘Your left hand, Katie, your left,’ shouted Norman; ‘your left string.’ Katie was confused, and gave first a pull with her right, and then a pull with her left, and then a strong pull with her right. The two men backed water as hard as they could, but the effect of Katie’s steering was to drive the nose of the boat right into one of the wooden piers of the bridge.

The barge went on its way, and luckily made its entry under the arch before the little craft had swung round into the stream before it; as it was, the boat, still clinging by its nose, came round with its stern against the side of the barge, and as the latter went on, the timbers of Norman’s wherry cracked and crumpled in the rude encounter.

The ladies should all have kept their seats. Mrs. Woodward did do so. Linda jumped up, and being next to the barge, was pulled up into it by one of the men. Katie stood bolt upright, with the tiller-ropes still in her hand, awe-struck at the misfortune she had caused; but while she was so standing, the stern of the boat was lifted nearly out of the water by the weight of the barge, and Katie was pitched, behind her mother’s back, head foremost into the water.

Norman, at the moment, was endeavouring to steady the boat, and shove it off from the barge, and had also lent a hand to assist Linda in her escape. Charley was on the other side, standing up and holding on by the piers of the bridge, keeping his eyes on the ladies, so as to be of assistance to them when assistance might be needed.

And now assistance was sorely needed, and luckily had not to be long waited for. Charley, with a light and quick step, passed over the thwarts, and, disregarding Mrs. Woodward’s scream, let himself down, over the gun-wale behind her seat into the water. Katie can hardly be said to have sunk at all. She had, at least, never been so much under the water as to be out of sight. Her clothes kept up her light body; and when Charley got close to her, she had been carried up to the piers of the bridge, and was panting with her head above water, and beating the stream with her little hands.

She was soon again in comparative safety. Charley had her by one arm as he held on with the other to the boat, and kept himself afloat with his legs. Mrs. Woodward leaned over and caught her daughter’s clothes; while Linda, who had seen what had happened, stood shrieking on the barge, as it made its way on, heedless of the ruin it left behind.

Another boat soon came to their assistance from the shore, and Mrs. Woodward and Katie were got safely into it. Charley returned to the battered wherry, and assisted Norman in extricating it from its position; and a third boat went to Linda’s rescue, who would otherwise have found herself in rather an uncomfortable position the next morning at Brentford.

The hugging and kissing to which Katie was subjected when she was carried up to the inn, near the boat-slip on the Surrey side of the river, may be imagined; as may also the faces she made at the wineglassful of stiff brandy and water which she was desired to drink. She was carried home in a fly, and by the time she arrived there, had so completely recovered her life and spirits as to put a vehement negative on her mother’s proposition that she should at once go to bed.

‘And not hear dear Charley’s story?’ said she, with tears in her eyes. ‘And, mamma, I can’t and won’t go to bed without seeing Charley. I didn’t say one word yet to thank him for jumping into the water after me.’

It was in vain that her mother told her that Charley’s story would amuse her twice as much when she should read it printed; it was in vain that Mrs. Woodward assured her that Charley should come up to her room door; and hear her thanks as he stood in the passage, with the door ajar. Katie was determined to hear the story read. It must be read, if read at all, that Saturday night, as it was to be sent to the editor in the course of the week; and reading ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ out loud on a Sunday was not to be thought of at Surbiton Cottage. Katie was determined to hear the story read, and to sit very near the author too during the reading; to sit near him, and to give him such praise as even in her young mind she felt that an author would like to hear. Charley had pulled her out of the river, and no one, as far as her efforts could prevent it, should be allowed to throw cold water on him.

Norman and Charley, wet as the latter was, contrived to bring the shattered boat back to Hampton. When they reached the lawn at Surbiton Cottage they were both in high spirits. An accident, if it does no material harm, is always an inspiriting thing, unless one feels that it has been attributable to one’s own fault. Neither of them could in this instance attach any blame to himself, and each felt that he had done what in him lay to prevent the possible ill effect of the mischance. As for the boat, Harry was too happy to think that none of his friends were hurt to care much about that.

As they walked across the lawn Mrs. Woodward ran out to them. ‘My dear, dear Charley,’ she said, ‘what am I to say to thank you?’ It was the first time Mrs. Woodward had ever called him by his Christian name. It had hitherto made him in a certain degree unhappy that she never did so, and now the sound was very pleasant to him.

‘Oh, Mrs. Woodward,’ said he, laughing, ‘you mustn’t touch me, for I’m all mud.’

‘My dear, dear Charley, what can I say to you? and dear Harry, I fear we’ve spoilt your beautiful new boat.’

‘I fear we’ve spoilt Katie’s beautiful new hat,’ said Norman.

Mrs. Woodward had taken and pressed a hand of each of them, in spite of Charley’s protestations about the mud.

‘Oh! you’re in a dreadful state,’ said she; ‘you had better take something at once; you’ll catch your death of cold.’

‘I’d better take myself off to the inn,’ said Charley, ‘and get some clean clothes; that’s all I want. But how is Katie — and how is Linda?’

And so, after a multitude of such inquiries on both sides, and of all manner of affectionate greetings, Charley went off to make himself dry, preparatory to the reading of the manuscript.

During his absence, Linda and Katie came down to the drawing-room. Linda was full of fun as to her journey with the bargeman; but Katie was a little paler than usual, and somewhat more serious and quiet than she was wont to be.

Norman was the first in the drawing-room, and received the thanks of the ladies for his prowess in assisting them; and Charley was not slow to follow him, for he was never very long at his toilet. He came in with a jaunty laughing air, as though nothing particular had happened, and as if he had not a care in the world. And yet while he had been dressing he had been thinking almost more than ever of Norah Geraghty. O that she, and Mrs. Davis with her, and Jabesh M’Ruen with both of them, could be buried ten fathom deep out of his sight, and out of his mind!

When he entered the room, Katie felt her heart beat so strongly that she hardly knew how to thank him for saving her life. A year ago she would have got up and kissed him innocently; but a year makes a great difference. She could not do that now, so she gave him her little hand, and held his till he came and sat down at his place at the table.

‘Oh, Charley, I don’t know what to say to you,’ said she; and he could see and feel that her whole body was shaking with emotion.

‘Then I’ll tell you what to say: ‘Charley, here is your tea, and some bread, and some butter, and some jam, and some muffin,’ for I’ll tell you what, my evening bath has made me as hungry as a hunter. I hope it has done the same to you.’

Katie, still holding his hand, looked up into his face, and he saw that her eyes were suffused with tears. She then left his side, and, running round the room, filled a plate with all the things he had asked for, and, bringing them to him, again took her place beside him. ‘I wish I knew how to do more than that,’ said she.

‘I suppose, Charley, you’ll have to make an entry about that barge on Monday morning, won’t you?’ said Linda. ‘Mind you put in it how beautiful I looked sailing through the arch.’

‘Yes, and how very gallant the bargeman was,’ said Norman.

‘Yes, and how much you enjoyed the idea of going down the river with him, while, we came back to the Cottage,’ said Charley. ‘We’ll put it all down at the Navigation, and old Snape shall make a special minute about it.’

Katie drank her tea in silence, and tried to eat, though without much success. When chatting voices and jokes were to be heard at the Cottage, the sound of her voice was usually the foremost; but now she sat demure and quiet. She was realizing the danger from which she had escaped, and, as is so often the case, was beginning to fear it now that it was over.

‘Ah, Katie, my bonny bird,’ said her mother, seeing that she was not herself, and knowing that the excitement and overpowering feelings of gratitude were too much for her-come here; you should be in bed, my foolish little puss, should you not?’

‘Indeed, she should,’ said Uncle Bat, who was somewhat hard-hearted about the affair of the accident, and had been cruel enough, after hearing an account of it, to declare that it was all Katie’s fault.

‘Indeed, she should; and if she had gone to bed a little earlier in the evening it would have been all the better for Master Norman’s boat.’

‘Oh! mamma, don’t send me to bed,’ said she, with tears in her eyes. ‘Pray don’t send me to bed now; I’m quite well, only I can’t talk because I’m thinking of what Charley did for me;’ and so saying she got up, and, hiding her face on her mother’s shoulder, burst into tears.

‘My dearest child,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘I’m afraid you’ll make yourself ill. We’ll put off the reading, won’t we, Charley? We have done enough for one evening.’

‘Of course we will,’ said he. ‘Reading a stupid story will be very slow work after all we’ve gone through today.’

‘No, no, no,’ said Katie; ‘it shan’t be put off; there won’t be any other time for hearing it. And, mamma it must be read; and I know it won’t be stupid. Oh; mamma, dear mamma, do let us hear it read; I’m quite well now.’

Mrs. Woodward found herself obliged to give way. She had not the heart to bid her daughter go away to bed, nor, had she done so, would it have been of any avail. Katie would only have lain and sobbed in her own room, and very probably have gone into hysterics. The best thing for her was to try to turn the current of her thoughts, and thus by degrees tame down her excited feelings.

‘Well, darling, then we will have the story, if Charley will let us. Go and fetch it, dearest.’ Katie raised herself from her mother’s bosom, and, going across the room, fetched the roll of papers to Charley. As he prepared to take it she took his hand in hers, and, bending her head over it, tenderly kissed it. ‘You mustn’t think,’ said she, ‘that because I say nothing, I don’t know what it is that you’ve done for me; but I don’t know how to say it.’

Charley was at any rate as ignorant what he ought to say as Katie was. He felt the pressure of her warm lips on his hand, and hardly knew where he was. He felt that he blushed and looked abashed, and dreaded, fearfully dreaded, lest Mrs. Woodward should surmise that he estimated at other than its intended worth, her daughter’s show of affection for him.

‘I shouldn’t mind doing it every night,’ said he, ‘in such weather as this. I think it rather good fun going into the water with my clothes on.’ Katie looked up at him through her tears, as though she would say that she well understood what that meant.

Mrs. Woodward saw that if the story was to be read, the sooner they began it the better.

‘Come, Charley,’ said she, ‘now for the romance. Katie, come and sit by me.’ But Katie had already taken her seat, a little behind Charley, quite in the shade, and she was not to be moved.

‘But I won’t read it myself,’ said Charley; ‘you must read it, Mrs. Woodward.’

‘O yes, Mrs. Woodward, you are to read it,’ said Norman.

‘O yes, do read it, manna,’ said Linda.

Katie said nothing, but she would have preferred that Charley should have read it himself.

‘Well, if I can,’ said Mrs. Woodward.

‘Snape says I write the worst hand in all Somerset House,’ said Charley; ‘but still I think you’ll be able to manage it.’

‘I hate that Mr. Snape,’ said Katie, sotto voce. And then Mrs. Woodward unrolled the manuscript and began her task.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/clerks/chapter21.html

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