The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXIII

Surbiton Colloquies

All further conversation in the drawing-room was forbidden for that night. Mrs. Woodward would have willingly postponed the reading of Charley’s story so as to enable Katie to go to bed after the accident, had she been able to do so. But she was not able to do so without an exercise of a species of authority which was distasteful to her, and which was very seldom heard, seen, or felt within the limits of Surbiton Cottage. It would moreover have been very ungracious to snub Charley’s manuscript, just when Charley had made himself such a hero; and she had, therefore, been obliged to read it. But now that it was done, she hurried Katie off to bed, not without many admonitions.

‘Good night,’ she said to Charley; ‘and God bless you, and make you always as happy as we are now. What a household we should have had to-night, had it not been for you!’

Charley rubbed his eyes with his hand, and muttered something about there not having been the slightest danger in the world.

‘And remember, Charley,’ she said, paying no attention to his mutterings, ‘we always liked you — liked you very much; but liking and loving are very different things. Now you are a dear, dear friend — one of the dearest.’

In answer to this, Charley was not even able to mutter; so he went his way to the inn, and lay awake half the night thinking how Katie had kissed his hand: during the other half he dreamt, first that Katie was drowned, and then that Norah was his bride.

Linda and Katie had been so hurried off, that they had only been just able to shake hands with Harry and Charley. There is, however, an old proverb, that though one man may lead a horse to water, a thousand cannot make him drink. It was easy to send Katie to bed, but very difficult to prevent her talking when she was there.

‘Oh, Linda,’ she said, ‘what can I do for him?’

‘Do for him?’ said Linda; ‘I don’t know that you can do anything for him. I don’t suppose he wants you to do anything.’ Linda still looked on her sister as a child; but Katie was beginning to put away childish things.

‘Couldn’t I make something for him, Linda — something for him to keep as a present, you know? I would work so hard to get it done.’

‘Work a pair of slippers, as Crinoline did,’ said Linda.

Katie was brushing her hair at the moment, and then she sat still with the brush in her hand, thinking. ‘No,’ said she, after a while, ‘not a pair of slippers — I shouldn’t like a pair of slippers.’

‘Why not?’ said Linda.

‘Oh — I don’t know — but I shouldn’t.’ Katie had said that Crinoline was working slippers for Macassar because she was in love with him; and having said so, she could not now work slippers for Charley. Poor Katie! she was no longer a child when she thought thus.

‘Then make him a purse,’ said Linda.

‘A purse is such a little thing.’

‘Then work him the cover for a sofa, like what mamma and I are doing for Gertrude.’

‘But he hasn’t got a house,’ said Katie.

‘He’ll have a house by the time you’ve done the sofa, and a wife to sit on it too.’

‘Oh, Linda, you are so ill-natured.’

‘Why, child, what do you want me to say? If you were to give him one of those grand long tobacco pipes they have in the shop windows, that’s what he’d like the best; or something of that sort. I don’t think he cares much for girls’ presents, such as purses and slippers.’

‘Doesn’t he?’ said Katie, mournfully.

‘No; not a bit. You know he’s such a rake.’

‘Oh! Linda; I don’t think he’s so very bad, indeed I don’t; and mamma doesn’t think so; and you know Harry said on Easter Sunday that he was much better than he used to be.’

‘I know Harry is very good-natured to him.’

‘And isn’t Charley just as good-natured to Harry? I am quite sure he is. Harry has only to ask the least thing, and Charley always does it. Do you remember how Charley went up to town for him the Sunday before last?’

‘And so he ought,’ said Linda. ‘He ought to do whatever Harry tells him.’

‘Well, Linda, I don’t know why he ought,’ said Katie. ‘They are not brothers, you know, nor yet even cousins.’

‘But Harry is very — so very — so very superior, you know,’ said Linda.

‘I don’t know any such thing,’ said Katie.

‘Oh! Katie, don’t you know that Charley is such a rake?’

‘But rakes are just the people who don’t do whatever they are told; so that’s no reason. And I am quite sure that Charley is much the cleverer.’

‘And I am quite sure he is not — nor half so clever; nor nearly so well educated. Why, don’t you know the navvies are the most ignorant young men in London? Charley says so himself.’

‘That’s his fun,’ said Katie: ‘besides, he always makes little of himself. I am quite sure Harry could never have made all that about Macassar and Crinoline out of his own head.’

‘No! because he doesn’t think of such nonsensical things. I declare, Miss Katie, I think you are in love with Master Charley.’

Katie, who was still sitting at the dressing-table, blushed up to her forehead; and at the same time her eyes were suffused with tears. But there was no one to see either of those tell-tale symptoms, for Linda was in bed.

‘I know he saved my life,’ said Katie, as soon as she could trust herself to speak without betraying her emotion —‘I know he jumped into the river after me, and very, very nearly drowned himself; and I don’t think any other man in the world would have done so much for me besides him.’

‘Oh, Katie! Harry would in a moment.’

‘Not for me; perhaps he might for you — though I’m not quite sure that he would.’ It was thus that Katie took her revenge on her sister.

‘I’m quite sure he would for anybody, even for Sally.’ Sally was an assistant in the back kitchen. ‘But I don’t mean to say, Katie, that you shouldn’t feel grateful to Charley; of course you should.’

‘And so I do,’ said Katie, now bursting out into tears, overdone by her emotion and fatigue; ‘and so I do — and I do love him, and will love him, if he’s ever so much a rake! But you know, Linda, that is very different from being in love; and it was very ill-natured of you to say so, very.’

Linda was out of bed in a trice, and sitting with her arm round her sister’s neck.

‘Why, you darling little foolish child, you! I was only quizzing,’ said she. ‘Don’t you know that I love Charley too?’

‘But you shouldn’t quiz about such a thing as that. If you’d fallen into the river, and Harry had pulled you out, then you’d know what I mean; but I’m not at all sure that he could have done it.’

Katie’s perverse wickedness on this point was very nearly giving rise to another contest between the sisters. Linda’s common sense, however, prevailed, and giving up the point of Harry’s prowess, she succeeded at last in getting Katie into bed. ‘You know mamma will be so angry if she hears us,’ said Linda, ‘and I am sure you will be ill tomorrow.’

‘I don’t care a bit about being ill to-tomorrow; and yet I do too,’ she added, after a pause, ‘for it’s Sunday. It would be so stupid not to be able to go out tomorrow.’

‘Well, then, try to go to sleep at once’— and Linda carefully tucked the clothes around her sister.

‘I think it shall be a purse,’ said Katie.

‘A purse will certainly be the best; that is, if you don’t like the slippers,’ and Linda rolled herself up comfortably in the bed.

‘No — I don’t like the slippers at all. It shall be a purse. I can do that the quickest, you know. It’s so stupid to give a thing when everything about it is forgotten, isn’t it?’

‘Very stupid,’ said Linda, nearly asleep.

‘And when it’s worn out I can make another, can’t I?’

‘H’m’m’m,’ said Linda, quite asleep.

And then Katie went asleep also, in her sister’s arms.

Early in the morning — that is to say, not very early, perhaps between seven and eight — Mrs. Woodward came into their room, and having inspected her charges, desired that Katie should not get up for morning church, but lie in bed till the middle of the day.

‘Oh, mamma, it will be so stupid not going to church after tumbling into the river; people will say that all my clothes are wet.’

‘People will about tell the truth as to some of them,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘but don’t you mind about people, but lie still and go to sleep if you can. Linda, do you come and dress in my room.’

‘And is Charley to lie in bed too?’ said Katie. ‘He was in the river longer than I was.’

‘It’s too late to keep Charley in bed,’ said Linda, ‘for I see him coming along the road now with a towel; he’s been bathing.’

‘Oh, I do so wish I could go and bathe,’ said Katie.

Poor Katie was kept in bed till the afternoon. Charley and Harry, however, were allowed to come up to her bedroom door, and hear her pronounce herself quite well.

‘How d’ye do, Mr. Macassar?’ said she.

‘And how d’ye do, my Lady Crinoline?’ said Harry. After that Katie never called Charley Mr. Macassar again.

They all went to church, and Katie was left to sleep or read, or think of the new purse that she was to make, as best she might.

And then they dined, and then they walked out; but still without Katie. She was to get up and dress while they were out, so as to receive them in state in the drawing-room on their return. Four of them walked together; for Uncle Bat now usually took himself off to his friend at Hampton Court on Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Woodward walked with Charley, and Harry and Linda paired together.

‘Now,’ said Charley to himself, ‘now would have been the time to have told Mrs. Woodward everything, but for that accident of yesterday. Now I can tell her nothing; to do so now would be to demand her sympathy and to ask for assistance;’ and so he determined to tell her nothing.

But the very cause which made Charley dumb on the subject of his own distresses made Mrs. Woodward inquisitive about them. She knew that his life was not like that of Harry — steady, sober, and discreet; but she felt that she did not like him, or even love him the less on this account. Nay, it was not clear to her that these failings of his did not give him additional claims on her sympathies. What could she do for him? how could she relieve him? how could she bring him back to the right way? She spoke to him of his London life, praised his talents, encouraged him to exertion, besought him to have some solicitude, and, above all, some respect for himself. And then, with that delicacy which such a woman, and none but such a woman, can use in such a matter, she asked him whether he was still in debt.

Charley, with shame we must own it, had on this subject been false to all his friends. He had been false to his father and his mother, and had never owned to them the half of what he owed; he had been false to Alaric, and false to Harry; but now, now, at such a moment as this, he would not allow himself to be false to Mrs. Woodward.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘he was in debt — rather.’

Mrs. Woodward pressed him to say whether his debts were heavy — whether he owed much.

‘It’s no use thinking of it, Mrs. Woodward,’ said he; ‘not the least. I know I ought not to come down here; and I don’t think I will any more.’

‘Not come down here!’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘Why not? There’s very little expense in that. I dare say you’d spend quite as much in London.’

‘Oh — of course — three times as much, perhaps; that is, if I had it — but I don’t mean that.’

‘What do you mean?’ said she.

Charley walked on in silence, with melancholy look, very crestfallen, his thumbs stuck into his waistcoat pockets.

‘Upon my word I don’t know what you mean,’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘I should have thought coming to Hampton might perhaps — perhaps have kept you — I don’t exactly mean out of mischief.’ That, however, in spite of her denial, was exactly what Mrs. Woodward did mean.

‘So it does — but —’ said Charley, now thoroughly ashamed of himself.

‘But what?’ said she.

‘I am not fit to be here,’ said Charley; and as he spoke his manly self-control all gave way, and big tears rolled down his cheeks.

Mrs. Woodward, in her woman’s heart, resolved, that if it might in any way be possible, she would make him fit, fit not only to be there, but to hold his head up with the best in any company in which he might find himself.

She questioned him no further then. Her wish now was not to torment him further, but to comfort him. She determined that she would consult with Harry and with her uncle, and take counsel from them as to what steps might be taken to save the brand from the burning. She talked to him as a mother might have done, leaning on his arm, as she returned; leaning on him as a woman never leans on a man whom she deems unfit for her society. All this Charley’s heart and instinct fully understood, and he was not ungrateful.

But yet he had but little to comfort him. He must return to town on Monday; return to Mr. Snape and the lock entries, to Mr. M’Ruen and the three Seasons — to Mrs. Davis, Norah Geraghty, and that horrid Mr. Peppermint. He never once thought of Clementina Golightly, to whom at that moment he was being married by the joint energies of Undy Scott and his cousin Alaric.

And what had Linda and Norman been doing all this time? Had they been placing mutual confidence in each other? No; they had not come to that yet. Linda still remembered the pang with which she had first heard of Gertrude’s engagement, and Harry Norman had not yet been able to open his seared heart to a second love.

In the course of the evening a letter was brought to Captain Cuttwater, which did not seem to raise his spirits.

‘Whom is your letter from, uncle?’ said Mrs. Woodward.

‘From Alaric,’ said he, gruffly, crumpling it up and putting it into his pocket. And then he turned to his rum and water in a manner that showed his determination to say nothing more on the matter.

In the morning Harry and Charley returned to town. Captain Cuttwater went up with them; and all was again quiet at Surbiton Cottage.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/clerks/chapter23.html

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