The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXIX

Easy is the Slope of Hell

The electors for the Tillietudlem district burghs, disgusted by the roguery of Mr. M’Buffer, and anxiously on the alert to replace him by a strictly honest man, returned our friend Undy by a glorious majority. He had no less than 312 votes, as opposed to 297, and though threatened with the pains and penalties of a petition, he was not a little elated by his success. A petition with regard to the Tillietudlem burghs was almost as much a matter of course as a contest; at any rate the threat of a petition was so. Undy, however, had lived through this before, and did not fear but that he might do so again. Threatened folks live long; parliamentary petitions are very costly, and Undy’s adversaries were, if possible, even in more need of money than himself.

He communicated his good fortune to his friend Alaric in the following letter:—

‘Bellenden Arms, Tillietudlem, July, 185-.

‘My DEAR DIRECTOR,

‘Here I am once more a constituent part of the legislative wisdom of the United Kingdom, thanks to the patriotic discretion of the pot-wallopers, burgage-tenants, and ten-pound freeholders of these loyal towns. The situation is a proud one; I could only wish that it had been less expensive. I am plucked as clean as ever was pigeon; and over and above the loss of every feather I carried, old M’Cleury, my agent here, will have a bill against me that will hardly be settled before the next election. I do not complain, however; a man cannot have luxuries without paying for them; and this special luxury of serving one’s country in Parliament is one for which a man has so often to pay, without the subsequent fruition of the thing paid for, that a successful candidate should never grumble, however much he may have been mulcted. They talk of a petition; but, thank God, there are still such things as recognizances; and, moreover, to give M’Cleury his due, I do not think he has left a hole open for them to work at. He is a thorough rascal, but no man does better work.

‘I find there is already a slight rise in the West Corks. Keep your eye open. If you find you can realize £4 4s. or even £4, sell, and let the West of Cork and Ballydehob go straight to the devil. We should then be able to do better with our money. But I doubt of such a sale with so large a stock as we hold. I got a letter yesterday from that Cork attorney, and I find that he is quite prepared to give way about the branch. He wants his price, of course; and he must have it. When once we have carried that point, then it will be plain sailing; our only regret then will be that we didn’t go further into it. The calls, of course, must be met; I shall be able to do something in October, but shall not have a shilling sooner — unless I sell, which I will not do under 80s.

‘I was delighted to hear of your promotion; not that you’ll remain in the shop long, but it gives you a better name and a better claim. Old Golightly was buried yesterday, as of course you have heard. Mrs. Val quite agrees with me that your name had better be put in as that of Clem’s trustee. She’s going to marry that d —— Frenchman. What an unmitigated ass that cousin of yours must be! I can’t say I admire her taste; but nevertheless she is welcome for me. It would, however, be most scandalous if we were to allow him to get possession of her money. He would, as a matter of course, make ducks and drakes of it in no time. Speculate probably in some Russian railway, or Polish mine, and lose every shilling. You will of course see it tied up tight in the hands of the trustees, and merely pay him, or if possible her, the interest of it. Now that I am once more in, I hope we shall be able to do something to protect the fortunes of married women.

‘You will be quite safe in laying out Clem’s money, or a portion of it, in the West Corks. Indeed, I don’t know how you could well do better with it. You will find Figgs a mere shadow. I think we can pull through in this manner. If not we must get — to take our joint bill. He would sooner do that than have the works stopped. But then we should have to pay a tremendous price for it.

‘So we were well out of the Mary Janes at last. The take last month was next to nothing, and now she’s full of water. Manylodes hung on till just the last, and yet got out on his feet after all. That fellow will make a mint of money yet. What a pity that he should be such a rogue! If he were honest, honest enough I mean to be trusted, he might do anything.

‘I shall leave this on Wednesday night, take the oaths on Thursday, and will see you in the evening. M’Carthy Desmond will at once move that I be put on the West Cork Committee, in place of Nogo, who won’t act. My shares are all at present registered in Val’s name. It will be well, however, to have them all transferred to you.

‘Yours ever,

‘U.S.

‘M’Cleury has pledged himself to put me in again without further expense, if I have to stand before the next general election, in consequence of taking place under Government. I earnestly hope his sincerity may be tried.’

During the month of July, Alaric was busy enough. He had to do the work of his new office, to attend to his somewhat critical duties as director of the West Cork Railway, to look after the interests of Miss Golightly, whose marriage was to take place in August, and to watch the Parliamentary career of his friend Undy, with whose pecuniary affairs he was now bound up in a manner which he could not avoid feeling to be very perilous.

July passed by, and was now over, and members were looking to be relieved from their sultry labours, and to be allowed to seek air and exercise on the mountains. The Ballydehob branch line had received the sanction of Parliament through the means which the crafty Undy had so well understood how to use; but from some cause hitherto not sufficiently fathomed, the shares had continued to be depressed in value in spite of that desirable event. It was necessary, however, that calls should be paid up to the amount of £5 a share, and as Undy and Alaric held nearly a thousand shares between them, a large amount of money was required. This, however, was made to be forthcoming from Miss Golightly’s fortune.

On the first of August that interesting young lady was married to the man — shall we say of her heart or of her feet? The marriage went off very nicely, but as we have already had one wedding, and as others may perhaps be before us, we cannot spare much time or many pages to describe how Miss Golightly became Madame Jaquêtanàpe. The lady seemed well pleased with everything that was done, and had even in secret but one care in the world. There was to be a dance after she and her Victoire were gone, and she could not join in it!

We, however, are in the position, as regards Clementina, in which needy gentlemen not unfrequently place themselves with reference to rich heiresses. We have more concern with her money than herself. She was married, and M. Jaquêtanàpe became the happy possessor of an income of £800 a year. Everybody conceived him to behave well on the occasion. He acknowledged that he had very little means of his own — about 4,000 francs a year, from rents in Paris. He expressed himself willing to agree to any settlement, thinking, perhaps with wisdom, that he might in this way best make sure of his wife’s income, and was quite content when informed that he would receive his quarterly payments from so respectable a source as one of Her Majesty’s Commissioners for the regulation of the Civil Service. The Bank of France could not have offered better security.

Thus Alaric obtained full control of Miss Golightly’s fortune: for Figgs, his co-trustee, was, as has been said, a shadow. He obtained the full control of £20,000, and out of it he paid the calls due upon the West Cork shares, held both by himself and Undy Scott. But he put a salve upon his conscience, and among his private memoranda, appertaining to that lady’s money affairs he made an entry, intelligible to any who might read it, that he had so invested this money on her behalf. The entry was in itself a lie — a foolish, palpable lie — and yet he found in it something to quiet remorse and stupefy his conscience.

Undy Scott had become tyrannical in his logic as soon as he had persuaded Alaric to make use of a portion of Madame Jaquêtanàpe’s marriage portion. ‘You have taken part of the girl’s money,’ was Undy’s argument; ‘you have already converted to your own purposes so much of her fortune; it is absurd for you now to talk of conscience and honesty, of your high duties as a trustee, of the inviolable distinction between meum and tuum. You have already shown that the distinction is not inviolable; let us have no more such nonsense; there are still left £15,000 on which we can trade; open the till, and let us go on swimmingly with the business.’

Alaric was not addressed absolutely in these words; he would not probably have allowed the veil with which he still shrouded his dishonesty to be withdrawn with so rough a hand; but that which was said was in effect the same. In September he left town for a few weeks and went down to Scotland, still with Undy Scott. He had at first much liked this man’s society, for Scott was gay, lively, clever, and a good companion at all points. But latterly he had become weary of him. He now put up with him as men in business have to put up with partners whom they may not like; or, perhaps, to speak the truth openly, he bore with him as a rogue bears with his confederate, though he absolutely hates his brother rogue on account of his very roguery. Alaric Tudor was now a rogue; despite his high office, his grand ideas, his exalted ambition; despite his talent, zeal, and well-directed official labours, he was a rogue; a thief, a villain who had stolen the money of the orphan, who had undertaken a trust merely that he might break it; a robber, doubly disgraced by being a robber with an education, a Bill Sykes without any of those excuses which a philanthropist cannot but make for wretches brought up in infamy.

Alas, alas! how is it that in these days such men become rogues? How is it that we see in such frightful instances the impotency of educated men to withstand the allurements of wealth? Men are not now more keen after the pleasures which wealth can buy than were their forefathers. One would rather say that they are less so. The rich labour now, and work with an assiduity that often puts to shame the sweat in which the poor man earns his bread. The rich rogue, or the rogue that would be rich, is always a laborious man. He allows himself but little recreation, for dishonest labour admits of no cessation. His wheel is one which cannot rest without disclosing the nature of the works which move it. It is not for pleasure that men

Put rancours in the vessel of their peace;

nor yet primarily for ambition. Men do not wish to rise by treachery, or to become great through dishonesty. The object, the ultimate object, which a man sets before himself, is generally a good one. But he sets it up in so enviable a point of view, his imagination makes it so richly desirable, by being gazed at it becomes so necessary to existence, that its attainment is imperative. The object is good, but the means of attaining it-the path to the object-ah! there is the slip. Expediency is the dangerous wind by which so many of us have wrecked our little boats.

And we do so more now than ever, because great ships, swimming in deepest waters, have unluckily come safe to haven though wafted there by the same pernicious wind. Every great man, who gains a great end by dishonest means, does more to deteriorate his country and lower the standard of his countrymen than legions of vulgar thieves, or nameless unaspiring rogues. Who has injured us so much in this way as he whose name still stands highest among modern politicians? Who has given so great a blow to political honesty, has done so much to banish from men’s minds the idea of a life-ruling principle, as Sir Robert Peel?

It would shock many were we to attribute to him the roguery of the Sadleirs and Camerons, of the Robsons and Redpaths of the present day; but could we analyse causes and effects, we might perhaps do so with no injustice. He has taught us as a great lesson, that a man who has before him a mighty object may dispense with those old-fashioned rules of truth to his neighbours and honesty to his own principles, which should guide us in ordinary life. At what point ordinary life ends, at what crisis objects may be considered great enough to justify the use of a dispensing power, that he has not taught us; that no Sir Robert Peel can teach us; that must unfortunately be left to the judgement of the individual. How prone we are, each of us, to look on our own object as great, how ready to make excuses for receiving such a lesson for our guide; how willing to think that we may be allowed to use this dispensing power ourselves — this experience teaches us in very plain language.

Thrice in his political life did Sir Robert Peel change his political creed, and carry, or assist to carry, with more or less of self-gratulation, the measures of his adversaries. Thrice by doing so he kept to himself that political power which he had fairly forfeited by previous opposition to the requirements of his country. Such an apposition of circumstances is at any rate suspicious. But let us give him credit for the expression of a true belief; of a belief at first that the corn-laws should be maintained, and then of a belief that they should not; let us, with a forced confidence in his personal honesty, declare so much of him; nevertheless, he should surely have felt, had he been politically as well as personally honest, that he was not the man to repeal them.’

But it was necessary, his apologist will say, that the corn-laws should be repealed; he saw the necessity, and yielded to it. It certainly was necessary, very necessary, very unavoidable; absolutely necessary one may say; a fact, which the united efforts of all the Peels of the day could in nowise longer delay, having already delayed it to the utmost extent of their power. It was essential that the corn-laws should be repealed; but by no means essential that this should be done by Sir Robert Peel.

It was a matter of indifference to us Englishmen who did the deed. But to Sir Robert Peel it was a matter of great moment that he should do it. He did it, and posterity will point at him as a politician without policy, as a statesman without a principle, as a worshipper at the altar of expediency, to whom neither vows sworn to friends, nor declarations made to his country, were in any way binding. Had Sir Robert Peel lived, and did the people now resolutely desire that the Church of England should be abandoned, that Lords and Commons should bow the neck, that the Crown should fall, who can believe that Sir Robert Peel would not be ready to carry out their views? Readers, it may be that to you such deeds as those are horrible even to be thought of or expressed; to me I own that they are so. So also to Sir Robert Peel was Catholic Emancipation horrible, so was Reform of Parliament, so was the Corn Law Repeal. They were horrible to him, horrible to be thought of, horrible to be expressed. But the people required these measures, and therefore he carried them, arguing on their behalf with all the astuteness of a practised statesman.

That Sir Robert Peel should be a worshipper of expediency might be matter of small moment to any but his biographer, were it not that we are so prone to copy the example of those whose names are ever in our mouths. It has now become the doctrine of a large class of politicians that political honesty is unnecessary, slow, subversive of a man’s interests, and incompatible with quick onward movement. Such a doctrine in politics is to be deplored; but alas! who can confine it to politics? It creeps with gradual, but still with sure and quick motion, into all the doings of our daily life. How shall the man who has taught himself that he may be false in the House of Commons, how shall he be true in the Treasury chambers? or if false there, how true on the Exchange? and if false there, how shall he longer have any truth within him?

And thus Alaric Tudor had become a rogue, and was obliged, as it were in his own defence, to consort with a rogue. He went down to Scotland with Undy, leaving his wife and child at home, not because he could thus best amuse his few leisure days, but because this new work of his, this laborious trade of roguery, allowed him no leisure days. When can villany have either days or hours of leisure?

Among other things to be done in the north, Alaric was to make acquaintance with the constituents of the little borough of Strathbogy, which it was his ambition to represent in the next Parliament. Strathbogy was on the confines of the Gaberlunzie property; and indeed the lord’s eldest son, who was the present member, lived almost within the municipal boundary. Ca’stocks Cottage, as his residence was called, was but a humble house for a peer’s eldest son; but Mr. Scott was not ashamed to live there, and there for a while he entertained his brother Undy and Alaric Tudor. Mr. Scott intended, when the present session was over, to retire from the labours of parliamentary life. It may be that he thought that he had done enough for his country; it may be that the men of Strathbogy thought that he had not done enough for them; it may be that there was some family understanding between him and his brother. This, however, was clear, that he did not intend to stand again himself, and that he professed himself ready to put forward Alaric Tudor as a worthy successor, and to give him the full benefit and weight of the Gaberlunzie interest.

But not for nothing was Alaric to receive such important assistance.

‘There are but 312 electors altogether,’ said Undy one morning as they went out shooting, ‘and out of these we can command a hundred and twenty. It must be odd if you cannot get enough outsiders to turn them into a majority. Indeed you may look on it as a certain seat. No man in England or Scotland could give you one more certain.’

This was not the first occasion on which Undy had spoken of all that he was doing for his friend, and Alaric therefore, somewhat disgusted with the subject, made no reply.

‘I never had things made so easy for me when I wasn’t in,’ continued Undy; ‘nor have I ever found them so easy since. I don’t suppose it will cost you above £500, or at most £600, altogether.’

‘Well, that will be a comfort,’ said Alaric.

‘A comfort! why I should say it would. What with the election and petition together, Tillietudlem never cost me less than £2,000. It cost me just as much, too, when I was thrown out.’

‘That was a bore for you,’ said Alaric.

‘Upon my word you take it rather coolly,’ said Undy; ‘another man would thank a fellow for putting such a nice thing in his way.’

‘If the obligation be so deep,’ said Alaric, becoming very red in the face, ‘I would rather not accept it. It is not too late for you to take the cheaper seat to yourself, if you prefer it; and I will look elsewhere.’

‘Oh, of course; perhaps at Tillietudlem; but for Heaven’s sake, my dear fellow, don’t let us quarrel about it. You are perfectly welcome to whatever assistance we can give you at Strathbogy. I only meant to say that I hope it will be efficacious. And on the score of expense I’ll tell you what we’ll do — that is, if you think that fair; we’ll put the cost of the two elections together, and share and share alike.’

‘Considering that the election will not take place for at least more than twelve months, there will be time enough to settle that,’ said Alaric.

‘Well, that’s true, too,’ said Undy; and then they went on, and for some time separated on the mountain, complaining, when they met again, of the game being scarce and the dogs wild, as men always do. But as they walked home, Undy, who regretted the loss of good time, again began about money matters.

‘How many of those bridge shares will you take?’ said he. This was a projected bridge from Poplar to Rotherhithe, which had been got up by some city gentlemen, and as to which Undy Scott was, or pretended to be, very sanguine.

‘None,’ said Alaric. ‘Unless I can get rid of those confounded West Cork and Ballydehobs, I can buy nothing more of anything.’

‘Believe me, my dear fellow, the Ballydehobs are no such confounded things at all. If you are ever a rich man it will be through the Ballydehobs. But what you say about the bridge shares is nonsense. You have a large command of capital, and you cannot apply it better.’

Alaric winced, and wished in his heart that Clementina Jaquêtanàpe, née Golightly, with all her money, was buried deep in the bogs of Ballydehob. Though he was a rogue, he could not yet bear his roguery with comfort to himself. It sat, however, as easy on Undy as though he had been to the manner born.

‘I have no capital now at my disposal,’ said he; ‘and I doubt whether I should be doing right to lay out a ward’s money in such a manner.’

A slight smile came over Undy’s gay unconcerned features; it was very slight, but nevertheless it was very eloquent and very offensive also. Alaric understood it well; it made him hate the owner of it, but it made him hate himself still more.

‘It is as well to be hung for a sheep as for a lamb,’ said Undy’s smile; ‘and, moreover,’ continued the smile, ‘is it not ridiculous enough for you, Alaric Tudor, rogue as you are, to profess to me, Undy Scott, rogue as I am, any solicitude as to your ward’s welfare, seeing that you have already taken to yourself, for your own dishonest purposes, a considerable slice of the fortune that has been trusted to your keeping? You have done this, and yet you talk to me of not having capital at your disposal! You have capital, and you will dispose of that capital for your own purposes, as long as a shilling remains uninvested of your ward’s money. We are both rogues. God knows it, and you and I know it; but I am not such a hypocritical rogue as to make mock boasts of my honesty to my brother rogue.’

This was certainly a long speech to have been made by a smile which crossed Mr. Scott’s face but for a moment, but every word of it was there expressed, and every word of it was there read. Alaric did not at all like being addressed so uncivilly. It seemed to tend but little to that ‘Excelsior’ for which his soul panted; but what could he do? how could he help himself? Was it not all true? could he contradict the smile? Alas! it was true; it was useless for him now to attempt even to combat such smiles. ‘Excelsior,’ indeed! his future course might now probably be called by some very different designation. Easy, very easy, is the slope of hell.

Before they had returned to Ca’stocks Cottage, Undy had succeeded in persuading his friend that the game must be played on — on and on, and out. If a man intends to make a fortune in the share-market he will never do it by being bold one day and timid the next. No turf betting-book can be made up safely except on consistent principles. Half-measures are always ruinous. In matters of speculation one attempt is made safe by another. No man, it is true, can calculate accurately what may be the upshot of a single venture; but a sharp fellow may calculate with a fair average of exactness what will be the aggregate upshot of many ventures. All mercantile fortunes have been made by the knowledge and understanding of this rule. If a man speculates but once and again, now and then, as it were, he must of course be a loser. He will be playing a game which he does not understand, and playing it against men who do understand it. Men who so play always lose. But he who speculates daily puts himself exactly in the reversed position. He plays a game which experience teaches him to play well, and he plays generally against men who have no such advantage. Of course he wins.

All these valuable lessons did Undy Scott teach to Alaric Tudor, and the result was that Alaric agreed to order — for self and partner — a considerable number of shares in the Limehouse Bridge Company. Easy, very easy, is the slope of hell.

And then in the evening, on this evening and other evenings, on all evenings, they talked over the prospects of the West Cork and Ballydehob branch, and of the Limehouse Bridge, which according to Undy’s theory is destined to work quite a revolution in the East-end circles of the metropolis. Undy had noble ideas about this bridge. The shares at the present moment were greatly at a discount — so much the better, for they could be bought at a cheaper rate; and they were sure to rise to some very respectable figure as soon as Undy should have played out with reference to them the parliamentary game which he had in view.

And so from morning to morning, and from night to night, they talked over their unholy trade till the price of shares and the sounds of sums of money entered into Alaric’s soul. And this, perhaps, is one of the greatest penalties to which men who embark in such trade are doomed, that they can never shake off the remembrance of their calculations; they can never drop the shop; they have no leisure, no ease; they can never throw themselves with loose limbs and vacant mind at large upon the world’s green sward, and call children to come and play with them. At the Weights and Measures Alaric’s hours of business had been from ten to five. In Undy’s office they continued from one noon till the next, incessantly; even in his dreams he was working in the share market.

On his return to town Alaric found a letter from Captain Cuttwater, pressing very urgently for the repayment of his money. It had been lent on the express understanding that it was to be repaid when Parliament broke up. It was now the end of October, and Uncle Bat was becoming uneasy.

Alaric, when he received the letter, crushed it in his hand, and cursed the strictness of the man who had done so much for him. On the next day another slice was taken from the fortune of Madame Jaquêtanàpe; and his money, with the interest, was remitted to Captain Cuttwater.

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