The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXI

How Apollo Saved the Navvy

About the middle of November, the Woodwards went to Torquay, and remained there till the following May. Norman went with them to see them properly settled in their new lodgings, and visited them at Christmas, and once again during their stay there. He then went down to fetch them home, and when they all returned, informed Charley, with whom he was still living, that he was engaged to Linda. It was arranged, he said, that they were to be married in August.

On the whole, the journey to Torquay was considered to have been successful. Katie’s health had been the only object in going there, and the main consideration while they remained. She returned, if not well, at any rate not worse. She had got through the winter, and her lungs were still pronounced to be free from those dreadful signs of decay, the name of which has broken so many mothers’ hearts, and sent dismay into the breasts of so many fathers. During her sojourn at Torquay she had grown much, and, as is often the case with those who grow quickly, she had become weak and thin. People at Torquay are always weak and thin, and Mrs. Woodward had not, therefore, been greatly frightened at this. Her spirits, though by no means such as they had been in former days, had improved, she had occupied herself more than she had done during the last two months at Hampton, and had, at least so Mrs. Woodward fondly flattered herself, ceased to be always thinking of Charley Tudor. It was quite clear that she had firmly made up her mind to some certain line of conduct with reference to him; she never mentioned his name, nor was it mentioned in her hearing by either her mother or sister during their stay at Torquay. When Norman came down, she always found some opportunity of inquiring from him as to Charley’s health and welfare; but she did this in a manner which showed that she had succeeded in placing her feelings wonderfully under control.

On that Monday morning, on which Charley had returned to town after his early visit to her workbox, she had not failed to find the purse. Linda was with her when she did so, but she had contrived so to conceal her emotion, that nothing was seen and nothing suspected. She felt at once that it was intended that all intercourse should be broken off between them. She knew instinctively that this was the effect of some precaution on her mother’s part, and with a sad bosom and a broken heart, she acquiesced in it. She said nothing, even to herself, of the truth and constancy of her love; she made no mental resolution against any other passion; she did not even think whether or not she might ever be tempted to love another; but she felt a dumb aching numbness about her heart; and, looking round about her, she seemed to feel that all was dark and dismal.

And so they sojourned through the winter at Torquay. The effort which Katie made was undoubtedly salutary to her. She took again to her work and her lessons — studies we should probably now call them — and before she left Torquay, she had again learned how to smile; but not to laugh with that gay ringing silver laughter, ringing, but yet not loud, which to Charley’s ear had been as sweet as heavenly music. During this time Uncle Bat remained at Hampton, keeping bachelor’s house by himself.

And then while they were at Torquay, Linda and Norman became engaged to each other. Their loves were honest, true, and happy; but not of a nature to give much scope to a novelist of a romantic turn. Linda knew she was not Norman’s first love, and requited Norman, of course, by telling him something, not much, of Alaric’s falseness to her. Norman made but one ungenerous stipulation. It was this: that in marrying him Linda must give up all acquaintance with her brother-inlaw. He would never, he said, be the means of separating two sisters; she and Gertrude might have such intercourse together as their circumstances might render possible; but it was quite out of the question that either he, Harry Norman, or his wife, should ever again associate with Alaric Tudor.

In such matters Linda had always been guided by others; so she sighed and promised, and the engagement was duly ratified by all the parties concerned.

We must now return to Charley. When he got back to town, he felt that he had lost his amulet; his charm had gone from him, and he had nothing now left whereby to save himself from ruin and destruction. He was utterly flung over by the Woodwards; that now was to him an undoubted fact. When Mrs. Woodward told him that he was never again to see Katie, that was, of course, tantamount to turning him out of the Cottage. It might be all very well to talk to him of affection and friendship; but it was manifest that no further signs of either were to be shown to him. He had proved himself to be unworthy, and was no more to be considered as one of the circle which made the drawing-room at Surbiton Cottage its centre. He could not quite explain all this to Norman, as he could not tell him what had passed between him and Mrs. Woodward; but he said enough to make his friend know that he intended to go to Hampton no more.

It would be wrong, perhaps, to describe Charley as being angry with Mrs. Woodward. He knew that she was only doing her duty by her child; he knew that she was actuated by the purest and best of motives; he was not able to say a word against her even to himself; but, nevertheless, he desired to be revenged on her — not by injuring her, not by injuring Katie — but by injuring himself. He would make Mrs. Woodward feel what she had done, by rushing, himself, on his own ruin. He would return to the ‘Cat and Whistle’— he would keep his promise and marry Norah Geraghty — he would go utterly to destruction, and then Mrs. Woodward would know and feel what she had done in banishing him from her daughter’s presence!

Having arrived at this magnanimous resolution after a fortnight’s doubt and misery, he proceeded to put his purpose into execution. It was now some considerable time since he had been at the ‘Cat and Whistle;’ he had had no further visit from Mrs. Davis, but he had received one or two notes both from her and Norah, to which, as long as he had Katie’s purse, he was resolute in not replying; messages also had reached him from the landlady through Dick Scatterall, in the last of which he was reminded that there was a trifle due at the bar, and another trifle for money lent.

One night, having lashed himself up to a fit state of wretched desperation, he found himself at the well-known corner of the street leading out of the Strand. On his journey thither he had been trying to realize to himself what it would be to be the husband of Norah Geraghty; what would be the joy of returning to a small house in some dingy suburb and finding her to receive him. Could he really love her when she would be bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, the wife of his bosom and the mother of his children? In such a case would he ever be able to forget that he had known Katie Woodward? Would those words of hers ever ring in his ears, then as now —‘You will be steady, dear Charley; won’t you?’

There are those who boast that a gentleman must always be a gentleman; that a man, let him marry whom he will, raises or degrades his wife to the level of his own condition, and that King Cophetua could share his throne with a beggar-woman without sullying its splendour or diminishing its glory. How a king may fare in such a condition, the author, knowing little of kings, will not pretend to say; nor yet will he offer an opinion whether a lowly match be fatally injurious to a marquess, duke, or earl; but this he will be bold to affirm, that a man from the ordinary ranks of the upper classes, who has had the nurture of a gentleman, prepares for himself a hell on earth in taking a wife from any rank much below his own — a hell on earth, and, alas! too often another hell elsewhere also. He must either leave her or loathe her. She may be endowed with all those moral virtues which should adorn all women, and which, thank God, are common to women in this country; but he will have to endure habits, manners, and ideas, which the close contiguity of married life will force upon his disgusted palate, and which must banish all love. Man by instinct desires in his wife something softer, sweeter, more refined than himself; and though in failing to obtain this, the fault may be all his own, he will not on that account the more easily reconcile himself to the want.

Charley knew that he was preparing such misery for himself. As he went along, determined to commit a moral suicide by allying himself to the barmaid, he constrained himself to look with his mind’s eye ‘upon this picture and on that.’

He had felt of what nature was the sort of love with which Katie Woodward had inspired his heart; and he felt also what was that other sort of love to which the charms of Norah Geraghty had given birth.

Norah was a fine girl, smart enough in her outward apparel, but apt occasionally to disclose uncomfortable secrets, if from any accident more than her outward apparel might momentarily become visible. When dressed up for a Sunday excursion she had her attractions, and even on ordinary evenings, a young man such as Charley, after imbibing two or three glasses of spirits and water, and smoking two or three cigars, might find her to be what some of her friends would have called ‘very good company.’ As to her mind, had Charley been asked about it, he would probably have said that he was ignorant whether she had any; but this he did know, that she was sharp and quick, alert in counting change, and gifted with a peculiar power of detecting bad coin by the touch. Such was Norah Geraghty, whom Charley was to marry.

And then that other portrait was limned with equal accuracy before his eyes. Katie, with all her juvenile spirit, was delightfully feminine; every motion of hers was easy, and every form into which she could twist her young limbs was graceful. She had all the nice ideas and ways which a girl acquires when she grows from childhood to woman’s stature, under the eye of a mother who is a lady. Katie could be untidy on occasions; but her very untidiness was inviting. All her belongings were nice; she had no hidden secrets, the chance revealing of which would disgrace her. She might come in from her island palaces in a guise which would call down some would-be-censorious exclamation from her mother; but all others but her mother would declare that Katie in such moments was more lovely than ever. And Katie’s beauty pleased more than the eye — it came home to the mind and heart of those who saw her. It spoke at once to the intelligence, and required, for its full appreciation, an exercise of the mental faculties, as well as animal senses. If the owner of that outward form were bad or vile, one would be inclined to say that Nature must have lied when she endowed her with so fair an index. Such was Katie Woodward, whom Charley was not to marry.

As he turned down Norfolk Street, he thought of all this, as the gambler, sitting with his razor before him with which he intends to cut his throat, may be supposed to think of the stakes which he has failed to win, and the fortune he has failed to make. Norah Geraghty was Charley’s razor, and he plunged boldly into the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ determined to draw it at once across his weasand, and sever himself for ever from all that is valuable in the world.

It was now about eleven o’clock, at which hour the ‘Cat and Whistle’ generally does its most stirring trade. This Charley knew; but he also knew that the little back parlour, even if there should be an inmate in it at the time of his going in, would soon be made private for his purposes.

When he went in, Mrs. Davis was standing behind the counter, dressed in a cap of wonderful grandeur, and a red tabinet gown, which rustled among the pots and jars, sticking out from her to a tremendous width, inflated by its own magnificence and a substratum of crinoline. Charley had never before seen her arrayed in such royal robes. Her accustomed maid was waiting as usual on the guests, and another girl also was assisting; but Norah did not appear to Charley’s first impatient glance.

He at once saw that something wonderful was going on. The front parlour was quite full, and the ministering angel was going in and out quickly, with more generous supplies of the gifts of Bacchus than were usual at the ‘Cat and Whistle.’ Gin and water was the ordinary tipple in the front parlour; and any one of its denizens inclined to cut a dash above his neighbours generally did so with a bottom of brandy. But now Mrs. Davis was mixing port-wine negus as fast as her hands could make it.

And then there were standing round the counter four or five customers, faces well known to Charley, all of whom seemed to be dressed with a splendour second only to that of the landlady. One man had on an almost new brown frock coat with a black velvet collar, and white trousers. Two had blue swallow-tailed coats with brass buttons; and a fourth, a dashing young lawyer’s clerk from Clement’s Inn, was absolutely stirring a mixture, which he called a mint julep, with a yellow kid glove dangling out of his hand.

They all stood back when Charley entered; they had been accustomed to make way for him in former days, and though he had latterly ceased to rule at the ‘Cat and Whistle’ as he once did, they were too generous to trample on fallen greatness. He gave his hand to Mrs. Davis across the counter, and asked her in the most unconcerned voice which he could assume what was in the wind. She tittered and laughed, told him he had come too late for the fun, and then retreated into the little back parlour, whither he followed her. She was at any rate in a good humour, and seemed quite inclined to forgive his rather uncivil treatment of her notes and messages.

In the back parlour Charley found more people drinking, and among them three ladies of Mrs. Davis’s acquaintance. They were all very fine in their apparel, and very comfortable as to their immediate employment, for each had before her a glass of hot tipple. One of them, a florid-faced dame about fifty, Charley had seen before, and knew to be the wife of a pork butcher and sausage maker in the neighbourhood. Directly he entered the room, Mrs. Davis formally introduced him to them all. ‘A very particular friend of mine, Mrs. Allchops; and of Norah’s too, I can assure you,’ said Mrs. Davis.

‘Ah, Mr. Tudor, and how be you? A sight of you is good for sore eyes,’ said she of the sausages, rising with some difficulty from her chair, and grasping Charley’s hand with all the pleasant cordiality of old friendship.

‘The gen’leman seems to be a little too late for the fair,’ said a severe lodging-house keeper from Cecil Street.

‘Them as wills not, when they may,
When they wills they shall have nay,’

said a sarcastic rival barmaid from a neighbouring public, to whom all Norah’s wrongs and all Mr. Tudor’s false promises were fully known.

Charley was not the fellow to allow himself to be put down, even by feminine raillery; so he plucked up his spirit, sad as he was at heart, and replied to them all en masse.

‘Well, ladies, what’s in the wind now? You seem to be very cosy here, all of you; suppose you allow me to join you.’

‘With a ’eart and a ‘alf,’ said Mrs. Allchops, squeezing her corpulence up to the end of the horsehair sofa, so as to make room for him between herself and the poetic barmaid. ‘I’d sooner have a gentleman next to me nor a lady hany day of the week; so come and sit down, my birdie.’

But Charley, as he was about to accept the invitation of his friend Mrs. Allchops, caught Mrs. Davis’s eye, and followed her out of the room into the passage. ‘Step up to the landing, Mr. Tudor,’ said she; and Charley stepped up. ‘Come in here, Mr. Tudor — you won’t mind my bedroom for once.’ And Charley followed her in, not minding her bedroom.

‘Of course you know what has happened, Mr. Tudor?’ said she.

‘Devil a bit,’ said Charley.

‘Laws, now — don’t you indeed? Well, that is odd.’

‘How the deuce should I know? Where’s Norah?’

‘Why — she’s at Gravesend.’

‘At Gravesend — you don’t mean to say she’s ——’

‘I just do then; she’s just gone and got herself spliced to Peppermint this morning. They had the banns said these last three Sundays; and this morning they was at St. Martin’s at eight o’clock, and has been here junketing ever since, and now they’re away to Gravesend.’

‘Gravesend!’ said Charley, struck by the suddenness of his rescue, as the gambler would have been had some stranger seized the razor at the moment when it was lifted to his throat.

‘Yes, Gravesend,’ said Mrs. Davis; ‘and they’ll come up home to his own house by the first boat tomorrow.’

‘So Norah’s married!’ said Charley, with a slight access of sentimental softness in his voice.

‘She’s been and done it now, Mr. Tudor, and no mistake; and it’s better so, ain’t it? Why, Lord love you, she’d never have done for you, you know; and she’s the very article for such a man as Peppermint.’

There was something good-natured in this, and so Charley felt it. As long as Mrs. Davis could do anything to assist her cousin’s views, by endeavouring to seduce or persuade her favourite lover into a marriage, she left no stone unturned, working on her cousin’s behalf. But now, now that all those hopes were over, now that Norah had consented to sacrifice love to prudence, why should Mrs. Davis quarrel with an old friend any longer? — why should not things be made pleasant to him as to the others?

‘And now, Mr. Tudor, come down, and drink a glass to their healths, and wish ’em both well, and don’t mind what them women says to you. You’re well out of a mess; and now it’s all over, I’m glad it is as it is.’

Charley went down and took his glass and drank ‘prosperity to the bride and bridegroom.’ The sarcastic rival barmaid said little snappish things to him, offered him a bit of green ribbon, and told him that if he ‘minded hisself,’ somebody might, perhaps, take him yet. But Charley was proof against this.

He sat there about half an hour, and then went his way, shaking hands with all the ladies and bowing to the gentlemen. On the following day, as soon as he left his office, he called at the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ and paid his little bill there, and said his last farewell to Mrs. Davis. He never visited the house again. Now that Norah was gone the attractions were not powerful. Reader, you and I will at the same time say our farewells to Mrs. Davis, to Mr. Peppermint also, and to his bride. If thou art an elegant reader, unaccustomed to the contamination of pipes and glasses, I owe thee an apology in that thou hast been caused to linger a while among things so unsavoury. But if thou art one who of thine own will hast taken thine ease in thine inn, hast enjoyed the freedom of a sanded parlour, hast known ‘that ginger is hot in the mouth,’ and made thyself light-hearted with a yard of clay, then thou wilt confess there are worse establishments than the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ less generous landladies than Mrs. Davis.

When all this happened the Woodwards had not been long at Torquay. Mr. Peppermint was made a happy man before Christmas; and therefore Charley was left to drift before the wind without the ballast of any lady’s love to keep him in sailing trim. Poor fellow! he had had wealth on one side, beauty and love on another, and on the third all those useful qualities which Miss Geraghty has been described as possessing. He had been thus surrounded by feminine attractions, and had lost them all. Two of those, from whom he had to choose, had married others, and he was banished from the presence of the third. Under such circumstances what could he do but drift about the gulfs and straits of the London ocean without compass or rudder, and bruise his timbers against all the sunken rocks that might come in his way?

And then Norman told him of his coming marriage, and Charley was more sad than ever. And thus matters went on with him till the period at which our story will be resumed at the return of the Woodwards to Hampton.

In the meantime another winter and another spring had passed over Alaric’s head, and now the full tide of the London season found him still rising, and receiving every day more of the world’s homage. Sir Gregory Hardlines had had every reason to praise his own judgement in selecting Mr. Tudor for the vacant seat among the Magi.

From that moment all had gone smooth with Sir Gregory; there was no one to interfere with his hobby, or run counter to his opinion. Alaric was all that was conciliatory and amiable in a colleague. He was not submissive and cringing; and had he been so, Sir Gregory, to do him justice, would have been disgusted; but neither was he self-opinionated nor obstinate like Mr. Jobbles. He insisted on introducing no crotchets of his own, and allowed Sir Gregory all the credit of the Commission.

This all went on delightfully for a while; but on one morning, early in May, Alaric somewhat disturbed the equanimity of his chief by communicating to him his intention of becoming a candidate for the representation of the borough of Strathbogy, at the next general election, which was to take place very shortly after the close of the session. Sir Gregory was dumbfounded, and expressed himself as incapable of believing that Tudor really meant to throw up £1,200 a year on the mere speculation of its being possible that he should get into Parliament. Men in general, as Sir Gregory endeavoured to explain with much eloquence, go into Parliament for the sake of getting places of £1,200 a year. For what earthly reason should Alaric again be going to the bottom of the ladder, seeing that he had already attained a rung of such very respectable altitude? Alaric said to himself, ‘Excelsior!’ To Sir Gregory he suggested that it might be possible that he should get into Parliament without giving up his seat at the Board. Earth and heaven, it might be hoped, would not come together, even though so great a violence as this should be done to the time-honoured practices of the Government. Sir Gregory suggested that it was contrary to the constitution. Alaric replied that the constitution had been put upon to as great an extent before this, and had survived. Sir Gregory regarded it as all but impossible, and declared it to be quite unusual. Alaric rejoined that something of the same kind had been done at the Poor Law Board. To this Sir Gregory replied, gently pluming his feathers with conscious greatness, that at the Poor Law Board the chief of the Commission was the Parliamentary officer. Alaric declared that he was perfectly willing to give way if Sir Gregory would go into the House himself. To this Sir Gregory demurred; not feeling himself called on to change the sphere of his utility. And so the matter was debated between them, till at last Sir Gregory promised to consult his friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The ice was thus broken, and Alaric was quite contented with the part which he had taken in the conversation.

With his own official prospects, in spite of the hazardous step which he now meditated, he was quite contented. He had an idea that in the public service of the Government, as well as in all other services, men who were known to be worth their wages would find employment. He was worth his wages. Men who could serve their country well, who could adapt themselves to work, who were practical, easy in harness, able to drive and patient to be driven, were not, unfortunately, as plentiful as blackberries. He began to perceive that a really useful man could not be found miscellaneously under every hat in Pall Mall. He knew his own value, and did not fear but that he should find a price for it in some of the world’s markets. He would not, therefore, allow himself to be deterred from further progress by any fear that in doing so he risked the security of his daily bread; no, not though the risk extended to his wife; she had taken him for better or worse; if the better came she should share it; if the worse, why let her share that also, with such consolation as his affection might be able to offer.

There was something noble in this courage, in this lack of prudence. It may be a question whether men, in marrying, do not become too prudent. A single man may risk anything, says the world; but a man with a wife should be sure of his means. Why so? A man and a woman are but two units. A man and a woman with ten children are but twelve units. It is sad to see a man starving — sad to see a woman starving — very sad to see children starving. But how often does it come to pass that the man who will work is seen begging his bread? we may almost say never — unless, indeed, he be a clergyman. Let the idle man be sure of his wife’s bread before he marries her; but the working man, one would say, may generally trust to God’s goodness without fear.

With his official career Alaric was, as we have said, well contented; in his stock-jobbing line of business he also had had moments of great exaltation, and some moments of considerable depression. The West Corks had vacillated. Both he and Undy had sold and bought and sold again; and on the whole their stake in that stupendous national line of accommodation was not so all-absorbing as it had once been. But if money had been withdrawn from this, it had been invested elsewhere, and the great sum borrowed from Madame Jaquêtanàpe’s fortune had been in no part replaced — one full moiety of it had been taken — may one not say stolen? — to enable Alaric and Undy to continue their speculations.

The undertaking to which they were now both wedded was the Limehouse and Rotherhithe Bridge. Of this Undy was chairman, and Alaric was a director, and at the present moment they looked for ample fortune, or what would nearly be ample ruin, to the decision of a committee of the House of Commons which was about to sit with the view of making inquiry as to the necessity of the bridge in question.

Mr. Nogo, the member for Mile End, was the parent of this committee. He asserted that the matter was one of such vital importance not only to the whole metropolis, but to the country at large, that the Government were bound in the first place to give a large subsidy towards building the bridge, and afterwards to pay a heavy annual sum towards the amount which it would be necessary to raise by tolls. Mr. Whip Vigil, on the other hand, declared on the part of Government that the bridge was wholly unnecessary; that if it were built it ought to be pulled down again; and that not a stiver could be given out of the public purse with such an object.

On this they joined issue. Mr. Nogo prayed for a committee, and Mr. Vigil, having duly consulted his higher brethren in the Government, conceded this point. It may easily be conceived how high were now the hopes both of Undy Scott and Alaric Tudor. It was not at all necessary for them that the bridge should ever be built; that, probably, was out of the question; that, very likely, neither of them regarded as a possibility. But if a committee of the House of Commons could be got to say that it ought to be built, they might safely calculate on selling out at a large profit.

But who were to sit on the committee? That was now the all-momentous question.

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