The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXVII

Tribulation

We must now return for a short while to Surbiton Cottage. It was not so gay a place as it once had been; merry laughter was not so often heard among the shrubbery walks, nor was a boat to be seen so often glancing in and out between the lawn and the adjacent island. The Cottage had become a demure, staid abode, of which Captain Cuttwater was in general the most vivacious inmate; and yet there was soon to be marrying, and giving in marriage.

Linda’s wedding-day had twice been fixed. That first-named had been postponed in consequence of the serious illness of Norman’s elder brother. The life of that brother had been very different in its course from Harry’s; it had been dissipated at college in riotous living, and had since been stained with debauchery during the career of his early manhood in London. The consequence had been that his health had been broken down, and he was now tottering to an early grave.

Cuthbert Norman was found to be so ill when the day first named for Linda’s marriage approached, that it had been thought absolutely necessary to postpone the ceremony. What amount of consolation Mrs. Woodward might have received from the knowledge that her daughter, by this young man’s decease, would become Mrs. Norman of Normansgrove, we need not inquire; but such consolation, if it existed at all, did not tend to dispel the feeling of sombre disappointment which such delay was sure to produce. The heir, however, rallied, and another day, early in August, was fixed.

Katie, the while, was still an invalid; and, as such, puzzled all the experience of that very experienced medical gentleman, who has the best aristocratic practice in the neighbourhood of Hampton Court. He, and the London physician, agreed that her lungs were not affected; but yet she would not get well. The colour would not come to her cheeks, the flesh would not return to her arms, nor the spirit of olden days shine forth in her eyes. She did not keep her bed, or confine herself to her room, but she went about the house with a slow, noiseless, gentle tread, so unlike the step of that Katie whom we once knew.

But that which was a mystery to the experienced medical gentleman, was no mystery to her mother. Mrs. Woodward well knew why her child was no longer rosy, plump, and débonnaire. As she watched her Katie move about so softly, as she saw her constant attempt to smile whenever her mother’s eye was on her, that mother’s heart almost gave way; she almost brought herself to own that she would rather see her darling the wife of an idle, ruined spendthrift, than watch her thus drifting away to an early grave. These days were by no means happy days for Mrs. Woodward.

When that July day was fixed for Linda’s marriage, certain invitations were sent out to bid the family friends to the wedding. These calls were not so numerous as they had been when Gertrude became a bride. No Sir Gregory was to come down from town, no gallant speech-makers from London clubs were to be gathered there, to wake the echoes of the opposite shore with matrimonial wit. Mrs. Woodward could not bear that her daughter should be married altogether, as it were, in the dark; but for many considerations the guests were to be restricted in numbers, and the mirth was to be restrained and quiet.

When the list was made out, Katie saw it, and saw that Charley’s name was not there.

‘Mamma,’ she said, touching her mother’s arm in her sweet winning way, ‘may not Charley come to Linda’s wedding? You know how fond Harry is of him: would not Harry wish that he should be here?’

Mrs. Woodward’s eyes immediately filled with tears, and she looked at her daughter, not knowing how to answer her. She had never spoken to Katie of her love; no word had ever passed between them on the subject which was now always nearest to the hearts of them both. Mrs. Woodward had much in her character, as a mother, that was excellent, nay, all but perfect; but she could not bring herself to question her own children as to the inward secrets of their bosoms. She knew not at once how to answer Katie’s question; and so she looked up at her with wistful eyes, laden with tears.

‘You may do so, mamma,’ said Katie. Katie was already a braver woman than her mother. ‘I think Harry would like it, and poor Charley will feel hurt at being left out; you may do it, mamma, if you like; it will not do any harm.’

Mrs. Woodward quite understood the nature of the promise conveyed in her daughter’s assurance, and replied that Charley should be asked. He was asked, and promised, of course, to come. But when the wedding was postponed, when the other guests were put off, he also was informed that his attendance at Hampton was not immediately required; and so he still remained a stranger to the Cottage.

And then after a while another day was named, the guests, and Charley with them, were again invited, and Norman was again assured that he should be made happy. But, alas! his hopes were again delusive. News arrived at Surbiton Cottage which made it indispensable that the marriage should be again postponed, news worse than any which had ever yet been received there, news which stunned them all, and made it clear to them that this year was no time for marrying. Alaric had been arrested. Alaric, their own Gertrude’s own husband, their son-inlaw and brother-inlaw, the proud, the high, the successful, the towering man of the world, Alaric had been arrested, and was to be tried for embezzling the money of his ward.

These fatal tidings were brought to Hampton by Harry Norman himself; how they were received we must now endeavour to tell.

But that it would be tedious we might describe the amazement with which that news was received at the Weights and Measures. Though the great men at the Weights were jealous of Alaric, they were not the less proud of him. They had watched him rise with a certain amount of displeasure, and yet they had no inconsiderable gratification in boasting that two of the Magi, the two working Magi of the Civil Service, had been produced by their own establishment. When therefore tidings reached them that Tudor had been summoned in a friendly way to Bow Street, that he had there passed a whole morning, and that the inquiry had ended in his temporary suspension from his official duties, and in his having to provide two bailsmen, each for £1,000, as security that he would on a certain day be forthcoming to stand his trial at the Old Bailey for defrauding his ward — when, I say, these tidings were carried from room to room at the Weights and Measures, the feelings of surprise were equalled by those of shame and disappointment.

No one knew who brought this news to the Weights and Measures. No one ever does know how such tidings fly; one of the junior clerks had heard it from a messenger, to whom it had been told downstairs; then another messenger, who had been across to the Treasury Chambers with an immediate report as to a projected change in the size of the authorized butter-firkin, heard the same thing, and so the news by degrees was confirmed.

But all this was not sufficient for Norman. As soon as the rumour reached him, he went off to Bow Street, and there learnt the actual truth as it has been above stated. Alaric was then there, and the magistrates had decided on requiring bail; he had, in fact, been committed.

It would be dreadful that the Woodwards should first hear all this from the lips of a stranger, and this reflection induced Norman at once to go to Hampton; but it was dreadful, also, to find himself burdened with the task of first telling such tidings. When he found himself knocking at the Cottage door he was still doubtful how he might best go through the work he had before him.

He found that he had a partial reprieve; but then it was so partial that it would have been much better for him to have had no such reprieve at all. Mrs. Woodward was at Sunbury with Linda, and no one was at home but Katie. What was he to do? was he to tell Katie? or was he to pretend that all was right, that no special business had brought him unexpectedly to Hampton?

‘Oh, Harry, Linda will be so unhappy,’ said Katie as soon as she saw him. ‘They have gone to dine at Sunbury, and they won’t be home till ten or eleven. Uncle Bat dined early with me, and he has gone to Hampton Court. Linda will be so unhappy. But, good gracious, Harry, is there anything the matter?’

‘Mrs. Woodward has not heard from Gertrude today, has she?’

‘No — not a word — Gertrude is not ill, is she? Oh, do tell me,’ said Katie, who now knew that there was some misfortune to be told.

‘No; Gertrude is not ill.’

‘Is Alaric ill, then? Is there anything the matter with Alaric?’

‘He is not ill,’ said Norman,’ but he is in some trouble. I came down as I thought your mother should be told.’

So much he said, but would say no more. In this he probably took the most unwise course that was open to him. He might have held his tongue altogether, and let Katie believe that love alone had brought him down, as it had done so often before; or he might have told her all, feeling sure that all must be told her before long. But he did neither; he left her in suspense, and the consequence was that before her mother’s return she was very ill.

It was past eleven before the fly was heard in which Linda and her mother returned home. Katie had then gone upstairs, but not to bed. She had seated herself in the armchair in her mother’s dressing-room, and sitting there waited till she should be told by her mother what had occurred. When the sound of the wheels caught her ears, she came to the door of the room and held it in her hand that she might learn what passed. She heard Linda’s sudden and affectionate greeting; she heard Mrs. Woodward’s expression of gratified surprise; and then she heard also Norman’s solemn tone, by which, as was too clear, all joy, all gratification, was at once suppressed. Then she heard the dining-room door close, and she knew that he was telling his tale to Linda and her mother.

O the misery of that next hour! For an hour they remained there talking, and Katie knew nothing of what they were talking; she knew only that Norman had brought unhappiness to them all. A dozen different ideas passed across her mind. First she thought that Alaric was dismissed, then that he was dead; was it not possible that Harry had named Alaric’s name to deceive her? might not this misfortune, whatever it was, be with Charley? might not he be dead? Oh! better so than the other. She knew, and said as much to herself over and over again; but she did not the less feel that his death must involve her own also.

At last the dining-room door opened, and she heard her mother’s step on the stairs. Her heart beat so that she could hardly support herself. She did not get up, but sat quite quiet, waiting for the tidings which she knew that she should now hear. Her mother’s face, when she entered the room, nearly drove her to despair; Mrs. Woodward had been crying, bitterly, violently, convulsively crying; and when one has reached the age of forty, the traces of such tears are not easily effaced even from a woman’s cheek.

‘Mamma, mamma, what is it? pray, pray tell me; oh! mamma, what is it?’ said Katie, jumping up and rushing into her mother’s arms.

‘Oh! Katie,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘why are you not in bed? Oh! my darling, I wish you were in bed; I do so wish you were in bed — my child, my child!’ and, seating herself in the nearest chair, Mrs. Woodward again gave herself up to uncontrolled weeping.

Then Linda came up with the copious tears still streaming down her face. She made no effort to control them; at her age tears are the easiest resource in time of grief. Norman had kept her back a moment to whisper one word of love, and she then followed her mother into the room.

Katie was now kneeling at her mother’s feet. ‘Linda,’ she said, with more quietness than either of the others was able to assume, ‘what has happened? what makes mamma so unhappy? Has anything happened to Alaric?’ But Linda was in no state to tell anything.

‘Do tell me, mamma,’ said Katie; ‘do tell me all at once. Has anything — anything happened to — to Charley?’

‘Oh, it is worse than that, a thousand times worse than that!’ said Mrs. Woodward, who, in the agony of her own grief, became for the instant ungenerous.

Katie’s blood rushed back to her heart, and for a moment her own hand relaxed the hold which she had on that of her mother. She had never spoken of her love; for her mother’s sake she had been silent; for her mother’s sake she had determined to suffer and be silent — now, and ever! Well; she would bear this also. It was but for a moment she relaxed her hold; and then again she tightened her fingers round her mother’s hand, and held it in a firmer grasp. ‘It is Alaric, then?’ she said.

‘God forgive me,’ said Mrs. Woodward, speaking through her sobs — ‘God forgive me! I am a brokenhearted woman, and say I know not what. My Katie, my darling, my best of darlings — will you forgive me?’

‘Oh, mamma,’ said Katie, kissing her mother’s hands, and her arms, and the very hem of her garment, ‘oh, mamma, do not speak so. But I wish I knew what this sorrow is, so that I might share it with you; may I not be told, mamma? is it about Alaric?’

‘Yes, Katie. Alaric is in trouble.’

‘What trouble — is he ill?’

‘No — he is not ill. It is about money.’

‘Has he been arrested?’ asked Katie, thinking of Charley’s misfortune. ‘Could not Harry get him out? Harry is so good; he would do anything, even for Alaric, when he is in trouble.’

‘He will do everything for him that he can,’ said Linda, through her tears.

‘He has not been arrested,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘he is still at home; but he is in trouble about Miss Golightly’s money — and — and he is to be tried.’

‘Tried,’ said Katie; ‘tried like a criminal!’

Katie might well express herself as horrified. Yes, he had to be tried like a criminal; tried as pickpockets, housebreakers, and shoplifters are tried, and for a somewhat similar offence; with this difference, however, that pickpockets, housebreakers, and shoplifters, are seldom educated men, and are in general led on to crime by want. He was to be tried for the offence of making away with some of Miss Golightly’s money for his own purposes. This was explained to Katie, with more or less perspicuity; and then Gertrude’s mother and sisters lifted up their voices together and wept.

He might, it is true, be acquitted; they would none of them believe him to be guilty, though they all agreed that he had probably been imprudent; but then the public shame of the trial! the disgrace which must follow such an accusation! What a downfall was here! ‘Oh, Gertrude! oh, Gertrude!’ sobbed Mrs. Woodward; and indeed, at that time, it did not fare well with Gertrude.

It was very late before Mrs. Woodward and her daughters went to bed that night; and then Katie, though she did not specially complain, was very ill. She had lately received more than one wound, which was still unhealed; and now this additional blow, though she apparently bore it better than the others, altogether upset her. When the morning came, she complained of headache, and it was many days after that before she left her bed.

But Mrs. Woodward was up early. Indeed, she could hardly be said to have been in bed at all; for though she had lain down for an hour or two, she had not slept. Early in the morning she knocked at Harry’s door, and begged him to come out to her. He was not long in obeying her summons, and soon joined her in the little breakfast parlour.

‘Harry, said she, ‘you must go and see Alaric.’

Harry’s brow grew black. On the previous evening he had spoken of Alaric without bitterness, nay, almost with affection; of Gertrude he had spoken with the truest brotherly love; he had assured Mrs. Woodward that he would do all that was in his power for them; that he would spare neither his exertions nor his purse. He had a truer idea than she had of what might probably be the facts of the case, and was prepared, by all the means at his disposal, to help his sister-inlaw, if such aid would help her. But he had not thought of seeing Alaric.

‘I do not think it would do any good,’ said he.

‘Yes, Harry, it will; it will do the greatest good; whom else can I get to see him? who else can find out and let us know what really is required of us, what we ought to do? I would do it myself, but I could not understand it; and he would never trust us sufficiently to tell me all the truth.’

‘We will make Charley go to him. He will tell everything to Charley, if he will to anyone.’

‘We cannot trust Charley; he is so thoughtless, so imprudent. Besides, Harry, I cannot tell everything to Charley as I can to you. If there be any deficiency in this woman’s fortune, of course it must be made good; and in that case I must raise the money. I could not arrange all this with Charley.’

‘There cannot, I think, be very much wanting,’ said Norman, who had hardly yet realized the idea that Alaric had actually used his ward’s money for his own purposes. ‘He has probably made some bad investment, or trusted persons that he should not have trusted. My small property is in the funds, and I can get the amount at a moment’s notice. I do not think there will be any necessity to raise more money than that. At any rate, whatever happens, you must not touch your own income; think of Katie.’

‘But, Harry — dear, good, generous Harry — you are so good, so generous! But, Harry, we need not talk of that now. You will see him, though, won’t you?’

‘It will do no good,’ said Harry; ‘we have no mutual trust in each other.’

‘Do not be unforgiving, Harry, now that he requires forgiveness.’

‘If he does require forgiveness, Mrs. Woodward, if it shall turn out that he has been guilty, God knows that I will forgive him. I trust this may not be the case; and it would be useless for me to thrust myself upon him now, when a few days may replace us again in our present relations to each other.’

‘I don’t understand you, Harry; why should there always be a quarrel between two brothers, between the husbands of two sisters? I know you mean to be kind, I know you are most kind, most generous; but why should you be so stern?’

‘What I mean is this — if I find him in adversity, I shall be ready to offer him my hand; it will then be for him to say whether he will take it. But if the storm blow over, in such case I would rather that we should remain as we are.’

Norman talked of forgiveness, and accused himself of no want of charity in this respect. He had no idea that his own heart was still hard as the nether millstone against Alaric Tudor. But yet such was the truth. His money he could give; he could give also his time and mind, he could lend his best abilities to rescue his former friend and his own former love from misfortune. He could do this, and he thought therefore that he was forgiving; but there was no forgiveness in such assistance. There was generosity in it, for he was ready to part with his money; there was kindness of heart, for he was anxious to do good to his fellow-creature; but there were with these both pride and revenge. Alaric had out-topped him in everything, and it was sweet to Norman’s pride that his hand should be the one to raise from his sudden fall the man who had soared so high above him. Alaric had injured him, and what revenge is so perfect as to repay gross injuries by great benefits? Is it not thus that we heap coals of fire on our enemies’ heads? Not that Norman indulged in thoughts such as these; not that he resolved thus to gratify his pride, thus to indulge his revenge. He was unconscious of his own sin, but he was not the less a sinner.

‘No,’ said he, ‘I will not see him myself; it will do no good.’

Mrs. Woodward found that it was useless to try to bend him. That, indeed, she knew from a long experience. It was then settled that she should go up to Gertrude that morning, travelling up to town together with Norman, and that when she had learned from her daughter, or from Alaric — if Alaric would talk to her about his concerns — what was really the truth of the matter, she should come to Norman’s office, and tell him what it would be necessary for him to do.

And then the marriage was again put off. This, in itself, was a great misery, as young ladies who have just been married, or who may now be about to be married, will surely own. The words ‘put off’ are easily written, the necessity of such a ‘put off’ is easily arranged in the pages of a novel; an enforced delay of a month or two in an affair which so many folk willingly delay for so many years, sounds like a slight thing; but, nevertheless, a matrimonial ‘put off’ is, under any circumstances, a great grief. To have to counter-write those halcyon notes which have given glad promise of the coming event; to pack up and put out of sight, and, if possible, out of mind, the now odious finery with which the house has for the last weeks been strewed; to give the necessary information to the pastry-cook, from whose counter the sad tidings will be disseminated through all the neighbourhood; to annul the orders which have probably been given for rooms and horses for the happy pair; to live, during the coming interval, a mark for Pity’s unpitying finger; to feel, and know, and hourly calculate, how many slips there may be between the disappointed lip and the still distant cup; all these things in themselves make up a great grief, which is hardly lightened by the knowledge that they have been caused by a still greater grief.

These things had Linda now to do, and the poor girl had none to help her in the doing of them. A few hurried words were spoken on that morning between her and Norman, and for the second time she set to work to put off her wedding. Katie, the meantime, lay sick in bed, and Mrs. Woodward had gone to London to learn the worst and to do the best in this dire affliction that had come upon them.

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