The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLIII

Millbank

The immediate neighbourhood of Millbank Penitentiary is not one which we should, for its own sake, choose for our residence, either on account of its natural beauty, or the excellence of its habitations. That it is a salubrious locality must be presumed from the fact that it has been selected for the site of the institution in question; but salubrity, though doubtless a great recommendation, would hardly reconcile us to the extremely dull, and one might almost say, ugly aspect which this district bears.

To this district, however, ugly as it is, we must ask our readers to accompany us, while we pay a short visit to poor Gertrude. It was certainly a sad change from her comfortable nursery and elegant drawing-room near Hyde Park. Gertrude had hitherto never lived in an ugly house. Surbiton Cottage and Albany Place were the only two homes that she remembered, and neither of them was such as to give her much fitting preparation for the melancholy shelter which she found at No. 5, Paradise Row, Millbank.

But Gertrude did not think much of this when she changed her residence. Early one morning, leaning on Charley’s arm, she had trudged down across the Park, through Westminster, and on to the close vicinity of the prison; and here they sought for and obtained such accommodation as she thought fitting to her present situation. Charley had begged her to get into a cab, and when she refused that, had implored her to indulge in the luxury of an omnibus; but Gertrude’s mind was now set upon economy; she would come back, she said, in an omnibus when the day would be hotter, and she would be alone, but she was very well able to walk the distance once.

She procured, for seven shillings a week, a sitting-room and bedroom, from whence she could see the gloomy prison walls, and also a truckle-bed for the young girl whom she was to bring with her as her maid. This was a little Hampton maiden, whom she had brought from the country to act as fag and deputy to her grand nurse; but the grand nurse was now gone, and the fag was promoted to the various offices of nurse, lady’s-maid, and parlour servant. The rest of the household in Albany Place had already dispersed with the discreet view of bettering their situations.

Everything in the house was given up to pay what Alaric owed. Independently of his dreadful liability to Madame Jaquêtanàpe, he could not have been said to be in debt; but still, like most other men who live as he had done, when his career was thus brought to a sudden close, it was found that there were many people looking for money. There were little bills, as the owners said of them, which had been forgotten, of course, on account of their insignificance, but which being so very little might now be paid, equally of course, without any trouble. It is astonishing how easy it is to accumulate three or four hundred pounds’ worth of little bills, when one lives before the world in a good house and in visible possession of a good income.

At the moment of Alaric’s conviction, there was but a slender stock of money forthcoming for these little bills. The necessary expense of his trial — and it had been by no means trifling — he had, of course, been obliged to pay. His salary had been suspended, and all the money that he could lay his hands on had been given up towards making restitution towards the dreadful sum of £20,000 that had been his ruin. The bills, however, did not come in till after his trial, and then there was but little left but the furniture.

As the new trustees employed on behalf of Madame Jaquêtanàpe and Mr. Figgs were well aware that they had much more to expect from the generosity of Tudor’s friends than from any legal seizure of his property, they did not interfere in the disposal of the chairs and tables. But not on that account did Gertrude conceive herself entitled to make any use on her own behalf of such money as might come into her hands. The bills should be paid, and then every farthing that could be collected should be given towards lessening the deficiency. Six thousand pounds had already been made up by the joint efforts of Norman and Captain Cuttwater. Undy Scott’s acknowledgement for the other four thousand had been offered, but the new trustees declined to accept it as of any value whatsoever. They were equally incredulous as to the bridge shares, which from that day to this have never held up their heads, even to the modest height of half a crown a share.

Gertrude’s efforts to make the most of everything had been unceasing. When her husband was sentenced, she had in her possession a new dress and some finery for her baby, which were not yet paid for; these she took back with her own hand, offering to the milliners her own trinkets by way of compensation for their loss. When the day for removal came, she took with her nothing that she imagined could be sold. She would have left the grander part of her own wardrobe, if the auctioneers would have undertaken to sell it. Some few things, books and trifling household articles, which she thought were dear to Alaric, she packed up; and such were sent to Hampton. On the day of her departure she dressed herself in a plain dark gown, one that was almost mourning, and then, with her baby in her lap, and her young maid beside her, and Charley fronting her in the cab, she started for her new home.

I had almost said that her pride had left her. Such an assertion would be a gross libel on her. No; she was perhaps prouder than ever, as she left her old home. There was a humility in her cheap dress, in her large straw bonnet coming far over her face, in her dark gloves and little simple collar; nay, there was a humility in her altered voice, and somewhat chastened mien; but the spirit of the woman was wholly unbroken. She had even a pride in her very position, in her close and dear tie with the convicted prisoner. She was his for better and for worse; she would now show him what was her idea of the vow she had made. To the men who came to ticket and number the furniture, to the tradesmen’s messengers who called for money, to the various workmen with whom the house was then invaded, she was humble enough; but had Mrs. Val come across her with pity, or the Miss Neverbends with their sententious twaddlings, she would have been prouder than ever. Fallen indeed! She had had no fall; nor had he; he was still a man, with a greater aggregate of good in him than falls to the average lot of mortals. Who would dare to tell her that he had fallen? ’Twas thus that her pride was still strong within her; and as it supported her through this misery, who can blame her for it?

She was allowed into the prison twice a week; on Tuesdays and Fridays she was permitted to spend one hour with her husband, and to take her child with her. It is hardly necessary to say that she was punctual to the appointed times. This, however, occupied but a short period, even of those looked-for days; and in spite of her pride, and her constant needle, the weary six months went from her all too slowly.

Nor did they pass with swifter foot within the prison. Alaric was allowed the use of books and pens and paper, but even with these he found a day in prison to be almost an unendurable eternity. This was the real punishment of his guilt; it was not that he could not eat well, and lie soft, or enjoy the comforts which had always surrounded him; but that the day would not pass away. The slowness of the lagging hours nearly drove him mad. He made a thousand resolutions as to reading, writing, and employment for his mind. He attempted to learn whole pages by rote, and to fatigue himself to rest by exercise of his memory. But his memory would not work; his mind would continue idle; he was impotent over his own faculties. Oh, if he could only sleep while these horrid weeks were passing over him!

All hope of regaining his situation had of course passed from him, all hope of employment in England. Emigration must now be his lot; and hers also, and the lot of that young one that was already born to them, and of that other one who was, alas! now coming to the world, whose fate it would be first to see the light under the walls of its father’s prison. — Yes, they must emigrate. — But there was nothing so very terrible in that. Alaric felt that even his utter poverty would be no misfortune if only his captivity were over. Poverty! — how could any man be poor who had liberty to roam the world?

We all of us acknowledge that the educated man who breaks the laws is justly liable to a heavier punishment than he who has been born in ignorance, and bred, as it were, in the lap of sin; but we hardly realize how much greater is the punishment which, when he be punished, the educated man is forced to undergo. Confinement to the man whose mind has never been lifted above vacancy is simply remission from labour. Confinement, with labour, is simply the enforcement of that which has hitherto been his daily lot. But what must a prison be to him whose intellect has received the polish of the world’s poetry, who has known what it is to feed more than the belly, to require other aliment than bread and meat?

And then, what does the poor criminal lose? His all, it will be said; and the rich can lose no more. But this is not so. No man loses his all by any sentence which a human judge can inflict. No man so loses anything approaching to his all, however much he may have lost before. But the one man has too often had no self-respect to risk; the other has stood high in his own esteem, has held his head proudly before the world, has aspired to walk in some way after the fashion of a god. Alaric had so aspired, and how must he have felt during those prison days! Of what nature must his thoughts have been when they turned to Gertrude and his child! His sin had indeed been heavy, and heavy was the penalty which he suffered. When they had been thus living for about three months, Gertrude’s second child was born. Mrs. Woodward was with her at the time, and she had suffered but little except that for three weeks she was unable to see her husband; then, in the teeth of all counsel, and in opposition to all medical warning, she could resist no longer, and carried the newborn stranger to his father.

‘Poor little wretch!’ said Alaric, as he stooped to kiss him.

‘Wretch!’ said Gertrude, looking up to him with a smile upon her face —‘he is no wretch. He is a sturdy little man, that shall yet live to make your heart dance with joy.’

Mrs. Woodward came often to see her. She did not stay, for there was no bed in which she could have slept; but the train put her down at Vauxhall, and she had but to pass the bridge, and she was close to Gertrude’s lodgings. And now the six months had nearly gone by, when, by appointment, she brought Norman with her. At this time he had given up his clerkship at the Weights and Measures, and was about to go to Normansgrove for the remainder of the winter. Both Alaric and Norman had shown a great distaste to meet each other. But Harry’s heart softened towards Gertrude. Her conduct during her husband’s troubles had been so excellent, that he could not but forgive her the injuries which he fancied he owed to her.

Everything was now prepared for their departure. They were to sail on the very day after Alaric’s liberation, so as to save him from the misery of meeting those who might know him. And now Harry came with Mrs. Woodward to bid farewell, probably for ever on this side the grave, to her whom he had once looked on as his own. How different were their lots now! Harry was Mr. Norman of Normansgrove, immediately about to take his place as the squire of his parish, to sit among brother magistrates, to decide about roads and poachers, parish rates and other all-absorbing topics, to be a rural magistrate, and fill a place among perhaps the most fortunate of the world’s inhabitants. Gertrude was the wife of a convicted felon, who was about to come forth from his prison in utter poverty, a man who, in such a catalogue as the world makes of its inhabitants, would be ranked among the very lowest.

And did Gertrude even now regret her choice? No, not for a moment! She still felt certain in her heart of hearts that she had loved the one who was the most worthy of a woman’s love. We cannot, probably, all agree in her opinion; but we will agree in this, at least, that she was now right to hold such opinion. Had Normansgrove stretched from one boundary of the county to the other, it would have weighed as nothing. Had Harry’s virtues been as bright as burnished gold — and indeed they had been bright — they would have weighed as nothing. A nobler stamp of manhood was on her husband — so at least Gertrude felt; — and manhood is the one virtue which in a woman’s breast outweighs all others.

They had not met since the evening on which Gertrude had declared to him that she never could love him; and Norman, as he got out of the cab with Mrs. Woodward, at No. 5, Paradise Row, Millbank, felt his heart beat within him almost as strongly as he had done when he was about to propose to her. He followed Mrs. Woodward into the dingy little house, and immediately found himself in Gertrude’s presence.

I should exaggerate the fact were I to say that he would not have known her; but had he met her elsewhere, met her where he did not expect to meet her, he would have looked at her more than once before he felt assured that he was looking at Gertrude Woodward. It was not that she had grown pale, or worn, or haggard; though, indeed, her face had on it that weighty look of endurance which care will always give; it was not that she had lost her beauty, and become unattractive in his eyes; but that the whole nature of her mien and form, the very trick of her gait was changed. Her eye was as bright as ever, but it was steady, composed, and resolved; her lips were set and compressed, and there was no playfulness round her mouth. Her hair was still smooth and bright, but it was more brushed off from her temples than it had been of yore, and was partly covered by a bit of black lace, which we presume we must call a cap; here and there, too, through it, Norman’s quick eye detected a few grey hairs. She was stouter too than she had been, or else she seemed to be so from the changes in her dress. Her step fell heavier on the floor than it used to do, and her voice was quicker and more decisive in its tones. When she spoke to her mother, she did so as one sister might do to another; and, indeed, Mrs. Woodward seemed to exercise over her very little of the authority of a parent. The truth was that Gertrude had altogether ceased to be a girl, had altogether become a woman. Linda, with whom Norman at once compared her, though but one year younger, was still a child in comparison with her elder sister. Happy, happy Linda!

Gertrude had certainly proved herself to be an excellent wife; but perhaps she might have made herself more pleasing to others if she had not so entirely thrown off from herself all traces of juvenility. Could she, in this respect, have taken a lesson from her mother, she would have been a wiser woman. We have said that she consorted with Mrs. Woodward as though they had been sisters; but one might have said that Gertrude took on herself the manners of the elder sister. It is true that she had hard duties to perform, a stern world to overcome, an uphill fight before her with poverty, distress, and almost, nay, absolutely, with degradation. It was well for her and Alaric that she could face it all with the true courage of an honest woman. But yet those who had known her in her radiant early beauty could not but regret that the young freshness of early years should all have been laid aside so soon.

‘Linda, at any rate, far exceeds her in beauty,’ was Norman’s first thought, as he stood for a moment to look at her —‘and then Linda too is so much more feminine.’ ’Twas thus that Harry Norman consoled himself in the first moment of his first interview with Alaric’s wife. And he was right in his thoughts. The world would now have called Linda the more lovely of the two, and certainly the more feminine in the ladylike sense of the word. If, however, devotion be feminine, and truth to one selected life’s companion, if motherly care be so, and an indomitable sense of the duties due to one’s own household, then Gertrude was not deficient in feminine character.

‘You find me greatly altered, Harry, do you not?’ said she, taking his hand frankly, and perceiving immediately the effect which she had made upon him. ‘I am a steady old matron, am I not? — with a bairn on each side of me,’ and she pointed to her baby in the cradle, and to her other boy sitting on his grandmother’s knee.

Harry said he did find her altered. It was her dress, he said, and the cap on her head.

‘Yes, Harry; and some care and trouble too. To you, you know, to a friend such as you are, I must own that care and trouble do tell upon one. Not, thank God, that I have more than I can bear; not that I have not blessings for which I cannot but be too thankful.’

‘And so these are your boys, Gertrude?’

‘Yes,’ said she, cheerfully; ‘these are the little men, that in the good times coming will be managing vast kingdoms, and giving orders to this worn-out old island of yours. Alley, my boy, sing your new song about the ‘good and happy land.’ But Alley, who had got hold of his grandmother’s watch, and was staring with all his eyes at the stranger, did not seem much inclined to be musical at the present moment.

‘And this is Charley’s godson,’ continued Gertrude, taking up the baby. ‘Dear Charley! he has been such a comfort to me.’

‘I have heard all about you daily from him,’ said Harry.

‘I know you have — and he is daily talking of you, Harry. And so he should do; so we all should do. What a glorious change this is for him! is it not, Harry?’

Charley by this time had torn himself away from Mr. Snape and the navvies, and transferred the whole of his official zeal and energies to the Weights and Measures. The manner and reason of this must, however, be explained in a subsequent chapter.

‘Yes,’ said Harry, ‘he has certainly got into a better office.’

‘And he will do well there?’

‘I am sure he will. It was impossible he should do well at that other place. No man could do so. He is quite an altered man now. The only fault I find with him is that he is so full of his heroes and heroines.’

‘So he is, Harry; he is always asking me what he is to do with some forlorn lady or gentleman, ‘Oh, smother her!’ I said the other day. ‘Well,’ said he, with a melancholy gravity, ‘I’ll try it; but I fear it won’t answer.’ Poor Charley! what a friend you have been to him, Harry!’

‘A friend!’ said Mrs. Woodward, who was still true to her adoration of Norman. ‘Indeed he has been a friend — a friend to us all. Who is there like him?’

Gertrude could have found it in her heart to go back to the subject of old days, and tell her mother that there was somebody much better even than Harry Norman. But the present was hardly a time for such an assertion of her own peculiar opinion.

‘Yes, Harry,’ she said, ‘we have all much, too much, to thank you for. I have to thank you on his account.’

‘Oh no,’ said he, ungraciously; ‘there is nothing to thank me for — not on his account. Your mother and Captain Cuttwater ——’ and then he stopped himself. What he meant was that he had sacrificed his little fortune — for at the time his elder brother had still been living — not to rescue, or in attempting to rescue, his old friend from misfortune — not, at least, because that man had been his friend; but because he was the husband of Gertrude Woodward, and of Mrs. Woodward’s daughter. Could he have laid bare his heart, he would have declared that Alaric Tudor owed him nothing; that he had never forgiven, never could forgive, the wrongs he had received from him; but that he had forgiven Alaric’s wife; and that having done so in the tenderness of his heart, he had been ready to give up all that he possessed for her protection. He would have spared Gertrude what pain he could; but he would not lie, and speak of Alaric Tudor with affection.

‘But there is, Harry; there is,’ said Gertrude; ‘much — too much — greatly too much. It is that now weighs me down more than anything. Oh! Harry, how are we to pay to you all this money?’

‘It is with Mrs. Woodward,’ said he coldly, ‘and Captain Cuttwater, not with me, that you should speak of that. Mr. Tudor owes me nothing.’

‘Oh, Harry, Harry,’ said she, ‘do not call him Mr. Tudor — pray, pray; now that we are going — now that we shall never wound your sight again! do not call him Mr. Tudor.

He has done wrong; I do not deny it; but which of us is there that has not?’

‘It was not on that account,’ said he; ‘I could forgive all that.’

Gertrude understood him, and her cheeks and brow became tinged with red. It was not from shame, nor yet wholly from a sense of anger, but mingled feelings filled her heart; feelings which she could in nowise explain. ‘If you have forgiven him that’— she would have said, had she thought it right to speak out her mind — ‘if you have forgiven him that, then there is nothing left for further forgiveness.’

Gertrude had twice a better knowledge of the world than he had, twice a quicker perception of how things were going, and should be made to go. She saw that it was useless to refer further to her husband. Norman had come there at her request to say adieu to her; that she and he, who had been friends since she was a child, might see each other before they were separated for ever by half a world, and that they might part in love and charity. She would be his sister-inlaw, he would be son to her mother, husband to her Linda; he had been, though he now denied it, her husband’s staunchest friend in his extremity; and it would have added greatly to the bitterness of her departure had she been forced to go without speaking to him one kindly word. The opportunity was given to her, and she would not utterly mar its sweetness by insisting on his injustice to her husband.

They all remained silent for a while, during which Gertrude fondled her baby, and Norman produced before the elder boy some present that he had brought for him.

‘Now, Alley,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘you’re a made man; won’t that do beautifully to play with on board the big ship?’

‘And so, Harry, you have given up official life altogether,’ said Gertrude.

‘Yes,’ said he —‘the last day of the last year saw my finale at the Weights and Measures. I did not live long — officially — to enjoy my promotion. I almost wish myself back again.’

‘You’ll go in on melting days, like the retired tallow-chandler,’ said Gertrude; ‘but, joking apart, I wish you joy on your freedom from thraldom; a government office in England is thraldom. If a man were to give his work only, it would be well. All men who have to live by labour must do that; but a man has to give himself as well as his work; to sacrifice his individuality; to become body and soul a part of a lumbering old machine.’

This hardly came well from Gertrude, seeing that Alaric at any rate had never been required to sacrifice any of his individuality. But she was determined to hate all the antecedents of his life, as though those antecedents, and not the laxity of his own principles, had brought about his ruin. She was prepared to live entirely for the future, and to look back on her London life as bad, tasteless, and demoralizing. England to her was no longer a glorious country; for England’s laws had made a felon of her husband. She would go to a new land, new hopes, new ideas, new freedom, new work, new life, and new ambition. ‘Excelsior!’ there was no longer an excelsior left for talent and perseverance in this effete country. She and hers would soon find room for their energies in a younger land; and as she went she could not but pity those whom she left behind. Her reasoning was hardly logical, but, perhaps, it was not unfortunate.

‘For myself,’ said Norman, not quite following all this —‘I always liked the Civil Service, and now I leave it with a sort of regret. I am quite glad that Charley has my old desk; it will keep up a sort of tie between me and the place.’

‘What does Linda say about it, mamma?’

‘Linda and I are both of Harry’s way of thinking,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘because Normansgrove is such a distance.’

‘Distance!’ repeated Gertrude, with something of sorrow, but more of scorn in her tone. ‘Distance, mamma! why you can get to her between breakfast and dinner. Think where Melbourne is, mamma!’

‘It has nearly broken my heart to think of it,’ said Mrs. Woodward.

‘And you will still have Linda, mamma, and our darling Katie, and Harry, and dear Charley. If the idea of distance should frighten anyone it is me. But nothing shall frighten me while I have my husband and children. Harry, you must not let mamma be too often alone when some other knight shall have come and taken away Katie.’

‘We will take her to Normansgrove for good and all, if she will let us,’ said Harry.

And now the time came for them to part. Harry was to say good-bye to her, and then to see her no more. Early on the following morning Gertrude was to go to Hampton and see Katie for the last time; to see Katie for the last time, and the Cottage, and the shining river, and all the well-known objects among which she had passed her life. To Mrs. Woodward, to Linda, and Katie, all this was subject of inexpressible melancholy; but with Gertrude every feeling of romance seemed to have been absorbed by the realities of life. She would, of course, go to Katie and give her a farewell embrace, since Katie was still too weak to come to her; she would say farewell to Uncle Bat, to whom she and Alaric owed so much; she would doubtless shed a tear or two, and feel some emotion at parting, even from the inanimate associations of her youth; but all this would now impress no lasting sorrow on her.

She was eager to be off, eager for her new career, eager that he should stand on a soil where he could once more face his fellow-creatures without shame. She panted to put thousands of leagues of ocean between him and his disgrace.

On the following morning Gertrude was to go to Hampton for two hours, and then to return to Millbank, with her mother and sister, for whose accommodation a bed had been hired in the neighbourhood. On that evening Alaric would be released from his prison; and then before daybreak on the following day they were to take their way to the far-off docks, and place themselves on board the vessel which was to carry them to their distant home.

‘God bless you, Gertrude,’ said Norman, whose eyes were not dry.

‘God Almighty bless you, Harry, you and Linda — and make you happy. If Linda does not write constantly very constantly, you must do it for her. We have delayed the happiness of your marriage, Harry — you must forgive us that, as well as all our other trespasses. I fear Linda will never forgive that.’

‘You won’t find her unmerciful on that score,’ said he. ‘Dear Gertrude, good-bye.’

She put up her face to him, and he kissed her, for the first time in his life. ‘He bade me give you his love,’ said she, in her last whisper; ‘I must, you know, do his bidding.’

Norman’s heart palpitated so that he could hardly compose his voice for his last answer; but even then he would not be untrue to his inexorable obstinacy; he could not send his love to a man he did not love. ‘Tell him,’ said he, ‘that he has my sincerest wishes for success wherever he may be; and Gertrude, I need hardly say ——’ but he could get no further.

And so they parted.

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