The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLVI

Mr. Nogo’s Last Question

But at this time Charley was not idle. The fate of ‘Crinoline and Macassar’ has not yet been told; nor has that of the two rival chieftains, the ‘Baron of Ballyporeen and Sir Anthony Allan-a-dale.’ These heartrending tales appeared in due course, bit by bit, in the pages of the Daily Delight. On every morning of the week, Sundays excepted, a page and a half of Charley’s narrative was given to the expectant public; and though I am not prepared to say that the public received the offering with any violent acclamations of applause, that his name became suddenly that of a great unknown, that literary cliques talked about him to the exclusion of other topics, or that he rose famous one morning as Byron did after the publication of the ‘Corsair,’ nevertheless something was said in his praise. The Daily Delight, on the whole, was rather belittled by its grander brethren of the press; but a word or two was said here and there to exempt Charley’s fictions from the general pooh-poohing with which the remainder of the publication was treated.

Success, such as this even, is dear to the mind of a young author, and Charley began to feel that he had done something. The editor was proportionably civil to him, and he was encouraged to commence a third historiette.

‘We have polished off poison and petticoats pretty well,’ said the editor; ‘what do you say to something political?’

Charley had no objection in life.

‘This Divorce Bill, now — we could have half a dozen married couples all separating, getting rid of their ribs and buckling again, helter-skelter, every man to somebody else’s wife; and the parish parson refusing to do the work; just to show the immorality of the thing.’

Charley said he’d think about it.

‘Or the Danubian Principalities and the French Alliance — could you manage now to lay your scene in Constantinople?’

Charley doubted whether he could.

‘Or perhaps India is the thing? The Cawnpore massacre would work up into any lengths you pleased. You could get a file of the Times, you know, for your facts.’

But while the editor was giving these various valuable hints as to the author’s future subjects, the author himself, with base mind, was thinking how much he should be paid for his past labours. At last he ventured, in the mildest manner, to allude to the subject.

‘Payment!’ said the editor.

Charley said that he had understood that there was to be some fixed scale of pay; so much per sheet, or something of that sort.

‘Undoubtedly there will,’ said the editor; ‘and those who will have the courage and perseverance to work through with us, till the publication has obtained that wide popularity which it is sure to achieve, will doubtless be paid — be paid as no writers for any periodical in this metropolis have ever yet been paid. But at present, Mr. Tudor, you really must be aware that it is quite out of the question.’

Charley had not the courage and perseverance to work through with the Daily Delight till it had achieved its promised popularity, and consequently left its ranks like a dastard. He consulted both Gertrude and Norman on the subject, and on their advice set himself to work on his own bottom. ‘You may perhaps manage to fly alone,’ said Gertrude; ‘but you will find it very difficult to fly if you tie the whole weight of the Daily Delight under your wings.’ So Charley prepared himself for solitary soaring.

While he was thus working, the time arrived at which Norman was to leave his office, and it occurred to him that it might be possible that he should bequeath his vacancy to Charley. He went himself to Sir Gregory, and explained, not only his own circumstances, and his former friendship with Alaric Tudor, but also the relationship between Alaric and Charley. He then learnt, in the strictest confidence of course, that the doom of the Internal Navigation had just been settled, and that it would be necessary to place in other offices those young men who could in any way be regarded as worth their salt, and, after considerable manoeuvring, had it so arranged that the ne’er-do-well young navvy should recommence his official life under better auspices.

Nor did Charley come in at the bottom of his office, but was allowed, by some inscrutable order of the great men who arranged those things, to take a position in the Weights and Measures equal in seniority and standing to that which he had held at the Navigation, and much higher, of course, in pay. There is an old saying, which the unenlightened credit, and which declares that that which is sauce for the goose is sauce also for the gander. Nothing put into a proverb since the days of Solomon was ever more untrue. That which is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander, and especially is not so in official life. Poor Screwy was the goose, and certainly got the sauce best suited to him when he was turned adrift out of the Civil Service. Charley was the gander, and fond as I am of him for his many excellent qualities, I am fain to own that justice might fairly have demanded that he should be cooked after the same receipt. But it suited certain potent personages to make a swan of him; and therefore, though it had long been an assured fact through the whole service that no man was ever known to enter the Weights and Measures without the strictest examination, though the character of aspirants for that high office was always subjected to a rigid scrutiny, though knowledge, accomplishments, industry, morality, outward decency, inward zeal, and all the cardinal virtues were absolutely requisite, still Charley was admitted, without any examination or scrutiny whatever, during the commotion consequent upon the earthquake above described.

Charley went to the Weights some time during the recess. In the process of the next session Mr. Nogo gave notice that he meant to ask the Government a question as to a gross act of injustice which had been perpetrated — so at least the matter had been represented to him — on the suppression of the Internal Navigation Office.

Mr. Nogo did not at first find it very easy to get a fitting opportunity for asking his question. He had to give notice, and inquiries had to be made, and the responsible people were away, and various customary accidents happened, so that it was late in June before the question was put. Mr. Nogo, however, persevered ruthlessly, and after six months’ labour, did deliver himself of an indignant, and, as his friends declared to him, a very telling speech.

It was reported at the time by the opposition newspapers, and need not therefore be given here. But the upshot was this: two men bearing equal character — Mr. Nogo would not say whether the characters of the gentlemen were good or bad; he would only say equal characters — sat in the same room at this now defunct office; one was Mr. Corkscrew and the other Mr. Tudor. One had no friends in the Civil Service, but the other was more fortunate. Mr. Corkscrew had been sent upon the world a ruined, blighted man, without any compensation, without any regard for his interests, without any consideration for his past services or future prospects. They would be told that the Government had no further need of his labours, and that they could not dare to saddle the country with a pension for so young a man. But what had been done in the case of the other gentleman? Why, he had been put into a valuable situation, in the best Government office in London, had been placed over the heads of a dozen others, who had been there before him, &c., &c., &c. And then Mr. Nogo ended with so vehement an attack on Sir Gregory, and the Government as connected with him, that the dogs began to whet their teeth and prepare for a tug at the great badger.

But circumstances were mischancy with Mr. Nogo, and all he said redounded only to the credit of our friend Charley. His black undoubtedly was black; the merits of Charley and Mr. Corkscrew, as public servants, had been about equal; but Mr. Whip Vigil turned the black into white in three minutes.

As he got upon his legs, smiling after the manner of his great exemplar, he held in his hand a small note and a newspaper. ‘A comparison,’ he said, ‘had been instituted between the merits of two gentlemen formerly in the employment of the Crown, one of them had been selected for further employment, and the other rejected. The honourable member for Mile End had, he regretted to say, instituted this comparison. They all knew what was the proverbial character of a comparison. It was, however, ready made to his hands, and there was nothing left for him, Mr. Whip Vigil, but to go on with it. This, however, he would do in as light a manner as possible. It had been thought that the one gentleman would not suit the public service, and that the other would do so. It was for him merely to defend this opinion. He now held in his hand a letter written by the protégé of the honourable member for Limehouse; he would not read it —’ (cries of ‘Read, read!’) ‘no, he would not read it, but the honourable member might if he would — and could. He himself was prepared to say that a gentleman who chose to express himself in such a style in his private notes — this note, however, was not private in the usual sense — could hardly be expected to command a proper supply of wholesome English, such as the service of the Crown demanded!’ Then Mr. Vigil handed across to Mr. Nogo poor Screwy’s unfortunate letter about the pork chops. ‘As to the other gentleman, whose name was now respectably known in the lighter walks of literature, he would, if permitted, read the opinion expressed as to his style of language by a literary publication of the day; and then the House would see whether or no the produce of the Civil Service field had not been properly winnowed; whether the wheat had not been garnered, and the chaff neglected.’ And then the right honourable gentleman read some half-dozen lines, highly eulogistic of Charley’s first solitary flight.

Poor Mr. Nogo remained in silence, feeling that his black had become white to all intents and purposes; and the big badger sat by and grinned, not deigning to notice the dogs around him. Thus it may be seen that that which is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander.

Early in the spring Norman was married; and then, as had been before arranged, Charley once more went to Surbiton Cottage. The marriage was a very quiet affair. The feeling of disgrace which had fallen upon them all since the days of Alaric’s trial had by no means worn itself away. There were none of them yet — no, not one of the Cottage circle, from Uncle Bat down to the parlour-maid — who felt that they had a right to hold up their faces before the light of day as they had formerly done. There was a cloud over their house, visible perhaps with more or less distinctness to all eyes, but which to themselves appeared black as night. That evil which Alaric had done to them was not to be undone in a few moons. We are all of us responsible for our friends, fathers-inlaw for their sons-inlaw, brothers for their sisters, husbands for their wives, parents for their children, and children even for their parents. We cannot wipe off from us, as with a wet cloth, the stains left by the fault of those who are near to us. The ink-spot will cling. Oh! Alaric, Alaric, that thou, thou who knewest all this, that thou shouldest have done this thing! They had forgiven his offence against them, but they could not forget their own involuntary participation in his disgrace. It was not for them now to shine forth to the world with fine gala doings, and gay gaudy colours, as they had done when Gertrude had been married.

But still there was happiness — quiet, staid happiness — at the Cottage. Mrs. Woodward could not but be happy to see Linda married to Harry Norman, her own favourite, him whom she had selected in her heart for her son-inlaw from out of all the world. And now, too, she was beginning to be conscious that Harry and Linda were better suited for each other than he and Gertrude would have been. What would have been Linda’s fate, how unendurable, had she been Alaric’s wife, when Alaric fell? How would she have borne such a fall? What could she have done, poor lamb, towards mending the broken thread or binding the bruised limbs? What balm could she have poured into such wounds as those which fate had inflicted on Gertrude and her household? But at Normansgrove, with a steady old housekeeper at her back, and her husband always by to give her courage, Linda would find the very place for which she was suited.

And then Mrs. Woodward had another source of joy, of liveliest joy, in Katie’s mending looks. She was at the wedding, though hardly with her mother’s approval.

As she got better her old spirit returned to her, and it became difficult to refuse her anything. It was in vain that her mother talked of the cold church, and easterly winds, and the necessary lightness of a bridesmaid’s attire. Katie argued that the church was only two hundred yards off, that she never suffered from the cold, and that though dressed in light colours, as became a bridesmaid, she would, if allowed to go, wear over her white frock any amount of cloaks which her mother chose to impose on her. Of course she went, and we will not say how beautiful she looked, when she clung to Linda in the vestry-room, and all her mother’s wrappings fell in disorder from her shoulders.

So Linda was married and carried off to Normansgrove, and Katie remained with her mother and Uncle Bat.

‘Mamma, we will never part — will we, mamma?’ said she, as they comforted each other that evening after the Normans were gone, and when Charley also had returned to London.

‘When you go, Katie, I think you must take me with you,’ said her mother, smiling through her tears. ‘But what will poor Uncle Bat do? I fear you can’t take him also.’

‘I will never go from you, mamma.’

Her mother knew what she meant. Charley had been there, Charley to whom she had declared her love when lying, as she thought, on her bed of death — Charley had been there again, and had stood close to her, and touched her hand, and looked — oh, how much handsomer he was than Harry, how much brighter than Alaric! — he had touched her hand, and spoken to her one word of joy at her recovered health. But that had been all. There was a sort of compact, Katie knew, that there should be no other Tudor marriage. Charley was not now the scamp he had been, but still — it was understood that her love was not to win its object.

‘I will never go from you, mamma.’

But Mrs. Woodward’s heart was not hard as the nether millstone. She drew her daughter to her, and as she pressed her to her bosom, she whispered into her ears that she now hoped they might all be happy.

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