The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter V

Bushey Park

The next day being Sunday, the whole party very properly went to church; but during the sermon Captain Cuttwater very improperly went to sleep, and snored ponderously the whole time. Katie was so thoroughly shocked that she did not know which way to look; Norman, who had recovered his good-humour, and Alaric, could not refrain from smiling as they caught the eyes of the two girls; and Mrs. Woodward made sundry little abortive efforts to wake her uncle with her foot. Altogether abortive they were not, for the captain would open his eyes and gaze at her for a moment in the most good-natured, lack-lustre manner conceivable; but then, in a moment, he would be again asleep and snoring, with all the regularity of a kitchen-clock. This was at first very dreadful to the Woodwards; but after a month or two they got used to it, and so apparently did the pastor and the people of Hampton.

After church there was a lunch of course; and then, according to their wont, they went out to walk. These Sunday walks in general were matters of some difficulty. The beautiful neighbourhood of Hampton Court, with its palace-gardens and lovely park, is so popular with Londoners that it is generally alive on that day with a thronged multitude of men, women, and children, and thus becomes not an eligible resort for lovers of privacy. Captain Cuttwater, however, on this occasion, insisted on seeing the chestnuts and the crowd, and consequently, they all went into Bushey Park.

Uncle Bat, who professed himself to be a philanthropist, and who was also a bit of a democrat, declared himself delighted with what he saw. It was a great thing for the London citizens to come down there with their wives and children, and eat their dinners in the open air under the spreading trees; and both Harry and Alaric agreed with him. Mrs. Woodward, however, averred that it would be much better if they would go to church first, and Gertrude and Linda were of opinion that the Park was spoilt by the dirty bits of greasy paper which were left about on all sides. Katie thought it very hard that, as all the Londoners were allowed to eat their dinners in the Park, she might not have hers there also. To which Captain Cuttwater rejoined that he should give them a picnic at Richmond before the summer was over.

All the world knows how such a party as that of our friends by degrees separates itself into twos and threes, when sauntering about in shady walks. It was seldom, indeed, that Norman could induce his Dulcinea to be so complaisant in his favour; but either accident or kindness on her part favoured him on this occasion, and as Katie went on eliciting from Uncle Bat fresh promises as to the picnic, Harry and Gertrude found themselves together under one avenue of trees, while Alaric and Linda were equally fortunate, or unfortunate, under another.

‘I did so wish to speak a few words to you, Gertrude,’ said Norman; ‘but it seems as though, now that this captain has come among us, all our old habits and ways are to be upset.’

‘I don’t see that you need say that,’ said she. ‘We may, perhaps, be put out a little — that is, mamma and Linda and I; but I do not see that you need suffer.’

‘Suffer — no, not suffer — and yet it is suffering.’

‘What is suffering?’ said she.

‘Why, to be as we were last night — not able to speak to each other.’

‘Come, Harry, you should be a little reasonable,’ said she, laughing. ‘If you did not talk last night whose fault was it?’

‘I suppose you will say it was my own. Perhaps it was. But I could not feel comfortable while he was drinking gin-and-water —’

‘It was rum,’ said Gertrude, rather gravely.

‘Well, rum-and-water in your mother’s drawing-room, and cursing and swearing before you and Linda, as though he were in the cockpit of a man-of-war.’

‘Alaric you saw was able to make himself happy, and I am sure he is not more indifferent to us than you are.’

‘Alaric seemed to me to be bent on making a fool of the old man; and, to tell the truth, I cannot approve of his doing so.’

‘It seems to me, Harry, that you do not approve of what any of us are doing,’ said she; ‘I fear we are all in your black books — Captain Cuttwater, and mamma, and Alaric, and I, and all of us.’

‘Well now, Gertrude, do you mean to say you think it right that Katie should sit by and hear a man talk as Captain Cuttwater talked last night? Do you mean to say that the scene which passed, with the rum and the curses, and the absurd ridicule which was thrown on your mother’s uncle, was such as should take place in your mother’s drawing-room?’

‘I mean to say, Harry, that my mother is the best and only judge of what should, and what should not, take place there.’

Norman felt himself somewhat silenced by this, and walked on for a time without speaking. He was a little too apt to take upon himself the character of Mentor; and, strange to say, he was aware of his own fault in this particular. Thus, though the temptation to preach was very powerful, he refrained himself for a while. His present desire was to say soft things rather than sharp words; and though lecturing was at this moment much easier to him than love-making, he bethought himself of his object, and controlled the spirit of morality which was strong within him.

‘But we were so happy before your uncle came,’ he said, speaking with his sweetest voice, and looking at the beautiful girl beside him with all the love he was able to throw into his handsome face.

‘And we are happy now that he has come — or at any rate ought to be,’ said Gertrude, doing a little in the Mentor line herself, now that the occasion came in her way.

‘Ah! Gertrude, you know very well there is only one thing can make me happy,’ said Harry.

‘Why, you unreasonable man! just now you said you were perfectly happy before Captain Cuttwater came, I suppose the one thing now necessary is to send him away again.’

‘No, Gertrude, the thing necessary is to take you away.’

‘What! out of the contamination of poor old Uncle Bat’s bottle of rum? But, Harry, you see it would be cowardly in me to leave mamma and Linda to suffer the calamity alone.’

‘I wonder, Gertrude, whether, in your heart of hearts, you really care a straw about me,’ said Harry, who was now very sentimental and somewhat lachrymose.

‘You know we all care very much about you, and it is very wrong in you to express such a doubt,’ said Gertrude, with a duplicity that was almost wicked; as if she did not fully understand that the kind of ‘caring’ of which Norman spoke was of a very different nature from the general ‘caring’ which she, on his behalf, shared with the rest of her family.

‘All of you — yes, but I am not speaking of all of you; I am speaking of you, Gertrude — you in particular. Can you ever love me well enough to be my wife?’

‘Well, there is no knowing what I may be able to do in three or four years’ time; but even that must depend very much on how you behave yourself in the mean time. If you get cross because Captain Cuttwater has come here, and snub Alaric and Linda, as you did last night, and scold at mamma because she chooses to let her own uncle live in her own house, why, to tell you the truth, I don’t think I ever shall.’

All persons who have a propensity to lecture others have a strong constitutional dislike to being lectured themselves. Such was decidedly the case with Harry Norman. In spite of his strong love, and his anxious desire to make himself agreeable, his brow became somewhat darkened, and his lips somewhat compressed. He would not probably have been annoyed had he not been found fault with for snubbing his friend Tudor. Why should Gertrude, his Gertrude, put herself forward to defend his friend? Let her say what she chose for her mother, or even for her profane, dram-drinking, vulgar old uncle, but it was too much that she should take up the cudgels for Alaric Tudor.

‘Well,’ said he, ‘I was annoyed last night, and I must own it. It grieved me to hear Alaric turning your uncle into ridicule, and that before your mother’s face; and it grieved me to see you and Linda encourage him. In what Alaric said about the Admiralty he did not speak truthfully.’

‘Do you mean to say that Alaric said what was false?’

‘Inasmuch as he was pretending to express his own opinion, he did say what was false.’

‘Then I must and will say that I never yet knew Alaric say a word that was not true; and, which is more, I am quite sure that he would not accuse you of falsehood behind your back in a fit of jealousy.’

‘Jealousy!’ said Norman, looking now as black as grim death itself.

‘Yes, it is jealousy. It so turned out that Alaric got on better last night with Captain Cuttwater than you did, and that makes you jealous.’

‘Pish!’ said Norman, somewhat relieved, but still sufficiently disgusted that his lady-love should suppose that he could be otherwise than supremely indifferent to the opinion of Captain Cuttwater.

The love-scene, however, was fatally interrupted; and the pair were not long before they joined the captain, Mrs. Woodward, and Katie.

And how fared it with the other pair under the other avenue of chestnuts?

Alaric Tudor had certainly come out with no defined intention of making love as Harry Norman had done; but with such a companion it was very difficult for him to avoid it. Linda was much more open to attacks of this nature than her sister. Not that she was as a general rule willingly and wilfully inclined to give more encouragement to lovers than Gertrude; but she had less power of fence, less skill in protecting herself, and much less of that naughty self-esteem which makes some women fancy that all love-making to them is a liberty, and the want of which makes others feel that all love-making is to them a compliment.

Alaric Tudor had no defined intention of making love; but he had a sort of suspicion that he might, if he pleased, do so successfully; and he had no defined intention of letting it alone. He was a far-seeing, prudent man; for his age perhaps too prudent; but he was nevertheless fully susceptible of the pleasure of holding an affectionate, close intercourse with so sweet a girl as Linda Woodward; and though he knew that marriage with a girl without a dowry would for him be a death-blow to all his high hopes, he could hardly resist the temptation of conjugating the verb to love. Had he been able to choose from the two sisters, he would probably have selected Gertrude in spite of what he had said to Norman in the boat; but Gertrude was bespoken; and it therefore seemed all but unnatural that there should not be some love passages between him and Linda.

Ah! Mrs. Woodward, my friend, my friend, was it well that thou shouldst leave that sweet unguarded rosebud of thine to such perils as these?

They, also, commenced their wooing by talking over Captain Cuttwater; but they did not quarrel over him. Linda was quite content to be told by her friend what she ought to do, and how she ought to think about her uncle; and Alaric had a better way of laying down the law than Norman. He could do so without offending his hearer’s pride, and consequently was generally better listened to than his friend, though his law was probably not in effect so sound.

But they had soon done with Captain Cuttwater, and Alaric had to choose another subject. Gertrude and Norman were at some distance from them, but were in sight and somewhat in advance.

‘Look at Harry,’ said Alaric; ‘I know from the motion of his shoulder that he is at this moment saying something very tender.’

‘It is ten times more likely that they are quarrelling,’ said Linda.

‘Oh! the quarrels of lovers — we know all about that, don’t we?’

‘You must not call them lovers, Alaric; mamma would not like it, nor indeed would Gertrude, I am sure.’

‘I would not for the world do anything that Mrs. Woodward would not like; but between ourselves, Linda, are they not lovers?’

‘No; that is, not that I know of. I don’t believe that they are a bit,’ said Linda, blushing at her own fib.

‘And why should they not be? How indeed is it possible that they should not be; that is — for I heartily beg Gertrude’s pardon — how is it possible that Harry should not be in love with her?’

‘Indeed, Gertrude is very, very beautiful,’ said Linda, with the faintest possible sigh, occasioned by the remembrance of her own inferior charms.

‘Indeed she is, very, very beautiful,’ repeated Alaric, speaking with an absent air as though his mind were fully engaged in thinking of the beauty of which he spoke.

It was not in Linda’s nature to be angry because her sister was admired, and because she was not. But yet there was something in Alaric’s warm tone of admiration which gave her a feeling of unhappiness which she would have been quite unable to define, even had she attempted it. She saw her sister and Harry Norman before her, and she knew in her heart that they were lovers, in spite of her little weak declaration to the contrary. She saw how earnestly her sister was loved, and she in her kindly loving nature could not but envy her fancied happiness. Envy — no — it certainly was not envy. She would not for worlds have robbed her sister of her admirer; but it was so natural for her to feel that it must be delicious to be admired!

She did not begrudge Gertrude Norman’s superior beauty, nor his greater wealth; she knew that Gertrude was entitled to more, much more, than herself. But seeing that Norman was Gertrude’s lover, was it not natural that Alaric should be hers? And then, though Harry was the handsomer and the richer, she liked Alaric so much the better of the two. But now that Alaric was alone with her, the only subject he could think to talk of was Gertrude’s beauty!

It must not be supposed that these thoughts in their plainly-developed form passed through Linda’s mind. It was not that she thought all this, but that she felt it. Such feelings are quite involuntary, whereas one’s thoughts are more or less under command. Linda would not have allowed herself to think in this way for worlds; but she could not control her feelings.

They walked on side by side, perfectly silent for a minute or two, and an ill-natured tear was gathering itself in the corner of Linda’s eye: she was afraid even to raise her hand to brush it away, for fear Alaric should see her, and thus it went on gathering till it was like to fall.

‘How singular it is,’ said Alaric —‘how very singular, the way in which I find myself living with you all! such a perfect stranger as I am.’

‘A perfect stranger!’ said Linda, who, having remembered Alaric since the days of her short frocks and lessons, looked on him as a very old friend indeed.

‘Yes, a perfect stranger, if you think of it. What do any of you know about me? Your mother never saw my mother; your father knew nothing of my father; there is no kindred blood common to us. Harry Norman, there, is your near cousin; but what am I that I should be thus allowed to live with you, and walk with you, and have a common interest in all your doings?’

‘Why, you are a dear friend of mamma’s, are you not?’

‘A dear friend of mamma’s! said he, ‘well, indeed, I hope I am; for your mother is at any rate a dear friend to me. But, Linda, one cannot be so much without longing to be more. Look at Harry, how happy he is!’

‘But, Alaric, surely you would not interfere with Harry,’ said Linda, whose humble, innocent heart thought still of nothing but the merits of her sister; and then, remembering that it was necessary that she should admit nothing on Gertrude’s behalf, she entered her little protest against the assumption that her sister acknowledged Norman for her lover. ‘That is, you would not do so, if there were anything in it.’

‘I interfere with Harry!’ said Alaric, switching the heads off the bits of fern with the cane he carried. ‘No, indeed. I have no wish at all to do that. It is not that of which I was thinking. Harry is welcome to all his happiness; that is, if Gertrude can be brought to make him happy.’

Linda, made no answer now; but the tear came running down her face, and her eyes became dim, and her heart beat very quick, and she didn’t quite remember where she was. Up to this moment no man had spoken a word of love to Linda Woodward, and to some girls the first word is very trying.

‘Interfere with Harry!’ Alaric repeated again, and renewed his attack on the ferns. ‘Well, Linda, what an opinion you must have of me!’

Linda was past answering; she could not protest — nor would it have been expedient to do so — that her opinion of her companion was not unfavourable.

‘Gertrude is beautiful, very beautiful,’ he continued, still beating about the bush as modest lovers do, and should do; ‘but she is not the only beautiful girl in Surbiton Cottage, nor to my eyes is she the most so.’

Linda was now quite beside herself. She knew that decorum required that she should say something stiff and stately to repress such language, but if all her future character for propriety had depended on it, she could not bring herself to say a word. She knew that Gertrude, when so addressed, would have maintained her dignity, and have concealed her secret, even if she allowed herself to have a secret to conceal. She knew that it behoved her to be repellent and antagonistic to the first vows of a first lover. But, alas! she had no power of antagonism, no energy for repulse left in her. Her knees seemed to be weak beneath her, and all she could do was to pluck to pieces the few flowers that she carried at her waist.

Alaric saw his advantage, but was too generous to push it closely; nor indeed did he choose to commit himself to all the assured intentions of a positive declaration. He wished to raise an interest in Linda’s heart, and having done so, to leave the matter to chance. Something, however, it was necessary that he should say. He walked a while by her in silence, decapitating the ferns, and then coming close to her, he said —

‘Linda, dear Linda! you are not angry with me?’ Linda, however, answered nothing. ‘Linda, dearest Linda! speak one word to me.’

‘Don’t!’ said Linda through her tears. ‘Pray don’t, Alaric; pray don’t.’

‘Well, Linda, I will not say another word to you now. Let us walk gently; we shall catch them up quite in time before they leave the park.’

And so they sauntered on, exchanging no further words. Linda by degrees recovered her calmness, and as she did so, she found herself to be, oh! so happy. She had never, never envied Gertrude her lover; but it was so sweet, so very sweet, to be able to share her sister’s happiness. And Alaric, was he also happy? At the moment he doubtless enjoyed the triumph of his success. But still he had a feeling of sad care at his heart. How was he to marry a girl without a shilling? Were all his high hopes, was all his soaring ambition, to be thrown over for a dream of love?

Ah! Mrs. Woodward, my friend, my friend, thou who wouldst have fed thy young ones, like the pelican, with blood from thine own breast, had such feeding been of avail; thou who art the kindest of mothers; has it been well for thee to subject to such perils this poor weak young dove of thine?

Uncle Bat had become tired with his walk, and crawled home so slowly that Alaric and Linda caught the party just as they reached the small wicket which leads out of the park on the side nearest to Hampton. Nothing was said or thought of their absence, and they all entered the house together. Four of them, however, were conscious that that Sunday’s walk beneath the chestnuts of Bushey Park would long be remembered.

Nothing else occurred to make the day memorable. In the evening, after dinner, Mrs. Woodward and her daughters went to church, leaving her younger guests to entertain the elder one. The elder one soon took the matter in his own hand by going to sleep; and Harry and Alaric being thus at liberty, sauntered out down the river side. They both made a forced attempt at good-humour, each speaking cheerily to the other; but there was no confidence between them as there had been on that morning when Harry rowed his friend up to London. Ah me! what had occurred between them to break the bonds of their mutual trust — to quench the ardour of their firm friendship? But so it was between them now. It was fated that they never again should place full confidence in each other.

There was no such breach between the sisters, at least not as yet; but even between them there was no free and full interchange of their hopes and fears. Gertrude and Linda shared the same room, and were accustomed — as what girls are not? — to talk half through the night of all their wishes, thoughts, and feelings. And Gertrude was generally prone enough to talk of Harry Norman. Sometimes she would say she loved him a little, just a little; at others she would declare that she loved him not at all — that is, not as heroines love in novels, not as she thought she could love, and would do, should it ever be her lot to be wooed by such a lover as her young fancy pictured to her. Then she would describe her beau idéal, and the description certainly gave no counterpart of Harry Norman. To tell the truth, however, Gertrude was as yet heart whole; and when she talked of love and Harry Norman, she did not know what love was.

On this special Sunday evening she was disinclined to speak of him at all. Not that she loved him more than usual, but that she was beginning to think that she could not ever really love him at all. She had taught herself to think that he might probably be her husband, and had hitherto felt no such repugnance to her destiny as caused her to shun the subject. But now she was beginning to think of the matter seriously; and as she did so, she felt that life might have for her a lot more blessed than that of sharing the world with her cousin Harry.

When, therefore, Linda began to question her about her lover, and to make little hints of her desire to tell what Alaric had said of her and Norman, Gertrude gave her no encouragement. She would speak of Captain Cuttwater, of Katie’s lessons, of the new dress they were to make for their mother, of Mr. Everscreech’s long sermon, of anything in fact but of Harry Norman.

Now this was very hard on poor Linda. Her heart was bursting within her to tell her sister that she also was beloved; but she could not do so without some little encouragement.

In all their conferences she took the cue of the conversation from her sister; and though she could have talked about Alaric by the hour, if Gertrude would have consented to talk about Harry, she did not know how to start the subject of her own lover, while Gertrude was so cold and uncommunicative as to hers. She struggled very hard to obtain the privilege for which she so anxiously longed; but in doing so she only met with a sad and sore rebuff.

‘Gertrude,’ at last said Linda, when Gertrude thought that the subject had been put to rest at any rate for that night, ‘don’t you think mamma would be pleased if she knew that you had engaged yourself to Harry Norman?’

‘No,’ said Gertrude, evincing her strong mind by the tone in which she spoke; ‘I do not. If mamma wished it, she would have told me; for she never has any secrets. I should be as wrong to engage myself with Harry as you would be with Alaric. For though Harry has property of his own, while poor Alaric has none, he has a very insufficient income for a married man, and I have no fortune with which to help him. If nothing else prevented it, I should consider it wicked in me to make myself a burden to a man while he is yet so young and comparatively so poor.’

Prudent, sensible, high-minded, well-disciplined Gertrude! But had her heart really felt a spark of love for the man of whom she spoke, how much would prudent, sensible, high-minded considerations have weighed with her? Alas! not a feather.

Having made her prudent, high-minded speech, she turned round and slept; and poor Linda also turned round and bedewed her pillow. She no longer panted to tell her sister of Alaric’s love.

On the next morning the two young men returned to town, and the customary dullness of the week began.

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