The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter VIII

The Hon. Undecimus Scott

The Hon. Undecimus Scott was the eleventh son of the Lord Gaberlunzie. Lord Gaberlunzie was the representative of a very old and very noble race, more conspicuous, however, at the present time for its age and nobility than for its wealth. The Hon. Undecimus, therefore, learnt, on arriving at manhood, that he was heir only to the common lot of mortality, and that he had to earn his own bread. This, however, could not have surprised him much, as nine of his brethren had previously found themselves in the same condition.

Lord Gaberlunzie certainly was not one of those wealthy peers who are able to make two or three elder sons, and after that to establish any others that may come with comfortable younger children’s portions. The family was somewhat accustomed to the res angusta domi; but they were fully alive to the fact, that a noble brood, such as their own, ought always to be able to achieve comfort and splendour in the world’s broad field, by due use of those privileges which spring from a noble name. Cauldkail Castle, in Aberdeenshire, was the family residence; but few of the eleven young Scotts were ever to be found there after arriving at that age at which they had been able to fly from the paternal hall.

It is a terrible task, that of having to provide for eleven sons. With two or three a man may hope, with some reasonable chance of seeing his hope fulfilled, that things will go well with him, and that he may descend to his grave without that worst of wretchedness, that gnawing grief which comes from bad children. But who can hope that eleven sons will all walk in the narrow path?

Had Lord Gaberlunzie, however, been himself a patriarch, and ruled the pastoral plains of Palestine, instead of the bleak mountains which surround Cauldkail Castle, he could not have been more indifferent as to the number of his sons. They flew away, each as his time came, with the early confidence of young birds, and as seldom returned to disturb the family nest.

They were a cannie, comely, sensible brood. Their father and mother, if they gave them nothing else, gave them strong bodies and sharp brains. They were very like each other, though always with a difference. Red hair, bright as burnished gold; high, but not very high, cheek bones; and small, sharp, twinkling eyes, were the Gaberlunzie personal characteristics. There were three in the army, two in the navy, and one at a foreign embassy; one was at the diggings, another was chairman of a railway company, and our own more particular friend, Undecimus, was picking up crumbs about the world in a manner that satisfied the paternal mind that he was quite able to fly alone.

There is a privilege common to the sons of all noble lords, the full value of which the young Scotts learnt very early in life — that of making any woman with a tocher an honourable lady. ‘Ye maun be a puir chiel, gin ye’ll be worth less than ten thoosand pound in the market o’ marriage; and ten thoosand pound is a gawcey grand heritage!’ Such had been the fatherly precept which Lord Gaberlunzie had striven to instil into each of his noble sons; and it had not been thrown away upon them. One after the other they had gone forth into the market-place alluded to, and had sold themselves with great ease and admirable discretion. There had been but one Moses in the lot: the Hon. Gordon Hamilton Scott had certainly brought home a bundle of shagreen spectacle cases in the guise of a widow with an exceedingly doubtful jointure; doubtful indeed at first, but very soon found to admit of no doubt whatever. He was the one who, with true Scotch enterprise, was prosecuting his fortunes at the Bendigo diggings, while his wife consoled herself at home with her title.

Undecimus, with filial piety, had taken his father exactly at his word, and swapped himself for £10,000. He had, however, found himself imbued with much too high an ambition to rest content with the income arising from his matrimonial speculation. He had first contrived to turn his real £10,000 into a fabulous £50,000, and had got himself returned to Parliament for the Tillietudlem district burghs on the credit of his great wealth; he then set himself studiously to work to make a second market by placing his vote at the disposal of the Government.

Nor had he failed of success in his attempt, though he had hitherto been able to acquire no high or permanent post. He had soon been appointed private secretary to the First Lord of the Stannaries, and he found that his duty in this capacity required him to assist the Government whip in making and keeping houses. This occupation was congenial to his spirit, and he worked hard and well at it; but the greatest of men are open to the tainting breath of suspicion, and the Honourable Undecimus Scott, or Undy Scott, as he was generally now called, did not escape. Ill-natured persons whispered that he was not on all occasions true to his party; and once when his master, the whip-inchief, overborne with too much work, had been tempted to put himself to bed comfortably in his own house, instead of on his usual uneasy couch behind the Speaker’s chair, Undy had greatly failed. The leader of a party whose struggles for the religion of his country had hitherto met but small success, saw at a glance the opportunity which fortune had placed in his way; he spied with eagle eye the nakedness of that land of promise which is compressed in the district round the Treasury benches; the barren field before him was all his own, and he put and carried his motion for closing the parks on Sundays.

He became a hero; but Undy was all but undone. The highest hope of the Sabbatarian had been to address an almost empty house for an hour and a half on this his favourite subject. But the chance was too good to be lost; he sacrificed his oratorical longings on the altar of party purpose, and limited his speech to a mere statement of his motion. Off flew on the wings of Hansom a youthful member, more trusty than the trusted Undy, to the abode of the now couchant Treasury Argus. Morpheus had claimed him all for his own. He was lying in true enjoyment, with his tired limbs stretched between the unaccustomed sheets, and snoring with free and sonorous nose, restrained by the contiguity of no Speaker’s elbow. But even in his deepest slumber the quick wheels of the bounding cab struck upon the tympanum of his anxious ear. He roused himself as does a noble watch-dog when the ‘suspicious tread of theft’ approaches. The hurry of the jaded horse, the sudden stop, the maddened furious knock, all told a tale which his well-trained ear only knew too well. He sat up for a moment, listening in his bed, stretched himself with one involuntary yawn, and then stood upright on the floor. It should not at any rate be boasted by any one that he had been found in bed.

With elastic step, three stairs at a time, up rushed that young and eager member. It was well for the nerves of Mrs. Whip Vigil that the calls of society still held her bound in some distant brilliant throng; for no consideration would have stopped the patriotic energy of that sucking statesman. Mr. Vigil had already performed the most important act of a speedy toilet, when his door was opened, and as his young friend appeared was already buttoning his first brace.

‘Pumpkin is up!’ said the eager juvenile,’ and we have only five men in the house.’

‘And where the devil is Undy Scott?’ said the Right Hon. Mr. Vigil.

‘The devil only knows,’ said the other.

‘I deserve it for trusting him,’ said the conscience-stricken but worthy public servant. By this time he had on his neckcloth and boots; in his eager haste to serve his country he had forgotten his stockings. ‘I deserve it for trusting him — and how many men have they?’

‘Forty-one when I left.’

‘Then they’ll divide, of course?’

‘Of course they will,’ said the promising young dove of the Treasury.

And now Mr. Whip Vigil had buttoned on that well-made frock with which the Parliamentary world is so conversant, and as he descended the stairs, arranged with pocket-comb his now grizzling locks. His well-brushed hat stood ready to his touch below, and when he entered the cab he was apparently as well dressed a gentleman as when about three hours after noon he may be seen with slow and easy step entering the halls of the Treasury chambers.

But ah! alas, he was all too late. He came but to see the ruin which Undy’s defection had brought about. He might have taken his rest, and had a quiet mind till the next morning’s Times revealed to him the fact of Mr. Pumpkin’s grand success. When he arrived, the numbers were being taken, and he, even he, Mr. Whip Vigil, he the great arch-numberer, was excluded from the number of the counted. When the doors were again open the Commons of England had decided by a majority of forty-one to seven that the parks of London should, one and all, be closed on Sundays; and Mr. Pumpkin had achieved among his own set a week’s immortality.

‘We mustn’t have this again, Vigil,’ said a very great man the next morning, with a good-humoured smile on his face, however, as he uttered the reprimand. ‘It will take us a whole night, and God knows how much talking, to undo what those fools did yesterday.’

Mr. Vigil resolved to leave nothing again to the unassisted industry or honesty of Undy Scott, and consequently that gentleman’s claims on his party did not stand so highly as they might have done but for this accident. Parliament was soon afterwards dissolved, and either through the lukewarm support of his Government friends, or else in consequence of his great fortune having been found to be ambiguous, the independent electors of the Tillietudlem burghs took it into their heads to unseat Mr. Scott. Unseated for Tillietudlem, he had no means of putting himself forward elsewhere, and he had to repent, in the sackcloth and ashes of private life, the fault which had cost him the friendship of Mr. Vigil.

His life, however, was not strictly private. He had used the Honourable before his name, and the M.P. which for a time had followed after it, to acquire for himself a seat as director at a bank board. He was a Vice-President of the Caledonian, English, Irish, and General European and American Fire and Life Assurance Society; such, at least, had been the name of the joint-stock company in question when he joined it; but he had obtained much credit by adding the word ‘Oriental,’ and inserting it after the allusion to Europe; he had tried hard to include the fourth quarter of the globe; but, as he explained to some of his friends, it would have made the name too cumbrous for the advertisements. He was a director also of one or two minor railways, dabbled in mining shares, and, altogether, did a good deal of business in the private stock-jobbing line.

In spite of his former delinquencies, his political friends did not altogether throw him over. In the first place, the time might come when he would be again useful, and then he had managed to acquire that air and tact which make one official man agreeable to another. He was always good-humoured; when in earnest, there was a dash of drollery about him; in his most comic moods he ever had some serious purpose in view; he thoroughly understood the esoteric and exoteric bearings of modern politics, and knew well that though he should be a model of purity before the public, it did not behove him to be very strait-laced with his own party. He took everything in good part, was not over-talkative, over-pushing, or presumptuous; he felt no strong bias of his own; had at his fingers’ ends the cant phraseology of ministerial subordinates, and knew how to make himself useful. He knew also — a knowledge much more difficult to acquire — how to live among men so as never to make himself disagreeable.

But then he could not be trusted! True. But how many men in his walk of life can be trusted? And those who can — at how terribly high a price do they rate their own fidelity! How often must a minister be forced to confess to himself that he cannot afford to employ good faith! Undy Scott, therefore, from time to time, received some ministerial bone, some Civil Service scrap of victuals thrown to him from the Government table, which, if it did not suffice to maintain him in all the comforts of a Treasury career, still preserved for him a connexion with the Elysium of public life; gave him, as it were, a link by which he could hang on round the outer corners of the State’s temple, and there watch with advantage till the doors of Paradise should be re-opened to him. He was no Lucifer, who, having wilfully rebelled against the high majesty of Heaven, was doomed to suffer for ever in unavailing, but still proud misery, the penalties of his asserted independence; but a poor Peri, who had made a lapse and thus forfeited, for a while, celestial joys, and was now seeking for some welcome offering, striving to perform some useful service, by which he might regain his lost glory.

The last of the good things thus tendered to him was not yet all consumed. When Mr. Hardlines, now Sir Gregory, was summoned to assist at, or rather preside over, the deliberations of the committee which was to organize a system of examination for the Civil Service, the Hon. U. Scott had been appointed secretary to that committee. This, to be sure, afforded but a fleeting moment of halcyon bliss; but a man like Mr. Scott knew how to prolong such a moment to its uttermost stretch. The committee had ceased to sit, and the fruits of their labour were already apparent in the establishment of a new public office, presided over by Sir Gregory; but still the clever Undy continued to draw his salary.

Undy was one of those men who, though married and the fathers of families, are always seen and known ‘en garçon‘. No one had a larger circle of acquaintance than Undy Scott; no one, apparently, a smaller circle than Mrs. Undy Scott. So small, indeed, was it, that its locale was utterly unknown in the fashionable world. At the time of which we are now speaking Undy was the happy possessor of a bedroom in Waterloo Place, and rejoiced in all the comforts of a first-rate club. But the sacred spot, in which at few and happy intervals he received the caresses of the wife of his bosom and the children of his loins, is unknown to the author.

In age, Mr. Scott, at the time of the Tavistock mining inquiry, was about thirty-five. Having sat in Parliament for five years, he had now been out for four, and was anxiously looking for the day when the universal scramble of a general election might give him another chance. In person he was, as we have said, stalwart and comely, hirsute with copious red locks, not only over his head, but under his chin and round his mouth. He was well made, six feet high, neither fat nor thin, and he looked like a gentleman. He was careful in his dress, but not so as to betray the care that he took; he was imperturbable in temper, though restless in spirit; and the one strong passion of his life was the desire of a good income at the cost of the public.

He had an easy way of getting intimate with young men when it suited him, and as easy a way of dropping them afterwards when that suited him. He had no idea of wasting his time or opportunities in friendships. Not that he was indifferent as to his companions, or did not appreciate the pleasure of living with pleasant men; but that life was too short, and with him the race too much up hill, to allow of his indulging in such luxuries. He looked on friendship as one of those costly delights with which none but the rich should presume to gratify themselves. He could not afford to associate with his fellow-men on any other terms than those of making capital of them. It was not for him to walk and talk and eat and drink with a man because he liked him. How could the eleventh son of a needy Scotch peer, who had to maintain his rank and position by the force of his own wit, how could such a one live, if he did not turn to some profit even the convivialities of existence?

Acting in accordance with his fixed and conscientious rule in this respect, Undy Scott had struck up an acquaintance with Alaric Tudor. He saw that Alaric was no ordinary clerk, that Sir Gregory was likely to have the Civil Service under his thumb, and that Alaric was a great favourite with the great man. It would but little have availed Undy to have striven to be intimate with Sir Gregory himself. The Knight Commander of the Bath would have been deaf to his blandishments; but it seemed probable that the ears of Alaric might be tickled.

And thus Alaric and Undy Scott had become fast friends; that is, as fast as such friends generally are. Alaric was no more blind to his own interest than was his new ally. But there was this difference between them; Undy lived altogether in the utilitarian world which he had formed around himself, whereas Alaric lived in two worlds. When with Undy his pursuits and motives were much such as those of Undy himself; but at Surbiton Cottage, and with Harry Norman, he was still susceptible of a higher feeling. He had been very cool to poor Linda on his last visit to Hampton; but it was not that his heart was too hard for love. He had begun to discern that Gertrude would never attach herself to Norman; and if Gertrude were free, why should she not be his?

Poor Linda!

Scott had early heard — and of what official event did he not obtain early intelligence? — that Neverbend was to go down to Tavistock about the Mary Jane tin mine, and that a smart colleague was required for him. He would fain, for reasons of his own, have been that smart colleague himself; but that he knew was impossible. He and Neverbend were the Alpha and Omega of official virtues and vices. But he took an opportunity of mentioning before Sir Gregory, in a passing unpremeditated way, how excellently adapted Tudor was for the work. It so turned out that his effort was successful, and that Tudor was sent.

The whole of their first day at Tavistock was passed by Neverbend and Alaric in hearing interminable statements from the various mining combatants, and when at seven o’clock Alaric shut up for the evening he was heartily sick of the job. The next morning before breakfast he sauntered out to air himself in front of the hotel, and who should come whistling up the street, with a cigar in his mouth, but his new friend Undy Scott.

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