The Three Clerks, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIII

A Communication of Importance

Norman’s dark wet walk did him physically no harm, and morally some good. He started on it in that frame of mind which induces a man to look with indifference on all coming evils under the impression that the evils already come are too heavy to admit of any increase. But by the time that he was thoroughly wet through, well splashed with mud, and considerably fatigued by his first five or six miles’ walk, he began to reflect that life was not over with him, and that he must think of future things as well as those that were past.

He got home about two o’clock, and having knocked up his landlady, Mrs. Richards, betook himself to bed. Alaric had been in his room for the last two hours, but of Charley and his latch-key Mrs. Richards knew nothing. She stated her belief, however, that two a.m. seldom saw that erratic gentleman in his bed.

On the following morning, Alaric, when he got his hot water, heard that Norman returned during the night from Hampton, and he immediately guessed what had brought him back. He knew that nothing short of some great trouble would have induced Harry to leave the Cottage so abruptly, and that that trouble must have been of such a nature as to make his remaining with the Woodwards an aggravation of it. No such trouble could have come on him but the one.

As Charley seldom made his appearance at the breakfast table on Sunday mornings, Alaric foresaw that he must undergo a tête-à- tête which would not be agreeable to himself, and which must be much more disagreeable to his companion; but for this there was no help. Harry had, however, prepared himself for what he had to go through, and immediately that the two were alone, he told his tale in a very few words.

‘Alaric,’ said he, ‘I proposed to Gertrude last night, and she refused me.’

Alaric Tudor was deeply grieved for his friend. There was something in the rejected suitor’s countenance — something in the tone of voice, which would have touched any heart softer than stone; and Alaric’s heart had not as yet been so hardened by the world as to render him callous to the sight of such grief as this.

‘Take my word for it, Harry, she’ll think better of it in a month or two,’ he said.

‘Never-never; I am sure of it. Not only from her own manner, but from her mother’s,’ said Harry. And yet, during half his walk home, he had been trying to console himself with the reflection that most young ladies reject their husbands once or twice before they accept them.

There is no offering a man comfort in such a sorrow as this; unless, indeed, he be one to whom the worship of Bacchus may be made a fitting substitute for that of the Paphian goddess.

There is a sort of disgrace often felt, if never acknowledged, which attaches itself to a man for having put himself into Norman’s present position, and this generally prevents him from confessing his defeat in such matters. The misfortune in question is one which doubtless occurs not unfrequently to mankind; but as mankind generally bear their special disappointments in silence, and as the vanity of women is generally exceeded by their good-nature, the secret, we believe, in most cases remains a secret.

Shall I, wasting in despair,
Die because a woman’s fair?
If she be not fair for me,
What care I how fair she be?

This was the upshot of the consideration which Withers, the poet, gave to the matter, and Withers was doubtless right. ’Tis thus that rejected lovers should think, thus that they should demean themselves; but they seldom come to this philosophy till a few days have passed by, and talking of their grievance does not assist them in doing so.

When, therefore, Harry had declared what had happened to him, and had declared also that he had no further hope, he did not at first find himself much the better for what he had confessed. He was lackadaisical and piteous, and Alaric, though he had endeavoured to be friendly, soon found that he had no power of imparting any comfort. Early in the day they parted, and did not see each other again till the following morning.

‘I was going down to Normansgrove on Thursday,’ said Harry.

‘Yes, I know,’ said Alaric.

‘I think I shall ask leave to go today. It can’t make much difference, and the sooner I get away the better.’

And so it was settled. Norman left town the same afternoon, and Alaric, with his blushing honours thick upon him, was left alone.

London was now very empty, and he was constrained to enjoy his glory very much by himself. He had never associated much with the Minusexes and Uppinalls, nor yet with the Joneses and Robinsons of his own office, and it could not be expected that there should be any specially confidential intercourse between them just at the present moment. Undy was of course out of town with the rest of the fashionable world, and Alaric, during the next week, was left very much on his own hands.

‘And so,’ said he to himself, as he walked solitary along the lone paths of Rotten Row, and across the huge desert to the Marble Arch, ‘and so poor Harry’s hopes have been all in vain; he has lost his promotion, and now he has lost his bride — poor Harry!’— and then it occurred to him that as he had acquired the promotion it might be his destiny to win the bride also. He had never told himself that he loved Gertrude; he had looked on her as Norman’s own, and he, at any rate, was not the man to sigh in despair after anything that was out of his reach. But now, now that Harry’s chance was over, and that no bond of friendship could interfere with such a passion, why should he not tell himself that he loved Gertrude? ‘If, as Harry had himself said, there was no longer any hope for him, why,’ said Alaric to himself, ‘why should not I try my chance?’ Of Linda, of ‘dear, dearest Linda,’ at this moment he thought very little, or, perhaps, not at all. Of what Mrs. Woodward might say, of that he did think a good deal.

The week was melancholy and dull, and it passed very slowly at Hampton. On the Sunday morning it became known to them all that Norman was gone, but the subject, by tacit consent, was allowed to pass all but unnoticed. Even Katie, even Uncle Bat, were aware that something had occurred which ought to prevent them from inquiring too particularly why Harry had started back to town in so sudden a manner; and so they said nothing. To Linda, Gertrude had told what had happened; and Linda, as she heard it, asked herself whether she was prepared to be equally obdurate with her lover. He had now the means of supporting a wife, and why should she be obdurate?

Nothing was said on the subject between Gertrude and her mother. What more could Mrs. Woodward say? It would have been totally opposed to the whole principle of her life to endeavour, by any means, to persuade her daughter to the match, or to have used her maternal influence in Norman’s favour. And she was well aware that it would have been impossible to do so successfully. Gertrude was not a girl to be talked into a marriage by any parent, and certainly not by such a parent as her mother. There was, therefore, nothing further to be said about it.

On. Saturday Alaric went down, but his arrival hardly made things more pleasant. Mrs. Woodward could not bring herself to be cordial with him, and the girls were restrained by a certain feeling that it would not be right to show too much outward joy at Alaric’s success. Linda said one little word of affectionate encouragement, but it produced no apparent return from Alaric. His immediate object was to recover Mrs. Woodward’s good graces; and he thought before he went that he had reason to hope that he might do so.

Of all the household, Captain Cuttwater was the most emphatic in his congratulations. ‘He had no doubt,’ he said, ‘that the best man had won. He had always hoped that the best man might win. He had not had the same luck when he was young, but he was very glad to see such an excellent rule brought into the service. It would soon work great changes, he was quite sure, at the Board of Admiralty.’

On the Sunday afternoon Captain Cuttwater asked him into his own bedroom, and told him with a solemn, serious manner that he had a communication of importance to make to him. Alaric followed the captain into the well-known room in which Norman used to sleep, wondering what could be the nature of Uncle Bat’s important communication. It might, probably, be some tidings of Sir Jib Boom.

‘Mr. Alaric,’ said the old man, as soon as they were both seated on opposite sides of a little Pembroke table that stood in the middle of the room, ‘I was heartily glad to hear of your success at the Weights and Measures; not that I ever doubted it if they made a fair sailing match of it.’

‘I am sure I am much obliged to you, Captain Cuttwater.’

‘That is as may be, by and by. But the fact is, I have taken a fancy to you. I like fellows that know how to push themselves.’

Alaric had nothing for it but to repeat again that he felt himself grateful for Captain Cuttwater’s good opinion.

‘Not that I have anything to say against Mr. Norman — a very nice young man, indeed, he is, very nice, though perhaps not quite so cheerful in his manners as he might be.’

Alaric began to take his friend’s part, and declared what a very worthy fellow Harry was.

‘I am sure of it — I am sure of it,’ said Uncle Bat; ‘but everybody can’t be A1; and a man can’t make everybody his heir.’

Alaric pricked up his ears. So after all Captain Cuttwater was right in calling his communication important. But what business had Captain Cuttwater to talk of making new heirs? — had he not declared that the Woodwards were his heirs?

‘I have got a little money, Mr. Alaric,’ he went on saying in a low modest tone, very different from that he ordinarily used; ‘I have got a little money — not much — and it will of course go to my niece here.’

‘Of course,’ said Alaric.

‘That is to say — it will go to her children, which is all the same thing.’

‘Quite the same thing,’ said Alaric.

‘But my idea is this: if a man has saved a few pounds himself, I think he has a right to give it to those he loves best. Now I have no children of my own.’

Alaric declared himself aware of the fact.

‘And I suppose I shan’t have any now.’

‘Not if you don’t marry,’ said Alaric, who felt rather at a loss for a proper answer. He could not, however, have made a better one.

‘No; that’s what I mean; but I don’t think I shall marry. I am very well contented here, and I like Surbiton Cottage amazingly.’

‘It’s a charming place,’ said Alaric.

‘No, I don’t suppose I shall ever have any children of my own,’— and then Uncle Bat sighed gently —‘and so I have been considering whom I should like to adopt.’

‘Quite right, Captain Cuttwater.’

‘Whom I should like to adopt. I should like to have one whom I could call in a special manner my own. Now, Mr. Alaric, I have made up my mind, and who do you think it is?’

‘Oh! Captain Cuttwater, I couldn’t guess on such a matter. I shouldn’t like to guess wrong.’

‘Perhaps not — no; that’s right; — well then, I’ll tell you; it’s Gertrude.’

Alaric was well aware that it was Gertrude before her name had been pronounced.

‘Yes, it’s Gertrude; of course I couldn’t go out of Bessie’s family — of course it must be either Gertrude, or Linda, or Katie. Now Linda and Katie are very well, but they haven’t half the gumption that Gertrude has.’

‘No, they have not,’ said Alaric.

‘I like gumption,’ said Captain Cuttwater. ‘You’ve a great deal of gumption — that’s why I like you.’

Alaric laughed, and muttered something.

‘Now I have been thinking of something;’ and Uncle Bat looked strangely mysterious —‘I wonder what you think of Gertrude?’

‘Who — I?’ said Alaric.

‘I can see through a millstone as well as another,’ said the captain; ‘and I used to think that Norman and Gertrude meant to hit it off together.’

Alaric said nothing. He did not feel inclined to tell Norman’s secret, and yet he could not belie Gertrude by contradicting the justice of Captain Cuttwater’s opinion.

‘I used to think so — but now I find there’s nothing in it. I am sure Gertrude wouldn’t have him, and I think she’s right. He hasn’t gumption enough.’

‘Harry Norman is no fool.’

‘I dare say not,’ said the captain; ‘but take my word, she’ll never have him — Lord bless you, Norman knows that as well as I do.’

Alaric knew it very well himself also; but he did not say so.

‘Now, the long and the short of it is this — why don’t you make up to her? If you’ll make up to her and carry the day, all I can say is, I will do all I can to keep the pot a-boiling; and if you think it will help you, you may tell Gertrude that I say so.’

This was certainly an important communication, and one to which Alaric found it very difficult to give any immediate answer. He said a great deal about his affection for Mrs. Woodward, of his admiration for Miss Woodward, of his strong sense of Captain Cuttwater’s kindness, and of his own unworthiness; but he left the captain with an impression that he was not prepared at the present moment to put himself forward as a candidate for Gertrude’s hand.

‘I don’t know what the deuce he would have,’ said the captain to himself. ‘She’s as fine a girl as he’s likely to find; and two or three thousand pounds isn’t so easily got every day by a fellow that hasn’t a shilling of his own.’

When Alaric took his departure the next morning, he thought he perceived, from Mrs. Woodward’s manner, that there was less than her usual cordiality in the tone in which she said that of course he would return at the end of the week.

‘I will if possible,’ he said, ‘and I need not say that I hope to do so; but I fear I may be kept in town — at any rate I’ll write.’ When the end of the week came he wrote to say that unfortunately he was kept in town. He thoroughly understood that people are most valued when they make themselves scarce. He got in reply a note from Gertrude, saying that her mother begged that on the following Saturday he would come and bring Charley with him.

On his return to town, Alaric, by appointment, called on Sir Gregory. He had not seen his patron yet since his great report on Wheal Mary Jane had been sent in. That report had been written exclusively by himself, and poor Neverbend had been obliged to content himself with putting all his voluminous notes into Tudor’s hands. He afterwards obediently signed the report, and received his reward for doing so. Alaric never divulged to official ears how Neverbend had halted in the course of his descent to the infernal gods.

‘I thoroughly congratulate you,’ said Sir Gregory. ‘You have justified my choice, and done your duty with credit to yourself and benefit to the public. I hope you may go on and prosper. As long as you remember that your own interests should always be kept in subservience to those of the public service, you will not fail to receive the praise which such conduct deserves.’

Alaric thanked Sir Gregory for his good opinion, and as he did so, he thought of his new banker’s account, and of the £300 which was lying there. After all, which of them was right, Sir Gregory Hardlines or Undy Scott? Or was it that Sir Gregory’s opinions were such as should control the outward conduct, and Undy’s those which should rule the inner man?

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01