‘Excelsior!’ said Charley to himself, as he walked on a few steps towards his lodgings, having left Norman at the door of his club. ‘Remember it now — now, to-night.’
Yes — now is the time to remember it, if it is ever to be remembered to any advantage. He went on with stoic resolution to the end of the street, determined to press home and put the last touch to ‘Crinoline and Macassar;’ but as he went he thought of his interview with Mr. M’Ruen and of the five sovereigns still in his pocket, and altered his course.
Charley had not been so resolute with the usurer, so determined to get £5 from him on this special day, without a special object in view. His credit was at stake in a more than ordinary manner; he had about a week since borrowed money from the woman who kept the public-house in Norfolk Street, and having borrowed it for a week only, felt that this was a debt of honour which it was incumbent on him to pay. Therefore, when he had walked the length of one street on his road towards his lodgings, he retraced his steps and made his way back to his old haunts.
The house which he frequented was hardly more like a modern London gin-palace than was that other house in the city which Mr. M’Ruen honoured with his custom. It was one of those small tranquil shrines of Bacchus in which the god is worshipped perhaps with as constant a devotion, though with less noisy demonstrations of zeal than in his larger and more public temples. None absolutely of the lower orders were encouraged to come thither for oblivion. It had about it nothing inviting to the general eye. No gas illuminations proclaimed its midnight grandeur. No huge folding doors, one set here and another there, gave ingress and egress to a wretched crowd of poverty-stricken midnight revellers. No reiterated assertions in gaudy letters, each a foot long, as to the peculiar merits of the old tom or Hodge’s cream of the valley, seduced the thirsty traveller. The panelling over the window bore the simple announcement, in modest letters, of the name of the landlady, Mrs. Davis; and the same name appeared with equal modesty on the one gas lamp opposite the door.
Mrs. Davis was a widow, and her customers were chiefly people who knew her and frequented her house regularly. Lawyers’ clerks, who were either unmarried, or whose married homes were perhaps not so comfortable as the widow’s front parlour; tradesmen, not of the best sort, glad to get away from the noise of their children; young men who had begun the cares of life in ambiguous positions, just on the confines of respectability, and who, finding themselves too weak in flesh to cling on to the round of the ladder above them, were sinking from year to year to lower steps, and depths even below the level of Mrs. Davis’s public-house. To these might be added some few of a somewhat higher rank in life, though perhaps of a lower rank of respectability; young men who, like Charley Tudor and his comrades, liked their ease and self-indulgence, and were too indifferent as to the class of companions against whom they might rub their shoulders while seeking it.
The ‘Cat and Whistle,’ for such was the name of Mrs. Davis’s establishment, had been a house of call for the young men of the Internal Navigation long before Charley’s time. What first gave rise to the connexion it is not now easy to say; but Charley had found it, and had fostered it into a close alliance, which greatly exceeded any amount of intimacy which existed previously to his day.
It must not be presumed that he, in an ordinary way, took his place among the lawyers’ clerks, and general run of customers in the front parlour; occasionally he condescended to preside there over the quiet revels, to sing a song for the guests, which was sure to be applauded to the echo, and to engage in a little skirmish of politics with a retired lamp-maker and a silversmith’s foreman from the Strand, who always called him ‘Sir,’ and received what he said with the greatest respect; but, as a rule, he quaffed his Falernian in a little secluded parlour behind the bar, in which sat the widow Davis, auditing her accounts in the morning, and giving out orders in the evening to Norah Geraghty, her barmaid, and to an attendant sylph, who ministered to the front parlour, taking in goes of gin and screws of tobacco, and bringing out the price thereof with praiseworthy punctuality.
Latterly, indeed, Charley had utterly deserted the front parlour; for there had come there a pestilent fellow, highly connected with the Press, as the lamp-maker declared, but employed as an assistant shorthand-writer somewhere about the Houses of Parliament, according to the silversmith, who greatly interfered with our navvy’s authority. He would not at all allow that what Charley said was law, entertained fearfully democratic principles of his own, and was not at all the gentleman. So Charley drew himself up, declined to converse any further on politics with a man who seemed to know more about them than himself, and confined himself exclusively to the inner room.
On arriving at this elysium, on the night in question, he found Mrs. Davis usefully engaged in darning a stocking, while Scatterall sat opposite with a cigar in his mouth, his hat over his nose, and a glass of gin and water before him.
‘I began to think you weren’t coming,’ said Scatterall, ‘and I was getting so deuced dull that I was positively thinking of going home.’
‘That’s very civil of you, Mr. Scatterall,’ said the widow.
‘Well, you’ve been sitting there for the last half-hour without saying a word to me; and it is dull. Looking at a woman mending stockings is dull, ain’t it, Charley?’
‘That depends,’ said Charley, ‘partly on whom the woman may be, and partly on whom the man may be. Where’s Norah, Mrs. Davis?’
‘She’s not very well to-night; she has got a headache; there ain’t many of them here to-night, so she’s lying down.’
‘A little seedy, I suppose,’ said Scatterall.
Charley felt rather angry with his friend for applying such an epithet to his lady-love; however, he did not resent it, but sitting down, lighted his pipe and sipped his gin and water.
And so they sat for the next quarter of an hour, saying very little to each other. What was the nature of the attraction which induced two such men as Charley Tudor and Dick Scatterall to give Mrs. Davis the benefit of their society, while she was mending her stockings, it might be difficult to explain. They could have smoked in their own rooms as well, and have drunk gin and water there, if they had any real predilection for that mixture. Mrs. Davis was neither young nor beautiful, nor more than ordinarily witty. Charley, it is true, had an allurement to entice him thither, but this could not be said of Scatterall, to whom the lovely Norah was never more than decently civil. Had they been desired, in their own paternal halls, to sit and see their mother’s housekeeper darn the family stockings, they would, probably, both of them have rebelled, even though the supply of tobacco and gin and water should be gratuitous and unlimited.
It must be presumed that the only charm of the pursuit was in its acknowledged impropriety. They both understood that there was something fast in frequenting Mrs. Davis’s inner parlour, something slow in remaining at home; and so they both sat there, and Mrs. Davis went on with her darning-needle, nothing abashed.
‘Well, I think I shall go,’ said Scatterall, shaking off the last ash from the end of his third cigar.
‘Do,’ said Charley; ‘you should be careful, you know; late hours will hurt your complexion.’
‘It’s so deuced dull,’ said Scatterall.
‘Why don’t you go into the parlour, and have a chat with the gentlemen?’ suggested Mrs. Davis; ‘there’s Mr. Peppermint there now, lecturing about the war; upon my word he talks very well.’
‘He’s so deuced low,’ said Scatterall.
‘He’s a bumptious noisy blackguard too,’ said Charley; ‘he doesn’t know how to speak to a gentleman, when he meets one.’
Scatterall gave a great yawn. ‘I suppose you’re not going, Charley?’ said he.
‘Oh yes, I am,’ said Charley, ‘in about two hours.’
‘Two hours! well, good night, old fellow, for I’m off. Three cigars, Mrs. Davis, and two goes of gin and water, the last cold.’ Then, having made this little commercial communication to the landlady, he gave another yawn, and took himself away. Mrs. Davis opened her little book, jotted down the items, and then, having folded up her stockings, and put them into a basket, prepared herself for conversation.
But, though Mrs. Davis prepared herself for conversation, she did not immediately commence it. Having something special to say, she probably thought that she might improve her opportunity of saying it by allowing Charley to begin. She got up and pottered about the room, went to a cupboard, and wiped a couple of glasses, and then out into the bar and arranged the jugs and pots. This done, she returned to the little room, and again sat herself down in her chair.
‘Here’s your five pounds, Mrs. Davis,’ said Charley; ‘I wish you knew the trouble I have had to get it for you.’
To give Mrs. Davis her due, this was not the subject on which she was anxious to speak. She would have been at present well inclined that Charley should remain her debtor. ‘Indeed, Mr. Tudor, I am very sorry you should have taken any trouble on such a trifle. If you’re short of money, it will do for me just as well in October.’
Charley looked at the sovereigns, and bethought himself how very short of cash he was. Then he thought of the fight he had had to get them, in order that he might pay the money which he had felt so ashamed of having borrowed, and he determined to resist the temptation.
‘Did you ever know me flush of cash? You had better take them while you can get them,’ and as he pushed them across the table with his stick, he remembered that all he had left was ninepence.
‘I don’t want the money at present, Mr. Tudor,’ said the widow. ‘We’re such old friends that there ought not to be a word between us about such a trifle — now don’t leave yourself bare; take what you want and settle with me at quarter-day.’
‘Well, I’ll take a sovereign,’ said he, ‘for to tell you the truth, I have only the ghost of a shilling in my pocket.’ And so it was settled; Mrs. Davis reluctantly pocketed four of Mr. M’Ruen’s sovereigns, and Charley kept in his own possession the fifth, as to which he had had so hard a combat in the lobby of the bank.
He then sat silent for a while and smoked, and Mrs. Davis again waited for him to begin the subject on which she wished to speak. ‘And what’s the matter with Norah all this time?’ he said at last.
‘What’s the matter with her?’ repeated Mrs. Davis. ‘Well, I think you might know what’s the matter with her. You don’t suppose she’s made of stone, do you?’
Charley saw that he was in for it. It was in vain that Norman’s last word was still ringing in his ears. ‘Excelsior!’ What had he to do with ‘Excelsior?’ What miserable reptile on God’s earth was more prone to crawl downwards than he had shown himself to be? And then again a vision floated across his mind’s eye of a young sweet angel face with large bright eyes, with soft delicate skin, and all the exquisite charms of gentle birth and gentle nurture. A single soft touch seemed to press his arm, a touch that he had so often felt, and had never felt without acknowledging to himself that there was something in it almost divine. All this passed rapidly through his mind, as he was preparing to answer Mrs. Davis’s question touching Norah Geraghty.
‘You don’t think she’s made of stone, do you?’ said the widow, repeating her words.
‘Indeed I don’t think she’s made of anything but what’s suitable to a very nice young woman,’ said Charley.
‘A nice young woman! Is that all you can say for her? I call her a very fine girl.’ Miss Golightly’s friends could not say anything more, even for that young lady. ‘I don’t know where you’ll pick up a handsomer, or a better-conducted one either, for the matter of that.’
‘Indeed she is,’ said Charley.
‘Oh! for the matter of that, no one knows it better than yourself, Mr. Tudor; and she’s as well able to keep a man’s house over his head as some others that take a deal of pride in themselves.’
‘I’m quite sure of it,’ said Charley.
‘Well, the long and the short of it is this, Mr. Tudor.’ And as she spoke the widow got a little red in the face: she had, as Charley thought, an unpleasant look of resolution about her — a roundness about her mouth, and a sort of fierceness in her eyes. ‘The long and the short of it is this, Mr. Tudor, what do you mean to do about the girl?’
‘Do about her?’ said Charley, almost bewildered in his misery.
‘Yes, do about her. Do you mean to make her your wife? That’s plain English. Because I’ll tell you what: I’ll not see her put upon any longer. It must be one thing or the other; and that at once. And if you’ve a grain of honour in you, Mr. Tudor — and I think you are honourable — you won’t back from your word with the girl now.’
‘Back from my word?’ said Charley.
‘Yes, back from your word,’ said Mrs. Davis, the flood-gates of whose eloquence were now fairly opened. ‘I’m sure you’re too much of the gentleman to deny your own words, and them repeated more than once in my presence — Cheroots — yes, are there none there, child? — Oh, they are in the cupboard.’ These last words were not part of her address to Charley, but were given in reply to a requisition from the attendant nymph outside. ‘You’re too much of a gentleman to do that, I know. And so, as I’m her natural friend — and indeed she’s my cousin, not that far off — I think it’s right that we should all understand one another.’
‘Oh, quite right,’ said Charley.
‘You can’t expect that she should go and sacrifice herself for you, you know,’ said Mrs. Davis, who now that she had begun hardly knew how to stop herself. ‘A girl’s time is her money. She’s at her best now, and a girl like her must make her hay while the sun shines. She can’t go on fal-lalling with you, and then nothing to come of it. You mustn’t suppose she’s to lose her market that way.’
‘God knows I should be sorry to injure her, Mrs. Davis.’
‘I believe you would, because I take you for an honourable gentleman as will be as good as your word. Now, there’s Peppermint there.’
‘What! that fellow in the parlour?’
‘And an honourable gentleman he is. Not that I mean to compare him to you, Mr. Tudor, nor yet doesn’t Norah; not by no means. But there he is. Well, he comes with the most honourablest proposals, and will make her Mrs. Peppermint tomorrow, if so be that she’ll have it.’
‘You don’t mean to say that there has been anything between them?’ said Charley, who in spite of the intense desire which he had felt a few minutes since to get the lovely Norah altogether off his hands, now felt an acute pang of jealousy.’ You don’t mean to say that there has been anything between them?’
‘Nothing as you have any right to object to, Mr. Tudor. You may be sure I wouldn’t allow of that, nor yet wouldn’t Norah demean herself to it.’
‘Then how did she get talking to him?’
‘She didn’t get talking to him. But he has eyes in his head, and you don’t suppose but what he can see with them. If a girl is in the public line, of course any man is free to speak to her. If you don’t like it, it is for you to take her out of it. Not but what, for a girl that is in the public line, Norah Geraghty keeps herself to herself as much as any girl you ever set eyes on.’
‘What the d —— has she to do with this fellow then?’
‘Why, he’s a widower, and has three young children; and he’s looking out for a mother for them; and he thinks Norah will suit. There, now you have the truth, and the whole truth.’
‘D—— his impudence!’ said Charley.
‘Well, I don’t see that there’s any impudence. He has a house of his own and the means to keep it. Now I’ll tell you what it is. Norah can’t abide him —’
Charley looked a little better satisfied when he heard this declaration.
‘Norah can’t abide the sight of him; nor won’t of any man as long as you are hanging after her. She’s as true as steel, and proud you ought to be of her.’ Proud, thought Charley, as he again muttered to himself, ‘Excelsior!’—‘But, Mr. Tudor, I won’t see her put upon; that’s the long and the short of it. If you like to take her, there she is. I don’t say she’s just your equal as to breeding, though she’s come of decent people too; but she’s good as gold. She’ll make a shilling go as far as any young woman I know; and if £100 or £150 are wanting for furniture or the like of that, why, I’ve that regard for her, that that shan’t stand in the way. Now, Mr. Tudor, I’ve spoke honest; and if you’re the gentleman as I takes you to be, you’ll do the same.’
To do Mrs. Davis justice, it must be acknowledged that in her way she had spoken honestly. Of course she knew that such a marriage would be a dreadful misalliance for young Tudor; of course she knew that all his friends would be heart-broken when they heard of it. But what had she to do with his friends? Her sympathies, her good wishes, were for her friend. Had Norah fallen a victim to Charley’s admiration, and then been cast off to eat the bitterest bread to which any human being is ever doomed, what then would Charley’s friends have cared for her? There was a fair fight between them. If Norah Geraghty, as a reward for her prudence, could get a husband in a rank of life above her, instead of falling into utter destruction as might so easily have been the case, who could do other than praise her — praise her and her clever friend who had so assisted her in her struggle?
Dolus an virtus —
Had Mrs. Davis ever studied the classics she would have thus expressed herself.
Poor Charley was altogether thrown on his beam-ends. He had altogether played Mrs. Davis’s game in evincing jealousy at Mr. Peppermint’s attentions. He knew this, and yet for the life of him he could not help being jealous. He wanted to get rid of Miss Geraghty, and yet he could not endure that anyone else should lay claim to her favour. He was very weak. He knew how much depended on the way in which he might answer this woman at the present moment; he knew that he ought now to make it plain to her, that however foolish he might have been, however false he might have been, it was quite out of the question that he should marry her barmaid. But he did not do so. He was worse than weak. It was not only the disinclination to give pain, or even the dread of the storm that would ensue, which deterred him; but an absurd dislike to think that Mr. Peppermint should be graciously received there as the barmaid’s acknowledged admirer.
‘Is she really ill now?’ said he.
‘She’s not so ill but what she shall make herself well enough to welcome you, if you’ll say the word that you ought to say. The most that ails her is fretting at the long delay. — Bolt the door, child, and go to bed; there will be no one else here now. Go up, and tell Miss Geraghty to come down; she hasn’t got her clothes off yet, I know.’
Mrs. Davis was too good a general to press Charley for an absolute, immediate, fixed answer to her question. She knew that she had already gained much, by talking thus of the proposed marriage, by setting it thus plainly before Charley, without rebuke or denial from him. He had not objected to receiving a visit from Norah, on the implied understanding that she was to come down to him as his affianced bride. He had not agreed to this in words; but silence gives consent, and Mrs. Davis felt that should it ever hereafter become necessary to prove anything, what had passed would enable her to prove a good deal.
Charley puffed at his cigar and sipped his gin and water. It was now twelve o’clock, and he thoroughly wished himself at home and in bed. The longer he thought of it the more impossible it appeared that he should get out of the house without the scene which he dreaded. The girl had bolted the door, put away her cups and mugs, and her step upstairs had struck heavily on his ears. The house was not large or high, and he fancied that he heard mutterings on the landing-place. Indeed he did not doubt but that Miss Geraghty had listened to most of the conversation which had taken place.
‘Excuse me a minute, Mr. Tudor,’ said Mrs. Davis, who was now smiling and civil enough; ‘I will go upstairs myself; the silly girl is shamefaced, and does not like to come down’; and up went Mrs. Davis to see that her barmaid’s curls and dress were nice and jaunty. It would not do now, at this moment, for Norah to offend her lover by any untidiness. Charley for a moment thought of the front door. The enemy had allowed him an opportunity for retreating. He might slip out before either of the women came down, and then never more be heard of in Norfolk Street again. He had his hand in his waistcoat pocket, with the intent of leaving the sovereign on the table; but when the moment came he felt ashamed of the pusillanimity of such an escape, and therefore stood, or rather sat his ground, with a courage worthy of a better purpose.
Down the two women came, and Charley felt his heart beating against his ribs. As the steps came nearer the door, he began to wish that Mr. Peppermint had been successful. The widow entered the room first, and at her heels the expectant beauty. We can hardly say that she was blushing; but she did look rather shamefaced, and hung back a little at the door, as though she still had half a mind to think better of it, and go off to her bed.
‘Come in, you little fool,’ said Mrs. Davis. ‘You needn’t be ashamed of coming down to see him; you have done that often enough before now.’
Norah simpered and sidled. ‘Well, I’m sure now!’ said she. ‘Here’s a start, Mr. Tudor; to be brought downstairs at this time of night; and I’m sure I don’t know what it’s about’; and then she shook her curls, and twitched her dress, and made as though she were going to pass through the room to her accustomed place at the bar.
Norah Geraghty was a fine girl. Putting her in comparison with Miss Golightly, we are inclined to say that she was the finer girl of the two; and that, barring position, money, and fashion, she was qualified to make the better wife. In point of education, that is, the effects of education, there was not perhaps much to choose between them. Norah could make an excellent pudding, and was willing enough to exercise her industry and art in doing so; Miss Golightly could copy music, but she did not like the trouble; and could play a waltz badly. Neither of them had ever read anything beyond a few novels. In this respect, as to the amount of labour done, Miss Golightly had certainly far surpassed her rival competitor for Charley’s affections.
Charley got up and took her hand; and as he did so, he saw that her nails were dirty. He put his arms round her waist and kissed her; and as he caressed her, his olfactory nerves perceived that the pomatum in her hair was none of the best. He thought of those young lustrous eyes that would look up so wondrously into his face; he thought of the gentle touch, which would send a thrill through all his nerves; and then he felt very sick.
‘Well, upon my word, Mr. Tudor,’ said Miss Geraghty, ‘you’re making very free to-night.’ She did not, however, refuse to sit down on his knee, though while sitting there she struggled and tossed herself, and shook her long ringlets in Charley’s face, till he wished her — safe at home in Mr. Peppermint’s nursery.
‘And is that what you brought me down for, Mrs. Davis?’ said Norah. ‘Well, upon my word, I hope the door’s locked; we shall have all the world in here else.’
‘If you hadn’t come down to him, he’d have come up to you,’ said Mrs. Davis.
‘Would he though?’ said Norah; ‘I think he knows a trick worth two of that;’ and she looked as though she knew well how to defend herself, if any over-zeal on the part of her lover should ever induce him to violate the sanctum of her feminine retirement.
There was no over-zeal now about Charley. He ought to have been happy enough, for he had his charmer in his arms; but he showed very little of the ecstatic joy of a favoured lover. There he sat with Norah in his arms, and as we have said, Norah was a handsome girl; but he would much sooner have been copying the Kennett and Avon canal lock entries in Mr. Snape’s room at the Internal Navigation.
‘Lawks, Mr. Tudor, you needn’t hold me so tight,’ said Norah.
‘He means to hold you tight enough now,’ said Mrs. Davis. ‘He’s very angry because I mentioned another gentleman’s name.’
‘Well, now you didn’t?’ said Norah, pretending to look very angry.
‘Well, I just did; and if you’d only seen him! You must be very careful what you say to that gentleman, or there’ll be a row in the house.’
‘I!’ said Norah. ‘What I say to him! It’s very little I have to say to the man. But I shall tell him this; he’d better take himself somewhere else, if he’s going to make himself troublesome.’
All this time Charley had said nothing, but was sitting with his hat on his head, and his cigar in his mouth. The latter appendage he had laid down for a moment when he saluted Miss Geraghty; but he had resumed it, having at the moment no intention of repeating the compliment.
‘And so you were jealous, were you?’ said she, turning round and looking at him. ‘Well now, some people might have more respect for other people than to mix up their names that way, with the names of any men that choose to put themselves forward. What would you say if I was to talk to you about Miss ——’
Charley stopped her mouth. It was not to be borne that she should be allowed to pronounce the name that was about to fall from her lips.
‘So you were jealous, were you?’ said she, when she was again able to speak. ‘Well, my!’
‘Mrs. Davis told me flatly that you were going to marry the man,’ said Charley; ‘so what was I to think?’
‘It doesn’t matter what you think now,’ said Mrs. Davis; ‘for you must be off from this. Do you know what o’clock it is? Do you want the house to get a bad name? Come, you two understand each other now, so you may as well give over billing and cooing for this time. It’s all settled now, isn’t it, Mr. Tudor?’
‘Oh yes, I suppose so,’ said Charley.
‘Well, and what do you say, Norah?’
‘Oh, I’m sure I’m agreeable if he is. Ha! ha! ha! I only hope he won’t think me too forward — he! he! he!’
And then with another kiss, and very few more words of any sort, Charley took himself off.
‘I’ll have nothing more to do with him,’ said Norah, bursting into tears, as soon as the door was well bolted after Charley’s exit. ‘I’m only losing myself with him. He don’t mean anything, and I said he didn’t all along. He’d have pitched me to Old Scratch, while I was sitting there on his knee, if he’d have had his own way — so he would;’ and poor Norah cried heartily, as she went to her work in her usual way among the bottles and taps.
‘Why, you fool you, what do you expect? You don’t think he’s to jump down your throat, do you? You can but try it on; and then if it don’t do, why there’s the other one to fall back on; only, if I had the choice, I’d rather have young Tudor, too.’
‘So would I,’ said Norah; ‘I can’t abide that other fellow.’
‘Well, there, that’s how it is, you know — beggars can’t be choosers. But come, make us a drop of something hot; a little drop will do yourself good; but it’s better not to take it before him, unless when he presses you.’
So the two ladies sat down to console themselves, as best they might, for the reverses which trade and love so often bring with them.
Charley walked off a miserable man. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself, thoroughly acknowledged his own weakness; and yet as he went out from the ‘Cat and Whistle,’ he felt sure that he should return there again to renew the degradation from which he had suffered this night. Indeed, what else could he do now? He had, as it were, solemnly plighted his troth to the girl before a third person who had brought them together, with the acknowledged purpose of witnessing that ceremony. He had, before Mrs. Davis, and before the girl herself, heard her spoken of as his wife, and had agreed to the understanding that such an arrangement was a settled thing. What else had he to do now but to return and complete his part of the bargain? What else but that, and be a wretched, miserable, degraded man for the rest of his days; lower, viler, more contemptible, infinitely lower, even than his brother clerics at the office, whom in his pride he had so much despised?
He walked from Norfolk Street into the Strand, and there the world was still alive, though it was now nearly one o’clock. The debauched misery, the wretched outdoor midnight revelry of the world was there, streaming in and out from gin-palaces, and bawling itself hoarse with horrid, discordant, screech-owl slang. But he went his way unheeding and uncontaminated. Now, now that it was useless, he was thinking of the better things of the world; nothing now seemed worth his grasp, nothing now seemed pleasurable, nothing capable of giving joy, but what was decent, good, reputable, cleanly, and polished. How he hated now that lower world with which he had for the last three years condescended to pass so much of his time! how he hated himself for his own vileness! He thought of what Alaric was, of what Norman was, of what he himself might have been — he that was praised by Mrs. Woodward for his talent, he that was encouraged to place himself among the authors of the day! He thought of all this, and then he thought of what he was — the affianced husband of Norah Geraghty!
He went along the Strand, over the crossing under the statue of Charles on horseback, and up Pall Mall East till he came to the opening into the park under the Duke of York’s column. The London night world was all alive as he made his way. From the Opera Colonnade shrill voices shrieked out at him as he passed, and drunken men coming down from the night supper-houses in the Haymarket saluted him with affectionate cordiality. The hoarse waterman from the cabstand, whose voice had perished in the night air, croaked out at him the offer of a vehicle; and one of the night beggar-women who cling like burrs to those who roam the street a these unhallowed hours still stuck to him, as she had done ever since he had entered the Strand.
‘Get away with you,’ said Charley, turning at the wretched creature in his fierce anger; ‘get away, or I’ll give you in charge.’
‘That you may never know what it is to be in misery yourself!’ said the miserable Irishwoman.
‘If you follow me a step farther I’ll have you locked up,’ said Charley.
‘Oh, then, it’s you that have the hard heart,’ said she; ‘and it’s you that will suffer yet.’
Charley looked round, threw her the odd halfpence which he had in his pocket, and then turned down towards the column. The woman picked up her prize, and, with a speedy blessing, took herself off in search of other prey.
His way home would have taken him up Waterloo Place, but the space round the column was now deserted and quiet, and sauntering there, without thinking of what he did, he paced up and down between the Clubs and the steps leading into the park. There, walking to and fro slowly, he thought of his past career, of all the circumstances of his life since his life had been left to his own control, and of the absence of all hope for the future.
What was he to do? He was deeply, inextricably in debt. That wretch, M’Ruen, had his name on bills which it was impossible that he should ever pay. Tradesmen held other bills of his which were either now over-due, or would very shortly become so. He was threatened with numerous writs, any one of which would suffice to put him into gaol. From his poor father, burdened as he was with other children, he knew that he had no right to expect further assistance. He was in debt to Norman, his best, he would have said his only friend, had it not been that in all his misery he could not help still thinking of Mrs. Woodward as his friend.
And yet how could his venture to think longer of her, contaminated as he now was with the horrid degradation of his acknowledged love at the ‘Cat and Whistle!’ No; he must think no more of the Woodwards; he must dream no more of those angel eyes which in his waking moments had so often peered at him out of heaven, teaching him to think of higher things, giving him higher hopes than those which had come to him from the working of his own unaided spirit. Ah! lessons taught in vain! vain hopes! lessons that had come all too late! hopes that had been cherished only to be deceived! It was all over now! He had made his bed, and he must lie on it; he had sown his seed, and he must reap his produce; there was now no ‘Excelsior’ left for him within the bounds of human probability.
He had promised to go to Hampton with Harry Norman on Saturday, and he would go there for the last time. He would go there and tell Mrs. Woodward so much of the truth as he could bring himself to utter; he would say farewell to that blest abode; he would take Linda’s soft hand in his for the last time; for the last time he would hear the young, silver-ringing, happy voice of his darling Katie; for the last time look into her bright face; for the last time play with her as with a child of heaven — and then he would return to the ‘Cat and Whistle.’
And having made this resolve he went home to his lodgings. It was singular that in all his misery the idea hardly once occurred to him of setting himself right in the world by accepting his cousin’s offer of Miss Golightly’s hand and fortune.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01