It is very difficult nowadays to say where the suburbs of London come to an end, and where the country begins. The railways, instead of enabling Londoners to live in the country, have turned the country into a city. London will soon assume the shape of a great starfish. The old town, extending from Poplar to Hammersmith, will be the nucleus, and the various railway lines will be the projecting rays.
There are still, however, some few nooks within reach of the metropolis which have not been be-villaged and be-terraced out of all look of rural charm, and the little village of Hampton, with its old-fashioned country inn, and its bright, quiet, grassy river, is one of them, in spite of the triple metropolitan waterworks on the one side, and the close vicinity on the other of Hampton Court, that well-loved resort of cockneydom.
It was here that the Woodwards lived. Just on the outskirts of the village, on the side of it farthest from town, they inhabited not a villa, but a small old-fashioned brick house, abutting on to the road, but looking from its front windows on to a lawn and garden, which stretched down to the river.
The grounds were not extensive, being included, house and all, in an area of an acre and a half: but the most had been made of it; it sloped prettily to the river, and was absolutely secluded from the road. Thus Surbiton Cottage, as it was called, though it had no pretension to the grandeur of a country-house, was a desirable residence for a moderate family with a limited income.
Mrs. Woodward’s family, for there was no Mr. Woodward in the case, consisted of herself and three daughters. There was afterwards added to this an old gentleman, an uncle of Mrs. Woodward’s, but he had not arrived at the time at which we would wish first to introduce our readers to Hampton.
Mrs. Woodward was the widow of a clergyman who had held a living in London, and had resided there. He had, however, died when two of his children were very young, and while the third was still a baby. From that time Mrs. Woodward had lived at the cottage at Hampton, and had there maintained a good repute, paying her way from month to month as widows with limited incomes should do, and devoting herself to the amusements and education of her daughters.
It was not, probably, from any want of opportunity to cast them aside, that Mrs. Woodward had remained true to her weeds; for at the time of her husband’s death she was a young and a very pretty woman; and an income of £400 a year, though moderate enough for all the wants of a gentleman’s family, would no doubt have added sufficiently to her charms to have procured her a second alliance, had she been so minded.
Twelve years, however, had now elapsed since Mr. Woodward had been gathered to his fathers, and the neighbouring world of Hampton, who had all of them declared over and over again that the young widow would certainly marry again, were now becoming as unanimous in their expressed opinion that the old widow knew the value of her money too well to risk it in the keeping of the best he that ever wore boots.
At the date at which our story commences, she was a comely little woman, past forty, somewhat below the middle height, rather embonpoint, as widows of forty should be, with pretty fat feet, and pretty fat hands; wearing just a soupçon of a widow’s cap on her head, with her hair, now slightly grey, parted in front, and brushed very smoothly, but not too carefully, in bandeaux over her forehead.
She was a quick little body, full of good-humour, slightly given to repartee, and perhaps rather too impatient of a fool. But though averse to a fool, she could sympathize with folly. A great poet has said that women are all rakes at heart; and there was something of the rake at heart about Mrs. Woodward. She never could be got to express adequate horror at fast young men, and was apt to have her own sly little joke at women who prided themselves on being punctilious. She could, perhaps, the more safely indulge in this, as scandal had never even whispered a word against herself.
With her daughters she lived on terms almost of equality. The two elder were now grown up; that is, they were respectively eighteen and seventeen years old. They were devotedly attached to their mother, looked on her as the only perfect woman in existence, and would willingly do nothing that could vex her; but they perhaps were not quite so systematically obedient to her as children should be to their only surviving parent. Mrs. Woodward, however, found nothing amiss, and no one else therefore could well have a right to complain.
They were both pretty — but Gertrude, the elder, was by far the more strikingly so. They were, nevertheless, much alike; they both had rich brown hair, which they, like their mother, wore simply parted over the forehead. They were both somewhat taller than her, and were nearly of a height. But in appearance, as in disposition, Gertrude carried by far the greater air of command. She was the handsomer of the two, and the cleverer. She could write French and nearly speak it, while her sister could only read it. She could play difficult pieces from sight, which it took her sister a morning’s pains to practise. She could fill in and finish a drawing, while her sister was still struggling, and struggling in vain, with the first principles of the art.
But there was a softness about Linda, for such was the name of the second Miss Woodward, which in the eyes of many men made up both for the superior beauty and superior talent of Gertrude. Gertrude was, perhaps, hardly so soft as so young a girl should be. In her had been magnified that spirit of gentle raillery which made so attractive a part of her mother’s character. She enjoyed and emulated her mother’s quick sharp sayings, but she hardly did so with her mother’s grace, and sometimes attempted it with much more than her mother’s severity. She also detested fools; but in promulgating her opinion on this subject, she was too apt to declare who the fools were whom she detested.
It may be thought that under such circumstances there could be but little confidence between the sisters; but, nevertheless, in their early days, they lived together as sisters should do. Gertrude, when she spoke of fools, never intended to include Linda in the number; and Linda appreciated too truly, and admired too thoroughly, her sister’s beauty and talent to be jealous of either.
Of the youngest girl, Katie, it is not necessary at present to say much. At this time she was but thirteen years of age, and was a happy, pretty, romping child. She gave fair promise to be at any rate equal to her sisters in beauty, and in mind was quick and intelligent. Her great taste was for boating, and the romance of her life consisted in laying out ideal pleasure-grounds, and building ideal castles in a little reedy island or ait which lay out in the Thames, a few perches from the drawing-room windows.
Such was the family of the Woodwards. Harry Norman’s father and Mr. Woodward had been first cousins, and hence it had been quite natural that when Norman came up to reside in London he should be made welcome to Surbiton Cottage. He had so been made welcome, and had thus got into a habit of spending his Saturday evenings and Sundays at the home of his relatives. In summer he could row up in his own wherry, and land himself and carpet-bag direct on the Woodwards’ lawn, and in the winter he came down by the Hampton Court five p.m. train — and in each case he returned on the Monday morning. Thus, as regards that portion of his time which was most his own, he may be said almost to have lived at Surbiton Cottage, and if on any Sunday he omitted to make his appearance, the omission was ascribed by the ladies of Hampton, in some half-serious sort of joke, to metropolitan allurements and temptations which he ought to have withstood.
When Tudor and Norman came to live together, it was natural enough that Tudor also should be taken down to Surbiton Cottage. Norman could not leave him on every Saturday without telling him much of his friends whom he went to visit, and he could hardly say much of them without offering to introduce his companion to them. Tudor accordingly went there, and it soon came to pass that he also very frequently spent his Sundays at Hampton.
It must be remembered that at this time, the time, that is, of Norman and Tudor’s first entrance on their London life, the girls at Surbiton Cottage were mere girls — that is, little more than children; they had not, as it were, got their wings so as to be able to fly away when the provocation to do so might come; they were, in short, Gertrude and Linda Woodward, and not the Miss Woodwards: their drawers came down below their frocks, instead of their frocks below their drawers; and in lieu of studying the French language, as is done by grown-up ladies, they did French lessons, as is the case with ladies who are not grown-up. Under these circumstances there was no embarrassment as to what the young people should call each other, and they soon became very intimate as Harry and Alaric, Gertrude and Linda.
It is not, however, to be conceived that Alaric Tudor at once took the same footing in the house as Norman. This was far from being the case. In the first place he never slept there, seeing that there was no bed for him; and the most confidential intercourse in the household took place as they sat cosy over the last embers of the drawing-room fire, chatting about everything and nothing, as girls always can do, after Tudor had gone away to his bed at the inn, on the opposite side of the way. And then Tudor did not come on every Saturday, and at first did not do so without express invitation; and although the girls soon habituated themselves to the familiarity of their new friend’s Christian name, it was some time before Mrs. Woodward did so.
Two — three years soon flew by, and Linda and Gertrude became the Miss Woodwards; their frocks were prolonged, their drawers curtailed, and the lessons abandoned. But still Alaric Tudor and Harry Norman came to Hampton not less frequently than of yore, and the world resident on that portion of the left bank of the Thames found out that Harry Norman and Gertrude Woodward were to be man and wife, and that Alaric Tudor and Linda Woodward were to go through the same ceremony. They found this out, or said that they had done so. But, as usual, the world was wrong; at least in part, for at the time of which we are speaking no word of love-making had passed, at any rate, between the last-named couple.
And what was Mrs. Woodward about all this time? Was she match-making or match-marring; or was she negligently omitting the duties of a mother on so important an occasion? She was certainly neither match-making nor match-marring; but it was from no negligence that she was thus quiescent. She knew, or thought she knew, that the two young men were fit to be husbands to her daughters, and she felt that if the wish for such an alliance should spring up between either pair, there was no reason why she should interfere to prevent it. But she felt also that she should not interfere to bring any such matter to pass. These young people had by chance been thrown together. Should there be love-passages among them, as it was natural to suppose there might be, it would be well. Should there be none such, it would be well also. She thoroughly trusted her own children, and did not distrust her friends; and so as regards Mrs. Woodward the matter was allowed to rest.
We cannot say that on this matter we quite approve of her conduct, though we cannot but admire the feeling which engendered it. Her daughters were very young; though they had made such positive advances as have been above described towards the discretion of womanhood, they were of the age when they would have been regarded as mere boys had they belonged to the other sex. The assertion made by Clara Van Artevelde, that women ‘grow upon the sunny side of the wall,’ is doubtless true; but young ladies, gifted as they are with such advantages, may perhaps be thought to require some counsel, some advice, in those first tender years in which they so often have to make or mar their fortunes.
Not that Mrs. Woodward gave them no advice; not but that she advised them well and often — but she did so, perhaps, too much as an equal, too little as a parent.
But, be that as it may — and I trust my readers will not be inclined so early in our story to lean heavily on Mrs. Woodward, whom I at once declare to be my own chief favourite in the tale — but, be that as it may, it so occurred that Gertrude, before she was nineteen, had listened to vows of love from Harry Norman, which she neither accepted nor repudiated; and that Linda had, before she was eighteen, perhaps unfortunately, taught herself to think it probable that she might have to listen to vows of love from Alaric Tudor.
There had been no concealment between the young men as to their feelings. Norman had told his friend scores of times that it was the first wish of his heart to marry Gertrude Woodward; and had told him, moreover, what were his grounds for hope, and what his reasons for despair.
‘She is as proud as a queen,’ he had once said as he was rowing from Hampton to Searle’s Wharf, and lay on his oars as the falling tide carried his boat softly past the green banks of Richmond —‘she is as proud as a queen, and yet as timid as a fawn. She lets me tell her that I love her, but she will not say a word to me in reply; as for touching her in the way of a caress, I should as soon think of putting my arm round a goddess.’
‘And why not put your arms round a goddess?’ said Alaric, who was perhaps a little bolder than his friend, and a little less romantic. To this Harry answered nothing, but, laying his back to his work, swept on past the gardens of Kew, and shot among the wooden dangers of Putney Bridge.
‘I wish you could bring yourself to make up to Linda,’ said he, resting again from his labours; ‘that would make the matter so much easier.’
‘Bring myself!’ said Alaric; ‘what you mean is, that you wish I could bring Linda to consent to be made up to.’
‘I don’t think you would have much difficulty,’ said Harry, finding it much easier to answer for Linda than for her sister; ‘but perhaps you don’t admire her?’
‘I think her by far the prettier of the two,’ said Alaric.
‘That’s nonsense,’ said Harry, getting rather red in the face, and feeling rather angry.
‘Indeed I do; and so, I am convinced, would most men. You need not murder me, man. You want me to make up to Linda, and surely it will be better that I should admire my own wife than yours.’
‘Oh! you may admire whom you like; but to say that she is prettier than Gertrude — why, you know, it is nonsense.’
‘Very well, my dear fellow; then to oblige you, I’ll fall in love with Gertrude.’
‘I know you won’t do that,’ said Harry, ‘for you are not so very fond of each other; but, joking apart, I do wish so you would make up to Linda.’
‘Well, I will when my aunt leaves me £200 a year.’
There was no answering this; so the two men changed the conversation as they walked up together from the boat wharf to the office of the Weights and Measures.
It was just at this time that fortune and old Mr. Tudor, of the Shropshire parsonage, brought Charley Tudor to reside with our two heroes. For the first month, or six weeks, Charley was ruthlessly left by his companions to get through his Sundays as best he could. It is to be hoped that he spent them in divine worship; but it may, we fear, be surmised with more probability, that he paid his devotions at the shrine of some very inferior public-house deity in the neighbourhood of Somerset House. As a matter of course, both Norman and Tudor spoke much of their new companion to the ladies at Surbiton Cottage, and as by degrees they reported somewhat favourably of his improved morals, Mrs. Woodward, with a woman’s true kindness, begged that he might be brought down to Hampton.
‘I am afraid you will find him very rough,’ said his cousin Alaric.
‘At any rate you will not find him a fool,’ said Norman, who was always the more charitable of the two.
‘Thank God for that!’ said Mrs. Woodward,’ and if he will come next Saturday, let him by all means do so. Pray give my compliments to him, and tell him how glad I shall be to see him.’
And thus was this wild wolf to be led into the sheep-cote; this infernal navvy to be introduced among the angels of Surbiton Cottage. Mrs. Woodward thought that she had a taste for reclaiming reprobates, and was determined to try her hand on Charley Tudor.
Charley went, and his debut was perfectly successful. We have hitherto only looked on the worst side of his character; but bad as his character was, it had a better side. He was good-natured in the extreme, kind-hearted and affectionate; and, though too apt to be noisy and even boisterous when much encouraged, was not without a certain innate genuine modesty, which the knowledge of his own iniquities had rather increased than blunted; and, as Norman had said of him, he was no fool. His education had not been good, and he had done nothing by subsequent reading to make up for this deficiency; but he was well endowed with mother-wit, and owed none of his deficiencies to nature’s churlishness.
He came, and was well received. The girls thought he would surely get drunk before he left the table, and Mrs. Wood ward feared the austere precision of her parlourmaid might be offended by some unworthy familiarity; but no accident of either kind seemed to occur. He came to the tea-table perfectly sober, and, as far as Mrs. Woodward could tell, was unaware of the presence of the parlour-maiden.
On the Sunday morning, Charley went to church, just like a Christian. Now Mrs. Woodward certainly had expected that he would have spent those two hours in smoking and attacking the parlour-maid. He went to church, however, and seemed in no whit astray there; stood up when others stood up, and sat down when others sat down. After all, the infernal navvies, bad as they doubtless were, knew something of the recognized manners of civilized life.
Thus Charley Tudor ingratiated himself at Surbiton Cottage, and when he left, received a kind intimation from its mistress that she would be glad to see him again. No day was fixed, and so Charley could not accompany his cousin and Harry Norman on the next Saturday; but it was not long before he got another direct invitation, and so he also became intimate at Hampton. There could be no danger of any one falling in love with him, for Katie was still a child.
Things stood thus at Surbiton Cottage when Mrs. Woodward received a proposition from a relative of her own, which surprised them all not a little. This was from a certain Captain Cuttwater, who was a maternal uncle to Mrs. Woodward, and consisted of nothing less than an offer to come and live with them for the remaining term of his natural life. Now Mrs. Woodward’s girls had seen very little of their grand-uncle, and what little they had seen had only taught them to laugh at him. When his name was mentioned in the family conclave, he was always made the subject of some little feminine joke; and Mrs. Woodward, though she always took her uncle’s part, did so in a manner that made them feel that he was fair game for their quizzing.
When the proposal was first enunciated to the girls, they one and all, for Katie was one of the council, suggested that it should be declined with many thanks.
‘He’ll take us all for midshipmen,’ said Linda, ‘and stop our rations, and mast-head us whenever we displease him.’
‘I am sure he is a cross old hunks, though mamma says he’s not,’ said Katie, with all the impudence of spoilt fourteen.
‘He’ll interfere with every one of our pursuits,’ said Gertrude, more thoughtfully, ‘and be sure to quarrel with the young men.’
But Mrs. Woodward, though she had consulted her daughters, had arguments of her own in favour of Captain Cuttwater’s proposition, which she had not yet made known to them. Good-humoured and happy as she always was, she had her cares in the world. Her income was only £400 a year, and that, now that the Income Tax had settled down on it, was barely sufficient for her modest wants. A moiety of this died with her, and the remainder would be but a poor support for her three daughters, if at the time of her death it should so chance that she should leave them in want of support. She had always regarded Captain Cuttwater as a probable source of future aid. He was childless and unmarried, and had not, as far as she was aware, another relative in the world. It would, therefore, under any circumstances, be bad policy to offend him. But the letter in which he had made his offer had been of a very peculiar kind. He had begun by saying that he was to be turned out of his present berth by a d —— Whig Government on account of his age, he being as young a man as ever he had been; that it behoved him to look out for a place of residence, in which he might live, and, if it should so please God, die also. He then said that he expected to pay £200 a year for his board and lodging, which he thought might as well go to his niece as to some shark, who would probably starve him. He also said that, poor as he was and always had been, he had contrived to scrape together a few hundred pounds; that he was well aware that if he lived among strangers he should be done out of every shilling of it; but that if his niece would receive him, he hoped to be able to keep it together for the benefit of his grand-nieces, &c.
Now Mrs. Woodward knew her uncle to be an honest-minded man; she knew also, that, in spite of his protestation as to being a very poor man, he had saved money enough to make him of some consequence wherever he went; and she therefore conceived that she could not with prudence send him to seek a home among chance strangers. She explained as much of this to the girls as she thought proper, and ended the matter by making them understand that Captain Cuttwater was to be received.
On the Saturday after this the three scions of the Civil Service were all at Surbiton Cottage, and it will show how far Charley had then made good his ground, to state that the coming of the captain was debated in his presence.
‘And when is the great man to be here?’ said Norman.
‘At once, I believe,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘that is, perhaps, before the end of this week, and certainly before the end of next.’
‘And what is he like?’ said Alaric.
‘Why, he has a tail hanging down behind, like a cat or a dog,’ said Katie.
‘Hold your tongue, miss,’ said Gertrude. ‘As he is to come he must be treated with respect; but it is a great bore. To me it will destroy all the pleasures of life.’
‘Nonsense, Gertrude,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘it is almost wicked of you to say so. Destroy all the pleasure of life to have an old gentleman live in the same house with you! — you ought to be more moderate, my dear, in what you say.’
‘That’s all very well, mamma,’ said Gertrude, ‘but you know you don’t like him yourself.’
‘But is it true that Captain Cuttwater wears a pigtail?’ asked Norman.
‘I don’t care what he wears,’ said Gertrude; ‘he may wear three if he likes.’
‘Oh! I wish he would,’ said Katie, laughing; ‘that would be so delicious. Oh, Linda, fancy Captain Cuttwater with three pigtails!’
‘I am sorry to disappoint you, Katie,’ said Mrs. Woodward, ‘but your uncle does not wear even one; he once did, but he cut it off long since.’
‘I am so sorry,’ said Katie.
‘I suppose he’ll want to dine early, and go to bed early?’ said Linda.
‘His going to bed early would be a great blessing,’ said Gertrude, mindful of their midnight conclaves on Saturdays and Sundays.
‘But his getting up early won’t be a blessing at all,’ said Linda, who had a weakness on that subject.
‘Talking of bed, Harry, you’ll have the worst of it,’ said Katie, ‘for the captain is to have your room.’
‘Yes, indeed,’ said Mrs. Woodward, sighing gently, ‘we shall no longer have a bed for you, Harry; that is the worst of it.’
Harry of course assured her that if that was the worst of it there was nothing very bad in it. He could have a bed at the inn as well as Alaric and Charley. The amount of that evil would only be half-a-crown a night.
And thus the advent of Captain Cuttwater was discussed.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55