On the next morning Alaric went to his office without speaking further as to the trouble on his mind, and endeavoured to comfort himself as best he might as he walked down to his office. Then he had also to decide whether it would better suit his purpose to sell out at once and pay up every shilling that he could, or whether he would hold on, and hope that Undy’s predictions would be fulfilled, and that the bridge shares would go on rising till they would sell for all that was required of him.
Unfortunate man! what would he have given now to change his position for Norman’s single clerkship, or even for Charley’s comparative poverty!
Gertrude stayed within all day; but not all day in solitude. About four in the afternoon the Hon. Mrs. Val called, and with her came her daughter Clem, now Madame Jaquêtanàpe, and the two Misses Neverbend. M. Jaquêtanàpe had since his marriage made himself very agreeable to his honourable mother-inlaw, so much so that he now occupied the place in her good graces which Undy had formerly filled, and which after Undy’s reign had fallen to Alaric’s lot. Mrs. Val liked to have about her some confidential gentleman; and as she never thought of placing her confidence in her husband, she was prone to select first one man and then another as her taste and interest dictated. Immediately after their marriage, Victoire and Clem had consented to join housekeeping with their parent. Nothing could be more pleasant than this; their income was unembarrassed, and Mrs. Val, for the first time in her life, was able to set up her carriage. Among the effects arising from this cause, the female Neverbends, who had lately been worshippers of Gertrude, veered round in their idolatry, and paid their vows before Mrs. Val’s new yellow panels. In this new carriage now came the four ladies to pay a morning visit to Mrs. Tudor. It was wonderful to see into how small dimensions the Misses Neverbend had contrived to pack, not themselves, but their crinoline.
As has before been hinted, Gertrude did not love Mrs. Val; nor did she love Clem the danseuse; nor did she specially love the Misses Neverbend. They were all of a class essentially different from that in which she had been brought up; and, moreover, Mrs. Val was not content to allow Gertrude into her set without ruling over her, or at any rate patronizing her. Gertrude had borne with them all for her husband’s sake; and was contented to do so yet for a while longer, but she thought in her heart that she would be able to draw some consolation from her husband’s misfortune if it should be the means of freeing her from Mrs. Val.
‘Oh, my dear,’ said Mrs. Val, throwing herself down into a sofa as though she were exhausted —‘what a dreadful journey it is to you up here! How those poor horses will stand it this weather I don’t know, but it nearly kills me; it does indeed.’ The Tudors, as has been said, lived in one of the quiet streets of Westbournia, not exactly looking into Hyde Park, but very near to it; Mrs. Val, on the other hand, lived in Ebury Street, Pimlico; her house was much inferior to that of the Tudors; it was small, ill built, and afflicted with all the evils which bad drainage and bad ventilation can produce; but then it was reckoned to be within the precincts of Belgravia, and was only five minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace. Mrs. Val, therefore, had fair ground for twitting her dear friend with living so far away from the limits of fashion. ‘You really must come down somewhat nearer to the world; indeed you must, my dear,’ said the Hon. Mrs. Val.
‘We are thinking of moving; but then we are talking of going to St. John’s Wood, or Islington,’ said Gertrude, wickedly.
‘Islington!’ said the Honourable Mrs. Val, nearly fainting.
‘Is not Islington and St. Giles’ the same place?’ asked the innocent Clem, with some malice, however, to counterbalance her innocence.
‘O no!’ said Lactimel. ‘St Giles’ is where the poor wretched starving Irish dwell. Their utter misery in the middle of this rich metropolis is a crying disgrace to the Prime Minister.’ Poor Badger, how much he has to bear! ‘Only think,’ continued Lactimel, with a soft pathetic drawl, ‘they have none to feed them, none to clothe them, none to do for them!’
‘It is a great question,’ said Ugolina, ‘whether promiscuous charity is a blessing or a curse. It is probably the greatest question of the age. I myself am inclined to think —’
‘But, ma,’ said Madame Jaquêtanàpe, ‘Mrs. Tudor doesn’t really mean that she is going to live at St. Giles’, does she?’
‘I said Islington,’ said Gertrude. ‘We may go to St. Giles’ next, perhaps.’ Had she known all, how dreadful would such jokes have been to her!
Mrs. Val saw that she was being quizzed, and, not liking it, changed the conversation. ‘Ugolina,’ said she, ‘might I trouble you to look out of the front window? I hope those stupid men of mine are not letting the horses stand still. They were so warm coming here, that they will be sure to catch cold.’ The stupid men, however, were round the corner at the public-house, and Ugolina could only report that as she did not see them she supposed the horses were walking about.
‘And so,’ said Mrs. Val, ‘Mr. Tudor is thinking of resigning his place at the Civil Service Board, and standing for that borough of Lord Gaberlunzie’s, in Aberdeenshire?’
‘I really cannot say,’ said Gertrude; ‘but I believe he has some idea of going into Parliament. I rather believe he will continue to hold his place.’
‘Oh, that I know to be impossible! I was told that by a gentleman who has been much longer in the service than Mr. Tudor, and who understands all its bearings.’ She here alluded to Fidus Neverbend.
‘I cannot say,’ said Gertrude. ‘I do not think Mr. Tudor has quite made up his mind yet.’
‘Well, my dear, I’ll tell you fairly what I think about it. You know the regard I have for you and Mr. Tudor. He, too, is Clementina’s trustee; that is to say, her fortune is partly consigned to his care; so I cannot but have a very great interest about him, and be very anxious that he should do well. Now, my dear, I’ll tell you fairly what I think, and what all the world is saying. He ought not to think of Parliament. He ought not, indeed, my dear. I speak for your sake, and your child’s. He is not a man of fortune, and he ought not to think of Parliament. He has a very fine situation, and he really should be contented.’
This was intolerable to Gertrude. She felt that she must put Mrs. Val down, and yet she hardly knew how to do it without being absolutely rude; whereas her husband had specially begged her to be civil to this woman at present. ‘Oh,’ said she, with a slight smile, ‘Mr. Tudor will be able to take care of himself; you will find, I hope, that there is no cause for uneasiness.’
‘Well, I hope not, I am sure I hope not,’ said Mrs. Val, looking very grave. ‘But I tell you fairly that the confidence which we all have in your husband will be much shaken if he does anything rash. He should think of this, you know. He has no private fortune to back him; we must remember that.’
Gertrude became very red in the face; but she would not trust herself to answer Mrs. Val at the spur of the moment.
‘It makes such a difference, when one has got no private fortune,’ said Madame Jaquêtanàpe, the heiress. ‘Does it not, Lactimel?’
‘Oh, indeed it does,’ said Lactimel. ‘I wish every one had a private fortune; it would be so nice, wouldn’t it?’
‘There would be very little poetry in the world if you were to banish poverty,’ said Ugolina. ‘Poverty may be called the parent of poetry. Look at Milton, how poor he was; and Homer, he begged his bread.’
‘But Lord Byron was not a beggar,’ said Clem, contemptuously.
‘I do hope Mr. Tudor will think of what he is doing,’ continued Mrs. Val. ‘It is certainly most good-natured and most disinterested of my dear father-inlaw, Lord Gaberlunzie, to place his borough at Mr. Tudor’s disposal. It is just like him, dear good old nobleman. But, my dear, it will be a thousand pities if Mr. Tudor should be led on by his lordship’s kindness to bring about his own ruin.’
Mrs. Val had once in her life seen his good-natured lordship. Soon after her marriage she had insisted on Captain Val taking her down to the family mansion. She stayed there one night, and then left it, and since that had shown no further desire to visit Cauldkail Castle. She did not the less delight to talk about her dear good father-inlaw, the lord. Why should she give his son Val board and lodging, but that she might be enabled to do so? She was not the woman to buy an article, and not make of it all the use of which it might be capable.
‘Pray do not concern yourself,’ said Gertrude. ‘I can assure you Mr. Tudor will manage very well for himself — but should any misfortune happen to him he will not, you may be certain, attribute it to Lord Gaberlunzie.’
‘I am told that Sir Gregory is most opposed to it,’ continued Mrs. Val. ‘I heard that from Mr. Neverbend, who is altogether in Sir Gregory’s confidence — did not you, my dears?’ and she turned round to the sisters of Fidus for confirmation.
‘I heard my brother say that as Mr. Tudor’s office is not parliamentary but permanent, and as he has to attend from ten till four ——’
‘Alaric has not to attend from ten till four,’ said Gertrude, who could not endure the idea that her husband should be ranked with common clerks, like Fidus Neverbend.
‘Oh, I didn’t know,’ said Lactimel, meekly. ‘Perhaps Fidus only meant that as it is one of those offices where the people have something to do, the commissioners couldn’t be in their offices and in Parliament at the same time.’
‘I did understand,’ said Ugolina, ‘that Sir Gregory Hardlines had put his veto upon it; but I must confess that it is a subject which I have not sufficiently studied to enable me ——’
‘It’s £1,200 a year, isn’t it?’ asked the bride.
‘Twelve hundred pounds a year,’ said her mother —‘a very serious consideration when there is no private fortune to back it, on either side. Now if it were Victoire ——’
‘He couldn’t sit in Parliament, ma, because he’s an alien — only for that I shouldn’t think of his doing anything else.’
‘Perhaps that may be altered before long,’ said Lactimel, graciously.
‘If Jews are to be admitted,’ said Ugolina, ‘who certainly belong to an alien nation; a nation expressly set apart and separated from all people — a peculiar nation distinct from all others, I for one cannot discern ——’
What Ugolina could or could not discern about the Jews was communicated perhaps to Madame Jaquêtanàpe or to Lactimel, but not to Gertrude or to Mrs. Val; for the latter, taking Gertrude apart into a corner as it were of the sofa, began confidentially to repeat to her her fears about her husband.
‘I see, my dear,’ said she, ‘that you don’t like my speaking about it.’
‘Upon my word,’ said Gertrude, ‘I am very indifferent about it. But would it not be better if you said what you have to say to my husband?’
‘I intend to do so. I intend to do that also. But I know that a wife ought to have influence over her husband, and I believe that you have influence over yours.’
‘Not the least,’ said Gertrude, who was determined to contradict Mrs. Val in everything.
‘I am sorry to hear it,’ said Mrs. Val, who among all her excellent acquirements, did not possess that specially excellent one of understanding repartee. ‘I am very sorry to hear it, and I shall certainly speak to him the more seriously on that account. I think I have some influence over him; at any rate I ought to have.’
‘I dare say you have,’ said Gertrude; ‘Alaric always says that no experience is worth anything that is not obtained by years.’
Mrs. Val at least understood this, and continued her lecture with some additional severity. ‘Well, my dear, I am glad he has so much wisdom. But what I was going to say is this: you know how much we have at stake with Mr. Tudor — what a very large sum of Clementina’s money lies in his hands. Now I really should not have consented to the arrangement had I thought it possible that Mr. Tudor would have given up his income with the idea of going into Parliament. It wouldn’t have been right or prudent of me to do so. I have the greatest opinion of your husband’s talents and judgement, or I should not of course have entrusted him with the management of Clementina’s fortune; but I really shall think it right to make some change if this project of his goes on.’
‘Why, what is it you suspect?’ said Gertrude. ‘Do you think that Mr. Tudor intends to use your daughter’s income if he loses a portion of his own? I never heard such a thing in my life.’
‘Hush! my dear — gently — I would not for worlds let Clementina hear a word of this; it might disturb her young happiness. She is so charmed with her husband; her married life is so fortunate; Victoire is so — so — so everything that we all wish, that I would not for the world breathe in her hearing a shadow of a suspicion.’
‘Good gracious! Mrs. Scott, what do you mean? Suspicion! — what suspicion? Do you suspect my husband of robbing you?’ Oh, Gertrude; poor Gertrude! she was doomed to know it all before long.
‘Oh dear, no,’ said Mrs. Val; ‘nothing of the kind, I assure you. Of course we suspect nothing of the sort. But one does like to have one’s money in safe hands. Of course Mr. Tudor wouldn’t have been chosen as trustee if he hadn’t had a good income of his own; and look here, my dear,’— and Mrs. Val whispered very confidentially, —‘Mr. Tudor we all know is greatly concerned in this bridge that the committee is sitting about; and he and my brother-inlaw, Undecimus, are always dealing in shares. Gentlemen do, I know; and therefore I don’t say that there is anything against it. But considering all, I hope Mr. Tudor won’t take it ill if we propose to change our trustee.’
‘I am very certain he will not,’ said Gertrude. ‘It is a laborious business, and he will be glad enough to be rid of it. When he was asked to accept it, he thought it would be ill-natured to refuse; I am certain, however, he will be very glad to give up the work to any other person who may be appointed. I will be sure to tell him this evening what you have said.’
‘You need not trouble yourself to do that,’ said Mrs. Val. ‘I shall see him myself before long.’
‘It will be no trouble,’ said Gertrude, very indignantly, for she was very angry, and had, as she thought, great cause for anger. ‘I shall certainly think it my duty to do so after what has passed. Of course you will now take steps to relieve him as soon as possible.’
‘You have taken me up a great deal too quick, my dear,’ said Mrs. Val. ‘I did not intend ——’
‘Oh — one can’t be too quick on such a matter as this,’ said Gertrude. ‘When confidence is once lost between two persons it is better that the connexion which has grown out of confidence should be put an end to as soon as possible.’
‘Lost confidence! I said nothing about lost confidence!’
‘Alaric will so understand it, I am quite sure; at any rate I will tell him what you have said. Suspicion indeed! who has dared to suspect him of anything not honest or upright?’
Gertrude’s eyes flashed with anger as she vindicated her absent lord. Mrs. Val had been speaking with bated breath, so that no one had heard her but she to whom she was speaking; but Gertrude had been unable so to confine her answers, and as she made her last reply Madame Jaquêtanàpe and the Misses Neverbend were all ears.
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed Mrs. Val. ‘Upon my word, my dear, it is amusing to hear you take it up. However, I assure you I meant nothing but what was kind and friendly. Come, Clementina, we have been sitting here a most unconscionable time. Will you allow me, my dear, to ring for my carriage?’
‘Mamma,’ said Clem, ‘have you asked Mrs. Tudor to our little dance?’
‘No, my dear; I have left that for you to do. It’s your party, you know — but I sincerely hope Mrs. Tudor will come.’
‘Oh yes,’ said Clementina, the tongue of whose eloquence was now loosened. ‘You must come, Mrs. Tudor; indeed you must. It will be so charming; just a few nice people, you know, and nothing more.’
‘Thank you,’ said Gertrude; ‘but I never dance now.’ She had inwardly resolved that nothing should ever induce her again to enter Mrs. Val’s house.
‘Oh, but you must come,’ said Clementina. ‘It will be so charming. We only mean to dance one kind of dance — that new thing they have just brought over from Spain — the Contrabandista. It is a polka step, only very quick, and you take every other turn by yourself; so you have to take your partner up and let him go as quick as possible. You don’t know how charming it is, and it will be all the rage. We are to have the music out in the street, just as they have in Spain.’
‘It would be much too difficult for me,’ said Gertrude.
‘It is difficult,’ said the enthusiastic Clem; ‘but Victoire gives us lessons in it everyday from twelve to two — doesn’t he, Ugolina?’
‘I’m afraid I shouldn’t have time to go to school,’ said Gertrude.
‘Oh, it doesn’t take much time — six or seven or eight lessons will do it pretty well. I have almost learnt it already, and Ugolina is coming on very fast. Lactimel is not quite so perfect. She has learnt the step, but she cannot bring herself to let Victoire go quick enough. Do come, and bring Mr. Tudor with you.’
‘As he has not to attend from ten till four, he could come and take lessons too,’ said Lactimel, who, now that she was no longer a hanger-on of Gertrude’s, could afford to have her little revenge.
‘That would be delightful,’ said Clem. ‘Mr. Charles Tudor does come in sometimes at twelve o’clock, and I think he does it almost as well as Victoire.’
Gertrude, however, would go neither to the rehearsals nor to the finished performance; and as Mrs. Val’s men had by this time been induced to leave the beershop, the whole party went away, leaving Gertrude to her meditations.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55