There is, undoubtedly, a propensity in human love to attach itself to excellence; but it has also, as undoubtedly, a propensity directly antagonistic to this, and which teaches it to put forth its strongest efforts in favour of inferiority. Watch any fair flock of children in which there may be one blighted bud, and you will see that that blighted one is the mother’s darling. What filial affection is ever so strong as that evinced by a child for a parent in misfortune? Even among the rough, sympathies of schoolboys, the cripple, the sickly one, or the orphan without a home, will find the warmest friendship and a stretch of kindness. Love, that must bow and do reverence to superiority, can protect and foster inferiority; and what is so sweet as to be able to protect?
Gertrude’s love for her husband had never been so strong as when she learnt that that love must now stand in the place of all other sympathies, of all other tenderness. Alaric told her of his crime, and in his bitterness he owned that he was no longer worthy of her love. She answered by opening her arms to him with more warmth than ever, and bidding him rest his weary head upon her breast. Had they not taken each other for better or for worse? had not their bargain been that they would be happy together if such should be their lot, or sad together if God should so will it? — and would she be the first to cry off from such a bargain?
It seldom happens that a woman’s love is quenched by a man’s crime. Women in this respect are more enduring than men; they have softer sympathies, and less acute, less selfish, appreciation of the misery of being joined to that which has been shamed. It was not many hours since Gertrude had boasted to herself of the honour and honesty of her lord, and tossed her head with defiant scorn when a breath of suspicion had been muttered against his name. Then she heard from his own lips the whole truth, learnt that that odious woman had only muttered what she soon would have a right to speak out openly, knew that fame and honour, high position and pride of life, were all gone; and then in that bitter hour she felt that she had never loved him as she did then.
He had done wrong, he had sinned grievously; but no sooner did she acknowledge so much than she acknowledged also that a man may sin and yet not be all sinful; that glory may be tarnished, and yet not utterly destroyed; that pride may get a fall, and yet live to rise again. He had sinned, and had repented; and now to her eyes he was again as pure as snow. Others would now doubt him, that must needs be the case; but she would never doubt him; no, not a whit the more in that he had once fallen. He should still be the cynosure of her eyes, the pride of her heart, the centre of her hopes. Marina said of her lord, when he came to her shattered in limb, from the hands of the torturer —
‘I would not change
My exiled, mangled, persecuted husband,
Alive or dead, for prince or paladin,
In story or in fable, with a world
To back his suit.’
Gertrude spoke to herself in the same language. She would not have changed her Alaric, branded with infamy as he now was, or soon would be, for the proudest he that carried his head high among the proud ones of the earth. Such is woman’s love; such is the love of which a man’s heart is never capable!
Alaric’s committal had taken place very much in the manner in which it was told at the Weights and Measures. He had received a note from one of the Bow Street magistrates, begging his attendance in the private room at the police-office. There he had passed nearly the whole of one day; and he was also obliged to pass nearly the whole of another in the same office. On this second day the proceedings were not private, and he was accompanied by his own solicitor.
It would be needless to describe how a plain case was, as usual, made obscure by the lawyers, how Acts of Parliament were consulted, how the magistrate doubted, how indignant Alaric’s attorney became when it was suggested that some insignificant piece of evidence should be admitted, which, whether admitted or rejected, could have no real bearing on the case. In these respects this important examination was like other important examinations of the same kind, such as one sees in the newspapers whenever a man above the ordinary felon’s rank becomes amenable to the outraged laws. It ended, however, in Alaric being committed, and giving bail to stand his trial in about a fortnight’s time; and in his being assured by his attorney that he would most certainly be acquitted. That bit of paper on which he had made an entry that certain shares bought by him had been bought on behalf of his ward, would save him; so said the attorney: to which, however, Alaric answered not much. Could any acutest lawyer, let him be made of never so fine an assortment of forensic indignation, now whitewash his name and set him again right before the world? He, of course, communicated with Sir Gregory, and agreed to be suspended from his commissionership till the trial should be over. His two colleagues then became bail for him.
So much having been settled, he got into a cab with his attorney, and having dropped that gentleman on the road, he returned home. The excitement of the examination and the necessity for action had sustained him? but now — what was to sustain him now? How was he to get through the intervening fortnight, banished as he was from his office, from his club, and from all haunts of men? His attorney, who had other rogues to attend to besides him, made certain set appointments with him — and for the rest, he might sit at home and console himself as best he might with his own thoughts. ‘Excelsior!’ This was the pass to which ‘Excelsior’ had brought Sic itur ad astro! — Alas, his road had taken him hitherto in quite a different direction.
He sent for Charley, and when Charley came he made Gertrude explain to him what had happened. He had confessed his own fault once, to his own wife, and he could not bring himself to do it again. Charley was thunderstruck at the greatness of the ruin, but he offered what assistance he could give. Anything that he could do, he would. Alaric had sent for him for a purpose, and that purpose at any rate Charley could fulfil. He went into the city to ascertain what was now the price of the Limehouse bridge shares, and returned with the news that they were falling, falling, falling.
No one else called at Alaric’s door that day. Mrs. Val, though she did not come there, by no means allowed her horses to be idle; she went about sedulously among her acquaintance, dropping tidings of her daughter’s losses. ‘They will have enough left to live upon, thank God,’ said she; ‘but did you ever hear of so barefaced, so iniquitous a robbery? Well, I am not cruel; but my own opinion is that he should certainly be hanged.’
To this Ugolina assented fully, adding, that she had been so shocked by the suddenness and horror of the news, as to have become perfectly incapacitated ever since for any high order of thought.
Lactimel, whose soft bosom could not endure the idea of putting an end to the life of a fellow-creature, suggested perpetual banishment to the penal colonies; perhaps Norfolk Island. ‘And what will she do?’ said Lactimel.
‘Indeed I cannot guess,’ said Ugolina; ‘her education has been sadly deficient.’
None but Charley called on Alaric that day, and he found himself shut up alone with his wife and child. His own house seemed to him a prison. He did not dare to leave it; he did not dare to walk out and face the public as long as daylight continued; he was ashamed to show himself, and so he sat alone in his dining-room thinking, thinking, thinking. Do what he would, he could not get those shares out of his mind; they had entered like iron into his soul, as poison into his blood; they might still rise, they might yet become of vast value, might pay all his debts, and enable him to begin again. And then this had been a committee day; he had had no means of knowing how things had gone there, of learning the opinions of the members, of whispering to Mr. Piles, or hearing the law on the matter laid down by the heavy deep voice of the great Mr. Blocks. And so he went on thinking, thinking, thinking, but ever as though he had a clock-weight fixed to his heart and pulling at its strings. For, after all, what were the shares or the committee to him? Let the shares rise to ever so fabulous a value, let the Chancellor of the Exchequer be ever so complaisant in giving away his money, what avail would it be to him? what avail now? He must stand his trial for the crime of which he had been guilty.
With the utmost patience Gertrude endeavoured to soothe him, and to bring his mind into some temper in which it could employ itself. She brought him their baby, thinking that he would play with his child, but all that he said was —‘My poor boy! I have ruined him already;’ and then turning away from the infant, he thrust his hands deep into his trousers-pockets, and went on calculating about the shares.
When the sun had well set, and the daylight had, at last, dwindled out, he took up his hat and wandered out among the new streets and rows of houses which lay between his own house and the Western Railway. He got into a district in which he had never been before, and as he walked about here, he thought of the fate of other such swindlers as himself; — yes, though he did not speak the word, he pronounced it as plainly, and as often, in the utterance of his mind, as though it was being rung out to him from every steeple in London; he thought of the fate of such swindlers as himself; how one had been found dead in the streets, poisoned by himself; how another, after facing the cleverest lawyers in the land, was now dying in a felon’s prison; how a third had vainly endeavoured to fly from justice by aid of wigs, false whiskers, painted furrows, and other disguises. Should he try to escape also, and avoid the ignominy of a trial? He knew it would be in vain; he knew that, at this moment, he was dogged at the distance of some thirty yards by an amiable policeman in mufti, placed to watch his motions by his two kind bailsmen, who preferred this small expense to the risk of losing a thousand pounds a-piece.
As he turned short round a corner, into the main road leading from the railway station to Bayswater, he came close upon a man who was walking quickly in the opposite direction, and found himself face to face with Undy Scott. How on earth should Undy Scott have come out there to Bayswater, at that hour of the night, he, the constant denizen of clubs, the well-known frequenter of Pall Mall, the member for the Tillietudlem burghs, whose every hour was occupied in the looking after things political, or things commercial? Who could have expected him in a back road at Bayswater? There, however, he was, and Alaric, before he knew of his presence, had almost stumbled against him.
‘Scott!’ said Alaric, starting back.
‘Hallo, Tudor, what the deuce brings you here? but I suppose you’ll ask me the same question?’ said Undy.
Alaric Tudor could not restrain himself. ‘You scoundrel,’ said he, seizing Undy by the collar; ‘you utterly unmitigated scoundrel! You premeditated, wilful villain!’ and he held Undy as though he intended to choke him.
But Undy Scott was not a man to be thus roughly handled with impunity; and in completing the education which he had received, the use of his fists had not been overlooked. He let out with his right hand, and struck Alaric twice with considerable force on the side of his jaw, so that the teeth rattled in his mouth.
But Alaric, at the moment, hardly felt it. ‘You have brought me and mine to ruin,’ said he; ‘you have done it purposely, like a fiend. But, low as I have fallen, I would not change places with you for all that the earth holds. I have been a villain; but such villany as yours — ugh —’ and so saying, he flung his enemy from him, and Undy, tottering back, saved himself against the wall.
In a continued personal contest between the two men, Undy would probably have had the best of it, for he would certainly have been the cooler of the two, and was also the more skilful in such warfare; but he felt in a moment that he could gain nothing by thrashing Tudor, whereas he might damage himself materially by having his name brought forward at the present moment in connexion with that of his old friend.
‘You reprobate!’ said he, preparing to pass on; ‘it has been my misfortune to know you, and one cannot touch pitch and not be defiled. But, thank God, you’ll come by your deserts now. If you will take my advice you’ll hang yourself;’ and so they parted.
The amiable policeman in mufti remained at a convenient distance during this little interview, having no special mission to keep the peace, pending his present employment; but, as he passed by, he peered into Undy’s face, and recognized the honourable member for the Tillietudlem burghs. A really sharp policeman knows every one of any note in London. It might, perhaps, be useful that evidence should be given at the forthcoming trial of the little contest which we have described. If so, our friend in mufti was prepared to give it.
On the following morning, at about eleven, a cab drove up to the door, and Alaric, standing at the dining-room window, saw Mrs. Woodward get out of it.
‘There’s your mother,’ said Alaric to his wife. ‘I will not see her — let her go up to the drawing-room.’
‘Oh! Alaric, will you not see mamma?’
‘How can I, with my face swollen as it is now? Besides, what would be the good? What can I say to her? I know well enough what she has to say to me, without listening to it.’
‘Dear Alaric, mamma will say nothing to you that is not kind; do see her, for my sake, Alaric.’
But misery had not made him docile. He merely turned from her, and shook his head impatiently. Gertrude then ran out to welcome her mother, who was in the hall.
And what a welcoming it was! ‘Come upstairs, mamma, come into the drawing-room,’ said Gertrude, who would not stop even to kiss her mother till they found themselves secured from the servants’ eyes. She knew that one word of tenderness would bring her to the ground.
‘Mamma, mamma!’ she almost shrieked, and throwing herself into her mother’s arms wept convulsively. Mrs. Woodward wanted no more words to tell her that Alaric had been guilty.
‘But, Gertrude, how much is it?’ whispered the mother, as, after a few moments of passionate grief, they sat holding each other’s hands on the sofa. ‘How much money is wanting? Can we not make it up? If it be all paid before the day of trial, will not that do? will not that prevent it?’
Gertrude could not say. She knew that £10,000 had been abstracted. Mrs. Woodward groaned as she heard the sum named. But then there were those shares, which had not long since been worth much more than half that sum, which must still be worth a large part of it.
‘But we must know, dearest, before Harry can do anything,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
Gertrude blushed crimson when Harry Norman’s name was mentioned. And had it come to that — that they must look to him for aid?
‘Can you not ask him, love?’ said Mrs. Woodward. ‘I saw him in the dining-room; go and ask him; when he knows that we are doing our best for him, surely he will help us.’
Gertrude, with a heavy heart, went down on her message, and did not return for fifteen or twenty minutes. It may easily be conceived that Norman’s name was not mentioned between her and her husband, but she made him understand that an effort would be made for him if only the truth could be ascertained.
‘It will be of no use,’ said he.
‘Don’t say so, Alaric; we cannot tell what may be of use. But at any rate it will be weight off your heart to know that this money has been paid. It is that which overpowers you now, and not your own misfortune.’
At last he suffered her to lead him, and she put down on paper such figures as he dictated to her. It was, however, impossible to say what was the actual deficiency; that must depend upon the present value of the shares; these he said he was prepared to give over to his own attorney, if it was thought that by so doing he should be taking the best steps towards repairing the evil he had done; and then he began calculating how much the shares might possibly be worth, and pointing out under what circumstances they should be sold, and under what again they should be overheld till the market had improved. All this was worse than Greek to Gertrude; but she collected what facts she could, and then returned to her mother.
And they discussed the matter with all the wit and all the volubility which women have on such occasions. Paper was brought forth, and accounts were made out between them, not such as would please the eyes of a Civil Service Examiner, but yet accurate in their way. How they worked and racked their brains, and strained their women’s nerves in planning how justice might be defeated, and the dishonesty of the loved one covered from shame! Uncle Bat was ready with his share. He had received such explanation as Mrs. Woodward had been able to give, and though when he first heard the news he had spoken severely of Alaric, still his money should be forthcoming for the service of the family. He could produce some fifteen hundred pounds; and would if needs be that he should do so. Then Harry — but the pen fell from Gertrude’s fingers as she essayed to write down Harry Norman’s contribution to the relief of her husband’s misery.
‘Remember, Gertrude, love, in how short a time he will be your brother.’
‘But when will it be, mamma? Is it to be on Thursday, as we had planned? Of course, mamma, I cannot be there.’
And then there was a break in their accounts, and Mrs. Woodward explained to Gertrude that they had all thought it better to postpone Linda’s marriage till after the trial; and this, of course was the source of fresh grief. When men such as Alaric Tudor stoop to dishonesty, the penalties of detection are not confined to their own hearthstone. The higher are the branches of the tree and the wider, the greater will be the extent of earth which its fall will disturb.
Gertrude’s pen, however, again went to work. The shares were put down at £5,000. ‘If they can only be sold for so much, I think we may manage it,’ said Mrs. Woodward; ‘I am sure that Harry can get the remainder — indeed he said he could have more than that.’
‘And what will Linda do?’
‘Linda will never want it, love; and if she did, what of that? would she not give all she has for you?’
And then Mrs. Woodward went her way to Norman’s office, without having spoken to Alaric. ‘You will come again soon, mamma,’ said Gertrude. Mrs. Woodward promised that she would.
‘And, mamma,’ and she whispered close into her mother’s ear, as she made her next request; ‘and, mamma, you will be with me on that day?’
We need not follow Norman in his efforts to have her full fortune restored to Madame Jaquêtanàpe. He was daily in connexion with Alaric’s lawyer, and returned sometimes with hope and sometimes without it. Mrs. Val’s lawyer would receive no overtures towards a withdrawal of the charge, or even towards any mitigation in their proceedings, unless the agent coming forward on behalf of the lady’s late trustee, did so with the full sum of £20,000 in his hands.
We need not follow Charley, who was everyday with Alaric, and who was, unknown to Alaric, an agent between him and Norman. ‘Well, Charley, what are they doing today?’ was Alaric’s constant question to him, even up to the very eve of his trial.
If any spirit ever walks it must be that of the stockjobber, for how can such a one rest in its grave without knowing what shares are doing?
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14