Our tale and toils have now drawn nigh to an end; our loves and our sorrows are over; and we are soon to part company with the three clerks and their three wives. Their three wives? Why, yes. It need hardly be told in so many words to an habitual novel-reader that Charley did get his bride at last.
Nevertheless, Katie kept her promise to Mrs. Woodward. What promise did she ever make and not keep? She kept her promise, and did not go from her mother. She married Mr. Charles Tudor, of the Weights and Measures, that distinguished master of modern fiction, as the Literary Censor very civilly called him the other day; and Mr. Charles Tudor became master of Surbiton Cottage.
Reader! take one last leap with me, and presume that two years have flown from us since the end of the last chapter; or rather somewhat more than two years, for we would have it high midsummer when we take our last farewell of Surbiton Cottage.
But sundry changes had taken place at the Cottage, and of such a nature, that were it not for the old name’s sake, we should now find ourselves bound to call the place Surbiton Villa, or Surbiton Hall, or Surbiton House. It certainly had no longer any right to the title of a cottage; for Charley, in anticipation of what Lucina might do for him, had added on sundry rooms, a children’s room on the ground floor, and a nursery above, and a couple of additional bedrooms on the other side, so that the house was now a comfortable abode for an increasing family.
At the time of which we are now speaking Lucina had not as yet done much; for, in truth, Charley had been married but little over twelve months; but there appeared every reason to believe that the goddess would be propitious. There was already one little rocking shrine, up in that cosy temple opening out of Katie’s bedroom — we beg her pardon, we should have said Mrs. Charles Tudor’s bedroom — one precious tabernacle in which was laid a little man-deity, a young Charley, to whom was daily paid a multitude of very sincere devotions.
How precious are all the belongings of a first baby; how dear are the cradle, the lace-caps, the first coral, all the little duds which are made with such punctilious care and anxious efforts of nicest needlework to encircle that small lump of pink humanity! What care is taken that all shall be in order! See that basket lined with crimson silk, prepared to hold his various garments, while the mother, jealous of her nurse, insists on tying every string with her own fingers. And then how soon the change comes; how different it is when there are ten of them, and the tenth is allowed to inherit the well-worn wealth which the ninth, a year ago, had received from the eighth. There is no crimson silk basket then, I trow.
‘Jane, Jane, where are my boots?’ ‘Mary, I’ve lost my trousers!’ Such sounds are heard, shouted through the house from powerful lungs.
‘Why, Charley,’ says the mother, as her eldest hope rushes in to breakfast with dishevelled hair and dirty hands, ‘you’ve got no handkerchief on your neck — what have you done with your handkerchief?’
‘No, mamma; it came off in the hay-loft, and I can’t find it.’
‘Papa,’ says the lady wife, turning to her lord, who is reading his newspaper over his coffee —‘papa, you really must speak to Charley; he will not mind me. He was dressed quite nicely an hour ago, and do see what a figure he has made himself.’
‘Charley,’ says papa, not quite relishing this disturbance in the midst of a very interesting badger-baiting —‘Charley, my boy, if you don’t mind your P’s and Q’s, you and I shall fall out; mind that;’ and he again goes on with his sport; and mamma goes on with her teapot, looking not exactly like Patience on a monument.
Such are the joys which await you, Mr. Charles Tudor; but not to such have you as yet arrived. As yet there is but the one little pink deity in the rocking shrine above; but one, at least, of your own. At the moment of which we are now speaking there were visitors at Surbiton Cottage, and the new nursery was brought into full use. Mr. and Mrs. Norman of Normansgrove were there with their two children and two maids, and grandmamma Woodward had her hands quite full in the family nursery line.
It was a beautiful summer evening, and the two young mothers were sitting with Mrs. Woodward and Uncle Bat in the drawing-room, waiting for their lords’ return from London. As usual, when they stayed late, the two men were to dine at their club and come down to tea. The nursemaids were walking on the lawn before the window with their charges, and the three ladies were busily employed with some fairly-written manuscript pages, which they were cutting carefully into shape, and arranging in particular form.
‘Now, mamma,’ said Katie, ‘if you laugh once while you are reading it, you’ll spoil it all.’
‘I’ll do the best I can, my dear, but I’m sure I shall break down; you have made it so very abusive,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
‘Mamma, I think I’ll take out that about official priggism — hadn’t I better, Linda?’
‘Indeed, I think you had; I’m sure mamma would break down there,’ said Linda. ‘Mamma, I’m sure you would never get over the official priggism.’
‘I don’t think I should, my dear,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
‘What is it you are all concocting?’ said Captain Cuttwater; ‘some infernal mischief, I know, craving your pardons.’
‘If you tell, Uncle Bat, I’ll never forgive you,’ said Katie.
‘Oh, you may trust me; I never spoil sport, if I can’t make any; but the fun ought to be very good, for you’ve been a mortal long time about it.’
And then the two younger ladies again went on clipping and arranging their papers, while Mrs. Woodward renewed her protest that she would do her best as to reading their production. While they were thus employed the postman’s knock was heard, and a letter was brought in from the far-away Australian exiles. The period at which these monthly missives arrived were moments of intense anxiety, and the letter was seized upon with eager avidity. It was from Gertrude to her mother, as all these letters were; but in such a production they had a joint property, and it was hardly possible to say who first mastered its contents.
It will only be necessary here to give some extracts from the letter, which was by no means a short one. So much must be done in order that our readers may know something of the fate of those who perhaps may be called the hero and heroine of the tale. The author does not so call them; he professes to do his work without any such appendages to his story — heroism there may be, and he hopes there is — more or less of it there should be in a true picture of most characters; but heroes and heroines, as so called, are not commonly met with in our daily walks of life.
Before Gertrude’s letter had been disposed of, Norman and Charley came in, and it was therefore discussed in full conclave. Alaric’s path in the land of his banishment had not been over roses. The upward struggle of men, who have fallen from a high place once gained, that second mounting of the ladder of life, seldom is an easy path. He, and with him Gertrude and his children, had been called on to pay the full price of his backsliding. His history had gone with him to the Antipodes; and, though the knowledge of what he had done was not there so absolute a clog upon his efforts, so overpowering a burden, as it would have been in London, still it was a burden and a heavy one.
It had been well for Gertrude that she had prepared herself to give up all her luxuries by her six months’ residence in that Millbank Paradise of luxuries: for some time she had little enough in the ‘good and happy land,’ to which she had taught herself and her children to look forward. That land of promise had not flowed with milk and honey when first she put her foot upon its soil; its produce for her had been gall and bitter herbs for many a weary month after she first landed. But her heart had never sunk within her. She had never forgotten that he, if he were to work well, should have at least one cheerful companion by his side. She had been true to him, then as ever. And yet it is so hard to be true to high principles in little things. The heroism of the Roman, who, for his country’s sake, leapt his horse into a bottomless gulf, was as nothing to that of a woman who can keep her temper through poverty, and be cheerful in adversity.
Through poverty, scorn, and bad repute, under the privations of a hard life, separated from so many that she had loved, and from everything that she had liked, Gertrude had still been true to her ideas of her marriage vow; true, also, to her pure and single love. She had entwined herself with him in sunny weather; and when the storm came she did her best to shelter the battered stem to which she had trusted herself.
By degrees things mended with them; and in this letter, which is now passing from eager hand to hand in Katie’s drawing-room, Gertrude spoke with better hope of their future prospects.
‘Thank God, we are once more all well,’ she said; ‘and Alaric’s spirits are higher than they were. He has, indeed, had much to try them. They think, I believe, in England, that any kind of work here is sure to command a high price; of this I am quite sure, that in no employment in England are people so tasked as they are here. Alaric was four months in these men’s counting-house, and I am sure another four months would have seen him in his grave. Though I knew not then what other provision might be made for us, I implored him, almost on my knees, to give up that. He was expected to be there for ten, sometimes twelve, hours a day; and they thought he should always be kept going like a steam-engine. You know Alaric never was afraid of work; but that would have killed him. And what was it for? What did they give him for that — for all his talent, all his experience, all his skill? And he did give them all. His salary was two pounds ten a week! And then, when he told them of all he was doing for them, they had the baseness to remind him of ——. Dearest mother, is not the world hard? It was that that made me insist that he should leave them.’
Alaric’s present path was by no means over roses. This certainly was a change from those days on which he had sat, one of a mighty trio, at the Civil Service Examination Board, striking terror into candidates by a scratch of his pen, and making happy the desponding heart by his approving nod. His ambition now was not to sit among the magnates of Great Britain, and make his voice thunder through the columns of the Times; it ranged somewhat lower at this period, and was confined for the present to a strong desire to see his wife and bairns sufficiently fed, and not left absolutely without clothing. He inquired little as to the feeling of the electors of Strathbogy.
And had he utterly forgotten the stirring motto of his early days? Did he ever mutter ‘Excelsior’ to himself, as, with weary steps, he dragged himself home from that hated counting-house? Ah! he had fatally mistaken the meaning of the word which he had so often used. There had been the error of his life. ‘Excelsior!’ When he took such a watchword for his use, he should surely have taught himself the meaning of it.
He had now learnt that lesson in a school somewhat of the sternest; but, as time wore kindly over him, he did teach himself to accept the lesson with humility. His spirit had been wellnigh broken as he was carried from that court-house in the Old Bailey to his prison on the river-side; and a broken spirit, like a broken goblet, can never again become whole. But Nature was a kind mother to him, and did not permit him to be wholly crushed. She still left within the plant the germ of life, which enabled it again to spring up and vivify, though sorely bruised by the heels of those who had ridden over it. He still repeated to himself the old watchword, though now in humbler tone and more bated breath; and it may be presumed that he had now a clearer meaning of its import.
‘But his present place,’ continued Gertrude, ‘is much — very much more suited to him. He is corresponding clerk in the first bank here, and though his pay is nearly double what it was at the other place, his hours of work are not so oppressive. He goes at nine and gets away at five — that is, except on the arrival or dispatch of the English mails.’ Here was a place of bliss for a man who had been a commissioner, attending at the office at such hours as best suited himself, and having clerks at his beck to do all that he listed. And yet, as Gertrude said, this was a place of bliss to him. It was a heaven as compared with that other hell.
‘Alley is such a noble boy,’ said Gertrude, becoming almost joyous as she spoke of her own immediate cares. ‘He is most like Katie, I think, of us all; and yet he is very like his papa. He goes to a day-school now, with his books slung over his back in a bag. You never saw such a proud little fellow as he is, and so manly. Charley is just like you — oh! so like. It makes me so happy that he is. He did not talk so early as Alley, but, nevertheless, he is more forward than the other children I see here. The little monkeys! they are neither of them the least like me. But one can always see oneself, and it don’t matter if one does not.’
‘If ever there was a brick, Gertrude is one,’ said Norman.
‘A brick!’ said Charley —‘why you might cut her to pieces, and build another Kensington palace out of the slices. I believe she is a brick.’
‘I wonder whether I shall ever see her again?’ said Mrs. Woodward, not with dry eyes.
‘Oh yes, mamma,’ said Katie. ‘She shall come home to us some day, and we will endeavour to reward her for it all.’
Dear Katie, who will not love you for such endeavour? But, indeed, the reward for heroism cometh not here.
There was much more in the letter, but enough has been given for our purpose. It will be seen that hope yet remained both for Alaric and his wife; and hope not without a reasonable base. Bad as he had been, it had not been with him as with Undy Scott. The devil had not contrived to put his whole claw upon him. He had not divested himself of human affections and celestial hopes. He had not reduced himself to the present level of a beast, with the disadvantages of a soul and of an eternity, as the other man had done. He had not put himself beyond the pale of true brotherhood with his fellow-men. We would have hanged Undy had the law permitted us; but now we will say farewell to the other, hoping that he may yet achieve exaltation of another kind.
And to thee, Gertrude — how shall we say farewell to thee, excluded as thou art from that dear home, where those who love thee so well are now so happy? Their only care remaining is now thy absence. Adversity has tried thee in its crucible, and thou art found to be of virgin gold, unalloyed; hadst thou still been lapped in prosperity, the true ring of thy sterling metal would never have been heard. Farewell to thee, and may those young budding flowerets of thine break forth into golden fruit to gladden thy heart in coming days!
The reading of Gertrude’s letter, and the consequent discussion, somewhat put off the execution of the little scheme which had been devised for that evening’s amusement; but, nevertheless, it was still broad daylight when Mrs. Woodward consigned the precious document to her desk; the drawing-room windows were still open, and the bairns were still being fondled in the room. It was the first week in July, when the night almost loses her dominion, and when those hours which she generally claims as her own, become the pleasantest of the day.
‘Oh, Charley,’ said Katie, at last, ‘we have great news for you, too. Here is another review on “The World’s Last Wonder.”’
Now ‘The World’s Last Wonder’ was Charley’s third novel; but he was still sensitive enough on the subject of reviews to look with much anxiety for what was said of him. These notices were habitually sent down to him at Hampton, and his custom was to make his wife or her mother read them, while he sat by in lordly ease in his arm-chair, receiving homage when homage came to him, and criticizing the critics when they were uncivil.
‘Have you?’ said Charley. ‘What is it? Why did you not show it me before?’
‘Why, we were talking of dear Gertrude,’ said Katie; ‘and it is not so pleasant but that it will keep. What paper do you think it is?’
‘What paper? how on earth can I tell? — show it me.’
‘No; but do guess, Charley; and then mamma will read it — pray guess now.’
‘Oh, bother, I can’t guess. The Literary Censor, I suppose — I know they have turned against me.’
‘No, it’s not that,’ said Linda; ‘guess again.’
‘The Guardian Angel,’ said Charley.
‘No — that angel has not taken you under his wings as yet,’ said Katie.
‘I know it’s not the Times,’ said Charley, ‘for I have seen that.’
‘O no,’ said Katie, seriously; ‘if it was anything of that sort, we would not keep you in suspense.’
‘Well, I’ll be shot if I guess any more — there are such thousands of them.’
‘But there is only one Daily Delight,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
‘Nonsense!’ said Charley. ‘You don’t mean to tell me that my dear old friend and foster-father has fallen foul of me — my old teacher and master, if not spiritual pastor; well — well — well! The ingratitude of the age! I gave him my two beautiful stories, the first-fruits of my vine, all for love; to think that he should now lay his treacherous axe to the root of the young tree — well, give it here.’
‘No — mamma will read it — we want Harry to hear it.’
‘O yes — let Mrs. Woodward read it,’ said Harry. ‘I trust it is severe. I know no man who wants a dragging over the coals more peremptorily than you do.’
‘Thankee, sir. Well, grandmamma, go on; but if there be anything very bad, give me a little notice, for I am nervous.’
And then Mrs. Woodward began to read, Linda sitting with Katie’s baby in her arms, and Katie performing a similar office for her sister.
“‘The World’s Last Wonder,’ by Charles Tudor, Esq.”
‘He begins with a lie,’ said Charley, ‘for I never called myself Esquire.’
‘Oh, that was a mistake,’ said Katie, forgetting herself.
‘Men of that kind shouldn’t make such mistakes,’ said Charley. ‘When one fellow attempts to cut up another fellow, he ought to take special care that he does it fairly.’
“By the author of ‘Bathos.’”
‘I didn’t put that in,’ said Charley, ‘that was the publisher. I only put Charles Tudor.’
‘Don’t be so touchy, Charley, and let me go on,’ said Mrs. Woodward.
‘Well, fire away — it’s good fun to you, I dare say, as the fly said to the spider.’
‘Well, Charley, at any rate we are not the spiders,’ said Linda. Katie said nothing, but she could not help feeling that she must look rather spiderish.
‘Mr. Tudor has acquired some little reputation as a humorist, but as is so often the case with those who make us laugh, his very success will prove his ruin.’
‘Then upon my word the Daily Delight is safe,’ said Charley. ‘It will never be ruined in that way.’
‘There is an elaborate jocosity about him, a determined eternity of most industrious fun, which gives us the idea of a boy who is being rewarded for having duly learnt by rote his daily lesson out of Joe Miller.’
‘Now, I’ll bet ten to one he has never read the book at all — well, never mind — go on.’
“‘The World’s Last Wonder’ is the description of a woman who kept a secret under certain temptations to reveal it, which, as Mr. Tudor supposes, might have moved any daughter of Eve to break her faith.”
‘I haven’t supposed anything of the kind,’ said Charley.
‘This secret, which we shall not disclose, as we would not wish to be thought less trustworthy than Mr. Tudor’s wonderful woman —’
‘We shall find that he does disclose it, of course; that is the way with all of them.’
—‘Is presumed to permeate the whole three volumes.’
‘It is told at full length in the middle of the second,’ said Charley.
‘And the effect upon the reader of course is, that he has ceased to interest himself about it, long before it is disclosed to him!
‘The lady in question is engaged to be married to a gentleman, a circumstance which in the pages of a novel is not calculated to attract much special attention. She is engaged to be married, but the gentleman who has the honour of being her intended sposo ——’
‘Intended sposo!’ said Charley, expressing by his upturned lip a withering amount of scorn —‘how well I know the fellow’s low attempts at wit! That’s the editor himself — that’s my literary papa. I know him as well as though I had seen him at it.’
Katie and Mrs. Woodward exchanged furtive glances, but neither of them moved a muscle of her face.
‘But the gentleman who has the honour of being her intended sposo,’ continued Mrs. Woodward.
‘What the devil’s a sposo?’ said Uncle Bat, who was sitting in an arm-chair with a handkerchief over his head.
‘Why, you’re not a sposo, Uncle Bat,’ said Linda; ‘but Harry is, and so is Charley.’
‘Oh, I see,’ said the captain; ‘it’s a bird with his wings clipped.’
‘But the gentleman who has the honour of being her intended sposo ——’ again read Mrs. Woodward.
‘Now I’m sure I’m speaking by the card,’ said Charley, ‘when I say that there is not another man in London who could have written that line, and who would have used so detestable a word. I think I remember his using it in one of his lectures to me; indeed I’m sure I do. Sposo! I should like to tweak his nose oh!’
‘Are you going to let me go on?’ said Mrs. Woodward —‘her intended sposo’— Charley gave a kick with his foot and satisfied himself with that —‘is determined to have nothing to say to her in the matrimonial line till she has revealed to him this secret which he thinks concerns his own honour.’
‘There, I knew he’d tell it.’
‘He has not told it yet,’ said Norman.
‘The lady, however, is obdurate, wonderfully so, of course, seeing that she is the world’s last wonder, and so the match is broken off. But the secret is of such a nature that the lady’s invincible objection to revealing it is bound up with the fact of her being a promised bride.’
‘I wonder he didn’t say sposa,’ said Charley.
‘I never thought of that,’ said Katie.
Mrs. Woodward and Linda looked at her, but Charley did not, and her blunder passed by unnoticed.
‘Now that she is free from her matrimonial bonds, she is free also to tell the secret; and indeed the welfare both of the gentleman and of the lady imperiously demands that it should be told. Should he marry her, he is destined to learn it after his marriage; should he not marry her, he may hear it at any time. She sends for him and tells him, not the first of these facts, by doing which all difficulty would have at once been put an end to —’
‘It is quite clear he has never read the story, quite clear,’ said Charley.
‘She tells him only the last, viz., that as they are now strangers he may know the secret; but that when once known it will raise a barrier between them that no years, no penance, no sorrow on his part, no tenderness on hers, can ever break down. She then asks him — will he hear the secret?’
‘She does not ask any such thing,’ said Charley; ‘the letter that contains it has been already sent to him. She merely gives him an opportunity of returning it unopened.’
‘The gentleman, who is not without a grain of obstinacy in his own composition and many grains of curiosity, declares it to be impossible that he can go to the altar in ignorance of facts which he is bound to know, and the lady, who seems to be of an affectionate disposition, falls in tenderness at his feet. She is indeed in a very winning mood, and quite inclined to use every means allowable to a lady for retaining her lover; every means that is short of that specially feminine one of telling her secret.
‘We will give an extract from this love scene, partly for the sake of its grotesque absurdity —’
Charley kicked out another foot, as though he thought that the editor of the Daily Delight might perhaps be within reach.
‘— And partly because it gives a fair example of the manner in which Mr. Tudor endeavours to be droll even in the midst of his most tender passages.
‘Leonora was at this time seated —’
‘Oh, skip the extract,’ said Charley; ‘I suppose there are three or four pages of it?’
‘It goes down to where Leonora says that his fate and her own are in his hands.’
‘Yes, about three columns,’ said Charley; ‘that’s an easy way of making an article — eh, Harry?’
‘Aliter non fit, amice, liber,’ said the classical Norman.
‘Well, skip the extract, grandmamma.’
‘Now, did anyone ever before read such a mixture of the bombastic and the burlesque? We are called upon to cry over every joke, and, for the life of us, we cannot hold our sides when the catastrophes occur. It is a salad in which the pungency of the vinegar has been wholly subdued by the oil, and the fatness of the oil destroyed by the tartness of the vinegar.’
‘His old simile,’ said Charley; ‘he was always talking about literary salads.’
‘The gentleman, of course, gives way at the last minute,’ continued Mrs. Woodward. ‘The scene in which he sits with the unopened letter lying on his table before him has some merit; but this probably arises from the fact that the letter is dumb, and the gentleman equally so.’
‘D— nation!’ said Charley, whose patience could not stand such impudence at this.
‘The gentleman, who, as we should have before said, is the eldest son of a man of large reputed fortune ——’
‘There — I knew he’d tell it.’
‘Oh, but he hasn’t told it,’ said Norman.
‘Doesn’t the word ‘reputed’ tell it?’
‘— The eldest son of a man of large reputed fortune, does at last marry the heroine; and then he discovers — But what he discovers, those who feel any interest in the matter may learn from the book itself; we must profess that we felt none.
‘We will not say there is nothing in the work indicative of talent. The hero’s valet, Jacob Brush, and the heroine’s lady’s-maid, Jacintha Pintail, are both humorous and good in their way. Why it should be so, we do not pretend to say; but it certainly does appear to us that Mr. Tudor is more at home in the servants’ hall than in the lady’s boudoir.’
‘Abominable scoundrel!’ said Charley.
‘But what we must chiefly notice,’ continued the article, ‘in the furtherance of those views by which we profess that we are governed —’
‘Now, I know, we are to have something very grandiloquent and very false,’ said Charley.
‘— Is this: that no moral purpose can be served by the volumes before us. The hero acts wrongly throughout, but nevertheless he is rewarded at last. There is no Nemesis —’
‘No what?’ said Charley, jumping up from his chair and looking over the table.
‘No Nemesis,’ said Mrs. Woodward, speaking with only half-sustained voice, and covering with her arms the document which she had been reading.
Charley looked sharply at his wife, then at Linda, then at Mrs. Woodward. Not one of them could keep her face. He made a snatch at the patched-up manuscript, and as he did so, Katie almost threw out of her arms the baby she was holding.
‘Take him, Harry, take him,’ said she, handing over the child to his father. And then gliding quick as thought through the furniture of the drawing-room, she darted out upon the lawn, to save herself from the coming storm.
Charley was quickly after her; but as he made his exit, one chair fell to the right of him, and another to the left. Mrs. Woodward followed them, and so did Harry and Linda, each with a baby.
And then Captain Cuttwater, waking from his placid nap, rubbed his eyes in wondering amazement.
‘What the devil is all the row about?’ said he. But there was nobody to answer him.
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14