THE THREE CLERKS
BY ANTHONY TROLLOPE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY W. TEIGNMOUTH SHORE
Born London, April 24, 1815 Died London, December 6, 1882
There is the proper mood and the just environment for the reading as well as for the writing of works of fiction, and there can be no better place for the enjoying of a novel by Anthony Trollope than under a tree in Kensington Gardens of a summer day. Under a tree in the avenue that reaches down from the Round Pond to the Long Water. There, perhaps more than anywhere else, lingers the early Victorian atmosphere. As we sit beneath our tree, we see in the distance the dun, red-brick walls of Kensington Palace, where one night Princess Victoria was awakened to hear that she was Queen; there in quaint, hideously ugly Victorian rooms are to be seen Victorian dolls and other playthings; the whole environment is early Victorian. Here to the mind's eye how easy it is to conjure up ghosts of men in baggy trousers and long flowing whiskers, of prim women in crinolines, in hats with long trailing feathers and with ridiculous little parasols, or with Grecian- bends and chignons—church-parading to and fro beneath the trees or by the water's edge—perchance, even the fascinating Lady Crinoline and the elegant Mr. Macassar Jones, whose history has been written by Clerk Charley in the pages we are introducing to the 'gentle reader'. As a poetaster of an earlier date has written:—
Where Kensington high o'er the neighbouring lands 'Midst green and sweets, a royal fabric, stands, And sees each spring, luxuriant in her bowers, A snow of blossoms, and a wild of flowers, The dames of Britain oft in crowds repair To gravel walks, and unpolluted air. Here, while the town in damps and darkness lies, They breathe in sunshine, and see azure skies; Each walk, with robes of various dyes bespread, Seems from afar a moving tulip bed, Where rich brocades and glossy damasks glow, And chintz, the rival of the showery bow.
Indeed, the historian of social manners, when dealing with the Victorian period, will perforce have recourse to the early volumes of Punch and to the novels of Thackeray, Dickens, and Trollope.
There are certain authors of whom personally we know little, but of whose works we cannot ever know enough, such a one for example as Shakespeare; others of whose lives we know much, but for whose works we can have but scant affection: such is Doctor Johnson; others who are intimate friends in all their aspects, as Goldsmith and Charles Lamb; yet others, who do not quite come home to our bosoms, whose writings we cannot entirely approve, but for whom and for whose works we find a soft place somewhere in our hearts, and such a one is Anthony Trollope. His novels are not for every-day reading, any more than are those of Marryat and Borrow—to take two curious examples. There are times and moods and places in which it would be quite impossible to read The Three Clerks; others in which this story is almost wholly delightful. With those who are fond of bed-reading Trollope should ever be a favourite, and it is no small compliment to say this, for small is the noble army of authors who have given us books which can enchant in the witching hour between waking and slumber. It is probable that all lovers of letters have their favourite bed-books. Thackeray has charmingly told us of his. Of the few novels that can really be enjoyed when the reader is settling down for slumber almost all have been set forth by writers who—consciously or unconsciously—have placed character before plot; Thackeray himself, Miss Austen, Borrow, Marryat, Sterne, Dickens, Goldsmith and—Trollope.
Books are very human in their way, as what else should they be, children of men and women as they are? Just as with human friends so with book friends, first impressions are often misleading; good literary coin sometimes seems to ring untrue, but the untruth is in the ear of the reader, not of the writer. For instance, Trollope has many odd and irritating tricks which are apt to scare off those who lack perseverance and who fail to understand that there must be something admirable in that which was once much admired by the judicious. He shares with Thackeray the sinful habit of pulling up his readers with a wrench by reminding them that what is set before them is after all mere fiction and that the characters in whose fates they are becoming interested are only marionettes. With Dickens and others he shares the custom, so irritating to us of to-day, of ticketing his personages with clumsy, descriptive labels, such as, in The Three Clerks, Mr. Chaffanbrass, Sir Gregory Hardlines, Sir Warwick West End, Mr. Neverbend, Mr. Whip Vigil, Mr. Nogo and Mr. Gitemthruet. He must plead guilty, also, to some bad ways peculiarly his own, or which he made so by the thoroughness with which he indulged in them. He moralizes in his own person in deplorable manner: is not this terrible:—'Poor Katie!—dear, darling, bonnie Katie!—sweet, sweetest, dearest child! why, oh, why, has that mother of thine, that tender-hearted loving mother, put thee unguarded in the way of such perils as this? Has she not sworn to herself that over thee at least she would watch as a hen over her young, so that no unfortunate love should quench thy young spirit, or blanch thy cheek's bloom?' Is this not sufficient to make the gentlest reader swear to himself?
Fortunately this and some other appalling passages occur after the story is in full swing and after the three Clerks and those with whom they come into contact have proved themselves thoroughly interesting companions. Despite all his old-fashioned tricks Trollope does undoubtedly succeed in giving blood and life to most of his characters; they are not as a rule people of any great eccentricity or of profound emotions; but ordinary, every- day folk, such as all of us have met, and loved or endured. Trollope fills very adequately a space between Thackeray and Dickens, of whom the former deals for the most part with the upper 'ten', the latter with the lower 'ten'; Trollope with the suburban and country-town 'ten'; the three together giving us a very complete and detailed picture of the lives led by our grandmothers and grandfathers, whose hearts were in the same place as our own, but whose manners of speech, of behaviour and of dress have now entered into the vague region known as the 'days of yore'.
The Three Clerks is an excellent example of Trollope's handiwork. The development of the plot is sufficiently skilful to maintain the reader's interest, and the major part of the characters is lifelike, always well observed and sometimes depicted with singular skill and insight. Trollope himself liked the work well:—
'The plot is not so good as that of The Macdermots; nor are any characters in the book equal to those of Mrs. Proudie and the Warden; but the work has a more continued interest, and contains the first well-described love-scene that I ever wrote. The passage in which Kate Woodward, thinking she will die, tries to take leave of the lad she loves, still brings tears to my eyes when I read it. I had not the heart to kill her. I never could do that. And I do not doubt that they are living happily together to this day.
'The lawyer Chaffanbrass made his first appearance in this novel, and I do not think that I have cause to be ashamed of him. But this novel now is chiefly noticeable to me from the fact that in it I introduced a character under the name of Sir Gregory Hardlines, by which I intended to lean very heavily on that much loathed scheme of competitive examination, of which at that time Sir Charles Trevelyan was the great apostle. Sir Gregory Hardlines was intended for Sir Charles Trevelyan—as any one at the time would know who had taken an interest in the Civil Service. 'We always call him Sir Gregory,' Lady Trevelyan said to me afterwards when I came to know her husband. I never learned to love competitive examination; but I became, and am, very fond of Sir Charles Trevelyan. Sir Stafford Northcote, who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer, was then leagued with his friend Sir Charles, and he too appears in The Three Clerks under the feebly facetious name of Sir Warwick West End. But for all that The Three Clerks was a good novel.'
Which excerpt from Trollope's Autobiography serves to throw light not only upon the novel in question, but also upon the character of its author.
Trollope served honestly and efficiently for many a long year in the Post Office, achieving his entrance through a farce of an examination:—
'The story of that examination', he says, 'is given accurately in the opening chapters of a novel written by me, called The Three Clerks. If any reader of this memoir would refer to that chapter and see how Charley Tudor was supposed to have been admitted into the Internal Navigation Office, that reader will learn how Anthony Trollope was actually admitted into the Secretary's office of the General Post Office in 1834.'
Poe's description of the manner in which he wrote The Raven is incredible, being probably one of his solemn and sombre jokes; equally incredible is Trollope's confession of his humdrum, mechanical methods of work. Doubtless he believed he was telling the whole truth, but only here and there in his Autobiography does he permit to peep out touches of light, which complete the portrait of himself. It is impossible that for the reader any character in fiction should live which has not been alive to its creator; so is it with Trollope, who, speaking of his characters, says,
'I have wandered alone among the rooks and woods, crying at their grief, laughing at their absurdities, and thoroughly enjoying their joy. I have been impregnated with my own creations till it has been my only excitement to sit with the pen in my hand, and drive my team before me at as quick a pace as I could make them travel.'
There is a plain matter-of-factness about Trollope's narratives which is convincing, making it difficult for the reader to call himself back to fact and to remember that he has been wandering in a world of fiction. In The Three Clerks, the young men who give the tale its title are all well drawn. To accomplish this in the cases of Alaric and Charley Tudor was easy enough for a skilled writer, but to breathe life into Harry Norman was difficult. At first he appears to be a lay-figure, a priggish dummy of an immaculate hero, a failure in portraiture; but toward the end of the book it is borne in on us that our dislike had been aroused by the lifelike nature of the painting, dislike toward a real man, priggish indeed in many ways, but with a very human strain of obstinacy and obdurateness, which few writers would have permitted to have entered into the make-up of any of their heroes. Of the other men, Undy Scott may be named as among the very best pieces of portraiture in Victorian fiction; touch after touch of detail is added to the picture with really admirable skill, and Undy lives in the reader's memory as vividly as he must have existed in the imagination of his creator. There are some strong and curious passages in Chapter XLIV, in which the novelist contrasts the lives and fates of Varney, Bill Sykes and Undy Scott; they stir the blood, proving uncontestibly that Undy Scott was as real to Trollope as he is to us: 'The figure of Undy swinging from a gibbet at the broad end of Lombard Street would have an effect. Ah, my fingers itch to be at the rope.'
Trollope possessed the rare and beautiful gift of painting the hearts and souls of young girls, and of this power he has given an admirable example in Katie Woodward. It would be foolish and cruel to attempt to epitomize, or rather to draw in miniature, this portrait that Trollope has drawn at full length; were it not for any other end, those that are fond of all that is graceful and charming in young womanhood should read The Three Clerks, so becoming the friend, nay, the lover of Katie. Her sisters are not so attractive, simply because nature did not make them so; a very fine, faithful woman, Gertrude; a dear thing, Linda. All three worthy of their mother, she who, as we are told in a delicious phrase, 'though adverse to a fool' 'could sympathize with folly '.
These eight portraits are grouped in the foreground of this 'conversation' piece, the background being filled with slighter but always live figures.
Particularly striking, as being somewhat unusual with Trollope, is the depiction of the public-house, 'The Pig and Whistle', in Norfolk Street, the landlady, Mrs. Davis, and the barmaid, Norah Geraghty. We can almost smell the gin, the effluvia of stale beer, the bad tobacco, hear the simpers and see the sidlings of Norah, feel sick with and at Charley:—he '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 ... and then he felt very sick'. But, oh, why 'olfactory nerves'? Was it vulgar in early Victorian days to call a nose a nose?
How far different would have been Dickens's treatment of such characters and such a scene; out of Mrs. Davis and Norah he would have extracted fun, and it would never have entered into his mind to have brought such a man as Charley into contact with them in a manner that must hurt that young hero's susceptibilities. Thackeray would have followed a third way, judging by his treatment of the Fotheringay and Captain Costigan, partly humorous, partly satirical, partly serious.
Trollope was not endowed with any spark of wit, his satire tends towards the obvious, and his humour is mild, almost unconscious, as if he could depict for us what of the humorous came under his observation without himself seeing the fun in it. Where he sets forth with intent to be humorous he sometimes attains almost to the tragic; there are few things so sad as a joke that misses fire or a jester without sense of humour.
Of the genius of a writer of fiction there is scarce any other test so sure as this of the reality of his characters. Few are the authors that have created for us figures of fiction that are more alive to us than the historic shadows of the past, whose dead bones historians do not seem to be able to clothe with flesh and blood. Trollope hovers on the border line between genius and great talent, or rather it would be more fair to say that with regard to him opinions may justly differ. For our own part we hold that his was not talent streaked with genius, but rather a jog-trot genius alloyed with mediocrity. He lacked the supreme unconsciousness of supreme genius, for of genius as of talent there are degrees. There are characters in The Three Clerks that live; those who have read the tale must now and again when passing Norfolk Street, Strand, regret that it would be waste of time to turn down that rebuilt thoroughfare in search of 'The Pig and Whistle', which was 'one of these small tranquil shrines of Bacchus in which the god is worshipped with as constant a devotion, though with less noisy demonstration of zeal than in his larger and more public temples'. Alas; lovers of Victorian London must lament that such shrines grow fewer day by day; the great thoroughfares know them no more; they hide nervously in old-world corners, and in them you will meet old-world characters, who not seldom seem to have lost themselves on their way to the pages of Charles Dickens.
Despite the advent of electric tramways, Hampton would still be recognized by the three clerks, 'the little village of Hampton, with its old-fashioned country inn, and its bright, quiet, grassy river.' Hampton is now as it then was, the 'well-loved resort of cockneydom'.
So let us alight from the tramcar at Hampton, and look about on the outskirts of the village for 'a small old-fashioned brick house, abutting on the road, but looking from its front windows on to a lawn and garden, which stretched down to the river'. Surbiton Cottage it is called. Let us peep in at that merry, happy family party; and laugh at Captain Cuttwater, waking from his placid sleep, rubbing his eyes in wonderment, and asking, 'What the devil is all the row about?' But it is only with our mind's eye that we can see Surbiton Cottage—a cottage in the air it is, but more substantial to some of us than many a real jerry- built villa of red brick and stucco.
Old-fashioned seem to us the folk who once dwelt there, old- fashioned in all save that their hearts were true and their outlook on life sane and clean; they live still, though their clothes be of a quaint fashion and their talk be of yesterday.
Who knows but that they will live long after we who love them shall be dead and turned to dust?
W. TEIGNMOUTH SHORE.
I. THE WEIGHTS AND MEASURES II. THE INTERNAL NAVIGATION III. THE WOODWARDS IV. CAPTAIN CUTTWATER V. BUSHEY PARK VI. SIR GREGORY HARDLINES VII. MR. FIDUS NEVERBEND VIII. THE HON. UNDECIMUS SCOTT IX. MR. MANYLODES X. WHEAL MARY JANE XI. THE THREE KINGS XII. CONSOLATION XIII. A COMMUNICATION OF IMPORTANCE XIV. VERY SAD XV. NORMAN RETURNS TO TOWN XVI. THE FIRST WEDDING XVII. THE HONOURABLE MRS. VAL AND MISS GOLIGHTLY XVIII. A DAY WITH ONE OF THE NAVVIES.—MORNING XIX. A DAY WITH ONE OF THE NAVVIES.—AFTERNOON XX. A DAY WITH ONE OF THE NAVVIES.—EVENING XXI. HAMPTON COURT BRIDGE XXII. CRINOLINE AND MACASSAR; OR, MY AUNT'S WILL XXIII. SURBITON COLLOQUIES XXIV. MR. M'BUFFER ACCEPTS THE CHILTERN HUNDREDS XXV. CHISWICK GARDENS XXVI. KATIE'S FIRST BALL XXVII. EXCELSIOR XXVIII. OUTERMAN v. TUDOR XXIX. EASY IS THE SLOPE OF HELL XXX. MRS. WOODWARD'S REQUEST XXXI. HOW APOLLO SAVED THE NAVVY XXXII. THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE XXXIII. TO STAND, OR NOT TO STAND XXXIV. WESTMINSTER HALL XXXV. MRS. VAL'S NEW CARRIAGE XXXVI. TICKLISH STOCK XXXVII. TRIBULATION XXXVIII. ALARIC TUDOR TAKES A WALK XXXIX. THE LAST BREAKFAST XL. MR. CHAFFANBRASS XLI. THE OLD BAILEY XLII. A PARTING INTERVIEW XLIII. MILLBANK XLIV. THE CRIMINAL POPULATION IS DISPOSED OF XLV. THE FATE OF THE NAVVIES XLVI. MR. NOGO'S LAST QUESTION XLVII. CONCLUSION
THE WEIGHTS AND MEASURES
All the English world knows, or knows of, that branch of the Civil Service which is popularly called the Weights and Measures. Every inhabitant of London, and every casual visitor there, has admired the handsome edifice which generally goes by that name, and which stands so conspicuously confronting the Treasury Chambers. It must be owned that we have but a slip-slop way of christening our public buildings. When a man tells us that he called on a friend at the Horse Guards, or looked in at the Navy Pay, or dropped a ticket at the Woods and Forests, we put up with the accustomed sounds, though they are in themselves, perhaps, indefensible. The 'Board of Commissioners for Regulating Weights and Measures', and the 'Office of the Board of Commissioners for Regulating Weights and Measures', are very long phrases; and as, in the course of this tale, frequent mention will be made of the public establishment in question, the reader's comfort will be best consulted by maintaining its popular though improper denomination.
It is generally admitted that the Weights and Measures is a well- conducted public office; indeed, to such a degree of efficiency has it been brought by its present very excellent secretary, the two very worthy assistant-secretaries, and especially by its late most respectable chief clerk, that it may be said to stand quite alone as a high model for all other public offices whatever. It is exactly antipodistic of the Circumlocution Office, and as such is always referred to in the House of Commons by the gentleman representing the Government when any attack on the Civil Service, generally, is being made.
And when it is remembered how great are the interests entrusted to the care of this board, and of these secretaries and of that chief clerk, it must be admitted that nothing short of superlative excellence ought to suffice the nation. All material intercourse between man and man must be regulated, either justly or unjustly, by weights and measures; and as we of all people depend most on such material intercourse, our weights and measures should to us be a source of never-ending concern. And then that question of the decimal coinage! is it not in these days of paramount importance? Are we not disgraced by the twelve pennies in our shilling, by the four farthings in our penny? One of the worthy assistant-secretaries, the worthier probably of the two, has already grown pale beneath the weight of this question. But he has sworn within himself, with all the heroism of a Nelson, that he will either do or die. He will destroy the shilling or the shilling shall destroy him. In his more ardent moods he thinks that he hears the noise of battle booming round him, and talks to his wife of Westminster Abbey or a peerage. Then what statistical work of the present age has shown half the erudition contained in that essay lately published by the secretary on The Market Price of Coined Metals? What other living man could have compiled that chronological table which is appended to it, showing the comparative value of the metallic currency for the last three hundred years? Compile it indeed! What other secretary or assistant-secretary belonging to any public office of the present day, could even read it and live? It completely silenced Mr. Muntz for a session, and even The Times was afraid to review it.
Such a state of official excellence has not, however, been obtained without its drawbacks, at any rate in the eyes of the unambitious tyros and unfledged novitiates of the establishment. It is a very fine thing to be pointed out by envying fathers as a promising clerk in the Weights and Measures, and to receive civil speeches from mammas with marriageable daughters. But a clerk in the Weights and Measures is soon made to understand that it is not for him to—
Sport with Amaryllis in the shade.
It behoves him that his life should be grave and his pursuits laborious, if he intends to live up to the tone of those around him. And as, sitting there at his early desk, his eyes already dim with figures, he sees a jaunty dandy saunter round the opposite corner to the Council Office at eleven o'clock, he cannot but yearn after the pleasures of idleness.
Were it not better done, as others use?
he says or sighs. But then comes Phoebus in the guise of the chief clerk, and touches his trembling ears—
As he pronounces lastly on each deed, Of so much fame, in Downing Street—expect the meed.
And so the high tone of the office is maintained.
Such is the character of the Weights and Measures at this present period of which we are now treating. The exoteric crowd of the Civil Service, that is, the great body of clerks attached to other offices, regard their brethren of the Weights as prigs and pedants, and look on them much as a master's favourite is apt to be regarded by other boys at school. But this judgement is an unfair one. Prigs and pedants, and hypocrites too, there are among them, no doubt—but there are also among them many stirred by an honourable ambition to do well for their country and themselves, and to two such men the reader is now requested to permit himself to be introduced.
Henry Norman, the senior of the two, is the second son of a gentleman of small property in the north of England. He was educated at a public school, and thence sent to Oxford; but before he had finished his first year at Brasenose his father was obliged to withdraw him from it, finding himself unable to bear the expense of a university education for his two sons. His elder son at Cambridge was extravagant; and as, at the critical moment when decision became necessary, a nomination in the Weights and Measures was placed at his disposal, old Mr. Norman committed the not uncommon injustice of preferring the interests of his elder but faulty son to those of the younger with whom no fault had been found, and deprived his child of the chance of combining the glories and happiness of a double first, a fellow, a college tutor, and a don.
Whether Harry Norman gained or lost most by the change we need not now consider, but at the age of nineteen he left Oxford and entered on his new duties. It must not, however, be supposed that this was a step which he took without difficulty and without pause. It is true that the grand modern scheme for competitive examinations had not as yet been composed. Had this been done, and had it been carried out, how awful must have been the cramming necessary to get a lad into the Weights and Measures! But, even as things were then, it was no easy matter for a young man to convince the chief clerk that he had all the acquirements necessary for the high position to which he aspired.
Indeed, that chief clerk was insatiable, and generally succeeded in making every candidate conceive the very lowest opinion of himself and his own capacities before the examination was over. Some, of course, were sent away at once with ignominy, as evidently incapable. Many retired in the middle of it with a conviction that they must seek their fortunes at the bar, or in medical pursuits, or some other comparatively easy walk of life. Others were rejected on the fifth or sixth day as being deficient in conic sections, or ignorant of the exact principles of hydraulic pressure. And even those who were retained were so retained, as it were, by an act of grace. The Weights and Measures was, and indeed is, like heaven—no man can deserve it. No candidate can claim as his right to be admitted to the fruition of the appointment which has been given to him. Henry Norman, however, was found, at the close of his examination, to be the least undeserving of the young men then under notice, and was duly installed in his clerkship.
It need hardly be explained, that to secure so high a level of information as that required at the Weights and Measures, a scale of salaries equally exalted has been found necessary. Young men consequently enter at L100 a year. We are speaking, of course, of that more respectable branch of the establishment called the Secretary's Department. At none other of our public offices do men commence with more than L90—except, of course, at those in which political confidence is required. Political confidence is indeed as expensive as hydraulic pressure, though generally found to be less difficult of attainment.
Henry Norman, therefore, entered on his labours under good auspices, having L10 per annum more for the business and pleasures of life in London than most of his young brethren of the Civil Service. Whether this would have sufficed of itself to enable him to live up to that tone of society to which he had been accustomed cannot now be surmised, as very shortly after his appointment an aunt died, from whom he inherited some L150 or L200 a year. He was, therefore, placed above all want, and soon became a shining light even in that bright gallery of spiritualized stars which formed the corps of clerks in the Secretary's Office at the Weights and Measures.
Young Norman was a good-looking lad when he entered the public service, and in a few years he grew up to be a handsome man. He was tall and thin and dark, muscular in his proportions, and athletic in his habits. From the date of his first enjoyment of his aunt's legacy he had a wherry on the Thames, and was soon known as a man whom it was hard for an amateur to beat. He had a racket in a racket-court at St. John's Wood Road, and as soon as fortune and merit increased his salary by another L100 a year, he usually had a nag for the season. This, however, was not attained till he was able to count five years' service in the Weights and Measures. He was, as a boy, somewhat shy and reserved in his manners, and as he became older he did not shake off the fault. He showed it, however, rather among men than with women, and, indeed, in spite of his love of exercise, he preferred the society of ladies to any of the bachelor gaieties of his unmarried acquaintance. He was, nevertheless, frank and confident in those he trusted, and true in his friendships, though, considering his age, too slow in making a friend. Such was Henry Norman at the time at which our tale begins. What were the faults in his character it must be the business of the tale to show.
The other young clerk in this office to whom we alluded is Alaric Tudor. He is a year older than Henry Norman, though he began his official career a year later, and therefore at the age of twenty- one. How it happened that he contrived to pass the scrutinizing instinct and deep powers of examination possessed by the chief clerk, was a great wonder to his friends, though apparently none at all to himself. He took the whole proceeding very easily; while another youth alongside of him, who for a year had been reading up for his promised nomination, was so awe-struck by the severity of the proceedings as to lose his powers of memory and forget the very essence of the differential calculus.
Of hydraulic pressure and the differential calculus young Tudor knew nothing, and pretended to know nothing. He told the chief clerk that he was utterly ignorant of all such matters, that his only acquirements were a tolerably correct knowledge of English, French, and German, with a smattering of Latin and Greek, and such an intimacy with the ordinary rules of arithmetic and with the first books of Euclid, as he had been able to pick up while acting as a tutor, rather than a scholar, in a small German university.
The chief clerk raised his eyebrows and said he feared it would not do. A clerk, however, was wanting. It was very clear that the young gentleman who had only showed that he had forgotten his conic sections could not be supposed to have passed. The austerity of the last few years had deterred more young men from coming forward than the extra L10 had induced to do so. One unfortunate, on the failure of all his hopes, had thrown himself into the Thames from the neighbouring boat-stairs; and though he had been hooked out uninjured by the man who always attends there with two wooden legs, the effect on his parents' minds had been distressing. Shortly after this occurrence the chief clerk had been invited to attend the Board, and the Chairman of the Commissioners, who, on the occasion, was of course prompted by the Secretary, recommended Mr. Hardlines to be a leetle more lenient. In doing so the quantity of butter which he poured over Mr. Hardlines' head and shoulders with the view of alleviating the misery which such a communication would be sure to inflict, was very great. But, nevertheless, Mr. Hardlines came out from the Board a crestfallen and unhappy man. 'The service,' he said, 'would go to the dogs, and might do for anything he cared, and he did not mind how soon. If the Board chose to make the Weights and Measures a hospital for idiots, it might do so. He had done what little lay in his power to make the office respectable; and now, because mammas complained when their cubs of sons were not allowed to come in there and rob the public and destroy the office books, he was to be thwarted and reprimanded! He had been,' he said, 'eight-and-twenty years in office, and was still in his prime—but he should,' he thought, 'take advantage of the advice of his medical friends, and retire. He would never remain there to see the Weights and Measures become a hospital for incurables!'
It was thus that Mr. Hardlines, the chief clerk, expressed himself. He did not, however, send in a medical certificate, nor apply for a pension; and the first apparent effect of the little lecture which he had received from the Chairman, was the admission into the service of Alaric Tudor. Mr. Hardlines was soon forced to admit that the appointment was not a bad one, as before his second year was over, young Tudor had produced a very smart paper on the merits—or demerits—of the strike bushel.
Alaric Tudor when he entered the office was by no means so handsome a youth as Harry Norman; but yet there was that in his face which was more expressive, and perhaps more attractive. He was a much slighter man, though equally tall. He could boast no adventitious capillary graces, whereas young Norman had a pair of black curling whiskers, which almost surrounded his face, and had been the delight and wonder of the maidservants in his mother's house, when he returned home for his first official holiday. Tudor wore no whiskers, and his light-brown hair was usually cut so short as to give him something of the appearance of a clean Puritan. But in manners he was no Puritan; nor yet in his mode of life. He was fond of society, and at an early period of his age strove hard to shine in it. He was ambitious; and lived with the steady aim of making the most of such advantages as fate and fortune had put in his way. Tudor was perhaps not superior to Norman in point of intellect; but he was infinitely his superior in having early acquired a knowledge how best to use such intellect as he had.
His education had been very miscellaneous, and disturbed by many causes, but yet not ineffective or deficient. His father had been an officer in a cavalry regiment, with a fair fortune, which he had nearly squandered in early life. He had taken Alaric when little more than an infant, and a daughter, his only other child, to reside in Brussels. Mrs. Tudor was then dead, and the remainder of the household had consisted of a French governess, a bonne, and a man-cook. Here Alaric remained till he had perfectly acquired the French pronunciation, and very nearly as perfectly forgotten the English. He was then sent to a private school in England, where he remained till he was sixteen, returning home to Brussels but once during those years, when he was invited to be present at his sister's marriage with a Belgian banker. At the age of sixteen he lost his father, who, on dying, did not leave behind him enough of the world's wealth to pay for his own burial. His half-pay of course died with him, and young Tudor was literally destitute.
His brother-in-law, the banker, paid for his half-year's schooling in England, and then removed him to a German academy, at which it was bargained that he should teach English without remuneration, and learn German without expense. Whether he taught much English may be doubtful, but he did learn German thoroughly; and in that, as in most other transactions of his early life, certainly got the best of the bargain which had been made for him.
At the age of twenty he was taken to the Brussels bank as a clerk; but here he soon gave visible signs of disliking the drudgery which was exacted from him. Not that he disliked banking. He would gladly have been a partner with ever so small a share, and would have trusted to himself to increase his stake. But there is a limit to the good nature of brothers-in-law, even in Belgium; and Alaric was quite aware that no such good luck as this could befall him, at any rate until he had gone through many years of servile labour. His sister also, though sisterly enough in her disposition to him, did not quite like having a brother employed as a clerk in her husband's office. They therefore put their heads together, and, as the Tudors had good family connexions in England, a nomination in the Weights and Measures was procured.
The nomination was procured; but when it was ascertained how very short a way this went towards the attainment of the desired object, and how much more difficult it was to obtain Mr. Hardlines' approval than the Board's favour, young Tudor's friends despaired, and recommended him to abandon the idea, as, should he throw himself into the Thames, he might perhaps fall beyond the reach of the waterman's hook. Alaric himself, however, had no such fears. He could not bring himself to conceive that he could fail in being fit for a clerkship in a public office, and the result of his examination proved at any rate that he had been right to try.
The close of his first year's life in London found him living in lodgings with Henry Norman. At that time Norman's income was nearly three times as good as his own. To say that Tudor selected his companion because of his income would be to ascribe unjustly to him vile motives and a mean instinct. He had not done so. The two young men had been thrown, together by circumstances. They worked at the same desk, liked each other's society, and each being alone in the world, thereby not unnaturally came together. But it may probably be said that had Norman been as poor as Tudor, Tudor might probably have shrunk from rowing in the same boat with him.
As it was they lived together and were fast allies; not the less so that they did not agree as to many of their avocations. Tudor, at his friend's solicitation, had occasionally attempted to pull an oar from Searle's slip to Battersea bridge. But his failure in this line was so complete, and he had to encounter so much of Norman's raillery, which was endurable, and of his instruction, which was unendurable, that he very soon gave up the pursuit. He was not more successful with a racket; and keeping a horse was of course out of the question.
They had a bond of union in certain common friends whom they much loved, and with whom they much associated. At least these friends soon became common to them. The acquaintance originally belonged to Norman, and he had first cemented his friendship with Tudor by introducing him at the house of Mrs. Woodward. Since he had done so, the one young man was there nearly as much as the other.
Who and what the Woodwards were shall be told in a subsequent chapter. As they have to play as important a part in the tale about to be told as our two friends of the Weights and Measures, it would not be becoming to introduce them at the end of this.
As regards Alaric Tudor it need only be further said, by way of preface, of him as of Harry Norman, that the faults of his character must be made to declare themselves in the course of our narrative.
THE INTERNAL NAVIGATION
The London world, visitors as well as residents, are well acquainted also with Somerset House; and it is moreover tolerably well known that Somerset House is a nest of public offices, which are held to be of less fashionable repute than those situated in the neighbourhood of Downing Street, but are not so decidedly plebeian as the Custom House, Excise, and Post Office.
But there is one branch of the Civil Service located in Somerset House, which has little else to redeem it from the lowest depths of official vulgarity than the ambiguous respectability of its material position. This is the office of the Commissioners of Internal Navigation. The duties to be performed have reference to the preservation of canal banks, the tolls to be levied at locks, and disputes with the Admiralty as to points connected with tidal rivers. The rooms are dull and dark, and saturated with the fog which rises from the river, and their only ornament is here and there some dusty model of an improved barge. Bargees not unfrequently scuffle with hobnailed shoes through the passages, and go in and out, leaving behind them a smell of tobacco, to which the denizens of the place are not unaccustomed.
Indeed, the whole office is apparently infected with a leaven of bargedom. Not a few of the men are employed from time to time in the somewhat lethargic work of inspecting the banks and towing- paths of the canals which intersect the country. This they generally do seated on a load of hay, or perhaps of bricks, in one of those long, ugly, shapeless boats, which are to be seen congregating in the neighbourhood of Brentford. So seated, they are carried along at the rate of a mile and a half an hour, and usually while away the time in gentle converse with the man at the rudder, or in silent abstraction over a pipe.
But the dullness of such a life as this is fully atoned for by the excitement of that which follows it in London. The men of the Internal Navigation are known to be fast, nay, almost furious in their pace of living; not that they are extravagant in any great degree, a fault which their scale of salaries very generally forbids; but they are one and all addicted to Coal Holes and Cider Cellars; they dive at midnight hours into Shades, and know all the back parlours of all the public-houses in the neighbourhood of the Strand. Here they leave messages for one another, and call the girl at the bar by her Christian name. They are a set of men endowed with sallow complexions, and they wear loud clothing, and spend more money in gin-and-water than in gloves.
The establishment is not unusually denominated the 'Infernal Navigation', and the gentlemen employed are not altogether displeased at having it so called. The 'Infernal Navvies', indeed, rather glory in the name. The navvies of Somerset House are known all over London, and there are those who believe that their business has some connexion with the rivers or railroads of that bourne from whence no traveller returns. Looking, however, from their office windows into the Thames, one might be tempted to imagine that the infernal navigation with which they are connected is not situated so far distant from the place of their labours.
The spirit who guards the entrance into this elysium is by no means so difficult to deal with as Mr. Hardlines. And it was well that it was so some few years since for young Charley Tudor, a cousin of our friend Alaric; for Charley Tudor could never have passed muster at the Weights and Measures. Charles Tudor, the third of the three clerks alluded to in our title-page, is the son of a clergyman, who has a moderate living on the Welsh border, in Shropshire. Had he known to what sort of work he was sending his son, he might probably have hesitated before he accepted for him a situation in the Internal Navigation Office. He was, however, too happy in getting it to make many inquiries as to its nature. We none of us like to look a gift-horse in the mouth. Old Mr. Tudor knew that a clerkship in the Civil Service meant, or should mean, a respectable maintenance for life, and having many young Tudors to maintain himself, he was only too glad to find one of them provided for.
Charley Tudor was some few years younger than his cousin Alaric when he came up to town, and Alaric had at that time some three or four years' experience of London life. The examination at the Internal Navigation was certainly not to be so much dreaded as that at the Weights and Measures; but still there was an examination; and Charley, who had not been the most diligent of schoolboys, approached it with great dread after a preparatory evening passed with the assistance of his cousin and Mr. Norman.
Exactly at ten in the morning he walked into the lobby of his future workshop, and found no one yet there but two aged seedy messengers. He was shown into a waiting-room, and there he remained for a couple of hours, during which every clerk in the establishment came to have a look at him. At last he was ushered into the Secretary's room.
'Ah!' said the Secretary, 'your name is Tudor, isn't it?'
Charley confessed to the fact.
'Yea,' said the Secretary, 'I have heard about you from Sir Gilbert de Salop.' Now Sir Gilbert de Salop was the great family friend of this branch of the Tudors. But Charley, finding that no remark suggested itself to him at this moment concerning Sir Gilbert, merely said, 'Yes, sir.'
'And you wish to serve the Queen?' said the Secretary.
Charley, not quite knowing whether this was a joke or not, said that he did.
'Quite right—it is a very fair ambition,' continued the great official functionary—'quite right—but, mind you, Mr. Tudor, if you come to us you must come to work. I hope you like hard work; you should do so, if you intend to remain with us.'
Charley said that he thought he did rather like hard work. Hereupon a senior clerk standing by, though a man not given to much laughter, smiled slightly, probably in pity at the unceasing labour to which the youth was about to devote himself.
'The Internal Navigation requires great steadiness, good natural abilities, considerable education, and—and—and no end of application. Come, Mr. Tudor, let us see what you can do.' And so saying, Mr. Oldeschole, the Secretary, motioned him to sit down at an office table opposite to himself.
Charley did as he was bid, and took from the hands of his future master an old, much-worn quill pen, with which the great man had been signing minutes.
'Now,' said the great man, 'just copy the few first sentences of that leading article—either one will do,' and he pushed over to him a huge newspaper.
To tell the truth, Charley did not know what a leading article was, and so he sat abashed, staring at the paper.
'Why don't you write?' asked the Secretary.
'Where shall I begin, sir?' stammered poor Charley, looking piteously into the examiner's face.
'God bless my soul! there; either of those leading articles,' and leaning over the table, the Secretary pointed to a particular spot.
Hereupon Charley began his task in a large, ugly, round hand, neither that of a man nor of a boy, and set himself to copy the contents of the paper. 'The name of Pacifico stinks in the nostril of the British public. It is well known to all the world how sincerely we admire the versitility of Lord Palmerston's genius; how cordially we simpathize with his patriotic energies. But the admiration which even a Palmerston inspires must have a bound, and our simpathy may be called on too far. When we find ourselves asked to pay—'. By this time Charley had half covered the half-sheet of foolscap which had been put before him, and here at the word 'pay' he unfortunately suffered a large blot of ink to fall on the paper.
'That won't do, Mr. Tudor, that won't do—come, let us look,' and stretching over again, the Secretary took up the copy.
'Oh dear! oh dear! this is very bad; versatility with an 'i!'- sympathy with an 'i!' sympathize with an 'i!' Why, Mr. Tudor, you must be very fond of 'i's' down in Shropshire.'
Charley looked sheepish, but of course said nothing.
'And I never saw a viler hand in my life. Oh dear, oh dear, I must send you back to Sir Gilbert. Look here, Snape, this will never do—never do for the Internal Navigation, will it?'
Snape, the attendant senior clerk, said, as indeed he could not help saying, that the writing was very bad.
'I never saw worse in my life,' said the Secretary. 'And now, Mr. Tudor, what do you know of arithmetic?'
Charley said that he thought he knew arithmetic pretty well;—'at least some of it,' he modestly added.
'Some of it!' said the Secretary, slightly laughing. 'Well, I'll tell you what—this won't do at all;' and he took the unfortunate manuscript between his thumb and forefinger. 'You had better go home and endeavour to write something a little better than this. Mind, if it is not very much better it won't do. And look here; take care that you do it yourself. If you bring me the writing of any one else, I shall be sure to detect you. I have not any more time now; as to arithmetic, we'll examine you in 'some of it' to- morrow.'
So Charley, with a faint heart, went back to his cousin's lodgings and waited till the two friends had arrived from the Weights and Measures. The men there made a point of staying up to five o'clock, as is the case with all model officials, and it was therefore late before he could get himself properly set to work. But when they did arrive, preparations for calligraphy were made on a great scale; a volume of Gibbon was taken down, new quill pens, large and small, and steel pens by various makers were procured; cream-laid paper was provided, and ruled lines were put beneath it. And when this was done, Charley was especially cautioned to copy the spelling as well as the wording.
He worked thus for an hour before dinner, and then for three hours in the evening, and produced a very legible copy of half a chapter of the 'Decline and Fall.'
'I didn't think they examined at all at the Navigation,' said Norman.
'Well, I believe it's quite a new thing,' said Alaric Tudor. 'The schoolmaster must be abroad with a vengeance, if he has got as far as that.'
And then they carefully examined Charley's work, crossed his t's, dotted his i's, saw that his spelling was right, and went to bed.
Again, punctually at ten o'clock, Charley presented himself at the Internal Navigation; and again saw the two seedy old messengers warming themselves at the lobby fire. On this occasion he was kept three hours in the waiting-room, and some of the younger clerks ventured to come and speak to him. At length Mr. Snape appeared, and desired the acolyte to follow him. Charley, supposing that he was again going to the awful Secretary, did so with a palpitating heart. But he was led in another direction into a large room, carrying his manuscript neatly rolled in his hand. Here Mr. Snape introduced him to five other occupants of the chamber; he, Mr. Snape himself, having a separate desk there, being, in official parlance, the head of the room. Charley was told to take a seat at a desk, and did so, still thinking that the dread hour of his examination was soon to come. His examination, however, was begun and over. No one ever asked for his calligraphic manuscript, and as to his arithmetic, it may be presumed that his assurance that he knew 'some of it,' was deemed to be adequate evidence of sufficient capacity. And in this manner, Charley Tudor became one of the Infernal Navvies.
He was a gay-hearted, thoughtless, rollicking young lad, when he came up to town; and it may therefore be imagined that he easily fell into the peculiar ways and habits of the office. A short bargee's pilot-coat, and a pipe of tobacco, were soon familiar to him; and he had not been six months in London before he had his house-of-call in a cross lane running between Essex Street and Norfolk Street. 'Mary, my dear, a screw of bird's-eye!' came quite habitually to his lips; and before his fist year was out, he had volunteered a song at the Buckingham Shades.
The assurance made to him on his first visit to the office by Mr. Secretary Oldeschole, that the Internal Navigation was a place of herculean labours, had long before this time become matter to him of delightful ridicule. He had found himself to be one of six young men, who habitually spent about five hours a day together in the same room, and whose chief employment was to render the life of the wretched Mr. Snape as unendurable as possible. There were copies to be written, and entries to be made, and books to be indexed. But these things were generally done by some extra hand, as to the necessity of whose attendance for such purpose Mr. Snape was forced to certify. But poor Snape knew that he had no alternative. He rule six unruly young navvies! There was not one of them who did not well know how to make him tremble in his shoes.
Poor Mr. Snape had selected for his own peculiar walk in life a character for evangelical piety. Whether he was a hypocrite—as all the navvies averred—or a man sincere as far as one so weak could accomplish sincerity, it is hardly necessary for us to inquire. He was not by nature an ill-natured man, but he had become by education harsh to those below him, and timid and cringing with those above. In the former category must by no means be included the six young men who were nominally under his guidance. They were all but acknowledged by him as his superiors. Ignorant as they were, they could hardly be more so than he. Useless as they were, they did as much for the public service as he did. He sometimes complained of them; but it was only when their misconduct had been so loud as to make it no longer possible that he should not do so.
Mr. Snape being thus by character and predilection a religious man, and having on various occasions in olden days professed much horror at having his ears wounded by conversation which was either immoral or profane, it had of course become the habitual practice of the navvies to give continual utterance to every description of ribaldry and blasphemy for his especial edification. Doubtless it may be concluded from the habits of the men, that even without such provocation, their talk would have exceeded the yea, yea, and nay, nay, to which young men should confine themselves. But they especially concerted schemes of blasphemy and dialogues of iniquity for Mr. Snape's particular advantage; and continued daily this disinterested amusement, till at last an idea got abroad among them that Mr. Snape liked it. Then they changed their tactics and canted through their noses in the manner which they imagined to be peculiar to methodist preachers. So on the whole, Mr. Snape had an uneasy life of it at the Internal Navigation.
Into all these malpractices Charley Tudor plunged headlong. And how should it have been otherwise? How can any youth of nineteen or twenty do other than consort himself with the daily companions of his usual avocations? Once and again, in one case among ten thousand, a lad may be found formed of such stuff, that he receives neither the good nor the bad impulses of those around him. But such a one is a lapsus naturae. He has been born without the proper attributes of youth, or at any rate, brought up so as to have got rid of them.
Such, a one, at any rate, Charley Tudor was not. He was a little shocked at first by the language he heard; but that feeling soon wore off. His kind heart, also, in the first month of his novitiate, sympathized with the daily miseries of Mr. Snape; but he also soon learnt to believe that Mr. Snape was a counterfeit, and after the first half year could torture him with as much gusto as any of his brethren. Alas! no evil tendency communicates itself among young men more quickly than cruelty. Those infernal navvies were very cruel to Mr. Snape.
And yet young Tudor was a lad of a kindly heart, of a free, honest, open disposition, deficient in no proportion of mind necessary to make an estimable man. But he was easily malleable, and he took at once the full impression of the stamp to which he was subjected. Had he gone into the Weights and Measures, a hypothesis which of course presumes a total prostration of the intellects and energy of Mr. Hardlines, he would have worked without a groan from ten till five, and have become as good a model as the best of them. As it was, he can be hardly said to have worked at all, soon became facile princeps in the list of habitual idlers, and was usually threatened once a quarter with dismissal, even from that abode of idleness, in which the very nature of true work was unknown.
Some tidings of Charley's doings in London, and non-doings at the Internal Navigation, of course found their way to the Shropshire parsonage. His dissipation was not of a very costly kind; but L90 per annum will hardly suffice to afford an ample allowance of gin-and-water and bird's-eye tobacco, over and above the other wants of a man's life. Bills arrived there requiring payment; and worse than this, letters also came through Sir Gilbert de Salop from Mr. Oldeschole, the Secretary, saying that young Tudor was disgracing the office, and lowering the high character of the Internal Navigation; and that he must be removed, unless he could be induced to alter his line of life, &c.
Urgent austere letters came from the father, and fond heart- rending appeals from the mother. Charley's heart was rent. It was, at any rate, a sign in him that he was not past hope of grace, that he never laughed at these monitions, that he never showed such letters to his companions, never quizzed his 'governor's' lectures, or made merry over the grief of his mother. But if it be hard for a young man to keep in the right path when he has not as yet strayed out of it, how much harder is it to return to it when he has long since lost the track! It was well for the father to write austere letters, well for the mother to make tender appeals, but Charley could not rid himself of his companions, nor of his debts, nor yet even of his habits. He could not get up in the morning and say that he would at once be as his cousin Alaric, or as his cousin's friend, Mr. Norman. It is not by our virtues or our vices that we are judged, even by those who know us best; but by such credit for virtues or for vices as we may have acquired. Now young Tudor's credit for virtue was very slight, and he did not know how to extend it.
At last papa and mamma Tudor came up to town to make one last effort to save their son; and also to save, on his behalf, the valuable official appointment which he held. He had now been three years in his office, and his salary had risen to L110 per annum. L110 per annum was worth saving if it could be saved. The plan adopted by Mrs. Tudor was that of beseeching their cousin Alaric to take Charley under his especial wing.
When Charley first arrived in town, the fact of Alaric and Norman living together had given the former a good excuse for not offering to share his lodgings with his cousin. Alaric, with the advantage in age of three or four years—at that period of life the advantage lies in that direction—with his acquired experience of London life, and also with all the wondrous eclat of the Weights and Measures shining round him, had perhaps been a little too unwilling to take by the hand a rustic cousin who was about to enter life under the questionable auspices of the Internal Navigation. He had helped Charley to transcribe the chapter of Gibbon, and had, it must be owned, lent him from time to time a few odd pounds in his direst necessities. But their course in life had hitherto been apart. Of Norman, Charley had seen less even than of his cousin.
And now it became a difficult question with Alaric how he was to answer the direct appeal made to him by Mrs. Tudor;—'Pray, pray let him live with you, if it be only for a year, Alaric,' the mother had said, with the tears running down her cheeks. 'You are so good, so discreet, so clever—you can save him.' Alaric promised, or was ready to promise, anything else, but hesitated as to the joint lodgings. 'How could he manage it,' said he, 'living, as he was, with another man? He feared that Mr. Norman would not accede to such an arrangement. As for himself, he would do anything but leave his friend Norman.' To tell the truth, Alaric thought much, perhaps too much, of the respectability of those with whom he consorted. He had already begun to indulge ambitious schemes, already had ideas stretching even beyond the limits of the Weights and Measures, and fully intended to make the very most of himself.
Mrs. Tudor, in her deep grief, then betook herself to Mr. Norman, though with that gentleman she had not even the slightest acquaintance. With a sulking heart, with a consciousness of her unreasonableness, but with the eloquence of maternal sorrow, she made her request. Mr. Norman heard her out with all the calm propriety of the Weights and Measures, begged to have a day to consider, and then acceded to the request.
'I think we ought to do it,' said he to Alaric. The mother's tears had touched his heart, and his sense of duty had prevailed. Alaric, of course, could now make no further objection, and thus Charley the Navvy became domesticated with his cousin Alaric and Harry Norman.
The first great question to be settled, and it is a very great question with a young man, was that of latch-key or no latch-key. Mrs. Richards, the landlady, when she made ready the third bedroom for the young gentleman, would, as was her wont in such matters, have put a latchkey on the toilet-table as a matter of course, had she not had some little conversation with Mamma Tudor regarding her son. Mamma Tudor had implored and coaxed, and probably bribed Mrs. Richards to do something more than 'take her son in and do for him'; and Mrs. Richards, as her first compliance with these requests, had kept the latch-key in her own pocket. So matters went on for a week; but when Mrs. Richards found that her maidservant was never woken by Mr. Charley's raps after midnight, and that she herself was obliged to descend in her dressing-gown, she changed her mind, declared to herself that it was useless to attempt to keep a grown gentleman in leading- strings, and put the key on the table on the second Monday morning.
As none of the three men ever dined at home, Alaric and Norman having clubs which they frequented, and Charley eating his dinner at some neighbouring dining-house, it may be imagined that this change of residence did our poor navvy but little good. It had, however, a salutary effect on him, at any rate at first. He became shamed into a quieter and perhaps cleaner mode of dressing himself; he constrained himself to sit down to breakfast with his monitors at half-past eight, and was at any rate so far regardful of Mrs. Richards as not to smoke in his bedroom, and to come home sober enough to walk upstairs without assistance every night for the first month.
But perhaps the most salutary effect made by this change on young Tudor was this, that he was taken by his cousin one Sunday to the Woodwards. Poor Charley had had but small opportunity of learning what are the pleasures of decent society. He had gone headlong among the infernal navvies too quickly to allow of that slow and gradual formation of decent alliances which is all in all to a young man entering life. A boy is turned loose into London, and desired to choose the good and eschew the bad. Boy as he is, he might probably do so if the opportunity came in his way. But no such chance is afforded him. To eschew the bad is certainly possible for him; but as to the good, he must wait till he be chosen. This it is, that is too much for him. He cannot live without society, and so he falls.
Society, an ample allowance of society, this is the first requisite which a mother should seek in sending her son to live alone in London; balls, routs, picnics, parties; women, pretty, well-dressed, witty, easy-mannered; good pictures, elegant drawing rooms, well got-up books, Majolica and Dresden china— these are the truest guards to protect a youth from dissipation and immorality.
These are the books, the arts, the academes That show, contain, and nourish all the world,
if only a youth could have them at his disposal. Some of these things, though by no means all, Charley Tudor encountered at the Woodwards.
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 L400 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 soupcon 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 L200 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 L400 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 L200 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.
Captain Cuttwater had not seen much service afloat; that is, he had not been personally concerned in many of those sea- engagements which in and about the time of Nelson gave so great a halo of glory to the British Lion; nor had it even been permitted to him to take a prominent part in such minor affairs as have since occurred; he had not the opportunity of distinguishing himself either at the battle of Navarino or the bombarding of Acre; and, unfortunately for his ambition, the period of his retirement came before that great Baltic campaign, in which, had he been there, he would doubtless have distinguished himself as did so many others. His earliest years were spent in cruising among the West Indies; he then came home and spent some considerable portion of his life in idleness—if that time can be said to have been idly spent which he devoted to torturing the Admiralty with applications, remonstrances, and appeals. Then he was rated as third lieutenant on the books of some worm-eaten old man-of-war at Portsmouth, and gave up his time to looking after the stowage of anchors, and counting fathoms of rope. At last he was again sent afloat as senior lieutenant in a ten-gun brig, and cruised for some time off the coast of Africa, hunting for slavers; and returning after a while from this enterprising employment, he received a sort of amphibious appointment at Devonport. What his duties were here, the author, being in all points a landsman, is unable to describe. Those who were inclined to ridicule Captain Cuttwater declared that the most important of them consisted in seeing that the midshipmen in and about the dockyard washed their faces, and put on clean linen not less often than three times a week. According to his own account, he had many things of a higher nature to attend to; and, indeed, hardly a ship sank or swam in Hamoaze except by his special permission, for a space of twenty years, if his own view of his own career may be accepted as correct.
He had once declared to certain naval acquaintances, over his third glass of grog, that he regarded it as his birthright to be an Admiral; but at the age of seventy-two he had not yet acquired his birthright, and the probability of his ever attaining it was becoming very small indeed. He was still bothering Lords and Secretaries of the Admiralty for further promotion, when he was astounded by being informed by the Port-Admiral that he was to be made happy by half-pay and a pension. The Admiral, in communicating the intelligence, had pretended to think that he was giving the captain information which could not be otherwise than grateful to him, but he was not the less aware that the old man would be furious at being so treated. What, pension him! put him on half-pay—shelf him for life, while he was still anxiously expecting that promotion, that call to higher duties which had so long been his due, and which, now that his powers were matured, could hardly be longer denied to him! And after all that he had done for his country—his ungrateful, thankless, ignorant country—was he thus to be treated? Was he to be turned adrift without any mark of honour, any special guerdon, any sign of his Sovereign's favour to testify as to his faithful servitude of sixty years' devotion? He, who had regarded it as his merest right to be an Admiral, and had long indulged the hope of being greeted in the streets of Devonport as Sir Bartholomew Cuttwater, K.C.B., was he to be thus thrown aside in his prime, with no other acknowledgement than the bare income to which he was entitled!
It is hardly too much to say, that no old officers who have lacked the means to distinguish themselves, retire from either of our military services, free from the bitter disappointment and sour feelings of neglected worth, which Captain Cuttwater felt so keenly. A clergyman, or a doctor, or a lawyer, feels himself no whit disgraced if he reaches the end of his worldly labours without special note or honour. But to a soldier or a sailor, such indifference to his merit is wormwood. It is the bane of the professions. Nine men out of ten who go into it must live discontented, and die disappointed.
Captain Cuttwater had no idea that he was an old man. He had lived for so many years among men of his own stamp, who had grown grey and bald, and rickety, and weak alongside of him, that he had no opportunity of seeing that he was more grey or more rickety than his neighbours. No children had become men and women at his feet; no new race had gone out into the world and fought their battles under his notice. One set of midshipmen had succeeded to another, but his old comrades in the news-rooms and lounging-places at Devonport had remained the same; and Captain Cuttwater had never learnt to think that he was not doing, and was not able to do good service for his country.