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Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Evan Harrington - Part 30

EVAN HARRINGTON; or, HE WOULD BE A GENTLEMAN.

BY GEORGE MEREDITH.

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CHAPTER XXXVIII.IN WHICH WE HAVE TO SEE IN THE DARK.

So ends the fourth act of our comedy.

After all her heroism and extraordinary efforts, after, as she feared, offending Providence—after facing tailordom—the Countess was rolled away in a dingy fly: unrewarded even by a penny, for what she had gone through. For she possessed eminently the practical nature of her sex; and though she would have scorned, and would have declined to handle coin so base, its absence was upbraidingly mentioned in her spiritual outcries. Not a penny.

Nor was there, as in the miseries of retreat, she affected indifferently to imagine, a duke fished out of the ruins of her enterprise, to wash the mud off her garments and edge them with radiance. Caroline, it became clear to her, had been infected by Evan’s folly. Caroline, she subsequently learnt, had likewise been a fool. Instead of marvelling at the genius that had done so much in spite of the pair of fools that were the right and left wing of her battle array, the simple-minded lady wept. She wanted success, not genius. Admiration she was ever ready to forfeit for success.

Nor did she say to the tailors of earth: “Weep ye for I sought to emancipate you from opprobrium by making one of you a gentleman; I fought for a great principle and have failed.” Heroic to the end, she herself shed all the tears; took all the sorrow!

Where was consolation? Would any Protestant clergyman administer comfort to her? Could he?—might he do so? He might listen, and quote texts; but he would demand the harsh rude English for everything: and the Countess’s confessional thoughts were all inuendoish, aërial; too delicate to live in our shameless tongue. Confession by implication, and absolution; she could know this to be what she wished for, and yet not think it. She could see a haven of peace in that picture of the little brown box with the sleekly reverend figure bending his ear to the kneeling beauty outside, thrice ravishing as she half-lifts the veil of her sins and her visage!—yet she started alarmed to hear it whispered that the fair penitent was the Countess de Saldar: urgently she prayed that no disgraceful brother might ever drive her to that!

Never let it be a Catholic priest!—she almost fashioned her petition into words. Who was to save her? Alas! alas! in her dire distress—in her sense of miserable pennilessness, she clung to Mr. John Raikes, of the curricle, the mysteriously rich young gentleman; and on that picture with Andrew roguishly contemplating it, and Evan, with feelings regarding his sister that he liked not to own, the curtain commiseratingly drops.

 

As in the course of a stream you come upon certain dips, where, but here and there, a sparkle or a gloom of the full flowing water is caught through deepening foliage, so the history that concerns us wanders out of day for a time, and we must violate the post and open written leaves to mark the turns it takes.

First we have a letter from Mr. Goren to Mrs. Mel, to inform her that her son has arrived and paid his respects to his future instructor in the branch of science practised by Mr. Goren.

“He has arrived at last,” says the worthy tradesman. “His appearance in the shop will be highly gentlemanly, and when he looks a little more pleasing, and grows fond of it, nothing will be left to be desired. The ladies, his sisters, have not thought proper to call. I had hopes of the custom of Mr. Andrew Cogglesby. Of course you wish him to learn tailoring thoroughly?”

Mrs. Mel writes back, thanking Mr. Goren, and saying that she had shown the letter to inquiring creditors, and that she does wish her son to learn his business from the root. This produces a second letter from Mr. Goren, which imparts to her that at the root of the tree of tailoring the novitiate must sit no less than six hours a-day with his legs crossed and doubled under him, cheerfully plying needle and thread; and that, without this probation, to undergo which the son resolutely objects, all hope of his climbing to the top of the lofty tree, and viewing mankind from an eminence, must be surrendered.

“If you do not insist, my dear Mrs. Harrington, I tell you candidly, your son may have a shop, but he will be no tailor.”

Mrs. Mel understands her son and his state of mind well enough not to insist, and is resigned to the melancholy consequence.

Then Mr. Goren discovers an extraordinary resemblance between Evan and his father: remarking merely that the youth is not the gentleman his father was in a shop, while he admits that, had it been conjoined to business habits, he should have envied his departed friend.

He has soon something fresh to tell; and it is that young Mr. Harrington is treating him cavalierly. That he should penetrate the idea or appreciate the merits of Mr. Goren’s balance was hardly to be expected at present: the world did not, and Mr. Goren blamed no young man for his ignorance. Still a proper attendance was requisite. Mr. Goren thought it very singular that young Mr. Harrington should demand all the hours of the day for his own purposes,—up to half-past four. He found it difficult to speak to him as a master, and begged that Mrs. Harrington would, as a mother.

The reply of Mrs. Mel is dashed with a trifle of cajolery. She has heard from her son, and seeing that her son takes all that time from his right studies to earn money wherewith to pay debts of which Mr. Goren is cognisant, she trusts that their oldest friend will overlook it.

Mr. Goren rejoins that he considers that he need not have been excluded from young Mr. Harrington’s confidence. Moreover, it is a grief to him that the young gentleman should refrain from accepting any of his suggestions as to the propriety of requesting some, at least, of his rich and titled acquaintance to confer on him the favour of their patronage.

“Which they would not repent,” adds Mr. Goren, “and might learn to be very much obliged to him for, in return for kindnesses extended to him.”

 

Notwithstanding all my efforts, you see, the poor boy is thrust into the shop. There he is, without a doubt. He sleeps under Mr. Goren’s roof: he (since one cannot be too positive in citing the punishment of such a Pagan) stands behind a counter: he (and, oh! choke, young loves, that have hovered around him! shrink from him in natural horror, gentle ladies!) handles the shears. It is not my fault. He would be a Pagan.

If you can think him human enough still to care to know how he feels it, I must tell you that he feels it hardly at all. After a big blow, a very little one scarcely counts. What are outward forms and social ignominies to him whose heart has been struck to the dust? His gods have fought for him, and there he is! He deserves no pity.

But he does not ask it of you, the callous Pagan! Despise him, if you please, and rank with the Countess, who despises him most heartily.

Dipping further into the secrets of the post, we discover a brisk correspondence between Juliana Bonner and Mrs. Strike.

“A thousand thanks to you, my dear Miss Bonner,” writes the latter lady. “The unaffected interest you take in my brother touches me deeply. I know him to be worthy of your good opinion. Yes, I will open my heart to you, dearest Juliana; and it shall, as you wish, be quite secret between us. Not to a soul!

“He is quite alone. My sisters Harriet and Louisa will not see him, and I can only do so by stealth. His odd little friend sometimes drives me out on Sundays, to a place where I meet him; and the Duke of Belfield kindly lends me his carriage. Oh, that we might never part! I am only happy with him!

“Ah, do not doubt him, Juliana, for anything he does! You say, that now the Duke has obtained for him the Secretaryship to my husband’s Company, he should not stoop to that other thing, and you do not understand why. I will tell you. Our poor father died in debt, and Evan receives money which enables him by degrees to liquidate these debts, on condition that he consents to be what I dislike as much as you can. He bears it; you can have no idea of his pride! He is too proud to own to himself that it debases him—too proud to complain. It is a tangle—a net that drags him down to it: but whatever he is outwardly, he is the noblest human being in the world to me, and but for him, Oh! what should I be! Let me beg you to forgive it, if you can. My darling has no friends. Is his temper as sweet as ever? I can answer that. Yes, only he is silent, and looks—when you look into his eyes—colder, as men look when they will not bear much from other men.

“He has not mentioned her name. I am sure she has not written.

“Pity him, and pray for him.”

Juliana then makes a communication, which draws forth the following:—

“Mistress of all the Beckley property—dearest, dearest, Juliana! Oh! how sincerely I congratulate you! The black on the letter alarmed me so, I could hardly open it, my fingers trembled so; for I esteem you all at Beckley; but when I had opened and read it, I was recompensed. You say you are sorry for Rose. But surely what your grandmama has done is quite right. It is just, in every sense. But why am I not to tell Evan? I am certain it would make him very happy, and happiness of any kind he needs so much! I will obey you, of course, but I cannot see why. Do you know, my dear child, you are extremely mysterious, and puzzle me. Evan takes a pleasure in speaking of you. You and Lady Jocelyn are his great themes. Why is he to be kept ignorant of your good fortune? The spitting of blood is bad. You must winter in a warm climate. I do think that London is far better for you in the late autumn than Hampshire. May I ask my sister Harriet to invite you to reside with her for some weeks? Nothing, I know, would give her greater pleasure.”

Juliana answers this—

“If you love me—I sometimes hope that you do—but the feeling of being loved is so strange to me that I can only believe it at times—but, Caroline—there, I have mustered up courage to call you by your Christian name at last—Oh, dear Caroline! if you do love me, do not tell Mr. Harrington. I go on my knees to you to beg you not to tell him a word. I have no reasons indeed—not any; but I implore you again never even to hint that I am any thing but the person he knew at Beckley.

“Rose has gone to Elburne House, where Ferdinand, her friend, is to meet her. She rides and sings the same, and keeps all her colour.

“She may not, as you imagine, have much sensibility. Perhaps not enough. I am afraid that Rose is turning into a very worldly woman!

“As to what you kindly say about inviting me to London, I should like it, and I am my own mistress. Do you know, I think I am older than your brother! I am twenty-three. Pray, when you write, tell me if he is older than that. But should I not be a dreadful burden to you? Sometimes I have to keep to my chamber whole days and days. When that happens now, I think of you entirely. See how I open my heart to you! You say that you do to me. I wish I could really think it.”

A postscript begs Caroline “not to forget about the ages.”

In this fashion the two ladies open their hearts, and contrive to read one another perfectly in their mutual hypocrisies.

Some letters bearing the signatures of Mr. John Raikes, and Miss Polly Wheedle, likewise pass. Polly inquires for detailed accounts of the health and doings of Mr. Harrington. Jack replies with full particulars of his own proceedings, and mild correction of her grammar. It is to be noted that Polly grows much humbler to him on paper, which being instantly perceived by the mercurial one, his caressing condescension to her is very beautiful. She is taunted with Mr. Nicholas Frim, and answers, after the lapse of a week, that the aforesaid can be nothing to her, as he “went in a passion to church last Sunday and got married.” It appears that they had quarrelled, “because I danced with you that night.” To this Mr. Raikes rejoins in a style that would be signified by “ahem!” in language, and an arrangement of the shirt collar before the looking-glass, in action.

 

CHAPTER XXXIX. IN THE DOMAIN OF TAILORDOM.

There was peace in Mr. Goren’s shop. Badgered ministers, bankrupt merchants, diplomatists with a headache—any of our modern grandees under difficulties, might have envied that peace over which Mr. Goren presided: and he was an enviable man. He loved his craft, he believed that he had not succeeded the millions of antecedent tailors in vain; and, excepting that trifling coquetry with shirt-fronts, viz., the red crosses, which a shrewd rival had very soon eclipsed by representing nymphs triangularly posed, he devoted himself to his business from morning to night, as rigid in demanding respect from those beneath him, as he was profuse in lavishing it on his patrons. His public boast was, that he owed no man a farthing: his secret comfort, that he possessed two thousand pounds in the funds. But Mr. Goren did not stop here. Behind these external characteristics he nursed a passion. Evan was astonished and pleased to find in him an enthusiastic fern-collector. Not that Mr. Harrington shared the passion, but the sight of those brown roots spread out, ticketed, on the stained paper, after supper, when the shutters were up and the house defended from the hostile outer world; the old man poring over them, and naming this and that spot where, during his solitary Saturday afternoon and Sunday excursions, he had lighted on the rare samples exhibited: this contrast of the quiet evening with the sordid day humanised Mr. Goren to him. He began to see a spirit in the rigid tradesman not so utterly dissimilar to his own, and he fancied that he, too, had a taste for ferns. Round Beckley how they abounded!

He told Mr. Goren so, and Mr. Goren said:

“Some day we’ll jog down there together, as the saying goes.”

Mr. Goren spoke of it as an ordinary event, likely to happen in the days to come: not as an incident the mere mention of which as being probable, stopped the breath and made the pulses leap.

For now Evan’s education taught him to feel that he was at his lowest degree. Never now could Rose stoop to him. He carried the shop on his back. She saw the brand of it on his forehead. Well! and what was Rose to him, beyond a blissful memory, a star that he had once touched? Self-love kept him strong by day, but in the darkness of night came his misery: wakening from tender dreams, he would find his heart sinking under a horrible pressure, and then the fair fresh face of Rose swam over him; the hours of Beckley were revived; with intolerable anguish he saw that she was blameless—that he alone was to blame. Yet worse was it when his closed eye-lids refused to conjure up the sorrowful lovely nightmare, and he lay like one in a trance, entombed—wretched Pagan! feeling all that had been blindly: when the Past lay beside him like a corpse that he had slain.

These nightly torments helped him to brave what the morning brought. Insensibly also, as Time hardened his sufferings, Evan asked himself what the shame of his position consisted in. He grew stiff-necked. His Pagan virtues stood up one by one to support him. Andrew, courageously evading the interdict that forbade him to visit Evan, would meet him by appointment at City taverns, and flatly offered him a place in the brewery. Evan declined it, on the pretext that, having received old Tom’s money for the year, he must at least work out that term according to the conditions. Andrew fumed and sneered at Tailordom. Evan said that there was peace in Mr. Goren’s shop. His sharp senses discerned in Andrew’s sneer a certain sincerity, and he revolted against it. Mr. John Raikes, too, burlesqued society so well, that he had the satisfaction of laughing at his enemy occasionally. The latter gentleman was still a pensioner, flying about town with the Countess de Saldar, in deadly fear lest that fascinating lady should discover the seat of his fortune; happy, notwithstanding. In the mirror of Evan’s little world, he beheld the great one from which he was banished.

Now the dusk of a winter’s afternoon was closing over London, when a carriage drew up in front of Mr. Goren’s shop, out of which, to Mr. Goren’s chagrin, a lady stepped, with her veil down. The lady entered, and said that she wished to speak to Mr. Harrington. Mr. Goren made way for her to his pupil; and was amazed to see her fall into his arm, and hardly gratified to hear her say: “Pardon me, darling, for coming to you in this place.”

Evan asked permission to occupy the parlour.

“My place,” said Mr. Goren, with humble severity, over his spectacles, “is very poor. Such as it is, it is at the lady’s service.”

Alone together, Evan was about to ease his own feelings by remarking to the effect that Mr. Goren was human like the rest of us, but Caroline cried, with unwonted vivacity:

“Yes, yes, I know; but I thought only of you. I have such news for you! You will and must pardon my coming—that’s my first thought, sensitive darling that you are!” She kissed him fondly. “Juliana Bonner is in town, staying with us!”

“Is that your news?” asked Evan, pressing her against his breast.

“No, dear love—but still! You have no idea what her fortune—Mrs. Bonner has died and left her—but I mustn’t tell you. Oh, my darling! how she admires you! She—she could recompense you; if you would! We will put that by, for the present. Dear! the Duke has begged you, through me, to accept—I think it’s to be a sort of bailiff to his estates—I don’t know rightly. It’s a very honourable post, that gentlemen take: and the income you are to have, Evan, will be near a thousand a-year. Now, what do I deserve for my news?”

She put up her mouth for another kiss, out of breath.

“True?” looked Evan’s eyes.

“True!” she said, smiling, and feasting on his bewilderment.

After the bubbling in his brain had a little subsided, Evan breathed as a man on whom fresh air is blown. Were not these tidings of release? His ridiculous pride must nevertheless inquire whether Caroline had been begging this for him.

“No, dear—indeed!” Caroline asserted with more than natural vehemence. “It’s something that you yourself have done that has pleased him. I don’t know what. Only he says, he believes you are a man to be trusted with the keys of anything—and so you are. You are to call on him to-morrow? Will you?”

While Evan was replying, her face became white. She had heard the Major’s voice in the shop. His military step advanced, and Caroline, exclaiming “Don’t let me see him!” bustled to a door. Evan nodded, and she slipped through. The next moment he was facing the stiff marine.

“Well, young man,” the Major commenced, and, seating himself, added, “be seated. I want to talk to you seriously, sir. You didn’t think fit to wait till I had done with the Directors to-day. You’re devilishly out in your discipline, whatever you are at two and two. I suppose there’s no fear of being intruded on here? None of your acquaintances likely to be introducing themselves to me?”

“There is not one that I would introduce to you,” said Evan.

The Major nodded a brief recognition of the compliment, and then, throwing his back against the chair, fired out: “Come, sir, is this your doing?”

In military phrase, Evan now changed front. His first thought had been that the Major had come for his wife. He perceived that he himself was the special object of the visitation.

“I must ask you what you allude to,” he answered.

“You are not at your office, but you will speak to me as if there were some distinction between us,” said the Major. “My having married your sister does not reduce me to the ranks, I hope.”

The Major drummed his knuckles on the table, after this impressive delivery.

“Hem!” he resumed. “Now, sir, understand, before you speak a word, that I can see through any number of infernal lies. I see that you’re prepared for prevarication. By George! it shall come out of you, if I get it by main force. The Duke compelled me to give you that appointment in my Company. Now, sir, did you, or did you not, go to him and deliberately state to him that you believed the affairs of the Company to be in a bad condition—infamously handled, likely to involve his honour as a gentleman? I ask you, sir, did you do this, or did you not do it?”

Evan waited till the sharp rattle of the Major’s close had quieted.

“If I am to answer the wording of your statement, I may say that I did not.”

“Very good; very good; that will do. Are you aware that the Duke has sent in his resignation as a Director of our Company?”

“I hear of it first from you.”

“Confound your familiarity!” cried the irritable officer, rising. “Am I always to be told that I married your sister? Address me, sir, as becomes your duty.”

Evan heard the words “beggarly tailor” mumbled: “out of the gutters,” and “cursed connection.” He stood in the attitude of attention, while the Major continued:

“Now, young man, listen to these facts. You came to me this day last week, and complained that you did not comprehend some of our transactions and affairs. I explained them to your damned stupidity. You went away. Three days after that, you had an interview with the Duke. Stop, sir! What the devil do you mean by daring to speak while I am speaking? You saw the Duke, I say. Now, what took place at that interview?

The Major tried to tower over Evan powerfully, as he put this query. They were of a common height, and to do so he had to rise on his toes, so that the effect was but momentary.

“I think I am not bound to reply,” said Evan.

“Very well, sir; that will do.” The Major’s fingers were evidently itching for an absent rattan. “Confess it or not, you are dismissed from your post. Do you hear? You are kicked in the street. A beggarly tailor you were born, and a beggarly tailor you will die.”

“I must beg you to stop, now,” said Evan. “I told you that I was not bound to reply: but I will. If you will sit down, Major Strike, you shall hear what you wish to know.”

This being presently complied with, though not before a glare of the Major’s eyes had shown his doubt whether it might not be construed into insolence, Evan pursued:

“I came to you and informed you that I could not reconcile the cash-accounts of the Company, and that certain of the later proceedings appeared to me to jeopardise its prosperity. Your explanations did not satisfy me. I admit that you enjoined me to be silent. But the Duke, as a Director, had as strong a right to claim me as his servant, and when he questioned me as to the position of the Company, I told him what I thought, just as I had told you.”

“You told him we were jobbers and swindlers, sir!”

“The Duke inquired of me whether I would, under the circumstances, while proceedings were going on which I did not approve of, take the responsibility of allowing my name to remain—”

“Ha! ha! ha!” the Major burst out. This was too good a joke. The name of a miserable young tailor!—“Go on, sir, go on!” He swallowed his laughter like oil on his rage.

“I have said sufficient.”

Jumping up, the Major swore by the Lord, that he had said sufficient.

“Now, look you here, young man.” He squared his figure before Evan, eyeing him under a hard frown, “You have been playing your game again, as you did down at that place in Hampshire. I heard of it—deserved to be shot, by Heaven! You think you have got hold of the Duke, and you throw me over. You imagine, I dare say, that I will allow my wife to be talked about to further your interests—you self-seeking young dog! As long as he lent the Company his name, I permitted a great many things. Do you think me a blind idiot, sir? But now she must learn to be satisfied with people who’ve got no titles, or carriages, and who can’t give hundred guinea compliments. You’re all of a piece—a set of . . . .

The Major paused, for half a word was on his mouth which had drawn lightning to Evan’s eyes.

Not to be baffled, he added: “But look you, sir. I may be ruined. I dare say the Company will go to the dogs—every ass will follow a duke. But, mark: this goes on no more. I will be no woman’s cully. Mind, sir, I take excellent care that you don’t traffic in your sister!”

The Major delivered this culminating remark with a well-timed deflection of his forefinger, and slightly turned aside when he had done.

You might have seen Evan’s figure rocking, as he stood with his eyes steadily levelled on his sister’s husband.

The Major who, whatever he was, was physically no coward, did not fail to interpret the look, and challenge it.

Evan walked to the door, opened it, and said, between his teeth, “You must go at once.”

“Eh, sir, eh? what’s this?” exclaimed the warrior: but the door was open, Mr. Goren was in the shop; the scandal of an assault in such a house, and the consequent possibility of his matrimonial alliance becoming bruited in the newspapers, held his arm after it had given an involuntary jerk. He marched through with becoming dignity, and marched out into the street; and if necks unelastic and heads erect may be taken as the sign of a proud soul and of nobility of mind, my artist has the Major for his model.

Evan displayed no such a presence. He returned to the little parlour, shut and locked the door to the shop, and forgetting that one was near, sat down, covered his eyes, and gave way to a fit of tearless sobbing. With one foot in the room Caroline hung watching him. A pain that she had never known wrung her nerves. His whole manhood seemed to be shaken, as if by regular pulsations of intensest misery. She stood in awe of the sight till her limbs failed her, and then staggering to him she fell on her knees, clasping his, passionately kissing them.