Read CHAPTER XVIII. of An Old Man's Love , free online book, by Anthony Trollope, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr and Mrs Tookey.

On the day arranged, early on the morning after the dinner at Little Alresford Park, John Gordon went up to London.  He had not been much moved by the intimation made to him by Mr Whittlestaff that some letter should be written to him at his London address.  He had made his appeal to Mr Whittlestaff, and had received no answer whatever.  And he had, after a fashion, made his appeal also to the girl.  He felt sure that his plea must reach her.  His very presence then in this house had been an appeal to her.  He knew that she so far believed in him as to be conscious that she could at once become his wife ­if she were willing to throw over his rival.  He knew also that she loved him, ­or had certainly loved him.  He did not know the nature of her regard; nor was it possible that he should ever know that, ­unless she were his wife.  She had given a promise to that other man, and ­it was thus he read her character ­she could be true to her promise without any great heart-break.  At any rate, she intended to be true to it.  He did not for a moment suspect that Mr Whittlestaff was false.  Mary had declared that she would not withdraw her word, ­that only from her own mouth was to be taken her intention of such withdrawal, and that such intention she certainly would never utter.  Of her character he understood much, ­but not quite all.  He was not aware of the depth of her feeling.  But Mr Whittlestaff he did not understand at all.  Of all those vacillating softnesses he knew nothing, ­or of those moments spent with the poet, in which he was wont to fight against the poet’s pretences, and of those other moments spent with Mrs Baggett, in which he would listen to, and always finally reject, those invitations to manly strength which she would always pour into his ears.  That Mr Whittlestaff should spend hour after hour, and now day after day, in teaching himself to regard nothing but what might best suit the girl’s happiness, ­of that he was altogether in the dark.  To his thinking, Mr Whittlestaff was a hard man, who, having gained his object, intended to hold fast by what he had gained.  He, John Gordon, knew, or thought that he knew, that Mary, as his wife, would lead a happier life than with Mr Whittlestaff.  But things had turned out unfortunately, and there was nothing for him but to return to the diamond-fields.

Therefore he had gone back to London with the purpose of preparing for his journey.  A man does not start for South Africa to-morrow, or, if not to-morrow, then the next day.  He was aware that there must be some delay; but any place would be better in which to stay than the neighbourhood of Croker’s Hall.  There were things which must be done, and people with whom he must do it; but of all that, he need say nothing down at Alresford.  Therefore, when he got back to London, he meant to make all his arrangements ­and did so far settle his affairs as to take a berth on board one of the mail steamers.

He had come over in company with a certain lawyer, who had gone out to Kimberley with a view to his profession, and had then, as is the case with all the world that goes to Kimberley, gone into diamonds.  Diamonds had become more to him than either briefs or pleadings.  He had been there for fifteen years, and had ruined himself and made himself half-a-dozen times.  He had found diamonds to be more pleasant than law, and to be more compatible with champagne, tinned lobsters, and young ladies.  He had married a wife, and had parted with her, and taken another man’s wife, and paid for her with diamonds.  He had then possessed nothing, and had afterwards come forth a third-part owner of the important Stick-in-the-Mud claim, which at one time was paying 12 per cent per month.  It must be understood that the Stick-in-the-Mud claim was an almost infinitesimal portion of soil in the Great Kimberley mine.  It was but the sixteenth part of an original sub-division.  But from the centre of the great basin, or rather bowl, which forms the mine, there ran up two wires to the high mound erected on the circumference, on which continually two iron cages were travelling up and down, coming back empty, but going up laden with gemmiferous dirt.  Here travelled the diamonds of the Stick-in-the-Mud claim, the owner of one-third of which, Mr Fitzwalker Tookey, had come home with John Gordon.

Taking a first general glance at affairs in the diamond-fields, I doubt whether we should have been inclined to suspect that John Gordon and Fitzwalker Tookey would have been likely to come together as partners in a diamond speculation.  But John Gordon had in the course of things become owner of the other two shares, and when Fitzwalker Tookey determined to come home, he had done so with the object of buying his partner’s interest.  This he might have done at once, ­only that he suffered under the privation of an insufficiency of means.  He was a man of great intelligence, and knew well that no readier mode to wealth had ever presented itself to him than the purchase of his partner’s shares.  Much was said to persuade John Gordon; but he would not part with his documents without seeing security for his money.  Therefore Messrs. Gordon and Tookey put the old Stick-in-the-Mud into the hands of competent lawyers, and came home together.

“I am not at all sure that I shall sell,” John Gordon had said.

“But I thought that you offered it.”

“Yes; for money down.  For the sum named I will sell now.  But if I start from here without completing the bargain, I shall keep the option in my own hands.  The fact is, I do not know whether I shall remain in England or return.  If I do come back I am not likely to find anything better than the old Stick-in-the-Mud.”  To this Mr Tookey assented, but still he resolved that he would go home.  Hence it came to pass that Mr Fitzwalker Tookey was now in London, and that John Gordon had to see him frequently.  Here Tookey had found another would-be partner, who had the needed money, and it was fervently desired by Mr Tookey that John Gordon might not go back to South Africa.

The two men were not at all like in their proclivities; but they had been thrown together, and each had learned much of the inside life of the other.  The sort of acquaintance with whom a steady man becomes intimate in such a locality often surprises the steady man himself.  Fitzwalker Tookey had the antecedents and education of a gentleman.  Champagne and lobster suppers ­the lobster coming out of tin cases, ­diamonds and strange ladies, even with bloated cheeks and strong language, had not altogether destroyed the vestiges of the Temple.  He at any rate was fond of a companion with whom he could discuss his English regrets, and John Gordon was not inclined to shut himself up altogether among his precious stones, and to refuse the conversation of a man who could talk.  Tookey had told him of his great distress in reference to his wife.  “By G ! you know, the cruellest thing you ever heard in the world.  I was a little tight one night, and the next morning she was off with Atkinson, who got away with his pocket full of diamonds.  Poor girl! she went down to the Portuguese settlement, and he was nabbed.  He’s doing penal service now down at Cape Town.  That’s a kind of thing that does upset a fellow.”  And poor Fitzwalker began to cry.

Among such confidences Gordon allowed it to escape from him that were he to become married in England, he did not think it probable that he should return.  Thus it was known, at least to his partner, that he was going to look for a wife, and the desire in Mr Tookey’s breast that the wife might be forthcoming was intense.  “Well!” he said, immediately on Gordon’s return to London.

“What does ‘well’ mean?”

“Of course you went down there to look after the lady.”

“I have never told you so.”

“But you did ­did you not?”

“I have told you nothing about any lady, though you are constantly asking questions.  As a fact, I think I shall go back next month.”

“To Kimberley?”

“I think so.  The stake I have there is of too great importance to be abandoned.”

“I have the money ready to pay over; ­absolute cash on the nail.  You don’t call that abandoning it?”

“The claim has gone up in value 25 per cent, as you have already heard.”

“Yes; it has gone up a little, but not so much as that.  It will come down as much by the next mail.  With diamonds you never can stick to anything.”

“That’s true.  But you can only go by the prices as you see them quoted.  They may be up 25 per cent again by next mail.  At any rate, I am going back.”

“The devil you are!”

“That’s my present idea.  As I like to be on the square with you altogether, I don’t mind saying that I have booked a berth by the Kentucky Castle.”

“The deuce you have!  And you won’t take a wife with you?”

“I am not aware that I shall have such an impediment.”

Then Fitzwalker Tookey assumed a very long face.  It is difficult to trace the workings of such a man’s mind, or to calculate the meagre chances on which he is too often driven to base his hopes of success.  He feared that he could not show his face in Kimberley, unless as the representative of the whole old Stick-in-the-Mud.  And with that object he had declared himself in London to have the actual power of disposing of Gordon’s shares.  Gordon had gone down to Hampshire, and would no doubt be successful with the young lady.  At any rate, ­as he described it to himself, ­he had “gone in for that.”  He could see his way in that direction, but in no other.  “Upon my word, this, you know, is ­what I call ­rather throwing a fellow over.”

“I am as good as my word.”

“I don’t know about that, Gordon.”

“But I do, and I won’t hear any assertion to the contrary.  I offered you the shares for a certain price, and you rejected them.”

“I did not do that.”

“You did do that, ­exactly.  Then there came up in my mind a feeling that I might probably wish to change my purpose.”

“And I am to suffer for that.”

“Not in the least.  I then told you that you should still have the shares for the price named.  But I did not offer them to any one else.  So I came home, ­and you chose to come with me.  But before I started, and again after, I told you that the offer did not hold good, and that I should not make up my mind as to selling till after I got to England.”

“We understood that you meant to be married.”

“I never said so.  I never said a word about marriage.  I am now going back, and mean to manage the mine myself.”

“Without asking me?”

“Yes; I shall ask you.  But I have two-thirds.  I will give you for your share 10 per cent more than the price you offered me for each of my shares.  If you do not like that, you need not accept the offer; but I don’t mean to have any more words about it.”

Mr Fitzwalker Tookey’s face became longer and longer, and he did in truth feel himself to be much aggrieved within his very soul.  There were still two lines of conduct open to him.  He might move the stern man by a recapitulation of the sorrow of his circumstances, or he might burst out into passionate wrath, and lay all his ruin to his partner’s doing.  He might still hope that in this latter way he could rouse all Kimberley against Gordon, and thus creep back into some vestige of property under the shadow of Gordon’s iniquities.  He would try both.  He would first endeavour to move the stern man to pity.  “I don’t think you can imagine the condition in which you are about to place me.”

“I can’t admit that I am placing you anywhere.”

“I’ll just explain.  Of course I know that I can tell you everything in strictest confidence.”

“I don’t know it at all.”

“Oh yes; I can.  You remember the story of my poor wife?”

“Yes; I remember.”

“She’s in London now.”

“What!  She got back from the Portuguese settlement?”

“Yes.  She did not stay there long.  I don’t suppose that the Portuguese are very nice people.”

“Perhaps not.”

“At any rate they don’t have much money among them.”

“Not after the lavish expenditure of the diamond-fields,” suggested Gordon.

“Just so.  Poor Matilda had been accustomed to all that money could buy for her.  I never used to be close-fisted with her, though sometimes I would be tight.”

“As far as I could understand, you never used to agree at all.”

“I don’t think we did hit it off.  Perhaps it was my fault.”

“You used to be a little free in your way of living.”

“I was.  I confess that I was so.  I was young then, but I am older now.  I haven’t touched a B. and S. before eleven o’clock since I have been in London above two or three times.  I do mean to do the best I can for my young family.”  It was the fact that Mr Tookey had three little children boarding out in Kimberley.

“And what is the lady doing in London?”

“To tell the truth, she’s at my lodgings.”

“Oh ­h!”

“I do admit it.  She is.”

“She is indifferent to the gentleman in the Cape Town penal settlement?”

“Altogether, I don’t think she ever really cared for him.  To tell the truth, she only wanted some one to take her away from ­me.”

“And now she trusts you again?”

“Oh dear, yes; ­completely.  She is my wife, you know, still.”

“I suppose so.”

“That sacred tie has never been severed.  You must always remember that.  I don’t know what your feelings are on such a subject, but according to my views it should not be severed roughly.  When there are children, that should always be borne in mind.  Don’t you think so?”

“The children should be borne in mind.”

“Just so.  That’s what I mean.  Who can look after a family of young children so well as their young mother?  Men have various ways of looking at the matter.”  To this John Gordon gave his ready consent, and was anxious to hear in what way his assistance was to be asked in again putting Mr and Mrs Tookey, with their young children, respectably on their feet.  “There are men, you know, stand-off sort of fellows, who think that a woman should never be forgiven.”

“It must depend on how far the husband has been in fault.”

“Exactly.  Now these stand-off sort of fellows will never admit that they have been in fault at all.  That’s not my case.”

“You drank a little.”

“For the matter of that, so did she.  When a woman drinks she gets herself to bed somehow.  A man gets out upon a spree.  That’s what I used to do, and then I would hit about me rather recklessly.  I have no doubt Matilda did get it sometimes.  When there has been that kind of thing, forgive and forget is the best thing you can do.”

“I suppose so.”

“And then at the Fields there isn’t the same sort of prudish life which one is accustomed to in England.  Here in London a man is nowhere if he takes his wife back.  Nobody knows her, because there are plenty to know of another sort.  But there things are not quite so strict.  Of course she oughtn’t to have gone off with Atkinson; ­a vulgar low fellow, too.”

“And you oughtn’t to have licked her.”

“That’s just it.  It was tit for tat, I think.  That’s the way I look at it.  At any rate we are living together now, and no one can say we’re not man and wife.”

“There’ll be a deal of trouble saved in that way.”

“A great deal.  We are man and wife, and can begin again as though nothing had happened.  No one can say that black’s the white of our eye.  She’ll take to those darling children as though nothing had happened.  You can’t conceive how anxious she is to get back to them.  And there’s no other impediment.  That’s a comfort.”

“Another impediment would have upset you rather?”

“I couldn’t have put up with that.”  Mr Fitzwalker Tookey looked very grave and high-minded as he made the assertion.  “But there’s nothing of that kind.  It’s all open sailing.  Now, ­what are we to live upon, just for a beginning?”

“You have means out there.”

“Not as things are at present, ­I am sorry to say.  To tell the truth, my third share of the old Stick-in-the-Mud is gone.  I had to raise money when it was desirable that I should come with you.”

“Not on my account.”

“And then I did owe something.  At any rate, it’s all gone now.  I should find myself stranded at Kimberley without a red cent.”

“What can I do?”

“Well, ­I will explain.  Poker & Hodge will buy your shares for the sum named.  Joshua Poker, who is out there, has got my third share.  Poker & Hodge have the money down, and when I have arranged the sale, will undertake to give me the agency at one per cent on the whole take for three years certain.  That’ll be L1000 a-year, and it’s odd if I can’t float myself again in that time.”  Gordon stood silent, scratching his head.  “Or if you’d give me the agency on the same terms, it would be the same thing.  I don’t care a straw for Poker & Hodge.”

“I daresay not.”

“But you’d find me as true as steel.”

“What little good I did at the Fields I did by looking after my own business.”

“Then what do you propose?  Let Poker & Hodge have them, and I shall bless you for ever.”  To this mild appeal Mr Tookey had been brought by the manner in which John Gordon had scratched his head.  “I think you are bound to do it, you know.”  To this he was brought by the subsequent look which appeared in John Gordon’s eyes.

“I think not.”

“Men will say so.”

“I don’t care a straw what men say, or women.”

“And you to come back in the same ship with me and my wife!  You couldn’t do it.  The Fields wouldn’t receive you.”  Gordon bethought himself whether this imagined rejection might not arise rather from the character of his travelling companions.  “To bring back the mother of three little sainted babes, and then to walk in upon every shilling of property which had belonged to their father!  You never could hold up your head in Kimberley again.”

“I should have to stand abashed before your virtue?”

“Yes, you would.  I should be known to have come back with my poor repentant wife, ­the mother of three dear babes.  And she would be known to have returned with her misguided husband.  The humanity of the Fields would not utter a word of reproval to either of us.  But, upon my word, I should not like to stand in your shoes.  And how you could sit opposite to her and look her in the face on the journey out, I don’t know.”

“It would be unpleasant.”

“Deuced unpleasant, I should say.  You remember the old Roman saying, ‘Never be conscious of anything within your own bosom.’  Only think how you would feel when you were swelling it about in Kimberley, while that poor lady won’t be able to buy a pair of boots for herself or her children.  I say nothing about myself.  I didn’t think you were the man to do it; ­I didn’t indeed.”

Gordon did find himself moved by the diversity of lights through which he was made to look at the circumstances in question.  In the first place, there was the journey back with Mr Tookey and his wife, companions he had not anticipated.  The lady would probably begin by soliciting his intimacy, which on board ship he could hardly refuse.  With a fellow-passenger, whose husband has been your partner, you must quarrel bitterly or be warm friends.  Upon the whole, he thought that he could not travel to South Africa with Mr and Mrs Fitzwalker Tookey.  And then he understood what the man’s tongue would do if he were there for a month in advance.  The whole picture of life, too, at the Fields was not made attractive by Mr Tookey’s description.  He was not afraid of the reception which might be accorded to Mrs Tookey, but saw that Tookey found himself able to threaten him with violent evils, simply because he would claim his own.  Then there shot across his brain some reminiscence of Mary Lawrie, and a comparison between her and her life and the sort of life which a man must lead under the auspices of Mrs Tookey.  Mary Lawrie was altogether beyond his reach; but it would be better to have her to think of than the other to know.  His idea of the diamond-fields was disturbed by the promised return of his late partner and his wife.

“And you mean to reduce me to this misery?” asked Mr Tookey.

“I don’t care a straw for your misery.”

“What!”

“Not for your picture of your misery.  I do not doubt but that when you have been there for a month you will be drunk as often as ever, and just as free with your fists when a woman comes in your way.”

“Never!”

“And I do not see that I am at all bound to provide for you and for your wife and children.  You have seen many ups and downs, and will be doomed to see many more, as long as you can get hold of a bottle of wine.”

“I mean to take the pledge, ­I do indeed.  I must do it gradually, because of my constitution, ­but I shall do it.”

“I don’t in the least believe in it; ­nor do I believe in any man who thinks to redeem himself after such a fashion.  It may still be possible that I shall not go back.”

“Thank God!”

“I may kill beasts in Buenos Ayres, or take a tea-farm in Thibet, or join the colonists in Tennessee.  In that case I will let you know what arrangement I may propose to make about the Kimberley claim.  At any rate, I may say this, ­I shall not go back in the same vessel with you.”

“I thought it would have been so comfortable.”

“You and Mrs Tookey would find yourself more at your ease without me.”

“Not in the least.  Don’t let that thought disturb you.  Whatever misery fate may have in store for me, you will always find that, for the hour, I will endeavour to be a good companion.  ’Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’  That is the first of my mottoes.”

“At any rate, I shall not go back in the Kentucky Castle if you do.”

“I’m afraid our money is paid.”

“So is mine; but that does not signify.  You have a week yet, and I will let you know by eleven o’clock on Thursday what steps I shall finally take.  If in any way I can serve you, I will do so; but I can admit no claim.”

“A thousand thanks!  And I am so glad you approve of what I have done about Matilda.  I’m sure that a steady-going fellow like you would have done the same.”  To this John Gordon could make no answer, but left his friend, and went away about his own business.  He had to decide between Tennessee, Thibet, and Buenos Ayres, and wanted his time for his own purposes.

When he got to dinner at his club, he found a letter from Mr Whittlestaff, which had come by the day-mail.  It was a letter which, for the time, drove Thibet and Buenos Ayres, and Tennessee also, clean out of his mind.  It was as follows: ­

   Croker’s hall, ­ June 188 .

Dear Mr John Gordon, ­I shall be in town this afternoon, probably by the same train which will bring this letter, and will do myself the honour of calling upon you at your club the next day at twelve. ­I am, dear Mr John Gordon, faithfully yours,

   William Whittlestaff.

Then there was to be an answer to the appeal which he had made.  Of what nature would be the answer?  As he laid his hand upon his heart, and felt the violence of the emotion to which he was subjected, he could not doubt the strength of his own love.