The Firm of Girdlestone
Winds Up the Thread and Ties Two Knots at the End.
Arthur Conan Doyle
GREAT was the excitement of the worthy couple at Phillimore Gardens when Kate Harston was brought back to them. Good Mrs. Dimsdale pressed her to her ample bosom and kissed her, and scolded her, and wept over her, while the doctor was so moved that it was only by assuming an expression of portentous severity and by bellowing and stamping about that he was able to keep himself in decent control.
“And you really thought we had forgotten you because we were insane enough to stop writing at that villain’s request?” he said, patting Kate’s pale cheeks tenderly and kissing her.
“I was very foolish,” she said, blushing prettily and rearranging her hair, which had been somewhat tumbled by her numerous caresses.
“Oh, that scoundrel—that pair of scoundrels!” roared the doctor, shaking his fist and dancing about on the hearth-rug. “Pray God they may catch ’em before the trial comes off!”
The good physician’s prayer was not answered in this case, for Burt was the only criminal who appeared in the dock. Our friends all went down to the Winchester Assizes to give evidence, and the navvy was duly convicted of the death of Rebecca Taylforth and condemned to death. He was executed some three weeks afterwards, dying as he had lived, stolid and unrepenting.
There is a little unpretending church not far from Phillimore Gardens, in which a little unpretending clergyman preaches every Sunday out of a very shabby pulpit. It lies in Castle Lane, which is a narrow by-way, and the great crowd of church-goers ebbs and flows within a hundred yards of it, but none know of its existence, for it has never risen to the dignity of a spire, and the bell is so very diminutive that the average muffin man produces quite as much noise. Hence, with the exception of some few families who have chanced to find their way there, and have been so pleased with their spiritual welcome that they have returned, there is a poor and fluctuating congregation. So scanty is it that the struggling incumbent could very well weep when he has spent the week in polishing and strengthening his sermon, and then finds upon the Sunday how very scanty is the audience to whom it is to be addressed.
Imagine, then, this good man’s surprise when asked to publish the banns of marriage of two couples simultaneously, each of whom he knew to be in the upper circles of life, and when informed at the same time that the said marriages were actually to be celebrated under his own auspices and in his own church. In the fullness of his heart he at once bought a most unwearable black bonnet with lilac flowers and red berries, which he brought in triumph to his wife, who, good woman, affected extreme delight, and afterwards cut away all the obnoxious finery and replaced it to her own taste. The scanty congregation was no less surprised when they heard that Tobias Clutterbuck, bachlelor, was about to marry Lavinia Scully, widow, and that Thomas Dimsdale, bachelor, was to do as much to Catherine Harston, spinster. They communicated the tidings to their friends, and the result was a great advertisement to the little church, so that the incumbent preached his favourite sermon upon barren fig trees to a crowded audience, and received such an offertory as had never entered into his wildest dreams.
And if this was an advertisement to the Castle Lane church, how much more so was it when the very pompous carriages came rolling up with their very pompous drivers, all of whom, being married men, had a depreciatory and wearied expression upon their faces, to show that they had done it all before and that it was nothing new to them. Out of the one carriage there jumped a very jaunty gentleman, somewhat past the middle age and a little inclined to stoutness, but looking very healthy and rosy nevertheless. Besides him there walked a tall, tawny-bearded man, who glanced solicitously every now and again at his companion, as though he were the bottle-holder at a prize-fight and feared that his man might collapse at a moment’s notice. From a second carriage there emerged an athletic brown-faced young fellow accompanied by a small wizened gentleman in spotless attire, who was in such a state of nervousness that he dropped his lavender glove twice on his way up the aisle. These gentlemen grouped themselves at the end of the church conversing in low whispers and looking exceedingly uncomfortable, as is the prerogative of the sterner sex under such circumstances. Mr. Gilray, who was Tom’s best man, was introduced to Herr von Baumser, and every one was very affable and nervous.
Now there comes a rustling of drapery, and every one turns their heads as the brides sweep up to the altar. Here is Mrs. Scully, looking quite as charming as she did fifteen years ago on the last occasion when she performed the ceremony. She was dressed in a French grey gown with bonnet to match, and the neatest little bouquet in the world, for which the major had ransacked Covent Garden. Behind her came bonny Kate, a very vision of loveliness in her fairy-like lace and beautiful ivory satin. Her dark lashes drooped over her violet eyes and a slight flush tinged her cheeks, but she glided steadily into her place and did her share in the responses when the earnest little clergyman appeared upon the scene. There was Dr. Dimsdale too, with the brightest of smiles and snowiest of waistcoats, giving away the brides in the most open-handed fashion. His wife too was by his side in tears and purple velvet, and many other friends and relations, including the two Socialists, who came at the major’s invitation, and beamed on every one out of a side pew.
Then there was the signing of the registers, and such a kissing and a weeping and a distributing of fees as never was seen in Castle Lane church before. And Mrs. Dimsdale, as one of the witnesses, would insist upon writing her name in the space reserved for the bride, on which there were many small jokes passed and much laughter. Then the wheezy old organ struck up Mendelssohn’s wedding march, and the major puffed out his chest and stumped down the aisle with his bride, while Tom followed with his, looking round with proud and happy eyes. The carriages rolled up, there was a slamming of doors and a cracking of whips, and two more couples had started hand in hand down the long road of life which leads—who shall say whither!
The breakfast was at Phillimore Gardens, and a very glorious breakfast it was. Those who were present still talk of the manner in which the health of the brides was proposed by Dr. Dimsdale and of the enthusiasm with which the toast was received by the company. Also of the flowery address in which the major returned thanks for the said toast, and the manly demeanour of the younger man as he followed suit. They speak too of many other pleasant things said and done upon that occasion. How Von Baumser proposed the health of the little incumbent, and the little incumbent that of Dr. Dimsdale, and the doctor drank to the unpronounceable Russian, who, being unable to reply, sang a revolutionary song which no one could understand. Very happy and very hearty was every one by the time that the hour came at which the carriages were ordered, when, amid a patter ing of rice and a chorus of heartfelt good wishes, the happy couples drove off upon their travels.
The liabilities of the firm of Girdlestone proved to be less serious than was at first imagined. After the catastrophe which had befallen the founder of the business, there was almost a panic in Fenchurch Street, but on examination it proved that though the books had been deliberately falsified for some time, yet trade had been so brisk of late that, with a little help, the firm could continue to exist. Dimsdale threw all his money and his energy into the matter, and took Gilray into partnership, which proved to be an excellent thing for both of them. The firm of Dimsdale and Gilray is now among the most successful and popular of all the English firms connected with the African trade. Of their captains there is none upon whom they place greater reliance than upon McPherson, whose boat was providentially saved from the danger which destroyed his former captain and his employer.
What became of Ezra Girdlestone was never known. Some years after Tom heard from a commercial traveller of a melancholy, broken man who haunted the low betting-houses of San Francisco, and who met his death eventually in some drunken fracas. There was much about this desperado which tallied with the description of young Girdlestone, but nothing certain was ever known about the matter.
And now I must bid adieu to the shadowy company with whom I have walked so long. I see them going on down the vista of the future, gathering wisdom and happiness as they go. There is the major, as stubby-toed and pigeon-breasted as ever, broken from many of his Bohemian ways, but still full of anecdote and of kindliness. There is his henchman, Von Baumser, too, who is a constant diner at his hospitable board, and who conveys so many sweets to a young Clutterbuck who has made his appearance, that one might suspect him of receiving a commission from the family doctor. Mrs. Clutterbuck, as buxom and pleasant as ever, makes noble efforts at stopping these contraband supplies, but the wily Teuton still manages to smuggle them through in the face of every obstacle. I see Kate and her husband, chastened by their many troubles, and making the road to the grave pleasant to the good old couple who are so proud of their son. All these I watch as they pass away into the dim coming time, and I know as I shut the book that, whatever may be in store for us there, they, at least, can never in the eternal justice of things come to aught but good.