The Confidential Clerk

by T. S. Eliot

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Sir Claude Mulhammer, a successful middle-aged financier, invites his retired confidential clerk, Eggerson, down to London from his home in the suburbs. He asks Eggerson for the specific purpose of meeting Lady Elizabeth’s plane on her return from a trip to Switzerland and telling her that he was replaced in his position by a young man named Colby Simpkins. Sir Claude and Eggerson are apprehensive that Lady Elizabeth will be suspicious and disapproving, and Sir Claude wants to keep from her the fact that Colby is his illegitimate son until she comes to like him and accepts him in the household. Sir Claude and Eggerson hope that Lady Elizabeth might even decide that she likes him enough to want to adopt him, to take the place of a son she gave up in her youth.

Before Eggerson can leave for the airport, Lady Elizabeth returns unexpectedly and has to be introduced to Colby without any preparation. Lady Elizabeth, however, preoccupied by her spiritual life and convinced that she is the one who recommended Colby to begin with, eagerly takes him under her wing. Colby makes a favorable impression on all the members of the household, including Sir Claude’s daughter Lucasta and her fiancé B. Kaghan.

An unsuccessful musician, Colby agrees to introduce Lucasta to the pleasures of music. During a long introspective conversation in Colby’s new flat, which Sir Claude acquires for him and Lady Elizabeth enthusiastically offers to decorate, Colby and Lucasta discover a mutual liking. Lucasta, who begins to question her feelings for Kaghan, confides to Colby that she is Sir Claude’s daughter. Colby is shocked to learn that she is his half sister, a fact he is, however, unable to reveal to her. Lucasta is disappointed in Colby’s reaction, which she misunderstands, and reclaims Kaghan as her fiancé when he arrives to see Colby’s new flat.

Lady Elizabeth appears soon after, and once she nudges Lucasta and Kaghan on their way, she begins to question Colby closely about his background. Upon discovering that he was raised by an aunt, Mrs. Guzzard, in Teddington, just outside London, she becomes convinced that he is the son she had as a very young woman. She relinquished the baby to his father and knows that the child was adopted by a couple with an unusual name from a place she now recalls is Teddington. Because she does not tell Colby what she suspects, he cannot understand her interest in his background and tries to turn the conversation. When they are joined by Sir Claude, Lady Elizabeth announces her belief that Colby is her lost son.

Sir Claude decides she must be told the truth about Colby’s relationship with him, but Lady Elizabeth remains convinced that he is mistaken. Colby is frustrated to have both a mother and a father claiming him as their own, and he demands that his real identity be determined. All agree that Mrs. Guzzard must be summoned and questioned.

Sir Claude arranges a meeting in his business room. While waiting for the arrival of Eggerson, who is to chair the meeting, Sir Claude and Lady Elizabeth speak honestly and gain a deeper understanding of each other. When Eggerson arrives, he is accompanied by an uninvited guest, Lucasta, who is looking for Colby. When Sir Claude informs her that Colby is her half brother, Lucasta understands the reason for Colby’s shock at her earlier disclosure and she thereupon formally announces her marriage to Kaghan.

Mrs. Guzzard is shown in by Kaghan, and when Eggerson begins to question her, she reveals that Kaghan is the son Lady Elizabeth had...

(This entire section contains 815 words.)

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given up; the child remained with the Guzzards for a while before being adopted by the Kaghans, formerly of Teddington. Mrs. Guzzard also reveals that her sister, who was expecting Sir Claude’s baby, died before giving birth and that Colby is actually her own son. She was recently widowed when Sir Claude sought them out and played along with his belief that Colby is his illegitimate son so that she would receive some financial help for his upbringing. When Colby learns that he is the son of Herbert Guzzard, a disappointed musician, he resolves on music as a career, even if he lacks great talent. Colby refuses Sir Claude’s offer that he continue to think of him as at least a father figure and to stay at the Mulhammer home. Instead, he decides to apply for the post of organist at the parish church in Eggerson’s neighborhood. Sir Claude, inclined to doubt Mrs. Guzzard’s revelation about Colby’s lineage, dolefully accepts it when he sees that Eggerson, whom he trusts explicitly, believes her. Bereft, the Mulhammers turn for consolation to Sir Claude’s daughter Lucasta and Lady Elizabeth’s son Kaghan, who promises that their relationship will help stabilize the newly established family.

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