The Fallen Leaves, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 3

Rufus found his friend at the lodgings, prostrate on the sofa, smoking furiously. Before a word had passed between them, it was plain to the New Englander that something had gone wrong.

“Well,” he asked; “and what does Farnaby say?”

“Damn Farnaby!”

Rufus was secretly conscious of an immense sense of relief. “I call that a stiff way of putting it,” he quietly remarked; “but the meaning’s clear. Farnaby has said No.”

Amelius jumped off the sofa, and planted himself defiantly on the hearthrug.

“You’re wrong for once,” he said, with a bitter laugh. “The exasperating part of it is that Farnaby has said neither Yes nor No. The oily-whiskered brute — you haven’t seen him yet, have you? — began by saying Yes. ‘A man like me, the heir of a fine old English family, honoured him by making proposals; he could wish no more brilliant prospect for his dear adopted child. She would fill the high position that was offered to her, and fill it worthily.’ That was the fawning way in which he talked to me at first! He squeezed my hand in his horrid cold shiny paw till, I give you my word of honour, I felt as if I was going to be sick. Wait a little; you haven’t heard the worst of it yet. He soon altered his tone — it began with his asking me, if I had ‘considered the question of settlements’. I didn’t know what he meant. He had to put it in plain English; he wanted to hear what my property was. ‘Oh, that’s soon settled,’ I said. ‘I’ve got five hundred a year; and Regina is welcome to every farthing of it.’ He fell back in his chair as if I had shot him; he turned — it was worse than pale, he positively turned green. At first he wouldn’t believe me; he declared I must be joking. I set him right about that immediately. His next change was a proud impudence. ‘Have you not observed, sir, in what style Regina is accustomed to live in my house? Five hundred a year? Good heavens! With strict economy, five hundred a year might pay her milliner’s bill and the keep of her horse and carriage. Who is to pay for everything else — the establishment, the dinner-parties and balls, the tour abroad, the children, the nurses, the doctor? I tell you this, Mr. Goldenheart, I’m willing to make a sacrifice to you, as a born gentleman, which I would certainly not consent to in the case of any self-made man. Enlarge your income, sir, to no more than four times five hundred pounds, and I guarantee a yearly allowance to Regina of half as much again, besides the fortune which she will inherit at my death. That will make your income three thousand a year to start with. I know something of domestic expenses, and I tell you positively, you can’t do it on a farthing less.’ That was his language, Rufus. The insolence of his tone I can’t attempt to describe. If I hadn’t thought of Regina, I should have behaved in a manner unworthy of a Christian — I believe I should have taken my walking-cane, and given him a sound thrashing.”

Rufus neither expressed surprise nor offered advice. He was lost in meditation on the wealth of Mr. Farnaby. “A stationer’s business seems to eventuate in a lively profit, in this country,” he said.

“A stationer’s business?” Amelius repeated disdainfully. “Farnaby has half a dozen irons in the fire besides that. He’s got a newspaper, and a patent medicine, and a new bank, and I don’t know what else. One of his own friends said to me, ‘Nobody knows whether Farnaby is rich or poor; he is going to do one of two things — he is going to die worth millions, or to die bankrupt.’ Oh, if I can only live to see the day when Socialism will put that sort of man in his right place!”

“Try a republic, on our model, first,” said Rufus. “When Farnaby talks of the style his young woman is accustomed to live in, what does he mean?”

“He means,” Amelius answered smartly, “a carriage to drive out in, champagne on the table, and a footman to answer the door.”

“Farnaby’s ideas, sir, have crossed the water and landed in New York,” Rufus remarked. “Well, and what did you say to him, on your side?”

“I gave it to him, I can tell you! ‘That’s all ostentation,’ I said. ‘Why can’t Regina and I begin life modestly? What do we want with a carriage to drive out in, and champagne on the table, and a footman to answer the door? We want to love each other and be happy. There are thousands of as good gentlemen as I am, in England, with wives and families, who would ask for nothing better than an income of five hundred a year. The fact is, Mr. Farnaby, you’re positively saturated with the love of money. Get your New Testament and read what Christ says of rich people.’ What do you think he did, when I put it in that unanswerable way? He held up his hand, and looked horrified. ‘I can’t allow profanity in my office,’ says he. ‘I have my New Testament read to me in church, sir, every Sunday.’ That’s the sort of Christian, Rufus, who is the average product of modern times! He was as obstinate as a mule; he wouldn’t give way a single inch. His adopted daughter, he said, was accustomed to live in a certain style. In that same style she should live when she was married, so long as he had a voice in the matter. Of course, if she chose to set his wishes and feelings at defiance, in return for all that he had done for her, she was old enough to take her own way. In that case, he would tell me as plainly as he meant to tell her, that she must not look to a single farthing of his money to help her, and not expect to find her name down in his will. He felt the honour of a family alliance with me as sincerely as ever. But he must abide by the conditions that he had stated. On those terms, he would be proud to give me the hand of Regina at the altar, and proud to feel that he had done his duty by his adopted child. I let him go on till he had run himself out — and then I asked quietly, if he could tell me the way to increase my income to two thousand a year. How do you think he answered me?”

“Perhaps he offered to utilise your capital in his business,” Rufus guessed.

“Not he! He considered business quite beneath me; my duty to myself, as a gentleman, was to adopt a profession. On reflection, it turned out that there was but one likely profession to try, in my case — the Law. I might be called to the Bar, and (with luck) I might get remunerative work to do, in eight or ten years’ time. That, I declare to you, was the prospect he set before me, if I chose to take his advice. I asked if he was joking. Certainly not! I was only one-and-twenty years old (he reminded me); I had plenty of time to spare — I should still marry young if I married at thirty. I took up my hat, and gave him a bit of my mind at parting. ‘If you really mean anything,’ I said, ‘you mean that Regina is to pine and fade and be a middle-aged woman, and that I am to resist the temptations that beset a young man in London, and lead the life of a monk for the next ten years — and all for what? For a carriage to ride out in, champagne on the table, and a footman to answer the door! Keep your money, Mr. Farnaby; Regina and I will do without it.’— What are you laughing at? I don’t think you could have put it more strongly yourself.”

Rufus suddenly recovered his gravity. “I tell you this, Amelius,” he replied; “you afford (as we say in my country) meaty fruit for reflection — you do.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, I reckon you remember when we were aboard the boat. You gave us a narrative of what happened in that Community of yours, which I can truly characterise as a combination of native eloquence and chastening good sense. I put the question to myself, sir, what has become of that well-informed and discreet young Christian, now he has changed the sphere to England and mixed with the Farnabys? It’s not to be denied that I see him before me in the flesh when I look across the table here; but it’s equally true that I miss him altogether, in the spirit.”

Amelius sat down again on the sofa. “In plain words,” he said, “you think I have behaved like a fool in this matter?”

Rufus crossed his long legs, and nodded his head in silent approval. Instead of taking offence, Amelius considered a little.

“It didn’t strike me before,” he said. “But, now you mention it, I can understand that I appear to be a simple sort of fellow in what is called Society here; and the reason, I suspect, is that it’s not the society in which I have been accustomed to mix. The Farnabys are new to me, Rufus. When it comes to a question of my life at Tadmor, of what I saw and learnt and felt in the Community — then, I can think and speak like a reasonable being, because I am thinking and speaking of what I know thoroughly well. Hang it, make some allowance for the difference of circumstances! Besides, I’m in love, and that alters a man — and, I have heard some people say, not always for the better. Anyhow, I’ve done it with Farnaby, and it can’t be undone. There will be no peace for me now, till I have spoken to Regina. I have read the note you left for me. Did you see her, when you called at the house?”

The quiet tone in which the question was put surprised Rufus. He had fully expected, after Regina’s reception of him, to be called to account for the liberty that he had taken. Amelius was too completely absorbed by his present anxieties to consider trivial questions of etiquette. Hearing that Rufus had seen Regina, he never even asked for his friend’s opinion of her. His mind was full of the obstacles that might be interposed to his seeing her again.

“Farnaby is sure, after what has passed between us, to keep her out of my way if he can,” Amelius said. “And Mrs. Farnaby, to my certain knowledge, will help him. They don’t suspect you. Couldn’t you call again — you’re old enough to be her father — and make some excuse to take her out with you for a walk?”

The answer of Rufus to this was Roman in its brevity. He pointed to the window, and said, “Look at the rain.”

“Then I must try her maid once more,” said Amelius, resignedly. He took his hat and umbrella. “Don’t leave me, old fellow,” he resumed as he opened the door. “This is the turning-point of my life. I’m sorely in need of a friend.”

“Do you think she will marry you against the will of her uncle and aunt?” Rufus asked.

“I am certain of it,” Amelius answered. With that he left the room.

Rufus looked after him sadly. Sympathy and sorrow were expressed in every line of his rugged face. “My poor boy! how will he bear it, if she says No? What will become of him, if she says Yes?” He rubbed his hand irritably across his forehead, like a man whose own thoughts were repellent to him. In a moment more, he plunged into his pockets, and drew out again the letters introducing him to the secretaries of public institutions. “If there’s salvation for Amelius,” he said, “I reckon I shall find it here.”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30