The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 14

Count Pateroff

After an interval of some weeks, during which Harry had been down at Clavering and had returned again to his work at the Adelphi, Count Pateroff called again in Bloomsbury Square; but Harry was at Mr. Beilby’s office. Harry at once returned the count’s visit at the address given in Mount Street. Madame was at home, said the servant-girl, from which Harry was led to suppose that the count was a married man; but Harry felt that he had no right to intrude upon madame, so he simply left his card. Wishing, however, really to have this interview, and having been lately elected at a club of which he was rather proud, he wrote to the count asking him to dine with him at the Beaufort. He explained that there was a stranger’s room — which Pateroff knew very well, having often dined at the Beaufort — and said something as to a private little dinner for two, thereby apologizing for proposing to the count to dine without other guests. Pateroff accepted the invitation, and Harry, never having done such a thing before, ordered his dinner with much nervousness.

The count was punctual, and the two men introduced themselves. Harry had expected to see a handsome foreigner, with black hair, polished whiskers, and probably a hook nose — forty years of age or thereabouts, but so got up as to look not much more than thirty. But his guest was by no means a man of that stamp. Excepting that the count’s age was altogether uncertain, no correctness of guess on that matter being possible by means of his appearance, Harry’s preconceived notion was wrong in every point. He was a fair man, with a broad fair face, and very light blue eyes; his forehead was low, but broad; he wore no whiskers, but bore on his lip a heavy moustache which was not gray, but perfectly white — white it was with years, of course, but yet it gave no sign of age to his face. He was well made, active, and somewhat broad in the shoulders, though rather below the middle height. But for a certain ease of manner which he possessed, accompanied by something of restlessness in his eye, any one would have taken him for an Englishman. And his speech hardly betrayed that he was not English. Harry, knowing that he was a foreigner, noticed now and again some little acquired distinctness of speech which is hardly natural to a native; but otherwise there was nothing in his tongue to betray him.

“I am sorry that you should have had so much trouble,” he said, shaking hands with Harry. Clavering declared that he had incurred no trouble, and declared also that he would be only too happy to have taken any trouble in obeying a behest from his friend Lady Ongar. Had he been a Pole as was the count, he would not have forgotten to add that he would have been equally willing to exert himself with the view of making the count’s acquaintance; but being simply a young Englishman, he was much too awkward for any such courtesy as that. The count observed the omission, smiled, and bowed. Then he spoke of the weather, and said that London was a magnificent city. Oh, yes, he knew London well; had known it these twenty years; had been for fifteen years a member of the Travellers’; he liked everything English, except hunting. English hunting he had found to be dull work. But he liked shooting for an hour or two. He could not rival, he said, the intense energy of an Englishman, who would work all day with his gun harder than ploughmen with their ploughs. Englishmen sported, he said, as though more than their bread — as though their honor, their wives, their souls, depended on it. It was very fine! He often wished that he was an Englishman. Then he shrugged his shoulders.

Harry was very anxious to commence a conversation about Lady Ongar, but he did not know how at first to introduce her name. Count Pateroff had come to him at Lady Ongar’s request, and therefore, as he thought, the count should have been the first to mention her. But the count seemed to be enjoying his dinner without any thought either of Lady Ongar or of her late husband. At this time he had been down to Ongar Park, on that mission which had been, as we know, futile; but he said no word of that to Harry. He seemed to enjoy his dinner thoroughly, and made himself very agreeable. When the wine was discussed he told Harry that a certain vintage of Moselle was very famous at the Beaufort. Harry ordered the wine of course, and was delighted to give his guest the best of everything; but he was a little annoyed at finding that the stranger knew his club better than he knew it himself. Slowly the count ate his dinner, enjoying every morsel that he took with that thoughtful, conscious pleasure which young men never attain in eating and drinking, and which men as they grow older so often forget to acquire. But the count never forgot any of his own capacities for pleasure, and in all things made the most of his own resources. To be rich is not to have one or ten thousand a year, but to be able to get out of that one or ten thousand all that every pound, and every shilling, and every penny will give you. After this fashion the count was a rich man.

“You don’t sit after dinner here, I suppose,” said the count, when he had completed an elaborate washing of his mouth and moustache. “I like this club because we who are strangers have so charming a room for our smoking. It is the best club in London for men who do not belong to it.”

It occurred to Harry that in the smoking-room there could be no privacy. Three or four men had already spoken to the count, showing that he was well known, giving notice, as it were, that Pateroff would become a public man when once he was placed in a public circle. To have given a dinner to the count, and to have spoken no word to him about Lady Ongar, would be by no means satisfactory to Harry’s feelings, though, as it appeared, it might be sufficiently satisfactory to the guest. Harry therefore suggested one bottle of claret. The count agreed, expressing an opinion that the 51 Lafitte was unexceptional. The 51 Lafitte was ordered, and Harry, as he filled his glass, considered the way in which his subject should be introduced.

“You knew Lord Ongar, I think, abroad?”

“Lord Ongar — abroad! Oh, yes, very well; and for many years here in London; and at Vienna; and very early in life at St. Petersburg. I knew Lord Ongar first in Russia, when he was attached to the embassy as Frederic Courton. His father, Lord Courton, was then alive, as was also his grandfather. He was a nice, good-looking lad then.”

“As regards his being nice, he seems to have changed a good deal before he died.” This the count noticed by simply shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he sipped his wine. “By all that I can hear, he became a horrid brute when he married,” said Harry, energetically.

“He was not pleasant when he was ill at Florence,” said the count.

“She must have had a terrible time with him,” said Harry.

The count put up his hands, again shrugged his shoulders, and then shook his head. “She knew he was no longer an Adonis when he married her.”

“An Adonis! No; she did not expect an Adonis; but she thought he would have something of the honor and feelings of a man.”

“She found it uncomfortable, no doubt. He did too much of this, you know,” said the count, raising his glass to his lips; “and he didn’t do it with 51 Lafitte. That was Ongar’s fault. All the world knew it for the last ten years. No one knew it better than Hugh Clavering.”

“But —” said Harry, and then he stopped. He hardly knew what it was that he wished to learn from the man, though he certainly did wish to learn something. He had thought that the count would himself have talked about Lady Ongar and those Florentine days, but this he did not seem disposed to do. “Shall we have our cigars now?” said Count Pateroff.

“One moment, if you don’t mind.”

“Certainly, certainly. There is no hurry.”

“You will take no more wine?”

“No more wine. I take my wine at dinner, as you saw.”

“I want to ask you one special question — about Lady Ongar.”

“I will say anything in her favor that you please. I am always ready to say anything in the favor of any lady, and, if needs be, to swear it. Bu anything against any lady nobody ever heard me say.”

Harry was sharp enough to perceive that any assertion made under such a stipulation was worse than nothing. It was as when a man, in denying the truth of a statement, does so with an assurance that on that subject he should consider himself justified in telling any number of lies. “I did not write the book — but you have no right to ask the question; and I should say that I had not, even if I had.” Pateroff was speaking of Lady Ongar in this way, and Harry hated him for doing so.

“I don’t want you to say any good of her,” said he, “or any evil.”

“I certainly shall say no evil of her.”

“But I think you know that she has been most cruelly treated.”

“Well, there is about seven-thousand-pounds a year, I think! Seven-thousand a year! Not francs, but pounds! We poor foreigners lose ourselves in amazement when we hear about your English fortunes. Seven-thousand pounds a year for a lady all alone, and a beautiful house! A house so beautiful, they tell me!”

“What has that to do with it?” said Harry; whereupon the count again shrugged his shoulders. “What has that to do with it? Because the man was rich he was not justified in ill-treating his wife. Did he not bring false accusations against her, in order that he might rob her after his death of all that of which you think so much? Did he not hear false witness against her, to his own dishonor?”

“She has got the money, I think — and the beautiful house.”

“But her name has been covered with lies.”

“What can I do? Why do you ask me? I know nothing. Look here, Mr. Clavering, if you want to make any inquiry you had better go to my sister. I don’t see what good it will do, hut she will talk to you by the hour together, if you wish it. Let us smoke.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes, my sister. Madame Gordeloup is her name. Has not Lady Ongar mentioned my sister? They are inseparables. My sister lives in Mount Street.”

“With you?”

“No, not with me; I do not live in Mount Street. I have my address sometimes at her house.”

“Madame Gordeloup?”

“Yes, Madame Gordeloup. She is Lady Ongar’s friend. She will talk to you.”

“Will you introduce me, Count Pateroff?”

“Oh, no; it is not necessary. You can go to Mount Street, and she will be delighted. There is the card. And now we will smoke.”

Harry felt that he could not, with good-breeding, detain the count any longer, and, therefore, rising from his chair, led the way into the smoking-room. When there, the man of the world separated himself from his young friend, of whose enthusiasm he had perhaps had enough, and was soon engaged in conversation with sundry other men of his own standing. Harry soon perceived that his guest had no further need of his countenance, and went home to Bloomsbury Square by no means satisfied with his new acquaintance.

On the next day he dined in Onslow Crescent with the Burtons, and when there he said nothing about Lady Ongar or Count Pateroff. He was not aware that he had any special reason for being silent on the subject, but he made up his mind that the Burtons were people so far removed in their sphere of life from Lady Ongar, that the subject would not be suitable in Onslow Crescent. It was his lot in life to be concerned with people of the two classes. He did not at all mean to say — even to himself — that he liked the Ongar class better; but still, as such was his lot, he must take it as it came, and entertain both subjects of interest, without any commingling of them one with another. Of Lady Ongar and his early love he had spoken to Florence at some length, but he did not find it necessary in his letters to tell her anything of Count Pateroff and his dinner at the Beaufort. Nor did he mention the dinner to his dear friend Cecilia. On this occasion he made himself very happy in Onslow Crescent, playing with the children, chatting with his friend, and enduring, with a good grace, Theodore Burton’s sarcasm, when that ever-studious gentleman told him that he was only fit to go about tied to a woman’s apron-string.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43