Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXVII

South Audley Street

The Duke of Omnium had notified to Mr Fothergill his wish that some arrangement should be made about the Chaldicotes mortgages, and Mr Fothergill had understood what the duke meant as well as though his instructions had been written down with all a lawyer’s verbosity. The duke’s meaning was this, that Chaldicotes was to be swept up and garnered, and made part and parcel of the Gatherum property. It had seemed to the duke that that affair between his friend and Miss Dunstable was hanging fire, and, therefore, it would be well that Chaldicotes should be swept up and garnered. And, moreover, tidings had come into the western division of the county that young Frank Gresham of Boxall Hill was in treaty with the Government for the purchase of all that Crown property called the Chace of Chaldicotes. It had been offered to the duke, but the duke had given no definite answer. Had he got his money back from Mr Sowerby he could have forestalled Mr Gresham; but now that did not seem to be probable, and his grace resolved that either the one property or the other should be garnered. Therefore Mr Fothergill went up to town, and therefore Mr Sowerby was, most unwillingly, compelled to have a business interview with Mr Fothergill. In the meantime, since last we saw him, Mr Sowerby had learned from his sister the answer which Miss Dunstable had given to his proposition, and knew that he had no further hope in that direction. There was no further hope thence of absolute deliverance, but there had been a tender of money service. To give Mr Sowerby his due, he had at once declared that it would be quite out of the question that he should now receive any assistance of that sort from Miss Dunstable; but his sister had explained to him that it would be mere business transaction; that Miss Dunstable would receive her interest; and that, if she would be content with four per cent, whereas the duke received five, and other creditors six, seven, eight, ten, and Heaven only knows how much more, it might be well for all parties. He, himself, understood, as well as Fothergill had done, what was the meaning of the duke’s message. Chaldicotes was to be gathered and garnered, as had been done with so many another fair property lying in those regions. It was to be swallowed whole, and the master was to walk out from his old family hall, to leave the old woods that he loved, to give up utterly to another the parks and paddocks and pleasant places which he had known from his earliest infancy, and owned from his earliest manhood.

There can be nothing more bitter to a man than such a surrender. What, compared to this, can be the loss of wealth to one who has himself made it, and brought it together, but has never actually seen it with his bodily eyes? Such wealth has come by one chance, and goes by another: the loss of it is part of the game which the man is playing; and if he cannot lose as well as win, he is a poor, weak, cowardly creature. Such men, as a rule, do know how to bear a mind fairly equal to adversity. But to have squandered the acres which have descended from generation to generation; to be the member of one’s family that has ruined that family; to have swallowed up in one’s own maw all that should have graced one’s children, and one’s grandchildren! It seems to me that the misfortunes of this world can hardly go beyond that! Mr Sowerby, in spite of his recklessness and that dare-devil gaiety which he knew so well how to wear and use, felt all this as keenly as any man could feel it. It had been absolutely his own fault. The acres had come to him all his own, and now, before his death, every one of them would have gone bodily into that greedy maw. The duke had bought up nearly all the debts which had been secured upon the property, and now could make a clean sweep of it. Sowerby, when he received that message from Mr Fothergill, knew well that this was intended; and he knew well also, that when once he should cease to be Mr Sowerby of Chaldicotes, he need never again hope to be returned as member for West Barsetshire. This world would for him be all over. And what must such a man feel when he reflects that this world for him is all over? On the morning in question he went to his appointment, still bearing a cheery countenance. Mr Fothergill, when in town on such business as this, always had a room at his service in the house of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee, the duke’s London law agents, and it was thither that Mr Sowerby had been summoned. The house of business of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee was in South Audley Street; and it may be said that there was no spot on the whole earth which Mr Sowerby hated as he did the gloomy, dingy back sitting-room upstairs in that house. He had been there very often, but had never been there without annoyance. It was a horrid torture-chamber, kept for such dread purposes as these, and no doubt had been furnished, and papered, and curtained with the express object of finally breaking down the spirits of such poor country gentlemen as chanced to be involved. Everything was of a brown crimson — of a crimson that had become brown. Sunlight, real genial light of the sun, never made its way there, and no amount of candles could illuminate the gloom of that brownness. The windows were never washed; the ceiling was of a dark brown; the old Turkey carpet was thick with dust, and brown withal. The ungainly office-table, in the middle of the room, had been covered with black leather, but that was now brown. There was a bookcase full of dingy brown law books in a recess on one side of the fireplace, but no one had touched them for years, and over the chimney-piece hung some old legal pedigree table, black with soot. Such was the room which Mr Fothergill always used in the business house of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee, in South Audley Street, near to Park Lane.

I once heard this room spoken of by an old friend of mine, one Mr Gresham of Greshambury, the father of Frank Gresham, who was now about to purchase that part of the Chace of Chaldicotes which belonged to the Crown. He also had had evil days, though now happily they were past and gone; and he, too, had sat in that room, and listened to the voice of men who were powerful over his property, and intended to use that power. The idea which he left on my mind was much the same as that which I had entertained, when a boy, of a certain room in the castle of Udolpho. There was a chair in that Udolpho room in which those who sat were dragged out limb by limb, the head one way and the legs another; the fingers were dragged off from the hands, and the teeth out from the jaws, and the hair off the head, and the flesh from the bones, and the joints from their sockets, till there was nothing left but a lifeless trunk seated in the chair. Mr Gresham, as he told me, always sat in the same seat, and the tortures were suffered when so seated, the dislocations of his property which he was forced to discuss, the operations of his very self which he was forced to witness, made me regard that room as worse than the chamber of Udolpho. He, luckily — a rare instance of good fortune — had lived to see all his bones and joints put together again, and flourishing soundly; but he never could speak of the room without horror. ‘No consideration on earth,’ he once said to me, very solemnly — ‘I say none, should make me again enter that room.’ And indeed this feeling was so strong with him, that from the day when his affairs took a turn he would never even walk down South Audley Street. On the morning in question into this torture-chamber Mr Sowerby went, and there, after some two or three minutes, he was joined by Mr Fothergill.

Mr Fothergill was, in one respect, like to his friend Sowerby. He enacted two together different persons on occasions which were altogether different. Generally speaking, with the world at large, he was a jolly, rollicking, popular man, fond of eating and drinking, known to be devoted to the duke’s interests, and supposed to be somewhat unscrupulous, or at any rate hard, when they were concerned; but in other respects a good-natured fellow: and there was a report about that he had once lent somebody money, without charging him interest or taking security. On the present occasion Sowerby saw at a glance that he had come thither with all the aptitudes and appurtenances of his business about him. He walked into the room with a short, quick step; there was no smile on his face as he shook hands with his old friend; he brought with him a box laden with papers and parchments, and he had not been a minute in the room before he was seated in one of the old dingy chairs. ‘How long have you been in town, Fothergill?’ said Sowerby, still standing with his back against the chimney. He had resolved on only one thing — that nothing should induce him to touch, look at, or listen to any of those papers. He knew well enough that no good would come of that. He also had his own lawyers, to see that he was pilfered according to rule.

‘How long? Since the day before yesterday. I never was so busy in my life. The duke, as usual, wants to have everything done at once.’

‘If he wants to have all that I owe him paid at once, he is like to be out in his reckoning.’

‘Ah, well; I’m glad you are ready to come quickly to business, because it’s always best. Won’t you come and sit down here?’

‘No, thank you. I’ll stand.’

‘But we shall have to go through these figures, you know.’

‘Not a figure, Fothergill. What good would it do? None to me, and none to you either, as I take it. If there is anything wrong, Potter’s fellows will find it out. What is it the duke wants?’

‘Well; to tell the truth, he wants his money.’

‘In one sense, and that the main sense, he has got it. He gets his interest regularly, does not he?’

‘Pretty well for that, seeing how times are. But, Sowerby, that’s a nonsense. You understand the duke as well as I do, and you know very well what he wants. He has given you time, and if you had taken any steps towards getting the money, you might have saved the property.’

‘A hundred and eighty thousand pounds! What steps could I take to get that? Fly a bill, and let Tozer have it to get cash on it in the City!’

‘We hoped you were going to marry.’

‘That’s all off.’

‘Then I don’t think you can blame the duke for looking for his own. It does not suit him to have so large a sum standing out any longer. You see, he wants land, and will have it. Had you paid off what you owed him, he would have purchased the Crown property; and now, it seems young Gresham has bid against him, and is to have it. This has riled him, and I may as well tell you fairly, that he is determined to have either money or marbles.’

‘You mean that I am to be dispossessed. Then I must say the duke is treating me most uncommonly ill.’

‘Well, Sowerby, I can’t see it.’

‘I can, though. He has his money like clock-work; and he has bought up these debts from persons who would have never disturbed me as long as they got their interest.’

‘Haven’t you had the seat?’

‘The seat! and it is expected that I am to pay for that?’

‘I don’t see that any one is asking you to pay for it. You are like a great many other people that I know. You want to eat your cake and have it. You have been eating it for the last twenty years, and now you think yourself very ill-used because the duke wants to have his turn.’

‘I shall think myself very ill-used if he sells me out — worse than ill-used. I do not want to use strong language, but it will be more than ill-usage. I can hardly believe that he really means to treat me in that way.’

‘It is very hard that he should want his own money!’

‘It is not his money he wants. It is my property.’

‘And has he not paid for it? Have you not had the price of your property? Now, Sowerby, it is of no use for you to be angry; you have known for the last three years what was coming on you as well as I did. Why should the duke lend you money without an object? Of course he has his own views. But I do say this; he has not hurried you; and had you been able to do anything to save the place you might have done it. You have had time enough to look about you.’ Sowerby still stood in the place in which he had first fixed himself, and now for awhile he remained silent. His face was very stern, and there was in his countenance none of those winning looks which often told so powerfully with his young friends — which had caught Lord Lufton and had charmed Mark Robarts. The world was going against him, and things around him were coming to an end. He was beginning to perceive that he had in truth eaten his cake and that there was now little left for him to do — unless he chose to blow out his brains. He had said to Lord Lufton that a man’s back should be broad enough for any burden with which he himself might load it. Could he now boast that his back was broad enough and strong enough for this burden? But he had even then, at that bitter moment, a strong remembrance that it behoved him still to be a man. His final ruin was coming on him, and he would soon be swept away out of the knowledge and memory of those with whom he had lived. But, nevertheless, he would bear himself well to the last. It was true that he had made his own bed, and he understood the justice which required him to lie upon it.

During this time Fothergill occupied himself with the papers. He continued to turn over one sheet after another, as though he were deeply engaged in money considerations and calculations. But, in truth, during all that time he did not read a word. There was nothing there for him to read. The reading and writing, and the arithmetic in such matters, are done by underlings — not by such big men as Mr Fothergill. His business was to tell Sowerby that he was to go. All those records there were of little use. The duke had the power; Sowerby knew the duke had the power; and Fothergill’s business was to explain that the duke meant to exercise his power. He was used to the work, and went on turning over the papers and pretending to read them, as though his doing so were of the greatest moment. ‘I shall see the duke myself,’ Mr Sowerby said at last, and there was something almost dreadful in the sound of his voice.

‘You know the duke won’t see you on a matter of this kind. He never speaks to any one about money; you know that as well as I do.’

‘By — but he shall speak to me. Never speak to any one about money! Why is he ashamed to speak of it when he loves it so dearly? He shall see me.’

‘I have nothing further to say, Sowerby. Of course I shan’t ask his grace to see you; and if you force your way in on him, you know what will happen. It won’t be my doing if he is set against you. Nothing that you say to me in that way — nothing that anybody ever says — goes beyond myself.’

‘I shall manage the matter through my own lawyer,’ said Sowerby; and then he took his hat, and, without uttering another word, left the room.

We know not what may be the nature of that eternal punishment to which those will be doomed who shall be judged to have been evil to the last; but methinks that no more terrible torment can be devised than the memory of self-imposed ruin. What wretchedness can exceed that of remembering from day to day that the race has been all run, and has been altogether lost; that the last chance has gone, and has gone in vain; that the end has come, and with it disgrace, contempt, and self-scorn — disgrace that never can be redeemed, contempt that never can be removed, and self-scorn that will eat into one’s vitals for ever? Mr Sowerby was now fifty; he had enjoyed the chances in life; and as he walked back, up South Audley Street, he could not but think of the uses he had made of them. He had fallen into the possession of a fine property on the attainment of manhood; he had been endowed with more than average gifts of intellect; never-failing health had been given to him, and a vision fairly clear in discerning good from evil; and now to what a pass he had brought himself! And that man Fothergill had put all this before him in so terribly clear a light! Now that the day for his final demolishment had arrived, the necessity that he should be demolished — finished away at once, out of sight and out of mind — had not been softened, or, as it were, half hidden, by any ambiguous phrase. ‘You have had your cake, and eaten it — eaten it greedily. Is not that sufficient for you? Would you eat your cake twice? Would you have a succession of cakes? No, my friend; there is no succession of these cakes for those who eat them greedily. Your proposition is not a fair one, and we who have the whip-hand of you will not listen to it. Be good enough to vanish. Permit yourself to be swept quietly into the dunghill. All that there was about you of value has departed from you; and allow me to say that you are now — rubbish.’ And then the ruthless besom comes with irresistible rush, and the rubbish is swept away into the pit, there to be hidden for ever from the light. And the pity of it is this — that a man, if he will only restrain his greed, may eat his cake and yet have it; aye, and in so doing will have twice more the flavour of the cake than he who with gourmandizing maw will devour his dainty all at once. Cakes in this world will grow by being fed on, if only the feeder be not too insatiate. On all which wisdom Mr Sowerby pondered with sad heart and very melancholy mind as he walked away from the premises of Messrs Gumption & Gagebee. His intention had been to go down to the House after leaving Mr Fothergill, but the prospect of immediate ruin had been too much for him, and he knew that he was not fit to be seen at once among the haunts of men. And he had intended also to go down to Barchester early on the following morning — only for a few hours, that he might make further arrangements respecting that bill which Robarts had accepted for him. That bill — the second one — had now become due, and Mr Tozer had been with him.

‘Now it ain’t no use in life, Mr Sowerby,’ Tozer had said. ‘I ain’t got the paper myself, nor didn’t hold it, not two hours. It went away through Tom Tozer; you knows that, Mr Sowerby, as well as I do.’ Now, whenever Tozer, Mr Sowerby’s Tozer, spoke of Tom Tozer, Mr Sowerby knew that seven devils were being evoked, each worse than the first devil. Mr Sowerby did feel something like sincere regard, or rather love, for that poor parson whom he inveigled into mischief, and would fain save him, if it were possible, from the Tozer fang. Mr Forrest, of the Barchester bank, would probably take up that last five hundred pound bill, on behalf of Mr Robarts — only it would be needful that he, Sowerby, should run down and see that it was properly done. As to the other bill — the former and lesser one — as to that, Mr Tozer would probably be quiet for a while. Such had been Sowerby’s programme for these two days; but now — what further possibility was there now that he should care for Robarts, or any other human being; he that was to be swept away at once into the dung-heap? In this frame of mind he walked up South Audley Street, and crossed one side of Grosvenor Square, and went almost mechanically into Green Street. At the farther end of Green Street, near to Park Lane, lived Mr and Mrs Harold Smith.

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