The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXVII

Hook Court

Mr Dobbs Broughton and Mr Musselboro were sitting together on a certain morning at their office in the City, discussing the affairs of their joint business. The City office was a very poor place indeed, in comparison with the fine house which Mr Dobbs occupied at the West End; but then City offices are poor places, and there are certain City occupations which seem to enjoy the greater credit the poorer are the material circumstances by which they are surrounded. Turning out of a lane which turns out of Lombard Street, there is a desolate, forlorn-looking, dark alley, which is called Hook Court. The entrance to this alley is beneath the first-floor of one of the houses in the lane, and in passing under this covered way the visitor to the place finds himself in a small paved square court, at the two further corners of which there are two open doors; for in Hook Court there are only two houses. There is No 1 Hook Court, and No 2 Hook Court. The entire premises indicated by No 1 are occupied by a firm of wine and spirit merchants, in connexion with whose trade one side and two angles of the court are always lumbered with crates, hampers, and wooden cases. And nearly in the middle of the court, though somewhat more to the wine-merchant’s side than to the other, there is always gaping open a trap-door, leading down to the vaults below; and over the trap there is a great board with a bright advertisement in very large letters:—

BURTON AND BANGLES

HIMALAYA WINES

22s 6d per dozen

And this notice is so bright and so large, and the trap-door is so conspicuous in the court, that no visitor, even to No 2, ever afterwards can quite divest his memory of those names, Burton and Bangles, Himalaya wines. It may therefore be acknowledged that Burton and Bangles have achieved their object in putting up the notice. The house No 2, small as it seems to be, standing in the jamb of a corner, is divided among different occupiers, whose names are painted in small letters upon the very dirty posts of the doorway. Nothing can be more remarkable than the contrast between Burton and Bangles and these other City gentlemen in the method taken by them in declaring their presence to visitors in the court. The names of Dobbs Broughton and of A. Musselboro — the Christian name of Mr Musselboro was Augustus — were on one of those dirty posts, not joined together by any visible ‘and’, so as to declare boldly that they were partners; but in close vicinity — showing at least that the two gentlemen would be found in apartments very near to each other. And on the first-floor of this house Dobbs Broughton and his friend did occupy three rooms — or rather two rooms and a closet — between them. The larger and front room was tenanted by an old clerk, who sat within a rail in one corner of it. And there was a broad, short counter, which jutted out from the wall into the middle of the room, intended for the use of such of the public as might come to transact miscellaneous business with Dobbs Broughton or Augustus Musselboro. But anyone accustomed to the look of offices might have seen with half an eye that very little business was ever done on that counter. Behind this large room was a smaller one, belonging to Dobbs Broughton, in the furnishing and arrangement of which some regard was paid to comfort. The room was carpeted, and there was a sofa in it, though a very old one, and two arm-chairs and a mahogany office-table, and a cellaret, which was generally well supplied with wine which Dobbs Broughton did not get out of the vaults of his neighbours, Burton and Bangles. Behind this again, but with a separate entrance from the passage, was the closet; and this closet was specially devoted to the use of Mr Musselboro. Closet as it was — or cupboard as it might have almost been called — it contained a table and two chairs; and it had a window of its own, which opened out upon a blank wall which was distant from it not above four feet. As the house to which this wall belonged was four storeys high, it would sometimes happen that Mr Musselboro’s cupboard was rather dark. But this mattered the less as in these days Mr Musselboro seldom used it. Mr Musselboro, who was very constant at his place of business — much more constant than his friend Dobbs Broughton — was generally to be found in his friend’s room. Only on some special occasions, on which it was thought expedient that the commercial world should be made to understand that Mr Augustus Musselboro had an individual existence of his own, did that gentleman really seat himself in the dark closet. Mr Dobbs Broughton, had he been asked what was his trade, would have said that he was a stockbroker; and he would have answered truly, for he was a stockbroker. A man may be a stockbroker though he never sells any stock; as he may be a barrister though has not practiced at the bar. I do not say that Mr Broughton never sold any stocks; but the buying and selling of stock for other people was certainly not his chief business. And had Mr Musselboro been asked what was his trade, he would have probably given an evasive answer. At any rate in the City, and among people who understood City matters, he would not have said that he was a stockbroker. Both Mr Broughton and Mr Musselboro bought and sold a good deal, but it was chiefly on account. The shares which were bought and sold very generally did not pass from hand to hand; but the difference in the price of the shares did do so. And then they had another little business between them. They lent money on interest. And in this business there was a third partner, whose name did not appear on the dirty door-post. That third partner was Mrs Van Siever, the mother of Clara Van Siever whom Mr Conway Dalrymple intended to portray as Jael driving a nail into Sisera’s head.

On a certain morning Mr Broughton and Mr Musselboro were sitting together in the office which has been described. They were in Mr Broughton’s room, and occupied each arm-chair on the different sides of the fire. Mr Musselboro was sitting close to the table, on which a ledger was open before him, and he had a pen and ink before him, as though he had been at work. Dobbs Broughton had a small betting-book in his hand, and was seated with his feet up against the side of the fire-place. Both men wore their hats, and the aspect of the room was not the aspect of a place of business. They had been silent for some minutes when Broughton took his cigar-case out of his pocket, and nibbled off the end of a cigar, preparatory to lighting it.

‘You had better not smoke here this morning, Dobbs,’ said Musselboro.

‘Why shouldn’t I smoke in my own room?’

‘Because she’ll be here just now.’

‘What do I care? If you think I’m going to be afraid of Mother Van, you’re mistaken. Let come what may, I’m not going to live under her thumb.’ So he lighted his cigar.

‘All right,’ said Musselboro, and he took up his pen and went to work at his book.

‘What is she coming her for this morning,’ asked Broughton.

‘To look after her money. What should she come for?’

‘She gets her interest. I don’t suppose there’s better paid money in the City.’

‘She hasn’t got what was coming to her at Christmas yet.’

‘And this is February. What would she have? She had better put her dirty money into the three per cents, if she is frightened at having to wait a week or two.’

‘Can she have it today?’

‘What, the whole of it? Of course she can’t. You know that as well as I do. She can have four hundred pounds, if she wants it. But seeing all she gets out of the concern, she has no right to press for it in that way. She is the —— old usurer I ever came across in my life.’

‘Of course she likes her money.’

‘Likes her money! By George she does; her own and anybody else’s that she can get hold of. For a downright leech, recommend me always to a woman. When a woman does go in for it, she is much more thorough than any man.’ Then Broughton turned over the little pages of his book, and Musselboro pondered over the big pages of his book, and there was silence for a quarter of an hour.

‘There’s something about nine hundred and fifteen pounds due to her,’ said Musselboro.

‘I daresay there is.’

‘It would be a very good thing to let her have it if you’ve got it. The whole of it this morning, I mean.’

‘If! Yes, if!’ said Broughton.

‘I know there’s more than that at the bank.’

‘And I’m to draw out every shilling that there is! I’ll see Mother Van —— further first. She can have 500 pounds if she likes it — and the rest in a fortnight. Or she can have my note-of-hand for it all at fourteen days.’

‘She won’t like that at all,’ said Musselboro.

‘Then she must lump it. I’m not going to bother myself about her. I’ve pretty nearly as much money in it as she has, and we’re in a boat together. If she comes here bothering, you’d better tell her so.’

‘You’ll see her yourself?’

‘Not unless she comes within the next ten minutes. I must go down to the court. I said I’d be there by twelve. I’ve got somebody I want to see.’

‘I’d stay if I were you.’

‘Why should I stay for her? If she thinks that I’m going to make myself her clerk, she’s mistaken. It may be all very well for you, Mussy, but it won’t do for me. I’m not dependent on her, and I don’t want to marry her daughter.’

‘It will simply end in her demanding to have her money back again.’

‘And how will she get it?’ said Dobbs Broughton. ‘I haven’t a doubt in life but she’d take it tomorrow if she could put her hands upon it. And then, after a bit, when she began to find that she didn’t like four per cent, she’d bring it back again. But nobody can do business after such a fashion as that. For the last three years she’s drawn close upon two thousand a year for less than eighteen thousand pounds. When a woman wants to do that, she can’t have her money in her pocket every Monday morning.’

‘But you’ve done better than that yourself, Dobbs.’

‘Of course I have. And who has made the connexions; and who has done the work? I suppose she doesn’t think that I’m to have all the sweat and that she is to have all the profit?’

‘If you talk of work, Dobbs, it is I that have done the most of it.’ This Mr Musselboro said in a very serious voice, and with a look of much reproach.

‘And you’ve been paid for what you’ve done. Come, Mussy, you’d better not turn against me. You’ll never get your change out of that. Even if you marry the daughter, that won’t give you the mother’s money. She’ll stick to every shilling of it till she dies; and she’d take it with her then, if she knew how.’ Having said this, he got up from his chair, put his little book into his pocket, and walked out of the office. He pushed his way across the court, which was more than ordinarily crowded with the implements of Burton and Bangles’ trade, and as he passed under the covered way he encountered at the entrance an old woman getting out of a cab. The old woman was, of course, Mother Van, as her partner, Mr Dobbs Broughton irreverently called her. ‘Mrs Van Siever, how d’ye do? Let me give you a hand. Fare from South Kensington? I always give the fellow three shillings.’

‘You don’t mean to tell me it’s six miles!’ And she tendered a florin to the man.

‘Can’t take that, ma’am,’ said the cabman.

‘Can’t take it! But you must take it. Broughton, just get a policeman, will you?’ Dobbs Broughton satisfied the driver out of his own pocket, and the cab was driven away. ‘What did you give him?’ said Mrs Van Siever.

‘Just another sixpence. There never is a policeman anywhere about here.’

‘It’ll be out of your own pocket, then,’ said Mrs Van. ‘But you’re not going away?’

‘I must be at Capel Court by half-past twelve; — I must, indeed. If it wasn’t real business, I’d stay.’

‘I told Musselboro, I should be here.’

‘He’s up there, and he knows all about the business just as well as I do. When I found that I couldn’t stay for you, I went through the account with him, and it’s all settled. Good morning. I’ll see you at the West End in a day or two.’ Then he made his way out into Lombard Street, and Mrs Van Siever picked her steps across the yard, and mounted the stairs, and made her way into the room in which Mr Musselboro was sitting.

‘Somebody’s been smoking, Gus,’ she said, almost as soon as she had entered the room.

‘That’s nothing new here,’ he replied, as he got up from his chair.

‘There’s no good being done when men sit and smoke over their work. Is it you, or he, or both of you?’

‘Well — it was Broughton was smoking just now. I don’t smoke of a morning myself.’

‘What made him get up and run away when I came?’

‘How can I tell, Mrs Van Siever,’ said Musselboro, laughing. ‘If he did run away when you came, I suppose it was because he didn’t want to see you.’

‘And why shouldn’t he want to see me? Gus, I expect the truth from you. How are things going on here?’ To this question Mr Musselboro made no immediate answer; but tilted himself back in his chair and took his hat off, and put his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, and looked his patroness full in the face. ‘Gus,’ she said again, ‘I do expect the truth from you. How are things going on here?’

‘There’d be a good business — if he’d only keep things together.’

‘But he’s idle. Isn’t he idle?’

‘Confoundedly idle,’ said Musselboro.

‘And he drinks; — don’t he drink in the day?’

‘Like the mischief — some days. But that isn’t the worst of it.’

‘And what is the worst of it?’

‘Newmarket; — that’s the rock he’s going to pieces on.’

‘You don’t mean to say he takes the money out of the business for that?’ And Mrs Van Siever’s face, as she asked the question, expressed almost a tragic horror. ‘If I thought that I wouldn’t give him an hour’s mercy.’

‘When a man bets he doesn’t well know what money he uses. I can’t say that he takes money that is not his own. Situated as I am, I don’t know what is his own and what isn’t. If your money was in my name I could keep a hand on it; — but as it is not I can do nothing. I can see that what is put out is put out fairly well; and when I think of it, Mrs Van Siever, it is quite wonderful that we’ve lost so little. It has been next to nothing. That has been my doing — and that’s about all I can do.’

‘You must know whether he has used my money for his own purposes or not.’

‘If you ask me, I think he has,’ said Mr Musselboro.

‘Then I’ll go into it, and I’ll find it out, and if it is so, as sure as my name’s Van Siever, I’ll sew him up.’ Having uttered which terrible threat, the old woman drew a chair to the table and seated herself fairly down, as though she were determined to go through all the books of the office before she quitted that room. Mrs Van Siever in her present habiliments was not a thing so terrible to look at as she had been in her wiggeries at Mrs Dobbs Broughton’s dinner-table. Her curls were laid aside altogether, and she wore simply a front beneath her close bonnet — and a very old front, too, which was not loudly offensive because it told no lies. Her eyes were as bright, and her little wizen face was as sharp as ever; but the wizen face and the bright eyes were not so much amiss as seen together with the old dark brown silk dress which she now wore, as they had been with the wiggeries and the evening finery. Even now, in her morning costume, in her work-a-day business dress, as we may call it, she looked to be very old — so old that nobody could guess her age. People attempting to guess would say that she must be at least over eighty. And yet she was wiry, and strong, and nimble. It was not because she was feeble that she was thought to be old. They who so judged of her were led to their opinion by the extreme thinness of her face, and by the brightness of her eyes, joined to the depth of the hollows in which they lay, and the red margin by which they were surrounded. It was not really the fact that Mrs Van Siever was so very aged, for she had still some years to live before she would reach eighty, but that she was such a weird old woman, so small, so ghastly, and so ugly! ‘I’ll sew him up, if he’s robbing me,’ she said. ‘I will indeed!’ And she stretched out her hand to grab at the ledger which Musselboro had been using.

‘You won’t understand anything from that,’ said he, pushing the book over to her.

‘You can explain it to me.’

‘That’s all straight sailing, that is.’

‘And where does he keep the figures that aren’t straight sailing? That’s the book I want to see.’

‘There is no such book.’

‘Look here, Gus — if I find you deceiving me I’ll throw you overboard as sure as I’m a living woman. I will indeed. I’ll have no mercy. I’ve stuck to you, and made a man of you, and I expect you to stick to me.’

‘Not much of a man,’ said Musselboro, with a touch of scorn in his voice.

‘You’ve never had a shilling yet but what I gave you.’

‘Yes; I have. I’ve had what I’ve worked for — and worked confounded hard too.’

‘Look here, Musselboro; if you’re going to throw me over, just tell me so, and let us begin fair.’

‘I’m not going to throw you over. I’ve always been on the square with you. Why don’t you trust me out and out, and then I could do a deal better for you. You ask me now about your money. I don’t know about your money, Mrs Van Siever. How am I to know anything about your money, Mrs Van Seiver? You don’t give me any power of keeping a hand upon Dobbs Broughton. I suppose you have security from Dobbs Broughton, but I don’t know what security you have, Mrs Van Siever. He owes you now 915 pounds 16s 2d on last year’s account!’

‘Why doesn’t he give me a cheque for the money?’

‘He says he can’t spare it. You may have 500 pounds, and the rest when he can give it to you. Or he’ll give you his note-of-hand at fourteen days on the whole.’

‘Bother the note-of-hand. Why should I take his note-of-hand?’

‘Do as you like, Mrs Van Siever.’

‘It’s the interest on my own money. Why don’t he give it me? I suppose he has had it.’

‘You must ask him that, Mrs Van Siever. You’re in partnership with him, and he can tell you. Nobody knows anything about it. If you were in partnership with me, then of course I could tell you. But you’re not. You’ve never trusted me, Mrs Van Siever.’

The lady remained there closeted with Mr Musselboro for an hour after that, and did, I think, at length learn something more as to the details of her partner’s business than her faithful servant Mr Musselboro had at first found himself able to give to her. And at last they came to friendly and confidential terms, in the midst of which the personal welfare of Mr Dobbs Broughton was, I fear, somewhat forgotten. Not that Mr Musselboro palpably and plainly threw his friend overboard. He took his friend’s part — alleging excuses for him, and pleading some facts. ‘Of course, you know, a man like that is fond of pleasure, Mrs Van Siever. He’s been at it more or less all his life. I don’t suppose he ever missed a Derby or an Oaks, or the cup at Ascot, or the Goodwood in his life.’ ‘He’ll have to miss them before long, I’m thinking,’ said Mrs Van Siever. ‘And as to not cashing up, you must remember, Mrs Van Siever, that ten per cent won’t come in quite as regularly as four or five. When you go for high interest, there must be hitches here and there. There must, indeed, Mrs Van Siever.’ ‘I know all about it,’ said Mrs Van Siever. ‘If he gave it to me as soon as he got it himself, I shouldn’t complain. Never mind. He’s only got to give me my little bit of money out of the business, and then he and I will be all square. You come and see Clara this evening, Gus.’

Then Mr Musselboro put Mrs Van Siever into another cab, and went out upon the ‘Change — hanging about the Bank, and standing in Threadneedle Street, talking to other men just like himself. When he saw Dobbs Broughton he told that gentleman that Mrs Van Siever had been in her tantrums, but that he had managed to pacify her before she left Hook Court. ‘I’m to take the cheque for the five hundred tonight,’ he said.

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