The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter X

Mr Fisker’s Success

Mr Fisker was fully satisfied with the progress he had made, but he never quite succeeded in reconciling Paul Montague to the whole transaction. Mr Melmotte was indeed so great a reality, such a fact in the commercial world of London, that it was no longer possible for such a one as Montague to refuse to believe in the scheme. Melmotte had the telegraph at his command, and had been able to make as close inquiries as though San Francisco and Salt Lake City had been suburbs of London. He was chairman of the British branch of the Company, and had had shares allocated to him — or, as he said, to the house — to the extent of two millions of dollars. But still there was a feeling of doubt, and a consciousness that Melmotte, though a tower of strength, was thought by many to have been built upon the sands.

Paul had now of course given his full authority to the work, much in opposition to the advice of his old friend Roger Carbury — and had come up to live in town, that he might personally attend to the affairs of the great railway. There was an office just behind the Exchange, with two or three clerks and a secretary, the latter position being held by Miles Grendall, Esq. Paul, who had a conscience in the matter and was keenly alive to the fact that he was not only a director but was also one of the firm of Fisker, Montague, and Montague which was responsible for the whole affair, was grievously anxious to be really at work, and would attend most inopportunely at the Company’s offices. Fisker, who still lingered in London, did his best to put a stop to this folly, and on more than one occasion somewhat snubbed his partner. ‘My dear fellow, what’s the use of your flurrying yourself? In a thing of this kind, when it has once been set agoing, there is nothing else to do. You may have to work your fingers off before you can make it move, and then fail. But all that has been done for you. If you go there on the Thursdays that’s quite as much as you need do. You don’t suppose that such a man as Melmotte would put up with any real interference.’ Paul endeavoured to assert himself, declaring that as one of the managers he meant to take a part in the management; — that his fortune, such as it was, had been embarked in the matter, and was as important to him as was Mr Melmotte’s fortune to Mr Melmotte. But Fisker got the better of him and put him down. ‘Fortune! what fortune had either of us? a few beggarly thousands of dollars not worth talking of, and barely sufficient to enable a man to look at an enterprise. And now where are you? Look here, sir; — there’s more to be got out of the smashing-up of such an affair as this, if it should smash up, than could, be made by years of hard work out of such fortunes as yours and mine in the regular way of trade.’

Paul Montague certainly did not love Mr Fisker personally, nor did he relish his commercial doctrines; but he allowed himself to be carried away by them. ‘When and how was I to have helped myself?’ he wrote to Roger Carbury. ‘The money had been raised and spent before this man came here at all. It’s all very well to say that he had no right to do it; but he had done it. I couldn’t even have gone to law with him without going over to California, and then I should have got no redress.’ Through it all he disliked Fisker, and yet Fisker had one great merit which certainly recommended itself warmly to Montague’s appreciation. Though he denied the propriety of Paul’s interference in the business, he quite acknowledged Paul’s right to a share in the existing dash of prosperity. As to the real facts of the money affairs of the firm he would tell Paul nothing. But he was well provided with money himself, and took care that his partner should he in the same position. He paid him all the arrears of his stipulated income up to the present moment, and put him nominally into possession of a large number of shares in the railway — with, however, an understanding that he was not to sell them till they had reached ten per cent. above par, and that in any sale transacted he was to touch no other money than the amount of profit which would thus accrue. What Melmotte was to be allowed to do with his shares, he never heard. As far as Montague could understand, Melmotte was in truth to be powerful over everything. All this made the young man unhappy, restless, and extravagant. He was living in London and had money at command, but he never could rid himself of the fear that the whole affair might tumble to pieces beneath his feet and that he might be stigmatised as one among a gang of swindlers.

We all know how, in such circumstances, by far the greater proportion of a man’s life will be given up to the enjoyments that are offered to him and the lesser proportion to the cares, sacrifices, and sorrows. Had this young director been describing to his intimate friend the condition in which he found himself, he would have declared himself to be distracted by doubts, suspicions, and fears till his life was a burden to him. And yet they who were living with him at this time found him to be a very pleasant fellow, fond of amusement, and disposed to make the most of all the good things which came in his way. Under the auspices of Sir Felix Carbury he had become a member of the Beargarden, at which best of all possible clubs the mode of entrance was as irregular as its other proceedings. When any young man desired to come in who was thought to be unfit for its style of living, it was shown to him that it would take three years before his name could be brought up at the usual rate of vacancies; but in regard to desirable companions the committee had a power of putting them at the top of the list of candidates and bringing them in at once. Paul Montague had suddenly become credited with considerable commercial wealth and greater commercial influence. He sat at the same Board with Melmotte and Melmotte’s men; and was on this account elected at the Beargarden without any of that harassing delay to which other less fortunate candidates are subjected.

And — let it be said with regret, for Paul Montague was at heart honest and well-conditioned — he took to living a good deal at the Beargarden. A man must dine somewhere, and everybody knows that a man dines cheaper at his club than elsewhere. It was thus he reasoned with himself. But Paul’s dinners at the Beargarden were not cheap. He saw a good deal of his brother directors, Sir Felix Carbury and Lord Nidderdale, entertained Lord Alfred more than once at the club, and had twice dined with his great chairman amidst all the magnificence of merchant-princely hospitality in Grosvenor Square. It had indeed been suggested to him by Mr Fisker that he also ought to enter himself for the great Marie Melmotte plate. Lord Nidderdale had again declared his intention of running, owing to considerable pressure put upon him by certain interested tradesmen, and with this intention had become one of the directors of the Mexican Railway Company. At the time, however, of which we are now writing, Sir Felix was the favourite for the race among fashionable circles generally.

The middle of April had come, and Fisker was still in London. When millions of dollars are at stake — belonging perhaps to widows and orphans, as Fisker remarked — a man was forced to set his own convenience on one side. But this devotion was not left without reward, for Mr Fisker had ‘a good time’ in London. He also was made free of the Beargarden, as an honorary member, and he also spent a good deal of money. But there is this comfort in great affairs, that whatever you spend on yourself can be no more than a trifle. Champagne and ginger-beer are all the same when you stand to win or lose thousands — with this only difference, that champagne may have deteriorating results which the more innocent beverage will not produce. The feeling that the greatness of these operations relieved them from the necessity of looking to small expenses operated in the champagne direction, both on Fisker and Montague, and the result was deleterious. The Beargarden, no doubt, was a more lively place than Carbury Manor, but Montague found that he could not wake up on these London mornings with thoughts as satisfactory as those which attended his pillow at the old Manor House.

On Saturday, the 19th of April, Fisker was to leave London on his return to New York, and on the 18th a farewell dinner was to be given to him at the club. Mr Melmotte was asked to meet him, and on such an occasion all the resources of the club were to be brought forth. Lord Alfred Grendall was also to be a guest, and Mr Cohenlupe, who went about a good deal with Melmotte. Nidderdale, Carbury, Montague, and Miles Grendall were members of the club, and gave the dinner. No expense was spared. Herr Vossner purveyed the viands and wines — and paid for them. Lord Nidderdale took the chair, with Fisker on his right hand, and Melmotte on his left, and, for a fast-going young lord, was supposed to have done the thing well. There were only two toasts drunk, to the healths of Mr Melmotte and Mr Fisker, and two speeches were of course made by them. Mr Melmotte may have been held to have clearly proved the genuineness of that English birth which he claimed by the awkwardness and incapacity which he showed on the occasion. He stood with his hands on the table and with his face turned to his plate blurted out his assurance that the floating of this railway company would be one of the greatest and most successful commercial operations ever conducted on either side of the Atlantic. It was a great thing — a very great thing; — he had no hesitation in saying that it was one of the greatest things out. He didn’t believe a greater thing had ever come out. He was happy to give his humble assistance to the furtherance of so great a thing — and so on. These assertions, not varying much one from the other, he jerked out like so many separate interjections, endeavouring to look his friends in the face at each, and then turning his countenance back to his plate as though seeking for inspiration for the next attempt. He was not eloquent; but the gentlemen who heard him remembered that he was the great Augustus Melmotte, that he might probably make them all rich men, and they cheered him to the echo. Lord Alfred had reconciled himself to be called by his Christian name, since he had been put in the way of raising two or three hundred pounds on the security of shares which were to be allotted to him, but of which in the flesh he had as yet seen nothing. Wonderful are the ways of trade! If one can only get the tip of one’s little finger into the right pie, what noble morsels, what rich esculents, will stick to it as it is extracted!

When Melmotte sat down Fisker made his speech, and it was fluent, fast, and florid. Without giving it word for word, which would be tedious, I could not adequately set before the reader’s eye the speaker’s pleasing picture of world-wide commercial love and harmony which was to be produced by a railway from Salt Lake City to Vera Cruz, nor explain the extent of gratitude from the world at large which might be claimed by, and would finally be accorded to, the great firms of Melmotte & Co, of London, and Fisker, Montague, and Montague of San Francisco. Mr Fisker’s arms were waved gracefully about. His head was turned now this way and now that, but never towards his plate. It was very well done. But there was more faith in one ponderous word from Mr Melmotte’s mouth than in all the American’s oratory.

There was not one of them then present who had not after some fashion been given to understand that his fortune was to be made, not by the construction of the railway, but by the floating of the railway shares. They had all whispered to each other their convictions on this head. Even Montague did not beguile himself into an idea that he was really a director in a company to be employed in the making and working of a railway. People out of doors were to be advertised into buying shares, and they who were so to say indoors were to have the privilege of manufacturing the shares thus to be sold. That was to be their work, and they all knew it. But now, as there were eight of them collected together, they talked of humanity at large and of the coming harmony of nations.

After the first cigar, Melmotte withdrew, and Lord Alfred went with him. Lord Alfred would have liked to remain, being a man who enjoyed tobacco and soda-and-brandy — but momentous days had come upon him, and he thought well to cling to his Melmotte. Mr Samuel Cohenlupe also went, not having taken a very distinguished part in the entertainment. Then the young men were left alone, and it was soon proposed that they should adjourn to the cardroom. It had been rather hoped that Fisker would go with the elders. Nidderdale, who did not understand much about the races of mankind, had his doubts whether the American gentleman might not be a ‘Heathen Chinee,’ such as he had read of in poetry. But Mr Fisker liked to have his amusement as well as did the others, and went up resolutely into the cardroom. Here they were joined by Lord Grasslough, and were very quickly at work, having chosen loo as their game. Mr Fisker made an allusion to poker as a desirable pastime, but Lord Nidderdale, remembering his poetry, shook his head. ‘Oh! bother,’ he said, ‘let’s have some game that Christians play.’ Mr Fisker declared himself ready for any game — irrespective of religious prejudices.

It must be explained that the gambling at the Beargarden had gone on with very little interruption, and that on the whole Sir Felix Carbury kept his luck. There had of course been vicissitudes, but his star had been in the ascendant. For some nights together this had been so continual that Mr Miles Grendall had suggested to his friend Lord Grasslough that there must be foul play. Lord Grasslough, who had not many good gifts, was, at least, not suspicious, and repudiated the idea. ‘We’ll keep an eye on him,’ Miles Grendall had said. ‘You may do as you like, but I’m not going to watch any one,’ Grasslough had replied. Miles ‘had watched,’ and had watched in vain, and it may as well be said at once that Sir Felix, with all his faults, was not as yet a blackleg. Both of them now owed Sir Felix a considerable sum of money, as did also Dolly Longestaffe, who was not present on this occasion. Latterly very little ready money had passed hands — very little in proportion to the sums which had been written down on paper — though Sir Felix was still so well in funds as to feel himself justified in repudiating any caution that his mother might give him.

When I.O.U.‘s have for some time passed freely in such a company as that now assembled the sudden introduction of a stranger is very disagreeable, particularly when that stranger intends to start for San Francisco on the following morning. If it could be arranged that the stranger should certainly lose, no doubt then he would be regarded as a godsend. Such strangers have ready money in their pockets, a portion of which would be felt to descend like a soft shower in a time of drought. When these dealings in unsecured paper have been going on for a considerable time real bank notes come to have a loveliness which they never possessed before. But should the stranger win, then there may arise complications incapable of any comfortable solution. In such a state of things some Herr Vossner must be called in, whose terms are apt to be ruinous. On this occasion things did not arrange themselves comfortably. From the very commencement Fisker won, and quite a budget of little papers fell into his possession, many of which were passed to him from the hands of Sir Felix — bearing, however, a ‘G’ intended to stand for Grasslough, or an ‘N’ for Nidderdale, or a wonderful hieroglyphic which was known at the Beargarden to mean D. L. — or Dolly Longestaffe, the fabricator of which was not present on the occasion.

Then there was the M.G. of Miles Grendall, which was a species of paper peculiarly plentiful and very unattractive on these commercial occasions. Paul Montague hitherto had never given an I.O.U. at the Beargarden — nor of late had our friend Sir Felix. On the present occasion Montague won, though not heavily. Sir Felix lost continually, and was almost the only loser. But Mr Fisker won nearly all that was lost. He was to start for Liverpool by train at 8.30 a.m., and at 6 a.m., he counted up his bits of paper and found himself the winner of about £600. ‘I think that most of them came from you, Sir Felix,’ he said — handing the bundle across the table.

‘I dare say they did, but they are all good against these other fellows.’ Then Fisker, with most perfect good humour, extracted one from the mass which indicated Dolly Longestaffe’s indebtedness to the amount of £50. ‘That’s Longestaffe,’ said Felix, ‘and I’ll change that of course.’ Then out of his pocket-book he extracted other minute documents bearing that M.G. which was so little esteemed among them — and so made up the sum. ‘You seem to have £150 from Grasslough, £145 from Nidderdale, and £322 10s from Grendall,’ said the baronet. Then Sir Felix got up as though he had paid his score. Fisker, with smiling good humour, arranged the little bits of paper before him and looked round upon the company.

‘This won’t do, you know,’ said Nidderdale. ‘Mr Fisker must have his money before he leaves. You’ve got it, Carbury.’

‘Of course he has,’ said Grasslough.

‘As it happens, I have not,’ said Sir Felix — ‘but what if I had?’

‘Mr Fisker starts for New York immediately,’ said Lord Nidderdale. ‘I suppose we can muster £600 among us. Ring the bell for Vossner. I think Carbury ought to pay the money as he lost it, and we didn’t expect to have our I.O.U.‘s brought up in this way.’

‘Lord Nidderdale,’ said Sir Felix, ‘I have already said that I have not got the money about me. Why should I have it more than you, especially as I knew I had I.O.U.‘s more than sufficient to meet anything I could lose when I sat down?’

‘Mr Fisker must have his money at any rate,’ said Lord Nidderdale, ringing the bell again.

‘It doesn’t matter one straw, my lord,’ said the American. ‘Let it be sent to me to Frisco, in a bill, my lord.’ And so he got up to take his hat, greatly to the delight of Miles Grendall.

But the two young lords would not agree to this. ‘If you must go this very minute I’ll meet you at the train with the money,’ said Nidderdale. Fisker begged that no such trouble should be taken. Of course he would wait ten minutes if they wished. But the affair was one of no consequence. Wasn’t the post running every day? Then Herr Vossner came from his bed, suddenly arrayed in a dressing-gown, and there was a conference in a corner between him, the two lords, and Mr Grendall. In a very few minutes Herr Vossner wrote a cheque for the amount due by the lords, but he was afraid that he had not money at his banker’s sufficient for the greater claim. It was well understood that Herr Vossner would not advance money to Mr Grendall unless others would pledge themselves for the amount.

‘I suppose I’d better send you a bill over to America,’ said Miles Grendall, who had taken no part in the matter as long as he was in the same boat with the lords.

‘Just so. My partner, Montague, will tell you the address.’ Then bustling off, taking an affectionate adieu of Paul, shaking hands with them all round, and looking as though he cared nothing for the money, he took his leave. ‘One cheer for the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway,’ he, said as he went out of the room. Not one there had liked Fisker. His manners were not as their manners; his waistcoat not as their waistcoats. He smoked his cigar after a fashion different from theirs, and spat upon the carpet. He said ‘my lord’ too often, and grated their prejudices equally whether he treated them with familiarity or deference. But he had behaved well about the money, and they felt that they were behaving badly. Sir Felix was the immediate offender, as he should have understood that he was not entitled to pay a stranger with documents which, by tacit contract, were held to be good among themselves. But there was no use now in going back to that. Something must be done.

‘Vossner must get the money,’ said Nidderdale. ‘Let’s have him up again.’

‘I don’t think it’s my fault,’ said Miles. ‘Of course no one thought he was to be called upon in this sort of way.’

‘Why shouldn’t you be called upon?’ said Carbury. ‘You acknowledge that you owe the money.’

‘I think Carbury ought to have paid it,’ said Grasslough.

‘Grassy, my boy,’ said the baronet, ‘your attempts at thinking are never worth much. Why was I to suppose that a stranger would be playing among us? Had you a lot of ready money with you to pay if you had lost it? I don’t always walk about with six hundred pounds in my pocket; — nor do you!’

‘It’s no good jawing,’ said Nidderdale. ‘let’s get the money.’ Then Montague offered to undertake the debt himself, saying that there were money transactions between him and his partner. But this could not be allowed. He had only lately come among them, had as yet had no dealing in I.O.U.‘s, and was the last man in the company who ought to be made responsible for the impecuniosity of Miles Grendall. He, the impecunious one — the one whose impecuniosity extended to the absolute want of credit — sat silent, stroking his heavy moustache.

There was a second conference between Herr Vossner and the two lords, in another room, which ended in the preparation of a document by which Miles Grendall undertook to pay to Herr Vossner £450 at the end of three months, and this was endorsed by the two lords, by Sir Felix, and by Paul Montague; and in return for this the German produced £322 10s. in notes and gold. This had taken some considerable time. Then a cup of tea was prepared and swallowed; after which Nidderdale, with Montague, started off to meet Fisker at the railway station. ‘It’ll only be a trifle over £100 each,’ said Nidderdale, in the cab.

‘Won’t Mr Grendall pay it?’

‘Oh, dear no. How the devil should he?’

‘Then he shouldn’t play.’

‘That’d be hard, on him, poor fellow. If you went to his uncle the duke, I suppose you could get it. Or Buntingford might put it right for you. Perhaps he might win, you know, some day, and then he’d make it square. He’d be fair enough if he had it. Poor Miles!’

They found Fisker wonderfully brilliant with bright rugs, and greatcoats with silk linings. ‘We’ve brought you the tin,’ said Nidderdale, accosting him on the platform.

‘Upon my word, my lord, I’m sorry you have taken so much trouble about such a trifle.’

‘A man should always have his money when he wins.’

‘We don’t think anything about such little matters at Frisco, my lord.’

‘You’re fine fellows at Frisco, I dare say. Here we pay up when we can. Sometimes we can’t, and then it is not pleasant.’ Fresh adieus were made between the two partners, and between the American and the lord — and then Fisker was taken off on his way towards Frisco.

‘He’s not half a bad fellow, but he’s not a bit like an Englishman,’ said Lord Nidderdale, as he walked out of the station.

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