The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVII

Marie Melmotte Hears a Love Tale

On the following morning there came a telegram from Felix. He was to be expected at Beccles on that afternoon by a certain train; and Roger, at Lady Carbury’s request, undertook to send a carriage to the station for him. This was done, but Felix did not arrive. There was still another train by which he might come so as to be just in time for dinner if dinner were postponed for half an hour. Lady Carbury with a tender look, almost without speaking a word, appealed to her cousin on behalf of her son. He knit his brows, as he always did, involuntarily, when displeased; but he assented. Then the carriage had to be sent again. Now carriages and carriage-horses were not numerous at Carbury. The squire kept a waggonette and a pair of horses which, when not wanted for house use, were employed about the farm. He himself would walk home from the train, leaving the luggage to be brought by some cheap conveyance. He had already sent the carriage once on this day — and now sent it again, Lady Carbury having said a word which showed that she hoped that this would be done. But he did it with deep displeasure. To the mother her son was Sir Felix, the baronet, entitled to special consideration because of his position and rank — because also of his intention to marry the great heiress of the day. To Roger Carbury, Felix was a vicious young man, peculiarly antipathetic to himself, to whom no respect whatever was due. Nevertheless the dinner was put off, and the waggonette was sent. But the waggonette again came back empty. That evening was spent by Roger, Lady Carbury, and Henrietta, in very much gloom.

About four in the morning the house was roused by the coming of the baronet. Failing to leave town by either of the afternoon trains, he had contrived to catch the evening mail, and had found himself deposited at some distant town from which he had posted to Carbury. Roger came down in his dressing-gown to admit him, and Lady Carbury also left her room. Sir Felix evidently thought that he had been a very fine fellow in going through so much trouble. Roger held a very different opinion, and spoke little or nothing. ‘Oh, Felix,’ said the mother, ‘you have so terrified us!’

‘I can tell you I was terrified myself when I found that I had to come fifteen miles across the country with a pair of old jades who could hardly get up a trot.’

‘But why didn’t you come by the train you named?’

‘I couldn’t get out of the city,’ said the baronet with a ready lie.

‘I suppose you were at the Board?’ To this Felix made no direct answer. Roger knew that there had been no Board. Mr Melmotte was in the country and there could be no Board, nor could Sir Felix have had business in the city. It was sheer impudence — sheer indifference, and, into the bargain, a downright lie. The young man, who was of himself so unwelcome, who had come there on a project which he, Roger, utterly disapproved — who had now knocked him and his household up at four o’clock in the morning — had uttered no word of apology. ‘Miserable cub!’ Roger muttered between his teeth. Then he spoke aloud, ‘You had better not keep your mother standing here. I will show you your room.’

‘All right, old fellow,’ said Sir Felix. ‘I’m awfully sorry to disturb you all in this way. I think I’ll just take a drop of brandy and soda before I go to bed, though.’ This was another blow to Roger.

‘I doubt whether we have soda-water in the house, and if we have, I don’t know where to get it. I can give you some brandy if you will come with me.’ He pronounced the word ‘brandy’ in a tone which implied that it was a wicked, dissipated beverage. It was a wretched work to Roger. He was forced to go upstairs and fetch a key in order that he might wait upon this cub — this cur! He did it, however, and the cub drank his brandy-and-water, not in the least disturbed by his host’s ill-humour. As he went to bed he suggested the probability of his not showing himself till lunch on the following day, and expressed a wish that he might have breakfast sent to him in bed. ‘He is born to be hung,’ said Roger to himself as he went to his room — ‘and he’ll deserve it.’

On the following morning, being Sunday, they all went to church — except Felix. Lady Carbury always went to church when she was in the country, never when she was at home in London. It was one of those moral habits, like early dinners and long walks, which suited country life. And she fancied that were she not to do so, the bishop would be sure to know it and would be displeased. She liked the bishop. She liked bishops generally; and was aware that it was a woman’s duty to sacrifice herself for society. As to the purpose for which people go to church, it had probably never in her life occurred to Lady Carbury to think of it. On their return they found Sir Felix smoking a cigar on the gravel path, close in front of the open drawing-room window.

‘Felix,’ said his cousin, ‘take your cigar a little farther. You are filling the house with tobacco.’

‘Oh heavens — what a prejudice!’ said the baronet.

‘Let it be so, but still do as I ask you.’ Sir Felix chucked the cigar out of his mouth on to the gravel walk, whereupon Roger walked up to the spot and kicked the offending weed away. This was the first greeting of the day between the two men.

After lunch Lady Carbury strolled about with her son, instigating him to go over at once to Caversham. ‘How the deuce am I to get there?’

‘Your cousin will lend you a horse.’

‘He’s as cross as a bear with a sore head. He’s a deal older than I am, and a cousin and all that, but I’m not going to put up with insolence. If it were anywhere else I should just go into the yard and ask if I could have a horse and saddle as a matter of course.’

‘Roger has not a great establishment.’

‘I suppose he has a horse and saddle, and a man to get it ready. I don’t want anything grand.’

‘He is vexed because he sent twice to the station for you yesterday.’

‘I hate the kind of fellow who is always thinking of little grievances. Such a man expects you to go like clockwork, and because you are not wound up just as he is, he insults you. I shall ask him for a horse as I would any one else, and if he does not like it, he may lump it.’ About half an hour after this he found his cousin. ‘Can I have a horse to ride over to Caversham this afternoon?’ he said.

‘Our horses never go out on Sunday,’ said Roger. Then he added, after a pause, ‘You can have it. I’ll give the order.’ Sir Felix would be gone on Tuesday, and it should be his own fault if that odious cousin ever found his way into Carbury House again! So he declared to himself as Felix rode out of the yard; but he soon remembered how probable it was that Felix himself would be the owner of Carbury. And should it ever come to pass — as still was possible — that Henrietta should be the mistress of Carbury, he could hardly forbid her to receive her brother. He stood for a while on the bridge watching his cousin as he cantered away upon the road, listening to the horse’s feet. The young man was offensive in every possible way. Who does not know that ladies only are allowed to canter their friends’ horses upon roads? A gentleman trots his horse, and his friend’s horse. Roger Carbury had but one saddle horse — a favourite old hunter that he loved as a friend. And now this dear old friend, whose legs probably were not quite so good as they once were, was being galloped along the hard road by that odious cub! ‘Soda and brandy!’ Roger exclaimed to himself almost aloud, thinking of the discomfiture of that early morning. ‘He’ll die some day of delirium tremens in a hospital!’

Before the Longestaffes left London to receive their new friends the Melmottes at Caversham, a treaty had been made between Mr Longestaffe, the father, and Georgiana, the strong-minded daughter. The daughter on her side undertook that the guests should be treated with feminine courtesy. This might be called the most-favoured-nation clause. The Melmottes were to be treated exactly as though old Melmotte had been a gentleman and Madame Melmotte a lady. In return for this the Longestaffe family were to be allowed to return to town. But here again the father had carried another clause. The prolonged sojourn in town was to be only for six weeks. On the 10th of July the Longestaffes were to be removed into the country for the remainder of the year. When the question of a foreign tour was proposed, the father became absolutely violent in his refusal. ‘In God’s name where do you expect the money is to come from?’ When Georgiana urged that other people had money to go abroad, her father told her that a time was coming in which she might think it lucky if she had a house over her head. This, however, she took as having been said with poetical licence, the same threat having been made more than once before. The treaty was very clear, and the parties to it were prepared to carry it out with fair honesty. The Melmottes were being treated with decent courtesy, and the house in town was not dismantled.

The idea, hardly ever in truth entertained but which had been barely suggested from one to another among the ladies of the family, that Dolly should marry Marie Melmotte, had been abandoned. Dolly, with all his vapid folly, had a will of his own, which, among his own family, was invincible. He was never persuaded to any course either by his father or mother. Dolly certainly would not marry Marie Melmotte. Therefore when the Longestaffes heard that Sir Felix was coming to the country, they had no special objection to entertaining him at Caversham. He had been lately talked of in London as the favourite in regard to Marie Melmotte. Georgiana Longestaffe had a grudge of her own against Lord Nidderdale, and was on that account somewhat well inclined towards Sir Felix’s prospects. Soon after the Melmottes’ arrival she contrived to say a word to Marie respecting Sir Felix. ‘There is a friend of yours going to dine here on Monday, Miss Melmotte.’ Marie, who was at the moment still abashed by the grandeur and size and general fashionable haughtiness of her new acquaintances, made hardly any answer. ‘I think you know Sir Felix Carbury,’ continued Georgiana.

‘Oh yes, we know Sir Felix Carbury.’

‘He is coming down to his cousin’s. I suppose it is for your bright eyes, as Carbury Manor would hardly be just what he would like.’

‘I don’t think he is coming because of me,’ said Marie blushing. She had once told him that he might go to her father, which according to her idea had been tantamount to accepting his offer as far as her power of acceptance went. Since that she had seen him, indeed, but he had not said a word to press his suit, nor, as far as she knew, had he said a word to Mr Melmotte. But she had been very rigorous in declining the attentions of other suitors. She had made up her mind that she was in love with Felix Carbury, and she had resolved on constancy. But she had begun to tremble, fearing his faithlessness.

‘We had heard,’ said Georgiana, ‘that he was a particular friend of yours.’ And she laughed aloud, with a vulgarity which Madame Melmotte certainly could not have surpassed.

Sir Felix, on the Sunday afternoon, found all the ladies out on the lawn, and he also found Mr Melmotte there. At the last moment Lord Alfred Grendall had been asked — not because he was at all in favour with any of the Longestaffes, but in order that he might be useful in disposing of the great Director. Lord Alfred was used to him and could talk to him, and might probably know what he liked to eat and drink. Therefore Lord Alfred had been asked to Caversham, and Lord Alfred had come, having all his expenses paid by the great Director. When Sir Felix arrived, Lord Alfred was earning his entertainment by talking to Mr Melmotte in a summerhouse. He had cool drink before him and a box of cigars, but was probably thinking at the time how hard the world had been to him. Lady Pomona was languid, but not uncivil in her reception. She was doing her best to perform her part of the treaty in reference to Madame Melmotte. Sophia was walking apart with a certain Mr Whitstable, a young squire in the neighbourhood, who had been asked to Caversham because as Sophia was now reputed to be twenty-eight — they who decided the question might have said thirty-one without falsehood. — it was considered that Mr Whitstable was good enough, or at least as good as could be expected. Sophia was handsome, but with a big, cold, unalluring handsomeness, and had not quite succeeded in London. Georgiana had been more admired, and boasted among her friends of the offers which she had rejected. Her friends on the other hand were apt to tell of her many failures. Nevertheless she held her head up, and had not as yet come down among the rural Whitstables. At the present moment her hands were empty, and she was devoting herself to such a performance of the treaty as should make it impossible for her father to leave his part of it unfulfilled.

For a few minutes Sir Felix sat on a garden chair making conversation to Lady Pomona and Madame Melmotte. ‘Beautiful garden,’ he said; ‘for myself I don’t much care for gardens; but if one is to live in the country, this is the sort of thing that one would like.’

‘Delicious,’ said Madame Melmotte, repressing a yawn, and drawing her shawl higher round her throat. It was the end of May, and the weather was very warm for the time of the year; but, in her heart of hearts, Madame Melmotte did not like sitting out in the garden.

‘It isn’t a pretty place; but the house is comfortable, and we make the best of it,’ said Lady Pomona.

‘Plenty of glass, I see,’ said Sir Felix. ‘If one is to live in the country, I like that kind of thing. Carbury is a very poor place.’

There was offence in this; — as though the Carbury property and the Carbury position could be compared to the Longestaffe property and the Longestaffe position. Though dreadfully hampered for money, the Longestaffes were great people. ‘For a small place,’ said Lady Pomona, ‘I think Carbury is one of the nicest in the county. Of course it is not extensive.’

‘No, by Jove,’ said Sir Felix, ‘you may say that, Lady Pomona. It’s like a prison to me with that moat round it.’ Then he jumped up and joined Marie Melmotte and Georgiana. Georgiana, glad to be released for a time from performance of the treaty, was not long before she left them together. She had understood that the two horses now in the running were Lord Nidderdale and Sir Felix; and though she would not probably have done much to aid Sir Felix, she was quite willing to destroy Lord Nidderdale.

Sir Felix had his work to do, and was willing to do it — as far as such willingness could go with him. The prize was so great, and the comfort of wealth was so sure, that even he was tempted to exert himself. It was this feeling which had brought him into Suffolk, and induced him to travel all night, across dirty roads, in an old cab. For the girl herself he cared not the least. It was not in his power really to care for anybody. He did not dislike her much. He was not given to disliking people strongly, except at the moments in which they offended him. He regarded her simply as the means by which a portion of Mr Melmotte’s wealth might be conveyed to his uses. In regard to feminine beauty he had his own ideas, and his own inclinations. He was by no means indifferent to such attraction. But Marie Melmotte, from that point of view, was nothing to him. Such prettiness as belonged to her came from the brightness of her youth, and from a modest shy demeanour joined to an incipient aspiration for the enjoyment of something in the world which should be her own. There was, too, arising within her bosom a struggle to be something in the world, an idea that she, too, could say something, and have thoughts of her own, if only she had some friend near her whom she need not fear. Though still shy, she was always resolving that she would abandon her shyness, and already had thoughts of her own as to the perfectly open confidence which should exist between two lovers. When alone — and she was much alone — she would build castles in the air, which were bright with art and love, rather than with gems and gold. The books she read, poor though they generally were, left something bright on her imagination. She fancied to herself brilliant conversations in which she bore a bright part, though in real life she had hitherto hardly talked to any one since she was a child. Sir Felix Carbury, she knew, had made her an offer. She knew also, or thought that she knew, that she loved the man. And now she was with him alone! Now surely had come the time in which some one of her castles in the air might be found to be built of real materials.

‘You know why I have come down here?’ he said.

‘To see your cousin.’

‘No, indeed. I’m not particularly fond of my cousin, who is a methodical stiff-necked old bachelor — as cross as the mischief.’

‘How disagreeable!’

‘Yes; he is disagreeable. I didn’t come down to see him, I can tell you. But when I heard that you were going to be here with the Longestaffes, I determined to come at once. I wonder whether you are glad to see me?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Marie, who could not at once find that brilliancy of words with which her imagination supplied her readily enough in her solitude.

‘Do you remember what you said to me that evening at my mother’s?’

‘Did I say anything? I don’t remember anything particular.’

‘Do you not? Then I fear you can’t think very much of me.’ He paused as though he supposed that she would drop into his mouth like a cherry. ‘I thought you told me that you would love me.’

‘Did I?’

‘Did you not?’

‘I don’t know what I said. Perhaps if I said that, I didn’t mean it.’

‘Am I to believe that?’

‘Perhaps you didn’t mean it yourself.’

‘By George, I did. I was quite in earnest. There never was a fellow more in earnest than I was. I’ve come down here on purpose to say it again.’

‘To say what?’

‘Whether you’ll accept me?’

‘I don’t know whether you love me well enough.’ She longed to be told by him that he loved her. He had no objection to tell her so, but, without thinking much about it, felt it to be a bore. All that kind of thing was trash and twaddle. He desired her to accept him; and he would have wished, were it possible, that she should have gone to her father for his consent. There was something in the big eyes and heavy jaws of Mr Melmotte which he almost feared. ‘Do you really love me well enough?’ she whispered.

‘Of course I do. I’m bad at making pretty speeches, and all that, but you know I love you.’

‘Do you?’

‘By George, yes. I always liked you from the first moment I saw you. I did indeed.’

It was a poor declaration of love, but it sufficed. ‘Then I will love you,’ she said. ‘I will with all my heart.’

‘There’s a darling!’

‘Shall I be your darling? Indeed I will. I may call you Felix now mayn’t I?’

‘Rather.’

‘Oh, Felix, I hope you will love me. I will so dote upon you. You know a great many men have asked me to love them.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘But I have never, never cared for one of them in the least — not in the least.’

‘You do care for me?’

‘Oh yes.’ She looked up into his beautiful face as she spoke, and he saw that her eyes were swimming with tears. He thought at the moment that she was very common to look at. As regarded appearance only he would have preferred even Sophia Longestaffe. There was indeed a certain brightness of truth which another man might have read in Marie’s mingled smiles and tears, but it was thrown away altogether upon him. They were walking in some shrubbery quite apart from the house, where they were unseen; so, as in duty bound, he put his arm round her waist and kissed her. ‘Oh, Felix,’ she said, giving her face up to him; ‘no one ever did it before.’ He did not in the least believe her, nor was the matter one of the slightest importance to him. ‘Say that you will be good to me, Felix. I will be so good to you.’

‘Of course I will be good to you.’

‘Men are not always good to their wives. Papa is often very cross to mamma.’

‘I suppose he can be cross?’

‘Yes, he can. He does not often scold me. I don’t know what he’ll say when we tell him about this.’

‘But I suppose he intends that you shall be married?’

‘He wanted me to marry Lord Nidderdale and Lord Grasslough, but I hated them both. I think he wants me to marry Lord Nidderdale again now. He hasn’t said so, but mamma tells me. But I never will — never!’

‘I hope not, Marie.’

‘You needn’t be a bit afraid. I would not do it if they were to kill me. I hate him — and I do so love you.’ Then she leaned with all her weight upon his arm and looked up again into his beautiful face. ‘You will speak to papa; won’t you?’

‘Will that be the best way?’

‘I suppose so. How else?’

‘I don’t know whether Madame Melmotte ought not —’

‘Oh dear no. Nothing would induce her. She is more afraid of him than anybody; — more afraid of him than I am. I thought the gentleman always did that.’

‘Of course I’ll do it,’ said Sir Felix. ‘I’m not afraid of him. Why should I? He and I are very good friends, you know.’

‘I’m glad of that.’

‘He made me a Director of one of his companies the other day.’

‘Did he? Perhaps he’ll like you for a son-in-law.’

‘There’s no knowing; — is there?’

‘I hope he will. I shall like you for papa’s son-in-law. I hope it isn’t wrong to say that. Oh, Felix, say that you love me.’ Then she put her face up towards his again.

‘Of course I love you,’ he said, not thinking it worth his while to kiss her. ‘It’s no good speaking to him here. I suppose I had better go and see him in the city.’

‘He is in a good humour now,’ said Marie.

‘But I couldn’t get him alone. It wouldn’t be the thing to do down here.’

‘Wouldn’t it?’

‘Not in the country — in another person’s house. Shall you tell Madame Melmotte?’

‘Yes, I shall tell mamma; but she won’t say anything to him. Mamma does not care much about me. But I’ll tell you all that another time. Of course I shall tell you everything now. I never yet had anybody to tell anything to, but I shall never be tired of telling you.’ Then he left her as soon as he could, and escaped to the other ladies. Mr Melmotte was still sitting in the summerhouse, and Lord Alfred was still with him, smoking and drinking brandy and seltzer. As Sir Felix passed in front of the great man he told himself that it was much better that the interview should be postponed till they were all in London. Mr Melmotte did not look as though he were in a good humour. Sir Felix said a few words to Lady Pomona and Madame Melmotte. Yes; he hoped to have the pleasure of seeing them with his mother and sister on the following day. He was aware that his cousin was not coming. He believed that his cousin Roger never did go anywhere like any one else. No; he had not seen Mr Longestaffe. He hoped to have the pleasure of seeing him to-morrow. Then he escaped, and got on his horse, and rode away.

‘That’s going to be the lucky man,’ said Georgiana to her mother, that evening.

‘In what way lucky?’

‘He is going to get the heiress and all the money. What a fool Dolly has been!’

‘I don’t think it would have suited Dolly,’ said Lady Pomona. ‘After all, why should not Dolly marry a lady?’

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