The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

Everybody Goes to Them

When the Melmottes went from Caversham the house was very desolate. The task of entertaining these people was indeed over, and had the return to London been fixed for a certain near day, there would have been comfort at any rate among the ladies of the family. But this was so far from being the case that the Thursday and Friday passed without anything being settled, and dreadful fears began to fill the minds of Lady Pomona and Sophia Longestaffe. Georgiana was also impatient, but she asserted boldly that treachery, such as that which her mother and sister contemplated, was impossible. Their father, she thought, would not dare to propose it. On each of these days — three or four times daily — hints were given and questions were asked, but without avail. Mr Longestaffe would not consent to have a day fixed till he had received some particular letter, and would not even listen to the suggestion of a day. ‘I suppose we can go at any rate on Tuesday,’ Georgiana said on the Friday evening. ‘I don’t know why you should suppose anything of the kind,’ the father replied. Poor Lady Pomona was urged by her daughters to compel him to name a day; but Lady Pomona was less audacious in urging the request than her younger child, and at the same time less anxious for its completion. On the Sunday morning before they went to church there was a great discussion upstairs. The Bishop of Elmham was going to preach at Caversham church, and the three ladies were dressed in their best London bonnets. They were in their mother’s room, having just completed the arrangements of their church-going toilet. It was supposed that the expected letter had arrived. Mr Longestaffe had certainly received a despatch from his lawyer, but had not as yet vouchsafed any reference to its contents. He had been more than ordinarily silent at breakfast, and — so Sophia asserted — more disagreeable than ever. The question had now arisen especially in reference to their bonnets. ‘You might as well wear them,’ said Lady Pomona, ‘for I am sure you will not be in London again this year.’

‘You don’t mean it, mamma,’ said Sophia.

‘I do, my dear. He looked like it when he put those papers back into his pocket. I know what his face means so well.’

‘It is not possible,’ said Sophia. ‘He promised, and he got us to have those horrid people because he promised.’

‘Well, my dear, if your father says that we can’t go back, I suppose we must take his word for it. It is he must decide of course. What he meant I suppose was, that he would take us back if he could.’

‘Mamma!’ shouted Georgiana. Was there to be treachery not only on the part of their natural adversary, who, adversary though he was, had bound himself to terms by a treaty, but treachery also in their own camp!

‘My dear, what can we do?’ said Lady Pomona.

‘Do!’ Georgiana was now going to speak out plainly. ‘Make him understand that we are not going to be sat upon like that. I’ll do something, if that’s going to be the way of it. If he treats me like that I’ll run off with the first man that will take me, let him be who it may.’

‘Don’t talk like that, Georgiana, unless you wish to kill me.’

‘I’ll break his heart for him. He does not care about us not the least whether we are happy or miserable; but he cares very much about the family name. I’ll tell him that I’m not going to be a slave. I’ll marry a London tradesman before I’ll stay down here.’ The younger Miss Longestaffe was lost in passion at the prospect before her.

‘Oh, Georgey, don’t say such horrid things as that,’ pleaded her sister.

‘It’s all very well for you, Sophy. You’ve got George Whitstable.’

‘I haven’t got George Whitstable.’

‘Yes, you have, and your fish is fried. Dolly does just what he pleases, and spends money as fast as he likes. Of course it makes no difference to you, mamma, where you are.’

‘You are very unjust,’ said Lady Pomona, wailing, ‘and you say horrid things.’

‘I ain’t unjust at all. It doesn’t matter to you. And Sophy is the same as settled. But I’m to be sacrificed! How am I to see anybody down here in this horrid hole? Papa promised and he must keep his word.’

Then there came to them a loud voice calling to them from the hall. ‘Are any of you coming to church, or are you going to keep the carriage waiting all day?’ Of course they were all going to church. They always did go to church when they were at Caversham; and would more especially do so to-day, because of the bishop and because of the bonnets. They trooped down into the hall and into the carriage, Lady Pomona leading the way. Georgiana stalked along, passing her father at the front door without condescending to look at him. Not a word was spoken on the way to church, or on the way home. During the service Mr Longestaffe stood up in the corner of his pew, and repeated the responses in a loud voice. In performing this duty he had been an example to the parish all his life. The three ladies knelt on their hassocks in the most becoming fashion, and sat during the sermon without the slightest sign either of weariness or of attention. They did not collect the meaning of any one combination of sentences. It was nothing to them whether the bishop had or had not a meaning. Endurance of that kind was their strength. Had the bishop preached for forty-five minutes instead of half an hour they would not have complained. It was the same kind of endurance which enabled Georgiana to go on from year to year waiting for a husband of the proper sort. She could put up with any amount of tedium if only the fair chance of obtaining ultimate relief were not denied to her. But to be kept at Caversham all the summer would be as bad as hearing a bishop preach for ever! After the service they came back to lunch, and that meal also was eaten in silence. When it was over the head of the family put himself into the dining-room arm-chair, evidently meaning to be left alone there. In that case he would have meditated upon his troubles till he went to sleep, and would have thus got through the afternoon with comfort. But this was denied to him. The two daughters remained steadfast while the things were being removed; and Lady Pomona, though she made one attempt to leave the room, returned when she found that her daughters would not follow her. Georgiana had told her sister that she meant to ‘have it out’ with her father, and Sophia had of course remained in the room in obedience to her sister’s behest. When the last tray had been taken out, Georgiana began. ‘Papa, don’t you think you could settle now when we are to go back to town? Of course we want to know about engagements and all that. There is Lady Monogram’s party on Wednesday. We promised to be there ever so long ago.’

‘You had better write to Lady Monogram and say you can’t keep your engagement.’

‘But why not, papa? We could go up on Wednesday morning.’

‘You can’t do anything of the kind.’

‘But, my dear, we should all like to have a day fixed,’ said Lady Pomona. Then there was a pause. Even Georgiana, in her present state of mind, would have accepted some distant, even some undefined time, as a compromise.

‘Then you can’t have a day fixed,’ said Mr Longestaffe.

‘How long do you suppose that we shall be kept here?’ said Sophia, in a low constrained voice.

‘I do not know what you mean by being kept here. This is your home, and this is where you may make up your minds to live.’

‘But we are to go back?’ demanded Sophia. Georgiana stood by in silence, listening, resolving, and biding her time.

‘You’ll not return to London this season,’ said Mr Longestaffe, turning himself abruptly to a newspaper which he held in his hands.

‘Do you mean that that is settled?’ said Lady Pomona. ‘I mean to say that that is settled,’ said Mr Longestaffe. Was there ever treachery like this! The indignation in Georgiana’s mind approached almost to virtue as she thought of her father’s falseness. She would not have left town at all but for that promise. She would not have contaminated herself with the Melmottes but for that promise. And now she was told that the promise was to be absolutely broken, when it was no longer possible that she could get back to London — even to the house of the hated Primeros — without absolutely running away from her father’s residence! ‘Then, papa,’ she said, with affected calmness, ‘you have simply and with premeditation broken your word to us.’

‘How dare you speak to me in that way, you wicked child!’

‘I am not a child, papa, as you know very well. I am my own mistress — by law.’

‘Then go and be your own mistress. You dare to tell me, your father, that I have premeditated a falsehood! If you tell me that again, you shall eat your meals in your own room or not eat them in this house.’

‘Did you not promise that we should go back if we would come down and entertain these people?’

‘I will not argue with a child, insolent and disobedient as you are. If I have anything to say about it, I will say it to your mother. It should be enough for you that I, your father, tell you that you have to live here. Now go away, and if you choose to be sullen, go and be sullen where I shan’t see you.’ Georgiana looked round on her mother and sister and then marched majestically out of the room. She still meditated revenge, but she was partly cowed, and did not dare in her father’s presence to go on with her reproaches. She stalked off into the room in which they generally lived, and there she stood panting with anger, breathing indignation through her nostrils.

‘And you mean to put up with it, mamma?’ she said.

‘What can we do, my dear?’

‘I will do something. I’m not going to be cheated and swindled and have my life thrown away into the bargain. I have always behaved well to him. I have never run up bills without saying anything about them.’ This was a cut at her elder sister, who had once got into some little trouble of that kind. ‘I have never got myself talked about with anybody. If there is anything to be done I always do it. I have written his letters for him till I have been sick, and when you were ill I never asked him to stay out with us after two or half-past two at the latest. And now he tells me that I am to eat my meals up in my bedroom because I remind him that he distinctly promised to take us back to London! Did he not promise, mamma?’

‘I understood so, my dear.’

‘You know he promised, mamma. If I do anything now he must bear the blame of it. I am not going to keep myself straight for the sake of the family, and then be treated in that way.’

‘You do that for your own sake, I suppose,’ said her sister.

‘It is more than you’ve been able to do for anybody’s sake,’ said Georgiana, alluding to a very old affair to an ancient flirtation, in the course of which the elder daughter had made a foolish and a futile attempt to run away with an officer of dragoons whose private fortune was very moderate. Ten years had passed since that, and the affair was never alluded to except in moments of great bitterness.

‘I’ve kept myself as straight as you have,’ said Sophia. ‘It’s easy enough to be straight, when a person never cares for anybody, and nobody cares for a person.’

‘My dears, if you quarrel what am I to do?’ said their mother.

‘It is I that have to suffer,’ continued Georgiana. ‘Does he expect me to find anybody here that I could take? Poor George Whitstable is not much; but there is nobody else at all.’

‘You may have him if you like,’ said Sophia, with a chuck of her head.

‘Thank you, my dear, but I shouldn’t like it at all. I haven’t come to that quite yet.’

‘You were talking of running away with somebody.’

‘I shan’t run away with George Whitstable; you may be sure of that. I’ll tell you what I shall do — I will write papa a letter. I suppose he’ll condescend to read it. If he won’t take me up to town himself, he must send me up to the Primeros. What makes me most angry in the whole thing is that we should have condescended to be civil to the Melmottes down in the country. In London one does those things, but to have them here was terrible!’

During that entire afternoon nothing more was said. Not a word passed between them on any subject beyond those required by the necessities of life. Georgiana had been as hard to her sister as to her father, and Sophia in her quiet way resented the affront. She was now almost reconciled to the sojourn in the country, because it inflicted a fitting punishment on Georgiana, and the presence of Mr Whitstable at a distance of not more than ten miles did of course make a difference to herself. Lady Pomona complained of a headache, which was always an excuse with her for not speaking; — and Mr Longestaffe went to sleep. Georgiana during the whole afternoon remained apart, and on the next morning the head of the family found the following letter on his dressing-table:—

My DEAR PAPA

I don’t think you ought to be surprised because we feel that our going up to town is so very important to us. If we are not to be in London at this time of the year we can never see anybody, and of course you know what that must mean for me. If this goes on about Sophia, it does not signify for her, and, though mamma likes London, it is not of real importance. But it is very, very hard upon me. It isn’t for pleasure that I want to go up. There isn’t so very much pleasure in it. But if I’m to be buried down here at Caversham, I might just as well be dead at once. If you choose to give up both houses for a year, or for two years, and take us all abroad, I should not grumble in the least. There are very nice people to be met abroad, and perhaps things go easier that way than in town. And there would be nothing for horses, and we could dress very cheap and wear our old things. I’m sure I don’t want to run up bills. But if you would only think what Caversham must be to me, without any one worth thinking about within twenty miles, you would hardly ask me to stay here.

You certainly did say that if we would come down here with those Melmottes we should be taken back to town, and you cannot be surprised that we should be disappointed when we are told that we are to be kept here after that. It makes me feel that life is so hard that I can’t bear it. I see other girls having such chances when I have none, that sometimes I think I don’t know what will happen to me.’ (This was the nearest approach which she dared to make in writing to that threat which she had uttered to her mother of running away with somebody.) ‘I suppose that now it is useless for me to ask you to take us all back this summer — though it was promised; but I hope you’ll give me money to go up to the Primeros. It would only be me and my maid. Julia Primero asked me to stay with them when you first talked of not going up, and I should not in the least object to reminding her, only it should be done at once. Their house in Queen’s Gate is very large, and I know they’ve a room. They all ride, and I should want a horse; but there would be nothing else, as they have plenty of carriages, and the groom who rides with Julia would do for both of us. Pray answer this at once, papa.

Your affectionate daughter,

GEORGIANA LONGESTAFFE.

Mr Longestaffe did condescend to read the letter. He, though he had rebuked his mutinous daughter with stern severity, was also to some extent afraid of her. At a sudden burst he could stand upon his authority, and assume his position with parental dignity; but not the less did he dread the wearing toil of continued domestic strife. He thought that upon the whole his daughter liked a row in the house. If not, there surely would not be so many rows. He himself thoroughly hated them. He had not any very lively interest in life. He did not read much; he did not talk much; he was not specially fond of eating and drinking; he did not gamble, and he did not care for the farm. To stand about the door and hall and public rooms of the clubs to which he belonged and hear other men talk politics or scandal, was what he liked better than anything else in the world. But he was quite willing to give this up for the good of his family. He would be contented to drag through long listless days at Caversham, and endeavour to nurse his property, if only his daughter would allow it. By assuming a certain pomp in his living, which had been altogether unserviceable to himself and family, by besmearing his footmen’s heads, and bewigging his coachmen, by aping, though never achieving, the grand ways of grander men than himself, he had run himself into debt. His own ambition had been a peerage, and he had thought that this was the way to get it. A separate property had come to his son from his wife’s mother — some £2,000 or £3,000 a year, magnified by the world into double its amount — and the knowledge of this had for a time reconciled him to increasing the burdens on the family estates. He had been sure that Adolphus, when of age, would have consented to sell the Sussex property in order that the Suffolk property might be relieved. But Dolly was now in debt himself, and though in other respects the most careless of men, was always on his guard in any dealings with his father. He would not consent to the sale of the Sussex property unless half of the proceeds were to be at once handed to himself. The father could not bring himself to consent to this, but, while refusing it, found the troubles of the world very hard upon him. Melmotte had done something for him — but in doing this Melmotte was very hard and tyrannical. Melmotte, when at Caversham, had looked into his affairs, and had told him very plainly that with such an establishment in the country he was not entitled to keep a house in town. Mr Longestaffe had then said something about his daughters — something especially about Georgiana — and Mr Melmotte had made a suggestion.

Mr Longestaffe, when he read his daughter’s appeal, did feel for her, in spite of his anger. But if there was one man he hated more than another, it was his neighbour Mr Primero; and if one woman, it was Mrs Primero. Primero, whom Mr Longestaffe regarded as quite an upstart, and anything but a gentleman, owed no man anything. He paid his tradesmen punctually, and never met the squire of Caversham without seeming to make a parade of his virtue in that direction. He had spent many thousands for his party in county elections and borough elections, and was now himself member for a metropolitan district. He was a radical, of course, or, according to Mr Longestaffe’s view of his political conduct, acted and voted on the radical side because there was nothing to be got by voting and acting on the other. And now there had come into Suffolk a rumour that Mr Primero was to have a peerage. To others the rumour was incredible, but Mr Longestaffe believed it, and to Mr Longestaffe that belief was an agony. A Baron Bundlesham just at his door, and such a Baron Bundlesham, would be more than Mr Longestaffe could endure. It was quite impossible that his daughter should be entertained in London by the Primeros.

But another suggestion had been made. Georgiana’s letter had been laid on her father’s table on the Monday morning. On the following morning, when there could have been no intercourse with London by letter, Lady Pomona called her younger daughter to her, and handed her a note to read. ‘Your papa has this moment given it me. Of course you must judge for yourself.’ This was the note; —

MY DEAR MR LONGESTAFFE,

As you seem determined not to return to London this season, perhaps one of your young ladies would like to come to us. Mrs Melmotte would be delighted to have Miss Georgiana for June and July. If so, she need only give Mrs Melmotte a day’s notice.

Yours truly,

AUGUSTUS MELMOTTE

Georgiana, as soon as her eye had glanced down the one side of note paper on which this invitation was written, looked up for the date. It was without a date, and had, she felt sure, been left in her father’s hands to be used as he might think fit. She breathed very hard. Both her father and mother had heard her speak of these Melmottes, and knew what she thought of them. There was an insolence in the very suggestion. But at the first moment she said nothing of that. ‘Why shouldn’t I go to the Primeros?’ she asked.

‘Your father will not hear of it. He dislikes them especially.’

‘And I dislike the Melmottes. I dislike the Primeros of course, but they are not so bad as the Melmottes. That would be dreadful.’

‘You must judge for yourself; Georgiana.’

‘It is that — or staying here?’

‘I think so, my dear.’

‘If papa chooses I don’t know why I am to mind. It will be awfully disagreeable — absolutely disgusting!’

‘She seemed to be very quiet.’

‘Pooh, mamma! Quiet! She was quiet here because she was afraid of us. She isn’t yet used to be with people like us. She’ll get over that if I’m in the house with her. And then she is, oh! so frightfully vulgar! She must have been the very sweeping of the gutters. Did you not see it, mamma? She could not even open her mouth, she was so ashamed of herself. I shouldn’t wonder if they turned out to be something quite horrid. They make me shudder. Was there ever anything so dreadful to look at as he is?’

‘Everybody goes to them,’ said Lady Pomona. ‘The Duchess of Stevenage has been there over and over again, and so has Lady Auld Reekie. Everybody goes to their house.’

‘But everybody doesn’t go and live with them. Oh, mamma — to have to sit down to breakfast every day for ten weeks with that man and that woman!’

‘Perhaps they’ll let you have your breakfast upstairs.’

‘But to have to go out with them; — walking into the room after her! Only think of it!’

‘But you are so anxious to be in London, my dear.’

‘Of course I am anxious. What other chance have I, mamma? And, oh dear, I am so tired of it! Pleasure, indeed! Papa talks of pleasure. If papa had to work half as hard as I do, I wonder what he’d think of it. I suppose I must do it. I know it will make me so ill that I shall almost die under it. Horrid, horrid people! And papa to propose it, who has always been so proud of everything — who used to think so much of being with the right set’

‘Things are changed, Georgiana,’ said the anxious mother.

‘Indeed they are when papa wants me to go and stay with people like that. Why, mamma, the apothecary in Bungay is a fine gentleman compared with Mr Melmotte, and his wife is a fine lady compared with Madame Melmotte. But I’ll go. If papa chooses me to be seen with such people it is not my fault. There will be no disgracing one’s self after that. I don’t believe in the least that any decent man would propose to a girl in such a house, and you and papa must not be surprised if I take some horrid creature from the Stock Exchange. Papa has altered his ideas; and so, I suppose, I had better alter mine.’

Georgiana did not speak to her father that night, but Lady Pomona informed Mr Longestaffe that Mr Melmotte’s invitation was to be accepted. She herself would write a line to Madame Melmotte, and Georgiana would go up on the Friday following. ‘I hope she’ll like it,’ said Mr Longestaffe. The poor man had no intention of irony. It was not in his nature to be severe after that fashion. But to poor Lady Pomona the words sounded very cruel. How could any one like to live in a house with Mr and Madame Melmotte!

On the Friday morning there was a little conversation between the two sisters, just before Georgiana’s departure to the railway station, which was almost touching. She had endeavoured to hold up her head as usual, but had failed. The thing that she was going to do cowed her even in the presence of her sister. ‘Sophy, I do so envy you staying here.’

‘But it was you who were so determined to be in London.’

‘Yes; I was determined, and am determined. I’ve got to get myself settled somehow, and that can’t be done down here. But you are not going to disgrace yourself.’

‘There’s no disgrace in it, Georgey.’

‘Yes, there is. I believe the man to be a swindler and a thief; and I believe her to be anything low that you can think of. As to their pretensions to be gentlefolk, it is monstrous. The footmen and housemaids would be much better.’

‘Then don’t go, Georgey.’

‘I must go. It’s the only chance that is left. If I were to remain down here everybody would say that I was on the shelf. You are going to marry Whitstable, and you’ll do very well. It isn’t a big place, but there’s no debt on it, and Whitstable himself isn’t a bad sort of fellow.’

‘Is he, now?’

‘Of course he hasn’t much to say for himself; for he’s always at home. But he is a gentleman.’

‘That he certainly is.’

‘As for me I shall give over caring about gentlemen now. The first man that comes to me with four or five thousand a year, I’ll take him, though he’d come out of Newgate or Bedlam. And I shall always say it has been papa’s doing.’

And so Georgiana Longestaffe went up to London and stayed with the Melmottes.

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