The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXXV

Melmotte’s Glory

Augustus Melmotte was becoming greater and greater in every direction — mightier and mightier every day. He was learning to despise mere lords, and to feel that he might almost domineer over a duke. In truth he did recognize it as a fact that he must either domineer over dukes, or else go to the wall. It can hardly be said of him that he had intended to play so high a game, but the game that he had intended to play had become thus high of its own accord. A man cannot always restrain his own doings and keep them within the limits which he had himself planned for them. They will very often fall short of the magnitude to which his ambition has aspired. They will sometimes soar higher than his own imagination. So it had now been with Mr Melmotte. He had contemplated great things; but the things which he was achieving were beyond his contemplation.

The reader will not have thought much of Fisker on his arrival in England. Fisker was, perhaps, not a man worthy of much thought. He had never read a book. He had never written a line worth reading. He had never said a prayer. He cared nothing for humanity. He had sprung out of some Californian gully, was perhaps ignorant of his own father and mother, and had tumbled up in the world on the strength of his own audacity. But, such as he was, he had sufficed to give the necessary impetus for rolling Augustus Melmotte onwards into almost unprecedented commercial greatness. When Mr Melmotte took his offices in Abchurch Lane, he was undoubtedly a great man, but nothing so great as when the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway had become not only an established fact, but a fact established in Abchurch Lane. The great company indeed had an office of its own, where the Board was held; but everything was really managed in Mr Melmotte’s own commercial sanctum. Obeying, no doubt, some inscrutable law of commerce, the grand enterprise — ‘perhaps the grandest when you consider the amount of territory manipulated, which has ever opened itself before the eyes of a great commercial people,’ as Mr Fisker with his peculiar eloquence observed through his nose, about this time, to a meeting of shareholders at San Francisco — had swung itself across from California to London, turning itself to the centre of the commercial world as the needle turns to the pole, till Mr Fisker almost regretted the deed which himself had done. And Melmotte was not only the head, but the body also, and the feet of it all. The shares seemed to be all in Melmotte’s pocket, so that he could distribute them as he would; and it seemed also that when distributed and sold, and when bought again and sold again, they came back to Melmotte’s pocket. Men were contented to buy their shares and to pay their money, simply on Melmotte’s word. Sir Felix had realized a large portion of his winnings at cards — with commendable prudence for one so young and extravagant — and had brought his savings to the great man. The great man had swept the earnings of the Beargarden into his till, and had told Sir Felix that the shares were his. Sir Felix had been not only contented, but supremely happy. He could now do as Paul Montague was doing — and Lord Alfred Grendall. He could realize a perennial income, buying and selling. It was only after the reflection of a day or two that he found that he had as yet got nothing to sell. It was not only Sir Felix that was admitted into these good things after this fashion. Sir Felix was but one among hundreds. In the meantime the bills in Grosvenor Square were no doubt paid with punctuality — and these bills must have been stupendous. The very servants were as tall, as gorgeous, almost as numerous, as the servants of royalty — and remunerated by much higher wages. There were four coachmen with egregious wigs, and eight footmen, not one with a circumference of calf less than eighteen inches.

And now there appeared a paragraph in the ‘Morning Breakfast Table,’ and another appeared in the ‘Evening Pulpit,’ telling the world that Mr Melmotte had bought Pickering Park, the magnificent Sussex property of Adolphus Longestaffe, Esq., of Caversham. And it was so. The father and son, who never had agreed before, and who now had come to no agreement in the presence of each other, had each considered that their affairs would be safe in the hands of so great a man as Mr Melmotte, and had been brought to terms. The purchase-money, which was large, was to be divided between them. The thing was done with the greatest ease — there being no longer any delay as is the case when small people are at work. The magnificence of Mr Melmotte affected even the Longestaffe lawyers. Were I to buy a little property, some humble cottage with a garden — or you, O reader, unless you be magnificent — the money to the last farthing would be wanted, or security for the money more than sufficient, before we should be able to enter in upon our new home. But money was the very breath of Melmotte’s nostrils, and therefore his breath was taken for money. Pickering was his, and before a week was over a London builder had collected masons and carpenters by the dozen down at Chichester, and was at work upon the house to make it fit to be a residence for Madame Melmotte. There were rumours that it was to be made ready for the Goodwood week, and that the Melmotte entertainment during that festival would rival the duke’s.

But there was still much to be done in London before the Goodwood week should come round, in all of which Mr Melmotte was concerned, and of much of which Mr Melmotte was the very centre. A member for Westminster had succeeded to a peerage, and thus a seat was vacated. It was considered to be indispensable to the country that Mr Melmotte should go into Parliament, and what constituency could such a man as Melmotte so fitly represent as one combining as Westminster does all the essences of the metropolis? There was the popular element, the fashionable element, the legislative element, the legal element, and the commercial element. Melmotte undoubtedly was the man for Westminster. His thorough popularity was evinced by testimony which perhaps was never before given in favour of any candidate for any county or borough. In Westminster there must of course be a contest. A seat for Westminster is a thing not to be abandoned by either political party without a struggle. But, at the beginning of the affair, when each party had to seek the most suitable candidate which the country could supply, each party put its hand upon Melmotte. And when the seat, and the battle for the seat, were suggested to Melmotte, then for the first time was that great man forced to descend from the altitudes on which his mind generally dwelt, and to decide whether he would enter Parliament as a Conservative or a Liberal. He was not long in convincing himself that the conservative element in British Society stood the most in need of that fiscal assistance which it would be in his province to give; and on the next day every hoarding in London declared to the world that Melmotte was the conservative candidate for Westminster. It is needless to say that his committee was made up of peers, bankers, and publicans, with all that absence of class prejudice for which the party has become famous since the ballot was introduced among us. Some unfortunate Liberal was to be made to run against him, for the sake of the party; but the odds were ten to one on Melmotte.

This no doubt was a great matter — this affair of the seat; but the dinner to be given to the Emperor of China was much greater. It was the middle of June, and the dinner was to be given on Monday, 8th July, now three weeks hence; — but all London was already talking of it. The great purport proposed was to show to the Emperor by this banquet what an English merchant-citizen of London could do. Of course there was a great amount of scolding and a loud clamour on the occasion. Some men said that Melmotte was not a citizen of London, others that he was not a merchant, others again that he was not an Englishman. But no man could deny that he was both able and willing to spend the necessary money; and as this combination of ability and will was the chief thing necessary, they who opposed the arrangement could only storm and scold. On the 20th of June the tradesmen were at work, throwing up a building behind, knocking down walls, and generally transmuting the house in Grosvenor Square in such a fashion that two hundred guests might be able to sit down to dinner in the dining-room of a British merchant.

But who were to be the two hundred? It used to be the case that when a gentleman gave a dinner he asked his own guests; — but when affairs become great, society can hardly be carried on after that simple fashion. The Emperor of China could not be made to sit at table without English royalty, and English royalty must know whom it has to meet — must select at any rate some of its comrades. The minister of the day also had his candidates for the dinner — in which arrangement there was however no private patronage, as the list was confined to the cabinet and their wives. The Prime Minister took some credit to himself in that he would not ask for a single ticket for a private friend. But the Opposition as a body desired their share of seats. Melmotte had elected to stand for Westminster on the conservative interest, and was advised that he must insist on having as it were a conservative cabinet present, with its conservative wives. He was told that he owed it to his party, and that his party exacted payment of the debt. But the great difficulty lay with the city merchants. This was to be a city merchant’s private feast, and it was essential that the Emperor should meet this great merchant’s brother merchants at the merchant’s board. No doubt the Emperor would see all the merchants at the Guildhall; but that would be a semi-public affair, paid for out of the funds of a corporation. This was to be a private dinner. Now the Lord Mayor had set his face against it, and what was to be done? Meetings were held; a committee was appointed; merchant guests were selected, to the number of fifteen with their fifteen wives; — and subsequently the Lord Mayor was made a baronet on the occasion of receiving the Emperor in the city. The Emperor with his suite was twenty. Royalty had twenty tickets, each ticket for guest and wife. The existing Cabinet was fourteen; but the coming was numbered at about eleven only; — each one for self and wife. Five ambassadors and five ambassadresses were to be asked. There were to be fifteen real merchants out of the city. Ten great peers — with their peeresses — were selected by the general committee of management. There were to be three wise men, two poets, three independent members of the House of Commons, two Royal Academicians, three editors of papers, an African traveller who had just come home, and a novelist; — but all these latter gentlemen were expected to come as bachelors. Three tickets were to be kept over for presentation to bores endowed with a power of making themselves absolutely unendurable if not admitted at the last moment — and ten were left for the giver of the feast and his own family and friends. It is often difficult to make things go smooth — but almost all roughnesses may be smoothed at last with patience and care, and money, and patronage.

But the dinner was not to be all. Eight hundred additional tickets were to be issued for Madame Melmotte’s evening entertainment, and the fight for these was more internecine than for seats at the dinner. The dinner-seats, indeed, were handled in so statesmanlike a fashion that there was not much visible fighting about them. Royalty manages its affairs quietly. The existing Cabinet was existing, and though there were two or three members of it who could not have got themselves elected at a single unpolitical club in London, they had a right to their seats at Melmotte’s table. What disappointed ambition there might be among conservative candidates was never known to the public. Those gentlemen do not wash their dirty linen in public. The ambassadors of course were quiet, but we may be sure that the Minister from the United States was among the favoured five. The city bankers and bigwigs, as has been already said, were at first unwilling to be present, and therefore they who were not chosen could not afterwards express their displeasure. No grumbling was heard among the peers, and that which came from the peeresses floated down into the current of the great fight about the evening entertainment. The poet laureate was of course asked, and the second poet was as much a matter of course. Only two Academicians had in this year painted royalty, so that there was no ground for jealousy there. There were three, and only three, specially insolent and specially disagreeable independent members of Parliament at that time in the House, and there was no difficulty in selecting them. The wise men were chosen by their age. Among editors of newspapers there was some ill-blood. That Mr Alf and Mr Broune should be selected was almost a matter of course. They were hated accordingly, but still this was expected. But why was Mr Booker there? Was it because he had praised the Prime Minister’s translation of Catullus? The African traveller chose himself by living through all his perils and coming home. A novelist was selected; but as royalty wanted another ticket at the last moment, the gentleman was only asked to come in after dinner. His proud heart, however, resented the treatment, and he joined amicably with his literary brethren in decrying the festival altogether.

We should be advancing too rapidly into this portion of our story were we to concern ourselves deeply at the present moment with the feud as it raged before the evening came round, but it may be right to indicate that the desire for tickets at last became a burning passion, and a passion which in the great majority of cases could not be indulged. The value of the privilege was so great that Madame Melmotte thought that she was doing almost more than friendship called for when she informed her guest, Miss Longestaffe, that unfortunately there would be no seat for her at the dinner-table; but that, as payment for her loss, she should receive an evening ticket for herself and a joint ticket for a gentleman and his wife. Georgiana was at first indignant, but she accepted the compromise. What she did with her tickets shall be hereafter told.

From all this I trust it will be understood that the Mr Melmotte of the present hour was a very different man from that Mr Melmotte who was introduced to the reader in the early chapters of this chronicle. Royalty was not to be smuggled in and out of his house now without his being allowed to see it. No manoeuvres now were necessary to catch a simple duchess. Duchesses were willing enough to come. Lord Alfred when he was called by his Christian name felt no aristocratic twinges. He was only too anxious to make himself more and more necessary to the great man. It is true that all this came as it were by jumps, so that very often a part of the world did not know on what ledge in the world the great man was perched at that moment. Miss Longestaffe who was staying in the house did not at all know how great a man her host was. Lady Monogram when she refused to go to Grosvenor Square, or even to allow any one to come out of the house in Grosvenor Square to her parties, was groping in outer darkness. Madame Melmotte did not know. Marie Melmotte did not know. The great man did not quite know himself where, from time to time, he was standing. But the world at large knew. The world knew that Mr Melmotte was to be Member for Westminster, that Mr Melmotte was to entertain the Emperor of China, that Mr Melmotte carried the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway in his pocket; — and the world worshipped Mr Melmotte.

In the meantime Mr Melmotte was much troubled about his private affairs. He had promised his daughter to Lord Nidderdale, and as he rose in the world had lowered the price which he offered for this marriage — not so much in the absolute amount of fortune to be ultimately given, as in the manner of giving it. Fifteen thousand a year was to be settled on Marie and on her eldest son, and twenty thousand pounds were to be paid into Nidderdale’s hands six months after the marriage. Melmotte gave his reasons for not paying this sum at once. Nidderdale would be more likely to be quiet, if he were kept waiting for that short time. Melmotte was to purchase and furnish for them a house in town. It was, too, almost understood that the young people were to have Pickering Park for themselves, except for a week or so at the end of July. It was absolutely given out in the papers that Pickering was to be theirs. It was said on all sides that Nidderdale was doing very well for himself. The absolute money was not perhaps so great as had been at first asked; but then, at that time, Melmotte was not the strong rock, the impregnable tower of commerce, the very navel of the commercial enterprise of the world — as all men now regarded him. Nidderdale’s father, and Nidderdale himself, were, in the present condition of things, content with a very much less stringent bargain than that which they had endeavoured at first to exact.

But, in the midst of all this, Marie, who had at one time consented at her father’s instance to accept the young lord, and who in some speechless fashion had accepted him, told both the young lord and her father, very roundly, that she had changed her mind. Her father scowled at her and told her that her mind in the matter was of no concern. He intended that she should marry Lord Nidderdale, and himself fixed some day in August for the wedding. ‘It is no use, father, for I will never have him,’ said Marie.

‘Is it about that other scamp?’ he asked angrily.

‘If you mean Sir Felix Carbury, it is about him. He has been to you and told you, and therefore I don’t know why I need hold my tongue.’

‘You’ll both starve, my lady; that’s all.’ Marie however was not so wedded to the grandeur which she encountered in Grosvenor Square as to be afraid of the starvation which she thought she might have to suffer if married to Sir Felix Carbury. Melmotte had not time for any long discussion. As he left her he took hold of her and shook her. ‘By — ’ he said, ‘if you run rusty after all I’ve done for you, I’ll make you suffer. You little fool; that man’s a beggar. He hasn’t the price of a petticoat or a pair of stockings. He’s looking only for what you haven’t got, and shan’t have if you marry him. He wants money, not you, you little fool!’

But after that she was quite settled in her purpose when Nidderdale spoke to her. They had been engaged and then it had been off; — and now the young nobleman, having settled everything with the father, expected no great difficulty in resettling everything with the girl. He was not very skilful at making love — but he was thoroughly good-humoured, from his nature anxious to please, and averse to give pain. There was hardly any injury which he could not forgive, and hardly any kindness which he would not do — so that the labour upon himself was not too great. ‘Well, Miss Melmotte,’ he said, ‘governors are stern beings: are they not?’

‘Is yours stern, my lord?’

‘What I mean is that sons and daughters have to obey them. I think you understand what I mean. I was awfully spoony on you that time before; I was indeed.’

‘I hope it didn’t hurt you much, Lord Nidderdale.’

‘That’s so like a woman; that is. You know well enough that you and I can’t marry without leave from the governors.’

‘Nor with it,’ said Marie, holding her head.

‘I don’t know how that may be. There was some hitch somewhere — I don’t quite know where.’ The hitch had been with himself, as he demanded ready money. ‘But it’s all right now. The old fellows are agreed. Can’t we make a match of it, Miss Melmotte?’

‘No, Lord Nidderdale; I don’t think we can.’

‘Do you mean that?’

‘I do mean it. When that was going on before I knew nothing about it. I have seen more of things since then.’

‘And you’ve seen somebody you like better than me?’

‘I say nothing about that, Lord Nidderdale. I don’t think you ought to blame me, my lord.’

‘Oh dear no.’

‘There was something before, but it was you that was off first. Wasn’t it now?’

‘The governors were off, I think.’

‘The governors have a right to be off, I suppose. But I don’t think any governor has a right to make anybody marry any one.’

‘I agree with you there; — I do indeed,’ said Lord Nidderdale.

‘And no governor shall make me marry. I’ve thought a great deal about it since that other time, and that’s what I’ve come to determine.’

‘But I don’t know why you shouldn’t — just marry me — because you — like me.’

‘Only — just because I don’t. Well; I do like you, Lord Nidderdale.’

‘Thanks; — so much!’

‘I like you ever so — only marrying a person is different.’

‘There’s something in that, to be sure.’

‘And I don’t mind telling you,’ said Marie with an almost solemn expression on her countenance, ‘because you are good-natured and won’t get me into a scrape if you can help it, that I do like somebody else; — oh, so much.’

‘I supposed that was it.’

‘That is it.’

‘It’s a deuced pity. The governors had settled everything, and we should have been awfully jolly. I’d have gone in for all the things you go in for; and though your governor was screwing us up a bit, there would have been plenty of tin to go on with. You couldn’t think of it again?’

‘I tell you, my lord, I’m — in love.’

‘Oh, ah; — yes. So you were saying. It’s an awful bore. That’s all. I shall come to the party all the same if you send me a ticket.’ And so Nidderdale took his dismissal, and went away — not however without an idea that the marriage would still come off. There was always — so he thought — such a bother about things before they would get themselves fixed. This happened some days after Mr Broune’s proposal to Lady Carbury, more than a week since Marie had seen Sir Felix. As soon as Lord Nidderdale was gone she wrote again to Sir Felix begging that she might hear from him — and entrusted her letter to Didon.

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