The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XL

‘Unanimity is the Very Soul of These Things’

That evening Montague was surprised to receive at the Beargarden a note from Mr Melmotte, which had been brought thither by a messenger from the city — who had expected to have an immediate answer, as though Montague lived at the club.

‘DEAR SIR,’ said the letter,

If not inconvenient would you call on me in Grosvenor Square to-morrow, Sunday, at half past eleven. If you are going to church, perhaps you will make an appointment in the afternoon; if not, the morning will suit best. I want to have a few words with you in private about the Company. My messenger will wait for answer if you are at the club.

Yours truly,

AUGUSTUS MELMOTTE.

PAUL MONTAGUE, Esq., The Beargarden.

Paul immediately wrote to say that he would call at Grosvenor Square at the hour appointed — abandoning any intentions which he might have had in reference to Sunday morning service. But this was not the only letter he received that evening. On his return to his lodgings, he found a note, containing only one line, which Mrs Hurtle had found the means of sending to him after her return from Southend. ‘I am sorry to have been away. I will expect you all to-morrow. W. H.’ The period of the reprieve was thus curtailed to less than a day.

On the Sunday morning he breakfasted late and then walked up to Grosvenor Square, much pondering what the great man could have to say to him. The great man had declared himself very plainly in the Board-room — especially plainly after the Board had risen. Paul had understood that war was declared, and had understood also that he was to fight the battle single-handed, knowing nothing of such strategy as would be required, while his antagonist was a great master of financial tactics. He was prepared to go to the wall in reference to his money, only hoping that in doing so he might save his character and keep the reputation of an honest man. He was quite resolved to be guided altogether by Mr Ramsbottom, and intended to ask Mr Ramsbottom to draw up for him such a statement as would be fitting for him to publish. But it was manifest now that Mr Melmotte would make some proposition, and it was impossible that he should have Mr Ramsbottom at his elbow to help him.

He had been in Melmotte’s house on the night of the ball, but had contented himself after that with leaving a card. He had heard much of the splendour of the place, but remembered simply the crush and the crowd, and that he had danced there more than once or twice with Hetta Carbury. When he was shown into the hail he was astonished to find that it was not only stripped, but was full of planks, and ladders, and trussels, and mortar. The preparations for the great dinner had been already commenced. Through all this he made his way to the stairs, and was taken up to a small room on the second floor, where the servant told him that Mr Melmotte would come to him. Here he waited a quarter of an hour looking out into the yard at the back. There was not a book in the room, or even a picture with which he could amuse himself. He was beginning to think whether his own personal dignity would not be best consulted by taking his departure, when Melmotte himself, with slippers on his feet and enveloped in a magnificent dressing-gown, bustled into the room. ‘My dear sir, I am so sorry. You are a punctual man, I see. So am I. A man of business should be punctual. But they ain’t always. Brehgert — from the house of Todd, Brehgert, and Goldsheiner, you know — has just been with me. We had to settle something about the Moldavian loan. He came a quarter late, and of course he went a quarter late. And how is a man to catch a quarter of an hour? I never could do it.’ Montague assured the great man that the delay was of no consequence. ‘And I am so sorry to ask you into such a place as this. I had Brehgert in my room downstairs, and then the house is so knocked about! We get into a furnished house a little way off in Bruton Street to-morrow. Longestaffe lets me his house for a month till this affair of the dinner is over. By-the by, Montague, if you’d like to come to the dinner, I’ve got a ticket I can let you have. You know how they’re run after.’ Montague had heard of the dinner, but had perhaps heard as little of it as any man frequenting a club at the west end of London. He did not in the least want to be at the dinner, and certainly did not wish to receive any extraordinary civility from Mr Melmotte’s hands.

But he was very anxious to know why Mr Melmotte should offer it. He excused himself saying that he was not particularly fond of big dinners, and that he did not like standing in the way of other people. ‘Ah, indeed,’ said Melmotte. ‘There are ever so many people of title would give anything for a ticket. You’d be astonished at the persons who have asked. We’ve had to squeeze in a chair on one side for the Master of the Buckhounds, and on the other for the Bishop of —; I forget what bishop it is, but we had the two archbishops before. They say he must come because he has something to do with getting up the missionaries for Tibet. But I’ve got the ticket, if you’ll have it.’ This was the ticket which was to have taken in Georgiana Longestaffe as one of the Melmotte family, had not Melmotte perceived that it might be useful to him as a bribe. But Paul would not take the bribe. ‘You’re the only man in London, then,’ said Melmotte, somewhat offended. ‘But at any rate you’ll come in the evening, and I’ll have one of Madame Melmotte’s tickets sent to you.’ Paul not knowing how to escape, said that he would come in the evening. ‘I am particularly anxious,’ continued he, ‘to be civil to those who are connected with our great Railway, and of course, in this country, your name stands first — next to my own.’

Then the great man paused, and Paul began to wonder whether it could be possible that he had been sent for to Grosvenor Square on a Sunday morning in order that he might be asked to dine in the same house a fortnight later. But that was impossible. ‘Have you anything special to say about the Railway?’ he asked.

‘Well, yes. It is so hard to get things said at the Board. Of course there are some there who do not understand matters.’

‘I doubt if there be any one there who does understand this matter,’ said Paul.

Melmotte affected to laugh. ‘Well, well; I am not prepared to go quite so far as that. My friend Cohenlupe has had great experience in these affairs, and of course you are aware that he is in Parliament. And Lord Alfred sees farther into them than perhaps you give him credit for.’

‘He may easily do that.’

‘Well, well. Perhaps you don’t know quite as well as I do.’ The scowl began to appear on Mr Melmotte’s brow. Hitherto it had been banished as well as he knew how to banish it. ‘What I wanted to say to you was this. We didn’t quite agree at the last meeting.’

‘No; we did not.’

‘I was very sorry for it. Unanimity is everything in the direction of such an undertaking as this. With unanimity we can do — everything.’ Mr Melmotte in the ecstasy of his enthusiasm lifted up both his hands over his head. ‘Without unanimity we can do — nothing.’ And the two hands fell. ‘Unanimity should be printed everywhere about a Board-room. It should, indeed, Mr Montague.’

‘But suppose the directors are not unanimous.’

‘They should be unanimous. They should make themselves unanimous. God bless my soul! You don’t want to see the thing fall to pieces!’

‘Not if it can be carried on honestly.’

‘Honestly! Who says that anything is dishonest?’ Again the brow became very heavy. ‘Look here, Mr Montague. If you and I quarrel in the Board-room, there is no knowing the amount of evil we may do to every individual shareholder in the Company. I find the responsibility on my shoulders so great that I say the thing must be stopped. Damme, Mr Montague, it must be stopped. We mustn’t ruin widows and children, Mr Montague. We mustn’t let those shares run down 20 below par for a mere chimera. I’ve known a fine property blasted, Mr Montague, sent straight to the dogs — annihilated, sir; — so that it all vanished into thin air, and widows and children past counting were sent out to starve about the streets — just because one director sat in another director’s chair. I did, by G—! What do you think of that, Mr Montague? Gentlemen who don’t know the nature of credit, how strong it is — as the air — to buoy you up; how slight it is — as a mere vapour — when roughly touched, can do an amount of mischief of which they themselves don’t in the least understand the extent! What is it you want, Mr Montague?’

‘What do I want?’ Melmotte’s description of the peculiar susceptibility of great mercantile speculations had not been given without some effect on Montague, but this direct appeal to himself almost drove that effect out of his mind. ‘I only want justice.’

‘But you should know what justice is before you demand it at the expense of other people. Look here, Mr Montague. I suppose you are like the rest of us, in this matter. You want to make money out of it.’

‘For myself, I want interest for my capital; that is all. But I am not thinking of myself.’

‘You are getting very good interest. If I understand the matter,’ and here Melmotte pulled out a little book, showing thereby how careful he was in mastering details — ‘you had about £6,000 embarked in the business when Fisker joined your firm. You imagine yourself to have that still.’

‘I don’t know what I’ve got.’

‘I can tell you then. You have that, and you’ve drawn nearly a thousand pounds since Fisker came over, in one shape or another. That’s not bad interest on your money.’

‘There was back interest due to me.’

‘If so, it’s due still. I’ve nothing to do with that. Look here, Mr Montague. I am most anxious that you should remain with us. I was about to propose, only for that little rumpus the other day, that, as you’re an unmarried man, and have time on your hands, you should go out to California and probably across to Mexico, in order to get necessary information for the Company. Were I of your age, unmarried, and without impediment, it is just the thing I should like. Of course you’d go at the Company’s expense. I would see to your own personal interests while you were away; — or you could appoint any one by power of attorney. Your seat at the Board would be kept for you; but, should anything occur amiss — which it won’t, for the thing is as sound as anything I know — of course you, as absent, would not share the responsibility. That’s what I was thinking. It would be a delightful trip; — but if you don’t like it, you can of course remain at the Board, and be of the greatest use to me. Indeed, after a bit I could devolve nearly the whole management on you; — and I must do something of the kind, as I really haven’t the time for it. But — if it is to be that way — do be unanimous. Unanimity is the very soul of these things; — the very soul, Mr Montague.’

‘But if I can’t be unanimous?’

‘Well; — if you can’t, and if you won’t take my advice about going out; — which, pray, think about, for you would be most useful. It might be the very making of the railway; — then I can only suggest that you should take your £6,000 and leave us. I, myself, should be greatly distressed; but if you are determined that way I will see that you have your money. I will make myself personally responsible for the payment of it — some time before the end of the year.’

Paul Montague told the great man that he would consider the whole matter, and see him in Abchurch Lane before the next Board day. ‘And now, good-bye,’ said Mr Melmotte, as he bade his young friend adieu in a hurry. ‘I’m afraid that I’m keeping Sir Gregory Gribe, the Bank Director, waiting downstairs.’

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