The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter L

The Journey to Liverpool

Marie Melmotte, as she had promised, sat up all night, as did also the faithful Didon. I think that to Marie the night was full of pleasure — or at any rate of pleasurable excitement. With her door locked, she packed and unpacked and repacked her treasures — having more than once laid out on the bed the dress in which she purposed to be married. She asked Didon her opinion whether that American clergyman of whom they had heard would marry them on board, and whether in that event the dress would be fit for the occasion. Didon thought that the man, if sufficiently paid, would marry them, and that the dress would not much signify. She scolded her young mistress very often during the night for what she called nonsense; but was true to her, and worked hard for her. They determined to go without food in the morning, so that no suspicion should be raised by the use of cups and plates. They could get refreshment at the railway-station.

At six they started. Robert went first with the big boxes, having his ten pounds already in his pocket — and Marie and Didon with smaller luggage followed in a second cab. No one interfered with them and nothing went wrong. The very civil man at Euston Square gave them their tickets, and even attempted to speak to them in French. They had quite determined that not a word of English was to be spoken by Marie till the ship was out at sea. At the station they got some very bad tea and almost uneatable food — but Marie’s restrained excitement was so great that food was almost unnecessary to her. They took their seats without any impediment — and then they were off.

During a great part of the journey they were alone, and then Marie gabbled to Didon about her hopes and her future career, and all the things she would do; — how she had hated Lord Nidderdale — especially when, after she had been awed into accepting him, he had given her no token of love — ‘pas un baiser!’ Didon suggested that such was the way with English lords. She herself had preferred Lord Nidderdale, but had been willing to join in the present plan — as she said, from devoted affection to Marie. Marie went on to say that Nidderdale was ugly, and that Sir Felix was as beautiful as the morning. ‘Bah!’ exclaimed Didon, who was really disgusted that such considerations should prevail. Didon had learned in some indistinct way that Lord Nidderdale would be a marquis and would have a castle, whereas Sir Felix would never be more than Sir Felix, and, of his own, would never have anything at all. She had striven with her mistress, but her mistress liked to have a will of her own. Didon no doubt had thought that New York, with £50 and other perquisites in hand, might offer her a new career. She had therefore yielded, but even now could hardly forbear from expressing disgust at the folly of her mistress. Marie bore it with imperturbable good humour. She was running away — and was running to a distant continent — and her lover would be with her! She gave Didon to understand that she cared nothing for marquises.

As they drew near to Liverpool Didon explained that they must still be very careful. It would not do for them to declare at once their destination on the platform — so that every one about the station should know that they were going on board the packet for New York. They had time enough. They must leisurely look for the big boxes and other things, and need say nothing about the steam packet till they were in a cab. Marie’s big box was directed simply ‘Madame Racine, Passenger to Liverpool;’— so also was directed a second box, nearly as big, which was Didon’s property. Didon declared that her anxiety would not be over till she found the ship moving under her. Marie was sure that all their dangers were over — if only Sir Felix was safe on board. Poor Marie! Sir Felix was at this moment in Welbeck Street, striving to find temporary oblivion for his distressing situation and loss of money, and some alleviation for his racking temples, beneath the bedclothes.

When the train ran into the station at Liverpool the two women sat for a few moments quite quiet. They would not seek remark by any hurry or noise. The door was opened, and a well-mannered porter offered to take their luggage. Didon handed out the various packages, keeping however the jewel-case in her own hands. She left the carriage first, and then Marie. But Marie had hardly put her foot on the platform, before a gentleman addressed her, touching his hat, ‘You, I think, are Miss Melmotte.’ Marie was struck dumb, but said nothing. Didon immediately became voluble in French. No; the young lady was not Miss Melmotte; the young lady was Mademoiselle Racine, her niece. She was Madame Racine. Melmotte! What was Melmotte? They knew nothing about Melmottes. Would the gentleman kindly allow them to pass on to their cab?

But the gentleman would by no means kindly allow them to pass on to their cab. With the gentleman was another gentleman — who did not seem to be quite so much of a gentleman; — and again, not far in the distance Didon quickly espied a policeman, who did not at present connect himself with the affair, but who seemed to have his time very much at command, and to be quite ready if he were wanted. Didon at once gave up the game — as regarded her mistress.

‘I am afraid I must persist in asserting that you are Miss Melmotte,’ said the gentleman, ‘and that this other — person is your servant, Elise Didon. You speak English, Miss Melmotte.’ Marie declared that she spoke French. ‘And English too,’ said the gentleman. ‘I think you had better make up your minds to go back to London. I will accompany you.’

‘Ah, Didon, nous sommes perdues!’ exclaimed Marie. Didon, plucking up her courage for the moment, asserted the legality of her own position and of that of her mistress. They had both a right to come to Liverpool. They had both a right to get into the cab with their luggage. Nobody had a right to stop them. They had done nothing against the laws. Why were they to be stopped in this way? What was it to anybody whether they called themselves Melmotte or Racine?

The gentleman understood the French oratory, but did not commit himself to reply in the same language. ‘You had better trust yourself to me; you had indeed,’ said the gentleman.

‘But why?’ demanded Marie.

Then the gentleman spoke in a very low voice. ‘A cheque has been changed which you took from your father’s house. No doubt your father will pardon that when you are once with him. But in order that we may bring you back safely we can arrest you on the score of the cheque — if you force us to do so. We certainly shall not let you go on board. If you will travel back to London with me, you shall be subjected to no inconvenience which can be avoided.’

There was certainly no help to be found anywhere. It may be well doubted whether upon the whole the telegraph has not added more to the annoyances than to the comforts of life, and whether the gentlemen who spent all the public money without authority ought not to have been punished with special severity in that they had injured humanity, rather than pardoned because of the good they had produced. Who is benefited by telegrams? The newspapers are robbed of all their old interest, and the very soul of intrigue is destroyed. Poor Marie, when she heard her fate, would certainly have gladly hanged Mr Scudamore.

When the gentleman had made his speech, she offered no further opposition. Looking into Didon’s face and bursting into tears, she sat down on one of the boxes. But Didon became very clamorous on her own behalf — and her clamour was successful. ‘Who was going to stop her? What had she done? Why should not she go where she pleased. Did anybody mean to take her up for stealing anybody’s money? If anybody did, that person had better look to himself. She knew the law. She would go where she pleased.’ So saying she began to tug the rope of her box as though she intended to drag it by her own force out of the station. The gentleman looked at his telegram — looked at another document which he now held in his hand, ready prepared, should it be wanted. Elise Didon had been accused of nothing that brought her within the law. The gentleman in imperfect French suggested that Didon had better return with her mistress. But Didon clamoured only the more. No; she would go to New York. She would go wherever she pleased; — all the world over. Nobody should stop her. Then she addressed herself in what little English she could command to half-a-dozen cab-men who were standing round and enjoying the scene. They were to take her trunk at once. She had money and she could pay. She started off to the nearest cab, and no one stopped her. ‘But the box in her hand is mine,’ said Marie, not forgetting her trinkets in her misery. Didon surrendered the jewel-case, and ensconced herself in the cab without a word of farewell; and her trunk was hoisted on to the roof. Then she was driven away out of the station — and out of our story. She had a first-class cabin all to herself as far as New York, but what may have been her fate after that it matters not to us to enquire.

Poor Marie! We who know how recreant a knight Sir Felix had proved himself, who are aware that had Miss Melmotte succeeded in getting on board the ship she would have passed an hour of miserable suspense, looking everywhere for her lover, and would then at last have been carried to New York without him, may congratulate her on her escape. And, indeed, we who know his character better than she did, may still hope in her behalf that she may be ultimately saved from so wretched a marriage. But to her her present position was truly miserable. She would have to encounter an enraged father; and when — when should she see her lover again? Poor, poor Felix! What would be his feelings when he should find himself on his way to New York without his love! But in one matter she made up her mind steadfastly. She would be true to him! They might chop her in pieces! Yes; — she had said it before, and she would say it again. There was, however, doubt in her mind from time to time, whether one course might not be better even than constancy. If she could contrive to throw herself out of the carriage and to be killed — would not that be the best termination to her present disappointment? Would not that be the best punishment for her father? But how then would it be with poor Felix? ‘After all I don’t know that he cares for me,’ she said to herself, thinking over it all.

The gentleman was very kind to her, not treating her at all as though she were disgraced. As they got near town he ventured to give her a little advice. ‘Put a good face on it,’ he said, ‘and don’t be cast down.’

‘Oh, I won’t,’ she answered. ‘I don’t mean.’

‘Your mother will be delighted to have you back again.’

‘I don’t think that mamma cares. It’s papa. I’d do it again to-morrow if I had the chance.’ The gentleman looked at her, not having expected so much determination. ‘I would. Why is a girl to be made to marry to please any one but herself? I won’t. And it’s very mean saying that I stole the money. I always take what I want, and papa never says anything about it.’

‘Two hundred and fifty pounds is a large sum, Miss Melmotte.’

‘It is nothing in our house. It isn’t about the money. It’s because papa wants me to marry another man; — and I won’t. It was downright mean to send and have me taken up before all the people.’

‘You wouldn’t have come back if he hadn’t done that.’

‘Of course I wouldn’t,’ said Marie.

The gentleman had telegraphed up to Grosvenor Square while on the journey, and at Euston Square they were met by one of the Melmotte carriages. Marie was to be taken home in the carriage, and the box was to follow in a cab; — to follow at some interval so that Grosvenor Square might not be aware of what had taken place. Grosvenor Square, of course, very soon knew all about it. ‘And are you to come?’ Marie asked, speaking to the gentleman. The gentleman replied that be had been requested to see Miss Melmotte home. ‘All the people will wonder who you are,’ said Marie laughing. Then the gentleman thought that Miss Melmotte would be able to get through her troubles without much suffering.

When she got home she was hurried up at once to her mother’s room — and there she found her father, alone. ‘This is your game, is it?’ said he, looking down at her.

‘Well, papa; — yes. You made me do it.’

‘You fool you! You were going to New York — were you?’ To this she vouchsafed no reply. ‘As if I hadn’t found out all about it. Who was going with you?’

‘If you have found out all about it, you know, papa.’

‘Of course I know; — but you don’t know all about it, you little idiot.’

‘No doubt I’m a fool and an idiot. You always say so.’

‘Where do you suppose Sir Felix Carbury is now?’ Then she opened her eyes and looked at him. ‘An hour ago he was in bed at his mother’s house in Welbeck Street.’

‘I don’t believe it, papa.’

‘You don’t, don’t you? You’ll find it true. If you had gone to New York, you’d have gone alone. If I’d known at first that he had stayed behind, I think I’d have let you go.’

‘I’m sure he didn’t stay behind.’

‘If you contradict me, I’ll box your ears, you jade. He is in London at this moment. What has become of the woman that went with you?’

‘She’s gone on board the ship.’

‘And where is the money you took from your mother?’ Marie was silent. ‘Who got the cheque changed?’

‘Didon did.’

‘And has she got the money?’

‘No, papa.’

‘Have you got it?’

‘No, papa.’

‘Did you give it to Sir Felix Carbury?’

‘Yes, papa.’

‘Then I’ll be hanged if I don’t prosecute him for stealing it.’

‘Oh, papa, don’t do that; — pray don’t do that. He didn’t steal it. I only gave it him to take care of for us. He’ll give it you back again.’

‘I shouldn’t wonder if he lost it at cards, and therefore didn’t go to Liverpool. Will you give me your word that you’ll never attempt to marry him again if I don’t prosecute him?’ Marie considered. ‘Unless you do that I shall go to a magistrate at once.’

‘I don’t believe you can do anything to him. He didn’t steal it. I gave it to him.’

‘Will you promise me?’

‘No, papa, I won’t. What’s the good of promising when I should only break it. Why can’t you let me have the man I love? What’s the good of all the money if people don’t have what they like?’

‘All the money! — What do you know about the money? Look here,’ and he took her by the arm. ‘I’ve been very good to you. You’ve had your share of everything that has been going; — carriages and horses, bracelets and brooches, silks and gloves, and every thing else.’ He held her very hard and shook her as he spoke.

‘Let me go, papa; you hurt me. I never asked for such things. I don’t care a straw about bracelets and brooches.’

‘What do you care for?’

‘Only for somebody to love me,’ said Marie, looking down.

‘You’ll soon have nobody to love you if you go on this fashion. You’ve had everything done for you, and if you don’t do something for me in return, by G— — you shall have a hard time of it. If you weren’t such a fool you’d believe me when I say that I know more than you do.’

‘You can’t know better than me what’ll make me happy.’

‘Do you think only of yourself? If you’ll marry Lord Nidderdale you’ll have a position in the world which nothing can take from you.’

‘Then I won’t,’ said Marie firmly. Upon this he shook her till she cried, and calling for Madame Melmotte desired his wife not to let the girl for one minute out of her presence.

The condition of Sir Felix was I think worse than that of the lady with whom he was to have run away. He had played at the Beargarden till four in the morning and had then left the club, on the breaking-up of the card-table, intoxicated and almost penniless. During the last half hour he had made himself very unpleasant at the club, saying all manner of harsh things of Miles Grendall; — of whom, indeed, it was almost impossible to say things too hard, had they been said in a proper form and at a proper time. He declared that Grendall would not pay his debts, that he had cheated when playing loo — as to which Sir Felix appealed to Dolly Longestaffe; and he ended by asserting that Grendall ought to be turned out of the club. They had a desperate row. Dolly of course had said that he knew nothing about it, and Lord Grasslough had expressed an opinion that perhaps more than one person ought to be turned out. At four o’clock the party was broken up and Sir Felix wandered forth into the streets, with nothing more than the change of a ten pound note in his pocket. All his luggage was lying in the hall of the club, and there he left it.

There could hardly have been a more miserable wretch than Sir Felix wandering about the streets of London that night. Though he was nearly drunk, he was not drunk enough to forget the condition of his affairs. There is an intoxication that makes merry in the midst of affliction — and there is an intoxication that banishes affliction by producing oblivion. But again there is an intoxication which is conscious of itself though it makes the feet unsteady, and the voice thick, and the brain foolish; and which brings neither mirth nor oblivion. Sir Felix trying to make his way to Welbeck Street and losing it at every turn, feeling himself to be an object of ridicule to every wanderer, and of dangerous suspicion to every policeman, got no good at all out of his intoxication. What had he better do with himself? He fumbled in his pocket, and managed to get hold of his ticket for New York. Should he still make the journey? Then he thought of his luggage, and could not remember where it was. At last, as he steadied himself against a letter-post, he was able to call to mind that his portmanteaus were at the club. By this time he had wandered into Marylebone Lane, but did not in the least know where he was. But he made an attempt to get back to his club, and stumbled half down Bond Street. Then a policeman enquired into his purposes, and when he said that he lived in Welbeck Street, walked back with him as far as Oxford Street. Having once mentioned the place where he lived, he had not strength of will left to go back to his purpose of getting his luggage and starting for Liverpool.

Between six and seven he was knocking at the door in Welbeck Street. He had tried his latch-key, but had found it inefficient. As he was supposed to be at Liverpool, the door had in fact been locked. At last it was opened by Lady Carbury herself. He had fallen more than once, and was soiled with the gutter. Most of my readers will not probably know how a man looks when he comes home drunk at six in the morning; but they who have seen the thing will acknowledge that a sorrier sight cannot meet a mother’s eye than that of a son in such a condition. ‘Oh, Felix!’ she exclaimed.

‘It’sh all up,’ he said, stumbling in.

‘What has happened, Felix?’

‘Discovered, and be d ——— to it! The old shap’sh stopped ush.’ Drunk as he was, he was able to lie. At that moment the ‘old shap’ was fast asleep in Grosvenor Square, altogether ignorant of the plot; and Marie, joyful with excitement, was getting into the cab in the mews. ‘Bettersh go to bed.’ And so he stumbled upstairs by daylight, the wretched mother helping him. She took off his clothes for him and his boots, and having left him already asleep, she went down to her own room, a miserable woman.

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