The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LII

The Results of Love and Wine

Two, three, four, and even five o’clock still found Sir Felix Carbury in bed on that fatal Thursday. More than once or twice his mother crept up to his room, but on each occasion he feigned to be fast asleep and made no reply to her gentle words. But his condition was one which only admits of short snatches of uneasy slumber. From head to foot, he was sick and ill and sore, and could find no comfort anywhere. To lie where he was, trying by absolute quiescence to soothe the agony of his brows and to remember that as long as he lay there he would be safe from attack by the outer world, was all the solace within his reach. Lady Carbury sent the page up to him, and to the page he was awake. The boy brought him tea. He asked for soda and brandy; but there was none to be had, and in his present condition he did not dare to hector about it till it was procured for him.

The world surely was now all over to him. He had made arrangements for running away with the great heiress of the day, and had absolutely allowed the young lady to run away without him. The details of their arrangement had been such that she absolutely would start upon her long journey across the ocean before she could find out that he had failed to keep his appointment. Melmotte’s hostility would be incurred by the attempt, and hers by the failure. Then he had lost all his money — and hers. He had induced his poor mother to assist in raising a fund for him — and even that was gone. He was so cowed that he was afraid even of his mother. And he could remember something, but no details, of some row at the club — but still with a conviction on his mind that he had made the row. Ah — when would he summon courage to enter the club again? When could he show himself again anywhere? All the world would know that Marie Melmotte had attempted to run off with him, and that at the last moment he had failed her. What lie could he invent to cover his disgrace? And his clothes! All his things were at the club; — or he thought that they were, not being quite certain whether he had not made some attempt to carry them off to the Railway Station. He had heard of suicide. If ever it could be well that a man should cut his own throat, surely the time had come for him now. But as this idea presented itself to him he simply gathered the clothes around him and tried to sleep. The death of Cato would hardly have for him persuasive charms.

Between five and six his mother again came up to him, and when he appeared to sleep, stood with her hand upon his shoulder. There must be some end to this. He must at any rate be fed. She, wretched woman, had been sitting all day — thinking of it. As regarded her son himself; his condition told his story with sufficient accuracy. What might be the fate of the girl she could not stop to inquire. She had not heard all the details of the proposed scheme; but she had known that Felix had proposed to be at Liverpool on the Wednesday night, and to start on Thursday for New York with the young lady; and with the view of aiding him in his object she had helped him with money. She had bought clothes for him, and had been busy with Hetta for two days preparing for his long journey — having told some lie to her own daughter as to the cause of her brother’s intended journey. He had not gone, but had come, drunk and degraded, back to the house. She had searched his pockets with less scruple than she had ever before felt, and had found his ticket for the vessel and the few sovereigns which were left to him. About him she could read the riddle plainly. He had stayed at his club till he was drunk, and had gambled away all his money. When she had first seen him she had asked herself what further lie she should now tell to her daughter. At breakfast there was instant need for some story. ‘Mary says that Felix came back this morning, and that he has not gone at all,’ Hetta exclaimed. The poor woman could not bring herself to expose the vices of the son to her daughter. She could not say that he had stumbled into the house drunk at six o’clock. Hetta no doubt had her own suspicions. ‘Yes; he has come back,’ said Lady Carbury, broken-hearted by her troubles. ‘It was some plan about the Mexican railway I believe, and has broken through. He is very unhappy and not well. I will see to him.’ After that Hetta had said nothing during the whole day. And now, about an hour before dinner, Lady Carbury was standing by her son’s bedside, determined that he should speak to her.

‘Felix,’ she said — ‘speak to me, Felix. — I know that you are awake.’ He groaned, and turned himself away from her, burying himself further under the bedclothes. ‘You must get up for your dinner. It is near six o’clock.’

‘All right,’ he said at last.

‘What is the meaning of this, Felix? You must tell me. It must be told sooner or later. I know you are unhappy. You had better trust your mother.’

‘I am so sick, mother.’

‘You will be better up. What were you doing last night? What has come of it all? Where are your things?’

‘At the club. — You had better leave me now, and let Sam come up to me.’ Sam was the page.

‘I will leave you presently; but, Felix, you must tell me about this. What has been done?’

‘It hasn’t come off.’

‘But how has it not come off?’

‘I didn’t get away. What’s the good of asking?’

‘You said this morning when you came in, that Mr Melmotte had discovered it.’

‘Did I? Then I suppose he has. Oh, mother, I wish I could die. I don’t see what’s the use of anything. I won’t get up to dinner. I’d rather stay here.’

‘You must have something to eat, Felix.’

‘Sam can bring it me. Do let him get me some brandy and water. I’m so faint and sick with all this that I can hardly bear myself. I can’t talk now. If he’ll get me a bottle of soda water and some brandy, I’ll tell you all about it then.’

‘Where is the money, Felix?’

‘I paid it for the ticket,’ said he, with both his hands up to his head.

Then his mother again left him with the understanding that he was to be allowed to remain in bed till the next morning; but that he was to give her some further explanation when he had been refreshed and invigorated after his own prescription. The boy went out and got him soda water and brandy, and meat was carried up to him, and then he did succeed for a while in finding oblivion from his misery in sleep.

‘Is he ill, mamma?’ Hetta asked.

‘Yes, my dear.’

‘Had you not better send for a doctor?’

‘No, my dear. He will be better to-morrow.’

‘Mamma, I think you would be happier if you would tell me everything.’

‘I can’t,’ said Lady Carbury, bursting out into tears. ‘Don’t ask. What’s the good of asking? It is all misery and wretchedness. There is nothing to tell — except that I am ruined.’

‘Has he done anything, mamma?’

‘No. What should he have done? How am I to know what he does? He tells me nothing. Don’t talk about it any more. Oh, God — how much better it would be to be childless!’

‘Oh, mamma, do you mean me?’ said Hetta, rushing across the room, and throwing herself close to her mother’s side on the sofa. ‘Mamma, say that you do not mean me.’

‘It concerns you as well as me and him. I wish I were childless.’

‘Oh, mamma, do not be cruel to me! Am I not good to you? Do I not try to be a comfort to you?’

‘Then marry your cousin, Roger Carbury, who is a good man, and who can protect you. You can, at any rate, find a home for yourself, and a friend for us. You are not like Felix. You do not get drunk and gamble — because you are a woman. But you are stiff-necked, and will not help me in my trouble.’

‘Shall I marry him, mamma, without loving him?’

‘Love! Have I been able to love? Do you see much of what you call love around you? Why should you not love him? He is a gentleman, and a good man — soft-hearted, of a sweet nature, whose life would be one effort to make yours happy. You think that Felix is very bad.’

‘I have never said so.’

‘But ask yourself whether you do not give as much pain, seeing what you could do for us if you would. But it never occurs to you to sacrifice even a fantasy for the advantage of others.’

Hetta retired from her seat on the sofa, and when her mother again went upstairs she turned it all over in her mind. Could it be right that she should marry one man when she loved another? Could it be right that she should marry at all, for the sake of doing good to her family? This man, whom she might marry if she would — who did in truth worship the ground on which she trod — was, she well knew, all that her mother had said. And he was more than that. Her mother had spoken of his soft heart, and his sweet nature. But Hetta knew also that he was a man of high honour and a noble courage. In such a condition as was hers now he was the very friend whose advice she could have asked — had he not been the very lover who was desirous of making her his wife. Hetta felt that she could sacrifice much for her mother. Money, if she had it, she could have given, though she left herself penniless. Her time, her inclinations, her very heart’s treasure, and, as she thought, her life, she could give. She could doom herself to poverty, and loneliness, and heart-rending regrets for her mother’s sake. But she did not know how she could give herself into the arms of a man she did not love.

‘I don’t know what there is to explain,’ said Felix to his mother. She had asked him why he had not gone to Liverpool, whether he had been interrupted by Melmotte himself, whether news had reached him from Marie that she had been stopped, or whether — as might have been possible — Marie had changed her own mind. But he could not bring himself to tell the truth, or any story bordering on the truth. ‘It didn’t come off,’ he said, ‘and of course that knocked me off my legs. Well; yes. I did take some champagne when I found how it was. A fellow does get cut up by that kind of thing. Oh, I heard it at the club — that the whole thing was off. I can’t explain anything more. And then I was so mad, I can’t tell what I was after. I did get the ticket. There it is. That shows I was in earnest. I spent the £30 in getting it. I suppose the change is there. Don’t take it, for I haven’t another shilling in the world.’ Of course he said nothing of Marie’s money, or of that which he had himself received from Melmotte. And as his mother had heard nothing of these sums she could not contradict what he said. She got from him no further statement, but she was sure that there was a story to be told which would reach her ears sooner or later.

That evening, about nine o’clock, Mr Broune called in Welbeck Street. He very often did call now, coming up in a cab, staying for a cup of tea, and going back in the same cab to the office of his newspaper. Since Lady Carbury had, so devotedly, abstained from accepting his offer, Mr Broune had become almost sincerely attached to her. There was certainly between them now more of the intimacy of real friendship than had ever existed in earlier days. He spoke to her more freely about his own affairs, and even she would speak to him with some attempt at truth. There was never between them now even a shade of love-making. She did not look into his eyes, nor did he hold her hand. As for kissing her — he thought no more of it than of kissing the maid-servant. But he spoke to her of the things that worried him — the unreasonable exactions of proprietors, and the perilous inaccuracy of contributors. He told her of the exceeding weight upon his shoulders, under which an Atlas would have succumbed. And he told her something too of his triumphs; — how he had had this fellow bowled over in punishment for some contradiction, and that man snuffed out for daring to be an enemy. And he expatiated on his own virtues, his justice and clemency. Ah — if men and women only knew his good nature and his patriotism; — how he had spared the rod here, how he had made the fortune of a man there, how he had saved the country millions by the steadiness of his adherence to some grand truth! Lady Carbury delighted in all this and repaid him by flattery, and little confidences of her own. Under his teaching she had almost made up her mind to give up Mr Alf. Of nothing was Mr Broune more certain than that Mr Alf was making a fool of himself in regard to the Westminster election and those attacks on Melmotte. ‘The world of London generally knows what it is about,’ said Mr Broune, ‘and the London world believes Mr Melmotte to be sound. I don’t pretend to say that he has never done anything that he ought not to do. I am not going into his antecedents. But he is a man of wealth, power, and genius, and Alf will get the worst of it.’ Under such teaching as this, Lady Carbury was almost obliged to give up Mr Alf.

Sometimes they would sit in the front room with Hetta, to whom also Mr Broune had become attached; but sometimes Lady Carbury would be in her own sanctum. On this evening she received him there, and at once poured forth all her troubles about Felix. On this occasion she told him everything, and almost told him everything truly. He had already heard the story. ‘The young lady went down to Liverpool, and Sir Felix was not there.’

‘He could not have been there. He has been in bed in this house all day. Did she go?’

‘So I am told; — and was met at the station by the senior officer of the police at Liverpool, who brought her back to London without letting her go down to the ship at all. She must have thought that her lover was on board; — probably thinks so now. I pity her.’

‘How much worse it would have been, had she been allowed to start,’ said Lady Carbury.

‘Yes; that would have been bad. She would have had a sad journey to New York, and a sadder journey back. Has your son told you anything about money?’

‘What money?’

‘They say that the girl entrusted him with a large sum which she had taken from her father. If that be so he certainly ought to lose no time in restoring it. It might be done through some friend. I would do it, for that matter. If it be so — to avoid unpleasantness — it should be sent back at once. It will be for his credit.’ This Mr Broune said with a clear intimation of the importance of his advice.

It was dreadful to Lady Carbury. She had no money to give back, nor, as she was well aware, had her son. She had heard nothing of any money. What did Mr Broune mean by a large sum? ‘That would be dreadful,’ she said.

‘Had you not better ask him about it?’

Lady Carbury was again in tears. She knew that she could not hope to get a word of truth from her son. ‘What do you mean by a large sum?’

‘Two or three hundred pounds, perhaps.’

‘I have not a shilling in the world, Mr Broune.’ Then it all came out — the whole story of her poverty, as it had been brought about by her son’s misconduct. She told him every detail of her money affairs from the death of her husband, and his will, up to the present moment.

‘He is eating you up, Lady Carbury.’ Lady Carbury thought that she was nearly eaten up already, but she said nothing. ‘You must put a stop to this.’

‘But how?’

‘You must rid yourself of him. It is dreadful to say so, but it must be done. You must not see your daughter ruined. Find out what money he got from Miss Melmotte and I will see that it is repaid. That must be done; — and we will then try to get him to go abroad. No; — do not contradict me. We can talk of the money another time. I must be off now, as I have stayed too long. Do as I bid you. Make him tell you, and send me word down to the office. If you could do it early to-morrow, that would be best. God bless you.’ And so he hurried off.

Early on the following morning a letter from Lady Carbury was put into Mr Broune’s hands, giving the story of the money as far as she had been able to extract it from Sir Felix. Sir Felix declared that Mr Melmotte had owed him £600, and that he had received £250 out of this from Miss Melmotte — so that there was still a large balance due to him. Lady Carbury went on to say that her son had at last confessed that he had lost this money at play. The story was fairly true; but Lady Carbury in her letter acknowledged that she was not justified in believing it because it was told to her by her son.

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