The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVII

Lord Nidderdale Tries His Hand Again

Lord Nidderdale had half consented to renew his suit to Marie Melmotte. He had at any rate half promised to call at Melmotte’s house on the Sunday with the object of so doing. As far as that promise had been given it was broken, for on the Sunday he was not seen in Bruton Street. Though not much given to severe thinking, he did feel that on this occasion there was need for thought. His father’s property was not very large. His father and his grandfather had both been extravagant men, and he himself had done something towards adding to the family embarrassments. It had been an understood thing, since he had commenced life, that he was to marry an heiress. In such families as his, when such results have been achieved, it is generally understood that matters shall be put right by an heiress. It has become an institution, like primogeniture, and is almost as serviceable for maintaining the proper order of things. Rank squanders money; trade makes it; — and then trade purchases rank by re-gilding its splendour. The arrangement, as it affects the aristocracy generally, is well understood, and was quite approved of by the old marquis — so that he had felt himself to be justified in eating up the property, which his son’s future marriage would renew as a matter of course. Nidderdale himself had never dissented, had entertained no fanciful theory opposed to this view, had never alarmed his father by any liaison tending towards matrimony with any undowered beauty; — but had claimed his right to ‘have his fling’ before he devoted himself to the reintegration of the family property. His father had felt that it would be wrong and might probably be foolish to oppose so natural a desire. He had regarded all the circumstances of ‘the fling’ with indulgent eyes. But there arose some little difference as to the duration of the fling, and the father had at last found himself compelled to inform his son that if the fling were carried on much longer it must be done with internecine war between himself and his heir. Nidderdale, whose sense and temper were alike good, saw the thing quite in the proper light. He assured his father that he had no intention of ‘cutting up rough,’ declared that he was ready for the heiress as soon as the heiress should be put in his way, and set himself honestly about the task imposed on him. This had all been arranged at Auld Reekie Castle during the last winter, and the reader knows the result.

But the affair had assumed abnormal difficulties. Perhaps the Marquis had been wrong in flying at wealth which was reputed to be almost unlimited, but which was not absolutely fixed. A couple of hundred thousand pounds down might have been secured with greater ease. But here there had been a prospect of endless money — of an inheritance which might not improbably make the Auld Reekie family conspicuous for its wealth even among the most wealthy of the nobility. The old man had fallen into the temptation, and abnormal difficulties had been the result. Some of these the reader knows. Latterly two difficulties had culminated above the others. The young lady preferred another gentleman, and disagreeable stories were afloat, not only as to the way in which the money had been made, but even as to its very existence.

The Marquis, however, was a man who hated to be beaten. As far as he could learn from inquiry, the money would be there or, at least, so much money as had been promised. A considerable sum, sufficient to secure the bridegroom from absolute shipwreck — though by no means enough to make a brilliant marriage — had in truth been already settled on Marie, and was, indeed, in her possession. As to that, her father had armed himself with a power of attorney for drawing the income — but had made over the property to his daughter, so that in the event of unforeseen accidents on ‘Change, he might retire to obscure comfort, and have the means perhaps of beginning again with whitewashed cleanliness. When doing this, he had doubtless not anticipated the grandeur to which he would soon rise, or the fact that he was about to embark on seas so dangerous that this little harbour of refuge would hardly offer security to his vessel. Marie had been quite correct in her story to her favoured lover. And the Marquis’s lawyer had ascertained that if Marie ever married before she herself had restored this money to her father, her husband would be so far safe — with this as a certainty and the immense remainder in prospect. The Marquis had determined to persevere. Pickering was to be added. Mr Melmotte had been asked to depone the title-deeds, and had promised to do so as soon as the day of the wedding should have been fixed with the consent of all the parties. The Marquis’s lawyer had ventured to express a doubt; but the Marquis had determined to persevere. The reader will, I trust, remember that those dreadful misgivings, which are I trust agitating his own mind, have been borne in upon him by information which had not as yet reached the Marquis in all its details.

But Nidderdale had his doubts. That absurd elopement, which Melmotte declared really to mean nothing — the romance of a girl who wanted to have one little fling of her own before she settled down for life — was perhaps his strongest objection. Sir Felix, no doubt, had not gone with her; but then one doesn’t wish to have one’s intended wife even attempt to run off with any one but oneself. ‘She’ll be sick of him by this time, I should say,’ his father said to him. ‘What does it matter, if the money’s there?’ The Marquis seemed to think that the escapade had simply been the girl’s revenge against his son for having made his arrangements so exclusively with Melmotte, instead of devoting himself to her. Nidderdale acknowledged to himself that he had been remiss. He told himself that she was possessed of more spirit than he had thought. By the Sunday evening he had determined that he would try again. He had expected that the plum would fall into his mouth. He would now stretch out his hand to pick it.

On the Monday he went to the house in Bruton Street, at lunch time. Melmotte and the two Grendalls had just come over from their work in the square, and the financier was full of the priest’s visit to him. Madame Melmotte was there, and Miss Longestaffe, who was to be sent for by her friend Lady Monogram that afternoon — and, after they had sat down, Marie came in. Nidderdale got up and shook hands with her — of course as though nothing had happened. Marie, putting a brave face upon it, struggling hard in the midst of very real difficulties, succeeded in saying an ordinary word or two. Her position was uncomfortable. A girl who has run away with her lover and has been brought back again by her friends, must for a time find it difficult to appear in society with ease. But when a girl has run away without her lover — has run away expecting her lover to go with her, and has then been brought back, her lover not having stirred, her state of mind must be peculiarly harassing. But Marie’s courage was good, and she ate her lunch even though she sat next to Lord Nidderdale.

Melmotte was very gracious to the young lord. ‘Did you ever hear anything like that, Nidderdale?’ he said, speaking of the priest’s visit.

‘Mad as a hatter,’ said Lord Alfred.

‘I don’t know much about his madness. I shouldn’t wonder if he had been sent by the Archbishop of Westminster. Why don’t we have an Archbishop of Westminster when they’ve got one? I shall have to see to that when I’m in the House. I suppose there is a bishop, isn’t there, Alfred?’ Alfred shook his head. ‘There’s a Dean, I know, for I called on him. He told me flat he wouldn’t vote for me. I thought all those parsons were Conservatives. It didn’t occur to me that the fellow had come from the Archbishop, or I would have been more civil to him.’

‘Mad as a hatter; — nothing else,’ said Lord Alfred.

‘You should have seen him, Nidderdale. It would have been as good as a play to you.’

‘I suppose you didn’t ask him to the dinner, sir.’

‘D—— the dinner, I’m sick of it,’ said Melmotte, frowning. ‘We must go back again, Alfred. Those fellows will never get along if they are not looked after. Come, Miles. Ladies, I shall expect you to be ready at exactly a quarter before eight. His Imperial Majesty is to arrive at eight precisely, and I must be there to receive him. You, Madame, will have to receive your guests in the drawing-room.’ The ladies went upstairs, and Lord Nidderdale followed them. Miss Longestaffe took her departure, alleging that she couldn’t keep her dear friend Lady Monogram waiting for her. Then there fell upon Madame Melmotte the duty of leaving the young people together, a duty which she found a great difficulty in performing. After all that had happened, she did not know how to get up and go out of the room. As regarded herself, the troubles of these troublous times were becoming almost too much for her. She had no pleasure from her grandeur — and probably no belief in her husband’s achievements. It was her present duty to assist in getting Marie married to this young man, and that duty she could only do by going away. But she did not know how to get out of her chair. She expressed in fluent French her abhorrence of the Emperor, and her wish that she might be allowed to remain in bed during the whole evening. She liked Nidderdale better than any one else who came there, and wondered at Marie’s preference for Sir Felix. Lord Nidderdale assured her that nothing was so easy as kings and emperors, because no one was expected to say anything. She sighed and shook her head, and wished again that she might be allowed to go to bed. Marie, who was by degrees plucking up her courage, declared that though kings and emperors were horrors as a rule, she thought an Emperor of China would be good fun. Then Madame Melmotte also plucked up her courage, rose from her chair, and made straight for the door. ‘Mamma, where are you going?’ said Marie, also rising. Madame Melmotte, putting her handkerchief up to her face, declared that she was being absolutely destroyed by a toothache. ‘I must see if I can’t do something for her,’ said Marie, hurrying to the door. But Lord Nidderdale was too quick for her, and stood with his back to it. ‘That’s a shame,’ said Marie.

‘Your mother has gone on purpose that I may speak to you,’ said his lordship. ‘Why should you grudge me the opportunity?’

Marie returned to her chair and again seated herself. She also had thought much of her own position since her return from Liverpool. Why had Sir Felix not been there? Why had he not come since her return, and, at any rate, endeavoured to see her? Why had he made no attempt to write to her? Had it been her part to do so, she would have found a hundred ways of getting at him. She absolutely had walked inside the garden of the square on Sunday morning, and had contrived to leave a gate open on each side. But he had made no sign. Her father had told her that he had not gone to Liverpool — and had assured her that he had never intended to go. Melmotte had been very savage with her about the money, and had loudly accused Sir Felix of stealing it. The repayment he never mentioned — a piece of honesty, indeed, which had showed no virtue on the part of Sir Felix. But even if he had spent the money, why was he not man enough to come and say so? Marie could have forgiven that fault — could have forgiven even the gambling and the drunkenness which had caused the failure of the enterprise on his side, if he had had the courage to come and confess to her. What she could not forgive was continued indifference — or the cowardice which forbade him to show himself. She had more than once almost doubted his love, though as a lover he had been better than Nidderdale. But now, as far as she could see, he was ready to consent that the thing should be considered as over between them. No doubt she could write to him. She had more than once almost determined to do so. But then she had reflected that if he really loved her he would come to her. She was quite ready to run away with a lover, if her lover loved her; but she would not fling herself at a man’s head. Therefore she had done nothing beyond leaving the garden gates open on the Sunday morning.

But what was she to do with herself? She also felt, she knew not why, that the present turmoil of her father’s life might be brought to an end by some dreadful convulsion. No girl could be more anxious to be married and taken away from her home. If Sir Felix did not appear again, what should she do? She had seen enough of life to be aware that suitors would come — would come as long as that convulsion was staved off. She did not suppose that her journey to Liverpool would frighten all the men away. But she had thought that it would put an end to Lord Nidderdale’s courtship; and when her father had commanded her, shaking her by the shoulders, to accept Lord Nidderdale when he should come on Sunday, she had replied by expressing her assurance that Lord Nidderdale would never be seen at that house any more. On the Sunday he had not come; but here he was now, standing with his back to the drawing-room door, and cutting off her retreat with the evident intention of renewing his suit. She was determined at any rate that she would speak up. ‘I don’t know what you should have to say to me, Lord Nidderdale.’

‘Why shouldn’t I have something to say to you?’

‘Because —. Oh, you know why. Besides, I’ve told you ever so often, my lord. I thought a gentleman would never go on with a lady when the lady has told him that she liked somebody else better.’

‘Perhaps I don’t believe you when you tell me.’

‘Well; that is impudent! You may believe it then. I think I’ve given you reason to believe it, at any rate.’

‘You can’t be very fond of him now, I should think.’

‘That’s all you know about it, my lord. Why shouldn’t I be fond of him? Accidents will happen, you know.’

‘I don’t want to make any allusion to anything that’s unpleasant, Miss Melmotte.’

‘You may say just what you please. All the world knows about it. Of course I went to Liverpool, and of course papa had me brought back again.’

‘Why did not Sir Felix go?’

‘I don’t think, my lord, that that can be any business of yours.’

‘But I think that it is, and I’ll tell you why. You might as well let me say what I’ve got to say — out at once.’

‘You may say what you like, but it can’t make any difference.’

‘You knew me before you knew him, you know.’

‘What does that matter? If it comes to that, I knew ever so many people before I knew you.’

‘And you were engaged to me.’

‘You broke it off.’

‘Listen to me for a moment or two. I know I did. Or, rather, your father and my father broke it off for us.’

‘If we had cared for each other they couldn’t have broken it off. Nobody in the world could break me off as long as I felt that he really loved me; — not if they were to cut me in pieces. But you didn’t care, not a bit. You did it just because your father told you. And so did I. But I know better than that now. You never cared for me a bit more than for the old woman at the crossing. You thought I didn’t understand; — but I did. And now you’ve come again because your father has told you again. And you’d better go away.’

‘There’s a great deal of truth in what you say.’

‘It’s all true, my lord. Every word of it.’

‘I wish you wouldn’t call me my lord.’

‘I suppose you are a lord, and therefore I shall call you so. I never called you anything else when they pretended that we were to be married, and you never asked me. I never even knew what your name was till I looked it out in the book after I had consented.’

‘There is truth in what you say; — but it isn’t true now. How was I to love you when I had seen so little of you? I do love you now.’

‘Then you needn’t; — for it isn’t any good.’

‘I do love you now, and I think you’d find that I should be truer to you than that fellow who wouldn’t take the trouble to go down to Liverpool with you.’

‘You don’t know why he didn’t go.’

‘Well; — perhaps I do. But I did not come here to say anything about that.’

‘Why didn’t he go, Lord Nidderdale?’ She asked the question with an altered tone and an altered face. ‘If you really know, you might as well tell me.’

‘No, Marie; — that’s just what I ought not to do. But he ought to tell you. Do you really in your heart believe that he means to come back to you?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, sobbing. ‘I do love him; — I do indeed. I know that you are good-natured. You are more good-natured than he is. But he did like me. You never did; — no; not a bit. It isn’t true. I ain’t a fool. I know. No; — go away. I won’t let you now. I don’t care what he is; I’ll be true to him. Go away, Lord Nidderdale. You oughtn’t to go on like that because papa and mamma let you come here. I didn’t let you come. I don’t want you to come. No; — I won’t say any kind word to you. I love Sir Felix Carbury better — than any person — in all the world. There! I don’t know whether you call that kind, but it’s true.’

‘Say good-bye to me, Marie.’

‘Oh, I don’t mind saying good-bye. Good-bye, my lord; and don’t come any more.’

‘Yes, I shall. Good-bye, Marie. You’ll find the difference between me and him yet.’ So he took his leave, and as he sauntered away he thought that upon the whole he had prospered, considering the extreme difficulties under which he had laboured in carrying on his suit. ‘She’s quite a different sort of girl from what I took her to be,’ he said to himself ‘Upon my word, she’s awfully jolly.’

Marie, when the interview was over, walked about the room almost in dismay. It was borne in upon her by degrees that Sir Felix Carbury was not at all points quite as nice as she had thought him. Of his beauty there was no doubt; but then she could trust him for no other good quality. Why did he not come to her? Why did he not show some pluck? Why did he not tell her the truth? She had quite believed Lord Nidderdale when he said that he knew the cause that had kept Sir Felix from going to Liverpool. And she had believed him, too, when he said that it was not his business to tell her. But the reason, let it be what it might, must, if known, be prejudicial to her love. Lord Nidderdale was, she thought, not at all beautiful. He had a commonplace, rough face, with a turn-up nose, high cheek bones, no especial complexion, sandy-coloured whiskers, and bright laughing eyes — not at all an Adonis such as her imagination had painted. But if he had only made love at first as he had attempted to do it now, she thought that she would have submitted herself to be cut in pieces for him.

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