The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXV

Miss Longestaffe Writes Home

Lady Monogram, when she left Madame Melmotte’s house after that entertainment of Imperial Majesty which had been to her of so very little avail, was not in a good humour. Sir Damask, who had himself affected to laugh at the whole thing, but who had been in truth as anxious as his wife to see the Emperor in private society, put her ladyship and Miss Longestaffe into the carriage without a word, and rushed off to his club in disgust. The affair from beginning to end, including the final failure, had been his wife’s doing. He had been made to work like a slave, and had been taken against his will to Melmotte’s house, and had seen no Emperor and shaken hands with no Prince! ‘They may fight it out between them now like the Kilkenny cats.’ That was his idea as he closed the carriage-door on the two ladies — thinking that if a larger remnant were left of one cat than of the other that larger remnant would belong to his wife.

‘What a horrid affair!’ said Lady Monogram. ‘Did anybody ever see anything so vulgar?’ This was at any rate unreasonable, for whatever vulgarity there may have been, Lady Monogram had seen none of it.

‘I don’t know why you were so late,’ said Georgiana.

‘Late! Why it’s not yet twelve. I don’t suppose it was eleven when we got into the Square. Anywhere else it would have been early.’

‘You knew they did not mean to stay long. It was particularly said so. I really think it was your own fault.’

‘My own fault. Yes; — I don’t doubt that. I know it was my own fault, my dear, to have had anything to do with it. And now I have got to pay for it.’

‘What do you mean by paying for it, Julia?’

‘You know what I mean very well. Is your friend going to do us the honour of coming to us to-morrow night?’ She could not have declared in plainer language how very high she thought the price to be which she had consented to give for those ineffective tickets.

‘If you mean Mr Brehgert, he is coming. You desired me to ask him, and I did so.’

‘Desired you! The truth is, Georgiana, when people get into different sets, they’d better stay where they are. It’s no good trying to mix things.’ Lady Monogram was so angry that she could not control her tongue.

Miss Longestaffe was ready to tear herself with indignation. That she should have been brought to hear insolence such as this from Julia Triplex — she, the daughter of Adolphus Longestaffe of Caversham and Lady Pomona; she, who was considered to have lived in quite the first London circle! But she could hardly get hold of fit words for a reply. She was almost in tears, and was yet anxious to fight rather than weep. But she was in her friend’s carriage, and was being taken to her friend’s house, was to be entertained by her friend all the next day, and was to see her lover among her friend’s guests. ‘I wonder what has made you so ill-natured,’ she said at last. ‘You didn’t use to be like that.’

‘It’s no good abusing me,’ said Lady Monogram. ‘Here we are, and I suppose we had better get out — unless you want the carriage to take you anywhere else.’ Then Lady Monogram got out and marched into the house, and taking a candle went direct to her own room. Miss Longestaffe followed slowly to her own chamber, and having half undressed herself, dismissed her maid and prepared to write to her mother.

The letter to her mother must be written. Mr Brehgert had twice proposed that he should, in the usual way, go to Mr Longestaffe, who had been backwards and forwards in London, and was there at the present moment. Of course it was proper that Mr Brehgert should see her father — but, as she had told him, she preferred that he should postpone his visit for a day or two. She was now agonized by many doubts. Those few words about ‘various sets’ and the ‘mixing of things’ had stabbed her to the very heart — as had been intended. Mr Brehgert was rich. That was a certainty. But she already repented of what she had done. If it were necessary that she should really go down into another and a much lower world, a world composed altogether of Brehgerts, Melmottes, and Cohenlupes, would it avail her much to be the mistress of a gorgeous house? She had known, and understood, and had revelled in the exclusiveness of county position. Caversham had been dull, and there had always been there a dearth of young men of the proper sort; but it had been a place to talk of, and to feel satisfied with as a home to be acknowledged before the world. Her mother was dull, and her father pompous and often cross; but they were in the right set — miles removed from the Brehgerts and Melmottes — until her father himself had suggested to her that she should go to the house in Grosvenor Square. She would write one letter to-night; but there was a question in her mind whether the letter should be written to her mother telling her the horrid truth — or to Mr Brehgert begging that the match should be broken off. I think she would have decided on the latter had it not been that so many people had already heard of the match. The Monograms knew it, and had of course talked far and wide. The Melmottes knew it, and she was aware that Lord Nidderdale had heard it. It was already so far known that it was sure to be public before the end of the season. Each morning lately she had feared that a letter from home would call upon her to explain the meaning of some frightful rumours reaching Caversham, or that her father would come to her and with horror on his face demand to know whether it was indeed true that she had given her sanction to so abominable a report.

And there were other troubles. She had just spoken to Madame Melmotte this evening, having met her late hostess as she entered the drawing-room, and had felt from the manner of her reception that she was not wanted back again. She had told her father that she was going to transfer herself to the Monograms for a time, not mentioning the proposed duration of her visit, and Mr Longestaffe, in his ambiguous way, had expressed himself glad that she was leaving the Melmottes. She did not think that she could go back to Grosvenor Square, although Mr Brehgert desired it. Since the expression of Mr Brehgert’s wishes she had perceived that ill-will had grown up between her father and Mr Melmotte. She must return to Caversham. They could not refuse to take her in, though she had betrothed herself to a Jew!

If she decided that the story should be told to her mother it would be easier to tell it by letter than by spoken words, face to face. But then if she wrote the letter there would be no retreat; — and how should she face her family after such a declaration? She had always given herself credit for courage, and now she wondered at her own cowardice. Even Lady Monogram, her old friend Julia Triplex, had trampled upon her. Was it not the business of her life, in these days, to do the best she could for herself, and would she allow paltry considerations as to the feelings of others to stand in her way and become bugbears to affright her? Who sent her to Melmotte’s house? Was it not her own father? Then she sat herself square at the table, and wrote to her mother — as follows — dating her letter for the following morning:—

Hill Street, 9th July, 187-.

MY DEAR MAMMA,

I am afraid you will be very much astonished by this letter, and perhaps disappointed. I have engaged myself to Mr Brehgert, a member of a very wealthy firm in the City, called Todd, Brehgert, and Goldsheiner. I may as well tell you the worst at once. Mr Brehgert is a Jew. [This last word she wrote very rapidly, but largely, determined that there should be no lack of courage apparent in the letter.] He is a very wealthy man, and his business is about banking and what he calls finance. I understand they are among the most leading people in the City. He lives at present at a very handsome house at Fulham. I don’t know that I ever saw a place more beautifully fitted up. I have said nothing to papa, nor has he; but he says he will be willing to satisfy papa perfectly as to settlements. He has offered to have a house in London if I like — and also to keep the villa at Fulham or else to have a place somewhere in the country. Or I may have the villa at Fulham and a house in the country. No man can be more generous than he is. He has been married before, and has a family, and now I think I have told you all.

I suppose you and papa will be very much dissatisfied. I hope papa won’t refuse his consent. It can do no good. I am not going to remain as I am now all my life, and there is no use waiting any longer. It was papa who made me go to the Melmottes, who are not nearly so well placed as Mr Brehgert. Everybody knows that Madame Melmotte is a Jewess, and nobody knows what Mr Melmotte is. It is no good going on with the old thing when everything seems to be upset and at sixes and sevens. If papa has got to be so poor that he is obliged to let the house in town, one must of course expect to be different from what we were.

I hope you won’t mind having me back the day after to-morrow — that is to-morrow, Wednesday. There is a party here to-night, and Mr Brehgert is coming. But I can’t stay longer with Julia, who doesn’t make herself nice, and I do not at all want to go back to the Melmottes. I fancy that there is something wrong between papa and Mr Melmotte.

Send the carriage to meet me by the 2.30 train from London — and pray, mamma, don’t scold when you see me, or have hysterics, or anything of that sort. Of course it isn’t all nice, but things have got so that they never will be nice again. I shall tell Mr Brehgert to go to papa on Wednesday.

Your affectionate daughter,

G.

When the morning came she desired the servant to take the letter away and have it posted, so that the temptation to stop it might no longer be in her way.

About one o’clock on that day Mr Longestaffe called at Lady Monogram’s. The two ladies had breakfasted upstairs, and had only just met in the drawing-room when he came in. Georgiana trembled at first, but soon perceived that her father had as yet heard nothing of Mr Brehgert. She immediately told him that she proposed returning home on the following day. ‘I am sick of the Melmottes,’ she said.

‘And so am I,’ said Mr Longestaffe, with a serious countenance.

‘We should have been delighted to have had Georgiana to stay with us a little longer,’ said Lady Monogram; ‘but we have but the one spare bedroom, and another friend is coming.’ Georgiana, who knew both these statements to be false, declared that she wouldn’t think of such a thing. ‘We have a few friends corning to-night, Mr Longestaffe, and I hope you’ll come in and see Georgiana.’ Mr Longestaffe hummed and hawed and muttered something, as old gentlemen always do when they are asked to go out to parties after dinner. ‘Mr Brehgert will be here,’ continued Lady Monogram with a peculiar smile.

‘Mr who?’ The name was not at first familiar to Mr Longestaffe.

‘Mr Brehgert.’ Lady Monogram looked at her friend. ‘I hope I’m not revealing any secret.’

‘I don’t understand anything about it,’ said Mr Longestaffe. ‘Georgiana, who is Mr Brehgert?’ He had understood very much. He had been quite certain from Lady Monogram’s manner and words, and also from his daughter’s face, that Mr Brehgert was mentioned as an accepted lover. Lady Monogram had meant that it should be so, and any father would have understood her tone. As she said afterwards to Sir Damask, she was not going to have that Jew there at her house as Georgiana Longestaffe’s accepted lover without Mr Longestaffe’s knowledge.

‘My dear Georgiana,’ she said, ‘I supposed your father knew all about it.’

‘I know nothing. Georgiana, I hate a mystery. I insist upon knowing. Who is Mr Brehgert, Lady Monogram?’

‘Mr Brehgert is a — very wealthy gentleman. That is all I know of him. Perhaps, Georgiana, you will be glad to be alone with your father.’ And Lady Monogram left the room.

Was there ever cruelty equal to this! But now the poor girl was forced to speak — though she could not speak as boldly as she had written. ‘Papa, I wrote to mamma this morning, and Mr Brehgert was to come to you to-morrow.’

‘Do you mean that you are engaged to marry him?’

‘Yes, papa.’

‘What Mr Brehgert is he?’

‘He is a merchant.’

‘You can’t mean the fat Jew whom I’ve met with Mr Melmotte; — a man old enough to be your father!’ The poor girl’s condition now was certainly lamentable. The fat Jew, old enough to be her father, was the very man she did mean. She thought that she would try to brazen it out with her father. But at the present moment she had been so cowed by the manner in which the subject had been introduced that she did not know how to begin to be bold. She only looked at him as though imploring him to spare her. ‘Is the man a Jew?’ demanded Mr Longestaffe, with as much thunder as he knew how to throw into his voice.

‘Yes, papa,’ she said.

‘He is that fat man?’

‘Yes, papa.’

‘And nearly as old as I am?’

‘No, papa — not nearly as old as you are. He is fifty.’

‘And a Jew?’ He again asked the horrid question, and again threw in the thunder. On this occasion she condescended to make no further reply. ‘If you do, you shall do it as an alien from my house. I certainly will never see him. Tell him not to come to me, for I certainly will not speak to him. You are degraded and disgraced; but you shall not degrade and disgrace me and your mother and sister.’

‘It was you, papa, who told me to go to the Melmottes.’

‘That is not true. I wanted you to stay at Caversham. A Jew! an old fat Jew! Heavens and earth! that it should be possible that you should think of it! You; — my daughter — that used to take such pride in yourself! Have you written to your mother?’

‘I have.’

‘It will kill her. It will simply kill her. And you are going home to-morrow?’

‘I wrote to say so.’

‘And there you must remain. I suppose I had better see the man and explain to him that it is utterly impossible. Heavens on earth; — a Jew! An old fat Jew! My daughter! I will take you down home myself to-morrow. What have I done that I should be punished by my children in this way?’ The poor man had had rather a stormy interview with Dolly that morning. ‘You had better leave this house to-day, and come to my hotel in Jermyn Street.’

‘Oh, papa, I can’t do that.’

‘Why can’t you do it? You can do it, and you shall do it. I will not have you see him again. I will see him. If you do not promise me to come, I will send for Lady Monogram and tell her that I will not permit you to meet Mr Brehgert at her house. I do wonder at her. A Jew! An old fat Jew!’ Mr Longestaffe, putting up both his hands, walked about the room in despair.

She did consent, knowing that her father and Lady Monogram between them would be too strong for her. She had her things packed up, and in the course of the afternoon allowed herself to be carried away. She said one word to Lady Monogram before she went. ‘Tell him that I was called away suddenly.’

‘I will, my dear. I thought your papa would not like it.’ The poor girl had not spirit sufficient to upbraid her friend; nor did it suit her now to acerbate an enemy. For the moment, at least, she must yield to everybody and everything. She spent a lonely evening with her father in a dull sitting-room in the hotel, hardly speaking or spoken to, and the following day she was taken down to Caversham. She believed that her father had seen Mr Brehgert in the morning of that day; — but he said no word to her, nor did she ask him any question.

That was on the day after Lady Monogram’s party. Early in the evening, just as the gentlemen were coming up from the dining-room, Mr Brehgert, apparelled with much elegance, made his appearance. Lady Monogram received him with a sweet smile. ‘Miss Longestaffe,’ she said, ‘has left me and gone to her father.’

‘Oh, indeed.’

‘Yes,’ said Lady Monogram, bowing her head, and then attending to other persons as they arrived. Nor did she condescend to speak another word to Mr Brehgert, or to introduce him even to her husband. He stood for about ten minutes inside the drawing-room, leaning against the wall, and then he departed. No one had spoken a word to him. But he was an even-tempered, good-humoured man. When Miss Longestaffe was his wife things would no doubt be different; — or else she would probably change her acquaintance.

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