The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXVII

Sir Felix Protects His Sister

Up to this period of his life Sir Felix Carbury had probably felt but little of the punishment due to his very numerous shortcomings. He had spent all his fortune; he had lost his commission in the army; he had incurred the contempt of everybody that had known him; he had forfeited the friendship of those who were his natural friends, and had attached to him none others in their place; he had pretty nearly ruined his mother and sister; but, to use his own language, he had always contrived ‘to carry on the game.’ He had eaten and drunk, had gambled, hunted, and diverted himself generally after the fashion considered to be appropriate to young men about town. He had kept up till now. But now there seemed to him to have come an end to all things. When he was lying in bed in his mother’s house he counted up all his wealth. He had a few pounds in ready money, he still had a little roll of Mr Miles Grendall’s notes of hand, amounting perhaps to a couple of hundred pounds — and Mr Melmotte owed him £600. But where was he to turn, and what was he to do with himself? Gradually he learned the whole story of the journey to Liverpool — how Marie had gone there and had been sent back by the police, how Marie’s money had been repaid to Mr Melmotte by Mr Broune, and how his failure to make the journey to Liverpool had become known. He was ashamed to go to his club. He could not go to Melmotte’s house. He was ashamed even to show himself in the streets by day.

He was becoming almost afraid even of his mother. Now that the brilliant marriage had broken down, and seemed to be altogether beyond hope, now that he had to depend on her household for all his comforts, he was no longer able to treat her with absolute scorn — nor was she willing to yield as she had yielded.

One thing only was clear to him. He must realize his possessions. With this view he wrote both to Miles Grendall and to Melmotte. To the former he said he was going out of town — probably for some time, and he must really ask for a cheque for the amount due. He went on to remark that he could hardly suppose that a nephew of the Duke of Albury was unable to pay debts of honour to the amount of £200; — but that if such was the case he would have no alternative but to apply to the Duke himself. The reader need hardly be told that to this letter Mr Grendall vouchsafed no answer whatever. In his letter to Mr Melmotte he confined himself to one matter of business in hand. He made no allusion whatever to Marie, or to the great man’s anger, or to his seat at the board. He simply reminded Mr Melmotte that there was a sum of £600 still due to him, and requested that a cheque might be sent to him for that amount. Melmotte’s answer to this was not altogether unsatisfactory, though it was not exactly what Sir Felix had wished. A clerk from Mr Melmotte’s office called at the house in Welbeck Street, and handed to Felix railway scrip in the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway to the amount of the sum claimed — insisting on a full receipt for the money before he parted with the scrip. The clerk went on to explain, on behalf of his employer, that the money had been left in Mr Melmotte’s hands for the purpose of buying these shares. Sir Felix, who was glad to get anything, signed the receipt and took the scrip. This took place on the day after the balloting at Westminster, when the result was not yet known — and when the shares in the railway were very low indeed. Sir Felix had asked as to the value of the shares at the time. The clerk professed himself unable to quote the price — but there were the shares if Sir Felix liked to take them. Of course he took them; — and hurrying off into the City found that they might perhaps be worth about half the money due to him. The broker to whom he showed them could not quite answer for anything. Yes; — the scrip had been very high; but there was a panic. They might recover — or, more probably, they might go to nothing. Sir Felix cursed the Great Financier aloud, and left the scrip for sale. That was the first time that he had been out of the house before dark since his little accident.

But he was chiefly tormented in these days by the want of amusement. He had so spent his life hitherto that he did not know how to get through a day in which no excitement was provided for him. He never read. Thinking was altogether beyond him. And he had never done a day’s work in his life. He could lie in bed. He could eat and drink. He could smoke and sit idle. He could play cards; and could amuse himself with women — the lower the culture of the women, the better the amusement. Beyond these things the world had nothing for him. Therefore he again took himself to the pursuit of Ruby Ruggles.

Poor Ruby had endured a very painful incarceration at her aunt’s house. She had been wrathful and had stormed, swearing that she would be free to come and go as she pleased. Free to go, Mrs Pipkin told her that she was; — but not free to return if she went out otherwise than as she, Mrs Pipkin, chose. ‘Am I to be a slave?’ Ruby asked, and almost upset the perambulator which she had just dragged in at the hall door. Then Mrs Hurtle had taken upon herself to talk to her, and poor Ruby had been quelled by the superior strength of the American lady. But she was very unhappy, finding that it did not suit her to be nursemaid to her aunt. After all John Crumb couldn’t have cared for her a bit, or he would have come to look after her. While she was in this condition Sir Felix came to Mrs Pipkin’s house, and asked for her at the door, it happened that Mrs Pipkin herself had opened the door — and, in her fright and dismay at the presence of so pernicious a young man in her own passage, had denied that Ruby was in the house. But Ruby had heard her lover’s voice, and had rushed up and thrown herself into his arms. Then there had been a great scene. Ruby had sworn that she didn’t care for her aunt, didn’t care for her grandfather, or for Mrs Hurtle, or for John Crumb — or for any person or anything. She cared only for her lover. Then Mrs Hurtle had asked the young man his intentions. Did he mean to marry Ruby? Sir Felix had said that he supposed he might as well some day. ‘There,’ said Ruby, ‘there!’— shouting in triumph as though an offer had been made to her with the completest ceremony of which such an event admits. Mrs Pipkin had been very weak. Instead of calling in the assistance of her strong-minded lodger, she had allowed the lovers to remain together for half an hour in the dining-room. I do not know that Sir Felix in any way repeated his promise during that time, but Ruby was probably too blessed with the word that had been spoken to ask for such renewal. ‘There must be an end of this,’ said Mrs Pipkin, coming in when the half-hour was over. Then Sir Felix had gone, promising to come again on the following evening. ‘You must not come here, Sir Felix,’ said Mrs Pipkin, ‘unless you puts it in writing.’ To this, of course, Sir Felix made no answer. As he went home he congratulated himself on the success of his adventure. Perhaps the best thing he could do when he had realized the money for the shares would be to take Ruby for a tour abroad. The money would last for three or four months — and three or four months ahead was almost an eternity.

That afternoon before dinner he found his sister alone in the drawing-room. Lady Carbury had gone to her own room after hearing the distressing story of Paul Montague’s love, and had not seen Hetta since. Hetta was melancholy, thinking of her mother’s hard words — thinking perhaps of Paul’s poverty as declared by her mother, and of the ages which might have to wear themselves out before she could become his wife; but still tinting all her thoughts with a rosy hue because of the love which had been declared to her. She could not but be happy if he really loved her. And she — as she had told him that she loved him — would be true to him through everything! In her present mood she could not speak of herself to her brother, but she took the opportunity of making good the promise which Marie Melmotte had extracted from her. She gave him some short account of the party, and told him that she had talked with Marie. ‘I promised to give you a message,’ she said.

‘It’s all of no use now,’ said Felix.

‘But I must tell you what she said. I think, you know, that she really loves you.’

‘But what’s the good of it? A man can’t marry a girl when all the policemen in the country are dodging her.’

‘She wants you to let her know what — what you intend to do. If you mean to give her up, I think you should tell her.’

‘How can I tell her? I don’t suppose they would let her receive a letter.’

‘Shall I write to her; — or shall I see her?’

‘Just as you like. I don’t care.’

‘Felix, you are very heartless.’

‘I don’t suppose I’m much worse than other men; — or for the matter of that, worse than a great many women either. You all of you here put me up to marry her.’

‘I never put you up to it.’

‘Mother did. And now because it did not go off all serene, I am to hear nothing but reproaches. Of course I never cared so very much about her.’

‘Oh, Felix, that is so shocking!’

‘Awfully shocking, I dare say. You think I am as black as the very mischief, and that sugar wouldn’t melt in other men’s mouths. Other men are just as bad as I am — and a good deal worse too. You believe that there is nobody on earth like Paul Montague.’ Hetta blushed, but said nothing. She was not yet in a condition to boast of her lover before her brother, but she did, in very truth, believe that but few young men were as true-hearted as Paul Montague. ‘I suppose you’d be surprised to hear that Master Paul is engaged to marry an American widow living at Islington.’

‘Mr Montague — engaged — to marry — an American widow! I don’t believe it.’

‘You’d better believe it if it’s any concern of yours, for it’s true. And it’s true too that he travelled about with her for ever so long in the United States, and that he had her down with him at the hotel at Lowestoft about a fortnight ago. There’s no mistake about it.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ repeated Hetta, feeling that to say even as much as that was some relief to her. It could not be true. It was impossible that the man should have come to her with such a lie in his mouth as that. Though the words astounded her, though she felt faint, almost as though she would fall in a swoon, yet in her heart of hearts she did not believe it. Surely it was some horrid joke — or perhaps some trick to divide her from the man she loved. ‘Felix, how dare you say things so wicked as that to me?’

‘What is there wicked in it? If you have been fool enough to become fond of the man, it is only right you should be told. He is engaged to marry Mrs Hurtle, and she is lodging with one Mrs Pipkin in Islington. I know the house, and could take you there to-morrow, and show you the woman. There,’ said he, ‘that’s where she is;’— and he wrote Mrs Hurtle’s name down on a scrap of paper.

‘It is not true,’ said Hetta, rising from her seat, and standing upright. ‘I am engaged to Mr Montague, and I am sure he would not treat me in that way.’

‘Then, by heaven, he shall answer it to me,’ said Felix, jumping up. ‘If he has done that, it is time that I should interfere. As true as I stand here, he is engaged to marry a woman called Mrs Hurtle whom he constantly visits at that place in Islington.’

‘I do not believe it,’ said Hetta, repeating the only defence for her lover which was applicable at the moment.

‘By George, this is beyond a joke. Will you believe it if Roger Carbury says it’s true? I know you’d believe anything fast enough against me, if he told you.’

‘Roger Carbury will not say so?’

‘Have you the courage to ask him? I say he will say so. He knows all about it — and has seen the woman.’

‘How can you know? Has Roger told you?’

‘I do know, and that’s enough. I will make this square with Master Paul. By heaven, yes! He shall answer to me. But my mother must manage you. She will not scruple to ask Roger, and she will believe what Roger tells her.’

‘I do not believe a word of it,’ said Hetta, leaving the room. But when she was alone she was very wretched. There must be some foundation for such a tale. Why should Felix have referred to Roger Carbury? And she did feel that there was something in her brother’s manner which forbade her to reject the whole story as being altogether baseless. So she sat upon her bed and cried, and thought of all the tales she had heard of faithless lovers. And yet why should the man have come to her, not only with soft words of love, but asking her hand in marriage, if it really were true that he was in daily communication with another woman whom he had promised to make his wife?

Nothing on the subject was said at dinner. Hetta with difficulty to herself sat at the table, and did not speak. Lady Carbury and her son were nearly as silent. Soon after dinner Felix slunk away to some music hall or theatre in quest probably of some other Ruby Ruggles. Then Lady Carbury, who had now been told as much as her son knew, again attacked her daughter. Very much of the story Felix had learned from Ruby. Ruby had of course learned that Paul was engaged to Mrs Hurtle. Mrs Hurtle had at once declared the fact to Mrs Pipkin, and Mrs Pipkin had been proud of the position of her lodger. Ruby had herself seen Paul Montague at the house, and had known that he had taken Mrs Hurtle to Lowestoft. And it had also become known to the two women, the aunt and her niece, that Mrs Hurtle had seen Roger Carbury on the sands at Lowestoft. Thus the whole story with most of its details — not quite with all — had come round to Lady Carbury’s ears. ‘What he has told you, my dear, is true. Much as I disapprove of Mr Montague, you do not suppose that I would deceive you.’

‘How can he know, mamma?’

‘He does know. I cannot explain to you how. He has been at the same house.’

‘Has he seen her?’

‘I do not know that he has, but Roger Carbury has seen her. If I write to him you will believe what he says?’

‘Don’t do that, mamma. Don’t write to him.’

‘But I shall. Why should I not write if he can tell me? If this other man is a villain am I not bound to protect you? Of course Felix is not steady. If it came only from him you might not credit it. And he has not seen her. If your cousin Roger tells you that it is true — tells me that he knows the man is engaged to marry this woman, then I suppose you will be contented.’

‘Contented, mamma!’

‘Satisfied that what we tell you is true.’

‘I shall never be contented again. If that is true, I will never believe anything. It can’t be true. I suppose there is something, but it can’t be that.’

The story was not altogether displeasing to Lady Carbury, though it pained her to see the agony which her daughter suffered. But she had no wish that Paul Montague should be her son-in-law, and she still thought that if Roger would persevere he might succeed. On that very night before she went to bed she wrote to Roger, and told him the whole story. ‘If,’ she said, ‘you know that there is such a person as Mrs Hurtle, and if you know also that Mr Montague has promised to make her his wife, of course you will tell me.’ Then she declared her own wishes, thinking that by doing so she could induce Roger Carbury to give such real assistance in this matter that Paul Montague would certainly be driven away. Who could feel so much interest in doing this as Roger, or who be so closely acquainted with all the circumstances of Montague’s life? ‘You know,’ she said, ‘what my wishes are about Hetta, and how utterly opposed I am to Mr Montague’s interference. If it is true, as Felix says, that he is at the present moment entangled with another woman, he is guilty of gross insolence; and if you know all the circumstances you can surely protect us — and also yourself.’

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