The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXIV

Melmotte Makes a Friend

‘Have you been thinking any more about it?’ Lord Nidderdale said to the girl as soon as Madame Melmotte had succeeded in leaving them alone together.

‘I have thought ever so much more about it,’ said Marie.

‘And what’s the result?’

‘Oh — I’ll have you.’

‘That’s right,’ said Nidderdale, throwing himself on the sofa close to her, so that he might put his arm round her waist.

‘Wait a moment, Lord Nidderdale,’ she said.

‘You might as well call me John.’

‘Then wait a moment — John. You think you might as well marry me, though you don’t love me a bit.’

‘That’s not true, Marie.’

‘Yes it is; — it’s quite true. And I think just the same — that I might as well marry you, though I don’t love you a bit.’

‘But you will.’

‘I don’t know. I don’t feel like it just at present. You had better know the exact truth, you know. I have told my father that I did not think you’d ever come again, but that if you did I would accept you. But I’m not going to tell any stories about it. You know who I’ve been in love with.’

‘But you can’t be in love with him now.’

‘Why not? I can’t marry him. I know that. And if he were to come to me, I don’t think that I would. He has behaved bad.’

‘Have I behaved bad?’

‘Not like him. You never did care, and you never said you cared.’

‘Oh yes — I have.’

‘Not at first. You say it now because you think that I shall like it. But it makes no difference now. I don’t mind about your arm being there if we are to be married, only it’s just as well for both of us to look on it as business.’

‘How very hard you are, Marie.’

‘No, I ain’t. I wasn’t hard to Sir Felix Carbury, and so I tell you. I did love him.’

‘Surely you have found him out now.’

‘Yes, I have,’ said Marie. ‘He’s a poor creature.’

‘He has just been thrashed, you know, in the streets — most horribly.’ Marie had not been told of this, and started back from her lover’s arms. ‘You hadn’t heard it?’

‘Who has thrashed him?’

‘I don’t want to tell the story against him, but they say he has been cut about in a terrible manner.’

‘Why should anybody beat him? Did he do anything?’

‘There was a young lady in the question, Marie.’

‘A young lady! What young lady? I don’t believe it. But it’s nothing to me. I don’t care about anything, Lord Nidderdale; — not a bit. I suppose you’ve made up all that out of your own head.’

‘Indeed, no. I believe he was beaten, and I believe it was about a young woman. But it signifies nothing to me, and I don’t suppose it signifies much to you. Don’t you think we might fix a day, Marie?’

‘I don’t care the least,’ said Marie. ‘The longer it’s put off the better I shall like it; — that’s all.’

‘Because I’m so detestable?’

‘No — you ain’t detestable. I think you are a very good fellow; only you don’t care for me. But it is detestable not being able to do what one wants. It’s detestable having to quarrel with everybody and never to be good friends with anybody. And it’s horribly detestable having nothing on earth to give one any interest.’

‘You couldn’t take any interest in me?’

‘Not the least.’

‘Suppose you try. Wouldn’t you like to know anything about the place where we live?’

‘It’s a castle, I know.’

‘Yes; — Castle Reekie; ever so many hundred years old.’

‘I hate old places. I should like a new house, and a new dress, and a new horse every week — and a new lover. Your father lives at the castle. I don’t suppose we are to go and live there too.’

‘We shall be there sometimes. When shall it be?’

‘The year after next.’

‘Nonsense, Marie.’

‘To-morrow.’

‘You wouldn’t be ready.’

‘You may manage it all just as you like with papa. Oh, yes — kiss me; of course you may. If I’m to belong to you what does it matter? No; — I won’t say that I love you. But if ever I do say it, you may be sure it will be true. That’s more than you can say of yourself — John.’

So the interview was over and Nidderdale walked back to the house thinking of his lady love, as far as he was able to bring his mind to any operation of thinking. He was fully determined to go on with it. As far as the girl herself was concerned, she had, in these latter days, become much more attractive to him than when he had first known her. She certainly was not a fool. And, though he could not tell himself that she was altogether like a lady, still she had a manner of her own which made him think that she would be able to live with ladies. And he did think that, in spite of all she said to the contrary, she was becoming fond of him — as he certainly had become fond of her. ‘Have you been up with the ladies?’ Melmotte asked him.

‘Oh yes.’

‘And what does Marie say?’

‘That you must fix the day.’

‘We’ll have it very soon then; — some time next month. You’ll want to get away in August. And to tell the truth so shall I. I never was worked so hard in my life as I’ve been this summer. The election and that horrid dinner had something to do with it. And I don’t mind telling you that I’ve had a fearful weight on my mind in reference to money. I never had to find so many large sums in so short a time! And I’m not quite through it yet.’

‘I wonder why you gave the dinner then.’

‘My dear boy,’— it was very pleasant to him to call the son of a marquis his dear boy — ‘as regards expenditure that was a flea-bite. Nothing that I could spend myself would have the slightest effect upon my condition one way or the other.’

‘I wish it could be the same way with me,’ said Nidderdale.

‘If you chose to go into business with me instead of taking Marie’s money out, it very soon would be so with you. But the burden is very great. I never know whence these panics arise, or why they come, or whither they go. But when they do come, they are like a storm at sea. It is only the strong ships that can stand the fury of the winds and waves. And then the buffeting which a man gets leaves him only half the man he was. I’ve had it very hard this time.’

‘I suppose you are getting right now.’

‘Yes; — I am getting right. I am not in any fear, if you mean that. I don’t mind telling you everything as it is settled now that you are to be Marie’s husband. I know that you are honest, and that if you could hurt me by repeating what I say you wouldn’t do it.’

‘Certainly I would not.’

‘You see I’ve no partner — nobody that is bound to know my affairs. My wife is the best woman in the world, but is utterly unable to understand anything about it. Of course I can’t talk freely to Marie. Cohenlupe whom you see so much with me is all very well — in his way, but I never talk over my affairs with him. He is concerned with me in one or two things — our American railway for instance, but he has no interest generally in my house. It is all on my own shoulders, and I can tell you the weight is a little heavy. It will be the greatest comfort to me in the world if I can get you to have an interest in the matter.’

‘I don’t suppose I could ever really be any good at business,’ said the modest young lord.

‘You wouldn’t come and work, I suppose. I shouldn’t expect that. But I should be glad to think that I could tell you how things are going on. Of course you heard all that was said just before the election. For forty-eight hours I had a very bad time of it then. The fact was that Alf and they who were supporting him thought that they could carry the election by running me down. They were at it for a fortnight — perfectly unscrupulous as to what they said or what harm they might do me and others. I thought that very cruel. They couldn’t get their man in, but they could and did have the effect of depreciating my property suddenly by nearly half a million of money. Think what that is!’

‘I don’t understand how it could be done.’

‘Because you don’t understand how delicate a thing is credit. They persuaded a lot of men to stay away from that infernal dinner, and consequently it was spread about the town that I was ruined. The effect upon shares which I held was instantaneous and tremendous. The Mexican railway were at 117, and they fell from that in two days to something quite nominal — so that selling was out of the question. Cohenlupe and I between us had about 8,000 of these shares. Think what that comes to!’ Nidderdale tried to calculate what it did come to, but failed altogether. ‘That’s what I call a blow; — a terrible blow. When a man is concerned as I am with money interests, and concerned largely with them all, he is of course exchanging one property for another every day of his life — according as the markets go. I don’t keep such a sum as that in one concern as an investment. Nobody does. Then when a panic comes, don’t you see how it hits?’

‘Will they never go up again?’

‘Oh yes — perhaps higher than ever. But it will take time. And in the meantime I am driven to fall back upon property intended for other purposes. That’s the meaning of what you hear about that place down in Sussex which I bought for Marie. I was so driven that I was obliged to raise forty or fifty thousand wherever I could. But that will be all right in a week or two. And as for Marie’s money — that, you know, is settled.’

He quite succeeded in making Nidderdale believe every word that he spoke, and he produced also a friendly feeling in the young man’s bosom, with something approaching to a desire that he might be of service to his future father-in-law. Hazily, as through a thick fog, Lord Nidderdale thought that he did see something of the troubles, as he had long seen something of the glories, of commerce on an extended scale, and an idea occurred to him that it might be almost more exciting than whist or unlimited loo. He resolved too that whatever the man might tell him should never be divulged. He was on this occasion somewhat captivated by Melmotte, and went away from the interview with a conviction that the financier was a big man; — one with whom he could sympathise, and to whom in a certain way he could become attached.

And Melmotte himself had derived positive pleasure even from a simulated confidence in his son-in-law. It had been pleasant to him to talk as though he were talking to a young friend whom he trusted. It was impossible that he could really admit any one to a participation in his secrets. It was out of the question that he should ever allow himself to be betrayed into speaking the truth of his own affairs. Of course every word he had said to Nidderdale had been a lie, or intended to corroborate lies. But it had not been only on behalf of the lies that he had talked after this fashion. Even though his friendship with the young man were but a mock friendship — though it would too probably be turned into bitter enmity before three months had passed by — still there was a pleasure in it. The Grendalls had left him since the day of the dinner — Miles having sent him a letter up from the country complaining of severe illness. It was a comfort to him to have someone to whom he could speak, and he much preferred Nidderdale to Miles Grendall.

This conversation took place in the smoking-room. When it was over Melmotte went into the House, and Nidderdale strolled away to the Beargarden. The Beargarden had been opened again though with difficulty, and with diminished luxury. Nor could even this be done without rigid laws as to the payment of ready money. Herr Vossner had never more been heard of, but the bills which Vossner had left unpaid were held to be good against the club, whereas every note of hand which he had taken from the members was left in the possession of Mr Flatfleece. Of course there was sorrow and trouble at the Beargarden; but still the institution had become so absolutely necessary to its members that it had been reopened under a new management. No one had felt this need more strongly during every hour of the day — of the day as he counted his days, rising as he did about an hour after noon and going to bed three or four hours after midnight — than did Dolly Longestaffe. The Beargarden had become so much to him that he had begun to doubt whether life would be even possible without such a resort for his hours. But now the club was again open, and Dolly could have his dinner and his bottle of wine with the luxury to which he was accustomed.

But at this time he was almost mad with the sense of injury. Circumstances had held out to him a prospect of almost unlimited ease and indulgence. The arrangement made as to the Pickering estate would pay all his debts, would disembarrass his own property, and would still leave him a comfortable sum in hand. Squercum had told him that if he would stick to his terms he would surely get them. He had stuck to his terms and he had got them. And now the property was sold, and the title-deeds gone — and he had not received a penny! He did not know whom to be loudest in abusing — his father, the Bideawhiles, or Mr Melmotte. And then it was said that he had signed that letter! He was very open in his manner of talking about his misfortune at the club. His father was the most obstinate old fool that ever lived. As for the Bideawhiles — he would bring an action against them. Squercum had explained all that to him. But Melmotte was the biggest rogue the world had ever produced. ‘By George! the world,’ he said, ‘must be coming to an end. There’s that infernal scoundrel sitting in Parliament just as if he had not robbed me of my property, and forged my name, and — and — by George! he ought to be hung. If any man ever deserved to be hung, that man deserves to be hung.’ This he spoke openly in the coffee-room of the club, and was still speaking as Nidderdale was taking his seat at one of the tables. Dolly had been dining, and had turned round upon his chair so as to face some half-dozen men whom he was addressing.

Nidderdale leaving his chair walked up to him very gently. ‘Dolly,’ said he, ‘do not go on in that way about Melmotte when I am in the room. I have no doubt you are mistaken, and so you’ll find out in a day or two. You don’t know Melmotte.’

‘Mistaken!’ Dolly still continued to exclaim with a loud voice. ‘Am I mistaken in supposing that I haven’t been paid my money?’

‘I don’t believe it has been owing very long.’

‘Am I mistaken in supposing that my name has been forged to a letter?’

‘I am sure you are mistaken if you think that Melmotte had anything to do with it.’

‘Squercum says —’

‘Never mind Squercum. We all know what are the suspicions of a fellow of that kind.’

‘I’d believe Squercum a deuced sight sooner than Melmotte.’

‘Look here, Dolly. I know more probably of Melmotte’s affairs than you do or perhaps than anybody else. If it will induce you to remain quiet for a few days and to hold your tongue here — I’ll make myself responsible for the entire sum he owes you.’

‘The devil you will.’

‘I will indeed.’

Nidderdale was endeavouring to speak so that only Dolly should hear him, and probably nobody else did hear him; but Dolly would not lower his voice. ‘That’s out of the question, you know,’ he said. ‘How could I take your money? The truth is, Nidderdale, the man is a thief, and so you’ll find out, sooner or later. He has broken open a drawer in my father’s room and forged my name to a letter. Everybody knows it. Even my governor knows it now — and Bideawhile. Before many days are over you’ll find that he will be in gaol for forgery.’

This was very unpleasant, as every one knew that Nidderdale was either engaged or becoming engaged to Melmotte’s daughter.

‘Since you will speak about it in this public way —’ began Nidderdale.

‘I think it ought to be spoken about in a public way,’ said Dolly.

‘I deny it as publicly. I can’t say anything about the letter except that I am sure Mr Melmotte did not put your name to it. From what I understand there seems to have been some blunder between your father and his lawyer.’

‘That’s true enough,’ said Dolly; ‘but it doesn’t excuse Melmotte.’

‘As to the money, there can be no more doubt that it will be paid than that I stand here. What is it? — twenty-five thousand, isn’t it?’

‘Eighty thousand, the whole.’

‘Well — eighty thousand. It’s impossible to suppose that such a man as Melmotte shouldn’t be able to raise eighty thousand pounds.’

‘Why don’t he do it then?’ asked Dolly.

All this was very unpleasant and made the club less social than it used to be in old days. There was an attempt that night to get up a game of cards; but Nidderdale would not play because he was offended with Dolly Longestaffe; and Miles Grendall was away in the country — a fugitive from the face of Melmotte, and Carbury was in hiding at home with his countenance from top to bottom supported by plasters, and Montague in these days never went to the club. At the present moment he was again in Liverpool, having been summoned thither by Mr Ramsbottom. ‘By George,’ said Dolly, as he filled another pipe and ordered more brandy and water, ‘I think everything is going to come to an end. I do indeed. I never heard of such a thing before as a man being done in this way. And then Vossner has gone off, and it seems everybody is to pay just what he says they owed him. And now one can’t even get up a game of cards. I feel as though there were no good in hoping that things would ever come right again.’

The opinion of the club was a good deal divided as to the matter in dispute between Lord Nidderdale and Dolly Longestaffe. It was admitted by some to be ‘very fishy.’ If Melmotte were so great a man why didn’t he pay the money, and why should he have mortgaged the property before it was really his own? But the majority of the men thought that Dolly was wrong. As to the signature of the letter, Dolly was a man who would naturally be quite unable to say what he had and what he had not signed. And then, even into the Beargarden there had filtered, through the outer world, a feeling that people were not now bound to be so punctilious in the paying of money as they were a few years since. No doubt it suited Melmotte to make use of the money, and therefore — as he had succeeded in getting the property into his hands — he did make use of it. But it would be forthcoming sooner or later! In this way of looking at the matter the Beargarden followed the world at large. The world at large, in spite of the terrible falling-off at the Emperor of China’s dinner, in spite of all the rumours, in spite of the ruinous depreciation of the Mexican Railway stock, and of the undoubted fact that Dolly Longestaffe had not received his money, was inclined to think that Melmotte would ‘pull through.’

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