The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXIX

The Brehgert Correspondence

Mr Longestaffe had brought his daughter down to Caversham on a Wednesday. During the Thursday and Friday she had passed a very sad time, not knowing whether she was or was not engaged to marry Mr Brehgert. Her father had declared to her that he would break off the match, and she believed that he had seen Mr Brehgert with that purpose. She had certainly given no consent, and had never hinted to any one of the family an idea that she was disposed to yield. But she felt that, at any rate with her father, she had not adhered to her purpose with tenacity, and that she had allowed him to return to London with a feeling that she might still be controlled. She was beginning to be angry with Mr Brehgert, thinking that he had taken his dismissal from her father without consulting her. It was necessary that something should be settled, something known. Life such as she was leading now would drive her mad. She had all the disadvantages of the Brehgert connection and none of the advantages. She could not comfort herself with thinking of the Brehgert wealth and the Brehgert houses, and yet she was living under the general ban of Caversham on account of her Brehgert associations. She was beginning to think that she herself must write to Mr Brehgert — only she did not know what to say to him.

But on the Saturday morning she got a letter from Mr Brehgert. It was handed to her as she was sitting at breakfast with her sister — who at that moment was triumphant with a present of gooseberries which had been sent over from Toodlam. The Toodlam gooseberries were noted throughout Suffolk, and when the letters were being brought in Sophia was taking her lover’s offering from the basket with her own fair hands. ‘Well!’ Georgey had exclaimed, ‘to send a pottle of gooseberries to his lady love across the country! Who but George Whitstable would do that?’

‘I dare say you get nothing but gems and gold,’ Sophy retorted. ‘I don’t suppose that Mr Brehgert knows what a gooseberry is.’ At that moment the letter was brought in, and Georgiana knew the writing. ‘I suppose that’s from Mr Brehgert,’ said Sophy.

‘I don’t think it matters much to you who it’s from.’ She tried to be composed and stately, but the letter was too important to allow of composure, and she retired to read it in privacy.

The letter was as follows:—

MY DEAR GEORGIANA,

Your father came to me the day after I was to have met you at Lady Monogram’s party. I told him then that I would not write to you till I had taken a day or two to consider what he said to me; — and also that I thought it better that you should have a day or two to consider what he might say to you. He has now repeated what he said at our first interview, almost with more violence; for I must say that I think he has allowed himself to be violent when it was surely unnecessary.

The long and short of it is this. He altogether disapproves of your promise to marry me. He has given three reasons; — first that I am in trade; secondly that I am much older than you, and have a family; and thirdly that I am a Jew. In regard to the first I can hardly think that he is earnest. I have explained to him that my business is that of a banker; and I can hardly conceive it to be possible that any gentleman in England should object to his daughter marrying a banker, simply because the man is a banker. There would be a blindness of arrogance in such a proposition of which I think your father to be incapable. This has merely been added in to strengthen his other objections.

As to my age, it is just fifty-one. I do not at all think myself too old to be married again. Whether I am too old for you is for you to judge — as is also that question of my children who, of course, should you become my wife will be to some extent a care upon your shoulders. As this is all very serious you will not, I hope, think me wanting in gallantry if I say that I should hardly have ventured to address you if you had been quite a young girl. No doubt there are many years between us; — and so I think there should be. A man of my age hardly looks to marry a woman of the same standing as himself. But the question is one for the lady to decide and you must decide it now.

As to my religion, I acknowledge the force of what your father says — though I think that a gentleman brought up with fewer prejudices would have expressed himself in language less likely to give offence. However I am a man not easily offended; and on this occasion I am ready to take what he has said in good part. I can easily conceive that there should be those who think that the husband and wife should agree in religion. I am indifferent to it myself. I shall not interfere with you if you make me happy by becoming my wife, nor, I suppose, will you with me. Should you have a daughter or daughters I am quite willing that they should be brought up subject to your influence.

There was a plain-speaking in this which made Georgiana look round the room as though to see whether any one was watching her as she read it.

But no doubt your father objects to me specially because I am a Jew. If I were an atheist he might, perhaps, say nothing on the subject of religion. On this matter as well as on others it seems to me that your father has hardly kept pace with the movements of the age. Fifty years ago, whatever claim a Jew might have to be as well considered as a Christian, he certainly was not so considered. Society was closed against him, except under special circumstances, and so were all the privileges of high position. But that has been altered. Your father does not admit the change; but I think he is blind to it, because he does not wish to see.

I say all this more as defending myself than as combating his views with you. It must be for you and for you alone to decide how far his views shall govern you. He has told me, after a rather peremptory fashion, that I have behaved badly to him and to his family because I did not go to him in the first instance when I thought of obtaining the honour of an alliance with his daughter. I have been obliged to tell him that in this matter I disagree with him entirely, though in so telling him I endeavoured to restrain myself from any appearance of warmth. I had not the pleasure of meeting you in his house, nor had I any acquaintance with him. And again, at the risk of being thought uncourteous, I must say that you are to a certain degree emancipated by age from that positive subordination to which a few years ago you probably submitted without a question. If a gentleman meets a lady in society, as I met you in the home of our friend Mr Melmotte, I do not think that the gentleman is to be debarred from expressing his feelings because the lady may possibly have a parent. Your father, no doubt with propriety, had left you to be the guardian of yourself, and I cannot submit to be accused of improper conduct because, finding you in that condition, I availed myself of it.

And now, having said so much, I must leave the question to be decided entirely by yourself. I beg you to understand that I do not at all wish to hold you to a promise merely because the promise has been given. I readily acknowledge that the opinion of your family should be considered by you, though I will not admit that I was bound to consult that opinion before I spoke to you. It may well be that your regard for me or your appreciation of the comforts with which I may be able to surround you, will not suffice to reconcile you to such a breach from your own family as your father, with much repetition, has assured me will be inevitable. Take a day or two to think of this and turn it well over in your mind. When I last had the happiness of speaking to you, you seemed to think that your parents might raise objections, but that those objections would give way before an expression of your own wishes. I was flattered by your so thinking; but, if I may form any judgment from your father’s manner, I must suppose that you were mistaken. You will understand that I do not say this as any reproach to you. Quite the contrary. I think your father is irrational; and you may well have failed to anticipate that be should be so.

As to my own feelings they remain exactly as they were when I endeavoured to explain them to you. Though I do not find myself to be too old to marry, I do think myself too old to write love letters. I have no doubt you believe me when I say that I entertain a most sincere affection for you; and I beseech you to believe me in saying further that should you become my wife it shall be the study of my life to make you happy.

It is essentially necessary that I should allude to one other matter, as to which I have already told your father what I will now tell you. I think it probable that within this week I shall find myself a loser of a very large sum of money through the failure of a gentleman whose bad treatment of me I will the more readily forgive because he was the means of making me known to you. This you must understand is private between you and me, though I have thought it proper to inform your father. Such loss, if it fall upon me, will not interfere in the least with the income which I have proposed to settle upon you for your use after my death; and, as your father declares that in the event of your marrying me he will neither give to you nor bequeath to you a shilling, he might have abstained from telling me to my face that I was a bankrupt merchant when I myself told him of my loss. I am not a bankrupt merchant nor at all likely to become so. Nor will this loss at all interfere with my present mode of living. But I have thought it right to inform you of it, because, if it occur — as I think it will — I shall not deem it right to keep a second establishment probably for the next two or three years. But my house at Fulham and my stables there will be kept up just as they are at present.

I have now told you everything which I think it is necessary you should know, in order that you may determine either to adhere to or to recede from your engagement. When you have resolved you will let me know but a day or two may probably be necessary for your decision. I hope I need not say that a decision in my favour will make me a happy man.

I am, in the meantime, your affectionate friend,

EZEKIEL BREHGERT.

This very long letter puzzled Georgey a good deal, and left her, at the time of reading it, very much in doubt as to what she would do. She could understand that it was a plain-spoken and truth-telling letter. Not that she, to herself, gave it praise for those virtues; but that it imbued her unconsciously with a thorough belief. She was apt to suspect deceit in other people; — but it did not occur to her that Mr Brehgert had written a single word with an attempt to deceive her. But the single-minded genuine honesty of the letter was altogether thrown away upon her. She never said to herself, as she read it, that she might safely trust herself to this man, though he were a Jew, though greasy and like a butcher, though over fifty and with a family, because he was an honest man. She did not see that the letter was particularly sensible; — but she did allow herself to be pained by the total absence of romance. She was annoyed at the first allusion to her age, and angry at the second; and yet she had never supposed that Brehgert had taken her to be younger than she was. She was well aware that the world in general attributes more years to unmarried women than they have lived, as a sort of equalising counter-weight against the pretences which young women make on the other side, or the lies which are told on their behalf. Nor had she wished to appear peculiarly young in his eyes. But, nevertheless, she regarded the reference to be uncivil — perhaps almost butcher-like — and it had its effect upon her. And then the allusion to the ‘daughter or daughters’ troubled her. She told herself that it was vulgar — just what a butcher might have said. And although she was quite prepared to call her father the most irrational, the most prejudiced, and most ill-natured of men, yet she was displeased that Mr Brehgert should take such a liberty with him. But the passage in Mr Brehgert’s letter which was most distasteful to her was that which told her of the loss which he might probably incur through his connection with Melmotte. What right had he to incur a loss which would incapacitate him from keeping his engagements with her? The town-house had been the great persuasion, and now he absolutely had the face to tell her that there was to be no town-house for three years. When she read this she felt that she ought to be indignant, and for a few moments was minded to sit down without further consideration and tell the man with considerable scorn that she would have nothing more to say to him.

But on that side too there would be terrible bitterness. How would she have fallen from her greatness when, barely forgiven by her father and mother for the vile sin which she had contemplated, she should consent to fill a common bridesmaid place at the nuptials of George Whitstable! And what would then be left to her in life? This episode of the Jew would make it quite impossible for her again to contest the question of the London house with her father. Lady Pomona and Mrs George Whitstable would be united with him against her. There would be no ‘season’ for her, and she would be nobody at Caversham. As for London, she would hardly wish to go there! Everybody would know the story of the Jew. She thought that she could have plucked up courage to face the world as the Jew’s wife, but not as the young woman who had wanted to marry the Jew and had failed. How would her future life go with her, should she now make up her mind to retire from the proposed alliance? If she could get her father to take her abroad at once, she would do it; but she was not now in a condition to make any terms with her father. As all this gradually passed through her mind, she determined that she would so far take Mr Brehgert’s advice as to postpone her answer till she had well considered the matter.

She slept upon it, and the next day she asked her mother a few questions. ‘Mamma, have you any idea what papa means to do?’

‘In what way, my dear?’ Lady Pomona’s voice was not gracious, as she was free from that fear of her daughter’s ascendancy which had formerly affected her.

‘Well; — I suppose he must have some plan.’

‘You must explain yourself. I don’t know why he should have any particular plan.’

‘Will he go to London next year?’

‘That depends upon money, I suppose. What makes you ask?’

‘Of course I have been very cruelly circumstanced. Everybody must see that. I’m sure you do, mamma. The long and short of it is this; — if I give up my engagement, will he take us abroad for a year?’

‘Why should he?’

‘You can’t suppose that I should be very comfortable in England. If we are to remain here at Caversham, how am I to hope ever to get settled?’

‘Sophy is doing very well.’

‘Oh, mamma, there are not two George Whitstables; — thank God.’ She had meant to be humble and supplicating, but she could not restrain herself from the use of that one shaft. ‘I don’t mean but what Sophy may be very happy, and I am sure that I hope she will. But that won’t do me any good. I should be very unhappy here.’

‘I don’t see how you are to find any one to marry you by going abroad,’ said Lady Pomona, ‘and I don’t see why your papa is to be taken away from his own home. He likes Caversham.’

‘Then I am to be sacrificed on every side,’ said Georgey, stalking out of the room. But still she could not make up her mind what letter she would write to Mr Brehgert, and she slept upon it another night.

On the next day after breakfast she did write her letter, though when she sat down to her task she had not clearly made up her mind what she would say. But she did get it written, and here it is.

Caversham, Monday.

MY DEAR MR BREHGERT,

As you told me not to hurry, I have taken a little time to think about your letter. Of course it would be very disagreeable to quarrel with papa and mamma and everybody. And if I do do so, I’m sure somebody ought to be very grateful. But papa has been very unfair in what he has said. As to not asking him, it could have been of no good, for of course he would be against it. He thinks a great deal of the Longestaffe family, and so, I suppose, ought I. But the world does change so quick that one doesn’t think of anything now as one used to do. Anyway, I don’t feel that I’m bound to do what papa tells me just because he says it. Though I’m not quite so old as you seem to think, I’m old enough to judge for myself — and I mean to do so. You say very little about affection, but I suppose I am to take all that for granted.

I don’t wonder at papa being annoyed about the loss of the money. It must be a very great sum when it will prevent your having a house in London — as you agreed. It does make a great difference, because, of course, as you have no regular place in the country, one could only see one’s friends in London. Fulham is all very well now and then, but I don’t think I should like to live at Fulham all the year through. You talk of three years, which would be dreadful. If as you say it will not have any lasting effect, could you not manage to have a house in town? If you can do it in three years, I should think you could do it now. I should like to have an answer to this question. I do think so much about being the season in town!

As for the other parts of your letter, I knew very well beforehand that papa would be unhappy about it. But I don’t know why I’m to let that stand in my way when so very little is done to make me happy. Of course you will write to me again, and I hope you will say something satisfactory about the house in London.

Yours always sincerely,

GEORGIANA LONGESTAFFE.

It probably never occurred to Georgey that Mr Brehgert would under any circumstances be anxious to go back from his engagement. She so fully recognised her own value as a Christian lady of high birth and position giving herself to a commercial Jew, that she thought that under any circumstances Mr Brehgert would be only too anxious to stick to his bargain. Nor had she any idea that there was anything in her letter which could probably offend him. She thought that she might at any rate make good her claim to the house in London; and that as there were other difficulties on his side, he would yield to her on this point. But as yet she hardly knew Mr Brehgert. He did not lose a day in sending to her a second letter. He took her letter with him to his office in the city, and there he answered it without a moment’s delay.

No. 7, St. Cuthbert’s Court, London, Tuesday, July 16, 18 —.

MY DEAR MISS LONGESTAFFE,

You say it would be very disagreeable to you to quarrel with your papa and mamma; and as I agree with you, I will take your letter as concluding our intimacy. I should not, however, be dealing quite fairly with you or with myself if I gave you to understand that I felt myself to be coerced to this conclusion simply by your qualified assent to your parents’ views. It is evident to me from your letter that you would not wish to be my wife unless I can supply you with a house in town as well as with one in the country. But this for the present is out of my power. I would not have allowed my losses to interfere with your settlement because I had stated a certain income; and must therefore to a certain extent have compromised my children. But I should not have been altogether happy till I had replaced them in their former position, and must therefore have abstained from increased expenditure till I had done so. But of course I have no right to ask you to share with me the discomfort of a single home. I may perhaps add that I had hoped that you would have looked to your happiness to another source, and that I will bear my disappointment as best I may.

As you may perhaps under these circumstances be unwilling that I should wear the ring you gave me, I return it by post. I trust you will be good enough to keep the trifle you were pleased to accept from me, in remembrance of one who will always wish you well.

Yours sincerely,

EZEKIEL BREHGERT.

And so it was all over! Georgey, when she read this letter, was very indignant at her lover’s conduct. She did not believe that her own letter had at all been of a nature to warrant it. She had regarded herself as being quite sure of him, and only so far doubting herself, as to be able to make her own terms because of such doubts. And now the Jew had rejected her! She read this last letter over and over again, and the more she read it the more she felt that in her heart of hearts she had intended to marry him. There would have been inconveniences no doubt, but they would have been less than the sorrow on the other side. Now she saw nothing before her but a long vista of Caversham dullness, in which she would be trampled upon by her father and mother, and scorned by Mr and Mrs George Whitstable.

She got up and walked about the room thinking of vengeance. But what vengeance was possible to her? Everybody belonging to her would take the part of the Jew in that which he had now done. She could not ask Dolly to beat him; nor could she ask her father to visit him with a stern frown of paternal indignation. There could be no revenge. For a time — only a few seconds — she thought that she would write to Mr Brehgert and tell him that she had not intended to bring about this termination of their engagement. This, no doubt, would have been an appeal to the Jew for mercy; — and she could not quite descend to that. But she would keep the watch and chain he had given her, and which somebody had told her had not cost less than a hundred and fifty guineas. She could not wear them, as people would know whence they had come; but she might exchange them for jewels which she could wear.

At lunch she said nothing to her sister, but in the course of the afternoon she thought it best to inform her mother. ‘Mamma,’ she said, ‘as you and papa take it so much to heart, I have broken off everything with Mr Brehgert.’

‘Of course it must be broken off,’ said Lady Pomona. This was very ungracious — so much so that Georgey almost flounced out of the room. ‘Have you heard from the man?’ asked her ladyship.

‘I have written to him, and he has answered me; and it is all settled. I thought that you would have said something kind to me.’ And the unfortunate young woman burst out into tears.

‘It was so dreadful,’ said Lady Pomona; —‘so very dreadful. I never heard of anything so bad. When young what’s-his-name married the tallow-chandler’s daughter I thought it would have killed me if it had been Dolly; but this was worse than that. Her father was a methodist.’

‘They had neither of them a shilling of money,’ said Georgey through her tears.

‘And your papa says this man was next door to a bankrupt. But it’s all over?’

‘Yes, mamma.’

‘And now we must all remain here at Caversham till people forget it. It has been very hard upon George Whitstable, because of course everybody has known it through the county. I once thought he would have been off, and I really don’t know that we could have said anything.’ At that moment Sophy entered the room. ‘It’s all over between Georgiana and the — man,’ said Lady Pomona, who hardly saved herself from stigmatising him by a further reference to his religion.

‘I knew it would be,’ said Sophia.

‘Of course it could never have really taken place,’ said their mother.

‘And now I beg that nothing more may be said about it,’ said Georgiana. ‘I suppose, mamma, you will write to papa?’

‘You must send him back his watch and chain, Georgey,’ said Sophia.

‘What business is that of yours?’

‘Of course she must. Her papa would not let her keep it.’

To such a miserable depth of humility had the younger Miss Longestaffe been brought by her ill-considered intimacy with the Melmottes! Georgiana, when she looked back on this miserable episode in her life, always attributed her grief to the scandalous breach of compact of which her father had been guilty.

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