The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXXI

Mr Cohenlupe Leaves London

Dolly Longestaffe had found himself compelled to go to Fetter Lane immediately after that meeting in Bruton Street at which he had consented to wait two days longer for the payment of his money. This was on a Wednesday, the day appointed for the payment being Friday. He had undertaken that, on his part, Squercum should be made to desist from further immediate proceedings, and he could only carry out his word by visiting Squercum. The trouble to him was very great, but he began to feel that he almost liked it. The excitement was nearly as good as that of loo. Of course it was a ‘horrid bore,’— this having to go about in cabs under the sweltering sun of a London July day. Of course it was a ‘horrid bore,’— this doubt about his money. And it went altogether against the grain with him that he should be engaged in any matter respecting the family property in agreement with his father and Mr Bideawhile. But there was an importance in it that sustained him amidst his troubles. It is said that if you were to take a man of moderate parts and make him Prime Minister out of hand, he might probably do as well as other Prime Ministers, the greatness of the work elevating the man to its own level. In that way Dolly was elevated to the level of a man of business, and felt and enjoyed his own capacity. ‘By George!’ It depended chiefly upon him whether such a man as Melmotte should or should not be charged before the Lord Mayor. ‘Perhaps I oughtn’t to have promised,’ he said to Squercum, sitting in the lawyer’s office on a high-legged stool with a cigar in his mouth. He preferred Squercum to any other lawyer he had met because Squercum’s room was untidy and homely, because there was nothing awful about it, and because he could sit in what position he pleased, and smoke all the time.

‘Well; I don’t think you ought, if you ask me,’ said Squercum.

‘You weren’t there to be asked, old fellow.’

‘Bideawhile shouldn’t have asked you to agree to anything in my absence,’ said Squercum indignantly. ‘It was a very unprofessional thing on his part, and so I shall take an opportunity of telling him.’

‘It was you told me to go.’

‘Well; — yes. I wanted you to see what they were at in that room; but I told you to look on and say nothing.’

‘I didn’t speak half-a-dozen words.’

‘You shouldn’t have spoken those words. Your father then is quite clear that you did not sign the letter?’

‘Oh, yes; — the governor is pig-headed, you know, but he’s honest.’

‘That’s a matter of course,’ said the lawyer. ‘All men are honest; but they are generally specially honest to their own side. Bideawhile’s honest; but you’ve got to fight him deuced close to prevent his getting the better of you. Melmotte has promised to pay the money on Friday, has he?’

‘He’s to bring it with him to Bruton Street.’

‘I don’t believe a word of it; — and I’m sure Bideawhile doesn’t. In what shape will he bring it? He’ll give you a cheque dated on Monday, and that’ll give him two days more, and then on Monday there’ll be a note to say the money can’t be lodged till Wednesday. There should be no compromising with such a man. You only get from one mess into another. I told you neither to do anything or to say anything.’

‘I suppose we can’t help ourselves now. You’re to be there on Friday. I particularly bargained for that. It you’re there, there won’t be any more compromising.’

Squercum made one or two further remarks to his client, not at all flattering to Dolly’s vanity — which might have caused offence had not there been such perfectly good feeling between the attorney and the young man. As it was, Dolly replied to everything that was said with increased flattery. ‘If I was a sharp fellow like you, you know,’ said Dolly, ‘of course I should get along better; but I ain’t, you know.’ It was then settled that they should meet each other, and also meet Mr Longestaffe senior, Bideawhile, and Melmotte, at twelve o’clock on Friday morning in Bruton Street.

Squercum was by no means satisfied. He had busied himself in this matter, and had ferreted things out, till he had pretty nearly got to the bottom of that affair about the houses in the East, and had managed to induce the heirs of the old man who had died to employ him. As to the Pickering property he had not a doubt on the subject. Old Longestaffe had been induced by promises of wonderful aid and by the bribe of a seat at the Board of the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway to give up the title-deeds of the property — as far as it was in his power to give them up; and had endeavoured to induce Dolly to do so also. As he had failed, Melmotte had supplemented his work by ingenuity, with which the reader is acquainted. All this was perfectly clear to Squercum, who thought that he saw before him a most attractive course of proceeding against the Great Financier. It was pure ambition rather than any hope of lucre that urged him on. He regarded Melmotte as a grand swindler — perhaps the grandest that the world had ever known — and he could conceive no greater honour than the detection, successful prosecution, and ultimate destroying of so great a man. To have hunted down Melmotte would make Squercum as great almost as Melmotte himself. But he felt himself to have been unfairly hampered by his own client. He did not believe that the money would be paid; but delay might rob him of his Melmotte. He had heard a good many things in the City, and believed it to be quite out of the question that Melmotte should raise the money — but there were various ways in which a man might escape.

It may be remembered that Croll, the German clerk, preceded Melmotte into the City on Wednesday after Marie’s refusal to sign the deeds. He, too, had his eyes open, and had perceived that things were not looking as well as they used to look. Croll had for many years been true to his patron, having been, upon the whole, very well paid for such truth. There had been times when things had gone badly with him, but he had believed in Melmotte, and, when Melmotte rose, had been rewarded for his faith. Mr Croll at the present time had little investments of his own, not made under his employer’s auspices, which would leave him not absolutely without bread for his family should the Melmotte affairs at any time take an awkward turn. Melmotte had never required from him service that was actually fraudulent — had at any rate never required it by spoken words. Mr Croll had not been over-scrupulous, and had occasionally been very useful to Mr Melmotte. But there must be a limit to all things; and why should any man sacrifice himself beneath the ruins of a falling house — when convinced that nothing he can do can prevent the fall? Mr Croll would have been of course happy to witness Miss Melmotte’s signature; but as for that other kind of witnessing — this clearly to his thinking was not the time for such good-nature on his part.

‘You know what’s up now; — don’t you?’ said one of the junior clerks to Mr Croll when he entered the office in Abchurch Lane.

‘A good deal will be up soon,’ said the German.

‘Cohenlupe has gone!’

‘And to vere has Mr Cohenlupe gone?’

‘He hasn’t been civil enough to leave his address. I fancy he don’t want his friends to have to trouble themselves by writing to him. Nobody seems to know what’s become of him.’

‘New York,’ suggested Mr Croll.

‘They seem to think not. They’re too hospitable in New York for Mr Cohenlupe just at present. He’s travelling private. He’s on the continent somewhere — half across France by this time; but nobody knows what route he has taken. That’ll be a poke in the ribs for the old boy; — eh, Croll?’ Croll merely shook his head. ‘I wonder what has become of Miles Grendall,’ continued the clerk.

‘Ven de rats is going avay it is bad for de house. I like de rats to stay.’

‘There seems to have been a regular manufactory of Mexican Railway scrip.’

‘Our governor knew noding about dat,’ said Croll.

‘He has a hat full of them at any rate. If they could have been kept up another fortnight they say Cohenlupe would have been worth nearly a million of money, and the governor would have been as good as the bank. Is it true they are going to have him before the Lord Mayor about the Pickering title-deeds?’ Croll declared that he knew nothing about the matter, and settled himself down to his work.

In little more than two hours he was followed by Melmotte, who thus reached the City late in the afternoon. It was he knew too late to raise the money on that day, but he hoped that he might pave the way for getting it on the next day, which would be Thursday. Of course the first news which he heard was of the defection of Mr Cohenlupe. It was Croll who told him. He turned back, and his jaw fell, but at first he said nothing.

‘It’s a bad thing,’ said Mr Croll.

‘Yes; — it is bad. He had a vast amount of my property in his hands. Where has he gone?’ Croll shook his head. ‘It never rains but it pours,’ said Melmotte. ‘Well; I’ll weather it all yet. I’ve been worse than I am now, Croll, as you know, and have had a hundred thousand pounds at my banker’s — loose cash — before the month was out.’

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Croll.

‘But the worst of it is that every one around me is so damnably jealous. It isn’t what I’ve lost that will crush me, but what men will say that I’ve lost. Ever since I began to stand for Westminster there has been a dead set against me in the City. The whole of that affair of the dinner was planned — planned, by G— — that it might ruin me. It was all laid out just as you would lay the foundation of a building. It is hard for one man to stand against all that when he has dealings so large as mine.’

‘Very hard, Mr Melmotte.’

‘But they’ll find they’re mistaken yet. There’s too much of the real stuff, Croll, for them to crush me. Property’s a kind of thing that comes out right at last. It’s cut and come again, you know, if the stuff is really there. But I mustn’t stop talking here. I suppose I shall find Brehgert in Cuthbert’s Court.’

‘I should say so, Mr Melmotte. Mr Brehgert never leaves much before six.’

Then Mr Melmotte took his hat and gloves, and the stick that he usually carried, and went out with his face carefully dressed in its usually jaunty air. But Croll as he went heard him mutter the name of Cohenlupe between his teeth. The part which he had to act is one very difficult to any actor. The carrying an external look of indifference when the heart is sinking within — or has sunk almost to the very ground — is more than difficult; it is an agonizing task. In all mental suffering the sufferer longs for solitude — for permission to cast himself loose along the ground, so that every limb and every feature of his person may faint in sympathy with his heart. A grandly urbane deportment over a crushed spirit and ruined hopes is beyond the physical strength of most men; — but there have been men so strong. Melmotte very nearly accomplished it. It was only to the eyes of such a one as Herr Croll that the failure was perceptible.

Melmotte did find Mr Brehgert. At this time Mr Brehgert had completed his correspondence with Miss Longestaffe, in which he had mentioned the probability of great losses from the anticipated commercial failure in Mr Melmotte’s affairs. He had now heard that Mr Cohenlupe had gone upon his travels, and was therefore nearly sure that his anticipation would be correct. Nevertheless, he received his old friend with a smile. When large sums of money are concerned there is seldom much of personal indignation between man and man. The loss of fifty pounds or of a few hundreds may create personal wrath; — but fifty thousand require equanimity. ‘So Cohenlupe hasn’t been seen in the City to-day,’ said Brehgert.

‘He has gone,’ said Melmotte hoarsely.

‘I think I once told you that Cohenlupe was not the man for large dealings.’

‘Yes, you did,’ said Melmotte.

‘Well; — it can’t be helped; can it? And what is it now?’ Then Melmotte explained to Mr Brehgert what it was that he wanted then, taking the various documents out of the bag which throughout the afternoon he had carried in his hand. Mr Brehgert understood enough of his friend’s affairs, and enough of affairs in general, to understand readily all that was required. He examined the documents, declaring, as he did so, that he did not know how the thing could be arranged by Friday. Melmotte replied that £50,000 was not a very large sum of money, that the security offered was worth twice as much as that. ‘You will leave them with me this evening,’ said Brehgert. Melmotte paused for a moment, and said that he would of course do so. He would have given much, very much, to have been sufficiently master of himself to have assented without hesitation; — but then the weight within was so very heavy!

Having left the papers and the bag with Mr Brehgert, he walked westwards to the House of Commons. He was accustomed to remain in the City later than this, often not leaving it till seven — though during the last week or ten days he had occasionally gone down to the House in the afternoon. It was now Wednesday, and there was no evening sitting; — but his mind was too full of other things to allow him to remember this. As he walked along the Embankment, his thoughts were very heavy. How would things go with him? — What would be the end of it? Ruin; — yes, but there were worse things than ruin. And a short time since he had been so fortunate; — had made himself so safe! As he looked back at it, he could hardly say how it had come to pass that he had been driven out of the track that he had laid down for himself. He had known that ruin would come, and had made himself so comfortably safe, so brilliantly safe, in spite of ruin. But insane ambition had driven him away from his anchorage. He told himself over and over again that the fault had been not in circumstances — not in that which men call Fortune — but in his own incapacity to bear his position. He saw it now. He felt it now. If he could only begin again, how different would his conduct be!

But of what avail were such regrets as these? He must take things as they were now, and see that, in dealing with them, he allowed himself to be carried away neither by pride nor cowardice. And if the worst should come to the worst, then let him face it like a man! There was a certain manliness about him which showed itself perhaps as strongly in his own self-condemnation as in any other part of his conduct at this time. Judging of himself, as though he were standing outside himself and looking on to another man’s work, he pointed out to himself his own shortcomings. If it were all to be done again he thought that he could avoid this bump against the rocks on one side, and that terribly shattering blow on the other. There was much that he was ashamed of — many a little act which recurred to him vividly in this solitary hour as a thing to be repented of with inner sackcloth and ashes. But never once, not for a moment, did it occur to him that he should repent of the fraud in which his whole life had been passed. No idea ever crossed his mind of what might have been the result had he lived the life of an honest man. Though he was inquiring into himself as closely as he could, he never even told himself that he had been dishonest. Fraud and dishonesty had been the very principle of his life, and had so become a part of his blood and bones that even in this extremity of his misery he made no question within himself as to his right judgment in regard to them. Not to cheat, not to be a scoundrel, not to live more luxuriously than others by cheating more brilliantly, was a condition of things to which his mind had never turned itself. In that respect he accused himself of no want of judgment. But why had he, so unrighteous himself, not made friends to himself of the Mammon of unrighteousness? Why had he not conciliated Lord Mayors? Why had he trod upon all the corns of all his neighbours? Why had he been insolent at the India Office? Why had he trusted any man as he had trusted Cohenlupe? Why had he not stuck to Abchurch Lane instead of going into Parliament? Why had he called down unnecessary notice on his head by entertaining the Emperor of China? It was too late now, and he must bear it; but these were the things that had ruined him.

He walked into Palace Yard and across it, to the door of Westminster Abbey, before he found out that Parliament was not sitting. ‘Oh, Wednesday! Of course it is,’ he said, turning round and directing his steps towards Grosvenor Square. Then he remembered that in the morning he had declared his purpose of dining at home, and now he did not know what better use to make of the present evening. His house could hardly be very comfortable to him. Marie no doubt would keep out of his way, and he did not habitually receive much pleasure from his wife’s company. But in his own house he could at least be alone. Then, as he walked slowly across the park, thinking so intently on matters as hardly to observe whether he himself were observed or no, he asked himself whether it still might not be best for him to keep the money which was settled on his daughter, to tell the Longestaffes that he could make no payment, and to face the worst that Mr Squercum could do to him — for he knew already how busy Mr Squercum was in the matter. Though they should put him on his trial for forgery, what of that? He had heard of trials in which the accused criminals had been heroes to the multitude while their cases were in progress — who had been fêted from the beginning to the end though no one had doubted their guilt — and who had come out unscathed at the last. What evidence had they against him? It might be that the Longestaffes and Bideawhiles and Squercums should know that he was a forger, but their knowledge would not produce a verdict. He, as member for Westminster, as the man who had entertained the Emperor, as the owner of one of the most gorgeous houses in London, as the great Melmotte, could certainly command the best half of the bar. He already felt what popular support might do for him. Surely there need be no despondency while so good a hope remained to him! He did tremble as he remembered Dolly Longestaffe’s letter, and the letter of the old man who was dead. And he knew that it was possible that other things might be adduced; but would it not be better to face it all than surrender his money and become a pauper, seeing, as he did very clearly, that even by such surrender he could not cleanse his character?

But he had given those forged documents into the hands of Mr Brehgert! Again he had acted in a hurry — without giving sufficient thought to the matter in hand. He was angry with himself for that also. But how is a man to give sufficient thought to his affairs when no step that he takes can be other than ruinous? Yes; — he had certainly put into Brehgert’s hands means of proving him to have been absolutely guilty of forgery. He did not think that Marie would disclaim the signatures, even though she had refused to sign the deeds, when she should understand that her father had written her name; nor did he think that his clerk would be urgent against him, as the forgery of Croll’s name could not injure Croll. But Brehgert, should he discover what had been done, would certainly not permit him to escape. And now he had put these forgeries without any guard into Brehgert’s hands.

He would tell Brehgert in the morning that he had changed his mind. He would see Brehgert before any action could have been taken on the documents, and Brehgert would no doubt restore them to him. Then he would instruct his daughter to hold the money fast, to sign no paper that should be put before her, and to draw the income herself. Having done that, he would let his foes do their worst. They might drag him to gaol. They probably would do so. He had an idea that he could not be admitted to bail if accused of forgery. But he would bear all that. If convicted he would bear the punishment, still hoping that an end might come. But how great was the chance that they might fail to convict him! As to the dead man’s letter, and as to Dolly Longestaffe’s letter, he did not think that any sufficient evidence could be found. The evidence as to the deeds by which Marie was to have released the property was indeed conclusive; but he believed that he might still recover those documents. For the present it must be his duty to do nothing — when he should have recovered and destroyed those documents — and to live before the eyes of men as though he feared nothing.

He dined at home alone, in the study, and after dinner carefully went through various bundles of papers, preparing them for the eyes of those ministers of the law who would probably before long have the privilege of searching them. At dinner, and while he was thus employed, he drank a bottle of champagne — feeling himself greatly comforted by the process. If he could only hold up his head and look men in the face, he thought that he might still live through it all. How much had he done by his own unassisted powers! He had once been imprisoned for fraud at Hamburg, and had come out of gaol a pauper; friendless, with all his wretched antecedents against him. Now he was a member of the British House of Parliament, the undoubted owner of perhaps the most gorgeously furnished house in London, a man with an established character for high finance — a commercial giant whose name was a familiar word on all the exchanges of the two hemispheres. Even though he should be condemned to penal servitude for life, he would not all die. He rang the bell and desired that Madame Melmotte might be sent to him, and bade the servant bring him brandy.

In ten minutes his poor wife came crawling into the room. Every one connected with Melmotte regarded the man with a certain amount of awe — every one except Marie, to whom alone he had at times been himself almost gentle. The servants all feared him, and his wife obeyed him implicitly when she could not keep away from him. She came in now and stood opposite him, while he spoke to her. She never sat in his presence in that room. He asked her where she and Marie kept their jewelry; — for during the last twelve months rich trinkets had been supplied to both of them. Of course she answered by another question. ‘Is anything going to happen, Melmotte?’

‘A good deal is going to happen. Are they here in this house, or in Grosvenor Square?’

‘They are here.’

‘Then have them all packed up — as small as you can; never mind about wool and cases and all that. Have them close to your hand so that if you have to move you can take them with you. Do you understand?’

‘Yes; I understand.’

‘Why don’t you speak, then?’

‘What is going to happen, Melmotte?’

‘How can I tell? You ought to know by this time that when a man’s work is such as mine, things will happen. You’ll be safe enough. Nothing can hurt you.’

‘Can they hurt you, Melmotte?’

‘Hurt me! I don’t know what you call hurting. Whatever there is to be borne, I suppose it is I must bear it. I have not had it very soft all my life hitherto, and I don’t think it’s going to be very soft now.’

‘Shall we have to move?’

‘Very likely. Move! What’s the harm of moving? You talk of moving as though that were the worst thing that could happen. How would you like to be in some place where they wouldn’t let you move?’

‘Are they going to send you to prison?’

‘Hold your tongue.’

‘Tell me, Melmotte; — are they going to?’ Then the poor woman did sit down, overcome by her feelings.

‘I didn’t ask you to come here for a scene,’ said Melmotte. ‘Do as I bid you about your own jewels, and Marie’s. The thing is to have them in small compass, and that you should not have it to do at the last moment, when you will be flurried and incapable. Now you needn’t stay any longer, and it’s no good asking any questions because I shan’t answer them.’ So dismissed, the poor woman crept out again, and immediately, after her own slow fashion, went to work with her ornaments.

Melmotte sat up during the greater part of the night, sometimes sipping brandy and water, and sometimes smoking. But he did no work, and hardly touched a paper after his wife left him.

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