The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XCVIII

Marie Melmotte’s Fate

In the meantime Marie Melmotte was living with Madame Melmotte in their lodgings up at Hampstead, and was taking quite a new look out into the world. Fisker had become her devoted servant — not with that old-fashioned service which meant making love, but with perhaps a truer devotion to her material interests. He had ascertained on her behalf that she was the undoubted owner of the money which her father had made over to her on his first arrival in England — and she also had made herself mistress of that fact with equal precision. It would have astonished those who had known her six months since could they now have seen how excellent a woman of business she had become, and how capable she was of making the fullest use of Mr Fisker’s services. In doing him justice it must be owned that he kept nothing back from her of that which he learned, probably feeling that he might best achieve success in his present project by such honesty — feeling also, no doubt, the girl’s own strength in discovering truth and falsehood. ‘She’s her father’s own daughter,’ he said one day to Croll in Abchurch Lane; — for Croll, though he had left Melmotte’s employment when he found that his name had been forged, had now returned to the service of the daughter in some undefined position, and had been engaged to go with her and Madame Melmotte to New York.

‘Ah; yees,’ said Croll, ‘but bigger. He vas passionate, and did lose his ‘ead; and vas blow’d up vid bigness.’ Whereupon Croll made an action as though he were a frog swelling himself to the dimensions of an ox. ‘‘E bursted himself, Mr Fisker. ‘E vas a great man; but the greater he grew he vas always less and less vise. ‘E ate so much that he became too fat to see to eat his vittels.’ It was thus that Herr Croll analysed the character of his late master. ‘But Ma’me’selle — ah, she is different. She vill never eat too moch, but vill see to eat alvays.’ Thus too he analysed the character of his young mistress.

At first things did not arrange themselves pleasantly between Madame Melmotte and Marie. The reader will perhaps remember that they were in no way connected by blood. Madame Melmotte was not Marie’s mother, nor, in the eye of the law, could Marie claim Melmotte as her father. She was alone in the world, absolutely without a relation, not knowing even what had been her mother’s name — not even knowing what was her father’s true name, as in the various biographies of the great man which were, as a matter of course, published within a fortnight of his death, various accounts were given as to his birth, parentage, and early history. The general opinion seemed to be that his father had been a noted coiner in New York — an Irishman of the name of Melmody — and, in one memoir, the probability of the descent was argued from Melmotte’s skill in forgery. But Marie, though she was thus isolated, and now altogether separated from the lords and duchesses who a few weeks since had been interested in her career, was the undoubted owner of the money — a fact which was beyond the comprehension of Madame Melmotte. She could understand — and was delighted to understand — that a very large sum of money had been saved from the wreck, and that she might therefore look forward to prosperous tranquillity for the rest of her life. Though she never acknowledged so much to herself, she soon learned to regard the removal of her husband as the end of her troubles. But she could not comprehend why Marie should claim all the money as her own. She declared herself to be quite willing to divide the spoil — and suggested such an arrangement both to Marie and to Croll. Of Fisker she was afraid, thinking that the iniquity of giving all the money to Marie originated with him, in order that he might obtain it by marrying the girl. Croll, who understood it all perfectly, told her the story a dozen times — but quite in vain. She made a timid suggestion of employing a lawyer on her own behalf, and was only deterred from doing so by Marie’s ready assent to such an arrangement. Marie’s equally ready surrender of any right she might have to a portion of the jewels which had been saved had perhaps some effect in softening the elder lady’s heart. She thus was in possession of a treasure of her own — though a treasure small in comparison with that of the younger woman; and the younger woman had promised that in the event of her marriage she would be liberal.

It was distinctly understood that they were both to go to New York under Mr Fisker’s guidance as soon as things should be sufficiently settled to allow of their departure; and Madame Melmotte was told, about the middle of August, that their places had been taken for the 3rd of September. But nothing more was told her. She did not as yet know whether Marie was to go out free or as the affianced bride of Hamilton Fisker. And she felt herself injured by being left so much in the dark. She herself was inimical to Fisker, regarding him as a dark, designing man, who would ultimately swallow up all that her husband had left behind him — and trusted herself entirely to Croll, who was personally attentive to her. Fisker was, of course, going on to San Francisco. Marie also had talked of crossing the American continent. But Madame Melmotte was disposed to think that for her, with her jewels, and such share of the money as Marie might be induced to give her, New York would be the most fitting residence. Why should she drag herself across the continent to California? Herr Croll had declared his purpose of remaining in New York. Then it occurred to the lady that as Melmotte was a name which might be too well known in New York, and which it therefore might be wise to change, Croll would do as well as any other. She and Herr Croll had known each other for a great many years, and were, she thought, of about the same age. Croll had some money saved. She had, at any rate, her jewels — and Croll would probably be able to get some portion of all that money, which ought to be hers, if his affairs were made to be identical with her own. So she smiled upon Croll, and whispered to him; and when she had given Croll two glasses of Curaçao — which comforter she kept in her own hands, as safeguarded almost as the jewels — then Croll understood her.

But it was essential that she should know what Marie intended to do. Marie was anything but communicative, and certainly was not in any way submissive. ‘My dear,’ she said one day, asking the question in French, without any preface or apology, ‘are you going to be married to Mr Fisker?’

‘What makes you ask that?’

‘It is so important I should know. Where am I to live? What am I to do? What money shall I have? Who will be a friend to me? A woman ought to know. You will marry Fisker if you like him. Why cannot you tell me?’

‘Because I do not know. When I know I will tell you. If you go on asking me till to-morrow morning I can say no more.’

And this was true. She did not know. It certainly was not Fisker’s fault that she should still be in the dark as to her own destiny, for he had asked her often enough, and had pressed his suit with all his eloquence. But Marie had now been wooed so often that she felt the importance of the step which was suggested to her. The romance of the thing was with her a good deal worn, and the material view of matrimony had also been damaged in her sight. She had fallen in love with Sir Felix Carbury, and had assured herself over and over again that she worshipped the very ground on which he stood. But she had taught herself this business of falling in love as a lesson, rather than felt it. After her father’s first attempts to marry her to this and that suitor because of her wealth — attempts which she had hardly opposed amidst the consternation and glitter of the world to which she was suddenly introduced — she had learned from novels that it would be right that she should be in love, and she had chosen Sir Felix as her idol. The reader knows what had been the end of that episode in her life. She certainly was not now in love with Sir Felix Carbury. Then she had as it were relapsed into the hands of Lord Nidderdale — one of her early suitors — and had felt that as love was not to prevail, and as it would be well that she should marry some one, he might probably be as good as any other, and certainly better than many others. She had almost learned to like Lord Nidderdale and to believe that he liked her, when the tragedy came. Lord Nidderdale had been very good-natured — but he had deserted her at last. She had never allowed herself to be angry with him for a moment. It had been a matter of course that he should do so. Her fortune was still large, but not so large as the sum named in the bargain made. And it was moreover weighted with her father’s blood. From the moment of her father’s death she had never dreamed that he would marry her. Why should he? Her thoughts in reference to Sir Felix were bitter enough; — but as against Nidderdale they were not at all bitter. Should she ever meet him again she would shake hands with him and smile — if not pleasantly as she thought of the things which were past — at any rate with good humour. But all this had not made her much in love with matrimony generally. She had over a hundred thousand pounds of her own, and, feeling conscious of her own power in regard to her own money, knowing that she could do as she pleased with her wealth, she began to look out into life seriously.

What could she do with her money, and in what way would she shape her life, should she determine to remain her own mistress? Were she to refuse Fisker how should she begin? He would then be banished, and her only remaining friends, the only persons whose names she would even know in her own country, would be her father’s widow and Herr Croll. She already began to see Madame Melmotte’s purport in reference to Croll, and could not reconcile herself to the idea of opening an establishment with them on a scale commensurate with her fortune. Nor could she settle in her own mind any pleasant position for herself as a single woman, living alone in perfect independence. She had opinions of women’s rights — especially in regard to money; and she entertained also a vague notion that in America a young woman would not need support so essentially as in England. Nevertheless, the idea of a fine house for herself in Boston, or Philadelphia — for in that case she would have to avoid New York as the chosen residence of Madame Melmotte — did not recommend itself to her. As to Fisker himself — she certainly liked him. He was not beautiful like Felix Carbury, nor had he the easy good-humour of Lord Nidderdale. She had seen enough of English gentlemen to know that Fisker was very unlike them. But she had not seen enough of English gentlemen to make Fisker distasteful to her. He told her that he had a big house at San Francisco, and she certainly desired to live in a big house. He represented himself to be a thriving man, and she calculated that he certainly would not be here, in London, arranging her father’s affairs, were he not possessed of commercial importance. She had contrived to learn that, in the United States, a married woman has greater power over her own money than in England, and this information acted strongly in Fisker’s favour. On consideration of the whole subject she was inclined to think that she would do better in the world as Mrs Fisker than as Marie Melmotte — if she could see her way clearly in the matter of her own money.

‘I have got excellent berths,’ Fisker said to her one morning at Hampstead. At these interviews, which were devoted first to business and then to love, Madame Melmotte was never allowed to be present.

‘I am to be alone?’

‘Oh, yes. There is a cabin for Madame Melmotte and the maid, and a cabin for you. Everything will be comfortable. And there is another lady going — Mrs Hurtle — whom I think you will like.’

‘Has she a husband?’

‘Not going with us,’ said Mr Fisker evasively.

‘But she has one?’

‘Well, yes; — but you had better not mention him. He is not exactly all that a husband should be.’

‘Did she not come over here to marry some one else?’— For Marie in the days of her sweet intimacy with Sir Felix Carbury had heard something of Mrs Hurtle’s story.

‘There is a story, and I dare say I shall tell you all about it some day. But you may be sure I should not ask you to associate with any one you ought not to know.’

‘Oh — I can take care of myself.’

‘No doubt, Miss Melmotte — no doubt. I feel that quite strongly. But what I meant to observe was this — that I certainly should not introduce a lady whom I aspire to make my own lady to any lady whom a lady oughtn’t to know. I hope I make myself understood, Miss Melmotte.’

‘Oh, quite.’

‘And perhaps I may go on to say that if I could go on board that ship as your accepted lover, I could do a deal more to make you comfortable, particularly when you land, than just as a mere friend, Miss Melmotte. You can’t doubt my heart.’

‘I don’t see why I shouldn’t. Gentlemen’s hearts are things very much to be doubted as far as I’ve seen ’em. I don’t think many of ’em have ’em at all.’

‘Miss Melmotte, you do not know the glorious west. Your past experiences have been drawn from this effete and stone-cold country in which passion is no longer allowed to sway. On those golden shores which the Pacific washes man is still true — and woman is still tender.’

‘Perhaps I’d better wait and see, Mr Fisker.’

But this was not Mr Fisker’s view of the case. There might be other men desirous of being true on those golden shores. ‘And then,’ said he, pleading his cause not without skill, ‘the laws regulating woman’s property there are just the reverse of those which the greediness of man has established here. The wife there can claim her share of her husband’s property, but hers is exclusively her own. America is certainly the country for women — and especially California.’

‘Ah; — I shall find out all about it, I suppose, when I’ve been there a few months.’

‘But you would enter San Francisco, Miss Melmotte, under such much better auspices — if I may be allowed to say so — as a married lady or as a lady just going to be married.’

‘Ain’t single ladies much thought of in California?’

‘It isn’t that. Come, Miss Melmotte, you know what I mean.’

‘Yes, I do.’

‘Let us go in for life together. We’ve both done uncommon well. I’m spending 30,000 dollars a year — at that rate — in my own house. You’ll see it all. If we put them both together — what’s yours and what’s mine — we can put our foot out as far as about any one there, I guess.’

‘I don’t know that I care about putting my foot out. I’ve seen something of that already, Mr Fisker. You shouldn’t put your foot out farther than you can draw it in again.’

‘You needn’t fear me as to that, Miss Melmotte. I shouldn’t be able to touch a dollar of your money. It would be such a triumph to go into Francisco as man and wife.’

‘I shouldn’t think of being married till I had been there a while and looked about me.’

‘And seen the house! Well; — there’s something in that. The house is all there, I can tell you. I’m not a bit afraid but what you’ll like the house. But if we were engaged, I could do everything for you. Where would you be, going into San Francisco all alone? Oh, Miss Melmotte, I do admire you so much!’

I doubt whether this last assurance had much efficacy. But the arguments with which it was introduced did prevail to a certain extent. ‘I’ll tell you how it must be then,’ she said.

‘How shall it be?’ and as be asked the question he jumped up and put his arm round her waist.

‘Not like that, Mr Fisker,’ she said, withdrawing herself. ‘It shall be in this way. You may consider yourself engaged to me.’

‘I’m the happiest man on this continent,’ he said, forgetting in his ecstasy that he was not in the United States.

‘But if I find when I get to Francisco anything to induce me to change my mind, I shall change it. I like you very well, but I’m not going to take a leap in the dark, and I’m not going to marry a pig in a poke.’

‘There you’re quite right,’ he said — ‘quite right.’

‘You may give it out on board the ship that we’re engaged, and I’ll tell Madame Melmotte the same. She and Croll don’t mean going any farther than New York.’

‘We needn’t break our hearts about that; — need we?’

‘It don’t much signify. Well; — I’ll go on with Mrs Hurtle, if she’ll have me.’

‘Too much delighted she’ll be.’

‘And she shall be told we’re engaged.’

‘My darling!’

‘But if I don’t like it when I get to Frisco, as you call it, all the ropes in California shan’t make me do it. Well — yes; you may give me a kiss I suppose now if you care about it.’ And so — or rather so far — Mr Fisker and Marie Melmotte became engaged to each other as man and wife.

After that Mr Fisker’s remaining business in England went very smoothly with him. It was understood up at Hampstead that he was engaged to Marie Melmotte — and it soon came to be understood also that Madame Melmotte was to be married to Herr Croll. No doubt the father of the one lady and the husband of the other had died so recently as to make these arrangements subject to certain censorious objections. But there was a feeling that Melmotte had been so unlike other men, both in his life and in his death, that they who had been concerned with him were not to be weighed by ordinary scales. Nor did it much matter, for the persons concerned took their departure soon after the arrangement was made, and Hampstead knew them no more.

On the 3rd of September Madame Melmotte, Marie, Mrs Hurtle, Hamilton K. Fisker, and Herr Croll left Liverpool for New York; and the three ladies were determined that they never would revisit a country of which their reminiscences certainly were not happy. The writer of the present chronicle may so far look forward — carrying his reader with him — as to declare that Marie Melmotte did become Mrs Fisker very soon after her arrival at San Francisco.

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