'How much worse it would have been, had she been allowed to start,' said Lady Carbury.
'Yes; that would have been bad. She would have had a sad journey to New York, and a sadder journey back. Has your son told you anything about money?'
'They say that the girl entrusted him with a large sum which she had taken from her father. If that be so he certainly ought to lose no time in restoring it. It might be done through some friend. I would do it, for that matter. If it be so,—to avoid unpleasantness,—it should be sent back at once. It will be for his credit.' This Mr Broune said with a clear intimation of the importance of his advice.
It was dreadful to Lady Carbury. She had no money to give back, nor, as she was well aware, had her son. She had heard nothing of any money. What did Mr Broune mean by a large sum? 'That would be dreadful,' she said.
'Had you not better ask him about it?'
Lady Carbury was again in tears. She knew that she could not hope to get a word of truth from her son. 'What do you mean by a large sum?'
'Two or three hundred pounds, perhaps.'
'I have not a shilling in the world, Mr Broune.' Then it all came out,—the whole story of her poverty, as it had been brought about by her son's misconduct. She told him every detail of her money affairs from the death of her husband, and his will, up to the present moment.
'He is eating you up, Lady Carbury.' Lady Carbury thought that she was nearly eaten up already, but she said nothing. 'You must put a stop to this.'
'You must rid yourself of him. It is dreadful to say so, but it must be done. You must not see your daughter ruined. Find out what money he got from Miss Melmotte and I will see that it is repaid. That must be done;—and we will then try to get him to go abroad. No;—do not contradict me. We can talk of the money another time. I must be off now, as I have stayed too long. Do as I bid you. Make him tell you, and send me word down to the office. If you could do it early to-morrow, that would be best. God bless you.' And so he hurried off.
Early on the following morning a letter from Lady Carbury was put into Mr Broune's hands, giving the story of the money as far as she had been able to extract it from Sir Felix. Sir Felix declared that Mr Melmotte had owed him L600, and that he had received L250 out of this from Miss Melmotte,—so that there was still a large balance due to him. Lady Carbury went on to say that her son had at last confessed that he had lost this money at play. The story was fairly true; but Lady Carbury in her letter acknowledged that she was not justified in believing it because it was told to her by her son.
CHAPTER LIII - A DAY IN THE CITY
Melmotte had got back his daughter, and was half inclined to let the matter rest there. He would probably have done so had he not known that all his own household were aware that she had gone off to meet Sir Felix Carbury, and had he not also received the condolence of certain friends in the city. It seemed that about two o'clock in the day the matter was known to everybody. Of course Lord Nidderdale would hear of it, and if so all the trouble that he had taken in that direction would have been taken in vain. Stupid fool of a girl to throw away her chance,—nay, to throw away the certainty of a brilliant career, in that way! But his anger against Sir Felix was infinitely more bitter than his anger against his daughter. The man had pledged himself to abstain from any step of this kind,—had given a written pledge,—had renounced under his own signature his intention of marrying Marie! Melmotte had of course learned all the details of the cheque for L250,—how the money had been paid at the bank to Didon, and how Didon had given it to Sir Felix. Marie herself acknowledged that Sir Felix had received the money. If possible he would prosecute the baronet for stealing his money.
Had Melmotte been altogether a prudent man he would probably have been satisfied with getting back his daughter and would have allowed the money to go without further trouble. At this especial point in his career ready money was very valuable to him, but his concerns were of such magnitude that L250 could make but little difference. But there had grown upon the man during the last few months an arrogance, a self-confidence inspired in him by the worship of other men, which clouded his intellect, and robbed him of much of that power of calculation which undoubtedly he naturally possessed. He remembered perfectly his various little transactions with Sir Felix. Indeed it was one of his gifts to remember with accuracy all money transactions, whether great or small, and to keep an account book in his head, which was always totted up and balanced with accuracy. He knew exactly how he stood, even with the crossing-sweeper to whom he had given a penny last Tuesday, as with the Longestaffes, father and son, to whom he had not as yet made any payment on behalf of the purchase of Pickering. But Sir Felix's money had been consigned into his hands for the purchase of shares,—and that consignment did not justify Six Felix in taking another sum of money from his daughter. In such a matter he thought that an English magistrate, and an English jury, would all be on his side,—especially as he was Augustus Melmotte, the man about to be chosen for Westminster, the man about to entertain the Emperor of China!
The next day was Friday,—the day of the Railway Board. Early in the morning he sent a note to Lord Nidderdale.
MY DEAR NIDDERDALE,—
Pray come to the Board to-day;—or at any rate come to me in the city. I specially want to speak to you.
This he wrote, having made up his mind that it would be wise to make a clear breast of it with his hoped-for son-in-law. If there was still a chance of keeping the young lord to his guns that chance would be best supported by perfect openness on his part. The young lord would of course know what Marie had done. But the young lord had for some weeks past been aware that there had been a difficulty in regard to Sir Felix Carbury, and had not on that account relaxed his suit. It might be possible to persuade the young lord that as the young lady had now tried to elope and tried in vain, his own chance might on the whole be rather improved than injured.
Mr Melmotte on that morning had many visitors, among whom one of the earliest and most unfortunate was Mr Longestaffe. At that time there had been arranged at the offices in Abchurch Lane a mode of double ingress and egress,—a front stairs and a back stairs approach and exit, as is always necessary with very great men,—in reference to which arrangement the honour and dignity attached to each is exactly contrary to that which generally prevails in the world; the front stairs being intended for everybody, and being both slow and uncertain, whereas the back stairs are quick and sure, and are used only for those who are favoured. Miles Grendall had the command of the stairs, and found that he had plenty to do in keeping people in their right courses. Mr Longestaffe reached Abchurch Lane before one,—having altogether failed in getting a moment's private conversation with the big man on that other Friday, when he had come later. He fell at once into Miles's hands, and was ushered through the front stairs passage and into the front stairs waiting-room, with much external courtesy. Miles Grendall was very voluble. Did Mr Longestaffe want to see Mr Melmotte? Oh;—Mr Longestaffe wanted to see Mr Melmotte as soon as possible! Of course Mr Longestaffe should see Mr Melmotte. He, Miles, knew that Mr Melmotte was particularly desirous of seeing Mr Longestaffe. Mr Melmotte had mentioned Mr Longestaffe's name twice during the last three days. Would Mr Longestaffe sit down for a few minutes? Had Mr Longestaffe seen the 'Morning Breakfast Table'? Mr Melmotte undoubtedly was very much engaged. At this moment a deputation from the Canadian Government was with him;—and Sir Gregory Gribe was in the office waiting for a few words. But Miles thought that the Canadian Government would not be long,—and as for Sir Gregory, perhaps his business might be postponed. Miles would do his very best to get an interview for Mr Longestaffe,—more especially as Mr Melmotte was so very desirous himself of seeing his friend. It was astonishing that such a one as Miles Grendall should have learned his business so well and should have made himself so handy! We will leave Mr Longestaffe with the 'Morning Breakfast Table' in his hands, in the front waiting-room, merely notifying the fact that there he remained for something over two hours.
In the meantime both Mr Broune and Lord Nidderdale came to the office, and both were received without delay. Mr Broune was the first. Miles knew who he was, and made no attempt to seat him in the same room with Mr Longestaffe. 'I'll just send him a note,' said Mr Broune, and he scrawled a few words at the office counter. 'I'm commissioned to pay you some money on behalf of Miss Melmotte.' Those were the words, and they at once procured him admission to the sanctum. The Canadian Deputation must have taken its leave, and Sir Gregory could hardly have as yet arrived. Lord Nidderdale, who had presented himself almost at the same moment with the Editor, was shown into a little private room which was, indeed, Miles Grendall's own retreat. 'What's up with the Governor?' asked the young lord.
'Anything particular do you mean?' said Miles. 'There are always so many things up here.'
'He has sent for me.'
'Yes,—you'll go in directly. There's that fellow who does the "Breakfast Table" in with him. I don't know what he's come about. You know what he has sent for you for?'
Lord Nidderdale answered this question by another. 'I suppose all this about Miss Melmotte is true?'
'She did go off yesterday morning,' said Miles, in a whisper.
'But Carbury wasn't with her.'
'Well, no;—I suppose not. He seems to have mulled it. He's such a d—— brute, he'd be sure to go wrong whatever he had in hand.'
'You don't like him, of course, Miles. For that matter I've no reason to love him. He couldn't have gone. He staggered out of the club yesterday morning at four o'clock as drunk as Cloe. He'd lost a pot of money, and had been kicking up a row about you for the last hour.'
'Brute!' exclaimed Miles, with honest indignation.
'I dare say. But though he was able to make a row, I'm sure he couldn't get himself down to Liverpool. And I saw all his things lying about the club hall late last night;—no end of portmanteaux and bags; just what a fellow would take to New York. By George! Fancy taking a girl to New York! It was plucky.'
'It was all her doing,' said Miles, who was of course intimate with Mr Melmotte's whole establishment, and had had means therefore of hearing the true story.
'What a fiasco!' said the young lord. 'I wonder what the old boy means to say to me about it.' Then there was heard the clear tingle of a little silver bell, and Miles told Lord Nidderdale that his time had come.
Mr Broune had of late been very serviceable to Mr Melmotte, and Melmotte was correspondingly gracious. On seeing the Editor he immediately began to make a speech of thanks in respect of the support given by the 'Breakfast Table' to his candidature. But Mr Broune cut him short. 'I never talk about the "Breakfast Table,"' said he. 'We endeavour to get along as right as we can, and the less said the soonest mended.' Melmotte bowed. 'I have come now about quite another matter, and perhaps, the less said the sooner mended about that also. Sir Felix Carbury on a late occasion received a sum of money in trust from your daughter. Circumstances have prevented its use in the intended manner, and, therefore, as Sir Felix's friend, I have called to return the money to you.' Mr Broune did not like calling himself the friend of Sir Felix, but he did even that for the lady who had been good enough to him not to marry him.
'Oh, indeed,' said Mr Melmotte, with a scowl on his face, which he would have repressed if he could.
'No doubt you understand all about it.'
'Yes;—I understand. D—— scoundrel!'
'We won't discuss that, Mr Melmotte. I've drawn a cheque myself payable to your order,—to make the matter all straight. The sum was L250, I think.' And Mr Broune put a cheque for that amount down upon the table.
'I dare say it's all right,' said Mr Melmotte. 'But, remember, I don't think that this absolves him. He has been a scoundrel.'
'At any rate he has paid back the money, which chance put into his hands, to the only person entitled to receive it on the young lady's behalf. Good morning.' Mr Melmotte did put out his hand in token of amity. Then Mr Broune departed and Melmotte tinkled his bell. As Nidderdale was shown in he crumpled up the cheque, and put it into his pocket. He was at once clever enough to perceive that any idea which he might have had of prosecuting Sir Felix must be abandoned. 'Well, my Lord, and how are you?' said he with his pleasantest smile. Nidderdale declared himself to be as fresh as paint. 'You don't look down in the mouth, my Lord.'
Then Lord Nidderdale,—who no doubt felt that it behoved him to show a good face before his late intended father-in-law,—sang the refrain of an old song, which it is trusted my readers may remember.
'Cheer up, Sam; Don't let your spirits go down. There's many a girl that I know well, Is waiting for you in the town.'
'Ha, ha, ha,' laughed Melmotte, 'very good. I've no doubt there is,— many a one. But you won't let this stupid nonsense stand in your way with Marie.'
'Upon my word, sir, I don't know about that. Miss Melmotte has given the most convincing proof of her partiality for another gentleman, and of her indifference to me.'
'A foolish baggage! A silly little romantic baggage! She's been reading novels till she has learned to think she couldn't settle down quietly till she had run off with somebody.'
'She doesn't seem to have succeeded on this occasion, Mr Melmotte.'
'No;—of course we had her back again from Liverpool.'
'But they say that she got further than the gentleman.'
'He is a dishonest, drunken scoundrel. My girl knows very well what he is now. She'll never try that game again. Of course, my Lord, I'm very sorry. You know that I've been on the square with you always. She's my only child, and sooner or later she must have all that I possess. What she will have at once will make any man wealthy,—that is, if she marries with my sanction; and in a year or two I expect that I shall be able to double what I give her now, without touching my capital. Of course you understand that I desire to see her occupying high rank. I think that, in this country, that is a noble object of ambition. Had she married that sweep I should have broken my heart. Now, my Lord, I want you to say that this shall make no difference to you. I am very honest with you. I do not try to hide anything. The thing of course has been a misfortune. Girls will be romantic. But you may be sure that this little accident will assist rather than impede your views. After this she will not be very fond of Sir Felix Carbury.'
'I dare say not. Though, by Jove, girls will forgive anything.'
'She won't forgive him. By George, she shan't. She shall hear the whole story. You'll come and see her just the same as ever!'
'I don't know about that, Mr Melmotte.'
'Why not? You're not so weak as to surrender all your settled projects for such a piece of folly as that! He didn't even see her all the time.'
'That wasn't her fault.'
'The money will all be there, Lord Nidderdale.'
'The money's all right, I've no doubt. And there isn't a man in all London would be better pleased to settle down with a good income than I would. But, by Jove, it's a rather strong order when a girl has just run away with another man. Everybody knows it.'
'In three months' time everybody will have forgotten it.'
'To tell you the truth, sir, I think Miss Melmotte has got a will of her own stronger than you give her credit for. She has never given me the slightest encouragement. Ever so long ago, about Christmas, she did once say that she would do as you bade her. But she is very much changed since then. The thing was off.'
'She had nothing to do with that.'
'No;—but she has taken advantage of it, and I have no right to complain.'
'You just come to the house, and ask her again to-morrow. Or come on Sunday morning. Don't let us be done out of all our settled arrangements by the folly of an idle girl. Will you come on Sunday morning about noon?' Lord Nidderdale thought of his position for a few moments and then said that perhaps he would come on Sunday morning. After that Melmotte proposed that they two should go and 'get a bit of lunch' at a certain Conservative club in the City. There would be time before the meeting of the Railway Board. Nidderdale had no objection to the lunch, but expressed a strong opinion that the Board was 'rot'. 'That's all very well for you, young man,' said the chairman, 'but I must go there in order that you may be able to enjoy a splendid fortune.' Then he touched the young man on the shoulder and drew him back as he was passing out by the front stairs. 'Come this way, Nidderdale;—come this way. I must get out without being seen. There are people waiting for me there who think that a man can attend to business from morning to night without ever having a bit in his mouth.' And so they escaped by the back stairs.
At the club, the City Conservative world,—which always lunches well,—welcomed Mr Melmotte very warmly. The election was coming on, and there was much to be said. He played the part of the big City man to perfection, standing about the room with his hat on, and talking loudly to a dozen men at once. And he was glad to show the club that Lord Nidderdale had come there with him. The club of course knew that Lord Nidderdale was the accepted suitor of the rich man's daughter,— accepted, that is, by the rich man himself,—and the club knew also that the rich man's daughter had tried but had failed to run away with Sir Felix Carbury. There is nothing like wiping out a misfortune and having done with it. The presence of Lord Nidderdale was almost an assurance to the club that the misfortune had been wiped out, and, as it were, abolished. A little before three Mr Melmotte returned to Abchurch Lane, intending to regain his room by the back way; while Lord Nidderdale went westward, considering within his own mind whether it was expedient that he should continue to show himself as a suitor for Miss Melmotte's hand. He had an idea that a few years ago a man could not have done such a thing—that he would be held to show a poor spirit should he attempt it; but that now it did not much matter what a man did,—if only he were successful. 'After all, it's only an affair of money,' he said to himself.
Mr Longestaffe in the meantime had progressed from weariness to impatience, from impatience to ill-humour, and from ill-humour to indignation. More than once he saw Miles Grendall, but Miles Grendall was always ready with an answer. That Canadian Deputation was determined to settle the whole business this morning, and would not take itself away. And Sir Gregory Gribe had been obstinate, beyond the ordinary obstinacy of a bank director. The rate of discount at the bank could not be settled for to-morrow without communication with Mr Melmotte, and that was a matter on which the details were always most oppressive. At first Mr Longestaffe was somewhat stunned by the Deputation and Sir Gregory Gribe; but as he waxed wroth the potency of those institutions dwindled away, and as, at last, he waxed hungry, they became as nothing to him. Was he not Mr Longestaffe of Caversham, a Deputy-Lieutenant of his County, and accustomed to lunch punctually at two o'clock? When he had been in that waiting-room for two hours, it occurred to him that he only wanted his own, and that he would not remain there to be starved for any Mr Melmotte in Europe. It occurred to him also that that thorn in his side, Squercum, would certainly get a finger into the pie to his infinite annoyance. Then he walked forth, and attempted to see Grendall for the fourth time. But Miles Grendall also liked his lunch, and was therefore declared by one of the junior clerks to be engaged at that moment on most important business with Mr Melmotte. 'Then say that I can't wait any longer,' said Mr Longestaffe, stamping out of the room with angry feet.
At the very door he met Mr Melmotte. 'Ah, Mr Longestaffe,' said the great financier, seizing him by the hand, 'you are the very man I am desirous of seeing.'
'I have been waiting two hours up in your place,' said the Squire of Caversham.
'Tut, tut, tut;—and they never told me!'
'I spoke to Mr Grendall half a dozen times.'
'Yes,—yes. And he did put a slip with your name on it on my desk. I do remember. My dear sir, I have so many things on my brain, that I hardly know how to get along with them. You are coming to the Board? It's just the time now.'
'No;'—said Mr Longestaffe. 'I can stay no longer in the City.' It was cruel that a man so hungry should be asked to go to a Board by a chairman who had just lunched at his club.
'I was carried away to the Bank of England and could not help myself,' said Melmotte. 'And when they get me there I can never get away again.'
'My son is very anxious to have the payments made about Pickering,' said Mr Longestaffe, absolutely holding Melmotte by the collar of his coat.
'Payments for Pickering!' said Melmotte, assuming an air of unimportant doubt,—of doubt as though the thing were of no real moment. 'Haven't they been made?'
'Certainly not,' said Mr Longestaffe, 'unless made this morning.'
'There was something about it, but I cannot just remember what. My second cashier, Mr Smith, manages all my private affairs, and they go clean out of my head. I'm afraid he's in Grosvenor Square at this moment. Let me see;—Pickering! Wasn't there some question of a mortgage? I'm sure there was something about a mortgage.'
'There was a mortgage, of course,—but that only made three payments necessary instead of two.'
'But there was some unavoidable delay about the papers;—something occasioned by the mortgagee. I know there was. But you shan't be inconvenienced, Mr Longestaffe.'
'It's my son, Mr Melmotte. He's got a lawyer of his own.'
'I never knew a young man that wasn't in a hurry for his money,' said Melmotte laughing. 'Oh, yes;—there were three payments to be made; one to you, one to your son, and one to the mortgagee. I will speak to Mr Smith myself to-morrow—and you may tell your son that he really need not trouble his lawyer. He will only be losing his money, for lawyers are expensive. What! you won't come to the Board? I am sorry for that.' Mr Longestaffe, having after a fashion said what he had to say, declined to go to the Board. A painful rumour had reached him the day before, which had been communicated to him in a very quiet way by a very old friend,—by a member of a private firm of bankers whom he was accustomed to regard as the wisest and most eminent man of his acquaintance,—that Pickering had been already mortgaged to its full value by its new owner. 'Mind, I know nothing,' said the banker. 'The report has reached me, and if it be true, it shows that Mr Melmotte must be much pressed for money. It does not concern you at all if you have got your price. But it seems to be rather a quick transaction. I suppose you have, or he wouldn't have the title-deeds.' Mr Longestaffe thanked his friend, and acknowledged that there had been something remiss on his part. Therefore, as he went westward, he was low in spirits. But nevertheless he had been reassured by Melmotte's manner.
Sir Felix Carbury of course did not attend the Board; nor did Paul Montague, for reasons with which the reader has been made acquainted. Lord Nidderdale had declined, having had enough of the City for that day, and Mr Longestaffe had been banished by hunger. The chairman was therefore supported only by Lord Alfred and Mr Cohenlupe. But they were such excellent colleagues that the work was got through as well as though those absentees had all attended. When the Board was over Mr Melmotte and Mr Cohenlupe retired together.
'I must get that money for Longestaffe,' said Melmotte to his friend.
'What, eighty thousand pounds! You can't do it this week,—nor yet before this day week.'
'It isn't eighty thousand pounds. I've renewed the mortgage, and that makes it only fifty. If I can manage the half of that which goes to the son, I can put the father off.'
'You must raise what you can on the whole property.'
'I've done that already,' said Melmotte hoarsely.
'And where's the money gone?'
'Brehgert has had L40,000. I was obliged to keep it up with them. You can manage L25,000 for me by Monday?' Mr Cohenlupe said that he would try, but intimated his opinion that there would be considerable difficulty in the operation.
CHAPTER LIV - THE INDIA OFFICE
The Conservative party at this particular period was putting its shoulder to the wheel,—not to push the coach up any hill, but to prevent its being hurried along at a pace which was not only dangerous, but manifestly destructive. The Conservative party now and then does put its shoulder to the wheel, ostensibly with the great national object above named; but also actuated by a natural desire to keep its own head well above water and be generally doing something, so that other parties may not suppose that it is moribund. There are, no doubt, members of it who really think that when some object has been achieved,—when, for instance, a good old Tory has been squeezed into Parliament for the borough of Porcorum, which for the last three parliaments has been represented by a Liberal,—the coach has been really stopped. To them, in their delightful faith, there comes at these triumphant moments a conviction that after all the people as a people have not been really in earnest in their efforts to take something from the greatness of the great, and to add something to the lowliness of the lowly. The handle of the windlass has been broken, the wheel is turning fast the reverse way, and the rope of Radical progress is running back. Who knows what may not be regained if the Conservative party will only put its shoulder to the wheel and take care that the handle of the windlass be not mended! Sticinthemud, which has ever been a doubtful little borough, has just been carried by a majority of fifteen! A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether,—and the old day will come back again. Venerable patriarchs think of Lord Liverpool and other heroes, and dream dreams of Conservative bishops, Conservative lord-lieutenants, and of a Conservative ministry that shall remain in for a generation.
Such a time was now present. Porcorum and Sticinthemud had done their duty valiantly,—with much management. But Westminster! If this special seat for Westminster could be carried, the country then could hardly any longer have a doubt on the matter. If only Mr Melmotte could be got in for Westminster, it would be manifest that the people were sound at heart, and that all the great changes which had been effected during the last forty years,—from the first reform in Parliament down to the Ballot,—had been managed by the cunning and treachery of a few ambitious men. Not, however, that the Ballot was just now regarded by the party as an unmitigated evil, though it was the last triumph of Radical wickedness. The Ballot was on the whole popular with the party. A short time since, no doubt it was regarded by the party as being one and the same as national ruin and national disgrace. But it had answered well at Porcorum, and with due manipulation had been found to be favourable at Sticinthemud. The Ballot might perhaps help the long pull and the strong pull,—and, in spite of the ruin and disgrace, was thought by some just now to be a highly Conservative measure. It was considered that the Ballot might assist Melmotte at Westminster very materially.
Any one reading the Conservative papers of the time, and hearing the Conservative speeches in the borough,—any one at least who lived so remote as not to have learned what these things really mean,—would have thought that England's welfare depended on Melmotte's return. In the enthusiasm of the moment, the attacks made on his character were answered by eulogy as loud as the censure was bitter. The chief crime laid to his charge was connected with the ruin of some great continental assurance company, as to which it was said that he had so managed it as to leave it utterly stranded, with an enormous fortune of his own. It was declared that every shilling which he had brought to England with him had consisted of plunder stolen from the shareholders in the company. Now the 'Evening Pulpit,' in its endeavour to make the facts of this transaction known, had placed what it called the domicile of this company in Paris, whereas it was ascertained that its official head-quarters had in truth been placed at Vienna. Was not such a blunder as this sufficient to show that no merchant of higher honour than Mr Melmotte had ever adorned the Exchanges of modern capitals? And then two different newspapers of the time, both of them antagonistic to Melmotte, failed to be in accord on a material point. One declared that Mr Melmotte was not in truth possessed of any wealth. The other said that he had derived his wealth from those unfortunate shareholders. Could anything betray so bad a cause as contradictions such as these? Could anything be so false, so weak, so malignant, so useless, so wicked, so self-condemned,—in fact, so 'Liberal' as a course of action such as this? The belief naturally to be deduced from such statements, nay, the unavoidable conviction on the minds—of, at any rate, the Conservative newspapers—was that Mr Melmotte had accumulated an immense fortune, and that he had never robbed any shareholder of a shilling.
The friends of Melmotte had moreover a basis of hope, and were enabled to sound premonitory notes of triumph, arising from causes quite external to their party. The 'Breakfast Table' supported Melmotte, but the 'Breakfast Table' was not a Conservative organ. This support was given, not to the great man's political opinions, as to which a well-known writer in that paper suggested that the great man had probably not as yet given very much attention to the party questions which divided the country,—but to his commercial position. It was generally acknowledged that few men living,—perhaps no man alive,— had so acute an insight into the great commercial questions of the age as Mr Augustus Melmotte. In whatever part of the world he might have acquired his commercial experience,—for it had been said repeatedly that Melmotte was not an Englishman,—he now made London his home and Great Britain his country, and it would be for the welfare of the country that such a man should sit in the British Parliament. Such were the arguments used by the 'Breakfast Table' in supporting Mr Melmotte. This was, of course, an assistance;—and not the less so because it was asserted in other papers that the country would be absolutely disgraced by his presence in Parliament. The hotter the opposition the keener will be the support. Honest good men, men who really loved their country, fine gentlemen, who had received unsullied names from great ancestors, shed their money right and left, and grew hot in personally energetic struggles to have this man returned to Parliament as the head of the great Conservative mercantile interests of Great Britain!
There was one man who thoroughly believed that the thing at the present moment most essentially necessary to England's glory was the return of Mr Melmotte for Westminster. This man was undoubtedly a very ignorant man. He knew nothing of any one political question which had vexed England for the last half century,—nothing whatever of the political history which had made England what it was at the beginning of that half century. Of such names as Hampden, Somers, and Pitt he had hardly ever heard. He had probably never read a book in his life. He knew nothing of the working of parliament, nothing of nationality,— had no preference whatever for one form of government over another, never having given his mind a moment's trouble on the subject. He had not even reflected how a despotic monarch or a federal republic might affect himself, and possibly did not comprehend the meaning of those terms. But yet he was fully confident that England did demand and ought to demand that Mr Melmotte should be returned for Westminster. This man was Mr Melmotte himself.
In this conjunction of his affairs Mr Melmotte certainly lost his head. He had audacity almost sufficient for the very dangerous game which he was playing; but, as crisis heaped itself upon crisis, he became deficient in prudence. He did not hesitate to speak of himself as the man who ought to represent Westminster, and of those who opposed him as little malignant beings who had mean interests of their own to serve. He went about in his open carriage, with Lord Alfred at his left hand, with a look on his face which seemed to imply that Westminster was not good enough for him. He even hinted to certain political friends that at the next general election he should try the City. Six months since he had been a humble man to a Lord,—but now he scolded Earls and snubbed Dukes, and yet did it in a manner which showed how proud he was of connecting himself with their social pre-eminence, and how ignorant of the manner in which such pre-eminence affects English gentlemen generally. The more arrogant he became the more vulgar he was, till even Lord Alfred would almost be tempted to rush away to impecuniosity and freedom. Perhaps there were some with whom this conduct had a salutary effect. No doubt arrogance will produce submission; and there are men who take other men at the price those other men put upon themselves. Such persons could not refrain from thinking Melmotte to be mighty because he swaggered; and gave their hinder parts to be kicked merely because he put up his toe. We all know men of this calibre,—and how they seem to grow in number. But the net result of his personal demeanour was injurious; and it was debated among some of the warmest of his supporters whether a hint should not be given him. 'Couldn't Lord Alfred say a word to him?' said the Honourable Beauchamp Beauclerk, who, himself in Parliament, a leading man in his party, thoroughly well acquainted with the borough, wealthy and connected by blood with half the great Conservative families in the kingdom, had been moving heaven and earth on behalf of the great financial king, and working like a slave for his success.
'Alfred's more than half afraid of him,' said Lionel Lupton, a young aristocrat, also in Parliament, who had been inoculated with the idea that the interests of the party demanded Melmotte in Parliament, but who would have given up his Scotch shooting rather than have undergone Melmotte's company for a day.
'Something really must be done, Mr Beauclerk,' said Mr Jones, who was the leading member of a very wealthy firm of builders in the borough, who had become a Conservative politician, who had thoughts of the House for himself, but who never forgot his own position. 'He is making a great many personal enemies.'
'He's the finest old turkey cock out,' said Lionel Lupton.
Then it was decided that Mr Beauclerk should speak a word to Lord Alfred. The rich man and the poor man were cousins, and had always been intimate. 'Alfred,' said the chosen mentor at the club one afternoon, 'I wonder whether you couldn't say something to Melmotte about his manner.' Lord Alfred turned sharp round and looked into his companion's face. 'They tell me he is giving offence. Of course he doesn't mean it. Couldn't he draw it a little milder?'
Lord Alfred made his reply almost in a whisper. 'If you ask me, I don't think he could. If you got him down and trampled on him, you might make him mild. I don't think there's any other way.'
'You couldn't speak to him, then?'
'Not unless I did it with a horsewhip.'
This, coming from Lord Alfred, who was absolutely dependent on the man, was very strong. Lord Alfred had been much afflicted that morning. He had spent some hours with his friend, either going about the borough in the open carriage, or standing just behind him at meetings, or sitting close to him in committee-rooms,—and had been nauseated with Melmotte. When spoken to about his friend he could not restrain himself. Lord Alfred had been born and bred a gentleman, and found the position in which he was now earning his bread to be almost insupportable. It had gone against the grain with him at first, when he was called Alfred; but now that he was told 'just to open the door,' and 'just to give that message,' he almost meditated revenge. Lord Nidderdale, who was quick at observation, had seen something of this in Grosvenor Square, and declared that Lord Alfred had invested part of his recent savings in a cutting whip. Mr Beauclerk, when he had got his answer, whistled and withdrew. But he was true to his party. Melmotte was not the first vulgar man whom the Conservatives had taken by the hand, and patted on the back, and told that he was a god.
The Emperor of China was now in England, and was to be entertained one night at the India Office. The Secretary of State for the second great Asiatic Empire was to entertain the ruler of the first. This was on Saturday the 6th of July, and Melmotte's dinner was to take place on the following Monday. Very great interest was made by the London world generally to obtain admission to the India Office,—the making of such interest consisting in the most abject begging for tickets of admission, addressed to the Secretary of State, to all the under secretaries, to assistant secretaries, secretaries of departments, chief clerks, and to head-messengers and their wives. If a petitioner could not be admitted as a guest into the splendour of the reception rooms, might not he,—or she,—be allowed to stand in some passage whence the Emperor's back might perhaps be seen,—so that, if possible, the petitioner's name might be printed in the list of guests which would be published on the next morning? Now Mr Melmotte with his family was, of course, supplied with tickets. He, who was to spend a fortune in giving the Emperor a dinner, was of course entitled to be present at other places to which the Emperor would be brought to be shown. Melmotte had already seen the Emperor at a breakfast in Windsor Park, and at a ball in royal halls. But hitherto he had not been presented to the Emperor. Presentations have to be restricted,—if only on the score of time; and it had been thought that as Mr Melmotte would of course have some communication with the hardworked Emperor at his own house, that would suffice. But he had felt himself to be ill-used and was offended. He spoke with bitterness to some of his supporters of the Royal Family generally, because he had not been brought to the front rank either at the breakfast or at the ball,—and now, at the India Office, was determined to have his due. But he was not on the list of those whom the Secretary of State intended on this occasion to present to the Brother of the Sun.
He had dined freely. At this period of his career he had taken to dining freely,—which was in itself imprudent, as he had need at all hours of his best intelligence. Let it not be understood that he was tipsy. He was a man whom wine did not often affect after that fashion. But it made him, who was arrogant before, tower in his arrogance till he was almost sure to totter. It was probably at some moment after dinner that Lord Alfred decided upon buying the cutting whip of which he had spoken. Melmotte went with his wife and daughter to the India Office, and soon left them far in the background with a request,—we may say an order,—to Lord Alfred to take care of them. It may be observed here that Marie Melmotte was almost as great a curiosity as the Emperor himself, and was much noticed as the girl who had attempted to run away to New York, but had gone without her lover. Melmotte entertained some foolish idea that as the India Office was in Westminster, he had a peculiar right to demand an introduction on this occasion because of his candidature. He did succeed in getting hold of an unfortunate under secretary of state, a studious and invaluable young peer, known as Earl De Griffin. He was a shy man, of enormous wealth, of mediocre intellect, and no great physical ability, who never amused himself; but worked hard night and day, and read everything that anybody could write, and more than any other person could read, about India. Had Mr Melmotte wanted to know the exact dietary of the peasants in Orissa, or the revenue of the Punjaub, or the amount of crime in Bombay, Lord De Griffin would have informed him without a pause. But in this matter of managing the Emperor, the under secretary had nothing to do, and would have been the last man to be engaged in such a service. He was, however, second in command at the India Office, and of his official rank Melmotte was unfortunately made aware. 'My Lord,' said he, by no means hiding his demand in a whisper, 'I am desirous of being presented to his Imperial Majesty.' Lord De Griffin looked at him in despair, not knowing the great man,—being one of the few men in that room who did not know him.
'This is Mr Melmotte,' said Lord Alfred, who had deserted the ladies and still stuck to his master. 'Lord De Griffin, let me introduce you to Mr Melmotte.'
'Oh—oh—oh,' said Lord De Griffin, just putting out his hand. 'I am delighted;—ah, yes,' and pretending to see somebody, he made a weak and quite ineffectual attempt to escape.
Melmotte stood directly in his way, and with unabashed audacity repeated his demand. 'I am desirous of being presented to his Imperial Majesty. Will you do me the honour of making my request known to Mr Wilson?' Mr Wilson was the Secretary of State, who was as busy as a Secretary of State is sure to be on such an occasion.
'I hardly know,' said Lord De Griffin. 'I'm afraid it's all arranged. I don't know anything about it myself.'
'You can introduce me to Mr Wilson.'
'He's up there, Mr Melmotte; and I couldn't get at him. Really you must excuse me. I'm very sorry. If I see him I'll tell him.' And the poor under secretary again endeavoured to escape.
Mr Melmotte put up his hand and stopped him. 'I'm not going to stand this kind of thing,' he said. The old Marquis of Auld Reekie was close at hand, the father of Lord Nidderdale, and therefore the proposed father-in-law of Melmotte's daughter, and he poked his thumb heavily into Lord Alfred's ribs. 'It is generally understood, I believe,' continued Melmotte, 'that the Emperor is to do me the honour of dining at my poor house on Monday. He don't dine there unless I'm made acquainted with him before he comes. I mean what I say. I ain't going to entertain even an Emperor unless I'm good enough to be presented to him. Perhaps you'd better let Mr Wilson know, as a good many people intend to come.'
'Here's a row,' said the old Marquis. 'I wish he'd be as good as his word.'
'He has taken a little wine,' whispered Lord Alfred. 'Melmotte,' he said, still whispering; 'upon my word it isn't the thing. They're only Indian chaps and Eastern swells who are presented here,—not a fellow among 'em all who hasn't been in India or China, or isn't a Secretary of State, or something of that kind.'
'Then they should have done it at Windsor, or at the ball,' said Melmotte, pulling down his waistcoat. 'By George, Alfred! I'm in earnest, and somebody had better look to it. If I'm not presented to his Imperial Majesty to-night, by G——, there shall be no dinner in Grosvenor Square on Monday. I'm master enough of my own house, I suppose, to be able to manage that.'
Here was a row, as the Marquis had said! Lord De Griffin was frightened, and Lord Alfred felt that something ought to be done. 'There's no knowing how far the pig-headed brute may go in his obstinacy,' Lord Alfred said to Mr Lupton, who was there. It no doubt might have been wise to have allowed the merchant prince to return home with the resolution that his dinner should be abandoned. He would have repented probably before the next morning; and had he continued obdurate it would not have been difficult to explain to Celestial Majesty that something preferable had been found for that particular evening even to a banquet at the house of British commerce. The Government would probably have gained the seat for Westminster, as Melmotte would at once have become very unpopular with the great body of his supporters. But Lord De Griffin was not the man to see this. He did make his way up to Mr Wilson, and explained to the Amphytrion of the night the demand which was made on his hospitality. A thoroughly well-established and experienced political Minister of State always feels that if he can make a friend or appease an enemy without paying a heavy price he will be doing a good stroke of business. 'Bring him up,' said Mr Wilson. 'He's going to do something out in the East, isn't he?' 'Nothing in India,' said Lord De Griffin. 'The submarine telegraph is quite impossible.' Mr Wilson, instructing some satellite to find out in what way he might properly connect Mr Melmotte with China, sent Lord De Griffin away with his commission.
'My dear Alfred, just allow me to manage these things myself;' Mr Melmotte was saying when the under secretary returned. 'I know my own position and how to keep it. There shall be no dinner. I'll be d—— if any of the lot shall dine in Grosvenor Square on Monday.' Lord Alfred was so astounded that he was thinking of making his way to the Prime Minister, a man whom he abhorred and didn't know, and of acquainting him with the terrible calamity which was threatened. But the arrival of the under secretary saved him the trouble.
'If you will come with me,' whispered Lord De Griffin, 'it shall be managed. It isn't just the thing, but as you wish it, it shall be done.'
'I do wish it,' said Melmotte aloud. He was one of those men whom success never mollified, whose enjoyment of a point gained always demanded some hoarse note of triumph from his own trumpet.
'If you will be so kind as to follow me,' said Lord De Griffin. And so the thing was done. Melmotte, as he was taken up to the imperial footstool, was resolved upon making a little speech, forgetful at the moment of interpreters,—of the double interpreters whom the Majesty of China required; but the awful, quiescent solemnity of the celestial one quelled even him, and he shuffled by without saying a word even of his own banquet.
But he had gained his point, and, as he was taken home to poor Mr Longestaffe's house in Bruton Street, was intolerable. Lord Alfred tried to escape after putting Madame Melmotte and her daughter into the carriage, but Melmotte insisted on his presence. 'You might as well come, Alfred;—there are two or three things I must settle before I go to bed.'
'I'm about knocked up,' said the unfortunate man.
'Knocked up, nonsense! Think what I've been through. I've been all day at the hardest work a man can do.' Had he as usual got in first, leaving his man-of-all-work to follow, the man-of-all-work would have escaped. Melmotte, fearing such defection, put his hand on Lord Alfred's shoulder, and the poor fellow was beaten. As they were taken home a continual sound of cock-crowing was audible, but as the words were not distinguished they required no painful attention; but when the soda water and brandy and cigars made their appearance in Mr Longestaffe's own back room, then the trumpet was sounded with a full blast. 'I mean to let the fellows know what's what,' said Melmotte, walking about the room. Lord Alfred had thrown himself into an arm-chair, and was consoling himself as best he might with tobacco. 'Give and take is a very good motto. If I scratch their back, I mean them to scratch mine. They won't find many people to spend ten thousand pounds in entertaining a guest of the country's as a private enterprise. I don't know of any other man of business who could do it, or would do it. It's not much any of them can do for me. Thank God, I don't want 'em. But if consideration is to be shown to anybody, I intend to be considered. The Prince treated me very scurvily, Alfred, and I shall take an opportunity of telling him so on Monday. I suppose a man may be allowed to speak to his own guests.'
'You might turn the election against you if you said anything the Prince didn't like.'
'D—— the election, sir. I stand before the electors of Westminster as a man of business, not as a courtier,—as a man who understands commercial enterprise, not as one of the Prince's toadies. Some of you fellows in England don't realize the matter yet; but I can tell you that I think myself quite as great a man as any Prince.' Lord Alfred looked at him, with strong reminiscences of the old ducal home, and shuddered. 'I'll teach them a lesson before long. Didn't I teach 'em a lesson to-night,— eh? They tell me that Lord De Griffin has sixty thousand a-year to spend. What's sixty thousand a year? Didn't I make him go on my business? And didn't I make 'em do as I chose? You want to tell me this and that, but I can tell you that I know more of men and women than some of you fellows do, who think you know a great deal.'
This went on through the whole of a long cigar; and afterwards, as Lord Alfred slowly paced his way back to his lodgings in Mount Street, he thought deeply whether there might not be means of escaping from his present servitude. 'Beast! Brute! Pig!' he said to himself over and over again as he slowly went to Mount Street.
CHAPTER LV - CLERICAL CHARITIES
Melmotte's success, and Melmotte's wealth, and Melmotte's antecedents were much discussed down in Suffolk at this time. He had been seen there in the flesh, and there is no believing like that which comes from sight. He had been staying at Caversham, and many in those parts knew that Miss Longestaffe was now living in his house in London. The purchase of the Pickering estate had also been noticed in all the Suffolk and Norfolk newspapers. Rumours, therefore, of his past frauds, rumour also as to the instability of his presumed fortune, were as current as those which declared him to be by far the richest man in England. Miss Melmotte's little attempt had also been communicated in the papers; and Sir Felix, though he was not recognized as being 'real Suffolk' himself, was so far connected with Suffolk by name as to add something to this feeling of reality respecting the Melmottes generally. Suffolk is very old-fashioned. Suffolk, taken as a whole, did not like the Melmotte fashion. Suffolk, which is, I fear, persistently and irrecoverably Conservative, did not believe in Melmotte as a Conservative Member of Parliament. Suffolk on this occasion was rather ashamed of the Longestaffes, and took occasion to remember that it was barely the other day, as Suffolk counts days, since the original Longestaffe was in trade. This selling of Pickering, and especially the selling of it to Melmotte, was a mean thing. Suffolk, as a whole, thoroughly believed that Melmotte had picked the very bones of every shareholder in that Franco-Austrian Assurance Company.
Mr Hepworth was over with Roger one morning, and they were talking about him,—or talking rather of the attempted elopement. 'I know nothing about it,' said Roger, 'and I do not intend to ask. Of course I did know when they were down here that he hoped to marry her, and I did believe that she was willing to marry him. But whether the father had consented or not I never inquired.'
'It seems he did not consent.'
'Nothing could have been more unfortunate for either of them than such a marriage. Melmotte will probably be in the "Gazette" before long, and my cousin not only has not a shilling, but could not keep one if he had it.'
'You think Melmotte will turn out a failure.'
'A failure! Of course he's a failure, whether rich or poor;—a miserable imposition, a hollow vulgar fraud from beginning to end,— too insignificant for you and me to talk of, were it not that his position is a sign of the degeneracy of the age. What are we coming to when such as he is an honoured guest at our tables?'
'At just a table here and there,' suggested his friend.
'No;—it is not that. You can keep your house free from him, and so can I mine. But we set no example to the nation at large. They who do set the example go to his feasts, and of course he is seen at theirs in return. And yet these leaders of the fashion know,—at any rate they believe,—that he is what he is because he has been a swindler greater than other swindlers. What follows as a natural consequence? Men reconcile themselves to swindling. Though they themselves mean to be honest, dishonesty of itself is no longer odious to them. Then there comes the jealousy that others should be growing rich with the approval of all the world,—and the natural aptitude to do what all the world approves. It seems to me that the existence of a Melmotte is not compatible with a wholesome state of things in general.'
Roger dined with the Bishop of Elmham that evening, and the same hero was discussed under a different heading. 'He has given L200,' said the Bishop, 'to the Curates' Aid Society. I don't know that a man could spend his money much better than that.'
'Clap-trap!' said Roger, who in his present mood was very bitter.
'The money is not clap-trap, my friend. I presume that the money is really paid.'
'I don't feel at all sure of that.'
'Our collectors for clerical charities are usually stern men,—very ready to make known defalcations on the part of promising subscribers. I think they would take care to get the money during the election.'
'And you think that money got in that way redounds to his credit?'
'Such a gift shows him to be a useful member of society,—and I am always for encouraging useful men.'
'Even though their own objects may be vile and pernicious?'
'There you beg ever so many questions, Mr Carbury. Mr Melmotte wishes to get into Parliament, and if there would vote on the side which you at any rate approve. I do not know that his object in that respect is pernicious. And as a seat in Parliament has been a matter of ambition to the best of our countrymen for centuries, I do not know why we should say that it is vile in this man.' Roger frowned and shook his head. 'Of course Mr Melmotte is not the sort of gentleman whom you have been accustomed to regard as a fitting member for a Conservative constituency. But the country is changing.'
'It's going to the dogs, I think;—about as fast as it can go.'
'We build churches much faster than we used to do.'
'Do we say our prayers in them when we have built them?' asked the Squire.
'It is very hard to see into the minds of men,' said the Bishop; 'but we can see the results of their minds' work. I think that men on the whole do live better lives than they did a hundred years ago. There is a wider spirit of justice abroad, more of mercy from one to another, a more lively charity, and if less of religious enthusiasm, less also of superstition. Men will hardly go to heaven, Mr Carbury, by following forms only because their fathers followed the same forms before them.'
'I suppose men will go to heaven, my Lord, by doing as they would be done by.'
'There can be no safer lesson. But we must hope that some may be saved even if they have not practised at all times that grand self-denial. Who comes up to that teaching? Do you not wish for, nay, almost demand, instant pardon for any trespass that you may commit,—of temper, or manner, for instance? and are you always ready to forgive in that way yourself? Do you not writhe with indignation at being wrongly judged by others who condemn you without knowing your actions or the causes of them; and do you never judge others after that fashion?'
'I do not put myself forward as an example.'
'I apologise for the personal form of my appeal. A clergyman is apt to forget that he is not in the pulpit. Of course I speak of men in general. Taking society as a whole, the big and the little, the rich and the poor, I think that it grows better from year to year, and not worse. I think, too, that they who grumble at the times, as Horace did, and declare that each age is worse than its forerunner, look only at the small things beneath their eyes, and ignore the course of the world at large.'
'But Roman freedom and Roman manners were going to the dogs when Horace wrote.'
'But Christ was about to be born, and men were already being made fit by wider intelligence for Christ's teaching. And as for freedom, has not freedom grown, almost every year, from that to this?'
'In Rome they were worshipping just such men as this Melmotte. Do you remember the man who sat upon the seats of the knights and scoured the Via Sacra with his toga, though he had been scourged from pillar to post for his villainies? I always think of that man when I hear Melmotte's name mentioned. Hoc, hoc tribuno militum! Is this the man to be Conservative member for Westminster?'
'Do you know of the scourges, as a fact?'
'I think I know that they are deserved.'
'That is hardly doing to others as you would be done by. If the man is what you say, he will surely be found out at last, and the day of his punishment will come. Your friend in the ode probably had a bad time of it, in spite of his farms and his horses. The world perhaps is managed more justly than you think, Mr Carbury.'
'My Lord, I believe you're a Radical at heart,' said Roger, as he took his leave.
'Very likely,—very likely. Only don't say so to the Prime Minister, or I shall never get any of the better things which may be going.'
The Bishop was not hopelessly in love with a young lady, and was therefore less inclined to take a melancholy view of things in general than Roger Carbury. To Roger everything seemed to be out of joint. He had that morning received a letter from Lady Carbury, reminding him of the promise of a loan, should a time come to her of great need. It had come very quickly. Roger Carbury did not in the least begrudge the hundred pounds which he had already sent to his cousin; but he did begrudge any furtherance afforded to the iniquitous schemes of Sir Felix. He felt all but sure that the foolish mother had given her son money for his abortive attempt, and that therefore this appeal had been made to him. He alluded to no such fear in his letter. He simply enclosed the cheque, and expressed a hope that the amount might suffice for the present emergency. But he was disheartened and disgusted by all the circumstances of the Carbury family. There was Paul Montague, bringing a woman such as Mrs Hurtle down to Lowestoft, declaring his purpose of continuing his visits to her, and, as Roger thought, utterly unable to free himself from his toils,—and yet, on this man's account, Hetta was cold and hard to him. He was conscious of the honesty of his own love, sure that he could make her happy,—confident, not in himself, but in the fashion and ways of his own life. What would be Hetta's lot if her heart was really given to Paul Montague?
When he got home, he found Father Barham sitting in his library. An accident had lately happened at Father Barham's own establishment. The wind had blown the roof off his cottage; and Roger Carbury, though his affection for the priest was waning, had offered him shelter while the damage was being repaired. Shelter at Carbury Manor was very much more comfortable than the priest's own establishment, even with the roof on, and Father Barham was in clover. Father Barham was reading his own favourite newspaper, 'The Surplice,' when Roger entered the room. 'Have you seen this, Mr Carbury?' he said.
'What's this? I am not likely to have seen anything that belongs peculiarly to "The Surplice."'
'That's the prejudice of what you are pleased to call the Anglican Church. Mr Melmotte is a convert to our faith. He is a great man, and will perhaps be one of the greatest known on the face of the globe.'
'Melmotte a convert to Romanism! I'll make you a present of him, and thank you to take him; but I don't believe that we've any such good riddance.'
Then Father Barham read a paragraph out of 'The Surplice.' 'Mr Augustus Melmotte, the great financier and capitalist, has presented a hundred guineas towards the erection of an altar for the new church of St Fabricius, in Tothill Fields. The donation was accompanied by a letter from Mr Melmotte's secretary, which leaves but little doubt that the new member for Westminster will be a member, and no inconsiderable member, of the Catholic party in the House, during the next session.'
'That's another dodge, is it?' said Carbury.
'What do you mean by a dodge, Mr Carbury? Because money is given for a pious object of which you do not happen to approve, must it be a dodge?'
'But, my dear Father Barham, the day before the same great man gave L200 to the Protestant Curates' Aid Society. I have just left the Bishop exulting in this great act of charity.'
'I don't believe a word of it;—or it may be a parting gift to the Church to which he belonged in his darkness.'
'And you would be really proud of Mr Melmotte as a convert?'
'I would be proud of the lowest human being that has a soul,' said the priest; 'but of course we are glad to welcome the wealthy and the great.'
'The great! Oh dear!'
'A man is great who has made for himself such a position as that of Mr Melmotte. And when such a one leaves your Church and joins our own, it is a great sign to us that the Truth is prevailing.' Roger Carbury, without another word, took his candle and went to bed.
CHAPTER LVI - FATHER BARHAM VISITS LONDON
It was considered to be a great thing to catch the Roman Catholic vote in Westminster. For many years it has been considered a great thing both in the House and out of the House to 'catch' Roman Catholic votes. There are two modes of catching these votes. This or that individual Roman Catholic may be promoted to place, so that he personally may be made secure; or the right hand of fellowship may be extended to the people of the Pope generally, so that the people of the Pope may be taught to think that a general step is being made towards the reconversion of the nation. The first measure is the easier, but the effect is but slight and soon passes away. The promoted one, though as far as his prayers go he may remain as good a Catholic as ever, soon ceases to be one of the party to be conciliated, and is apt after a while to be regarded by them as an enemy. But the other mode, if a step be well taken, may be very efficacious. It has now and then occurred that every Roman Catholic in Ireland and England has been brought to believe that the nation is coming round to them;—and in this or that borough the same conviction has been made to grow. To catch the Protestant,—that is the peculiarly Protestant,—vote and the Roman Catholic vote at the same instant is a feat difficult of accomplishment; but it has been attempted before, and was attempted now by Mr Melmotte and his friends. It was perhaps thought by his friends that the Protestants would not notice the L100 given for the altar to St Fabricius; but Mr Alf was wide awake, and took care that Mr Melmotte's religious opinions should be a matter of interest to the world at large. During all that period of newspaper excitement there was perhaps no article that created so much general interest as that which appeared in the 'Evening Pulpit,' with a special question asked at the head of it, 'For Priest or Parson?' In this article, which was more than usually delightful as being pungent from the beginning to the end and as being unalloyed with any dry didactic wisdom, Mr Alf's man, who did that business, declared that it was really important that the nation at large and especially the electors of Westminster should know what was the nature of Mr Melmotte's faith. That he was a man of a highly religious temperament was most certain by his munificent charities on behalf of religion. Two noble donations, which by chance had been made just at this crisis, were doubtless no more than the regular continuation of his ordinary flow of Christian benevolence. The 'Evening Pulpit' by no means insinuated that the gifts were intended to have any reference to the approaching election. Far be it from the 'Evening Pulpit' to imagine that so great a man as Mr Melmotte looked for any return in this world from his charitable generosity. But still, as Protestants naturally desired to be represented in Parliament by a Protestant member, and as Roman Catholics as naturally desired to be represented by a Roman Catholic, perhaps Mr Melmotte would not object to declare his creed.
This was biting, and of course did mischief; but Mr Melmotte and his manager were not foolish enough to allow it to actuate them in any way. He had thrown his bread upon the waters, assisting St Fabricius with one hand and the Protestant curates with the other, and must leave the results to take care of themselves. If the Protestants chose to believe that he was hyper-protestant, and the Catholics that he was tending towards papacy, so much the better for him. Any enthusiastic religionists wishing to enjoy such convictions would not allow themselves to be enlightened by the manifestly interested malignity of Mr Alf's newspaper.
It may be doubted whether the donation to the Curates' Aid Society did have much effect. It may perhaps have induced a resolution in some few to go to the poll whose minds were active in regard to religion and torpid as to politics. But the donation to St Fabricius certainly had results. It was taken up and made much of by the Roman Catholic party generally, till a report got itself spread abroad and almost believed that Mr Melmotte was going to join the Church of Rome. These manoeuvres require most delicate handling, or evil may follow instead of good. On the second afternoon after the question had been asked in the 'Evening Pulpit,' an answer to it appeared, 'For Priest and not for Parson.' Therein various assertions made by Roman Catholic organs and repeated in Roman Catholic speeches were brought together, so as to show that Mr Melmotte really had at last made up his mind on this important question. All the world knew now, said Mr Alf's writer, that with that keen sense of honesty which was the Great Financier's peculiar characteristic,—the Great Financier was the name which Mr Alf had specially invented for Mr Melmotte,—he had doubted, till the truth was absolutely borne in upon him, whether he could serve the nation best as a Liberal or as a Conservative. He had solved that doubt with wisdom. And now this other doubt had passed through the crucible, and by the aid of fire a golden certainty had been produced. The world of Westminster at last knew that Mr Melmotte was a Roman Catholic. Now nothing was clearer than this,—that though catching the Catholic vote would greatly help a candidate, no real Roman Catholic could hope to be returned. This last article vexed Mr Melmotte, and he proposed to his friends to send a letter to the 'Breakfast Table' asserting that he adhered to the Protestant faith of his ancestors. But, as it was suspected by many, and was now being whispered to the world at large, that Melmotte had been born a Jew, this assurance would perhaps have been too strong. 'Do nothing of the kind,' said Mr Beauchamp Beauclerk. 'If any one asks you a question at any meeting, say that you are a Protestant. But it isn't likely, as we have none but our own people. Don't go writing letters.'
But unfortunately the gift of an altar to St Fabricius was such a godsend that sundry priests about the country were determined to cling to the good man who had bestowed his money so well. I think that many of them did believe that this was a great sign of a beauteous stirring of people's minds in favour of Rome. The fervent Romanists have always this point in their favour, that they are ready to believe. And they have a desire for the conversion of men which is honest in an exactly inverse ratio to the dishonesty of the means which they employ to produce it. Father Barham was ready to sacrifice anything personal to himself in the good cause,—his time, his health, his money when he had any, and his life. Much as he liked the comfort of Carbury Hall, he would never for a moment condescend to ensure its continued enjoyment by reticence as to his religion. Roger Carbury was hard of heart. He could see that. But the dropping of water might hollow the stone. If the dropping should be put an end to by outward circumstances before the stone had been impressed that would not be his fault. He at any rate would do his duty. In that fixed resolution Father Barham was admirable. But he had no scruple whatsoever as to the nature of the arguments he would use,—or as to the facts which he would proclaim. With the mingled ignorance of his life and the positiveness of his faith he had at once made up his mind that Melmotte was a great man, and that he might be made a great instrument on behalf of the Pope. He believed in the enormous proportions of the man's wealth,—believed that he was powerful in all quarters of the globe,—and believed, because he was so told by 'The Surplice,' that the man was at heart a Catholic. That a man should be at heart a Catholic, and live in the world professing the Protestant religion, was not to Father Barham either improbable or distressing. Kings who had done so were to him objects of veneration. By such subterfuges and falsehood of life had they been best able to keep alive the spark of heavenly fire. There was a mystery and religious intrigue in this which recommended itself to the young priest's mind. But it was clear to him that this was a peculiar time,—in which it behoved an earnest man to be doing something. He had for some weeks been preparing himself for a trip to London in order that he might spend a week in retreat with kindred souls who from time to time betook themselves to the cells of St Fabricius. And so, just at this season of the Westminster election, Father Barham made a journey to London.
He had conceived the great idea of having a word or two with Mr Melmotte himself. He thought that he might be convinced by a word or two as to the man's faith. And he thought, also, that it might be a happiness to him hereafter to have had intercourse with a man who was perhaps destined to be the means of restoring the true faith to his country. On Saturday night,—that Saturday night on which Mr Melmotte had so successfully exercised his greatness at the India Office,—he took up his quarters in the cloisters of St Fabricius; he spent a goodly festive Sunday among the various Romanist church services of the metropolis; and on the Monday morning he sallied forth in quest of Mr Melmotte. Having obtained that address from some circular, he went first to Abchurch Lane. But on this day, and on the next, which would be the day of the election, Mr Melmotte was not expected in the City, and the priest was referred to his present private residence in Bruton Street. There he was told that the great man might probably be found in Grosvenor Square, and at the house in the square Father Barham was at last successful. Mr Melmotte was there superintending the arrangements for the entertainment of the Emperor.
The servants, or more probably the workmen, must have been at fault in giving the priest admittance. But in truth the house was in great confusion. The wreaths of flowers and green boughs were being suspended, last daubs of heavy gilding were being given to the wooden capitals of mock pilasters, incense was being burned to kill the smell of the paint, tables were being fixed and chairs were being moved; and an enormous set of open presses were being nailed together for the accommodation of hats and cloaks. The hall was chaos, and poor Father Barham, who had heard a good deal of the Westminster election, but not a word of the intended entertainment of the Emperor, was at a loss to conceive for what purpose these operations were carried on. But through the chaos he made his way, and did soon find himself in the presence of Mr Melmotte in the banqueting hall.
Mr Melmotte was attended both by Lord Alfred and his son. He was standing in front of the chair which had been arranged for the Emperor, with his hat on one side of his head, and he was very angry indeed. He had been given to understand when the dinner was first planned, that he was to sit opposite to his august guest;—by which he had conceived that he was to have a seat immediately in face of the Emperor of Emperors, of the Brother of the Sun, of the Celestial One himself. It was now explained to him that this could not be done. In face of the Emperor there must be a wide space, so that his Majesty might be able to look down the hall; and the royal princesses who sat next to the Emperor, and the royal princes who sat next to the princesses, must also be so indulged. And in this way Mr Melmotte's own seat became really quite obscure. Lord Alfred was having a very bad time of it. 'It's that fellow from "The Herald" office did it, not me,' he said, almost in a passion. 'I don't know how people ought to sit. But that's the reason.'
'I'm d——- if I'm going to be treated in this way in my own house,' were the first words which the priest heard. And as Father Barham walked up the room and came close to the scene of action, unperceived by either of the Grendalls, Mr Melmotte was trying, but trying in vain, to move his own seat nearer to Imperial Majesty. A bar had been put up of such a nature that Melmotte, sitting in the seat prepared for him, would absolutely be barred out from the centre of his own hall. 'Who the d—— are you?' he asked, when the priest appeared close before his eyes on the inner or more imperial side of the bar. It was not the habit of Father Barham's life to appear in sleek apparel. He was ever clothed in the very rustiest brown black that age can produce. In Beccles where he was known it signified little, but in the halls of the great one in Grosvenor Square, perhaps the stranger's welcome was cut to the measure of his outer man. A comely priest in glossy black might have been received with better grace.
Father Barham stood humbly with his hat off. He was a man of infinite pluck; but outward humility—at any rate at the commencement of an enterprise,—was the rule of his life. 'I am the Rev. Mr Barham,' said the visitor. 'I am the priest of Beccles in Suffolk. I believe I am speaking to Mr Melmotte.'
'That's my name, sir. And what may you want? I don't know whether you are aware that you have found your way into my private dining-room without any introduction. Where the mischief are the fellows, Alfred, who ought to have seen about this? I wish you'd look to it, Miles. Can anybody who pleases walk into my hall?'
'I came on a mission which I hope may be pleaded as my excuse,' said the priest. Although he was bold, he found it difficult to explain his mission. Had not Lord Alfred been there he could have done it better, in spite of the very repulsive manner of the great man himself.
'Is it business?' asked Lord Alfred.
'Certainly it is business,' said Father Barham with a smile.
'Then you had better call at the office in Abchurch Lane,—in the City,' said his lordship.
'My business is not of that nature. I am a poor servant of the Cross, who is anxious to know from the lips of Mr Melmotte himself that his heart is inclined to the true Faith.'
'Some lunatic,' said Melmotte. 'See that there ain't any knives about, Alfred.'
'No otherwise mad, sir, than they have ever been accounted mad who are enthusiastic in their desire for the souls of others.'
'Just get a policeman, Alfred. Or send somebody; you'd better not go away.'
'You will hardly need a policeman, Mr Melmotte,' continued the priest. 'If I might speak to you alone for a few minutes—'
'Certainly not;—certainly not. I am very busy, and if you will not go away you'll have to be taken away. I wonder whether anybody knows him.'
'Mr Carbury, of Carbury Hall, is my friend.'
'Carbury! D—- the Carburys! Did any of the Carburys send you here? A set of beggars! Why don't you do something, Alfred, to get rid of him?'
'You'd better go,' said Lord Alfred. 'Don't make a rumpus, there's a good fellow;—but just go.'
'There shall be no rumpus,' said the priest, waxing wrathful. 'I asked for you at the door, and was told to come in by your own servants. Have I been uncivil that you should treat me in this fashion?'
'You're in the way,' said Lord Alfred.
'It's a piece of gross impertinence,' said Melmotte. 'Go away.'
'Will you not tell me before I go whether I shall pray for you as one whose steps in the right path should be made sure and firm; or as one still in error and in darkness?'
'What the mischief does he mean?' asked Melmotte.
'He wants to know whether you're a papist,' said Lord Alfred.
'What the deuce is it to him?' almost screamed Melmotte;—whereupon Father Barham bowed and took his leave.
'That's a remarkable thing,' said Melmotte,—'very remarkable.' Even this poor priest's mad visit added to his inflation. 'I suppose he was in earnest.'
'Mad as a hatter,' said Lord Alfred.
'But why did he come to me in his madness—to me especially? That's what I want to know. I'll tell you what it is. There isn't a man in all England at this moment thought of so much as—your humble servant. I wonder whether the "Morning Pulpit" people sent him here now to find out really what is my religion.'
'Mad as a hatter,' said Lord Alfred again;—'just that and no more.'
'My dear fellow, I don't think you've the gift of seeing very far. The truth is they don't know what to make of me;—and I don't intend that they shall. I'm playing my game, and there isn't one of 'em understands it except myself. It's no good my sitting here, you know. I shan't be able to move. How am I to get at you if I want anything?'
'What can you want? There'll be lots of servants about.'
'I'll have this bar down, at any rate.' And he did succeed in having removed the bar which had been specially put up to prevent his intrusion on his own guests in his own house. 'I look upon that fellow's coming here as a very singular sign of the times,' he went on to say. 'They'll want before long to know where I have my clothes made, and who measures me for my boots!' Perhaps the most remarkable circumstance in the career of this remarkable man was the fact that he came almost to believe in himself.
Father Barham went away certainly disgusted; and yet not altogether disheartened. The man had not declared that he was not a Roman Catholic. He had shown himself to be a brute. He had blasphemed and cursed. He had been outrageously uncivil to a man whom he must have known to be a minister of God. He had manifested himself to this priest, who had been born an English gentleman, as being no gentleman. But, not the less might he be a good Catholic,—or good enough at any rate to be influential on the right side. To his eyes Melmotte, with all his insolent vulgarity, was infinitely a more hopeful man than Roger Carbury. 'He insulted me,' said Father Barham to a brother religionist that evening within the cloisters of St Fabricius.
'Did he intend to insult you?'
'Certainly he did. But what of that? It is not by the hands of polished men, nor even of the courteous, that this work has to be done. He was preparing for some great festival, and his mind was intent upon that.'
'He entertains the Emperor of China this very day,' said the brother priest, who, as a resident in London, heard from time to time what was being done.
'The Emperor of China! Ah, that accounts for it. I do think that he is on our side, even though he gave me but little encouragement for saying so. Will they vote for him, here at Westminster?'
'Our people will. They think that he is rich and can help them.'
'There is no doubt of his wealth, I suppose,' said Father Barham.
'Some people do doubt;—but others say he is the richest man in the world.'
'He looked like it,—and spoke like it,' said Father Barham. 'Think what such a man might do, if he be really the wealthiest man in the world! And if he had been against us would he not have said so? Though he was uncivil, I am glad that I saw him.' Father Barham, with a simplicity that was singularly mingled with his religious cunning, made himself believe before he returned to Beccles that Mr Melmotte was certainly a Roman Catholic.
CHAPTER LVII - LORD NIDDERDALE TRIES HIS HAND AGAIN
Lord Nidderdale had half consented to renew his suit to Marie Melmotte. He had at any rate half promised to call at Melmotte's house on the Sunday with the object of so doing. As far as that promise had been given it was broken, for on the Sunday he was not seen in Bruton Street. Though not much given to severe thinking, he did feel that on this occasion there was need for thought. His father's property was not very large. His father and his grandfather had both been extravagant men, and he himself had done something towards adding to the family embarrassments. It had been an understood thing, since he had commenced life, that he was to marry an heiress. In such families as his, when such results have been achieved, it is generally understood that matters shall be put right by an heiress. It has become an institution, like primogeniture, and is almost as serviceable for maintaining the proper order of things. Rank squanders money; trade makes it;—and then trade purchases rank by re-gilding its splendour. The arrangement, as it affects the aristocracy generally, is well understood, and was quite approved of by the old marquis—so that he had felt himself to be justified in eating up the property, which his son's future marriage would renew as a matter of course. Nidderdale himself had never dissented, had entertained no fanciful theory opposed to this view, had never alarmed his father by any liaison tending towards matrimony with any undowered beauty;—but had claimed his right to 'have his fling' before he devoted himself to the reintegration of the family property. His father had felt that it would be wrong and might probably be foolish to oppose so natural a desire. He had regarded all the circumstances of 'the fling' with indulgent eyes. But there arose some little difference as to the duration of the fling, and the father had at last found himself compelled to inform his son that if the fling were carried on much longer it must be done with internecine war between himself and his heir. Nidderdale, whose sense and temper were alike good, saw the thing quite in the proper light. He assured his father that he had no intention of 'cutting up rough,' declared that he was ready for the heiress as soon as the heiress should be put in his way, and set himself honestly about the task imposed on him. This had all been arranged at Auld Reekie Castle during the last winter, and the reader knows the result.
But the affair had assumed abnormal difficulties. Perhaps the Marquis had been wrong in flying at wealth which was reputed to be almost unlimited, but which was not absolutely fixed. A couple of hundred thousand pounds down might have been secured with greater ease. But here there had been a prospect of endless money,—of an inheritance which might not improbably make the Auld Reekie family conspicuous for its wealth even among the most wealthy of the nobility. The old man had fallen into the temptation, and abnormal difficulties had been the result. Some of these the reader knows. Latterly two difficulties had culminated above the others. The young lady preferred another gentleman, and disagreeable stories were afloat, not only as to the way in which the money had been made, but even as to its very existence.
The Marquis, however, was a man who hated to be beaten. As far as he could learn from inquiry, the money would be there or, at least, so much money as had been promised. A considerable sum, sufficient to secure the bridegroom from absolute shipwreck,—though by no means enough to make a brilliant marriage,—had in truth been already settled on Marie, and was, indeed, in her possession. As to that, her father had armed himself with a power of attorney for drawing the income,—but had made over the property to his daughter, so that in the event of unforeseen accidents on 'Change, he might retire to obscure comfort, and have the means perhaps of beginning again with whitewashed cleanliness. When doing this, he had doubtless not anticipated the grandeur to which he would soon rise, or the fact that he was about to embark on seas so dangerous that this little harbour of refuge would hardly offer security to his vessel. Marie had been quite correct in her story to her favoured lover. And the Marquis's lawyer had ascertained that if Marie ever married before she herself had restored this money to her father, her husband would be so far safe,—with this as a certainty and the immense remainder in prospect. The Marquis had determined to persevere. Pickering was to be added. Mr Melmotte had been asked to depone the title-deeds, and had promised to do so as soon as the day of the wedding should have been fixed with the consent of all the parties. The Marquis's lawyer had ventured to express a doubt; but the Marquis had determined to persevere. The reader will, I trust, remember that those dreadful misgivings, which are I trust agitating his own mind, have been borne in upon him by information which had not as yet reached the Marquis in all its details.
But Nidderdale had his doubts. That absurd elopement, which Melmotte declared really to mean nothing,—the romance of a girl who wanted to have one little fling of her own before she settled down for life,— was perhaps his strongest objection. Sir Felix, no doubt, had not gone with her; but then one doesn't wish to have one's intended wife even attempt to run off with any one but oneself. 'She'll be sick of him by this time, I should say,' his father said to him. 'What does it matter, if the money's there?' The Marquis seemed to think that the escapade had simply been the girl's revenge against his son for having made his arrangements so exclusively with Melmotte, instead of devoting himself to her. Nidderdale acknowledged to himself that he had been remiss. He told himself that she was possessed of more spirit than he had thought. By the Sunday evening he had determined that he would try again. He had expected that the plum would fall into his mouth. He would now stretch out his hand to pick it.
On the Monday he went to the house in Bruton Street, at lunch time. Melmotte and the two Grendalls had just come over from their work in the square, and the financier was full of the priest's visit to him. Madame Melmotte was there, and Miss Longestaffe, who was to be sent for by her friend Lady Monogram that afternoon,—and, after they had sat down, Marie came in. Nidderdale got up and shook hands with her,— of course as though nothing had happened. Marie, putting a brave face upon it, struggling hard in the midst of very real difficulties, succeeded in saying an ordinary word or two. Her position was uncomfortable. A girl who has run away with her lover and has been brought back again by her friends, must for a time find it difficult to appear in society with ease. But when a girl has run away without her lover,—has run away expecting her lover to go with her, and has then been brought back, her lover not having stirred, her state of mind must be peculiarly harassing. But Marie's courage was good, and she ate her lunch even though she sat next to Lord Nidderdale.