r. Adolphus Longestaffe, the squire of Caversham in Suffolk, and of Pickering Park in Sussex, was closeted on a certain morning for the best part of an hour with Mr. Melmotte in Abchurch Lane, had there discussed all his private affairs, and was about to leave the room with a very dissatisfied air. There are men,—and old men too, who ought to know the world,—who think that if they can only find the proper Medea to boil the cauldron for them, they can have their ruined fortunes so cooked that they shall come out of the pot fresh and new and unembarrassed. These great conjurors are generally sought for in the City; and in truth the cauldrons are kept boiling though the result of the process is seldom absolute rejuvenescence. No greater Medea than Mr. Melmotte had ever been potent in money matters, and Mr. Longestaffe had been taught to believe that if he could get the necromancer even to look at his affairs everything would be made right for him. But the necromancer had explained to the squire that property could not be created by the waving of any wand or the boiling of any cauldron. He, Mr. Melmotte, could put Mr. Longestaffe in the way of realising property without delay, of changing it from one shape into another, or could find out the real market value of the property in question; but he could create nothing. "You have only a life interest, Mr. Longestaffe."
"No; only a life interest. That is customary with family estates in this country, Mr. Melmotte."
"Just so. And therefore you can dispose of nothing else. Your son, of course, could join you, and then you could sell either one estate or the other."
"There is no question of selling Caversham, sir. Lady Pomona and I reside there."
"Your son will not join you in selling the other place?"
"I have not directly asked him; but he never does do anything that I wish. I suppose you would not take Pickering Park on a lease for my life."
"I think not, Mr. Longestaffe. My wife would not like the uncertainty."
Then Mr. Longestaffe took his leave with a feeling of outraged aristocratic pride. His own lawyer would almost have done as much for him, and he need not have invited his own lawyer as a guest to Caversham,—and certainly not his own lawyer's wife and daughter. He had indeed succeeded in borrowing a few thousand pounds from the great man at a rate of interest which the great man's head clerk was to arrange, and this had been effected simply on the security of the lease of a house in town. There had been an ease in this, an absence of that delay which generally took place between the expression of his desire for money and the acquisition of it,—and this had gratified him. But he was already beginning to think that he might pay too dearly for that gratification. At the present moment, too, Mr. Melmotte was odious to him for another reason. He had condescended to ask Mr. Melmotte to make him a director of the South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, and he,—Adolphus Longestaffe of Caversham,—had had his request refused! Mr. Longestaffe had condescended very low. "You have made Lord Alfred Grendall one!" he had said in a complaining tone. Then Mr. Melmotte explained that Lord Alfred possessed peculiar aptitudes for the position. "I'm sure I could do anything that he does," said Mr. Longestaffe. Upon this Mr. Melmotte, knitting his brows and speaking with some roughness, replied that the number of directors required was completed. Since he had had two duchesses at his house Mr. Melmotte was beginning to feel that he was entitled to bully any mere commoner, especially a commoner who could ask him for a seat at his board.
Mr. Longestaffe was a tall, heavy man, about fifty, with hair and whiskers carefully dyed, whose clothes were made with great care, though they always seemed to fit him too tightly, and who thought very much of his personal appearance. It was not that he considered himself handsome, but that he was specially proud of his aristocratic bearing. He entertained an idea that all who understood the matter would perceive at a single glance that he was a gentleman of the first water, and a man of fashion. He was intensely proud of his position in life, thinking himself to be immensely superior to all those who earned their bread. There were no doubt gentlemen of different degrees, but the English gentleman of gentlemen was he who had land, and family title-deeds, and an old family place, and family portraits, and family embarrassments, and a family absence of any useful employment. He was beginning even to look down upon peers, since so many men of much less consequence than himself had been made lords; and, having stood and been beaten three or four times for his county, he was of opinion that a seat in the House was rather a mark of bad breeding. He was a silly man, who had no fixed idea that it behoved him to be of use to any one; but, yet, he had compassed a certain nobility of feeling. There was very little that his position called upon him to do, but there was much that it forbad him to do. It was not allowed to him to be close in money matters. He could leave his tradesmen's bills unpaid till the men were clamorous, but he could not question the items in their accounts. He could be tyrannical to his servants, but he could not make inquiry as to the consumption of his wines in the servants' hall. He had no pity for his tenants in regard to game, but he hesitated much as to raising their rent. He had his theory of life and endeavoured to live up to it; but the attempt had hardly brought satisfaction to himself or to his family.
At the present moment, it was the great desire of his heart to sell the smaller of his two properties and disembarrass the other. The debt had not been altogether of his own making, and the arrangement would, he believed, serve his whole family as well as himself. It would also serve his son, who was blessed with a third property of his own which he had already managed to burden with debt. The father could not bear to be refused; and he feared that his son would decline. "But Adolphus wants money as much as any one," Lady Pomona had said. He had shaken his head and pished and pshawed. Women never could understand anything about money. Now he walked down sadly from Mr. Melmotte's office and was taken in his brougham to his lawyer's chambers in Lincoln's Inn. Even for the accommodation of those few thousand pounds he was forced to condescend to tell his lawyers that the title-deeds of his house in town must be given up. Mr. Longestaffe felt that the world in general was very hard on him.
"What on earth are we to do with them?" said Sophia, the eldest Miss Longestaffe, to her mother.
"I do think it's a shame of papa," said Georgiana, the second daughter. "I certainly shan't trouble myself to entertain them."
"Of course you will leave them all on my hands," said Lady Pomona wearily.
"But what's the use of having them?" urged Sophia. "I can understand going to a crush at their house in town when everybody else goes. One doesn't speak to them, and need not know them afterwards. As to the girl, I'm sure I shouldn't remember her if I were to see her."
"It would be a fine thing if Adolphus would marry her," said Lady Pomona.
"Dolly will never marry anybody," said Georgiana. "The idea of his taking the trouble of asking a girl to have him! Besides, he won't come down to Caversham; cart-ropes wouldn't bring him. If that is to be the game, mamma, it is quite hopeless."
"Why should Dolly marry such a creature as that?" asked Sophia.
"Because everybody wants money," said Lady Pomona. "I'm sure I don't know what your papa is to do, or how it is that there never is any money for anything. I don't spend it."
"I don't think that we do anything out of the way," said Sophia. "I haven't the slightest idea what papa's income is; but if we're to live at all, I don't know how we are to make a change."
"It's always been like this ever since I can remember," said Georgiana, "and I don't mean to worry about it any more. I suppose it's just the same with other people, only one doesn't know it."
"But, my dears—when we are obliged to have such people as these Melmottes!"
"As for that, if we didn't have them somebody else would. I shan't trouble myself about them. I suppose it will only be for two days."
"My dear, they're coming for a week!"
"Then papa must take them about the country, that's all. I never did hear of anything so absurd. What good can they do papa by being down there?"
"He is wonderfully rich," said Lady Pomona.
"But I don't suppose he'll give papa his money," continued Georgiana. "Of course I don't pretend to understand, but I think there is more fuss about these things than they deserve. If papa hasn't got money to live at home, why doesn't he go abroad for a year? The Sydney Beauchamps did that, and the girls had quite a nice time of it in Florence. It was there that Clara Beauchamp met young Lord Liffey. I shouldn't at all mind that kind of thing, but I think it quite horrible to have these sort of people brought down upon us at Caversham. No one knows who they are, or where they came from, or what they'll turn to." So spoke Georgiana, who among the Longestaffes was supposed to have the strongest head, and certainly the sharpest tongue.
This conversation took place in the drawing-room of the Longestaffes' family town-house in Bruton Street. It was not by any means a charming house, having but few of those luxuries and elegancies which have been added of late years to newly-built London residences. It was gloomy and inconvenient, with large drawing-rooms, bad bedrooms, and very little accommodation for servants. But it was the old family town-house, having been inhabited by three or four generations of Longestaffes, and did not savour of that radical newness which prevails, and which was peculiarly distasteful to Mr. Longestaffe. Queen's Gate and the quarters around were, according to Mr. Longestaffe, devoted to opulent tradesmen. Even Belgrave Square, though its aristocratic properties must be admitted, still smelt of the mortar. Many of those living there and thereabouts had never possessed in their families real family town-houses. The old streets lying between Piccadilly and Oxford Street, with one or two well-known localities to the south and north of these boundaries, were the proper sites for these habitations. When Lady Pomona, instigated by some friend of high rank but questionable taste, had once suggested a change to Eaton Square, Mr. Longestaffe had at once snubbed his wife. If Bruton Street wasn't good enough for her and the girls then they might remain at Caversham. The threat of remaining at Caversham had been often made, for Mr. Longestaffe, proud as he was of his town-house, was, from year to year, very anxious to save the expense of the annual migration. The girls' dresses and the girls' horses, his wife's carriage and his own brougham, his dull London dinner-parties, and the one ball which it was always necessary that Lady Pomona should give, made him look forward to the end of July, with more dread than to any other period. It was then that he began to know what that year's season would cost him. But he had never yet been able to keep his family in the country during the entire year. The girls, who as yet knew nothing of the Continent beyond Paris, had signified their willingness to be taken about Germany and Italy for twelve months, but had shown by every means in their power that they would mutiny against any intention on their father's part to keep them at Caversham during the London season.
Georgiana had just finished her strong-minded protest against the Melmottes, when her brother strolled into the room. Dolly did not often show himself in Bruton Street. He had rooms of his own, and could seldom even be induced to dine with his family. His mother wrote to him notes without end,—notes every day, pressing invitations of all sorts upon him; would he come and dine; would he take them to the theatre; would he go to this ball; would he go to that evening-party? These Dolly barely read, and never answered. He would open them, thrust them into some pocket, and then forget them. Consequently his mother worshipped him; and even his sisters, who were at any rate superior to him in intellect, treated him with a certain deference. He could do as he liked, and they felt themselves to be slaves, bound down by the dulness of the Longestaffe regime. His freedom was grand to their eyes, and very enviable, although they were aware that he had already so used it as to impoverish himself in the midst of his wealth.
"My dear Adolphus," said the mother, "this is so nice of you."
"I think it is rather nice," said Dolly, submitting himself to be kissed.
"Oh Dolly, whoever would have thought of seeing you?" said Sophia.
"Give him some tea," said his mother. Lady Pomona was always having tea from four o'clock till she was taken away to dress for dinner.
"I'd sooner have soda and brandy," said Dolly.
"My darling boy!"
"I didn't ask for it, and I don't expect to get it; indeed I don't want it. I only said I'd sooner have it than tea. Where's the governor?" They all looked at him with wondering eyes. There must be something going on more than they had dreamed of, when Dolly asked to see his father.
"Papa went out in the brougham immediately after lunch," said Sophia gravely.
"I'll wait a little for him," said Dolly, taking out his watch.
"Do stay and dine with us," said Lady Pomona.
"I could not do that, because I've got to go and dine with some fellow."
"Some fellow! I believe you don't know where you're going," said Georgiana.
"My fellow knows. At least he's a fool if he don't."
"Adolphus," began Lady Pomona very seriously, "I've got a plan and I want you to help me."
"I hope there isn't very much to do in it, mother."
"We're all going to Caversham, just for Whitsuntide, and we particularly want you to come."
"By George! no; I couldn't do that."
"You haven't heard half. Madame Melmotte and her daughter are coming."
"The d—— they are!" ejaculated Dolly.
"Dolly!" said Sophia, "do remember where you are."
"Yes I will;—and I'll remember too where I won't be. I won't go to Caversham to meet old mother Melmotte."
"My dear boy," continued the mother, "do you know that Miss Melmotte will have twenty—thousand—a year the day she marries; and that in all probability her husband will some day be the richest man in Europe?"
"Half the fellows in London are after her," said Dolly.
"Why shouldn't you be one of them?"
"She isn't going to stay in the same house with half the fellows in London," suggested Georgiana. "If you've a mind to try it you'll have a chance which nobody else can have just at present."
"But I haven't any mind to try it. Good gracious me;—oh dear! it isn't at all in my way, mother."
"I knew he wouldn't," said Georgiana.
"It would put everything so straight," said Lady Pomona.
"They'll have to remain crooked if nothing else will put them straight. There's the governor. I heard his voice. Now for a row." Then Mr. Longestaffe entered the room.
"My dear," said Lady Pomona, "here's Adolphus come to see us." The father nodded his head at his son but said nothing. "We want him to stay and dine, but he's engaged."
"Though he doesn't know where," said Sophia.
"My fellow knows;—he keeps a book. I've got a letter, sir, ever so long, from those fellows in Lincoln's Inn. They want me to come and see you about selling something; so I've come. It's an awful bore, because I don't understand anything about it. Perhaps there isn't anything to be sold. If so I can go away again, you know."
Then the squire led the way out of the room, and Dolly followed. Lionel Grimston Fawkes. Wood-engraving. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
"You'd better come with me into the study," said the father. "We needn't disturb your mother and sisters about business." Then the squire led the way out of the room, and Dolly followed, making a woful grimace at his sisters. The three ladies sat over their tea for about half-an-hour, waiting,—not the result of the conference, for with that they did not suppose that they would be made acquainted,—but whatever signs of good or evil might be collected from the manner and appearance of the squire when he should return to them. Dolly they did not expect to see again,—probably for a month. He and the squire never did come together without quarrelling, and careless as was the young man in every other respect, he had hitherto been obdurate as to his own rights in any dealings which he had with his father. At the end of the half hour Mr. Longestaffe returned to the drawing-room, and at once pronounced the doom of the family. "My dear," he said, "we shall not return from Caversham to London this year." He struggled hard to maintain a grand dignified tranquillity as he spoke, but his voice quivered with emotion.
"Papa!" screamed Sophia.
"My dear, you don't mean it," said Lady Pomona.
"Of course papa doesn't mean it," said Georgiana rising to her feet.
"I mean it accurately and certainly," said Mr. Longestaffe. "We go to Caversham in about ten days, and we shall not return from Caversham to London this year."
"Our ball is fixed," said Lady Pomona.
"Then it must be unfixed." So saying, the master of the house left the drawing-room and descended to his study.
The three ladies, when left to deplore their fate, expressed their opinions as to the sentence which had been pronounced very strongly. But the daughters were louder in their anger than was their mother.
"He can't really mean it," said Sophia.
"He does," said Lady Pomona, with tears in her eyes.
"He must unmean it again;—that's all," said Georgiana. "Dolly has said something to him very rough, and he resents it upon us. Why did he bring us up at all if he means to take us down before the season has begun?"
"I wonder what Adolphus has said to him. Your papa is always hard upon Adolphus."
"Dolly can take care of himself," said Georgiana, "and always does do so. Dolly does not care for us."
"Not a bit," said Sophia.
"I'll tell you what you must do, mamma. You mustn't stir from this at all. You must give up going to Caversham altogether, unless he promises to bring us back. I won't stir,—unless he has me carried out of the house."
"My dear, I couldn't say that to him."
"Then I will. To go and be buried down in that place for a whole year with no one near us but the rusty old bishop and Mr. Carbury, who is rustier still. I won't stand it. There are some sort of things that one ought not to stand. If you go down I shall stay up with the Primeros. Mrs. Primero would have me I know. It wouldn't be nice of course. I don't like the Primeros. I hate the Primeros. Oh yes;—it's quite true; I know that as well as you, Sophia; they are vulgar; but not half so vulgar, mamma, as your friend Madame Melmotte."
"That's ill-natured, Georgiana. She is not a friend of mine."
"But you're going to have her down at Caversham. I can't think what made you dream of going to Caversham just now, knowing as you do how hard papa is to manage."
"Everybody has taken to going out of town at Whitsuntide, my dear."
"No, mamma; everybody has not. People understand too well the trouble of getting up and down for that. The Primeros aren't going down. I never heard of such a thing in all my life. What does he expect is to become of us? If he wants to save money why doesn't he shut Caversham up altogether and go abroad? Caversham costs a great deal more than is spent in London, and it's the dullest house, I think, in all England."
The family party in Bruton Street that evening was not very gay. Nothing was being done, and they sat gloomily in each other's company. Whatever mutinous resolutions might be formed and carried out by the ladies of the family, they were not brought forward on that occasion. The two girls were quite silent, and would not speak to their father, and when he addressed them they answered simply by monosyllables. Lady Pomona was ill, and sat in a corner of a sofa, wiping her eyes. To her had been imparted up-stairs the purport of the conversation between Dolly and his father. Dolly had refused to consent to the sale of Pickering unless half the produce of the sale were to be given to him at once. When it had been explained to him that the sale would be desirable in order that the Caversham property might be freed from debt, which Caversham property would eventually be his, he replied that he also had an estate of his own which was a little mortgaged and would be the better for money. The result seemed to be that Pickering could not be sold,—and, as a consequence of that, Mr. Longestaffe had determined that there should be no more London expenses that year.
The girls, when they got up to go to bed, bent over him and kissed his head, as was their custom. There was very little show of affection in the kiss. "You had better remember that what you have to do in town must be done this week," he said. They heard the words, but marched in stately silence out of the room without deigning to notice them.
Last modified 22 September 2014