eorgiana Longestaffe had now been staying with the Melmottes for a fortnight, and her prospects in regard to the London season had not much improved. Her brother had troubled her no further, and her family at Caversham had not, as far as she was aware, taken any notice of Dolly's interference. Twice a week she received a cold, dull letter from her mother,—such letters as she had been accustomed to receive when away from home; and these she had answered, always endeavouring to fill her sheet with some customary description of fashionable doings, with some bit of scandal such as she would have repeated for her mother's amusement,—and her own delectation in the telling of it,—had there been nothing painful in the nature of her sojourn in London. Of the Melmottes she hardly spoke. She did not say that she was taken to the houses in which it was her ambition to be seen. She would have lied directly in saying so. But she did not announce her own disappointment. She had chosen to come up to the Melmottes in preference to remaining at Caversham, and she would not declare her own failure. "I hope they are kind to you," Lady Pomona always said. But Georgiana did not tell her mother whether the Melmottes were kind or unkind.
In truth, her "season" was a very unpleasant season. Her mode of living was altogether different to anything she had already known. The house in Bruton Street had never been very bright, but the appendages of life there had been of a sort which was not known in the gorgeous mansion in Grosvenor Square. It had been full of books and little toys and those thousand trifling household gods which are accumulated in years, and which in their accumulation suit themselves to the taste of their owners. In Grosvenor Square there were no Lares;—no toys, no books, nothing but gold and grandeur, pomatum, powder and pride. The Longestaffe life had not been an easy, natural, or intellectual life; but the Melmotte life was hardly endurable even by a Longestaffe. She had, however, come prepared to suffer much, and was endowed with considerable power of endurance in pursuit of her own objects. Having willed to come, even to the Melmottes, in preference to remaining at Caversham, she fortified herself to suffer much. Could she have ridden in the park at mid-day in desirable company, and found herself in proper houses at midnight, she would have borne the rest, bad as it might have been. But it was not so. She had her horse, but could with difficulty get any proper companion. She had been in the habit of riding with one of the Primero girls,—and old Primero would accompany them, or perhaps a brother Primero, or occasionally her own father. And then, when once out, she would be surrounded by a cloud of young men,—and though there was but little in it, a walking round and round the same bit of ground with the same companions and with the smallest attempt at conversation, still it had been the proper thing and had satisfied her. Now it was with difficulty that she could get any cavalier such as the laws of society demand. Even Penelope Primero snubbed her,—whom she, Georgiana Longestaffe, had hitherto endured and snubbed. She was just allowed to join them when old Primero rode, and was obliged even to ask for that assistance.
But the nights were still worse. She could only go where Madame Melmotte went, and Madame Melmotte was more prone to receive people at home than to go out. And the people she did receive were antipathetic to Miss Longestaffe. She did not even know who they were, whence they came, or what was their nature. They seemed to be as little akin to her as would have been the shopkeepers in the small town near Caversham. She would sit through long evenings almost speechless, trying to fathom the depth of the vulgarity of her associates. Occasionally she was taken out, and was then, probably, taken to very grand houses. The two duchesses and the Marchioness of Auld Reekie received Madame Melmotte, and the garden parties of royalty were open to her. And some of the most elaborate fêtes of the season,—which indeed were very elaborate on behalf of this and that travelling potentate,—were attained. On these occasions Miss Longestaffe was fully aware of the struggle that was always made for invitations, often unsuccessfully, but sometimes with triumph. Even the bargains, conducted by the hands of Lord Alfred and his mighty sister, were not altogether hidden from her. The Emperor of China was to be in London and it was thought proper that some private person, some untitled individual, should give the Emperor a dinner, so that the Emperor might see how an English merchant lives. Mr. Melmotte was chosen on condition that he would spend £10,000 on the banquet;—and, as a part of his payment for this expenditure, was to be admitted with his family, to a grand entertainment given to the Emperor at Windsor Park. Of these good things Georgiana Longestaffe would receive her share. But she went to them as a Melmotte and not as a Longestaffe,—and when amidst these gaieties, though she could see her old friends, she was not with them. She was ever behind Madame Melmotte, till she hated the make of that lady's garments and the shape of that lady's back.
She had told both her father and mother very plainly that it behoved her to be in London at this time of the year that she might—look for a husband. She had not hesitated in declaring her purpose; and that purpose, together with the means of carrying it out, had not appeared to them to be unreasonable. She wanted to be settled in life. She had meant, when she first started on her career, to have a lord;—but lords are scarce. She was herself not very highly born, not very highly gifted, not very lovely, not very pleasant, and she had no fortune. She had long made up her mind that she could do without a lord, but that she must get a commoner of the proper sort. He must be a man with a place in the country and sufficient means to bring him annually to London. He must be a gentleman,—and, probably, in parliament. And above all things he must be in the right set. She would rather go on for ever struggling than take some country Whitstable as her sister was about to do. But now the men of the right sort never came near her. The one object for which she had subjected herself to all this ignominy seemed to have vanished altogether in the distance. When by chance she danced or exchanged a few words with the Nidderdales and Grassloughs whom she used to know, they spoke to her with a want of respect which she felt and tasted but could hardly analyse. Even Miles Grendall, who had hitherto been below her notice, attempted to patronise her in a manner that bewildered her. All this nearly broke her heart.
And then from time to time little rumours reached her ears which made her aware that, in the teeth of all Mr. Melmotte's social successes, a general opinion that he was a gigantic swindler was rather gaining ground than otherwise. "Your host is a wonderful fellow, by George!" said Lord Nidderdale. "No one seems to know which way he'll turn up at last." "There's nothing like being a robber, if you can only rob enough," said Lord Grasslough,—not exactly naming Melmotte, but very clearly alluding to him. There was a vacancy for a member of parliament at Westminster, and Melmotte was about to come forward as a candidate. "If he can manage that I think he'll pull through," she heard one man say. "If money'll do it, it will be done," said another. She could understand it all. Mr. Melmotte was admitted into society, because of some enormous power which was supposed to lie in his hands; but even by those who thus admitted him he was regarded as a thief and a scoundrel. This was the man whose house had been selected by her father in order that she might make her search for a husband from beneath his wing!
In her agony she wrote to her old friend Julia Triplex, now the wife
of Sir Damask Monogram. She had been really intimate with Julia
Triplex, and had been sympathetic when a brilliant marriage had been
achieved. Julia had been without fortune, but very pretty. Sir Damask
was a man of great wealth, whose father had been a contractor. But
Sir Damask himself was a sportsman, keeping many horses on which
other men often rode, a yacht in which other men sunned themselves, a
deer forest, a moor, a large machinery for making pheasants. He shot
pigeons at Hurlingham, drove four-in-hand in the park, had a box at
every race-course, and was the most good-natured fellow known. He had
really conquered the world, had got over the difficulty of being the
grandson of a butcher, and was now as good as though the Monograms
had gone to the crusades. Julia Triplex was equal to her position,
and made the very most of it. She dispensed champagne and smiles, and
made everybody, including herself, believe that she was in love with
her husband. Lady Monogram had climbed to the top of the tree, and in
that position had been, of course, invaluable to her old friend. We
must give her her due and say that she had been fairly true to
friendship while Georgiana—behaved herself. She thought that
Georgiana in going to the Melmottes had—not behaved herself, and
therefore she had determined to drop Georgiana. "Heartless, false,
purse-proud creature," Georgiana said to herself as she wrote the
following letter in humiliating agony.
Dear Lady Monogram,
I think you hardly understand my position. Of course you have cut me. Haven't you? And of course I must feel it very much. You did not use to be ill-natured, and I hardly think you can have become so now when you have everything pleasant around you. I do not think that I have done anything that should make an old friend treat me in this way, and therefore I write to ask you to let me see you. Of course it is because I am staying here. You know me well enough to be sure that it can't be my own choice. Papa arranged it all. If there is anything against these people, I suppose papa does not know it. Of course they are not nice. Of course they are not like anything that I have been used to. But when papa told me that the house in Bruton Street was to be shut up and that I was to come here, of course I did as I was bid. I don't think an old friend like you, whom I have always liked more than anybody else, ought to cut me for it. It's not about the parties, but about yourself that I mind. I don't ask you to come here, but if you will see me I can have the carriage and will go to you.
Yours, as ever,
It was a troublesome letter to get written. Lady Monogram was her
junior in age and had once been lower than herself in social
position. In the early days of their friendship she had sometimes
domineered over Julia Triplex, and had been entreated by Julia, in
reference to balls here and routes there. The great Monogram marriage
had been accomplished very suddenly, and had taken place,—exalting
Julia very high,—just as Georgiana was beginning to allow her
aspirations to descend. It was in that very season that she moved her
castle in the air from the Upper to the Lower House. And now she was
absolutely begging for notice, and praying that she might not be cut!
She sent her letter by post and on the following day received a
reply, which was left by a footman.
Of course I shall be delighted to see you. I don't know what you mean by cutting. I never cut anybody. We happen to have got into different sets, but that is not my fault. Sir Damask won't let me call on the Melmottes. I can't help that. You wouldn't have me go where he tells me not. I don't know anything about them myself, except that I did go to their ball. But everybody knows that's different. I shall be at home all to-morrow till three,—that is to-day I mean, for I'm writing after coming home from Lady Killarney's ball; but if you wish to see me alone you had better come before lunch.
Georgiana condescended to borrow the carriage and reached her friend's house a little after noon. The two ladies kissed each other when they met—of course, and then Miss Longestaffe at once began. "Julia, I did think that you would at any rate have asked me to your second ball."
"Of course you would have been asked if you had been up in Bruton Street. You know that as well as I do. It would have been a matter of course."
"What difference does a house make?"
"But the people in a house make a great deal of difference, my dear. I don't want to quarrel with you, my dear; but I can't know the Melmottes."
"Who asks you?"
"You are with them."
"Do you mean to say that you can't ask anybody to your house without asking everybody that lives with that person? It's done every day."
"Somebody must have brought you."
"I would have come with the Primeros, Julia."
"I couldn't do it. I asked Damask and he wouldn't have it. When that great affair was going on in February, we didn't know much about the people. I was told that everybody was going and therefore I got Sir Damask to let me go. He says now that he won't let me know them; and after having been at their house I can't ask you out of it, without asking them too."
"I don't see it at all, Julia."
"I'm very sorry, my dear, but I can't go against my husband."
"Everybody goes to their house," said Georgiana, pleading her cause to the best of her ability. "The Duchess of Stevenage has dined in Grosvenor Square since I have been there."
"We all know what that means," replied Lady Monogram.
"And people are giving their eyes to be asked to the dinner party which he is to give to the Emperor in July;—and even to the reception afterwards."
"To hear you talk, Georgiana, one would think that you didn't understand anything," said Lady Monogram. "People are going to see the Emperor, not to see the Melmottes. I dare say we might have gone,—only I suppose we shan't now because of this row."
"I don't know what you mean by a row, Julia."
"Well;—it is a row, and I hate rows. Going there when the Emperor of China is there, or anything of that kind, is no more than going to the play. Somebody chooses to get all London into his house, and all London chooses to go. But it isn't understood that that means acquaintance. I should meet Madame Melmotte in the park afterwards and not think of bowing to her."
"I should call that rude."
"Very well. Then we differ. But really it does seem to me that you ought to understand these things as well as anybody. I don't find any fault with you for going to the Melmottes,—though I was very sorry to hear it; but when you have done it, I don't think you should complain of people because they won't have the Melmottes crammed down their throats."
"Nobody has wanted it," said Georgiana sobbing. At this moment the door was opened, and Sir Damask came in. "I'm talking to your wife about the Melmottes," she continued, determined to take the bull by the horns. "I'm staying there, and—I think it—unkind that Julia—hasn't been—to see me. That's all."
"How'd you do, Miss Longestaffe? She doesn't know them." And Sir Damask, folding his hands together, raising his eyebrows, and standing on the rug, looked as though he had solved the whole difficulty.
“Sir Damask solving the difficulty.” Lionel Grimston Fawkes. Wood-engraving. [Click on image to enlarge it.]
"She knows me, Sir Damask."
"Oh yes;—she knows you. That's a matter of course. We're delighted to see you, Miss Longestaffe—I am, always. Wish we could have had you at Ascot. But—." Then he looked as though he had again explained everything.
"I've told her that you don't want me to go to the Melmottes," said Lady Monogram.
"Well, no;—not just to go there. Stay and have lunch, Miss Longestaffe."
"No, thank you."
"Now you're here, you'd better," said Lady Monogram.
"No, thank you. I'm sorry that I have not been able to make you understand me. I could not allow our very long friendship to be dropped without a word."
"Don't say—dropped," exclaimed the baronet.
"I do say dropped, Sir Damask. I thought we should have understood each other;—your wife and I. But we haven't. Wherever she might have gone, I should have made it my business to see her; but she feels differently. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, my dear. If you will quarrel, it isn't my doing." Then Sir Damask led Miss Longestaffe out, and put her into Madame Melmotte's carriage. "It's the most absurd thing I ever knew in my life," said the wife as soon as her husband had returned to her. "She hasn't been able to bear to remain down in the country for one season, when all the world knows that her father can't afford to have a house for them in town. Then she condescends to come and stay with these abominations and pretends to feel surprised that her old friends don't run after her. She is old enough to have known better."
"I suppose she likes parties," said Sir Damask.
"Likes parties! She'd like to get somebody to take her. It's twelve years now since Georgiana Longestaffe came out. I remember being told of the time when I was first entered myself. Yes, my dear, you know all about it, I dare say. And there she is still. I can feel for her, and do feel for her. But if she will let herself down in that way she can't expect not to be dropped. You remember the woman;—don't you?"
"Never saw her in my life."
"Oh yes, you did. You took me there that night when Prince —— danced with the girl. Don't you remember the blowsy fat woman at the top of the stairs;—a regular horror?"
"Didn't look at her. I was only thinking what a lot of money it all cost."
"I remember her, and if Georgiana Longestaffe thinks I'm going there to make an acquaintance with Madame Melmotte she is very much mistaken. And if she thinks that that is the way to get married, I think she is mistaken again." Nothing perhaps is so efficacious in preventing men from marrying as the tone in which married women speak of the struggles made in that direction by their unmarried friends.
Last modified 22 September 2014