The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XLIV.


Illustration rosbie had been preparing the exact words with which he assailed Mr. Butterwell for the last quarter of an hour, before they were uttered. There is always a difficulty in the choice, not only of the words with which money should be borrowed, but of the fashion after which they should be spoken. There is the slow deliberate manner, in using which the borrower attempts to carry the wished-for lender along with him by force of argument, and to prove that the desire to borrow shows no imprudence on his own part, and that a tendency to lend will show none on the part of the intended lender. It may be said that this mode fails oftener than any other. There is the piteous manner,—the plea for commiseration. “My dear fellow, unless you will see me through now, upon my word I shall be very badly off.” And this manner may be divided again into two. There is the plea piteous with a lie, and the plea piteous with a truth. “You shall have it again in two months as sure as the sun rises.” That is generally the plea piteous with a lie. Or it may be as follows: “It is only fair to say that I don’t quite know when I can pay it back.” This is the plea piteous with a truth, and upon the whole I think that this is generally the most successful mode of borrowing. And there is the assured demand,—which betokens a close intimacy. “Old fellow, can you let me have thirty pounds? No? Just put your name, then, on the back of this, and I’ll get it done in the City.” The worst of that manner is, that the bill so often does not get itself done in the City. Then there is the sudden attack,—that being the manner to which Crosbie had recourse in the present instance. That there are other modes of borrowing by means of which youth becomes indebted to age, and love to respect, and ignorance to experience, is a matter of course. It will be understood that I am here speaking only of borrowing and lending between the Butterwells and Crosbies of the world. “I have come to you in great distress,” said Crosbie. “I wonder whether you can help me. I want you to lend me five hundred pounds.” Mr. Butterwell, when he heard the words, dropped the paper which he was reading from his hand, and stared at Crosbie over his spectacles.

“Five hundred pounds,” he said. “Dear me, Crosbie; that’s a large sum of money.”

“Yes, it is,—a very large sum. Half that is what I want at once; but I shall want the other half in a month.”

“I thought that you were always so much above the world in money matters. Gracious me;—nothing that I have heard for a long time has astonished me more. I don’t know why, but I always thought that you had your things so very snug.”

Crosbie was aware that he had made one very great step towards success. The idea had been presented to Mr. Butterwell’s mind, and had not been instantly rejected as a scandalously iniquitous idea, as an idea to which no reception could be given for a moment. Crosbie had not been treated as was the needy knife-grinder, and had ground to stand upon while he urged his request. “I have been so pressed since my marriage,” he said, “that it has been impossible for me to keep things straight.”

“But Lady Alexandrina—”

“Yes; of course; I know. I do not like to trouble you with my private affairs;—there is nothing, I think, so bad as washing one’s dirty linen in public;—but the truth is, that I am only now free from the rapacity of the De Courcys. You would hardly believe me if I told you what I’ve had to pay. What do you think of two hundred and forty-five pounds for bringing her body over here, and burying it at De Courcy?”

“I’d have left it where it was.”

“And so would I. You don’t suppose I ordered it to be done. Poor dear thing. If it could do her any good, God knows I would not begrudge it. We had a bad time of it when we were together, but I would have spared nothing for her, alive or dead, that was reasonable. But to make me pay for bringing the body over here, when I never had a shilling with her! By George, it was too bad. And that oaf John De Courcy,—I had to pay his travelling bill too.”

“He didn’t come to be buried;—did he?”

“It’s too disgusting to talk of, Butterwell; it is indeed. And when I asked for her money that was settled upon me,—it was only two thousand pounds,—they made me go to law, and it seems there was no two thousand pounds to settle. If I like, I can have another lawsuit with the sisters, when the mother is dead. Oh, Butterwell, I have made such a fool of myself. I have come to such shipwreck! Oh, Butterwell, if you could but know it all.”

“Are you free from the De Courcys now?”

“I owe Gazebee, the man who married the other woman, over a thousand pounds. But I pay that off at two hundred a year, and he has a policy on my life.”

“What do you owe that for?”

“Don’t ask me. Not that I mind telling you;—furniture, and the lease of a house, and his bill for the marriage settlement,—d–––– him.”

“God bless me. They seem to have been very hard upon you.”

“A man doesn’t marry an earl’s daughter for nothing, Butterwell. And then to think what I lost! It can’t be helped now, you know. As a man makes his bed he must lie on it. I am sometimes so mad with myself when I think over it all,—that I should like to blow my brains out.”

“You must not talk in that way, Crosbie. I hate to hear a man talk like that.”

“I don’t mean that I shall. I’m too much of a coward, I fancy.” A man who desires to soften another man’s heart, should always abuse himself. In softening a woman’s heart, he should abuse her. “But life has been so bitter with me for the last three years! I haven’t had an hour of comfort;—not an hour. I don’t know why I should trouble you with all this, Butterwell. Oh,—about the money; yes; that’s just how I stand. I owed Gazebee something over a thousand pounds, which is arranged as I have told you. Then there were debts, due by my wife,—at least some of them were, I suppose,—and that horrid, ghastly funeral,—and debts, I don’t doubt, due by the cursed old countess. At any rate, to get myself clear I raised something over four hundred pounds, and now I owe five which must be paid, part to-morrow, and the remainder this day month.”

“And you’ve no security?”

“Not a rag, not a shred, not a line, not an acre. There’s my salary, and after paying Gazebee what comes due to him, I can manage to let you have the money within twelve months,—that is, if you can lend it me. I can just do that and live; and if you will assist me with the money, I will do so. That’s what I’ve brought myself to by my own folly.”

“Five hundred pounds is such a large sum of money.”

“Indeed it is.”

“And without any security!”

“I know, Butterwell, that I’ve no right to ask for it. I feel that. Of course I should pay you what interest you please.”

“Money’s about seven now,” said Butterwell.

“I’ve not the slightest objection to seven per cent.,” said Crosbie.

“But that’s on security,” said Butterwell.

“You can name your own terms,” said Crosbie.

Mr. Butterwell got out of his chair, and walked about the room with his hands in his pockets. He was thinking at that moment what Mrs. Butterwell would say to him. “Will an answer do to-morrow morning?” he said. “I would much rather have it to-day,” said Crosbie. Then Mr. Butterwell took another turn about the room. “I suppose I must let you have it,” he said.

“Butterwell,” said Crosbie, “I’m eternally obliged to you. It’s hardly too much to say that you’ve saved me from ruin.”

“Of course I was joking about interest,” said Butterwell. “Five per cent. is the proper thing. You’d better let me have a little acknowledgment. I’ll give you the first half to-morrow.”

They were genuine tears which filled Crosbie’s eyes, as he seized hold of the senior’s hands. “Butterwell,” he said, “what am I to say to you?”

“Nothing at all,—nothing at all.”

“Your kindness makes me feel that I ought not to have come to you.”

“Oh, nonsense. By-the-by, would you mind telling Thompson to bring those papers to me which I gave him yesterday? I promised Optimist I would read them before three, and it’s past two now.” So saying he sat himself down at his table, and Crosbie felt that he was bound to leave the room.

Mr. Butterwell, when he was left alone, did not read the papers which Thompson brought him; but sat, instead, thinking of his five hundred pounds. “Just put them down,” he said to Thompson. So the papers were put down, and there they lay all that day and all the next. Then Thompson took them away again, and it is to be hoped that somebody read them. Five hundred pounds! It was a large sum of money, and Crosbie was a man for whom Mr. Butterwell in truth felt no very strong affection. “Of course he must have it now,” he said to himself. “But where should I be if anything happened to him?” And then he remembered that Mrs. Butterwell especially disliked Mr. Crosbie,—disliked him because she knew that he snubbed her husband. “But it’s hard to refuse, when one man has known another for more than ten years.” Then he comforted himself somewhat with the reflection, that Crosbie would no doubt make himself more pleasant for the future than he had done lately, and with a second reflection, that Crosbie’s life was a good life,—and with a third, as to his own great goodness, in assisting a brother officer. Nevertheless, as he sat looking out of the omnibus-window, on his journey home to Putney, he was not altogether comfortable in his mind. Mrs. Butterwell was a very prudent woman.

But Crosbie was very comfortable in his mind on that afternoon. He had hardly dared to hope for success, but he had been successful. He had not even thought of Butterwell as a possible fountain of supply, till his mind had been brought back to the affairs of his office, by the voice of Sir Raffle Buffle at the corner of the street. The idea that his bill would be dishonoured, and that tidings of his insolvency would be conveyed to the Commissioners at his Board, had been dreadful to him. The way in which he had been treated by Musselboro and Dobbs Broughton had made him hate City men, and what he supposed to be City ways. Now there had come to him a relief which suddenly made everything feel light. He could almost think of Mr. Mortimer Gazebee without disgust. Perhaps after all there might be some happiness yet in store for him. Might it not be possible that Lily would yet accept him in spite of the chilling letter,—the freezing letter which he had received from Lily’s mother? Of one thing he was quite certain. If ever he had an opportunity of pleading his own cause with her, he certainly would tell her everything respecting his own money difficulties.

In that last resolve I think we may say that he was right. If Lily would ever listen to him again at all, she certainly would not be deterred from marrying him by his own story of his debts.