The Whirlpool by George Gissing
Part the Second
They never talked about money. Alma took it for granted that Harvey would not allow their expenditure to outrun his income, and therewith kept her mind at rest. Rolfe had not thought it necessary to mention that he derived about three hundred pounds from debenture stock which was redeemable, and that the date of redemption fell early in this present year, 1891. He himself had all along scarcely regarded the matter. When the stock became his, 1891 seemed very remote; and on settling in North Wales he felt financially so secure that the question of reinvestment might well be left for consideration till it was pressed upon him.
As now it was. He could no longer disregard percentages; he wanted every penny that his capital would yield. Before marriage he would have paid little heed to the fact that his canal shares (an investment which he had looked upon as part of the eternal order of things) showed an inclination to lose slightly in value; now it troubled him day and night. As for the debenture stock, he might, if he chose, 'convert' it without withdrawal, but that meant a lower dividend, which was hardly to be thought of. Whither should he turn for a security at once sound and remunerative? He began to read the money article in his daily paper, which hitherto he had passed over as if it did not exist, or turned from with contemptuous impatience. He picked up financial newspapers at railway bookstalls, and in private struggled to comprehend their jargon, taking care that they never fell under his wife's eyes. At the Metropolitan Club -- of which he had resumed membership, after thinking that he would never again enter clubland -- he talked with men who were at home in City matters, and indirectly tried to get hints from them. He felt like one who meddles with something forbidden -- who pries, shamefaced, into the secrets of an odious vice. To study the money-market gave him a headache. He had to go for a country walk, to bathe and change his clothes, before he was at ease again.
Two only of his intimates had any practical acquaintance with methods of speculation, and their experiences hitherto were not such as to suggest his seeking advice from them. Hugh Carnaby might or might not reap profit from his cycle factory; as yet it had given him nothing but worry and wavering hopes. Cecil Morphew had somehow got into better circumstances, had repaid the loan of fifty pounds, and professed to know much more about speculation than in the days when he made money only to lose it again; but it was to be feared that Cecil associated with people of shady character, and might at any moment come to grief in a more or less squalid way. He confessed that there was a mystery in his life -- something he preferred not to speak of even with an old friend.
Oddly enough, Carnaby and Morphew wrote both at the same time, wishing to see him, and saying that they had cheering news to impart. Amid his perplexities, which were not concerned with money alone, Harvey welcomed this opportunity of forgetting himself for a few hours. He agreed to lunch with Hugh at a restaurant (Carnaby would have nothing to do with clubs), and bade Morphew to dinner at the Metropolitan.
It was a day of drizzle and slush, but Harvey had got over his sore throat, and in ordinary health defied the elements. Unlike himself, Carnaby came a little late for his appointment, and pleaded business with a 'blackguard' in the City. Rheums and bronchial disorders were to him unknown; he had never possessed an umbrella, and only on days like this donned a light overcoat to guard himself against what he called 'the sooty spittle' of a London sky. Yet he was not the man of four or five years ago. He had the same appearance of muscularity, the same red neck and mighty fists; but beneath his eyes hung baggy flesh that gave him a bilious aspect, his cheeks were a little sunken, and the tone of his complexion had lost its healthy clearness. In temper, too, he had suffered; perhaps in manners. He used oaths too freely; intermingled his good bluff English -- the English of a country gentleman -- with recent slang; tended to the devil-may-care rather than to the unconsciously breezy and bold.
'Let us find a corner,' he said, clutching his friend by the shoulder, 'out of the damned crowd.'
'Lawsuit finished?' asked Harvey, when they had found a place and ordered their meal.
Hugh answered with a deep rolling curse.
When he returned to England, in the summer of 1889, he entered at once into partnership with the man Mackintosh, taking over an established business at Coventry, with which his partner already had some connection. Not a week passed before they found themselves at law with regard to a bicycle brake -- a patent they had begun by purchasing, only to find their right in it immediately contested. The case came on in November; it occupied nine days, and was adjourned. Not until July of the following year, 1890, was judgment delivered; it went for Mackintosh & Co, the plaintiffs, whose claim the judge held to be proved. But this by no means terminated the litigation. The defendants, who had all along persisted in manufacturing and selling this patent brake, now obtained stay of injunction until the beginning of the Michaelmas term, with the understanding that, if notice of appeal were given before then, the injunction would be stayed until the appeal was settled. And notice was given, and the appeal would doubtless be heard some day or other; but meanwhile the year 1891 had come round, and Mackintosh & Co. saw their rivals manufacturing and selling as gaily as ever. Hugh Carnaby grew red in the face as he spoke of them; his clenched fist lay on the tablecloth, and it was pretty clear how he longed to expedite the course of justice.
Still, he had good news to communicate, and he began by asking whether Harvey saw much of Redgrave.
'Redgrave?' echoed the other in surprise. 'Why, I hardly know him.'
'But your wife knows him very well.'
'Yes; I dare say she does.'
Carnaby did not observe his friend's countenance; he was eating with great appetite. 'Redgrave isn't at all a bad fellow. I didn't know him much till lately. Used to see him at B. F.'s, you know, and one or two other places where I went with Sibyl. Thought him rather a snob. But I was quite mistaken. He's a very nice fellow when you get near to him.'
Harvey's surprise was increased. For his own part, he still thought of Redgrave with the old prejudice, though he had no definite charge to bring against the man. He would have supposed him the last person either to seek or to obtain favour with Hugh Carnaby.
'Sibyl has known him for a long time,' Hugh continued. 'Tells me he did all sorts of kindnesses for her mother at Ascott Larkfield's death; fixed up her affairs -- they were in a devil of a state, I believe. Last autumn we met him in Scotland; he was with his sister and her family -- Mrs. Fenimore. Her husband's in India, and he seems to look after her in a way that does him credit. In fact, I saw a new side of the fellow. We got quite chummy, and I happened to speak about Mackintosh & Co. Well, now, what do you think? Two days ago, at Coventry, I got a note from him: he was coming through, and would like to see me; would I lunch with him at a hotel? I did, and he surprised me by beginning to talk about business. The fact was, he had some money lying loose, wanted to place it somewhere, and had faith in cycles. Why shouldn't he make an offer to a friend? Would Mackintosh & Co. care to admit a new partner? Or -- anyhow -- could we make use of a few thousand pounds?'
Rolfe had ceased to eat, and was listening intently. The story sounded very strange to him; it did not fit at all with his conception of Cyrus Redgrave.
'I suppose a few thousands would come very handy?' he remarked.
'Well, old man, to tell you the truth, -- I can do it now, -- for me it means a jump out of a particularly black hole. You must understand that we're not doing downright badly; we pay our way, but that was about all. I, individually, shouldn't have paid my way for many months longer. God! how I clutched at it! You don't know what it is, Rolfe, to see your damned account at the bank slithering away, and not a cent to pay in. I've thought of all sorts of things -- just stopping short of burglary, and I shouldn't have stopped at that long.'
'You mean that this new capital will give such a push to the business ----'
'Of course! It was just what we wanted. We couldn't advertise -- couldn't buy a new patent -- couldn't move at all. Now we shall make things hum.'
'Does Redgrave become a partner, then?'
'A sleeping partner. But Redgrave is wide enough awake. Mackintosh says he never met a keener man of business. You wouldn't have thought it, would you? I should fancy he manages all his own property, and does it devilish well, too. Of course, he has all sorts of ways of helping us on. He's got ideas of his own, too, about the machines; I shouldn't wonder if he hits on something valuable. I never half understood him before. He doesn't shoot much, but knows enough about it to make pleasant talk. And he has travelled a good deal. Then, of course, he goes in for art, music -- all that sort of thing. There's really no humbug about him. He's neither prig nor cad, though I used to think him a little of both.'
Harvey reflected; revived his mental image of the capitalist, and still found it very unlike the picture suggested by Hugh.
'Who is Redgrave?' he asked. 'How did he get his money?'
'I know nothing about that. I don't think he's a university man. He hinted once that he was educated abroad. Seems to know plenty of good people. Mrs. Fenimore, his sister, lives at Wimbledon. Sibyl and I were over there not long ago, dining; one or two titled people, a parson, and so on; devilish respectable, but dull -- the kind of company that makes me want to stand up and yell. Redgrave has built himself what he calls a bungalow, somewhere near the house; but I didn't see it.'
'You're a good deal at Coventry?' asked Rolfe.
'Off and on. Just been down for ten days. If it were possible, I should go steadily at the business. I used to think I couldn't fit into work of that sort, but a man never knows what he can do till he tries. I can't stand doing nothing; that floors me. I smoke too much, and drink too much, and get quarrelsome, and wish I was on the other side of the world. But it's out of the question to live down yonder; I couldn't ask Sibyl to do it.'
'Do you leave her quite alone, then?'
Carnaby made an uneasy movement.
'She has been visiting here and there for the last month; now her mother wants her to go to Ventnor. Much better she shouldn't; they hate each other -- can't be together a day without quarrelling. Pretty plain on which side the fault lies. I shouldn't think there are many women better tempered than Sibyl. All the time we've been married, and all we've gone through, I have never once seen an unpleasant look on her face -- to me, that is. It's something to be able to say that. Mrs. Larkfield is simply intolerable. She's always either whining or in a fury. Can't talk of anything but the loss of her money.'
'That reminds me,' interposed Harvey. 'Do you know that there seems to be a chance of getting something out of the great wreck?'
'What? Who says so?'
'Mrs. Frothingham. The creditors come first, of course. Was your wife creditor or shareholder?'
'Then she may hear something before long. I don't pretend to understand the beastly affair, but Mrs. Frothingham wrote to us about it the day before yesterday, with hints of eighteenpence in the pound, which she seemed to think very glorious.'
Carnaby growled in disgust.
'Eighteenpence be damned! Well, perhaps it'll buy her a hat. I tell you, Rolfe, when I compare Sibyl with her mother, I almost feel she's too good for the world. Suppose she had turned out that sort of woman! What would have been the end of it? Murder, most likely. But she bore the loss of all her money just as she did the loss of her jewellery and things when our house was burgled -- never turned a hair. There's a girl to be proud of, I tell you!'
He insisted upon it so vehemently that one might have imagined him in conflict with secret doubts as to his wife's perfection.
'It's a very strange thing,' said Rolfe, looking at his wine, 'that those thieves got clean away -- not a single thing they stole ever tracked. There can't be many such cases.'
'I have a theory about that.' Hugh half-closed his eyes, looking at once shrewd and fierce. 'The woman herself -- the housekeeper -- is at this moment going about in society, somewhere. She was no Whitechapel thief. There's a gang organised among the people we live with. If I go out to dine, as likely as not I sit next to a burglar or a forger, or anything you like. The police never get on the scent, and it's the same in many another robbery. Some day, perhaps, there'll be an astounding disclosure, a blazing hell of a scandal -- a dozen men and women marched from Belgravia and Mayfair to Newgate. I'm sure of it! What else can you expect of such a civilisation as ours? Well, I should know that woman again, and if ever I find myself taking her down to dinner ----'
Harvey exploded in laughter.
'I tell you I'm quite serious,' said the other angrily. 'I know that's the explanation of it! There are plenty of good and honest people still, but they can't help getting mixed up among the vilest lot on the face of the earth. That's why I don't like my wife to make new acquaintances. She won't get any harm, but I hate to think of the people she perhaps meets. Mackintosh was telling me of a woman in London who keeps up a big house and entertains all sorts of people -- and her husband knows where the money comes from. He wouldn't mention her name, because, by Jove, he had himself contributed to the expenses of the establishment! It was three or four years ago, when he had his money and ran through it. For all I know, Sibyl may go there -- I can't tell her about such things, and she wouldn't believe me if I did. She's an idealist -- sees everything through poetry and philosophy. I should be a brute if I soiled her mind. And, I say, old man, why don't your wife and she see more of each other? Is it just the distance?'
'I'm afraid that has something to do with it,' Harvey replied, trying to speak naturally.
'I'm sorry. They're both of them too good for ordinary society. I wish to God we could all four of us go out to a place I know in Tasmania, and live honest, clean, rational lives! Can't be managed. Your wife has her music; Sibyl has her books and so on ----'
'By-the-bye, you know Mrs. Strangeways?'
'I know of her.'
'And not much good?'
'No particular harm. Sibyl saw a little of her, but I don't think they meet now. Your wife know her?' 'She has met her here and there: you and I are alike in that. We can't stand the drawing-room, so our wives have to go about by themselves. The days are past when a man watched over his wife's coming and going as a matter of course. We should only make fools of ourselves if we tried it on. It's the new world, my boy; we live in it, and must make the best of it.'
Hugh Carnaby drank more wine than is usually taken at luncheon. It excited him to boisterous condemnation of things in general. He complained of the idleness that was forced upon him, except when he could get down to Coventry.
'I hang about for whole days doing literally nothing. What should I do? I'm not the man for books; I can't get much sport nowadays; I don't care for billiards. I want to have an axe in my hand!'
Gesticulating carelessly, he swept a wine-glass off the table.
'There -- damn it! shows we've sat long enough. Come and talk to Sibyl, and let her give you a cup of tea. You never see her -- never; yet she thinks better of you than of any other man we know. Come, let's get out of this beastly air. The place reeks of onions.'
They went to Oxford and Cambridge Mansions, where Rolfe spent the time until he had to leave for his appointment with Cecil Morphew. Sibyl was very kind, but gently reproachful. Why had Alma forsaken her? Why did Harvey himself never drop in?
'I'm often quite lonely, Mr. Rolfe, and as one result of it I'm getting learned. Look at these books. Won't you give me a word of admiration?'
There was a volume of Crowe and Cavalcaselle, one of Symonds's 'Renaissance', Benvenuto's 'Memoirs' in the original.
'I can't help clinging to the old world,' she said sweetly. 'Hugh forgives me, like a good boy; and you, I know, not only forgive, but sympathise.'
Of course, not a word passed with reference to Hugh Carnaby's business; Redgrave's name was not mentioned. Sibyl, one felt, would decline to recognise, in her own drawing-room, the gross necessities of life. Had bankruptcy been impending, she would have ignored it with the same perfection of repose. An inscrutable woman, who could look and smile at one without conveying the faintest suggestion of her actual thoughts.
On his way to the club, Harvey puzzled over what seemed to him Redgrave's singular behaviour. Why should a man in that position volunteer pecuniary aid to an obscure and struggling firm? Could it be genuine friendship for Hugh Carnaby? That sounded most improbable. Perhaps Redgrave, like the majority of people in his world, appeared much wealthier than he really was, and saw in Mackintosh's business a reasonable hope of profit. In that case, and if the concern began to flourish, might not an older friend of Carnaby's find lucrative employment for his capital?
He had always thought with uttermost contempt of the man who allows himself to be gripped, worried, dragged down, by artificial necessities. Was he himself to become a victim of this social disease? Was he, resistless, to be drawn into the muddy whirlpool, to spin round and round among gibbering phantoms, abandoning himself with a grin of inane conceit, or clutching in desperation at futile hopes? He remembered his tranquil life between the mountains and the sea; his earlier freedom, wandering in the sunlight of silent lands. Surely there needed but a little common-sense, a little decision, to save himself from this rushing current. One word to Alma -- would it not suffice? But of all things he dreaded to incur the charge of meanness, of selfishness. That had ever been his weak point: in youth, well-nigh a cause of ruin; in later life, impelling him to numberless insincerities and follies.
However, the danger as yet only threatened. He was solvent; he had still a reserve. It behoved him merely to avoid the risks of speculation, and to check, in natural, unobtrusive ways, that tendency to extravagance of living which was nowadays universal. Could he not depend upon himself for this moderate manliness?
Cecil Morphew, though differing in all other respects from Hugh Carnaby, showed a face which, like Hugh's, was growing prematurely old; a fatigued complexion, sunken eyes; an expression mingled of discontent and eagerness, now furtive, now sanguine, yet losing the worse traits in a still youthful smile as he came forward to meet his friend. Year after year he clung to the old amorous hope, but he no longer spoke of it with the same impulsive frankness; he did not shun the subject -- brought it, indeed, voluntarily forward, but with a shamefaced hesitance. His declaration in a letter, not long ago, that he was unworthy of any good woman's love, pointed to something which had had its share in the obvious smirching of his character; something common enough, no doubt; easily divined by Harvey Rolfe, though he could not learn how far the man's future was compromised. Today Morphew began with talk of a hopeful tenor. He had got hold of a little money; he had conceived a project for making more. When the progress of their eating and drinking cleared the way for confidential disclosures, Morphew began to hint at his scheme.
'You've heard me speak of Denbow?' This was a man who had given him lessons in photography; a dealer in photographic apparatus, with a shop in Westminster Bridge Road. 'He's a very decent fellow, but it's all up with him. His wife drinks, and he has lost money in betting, and now he wants to clear out -- to sell his business and get away. He came to me to apologise for spoiling some negatives -- he does a little printing for me now and then and told me what he meant to do. Did I know of anyone likely to take his shop?'
'You're in with a queer lot of people, it seems to me.'
'Oh, Denbow is all but a gentleman, I assure you. He was educated at Charterhouse, but made a fool of himself, I believe, in the common way. But about his business. I've seen a good deal of it, going in and out, and talking with them, and I know as much about photography as most amateurs -- you'll admit that, Rolfe?'
It was true that he had attained more than ordinary skill with the camera. Indeed, but for this resource, happily discovered in the days of his hopelessness, he would probably have sunk out of sight before now.
'Denbow's salesman is a thoroughly honest and capable fellow -- Hobcraft, his name. He's been at the shop three or four years, and would be only too glad to carry on the business, but he can't raise money, and Denbow must have cash down. Now the fact is, I want to buy that business myself.'
'I see. What does the man ask for it?'
Morphew fidgeted a little.
'Well, just at present there isn't much stock -- nothing like what there ought to be. Denbow has been coming down the hill; he's stopped himself only just in time. When I first knew him he was doing reasonably well. It's a good position for that kind of shop. Swarms of men, you know, go backwards and forwards along the Westminster Bridge Road, and just the kind of men, lots of them, that take up photography -- the better kind of clerk, and the man of business who lives in the south suburbs. And photography is going ahead so. I have all sorts of ideas. One might push the printing branch of the business -- and have dark rooms for amateurs -- and hit on a new hand-camera -- and perhaps even start a paper, call it Camera Notes, or something of that kind. Don't smile and look sceptical ----'
'Not at all. It seems to me the best suggestion I've heard from you yet.'
'Think so? I'm awfully glad of that. You know, Rolfe, a fellow like myself -- decent family, public school, and that kind of thing -- naturally fights shy of shopkeeping. But I've got to the point that I don't care what I do, if only it'll bring me a steady income in an honest way. I ought to be able to make several hundreds a year, even at starting, out of that business.'
'Have you spoken of it in the usual quarter?'
'No, I haven't.' Cecil's countenance fell. 'I should if I made a successful start. But I've talked of so many things, I'm ashamed. And she mightn't quite understand; perhaps she would think I was going down -- down ----'
'How is her father?'
'Neither better nor worse. That man will take another ten years over his dying -- see if he doesn't. Well, we've got used to it. We're neither of us young any longer; we've lost the best part of our lives. And all for what? Because we hadn't money enough to take a house three times bigger than we needed! Two lives wasted because we couldn't feed fifty other people for whom we didn't care a damn! Doesn't it come to that?'
'No doubt. What does Denbow ask?'
'For the stock, two hundred pounds; shop-fittings, fifty; business as it stands, say three hundred. The rent is ninety-five. Floor above the shop let to a family, who pay twenty-four shillings a week -- a substantial set-off against the rent; but I should like to get rid of the people, and use the whole house for business purposes. There's three years of Denbow's lease to run, but this, he says, the landlord would be willing to convert into a seven years' lease to a new tenant. Then one must allow something for repairs and so on at the fresh start. Well, with purchase of a little new stock, say another hundred and fifty pounds. Roughly speaking, I ought to have about five hundred pounds to settle the affair.'
'And you have the money?'
'Not quite; I've got -- well, I may say three hundred. I'm not speaking of my own private income; of course, that goes on as usual, and isn't a penny too much for -- for ordinary expenses..' He fidgeted again. 'Would you care to know how I made this bit of capital?'
'If you care to tell me.'
'Yes, I will, just to show you what one is driven to do. Two years ago I was ill -- congestion of the lungs -- felt sure I should die. You were in Wales then. I sent for Tripcony, to get him to make my will -- he used to be a solicitor, you know, before he started the bucket-shop. When I pulled through, Trip came one day and said he had a job for me. You'll be careful, by-the-bye, not to mention this. The job was to get the City editor of a certain newspaper (a man I know very well) to print a damaging rumour about a certain company. You'll wonder how I could manage this. Well, simply because the son of the chairman of that company was a sort of friend of mine, and the City editor knew it. If I could get the paragraph inserted, Tripcony would -- not pay me anything, but give me a tip to buy certain stock which he guaranteed would be rising. Well, I undertook the job, and I succeeded, and Trip was as good as his word. I bought as much as I dared -- through Trip, mind you, and he wouldn't let me of the cover, which I thought suspicious, though it was only habit of business. I bought at 75, and on settling day the quotation was par. I wanted to go at it again, but Trip shook his head. Well, I netted nearly five hundred. The most caddish affair I ever was in; but I wanted money. Stop, that's only half the story. Just at that time I met a man who wanted to start a proprietary club. He had the lease of a house near Golden Square, but not quite money enough to furnish it properly and set the club going. Well, I joined him, and put in four hundred pounds; and for a year and a half we didn't do badly. Then there was a smash; the police raided the place one night, and my partner went before the magistrates. I trembled in my shoes, but my name was never mentioned. It only ended in a fifty-pound fine, and of course I went halves. Then we sold the club for two hundred, furniture and all, and I found myself with -- what I have now, not quite three hundred.'
'My boy, you've been going it,' remarked Rolfe, with a clouded brow.
'That's what I tell you. I want to get out of all that kind of thing. Now, how am I to get two or three hundred honestly? I think Denbow would take less than he says for cash down. But the stock, I guarantee, is worth two hundred.'
'You have the first offer?'
'Till day after tomorrow -- Monday.'
'Tomorrow's Sunday -- that's awkward. Never mind. If I come over in the morning, will you take me to the place, and let me look over it with you, and see both Denbow and the shopman?'
'Of course I will!' said Morphew delightedly. 'It's all aboveboard. There's a devilish good business to be made; it depends only on the man. Why, Denbow has made as much as two hundred in a year out of printing for amateurs alone. It's his own fault that he didn't keep it up. I swear, Rolfe, that with capital and hard work and acuteness, that place can be made the establishment of the kind south of the Thames. Why, there's no reason why one shouldn't net a thousand a year in a very short time.'
'Is Denbow willing to exhibit his books?'
'Of course he is. I've seen them. It isn't speculative, you know; honest, straightforward business.'
'What part do you propose to take in it yourself?'
'Why, Denbow's part -- without the betting. I shall go in for the business for all I'm worth; work day and night. And look here, Rolfe. It isn't as if I had no security to offer. You see, I have my private income; that gives me a pull over the ordinary man of business just starting. Suppose I borrow three -- four -- five hundred pounds; why, I can afford to make over stock or receipts -- anything in that way -- to the lender. Four per cent, that's what I offer, if it's a simple loan.'
'You would keep the man -- what's his name?'
'Hobcraft. Decidedly. Couldn't do without him. He has been having thirty-five shillings a week.'
Harvey rose, and led the way to the smoking-room. His companion had become a new man; the glow of excitement gave him a healthier look, and he talked more like the Cecil Morphew of earlier days, whom Rolfe had found and befriended at the hotel in Brussels.
'There's nothing to be ashamed of in a business of this kind. If only her father was dead, I'm sure she wouldn't mind it. -- Ah, Rolfe, if only she and I, both of us, had had a little more courage! Do you know what I think? It's the weak people that do most harm in the world. They suffer, of course, but they make others suffer as well. If I were like you -- ah, if I were like you!' Harvey laughed.