Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?: Vol. 2, Ch. 9

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Chapter XLIX: How Lady Glencora Went to Lady Monk's Party 

Lady Monk's house in Gloucester Square was admirably well adapted for the giving of parties. It was a large house, and seemed to the eyes of guests to be much larger than it was. The hall was spacious, and the stairs went up in the centre, facing you as you entered the inner hall. Round the top of the stairs there was a broad gallery, with an ornamented railing, and from this opened the doors into the three reception-rooms. There were two on the right, the larger of which looked out backwards, and these two were connected by an archway, as though made for folding-doors; but the doors, I believe, never were there. Fronting the top of the staircase there was a smaller room, looking out backwards, very prettily furnished, and much used by Lady Monk when alone. It was here that Burgo had held that conference with his aunt of which mention has been made. Below stairs there was the great dining-room, on which, on these occasions, a huge buffet was erected for refreshments,—what I may call a masculine buffet, as it was attended by butlers and men in livery,—and there was a smaller room looking out into the square, in which there was a feminine battery for the dispensing of tea and such like smaller good things, and from which female aid could be attained for the arrangement or mending of dresses in a further sanctum within it. For such purposes as that now on foot the house was most commodious. Lady Monk, on these occasions, was moved by a noble ambition to do something different from that done by her neighbours in similar circumstances, and therefore she never came forward to receive her guests. She ensconced herself, early in the evening, in that room at the head of the stairs, and there they who chose to see her made their way up to her, and spoke their little speeches. They who thought her to be a great woman,—and many people did think her to be great,—were wont to declare that she never forgot those who did come, or those who did not. And even they who desired to describe her as little,—for even Lady Monk had enemies,—would hint that though she never came out of the room, she would rise from her chair and make a step towards the door whenever any name very high in fashionable life greeted her ears. So that a mighty Cabinet Minister, or a duchess in great repute, or any special wonder of the season, could not fail of entering her precincts and being seen there for a few moments. It would, of course, happen that the doorway of her chamber would become blocked; but there were precautions taken to avoid this inconvenience as far as possible, and one man in livery was employed to go backwards and forwards between his mistress and the outer world, so as to keep the thread of a passage open.

But though Lady Monk was in this way enabled to rest herself during her labours, there was much in her night's work which was not altogether exhilarating. Ladies would come into her small room and sit there by the hour, with whom she had not the slightest wish to hold conversation. The Duchess of St Bungay would always be there,—so that there was a special seat in one corner of the room which was called the Duchess' stool. "I shouldn't care a straw about her," Lady Monk had been heard to complain, "if she would talk to anybody. But nobody will talk to her, and then she listens to everything."

There had been another word or two between Burgo Fitzgerald and his aunt before the evening came, a word or two in the speaking of which she had found some difficulty. She was prepared with the money,—with that two hundred pounds for which he had asked,—obtained with what wiles, and lies, and baseness of subterfuge I need not stop here to describe. But she was by no means willing to give this over into her nephew's hands without security. She was willing to advance him this money; she had been willing even to go through unusual dirt to get it for him; but she was desirous that he should have it only for a certain purpose. How could she bind him down to spend it as she would have it spent? Could she undertake to hand it to him as soon as Lady Glencora should be in his power? Even though she could have brought herself to say as much,—and I think she might also have done so after what she had said,—she could not have carried out such a plan. In that case the want would be instant, and the action must be rapid. She therefore had no alternative but to entrust him with the bank-notes at once. "Burgo," she said, "if I find that you deceive me now, I will never trust you again." "All right," said Burgo, as he barely counted the money before he thrust it into his breast-pocket. "It is lent to you for a certain purpose, should you happen to want it," she said, solemnly. "I do happen to want it very much," he answered. She did not dare to say more; but as her nephew turned away from her with a step that was quite light in its gaiety, she almost felt that she was already cozened. Let Burgo's troubles be as heavy as they might be, there was something to him ecstatic in the touch of ready money which always cured them for the moment.