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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 17. A Tea-Party In Bishopsgate Street
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The Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 17. A Tea-Party In Bishopsgate Street Post by :mikman Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :1880

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The Struggles Of Brown, Jones, And Robinson - Chapter 17. A Tea-Party In Bishopsgate Street


If it shall appear to those who read these memoirs that there was much in the conduct of Mr. Brown which deserves censure, let them also remember how much there was in his position which demands pity. In this short narrative it has been our purpose to set forth the commercial doings of the house of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, rather than the domestic life of the partners, and, therefore, it has been impossible to tell of all the trials through which Mr. Brown passed with his children. But those trials were very severe, and if Mr. Brown was on certain points untrue to the young partner who trusted him, allowances for such untruth must be made. He was untrue; but there is one man, who, looking back upon his conduct, knows how to forgive it.

The scenes upstairs at Magenta House during that first week in August had been very terrible. Mr. Brown, in his anxiety to see his daughter settled, had undoubtedly pledged himself to abandon the rooms in which he lived, and to take lodgings elsewhere. To this promised self-sacrifice Maryanne was resolved to keep him bound; and when some hesitation appeared on his part, she swore to him that nothing should induce her to become Mrs. Robinson till he had packed his things and was gone. Mr. Brown had a heart to feel, and at this moment he could have told how much sharper than a serpent's tooth is a child's ingratitude!

But he would have gone; he would have left the house, although he had begun to comprehend that in leaving it he must probably lose much of his authority over the money taken in the shop; he would, however, have done so, had not Mrs. Jones come down upon him with the whole force of her tongue, and the full violence of her malice. When Robinson should have become one with Maryanne Brown, and should also have become the resident partner, then would the influence of Mrs. Jones in that establishment have been brought to a speedy close.

The reader shall not be troubled with those frightful quarrels in which each of the family was pitted against the others. Sarah Jane declared to her father, in terms which no child should have used to her parent, that he must be an idiot and doting if he allowed his youngest daughter and her lover to oust him from his house and from all share in the management of the business. Brown then appealed piteously to Maryanne, and begged that he might be allowed to occupy a small closet as his bed-room. But Maryanne was inexorable. He had undertaken to go, and unless he did go she would never omit to din into his ears this breach of his direct promise to her. Maryanne became almost great in her anger, as with voice raised so as to drown her sister's weaker tones, she poured forth her own story of her own wrongs.

"It has been so from the beginning," she said. "When I first knew Brisket, it was not for any love I had for the man, but because mother took him up. Mother promised him money; and then I said I'd marry him,--not because I cared for him, but because he was respectable and all right. And then mother hadn't the money when the pinch came, and, of course, Brisket wasn't going to be put upon;--why should he? So I took up with Robinson, and you knew it, father."

"I did, Maryanne; I did."

"Of course you did. I wasn't going to make a fool of myself for no man. I have got myself to look to; and if I don't do it myself, they who is about me won't do it for me."

"Your old father would do anything for you."

"Father, I hate words! What I want is deeds. Well, then;--Robinson came here and was your partner, and meanwhile I thought it was all right. And who was it interfered? Why, you did. When Brisket went to you, you promised him the money: and then he went and upset Robinson. And we had that supper in Smithfield, and Robinson was off, and I was to be Mrs. Brisket out of hand. But then, again, the money wasn't there."

"I couldn't make the money, Maryanne."

"Father, it's a shame for you to tell such falsehoods before your own daughters."

"Oh, Maryanne! you wicked girl!" said Sarah Jane.

"If I'm wicked, there's two of us so, Sarah Jane! You had the money, and you gave it to Robinson for them notices of his. I know all about it now! And then what could you expect of Brisket? Of course he was off. There was no fal-lal about love, and all that, with him. He wanted a woman to look after his house; but he wanted something with her. And I wanted a roof over my head;--which I'm not likely to have, the way you're going on."

"While I have a morsel, you shall have half."

"And when you haven't a morsel, how will it be then? Of course when I saw all this, I felt myself put upon. There was Jones getting his money out of the shop!"

"Well, miss," said Sarah Jane; "and isn't he a partner?"

"You ain't a partner, and I don't know what business you have there. But every one was helping themselves except me. I was going to the wall. I have always been going to the wall. Well; when Brisket was off, I took up with Robinson again. I always liked him the best, only I never thought of my own likings. I wasn't that selfish. I took up with Robinson again; but I wasn't going to be any man's wife, if he couldn't put a roof over my head. Well, father, you know what was said then, and now you're going back from it."

"I suppose you'd better have Mr. Brisket," said the old man, after a pause.

"Will you give Brisket those five hundred pounds?" And then those embassies to Aldersgate Street were made by Mrs. Poppins and by Mr. Jones. During this time Maryanne, having spoken her mind freely, remained silent and sullen. That her father would not go out on the appointed day, she knew. That she would not marry Robinson unless he did, she knew also. She did not like Brisket; but, as she had said, she was not so selfish as to let that stand in the way. If it was to be Brisket, let it be Brisket. Only let something be done.

Only let something be done. It certainly was not a matter of surprise that she should demand so much. It must be acknowledged that all connected with the firm and family began to feel that the house of Brown, Jones, and Robinson, had not succeeded in establishing itself on a sound basis. Mr. Brown was despondent, and often unwell. The Jones's were actuated by no ambition to raise themselves to the position of British merchants, but by a greedy desire to get what little might be gotten in the scramble. Robinson still kept his shoulder to the collar, but he did so with but little hope. He had made a fatal mistake in leaguing himself with uncongenial partners, and began to feel that this mistake must be expiated by the ruin of his present venture. Under such circumstances Maryanne Brown was not unreasonable in desiring that something should be done. She had now given a tacit consent to that plan for bringing back Brisket, and consequently her brother-in-law went at once to work.

It must be acknowledged that the time was short. When Brisket, with such easy indifference, postponed his visit to Bishopsgate Street till the Saturday, giving to Gogham Market and the slaughtering of his beasts a preference to the renewal of his love, he regarded the task before him as a light one. But it must be supposed that it was no light task to Miss Brown. On the Tuesday following that Saturday, she would, if she were true to her word, join herself in wedlock to George Robinson. She now purposed to be untrue to her word; but it must be presumed that she had some misgivings at the heart when she thought of the task before her.

On the Thursday and the Friday she managed to avoid Robinson. On the Saturday morning they met in her father's room for a minute, and when he attempted to exercise a privilege to which his near approaching nuptials certainly entitled him, she repulsed him sullenly: "Oh, come; none of that." "I shall require the more on Tuesday," he replied, with his ordinary good-humour. She spoke nothing further to him then, but left the room and went away to her friend Mrs. Poppins.

Robinson belonged to a political debating club, which met on every Saturday evening at the "Goose and Gridiron" in one of the lanes behind the church in Fleet Street. It was, therefore, considered that the new compact might be made in Bishopsgate Street on that evening without any danger of interruption from him. But at the hour of dinner on that day, a word was whispered into his ear by Poppins. "I don't suppose you care about it," said he, "but there's going to be some sort of doing at the old man's this evening."

"What doing?"

"It's all right, I suppose; but Brisket is going to be there. It's just a farewell call, I suppose."

"Brisket with my love!" said Robinson. "Then will I be there also."

"Don't forget that you've got to chaw up old Crowdy on the paper question. What will the Geese do if you're not there?" The club in question was ordinarily called the Goose Club, and the members were in common parlance called "The Geese."

"I will be there also," said Robinson. "But if I should be late, you will tell the Geese why it is so."

"They all know you are going to be married," said Poppins. And then they parted.

The hour at which the parliament of the Geese assembled was, as a rule, a quarter before eight in the evening, so that the debate might absolutely begin at eight. Seven was the hour for tea in Bishopsgate Street, but on the present occasion Brisket was asked for half-past seven, so that Robinson's absence might be counted on as a certainty. At half-past seven to the moment Brisket was there, and the greeting between him and Maryanne was not of a passionate nature.

"Well, old girl, here I am again," he said, as he swung his burly body into the room.

"I see you," she said, as she half reluctantly gave him her hand. "But remember, it wasn't me who sent for you. I'd just as lief you stayed away." And then they went to business.

Both Jones and his wife were there; and it may perhaps be said, that if Maryanne Brown had any sincerity of feeling at her heart, it was one of hatred for her brother-in-law. But now, this new change in her fortunes was being brought about by his interference, and he was, as it were, acting as her guardian. This was very bitter to her, and she sat on one side in sullen silence, and to all appearance paid no heed to what was being said.

The minds of them all were so intent on the business part of the transaction that the banquet was allowed to remain untouched till all the preliminaries were settled. There was the tea left to draw till it should be as bitter as Maryanne's temper, and the sally luns were becoming as cold as Sarah Jane's heart. Mr. Brown did, in some half-bashful manner, make an attempt at performing the duties of a host. "My dears, won't Mr. Brisket have his dish of tea now it's here?" But "my dears" were deaf to the hint. Maryanne still sat sullen in the corner, and Sarah Jane stood bolt upright, with ears erect, ready to listen, ready to speak, ready to interfere with violence should the moment come when anything was to be gained on her side by doing so.

They went to the work in hand, with very little of the preamble of courtesy. Yes; Brisket would marry her on the terms proposed by Jones. He could see his way if he had a hundred pounds down, and the bill of the Firm at three months for the remaining sum.

"Not three months, Brisket; six months," suggested Brown. But in this matter Brisket was quite firm, and Mr. Brown gave way.

But, as all of them knew, the heat of the battle would concern the names which were to be written on the bill. Brisket demanded that the bill should be from the firm. Jones held that as a majority of the firm were willing that this should be so, Mr. Brown was legally entitled to make the bill payable at the bank out of the funds of the house. In this absurd opinion he was supported violently by his wife. Brisket, of course, gave no opinion on the subject. It was not for him to interfere among the partners. All he said was, that the bill of the firm had been promised to him, and that he shouldn't see his way with anything else. Mr. Brown hesitated,--pondering painfully over the deed he was called upon to do. He knew that he was being asked to rob the man he loved;--but he knew also, that if he did not do so, he must go forth from his home. And then, when he might be in want of comfort, the child for whose sake he should do so would turn from him without love or pity.

"Jones and me would do it together," said Mr. Brown.

"Jones won't do nothing of the kind," said Jones's careful wife.

"It would be no good if he did," said Brisket. "And, I'll tell you what it is, I'm not going to be made a fool of; I must know how it's to be at once, or I'm off." And he put out his hand as though to take up his hat.

"What fools you are!" said Maryanne, speaking from her chair in the corner. "There's not one of you knows George Robinson. Ask him to give his name to the bill, and he'll do it instantly."

"Who is it wants the name of George Robinson?" said the voice of that injured man, as at the moment he entered the room. "George Robinson is here." And then he looked round upon the assembled councillors, and his eyes rested at last with mingled scorn and sorrow upon the face of Maryanne Brown;--with mingled scorn and sorrow, but not with anger. "George Robinson is here; who wants his name?--and why?"

"Will you take a cup of tea, George?" said Mr. Brown, as soon as he was able to overcome his first dismay.

"Maryanne," said Robinson, "why is that man here?" and he pointed to Brisket.

"Ask them," said Maryanne, and she turned her face away from him, in towards the wall.

"Mr. Brown, why is he here? Why is your daughter's former lover here on the eve of her marriage with me?"

"I will answer that question, if you please," said Jones, stepping up.

"You!" And Robinson, looking at him from head to foot, silenced him with his look. "You answer me! From you I will take no answer in this matter. With you I will hold no parley on this subject. I have spoken to two whom I loved, and they have given me no reply. There is one here whom I do not love and he shall answer me. Mr. Brisket, though I have not loved you, I have believed you to be an honest man. Why are you here?"

"To see if we can agree about my marrying that young woman," said Brisket, nodding at her with his head, while he still kept his hands in his trousers' pockets.

"Ah! Is it so? There she is, Mr. Brisket; and now, for the third time, I shall go out from your presence, renouncing her charms in your favour. When first I did so at the dancing-room, I was afraid of your brute strength, because the crowd was looking on and I knew you could carry out your unmanly threat. And when I wrote that paper the second time, you had again threatened me, and I was again afraid. My heart was high on other matters, and why should I have sacrificed myself? Now I renounce her again; but I am not afraid,--for my heart is high on nothing."

"George, George!" said Maryanne, jumping from her seat. "Leave him, leave him, and I'll promise--" And then she seized hold of his arm. For the moment some touch of a woman's feeling had reached her heart. At that instant she perhaps recognized,--if only for the instant, that true love is worth more than comfort, worth more than well assured rations of bread and meat, and a secure roof. For that once she felt rather than understood that an honest heart is better than a strong arm. But it was too late.

(Illustration: Robinson defies his rival.)

"No," said he, "I'll have no promise from you;--your words are false. I've humbled myself as the dust beneath your feet, because I loved you,--and, therefore, you have treated me as the dust. The man who will crawl to a woman will ever be so treated."

"You are about right there, old fellow," said Brisket.

"Leave me, I say." For still she held his arm. She still held his arm, for she saw by his eye what he intended, though no one else had seen.

"You have twitted me with my cowardice," he said; "but you shall see that I am no coward. He is the coward!" and he pointed with his finger to Brisket. "He is the coward, for he will undergo no risk." And then, without further notice, George Robinson flew at the butcher's throat.

It was very clear that Brisket himself had suspected no such attack, for till the moment at which he felt Robinson's fingers about his cravat, he had still stood with his hands in the pockets of his trousers. He was very strong, and when his thoughts were well made up to the idea of a fight, could in his own way be quick enough with his fists; but otherwise he was slow in action, nor was he in any way passionate.

"Halloo," he said, striving to extricate himself, and hardly able to articulate, as the handkerchief tightened itself about his neck. "Ugh-h-h." And getting his arm round Robinson's ribs he tried to squeeze his assailant till he should drop his hold.

"I will have his tongue from his mouth," shouted Robinson, and as he spoke, he gave another twist to the handkerchief.

"Oh, laws," said Mrs. Jones. "The poor man will be choked," and she laid hold of the tail of Robinson's coat, pulling at it with all her strength.

"Don't, don't," said Mr. Brown. "George, George, you shall have her; indeed you shall,--only leave him."

Maryanne the while looked on, as ladies of yore did look on when knights slaughtered each other for their smiles. And perhaps of yore the hearts of those who did look on were as cold and callous as was hers. For one moment of enthusiasm she had thought she loved, but now again she was indifferent. It might be settled as well this way as any other.

At length Brisket succeeded in actually forcing his weak assailant from him, Mrs. Jones the while lending him considerable assistance; and then he raised his heavy fist. Robinson was there opposite to him, helpless and exhausted, just within his reach; and he raised his heavy fist to strike him down.

He raised his fist, and then he let it fall. "No," said he; "I'm blowed if I'll hit you. You're better stuff than I thought you was. And now look here, young man; there she is. If she'll say that she'll have you, I'll walk out, and I won't come across you or she any more."

Maryanne, when she heard this, raised her face and looked steadily at Robinson. If, however, she had any hope, that hope was fruitless.

"I have renounced her twice," said he, "and now I renounce her again. It is not now from fear. Mr. Brown, you have my authority for accepting that bill in the name of the Firm." Then he left the room and went forth into the street.

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