It’s a good night for Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, at the center of which is one Augustus Melmotte, a financier who runs for Parliament.
The countenance and appearance of the man were on the whole unpleasant, and, I may say, untrustworthy. He looked as though he were purse-proud and a bully … with an expression of mental power on a harsh vulgar face.
There was one man who thoroughly believed that the thing at the present moment most essentially necessary to England’s glory was the return of Mr. Melmotte for Westminster. This man was undoubtedly a very ignorant man. He knew nothing of any one political question which had vexed England for the last half century,—nothing whatever of the political history which had made England what it was at the beginning of that half century … He had probably never read a book in his life. He knew nothing of the working of parliament, nothing of nationality,—had no preference whatever for one form of government over another, never having given his mind a moment’s trouble on the subject. He had not even reflected how a despotic monarch or a federal republic might affect himself, and possibly did not comprehend the meaning of those terms. But yet he was fully confident that England did demand and ought to demand that Mr. Melmotte should be returned for Westminster. This man was Mr. Melmotte himself.
He went up into Covent Garden, where there was a polling booth. The place seemed to him, as one of the chief centres for a contested election, to be wonderfully quiet. He was determined to face everybody and everything, and he went close up to the booth. Here he was recognised by various men, mechanics chiefly, who came forward and shook hands with him. He remained there for an hour conversing with people, and at last made a speech to a little knot around him. He did not allude to the rumour of yesterday, nor to the paragraph in the “Pulpit” to which his name had not been attached; but he spoke freely enough of the general accusations that had been brought against him previously. He wished the electors to understand that nothing which had been said against him made him ashamed to meet them here or elsewhere. He was proud of his position, and proud that the electors of Westminster should recognise it. He did not, he was glad to say, know much of the law, but he was told that the law would protect him from such aspersions as had been unfairly thrown upon him. He flattered himself that he was too good an Englishman to regard the ordinary political attacks to which candidates were, as a matter of course, subject at elections;—and he could stretch his back to bear perhaps a little more than these, particularly as he looked forward to a triumphant return. But things had been said, and published, which the excitement of an election could not justify, and as to these things he must have recourse to the law. Then he made some allusion to the Princes and the Emperor, and concluded by observing that it was the proudest boast of his life to be an Englishman and a Londoner.
Of course he had committed forgery;—of course he had committed robbery. That, indeed, was nothing, for he had been cheating and forging and stealing all his life. Of course he was in danger of almost immediate detection and punishment. He hardly hoped that the evil day would be very much longer protracted, and yet he enjoyed his triumph. Whatever they might do, quick as they might be, they could hardly prevent his taking his seat in the House of Commons. Then if they sent him to penal servitude for life, they would have to say that they had so treated the member for Westminster!
He drank a bottle of claret, and then got some brandy-and-water. In such troubles as were coming upon him now, he would hardly get sufficient support from wine. He knew that he had better not drink;—that is, he had better not drink, supposing the world to be free to him for his own work and his own enjoyment. But if the world were no longer free to him, if he were really coming to penal servitude and annihilation,—then why should he not drink while the time lasted? An hour of triumphant joy might be an eternity to a man, if the man’s imagination were strong enough to make him so regard his hour. He therefore took his brandy-and-water freely, and as he took it he was able to throw his fears behind him, and to assure himself that, after all, he might even yet escape from his bondages. No;—he would drink no more. This he said to himself as he filled another beaker. He would work instead. He would put his shoulder to the wheel, and would yet conquer his enemies. It would not be so easy to convict a member for Westminster,—especially if money were spent freely. Was he not the man who, at his own cost, had entertained the Emperor of China? Would not that be remembered in his favour? Would not men be unwilling to punish the man who had received at his own table all the Princes of the land, and the Prime Minister, and all the Ministers? To convict him would be a national disgrace. He fully realised all this as he lifted the glass to his mouth, and puffed out the smoke in large volumes through his lips. But money must be spent! Yes;—money must be had! Cohenlupe certainly had money. Though he squeezed it out of the coward’s veins he would have it. At any rate, he would not despair. There was a fight to be fought yet, and he would fight it to the end. Then he took a deep drink, and slowly, with careful and almost solemn steps, he made his way up to his bed.