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The Way We Live Now

Lord Nidderdale's Morality
It was very generally said in the city about this time that the Great South Central Pacific
and Mexican Railway was the very best thing out. It was known that Mr Melmotte had
gone into it with heart and hand. There were many who declared with gross injustice to
the Great Fisker that the railway was Melmotte's own child, that he had invented it,
advertised it, agitated it, and floated it; but it was not the less popular on that account. A
railway from Salt Lake City to Mexico no doubt had much of the flavour of a castle in
Spain. Our far-western American brethren are supposed to be imaginative. Mexico has
not a reputation among us for commercial security, or that stability which produces its
four, five, or six per cent, with the regularity of clockwork. But there was the Panama
railway, a small affair which had paid twenty-five per cent.; and there was the great line
across the continent to San Francisco, in which enormous fortunes had been made. It
came to be believed that men with their eyes open might do as well with the Great South
Central as had ever been done before with other speculations, and this belief was no
doubt founded on Mr Melmotte's partiality for the enterprise. Mr Fisker had'struck 'ile'
when he induced his partner, Montague, to give him a note to the great man.
Paul Montague himself, who cannot be said to have been a man having his eyes open, in
the city sense of the word, could not learn how the thing was progressing. At the regular
meetings of the Board, which never sat for above half an hour, two or three papers were
read by Miles Grendall. Melmotte himself would speak a few slow words, intended to be
cheery, and always indicative of triumph, and then everybody would agree to everything,
somebody would sign something, and the 'Board' for that day would be over. To Paul
Montague this was very unsatisfactory. More than once or twice he endeavoured to stay
the proceedings, not as disapproving, but simply as desirous of being made to
understand;' but the silent scorn of his chairman put him out of countenance, and the
opposition of his colleagues was a barrier which he was not strong enough to overcome.
Lord Alfred Grendall would declare that he 'did not think all that was at all necessary.'
Lord Nidderdale, with whom Montague had now become intimate at the Beargarden,
would nudge him in the ribs and bid him hold his tongue. Mr Cohenlupe would make a
little speech in fluent but broken English, assuring the Committee that everything was
being done after the approved city fashion. Sir Felix, after the first two meetings, was
never there. And thus Paul Montague, with a sorely burdened conscience, was carried
along as one of the Directors of the Great South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway
Company.
I do not know whether the burden was made lighter to him or heavier, by the fact that the
immediate pecuniary result was certainly very comfortable. The Company had not yet
been in existence quite six weeks or at any rate Melmotte had not been connected with it
above that time and it had already been suggested to him twice that he should sell fifty
shares at L112 10s. He did not even yet know how many shares he possessed, but on both
occasions he consented to the proposal, and on the following day received a cheque for
L625 that sum representing the profit over and above the original nominal price of L100
a share. The suggestion was made to him by Miles Grendall, and when he asked some
 
 
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