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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



Ferdinand Lopez learned immediately through Mrs Roby that the early departure for Hertfordshire had been fixed. 'I should go to him and speak to him very plainly,' said Mrs Roby. 'He can't bite you.'

'I'm not in the least afraid of his biting me.'

'You can talk so well! I should tell him everything, especially about money, - which I'm sure is all right.'

'Yes, - that is all right,' said Lopez, smiling.

'And about your people.'

'Which, I've no doubt you think is all wrong.'

'I don't know anything about it,' said Mrs Roby, 'and I don't much care. He has old-world notions. At any rate you should say something, so that he should not be able to complain to her that you had kept him in the dark. If there is anything to be known, it's much better to have it known.'

'But there is nothing to be known.'

'Then tell him nothing; - but still tell it to him. After that you must trust to her. I don't suppose she'd go off with you.'

'I'm sure she wouldn't.'

'But she's as obstinate as a mule. She'll get the better of him if you really mean it.' He assured her that he really did mean it, and determined that he would take her advice as to seeing, or endeavouring to see, Mr Wharton once again. But before doing so he thought it to be expedient to put his house in order, so that he might be able to make a statement of his affairs if asked to do so. Whether they were flourishing or the reverse, it might be necessary that he should have to speak of them, - with, at any rate, apparent candour.

The reader may, perhaps, remember that in the month of April Ferdinand Lopez had managed to extract a certain signature from his unfortunate city friend, Sexty Parker, which made that gentleman responsible for the payment of a considerable sum of money before the end of July. The transaction had been one of unmixed painful nature to Mr Parker. As soon as he came to think of it, after Lopez had left him, he could not prevail upon himself to forgive himself for his folly. That he, - he, Sextus Parker, - should have been induced by a few empty words to give his name for seven hundred and fifty pounds without any consideration or possibility of benefit! And the more he thought of it the more sure he was that the money was lost. The next day he confirmed his own fears, and before a week was gone he had written down the sum as gone. He told nobody. He did not like to confess his folly. But he made some inquiry about his friend, - which was absolutely futile. No one that he knew seemed to know anything of the man's affairs. But he saw his friend from time to time in the city, shining as only successful men do shine, and he heard of him as one whose name was becoming known in the city. Still he suffered grievously. His money was surely gone. A man does not fly a kite in that fashion till things with him have reached a bad pass.

So it was with Mr Parker all through May and to the end of June, the load ever growing heavier and heavier as the time became nearer. Then, while he was still afflicted with a heaviness of spirits which had never left him since that fatal day, who but Ferdinand Lopez should walk into his office, wearing the gayest smile and with a hat splendid as hats are splendid only in the city. And nothing could be more 'jolly' than his friend's manner, - so much so that Sexty was almost lifted up into temporary jollity himself. Lopez, seating himself almost at once began to describe a certain speculation into which he was going rather deeply, and as to which he invited his friend Parker's cooperation. He was intending, evidently, not to ask, but to confer a favour.

'I rather think that steady business is best,' said Parker. 'I hope it's all right about the 750 pounds.'

'Ah; yes, - I meant to have told you. I didn't want the money, as it turned out, for much above a fortnight, and as there was no use in letting the bill run out, I settled it.' So saying he took out a pocket-book, extracted the bill, and showed it to Sexty. Sexty's heart fluttered in his bosom. There was his name still on the bit of paper, and it might still be used. Having it shown him after this fashion in its mid career, of course he had strong ground for hope. But he could not bring himself to put out his hand for it. 'As to what you say about steady business, of course that's very well,' said Lopez. 'It depends on whether a man wants to make a small income or a large fortune.' He still held the bill as though he were going to fold it up again, and the importance of it was so present to Sexty's mind that he could hardly digest the argument about the steady business. 'I own that I an not satisfied with the former,' continued Lopez, 'and that I go in for the fortune.' As he spoke he tore the bill into three or four bits, apparently without thinking of it, and let the fragments fall upon the floor. It was as though a mountain had been taken off Sexty's bosom. He felt almost inclined to send out for a bottle of champagne on the moment, and the arguments of his friend rang in his ears with quite a different sound. The allurements of a steady income paled before his eyes, and he too began to tell himself as he had often told himself before, that if he would only keep his eyes open and his heart high, there was no reason why he too should not become a city millionaire. But on that occasion Lopez left him soon, without saying very much about his favourite speculation. In a few days, however, the same matter was brought before Sexty's eyes from another direction. He learned from a side wind that the house of Hunky and Sons was concerned largely in this business, - or at any rate he thought that he had so learned. The ease with which Lopez had destroyed that bill six weeks before it was due had had great effect upon him. Those arguments about a large fortune or a small income still clung to him. Lopez had come to him about the business in the first instance, but it was now necessary that he should go to Lopez. He was, however, very cautious. He managed to happen to meet Lopez in the street, and introduced the subject in his own slap-dash, aery manner, - the result of which was, that he had gone rather deep into two or three American mines before the end of July. But he had already made some money out of them, and, though he would find himself sometimes trembling before he had taken his daily allowance of port wine and brandy and water, still he was buoyant, and hopeful of living in a park, with a palace at the West End, and a seat in Parliament. Knowing also as he did, that his friend Lopez was intimate with the Duchess of Omnium, he had much immediate satisfaction in the intimacy which these relations created. He was getting in the thin edge of the wedge, and would calculate as he went home to Ponder's End how long it must be before he could ask his friend to propose him at some West End club. On one halcyon summer evening Lopez had dined with him at Ponder's End, had smiled on Mrs Parker and played with the hopeful little Parkers. On that occasion Sexty had assured his wife that he regarded his friendship with Ferdinand Lopez as the most fortunate circumstance of his life. 'Do be careful, Sexty,' the poor woman had said. But Parker had simply told her that she understood nothing about business. On that evening Lopez had thoroughly imbued him with the conviction that if you will only set your mind that way, it is quite as easy to amass a large fortune as to earn a small income.

About a week before the departure of the Whartons to Hertfordshire, Lopez in compliance with Mrs Roby's counsels, called at the chambers in Stone Buildings. It is difficult to say that you will not see a man, when the man is standing just on the other side of an open door, - nor, in this case, was Mr Wharton quite clear that he had better decline to see the man. But while he was doubting, - at any rate before he had resolved upon denying his presence, - the man was there, inside his room. Mr Wharton got up from his chair, hesitated a moment, and then gave his hand to the intruder in that half-unwilling, unsatisfactory manner which most of us have experienced when shaking hands with some cold-blooded, ungenial acquaintance. 'Well, Mr Lopez, - what can I do for you?' he said, as he reseated himself. He looked as though he were at his ease and master of the situation. He had control over himself sufficient for assuming such a manner. But his heart was not high within his bosom. The more he looked at the man the less he liked him.

'There is one thing, and one thing only, you can do for me,' said Lopez. His voice was peculiarly sweet, and when he spoke his words seemed to mean more than when they came from other mouths. But Mr Wharton did not like sweet voices and mellow, soft words, - at least not from men's mouths.

'I do not think I can do anything for you, Mr Lopez,' he said. There was slight pause, during which the visitor put down his hat and seemed to hesitate. 'I think your coming here can be of no avail. Did I not explain myself when I saw you before?'

'But, I fear, I did not explain myself. I hardly told my story.'

'You can tell it, of course, - if you think the telling will do you any good.'

'I was not able to say than, as I can say now, that your daughter had accepted my love.'

'You ought not to have spoken to my daughter on the subject after what passed between us. I told you my mind frankly.'

'Ah, Mr Wharton, how was obedience in such a matter possible? What would you yourself think of a man who in such a position would be obedient? I did not seek her secretly. I did nothing underhand. Before I had once directly asked her for her love, I came to you.'

'What's the use of that, if you go to her immediately afterwards in manifest opposition to my wishes? You found yourself bound, as would any gentleman, to ask a father's leave, and when it was refused, you went on just though it had been granted! Don't you call that a mockery?'

'I can say now, sir, what I could not say then. We love each other. And I am sure of her as I am of myself when I assert that we shall be true to each other. You must know her well enough to be sure of that also.'

'I am sure of nothing but of this; - that I will not give her my consent to become your wife.'

'What is your objection, Mr Wharton?'

'I explained it before as far as I found myself called upon to explain it.'

'Are we both to be sacrificed for some reason that we neither of us understand?'

'How dare you take upon yourself to say that she doesn't understand! Because I refuse to be more explicit to you a stranger, do you suppose that I am equally silent to my own child?'

'In regard to money and social rank, I am able to place your daughter as my wife in a position as good as she now holds as Miss Wharton.'

'I care nothing about money. Mr Lopez, and our ideas of social rank are perhaps different. I have nothing further to say to you, and I do not think that you can have anything further to say to me that can be of any avail.' Then, having finished his speech, he got up from his chair and stood upright, thereby demanding of his visitor that he should depart.

'I think it no more than honest, Mr Wharton, to declare this one thing. I regard myself as irrevocably engaged to your daughter, and she, although she has refused to bind herself to me by that special word, is, I am certain, as firmly fixed in her choice as I am in mine. My happiness, as a matter of course, can be nothing to you.'

'Not much,' said the lawyer, with angry impatience.

Lopez smiled, but he put down the word in his memory and determined he would treasure it there. 'Not much, at any rate as yet,' he said. 'But her happiness must be much to you.'

'It is everything. But in thinking of her happiness I must look beyond what might be the satisfaction of the present day. You must excuse me, Mr Lopez, if I say that I would rather not discuss the matter with you any further.' Then he rang the bell and passed quickly into an inner room. When the clerk came Lopez of course marched out of the chamber and went his way.

Mr Wharton had been very firm, and yet he was shaken. It was by degrees becoming a fixed idea in his mind that the man's material prosperity was assured. He was afraid even to allude to that subject when talking to the man himself, lest he should be overwhelmed by evidence on that subject. Then the man's manner, though it was distasteful to Wharton himself, would, he well knew, recommend him to others. He was good-looking, he lived with people who were highly regarded, he could speak up for himself, and he was a favoured guest at Carlton House Terrace. So great had been the fame of the Duchess and her hospitality during the last two months, that the fact of the man's success in this respect had come home even to Mr Wharton. He feared that the world would be against him, and he already began to dread the joint opposition of the world and his own child. The world of this day did not, he thought, care whether its daughter's husbands had or had not any fathers or mothers. The world as it was now didn't care whether its sons-in-law were Christian or Jewish; - whether they had the fair skin and bold eyes and uncertain words of an English gentleman, or the swarthy colour and false grimace and glib tongue of some inferior Latin race. But he cared for those things; - and it was dreadful to him to think that his daughter should not care for them. 'I suppose I had better die and leave them to look after themselves,' he said, as he returned to his arm-chair.

Lopez himself was not altogether ill-satisfied with the interview, not having expected that Mr Wharton would have given way at once and bestowed upon him then and there the kind fatherin-law's "bless you, - bless you!". Something had yet to be done before the blessing would come, or the girl, - or the money. He had to-day asserted his own material success, speaking of himself as of a moneyed man, - and his statement had been received with no contradiction, - even without the suggestion of a doubt. He did not therefore suppose that the difficulty was over; but he was clever enough to perceive that the aversion to him on another score might help to tide him over that difficulty. And if once he could call the girl his wife, he did not doubt but that he could build himself up with the barrister's money. After leaving Lincoln's Inn he went at once to Berkeley Street, and was soon closeted with Mrs Roby. 'You can get her here before you go?' he said.

'She wouldn't come; - and if we arranged it without letting her know that you were to be here, she would tell her father. She hasn't a particle of female intrigue in her.'

'So much the better,' said the lover.

'That's all very well for you to say, but when a man makes such a tyrant of himself as Mr Wharton is doing, a girl is bound to look after herself. If it was me I'd go off with my young man before I'd stand such treatment.'

'You could give her a letter.'

'She'd only show it to her father. She is so perverse that I sometimes feel inclined to say that I'll have nothing further to do with her.'

'You'll give her a message at any rate?'

'Yes, - I can do that; - because I can do it in a way that won't seem to make it important.'

'But I want my message to be very important. Tell her that I've seen her father, and have offered to explain all my affairs to him, - so that he may know that there is nothing to fear on her behalf.'

'It isn't any thought of money that is troubling him.'

'But tell her what I say. He, however, would listen to nothing. Then I assured him that no consideration on earth would induce me to surrender her, and I was sure of her as I am of myself. Tell her that; - and tell her that I think she owes to me to say one word to me before she goes into the country.'

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 15 ARTHUR FLETCHER.

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