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CHAPTER 22 ST JAMES'S PARK.
Towards the end of September Everett Wharton and Ferdinand Lopez were in town together, and as no one else was in town, - so at least they professed to say, - they saw a good deal of each other. Lopez, as we know, had spent a portion of the preceding month at Gatherum Castle, and had made good use of his time, but Everett Wharton had been less fortunate. He had been a little cross with his father, and perhaps a little cross with all the Whartons generally, who did not, he thought, make quite enough of him. In the event of 'anything happening' to that ne'er-do-well nephew, he himself would be the heir; and he reflected no unfrequently that something very probably might happen to the nephew. He did not often see this particular cousin, but he always heard of him as being drunk, overwhelmed with debt and difficulty, and altogether in that position in life in which it is probable that something will 'happen'. There was always of course the danger that the young man might marry and have a child; - but in the meantime surely he, Everett Wharton, should have been as much thought of on the banks of the Wye as Arthur Fletcher. He had been asked down to Wharton Hall, - but he had been asked in a way which he had no thought to be flattering and declined to go. Then there had been a plan for joining Arthur Fletcher in a certain shooting, but that had failed in consequence of a few words between himself and Arthur respecting Lopez. Arthur had wanted him to say that Lopez was an unpardonable intruder, - but he had taken the part of Lopez, and therefore, when the time came round, he had nothing to do with the shooting. He had stayed in town till the middle of August, and had then started by himself across the continent with some keen intention of studying German politics; but he had found perhaps that German politics do not manifest themselves in the autumn, or that a foreign country cannot be well studied in solitude, - and he had returned.
Late in the summer, just before his father and sister had left town, he had had some words with the old barrister. There had been a few bills to be paid, and Everett's allowance had been insufficient. It often was insufficient, and then ready money for his German tour was absolutely necessary. Mr Wharton might probably have said less about the money had not his son accompanied his petition by a further allusion to Parliament. 'There are some fellows at last really getting themselves together at the Progress, and of course it will be necessary to know who will be ready to come forward at the next general election.'
'I think I know one who won't,' said the father, 'judging from the manner in which he seems at present to manage his own money affairs.' There was more severity in this than the old man had intended, for he had often thought within his own bosom whether it would not be well that he should encourage his son to stand for some seat. And the money that he had now been asked to advance had not been very much, - not more, in truth, than he expected to be called upon to pay in addition to the modest sum which he professed to allow his son. He was a rich man, who was not in truth made unhappy by parting with his money. But there had been, he thought, an impudence in the conjoint attack which it was his duty to punish. Therefore he had given his son very little encouragement.
'Of course, sir, if you tell me that you are not inclined to pay anything beyond the allowance you make me, there is an end of it.'
'I rather think that you just asked me to pay a considerable sum beyond your allowance, and that I have consented.' Everett argued the matter no further, but he permitted his mind to entertain an idea that he was ill-used by his father. The time would come when he would probably be heir not only to his father's money, but also to the Wharton title and the Wharton property, - when his position in the country would really be, as he frequently told himself, quite considerable. Was it possible that he should refrain from blaming his father for not allowing him to obtain, early in life, that parliamentary education which would fit him to be an ornament to the House of Commons, and a safeguard to his country in future years?
Now he and Lopez were at the Progress together, and they were almost the only men in the club. Lopez was quite contented with his own present sojourn in London, he had not only been at Gatherum Castle but he was going there again. And then he had brilliant hopes before him, - so brilliant that they began, he thought, to assume the shape of certainties. He had corresponded with the Duchess, and he had gathered from her somewhat dubious words that the Duke would probably accede to her wishes in the matter of Silverbridge. The vacancy had not yet been declared. Mr Grey was deterred, no doubt by certain high State purposes, from applying for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, and thereby releasing himself from his seat in Parliament, and enabling himself to perform, with a clear conscience, duties in a distant part of the world which he did not feel to be compatible with that seat. The seekers after seats were, no doubt, already on the track; but the Duchess had thought that as far as the Duke's good word went, it might possibly be given in favour of Mr Lopez. The happy aspirant had taken this to be almost as good as a promise. There were also certain pecuniary speculations on foot, which could not be kept quiet even in September, as to which he did not like to trust entirely to the unaided energy of Mr Sextus Parker, or to the boasted alliance of Mr Mills Happerton. Sextus Parker's whole heart and soul were now in the matter, but Mr Mills Happerton, an undoubted partner in Husky and Sons, had blown a little coldly on the affair. But in spite of this Ferdinand Lopez was happy. Was it probable that Mr Wharton should continue his opposition to a marriage which would make his daughter the wife of a member of Parliament and of a special friend of the Duchess of Omnium?
He had said a word about his own prospect in reference to the marriage, but Everett had been at first far too full of his own affairs to attend much to a matter which was comparatively so trifling.
'Upon my word,' he said, 'I am beginning to feel angry with the governor, which is a kind of thing I don't like at all.'
'I can understand that when he's angry with you, you shouldn't like it.'
'I don't mind that half so much. He'll come round. However unjust he may be now, at the moment, he's the last man in the world to do an injustice in his will. I have thorough confidence in him. But I find myself driven into hostility to him by a conviction that he won't let me take any real step in life, till my life has been half frittered away.'
'You're thinking of Parliament.'
'Of course I am. I don't say to you ain't an Englishman, but you are not quite enough of an Englishman to understand what Parliament is to us.'
'I hope to be; - some of these days,' said Lopez.
'Perhaps you may. I won't say but what you may get yourself educated to it when you've been married a dozen years to an English wife, and have half-a-dozen English children of your own. But, in the meantime, look at my position. I am twenty-eight years old.'
'I am four years your senior.'
'It does not matter a straw to you,' continued Everett. 'But a few years are everything with me. I have a right to suppose that I may be able to represent the county, - say in twenty years. I shall probably then be the head of the family and a rich man. Consider what a parliamentary education would be to me! And then it is just the life for which I have laid myself out, and in which I could make myself useful. You don't sympathize with me, but you might understand me.'
'I do both. I think of going into the House myself.'
'Yes, I do.'
'You must have changed your ideas very much then within the last month or two.'
'I have changed my ideas. My one chief object in life is, as you know, to marry your sister; and if I were a Member of Parliament I think that some difficulties would be cleared away.'
'But there won't be an election for the next three years at my rate,' said Everett Wharton, staring at his friend. 'You don't mean to keep Emily waiting for a dissolution?'
'There are occasional vacancies,' said Lopez.
'Is there a chance of anything of that kind falling in your way?'
'I think there is. I can't quite tell you all the particulars because other people are concerned, but I don't think it improbable that I may be in the House before - ; well, say in three months' time.'
'In three months' time!' exclaimed Everett, whose mouth was watering at the prospects of a friend. 'That is what comes from going to stay with a Prime Minister, I suppose,' Lopez shrugged his shoulders. 'Upon my word I can't understand you,' continued the other. 'It was only the other day you were arguing in this very room as to the absurdity of a parliamentary career,-pitching into me, by George, like the very mischief, because I had said something in its favour, - and now you are going in for it yourself in some sort of mysterious way that a fellow can't understand.' It was quite clear that Everett Wharton thought himself ill-used by his friend's success.
'There is no mystery; - only I can't tell people's names.'
'What is the borough?'
'I cannot tell you that at present.'
'Are you sure there will be a vacancy?'
'I think I am sure,'
'And that you will be invited to stand?'
'I am not sure of that.'
'Of course anybody can stand whether invited or not.'
'If I come forward for this place I shall do so on the very best interest. Don't mention it. I tell you because I already regard my connection with you as being so close as to call upon me to tell you anything of that kind.'
'And yet you do not tell me the details.'
'I tell you all that I can in honour tell.'
Everett Wharton certainly felt aggrieved by his friend's news, and plainly showed that he did so. It was so hard that if a stray seat in Parliament were going a-begging, it should be thrown in the way of this man who didn't care for it, and couldn't use it to any good purpose. Instead of in his own way! Why should anyone want Ferdinand Lopez to be in Parliament? Ferdinand Lopez had paid no attention to the great political questions of the Commonwealth. He knew nothing of Labour and Capital, of Unions, Strikes, and Lockouts. But because he was rich, and, by being rich, had made his way among great people, he was to have a seat in Parliament! As for the wealth, it might be at his own command also, - if only his father could be got to see the matter in a proper light. And as for the friendship of great people, - Prime Ministers, Duchesses, and such like, - Everett Wharton was quite confident that he was at any rate as well qualified to shine among them as Ferdinand Lopez. He was of too good a nature to be stirred to injustice against his friend by the soreness of this feeling. He did not wish to rob his friend of his wealth, of his Duchesses, or of his embryo seat in Parliament. But for the moment there came upon him a doubt whether Ferdinand was so very clever, or so peculiarly gentlemanlike or in any way very remarkable, and almost a conviction that he was very far from being good-looking.
They dined together, and quite late in the evening they strolled out into St James's Park. There was nobody in London, and there was nothing for either of them to do, and therefore they agreed to walk round the park, dark and gloomy as they knew the park would be. Lopez had seen and had quite understood the bitterness of spirit by which Everett had been oppressed, and with that peculiarly imperturbable good humour which made part of his character bore it all, even with tenderness. He was a man, as are many of his race, who could bear contradictions, unjust suspicions, and social ill-treatment without a shadow of resentment, but who, if he had a purpose, could carry it without a shadow of a scruple. Everett Wharton had on this occasion made himself very unpleasant, and Lopez had borne with him as an angel would hardly have done; but should Wharton ever stand in his friend's way, his friend would sacrifice him without compunction. As it was Lopez bore with him, simply noting in his own mind that Everett Wharton was a greater ass than he had taken him to be. It was Wharton's idea that they should walk around the park, and Lopez for a time had discouraged the suggestion. 'It is a wretchedly dark place at night, and you don't know whom you may meet there.'
'You don't mean to say that you are afraid to walk round St James's Park with me because it's dark!' said Wharton.
'I certainly should be afraid by myself, but I don't know that I am afraid with you. But what's the good?'
'It's better than sitting here doing nothing, without a soul to speak to. I've already smoked half-a-dozen cigars, till I'm so muddled I don't' know what I'm about. It's so hot one can't walk in the day, and this is just the time for the exercise.' Lopez yielded, being willing to yield in almost anything at present to the brother of Emily Wharton; and though the thing seemed to him to be very foolish, they entered the park by St James's Palace, and started to walk round it, turning to the right and going in front of Buckingham Palace. As they went on Wharton still continued his accusation against his father, and said also some sharp things against Lopez himself, till his companion began to think that the wine he had drunk had been as bad as the cigars. 'I can't understand your wanting to go into Parliament,' he said. 'What do you know about it?'
'If I get there, I can learn like anybody else, I suppose.'
'Half of those who go there don't learn. They are, as it were, born to it, and they do very well to support this party or that.'
'And why shouldn't I support this party, - or that?'
'I don't suppose you know which party you would support, - except that you'd vote for the Duke, if, as I suppose, you are to get in under the Duke's influence. If I went into the House I should go with a fixed and settled purpose of my own.'
'I'm not there yet,' said Lopez, willing to drop the subject.
'It will be a great expense to you, and will stand altogether in the way of your profession. As far as Emily is concerned, I should think my father would be dead against it.'
'Then he would be unreasonable.'
'Not at all, if he thought you would injure your professional prospects. It is a d-d piece of folly; that's the long and the short of it.
This certainly was very uncivil, and it almost made Lopez angry. But he had made up his mind that his friend was a little the worse for the wine he had drunk, and therefore he did not resent even this. 'Never mind politics and Parliament now,' he said, 'but let us get home. I am beginning to be sick of this. It's so awfully dark, and whenever I do hear a step, I think somebody is coming to rob us. Let us get on a bit.'
'What the deuce are you afraid of?' said Everett. They had then come up the greater part of the length of the Birdcage Walk, and the lights on Storey's Gate were just visible, but the road on which they were then walking was very dark. The trees were black over their heads, and not a step was heard near them. At this time it was just midnight. Now, certainly, among the faults which might be justly attributed to Lopez, personal cowardice could not be reckoned. On this evening he had twice spoken of being afraid, but the fear had simply been that which ordinary caution indicates; and his object had been that of hindering Wharton in the first place from coming into the park, and then of getting him out of it as quickly as possible.
'Come along,' said Lopez.
'By George, you are in a blue funk,' said the other. 'I can hear your teeth chattering.' Lopez, who was beginning to be angry, walked on and said nothing. It was too absurd, he thought, for real anger, but he kept a little in front of Wharton, intending to show that he was displeased. 'You had better run away at once,' said Wharton.
'Upon my word. I shall begin to think you're tipsy,' said Lopez.
'Tipsy!' said the other. 'How dare you say such a thing to me? You never in your life say me in the least altered by anything I had drunk.'
Lopez knew that at any rate this was untrue. 'I've seen you as drunk as Cloe before now,' said he.
'That's a lie,' said Wharton.
'Come, Wharton,' said the other, 'do not disgrace yourself by conduct such as that. Something has put you out, and you do not know what you are saying. I can hardly imagine that you should wish to insult me.'
'It was you insulted me. You said I was drunk. When you said it you knew it was untrue.'
Lopez walked on a little way in silence, thinking over this most absurd quarrel. Then he turned round and spoke. 'This is all the greatest nonsense I have ever heard in the world. I'll go on and go to bed, and to-morrow morning you'll think better of it. But pray remember that under no circumstances should you call a man a liar, unless on cool consideration you are determined to quarrel with him for lying, and determined also to see the quarrel out.'
'I am quite ready to see this quarrel out.'
'Good night,' said Lopez, starting off at a quick pace. They were then close to the turn in the park, and Lopez went on till he had nearly reached the park front of the new offices. As he had walked he had listened to the footfall of his friend, and after a while had perceived, or had thought that he perceived that the sound was discontinued. It seemed to him that Wharton had altogether lost his senses; - the insult to himself had been so determined and so absolutely groundless! He had striven his best to conquer the man's ill-humour by good-natured forbearance, and had only suggested that Wharton was perhaps tipsy in order to give him some excuse. But if his companion were really drunk, as he now began to think, could it be right to leave him unprotected in the park? The man's manner had been strange the whole evening, but there had been no sign of the effect of wine till after they had left the club. But Lopez had heard of men who had been apparently sober, becoming drunk as soon as the got into the air. It might have been so in this case, though Wharton's voice and gait had not been those of a drunken man. At any rate, he would turn back and look after him, and as he did turn back, he resolved that whatever Wharton might say to him on this night he would not notice. He was too wise to raise a further impediment to his marriage by quarrelling with Emily's brother.
As soon as he paused he was sure that he heard footsteps behind him which were not those of Everett Wharton. Indeed, he was sure that he heard the footsteps of more than one person. He stood still for a moment to listen, and then he distinctly heard a rush and a scuffle. He ran back to the spot at which he had left his friend, and at first thought that he perceived a mob of people in the dusk. But as he got nearer, he saw that there were a man and two women. Wharton was on the ground on his back, and the man was apparently kneeling on his neck and head while the women were rifling his pockets. Lopez, hardly knowing how he was acting, was upon them in a moment, flying in the first place at the man, who had jumped up to meet him as he came. He received at once a heavy blow on his head from some weapon, which, however, his hat so far stopped as to save him from being felled or stunned, and then he felt another blow from behind on the ear, which he afterwards conceived to have been given him by one of the women. But before he could well look about him, or well know how the whole thing had happened, the man and the two women had taken to their legs, and Wharton was standing on his feet leaning against the iron railings.
The whole thing had occupied a very short space of time, and yet the effects were very grave. At the first moment Lopez looked round and endeavoured to listen, hoping that some assistance might be near, - some policeman, or, if not that, some wanderer by night who might be honest enough to help him. But he could near or see no one. In this condition of things it was not possible for him to pursue the ruffians, as he could not leave his friend leaning against the park rails. It was at once manifest to him that Wharton had been much hurt, or at any rate incapacitated for immediate exertion, by the blows he had received; - and as he put his hand up to his own head, from which in the scuffle his hat had fallen, he was not certain that he was not severely hurt himself. Lopez could see that Wharton was very pale, that his cravat had been almost wrenched from his neck by pressure, that his waistcoat was torn open and the front of his shirt soiled, - and he could see also that a fragment of the watch-chain was hanging loose, showing that the watch had gone. 'Are you hurt much?' he said, coming close up and taking a tender hold of his friend's arm. Wharton smiled and shook his head, but spoke not a word. He was in truth more shaken, stunned, and bewildered than actually injured. The ruffian's fist had been at his throat, twisting his cravat, and for half a minute he had felt that he was choked. As he had struggled while one woman pulled at his watch and the other searched for his purse,-struggling alas unsuccessfully, - the man had endeavoured to quiet him by kneeling on his chest, strangling him with his own necktie, and pressing hard on his gullet. It is a treatment which, after a few seconds of vigorous practice, is apt to leave the patient for a while disconcerted and unwilling to speak. 'Say a word if you can,' whispered Lopez, looking into the other man's face with anxious eyes.
At the moment there came across Wharton's mind a remembrance that he had behaved very badly to is friend, and some sort of vague misty doubt whether all this evil had not befallen because of his misconduct. But he knew at the same time the Lopez was not responsible for the evil, and dismayed as he had been, still he recalled enough of the nature of the struggle in which he had been engaged, to be aware that Lopez had befriended him gallantly. He could not even yet speak; but he saw the blood trickling down his friend's temple and forehead, and lifting up his hand, touched the spot with his fingers. Lopez also put his had up, and drew it away covered with blood. 'Oh,' said he, 'that does not signify in the least. I got a knock, I know, and I am afraid I have lost my hat, but I'm not hurt.'
'Oh, dear!' The word was uttered with a low sigh. Then there was a pause, during which Lopez supported the sufferer. 'I thought that it was all over with me at one moment.'
'You will be better now.'
'Oh, yes. My watch is gone!'
'I fear it is,' said Lopez.
'And my purse,' said Wharton, collecting his strength together sufficiently to search for his treasures. 'I had eight 5-pound notes in it.'
'Never mind your money or your watch if your bones are not broken.'
'It's a bore all the same to lose every shilling that one has.' Then they walked very slowly away towards the steps at the Duke of York's column. Wharton regaining his strength as he went, but still able to progress by leisurely. Lopez had not found his hat, and, being covered with blood, was, as far as appearances went, in a worse plight than the other. At the foot of the steps they met a policeman, to whom they told their story, and who, as a matter of course, was filled with an immediate desire to arrest them both. To the policeman's mind it was most distressing that a bloody faced man without a hat, with a companion almost too weak to walk, should not be conveyed to a police-station. But after ten minutes' parley, during which Wharton sat on the bottom step and Lopez explained all the circumstances, he consented to get them a cab to take their address, and then to go alone to the station and make his report. That the thieves had got off with their plunder was only too manifest. Lopez took the injured man home to the house in Manchester Square, and then returned in the same cab, hatless, to his own lodgings.
As he returned he applied his mind to think how he could turn the events of the evening to his own use. He did not believe that Everett Wharton was severely hurt. Indeed there might be a question whether in the morning his own injury would not be the most severe. But the immediate effect on the flustered and despoiled unfortunate one had been great enough to justify Lopez in taking strong steps if strong steps could in any way benefit himself. Would it be best to publish this affair on the housetops, or to bury it in the shade, as nearly as it might be buried? He had determined in his own mind that his friend had been tipsy. In no other way could his conduct be understood. And a row with a tipsy man at midnight in the park is not, at first sight, creditable. But it could be made to have a better appearance if told by himself, than if published from other quarters. The old housekeeper at Manchester Square must know something about it, and would, of course, tell what she knew, and the loss of money and the watch must in all probability be made known. Before he had reached his own door had had quite made up his mind that he himself would tell the story after his own fashion.
And he told it, before he went to bed that night. He washed the blood from his face and head, and cut away a part of the clotted hair, and then wrote a letter to old Mr Wharton at Wharton Hall. And between three and four o'clock in the morning he went out and posted his letter in the nearest pillar, so that it might go down by the day mail and certainly preceded by other written doings. The letter which he sent was as follows:
DEAR MR WHARTON
I regret to have to send to you an account of a rather serious accident which has happened to Everett. I am now writing at 3 am, having just taken him home, and it occurred about midnight. You may be quite sure that there is no danger, or I should have advertised you by telegram.
There is nothing doing in town, and therefore, as the night was fine, we, very foolishly, agreed to walk round St James's Park late after dinner. It is a kind of thing that nobody does; - but we did it. When we had nearly got round I was in a hurry, whereas Everett was for strolling slowly, and so I went before him. But I was hardly two hundred yards in front of him before he was attacked by three persons, a man and two women. The man I presume came upon him from behind, but he has not sufficiently collected his thoughts to remember exactly what occurred. I heard the scuffle, and of course turned back, - and was luckily in time to get up before he was seriously hurt. I think the man would otherwise have strangled him. I am sorry to say he lost both his watch and his purse.
He undoubtedly been very much shaken, and altogether 'knocked out of time,' as people say. Excuse the phrase, because I think it will best explain what I want you to understand. The man's hand at his throat must have stopped his breathing for some seconds. He certainly has received no permanent injury, but I should not wonder if he should be unwell for some days. I tell you all exactly as it occurred, as it strikes me that you may like to run up to town for a day just to look at him. But you need not do so on the score of any danger. Of course he will see a doctor to-morrow. There did not seem to be any necessity for calling up one to-night. We did give notice to the police as we were coming home, but I fear the ruffians had ample time for an escape. He was too weak and I was too fully employed with him, to think of pursuing them at the time.
Of course he is at Manchester Square
Most faithfully yours
He did not say a word about Emily, but he knew that Emily would see the letter and would perceive that he had been the means of preserving her brother; and, in regard to the old barrister himself. Lopez thought that the old man could not but feel grateful for his conduct. He had in truth behaved very well to Everett. He had received a heavy blow on the head in young Wharton's defence, - of which he was determined to make good use, though he had thought it expedient to say nothing about the blow in the letter. Surely it was all help. Surely the paternal mind would be softened towards him when the father should be made to understand how great had been the service to the son. That Everett would make little of what had been done for him de did not in the least fear. Everett Wharton was sometimes silly but was never ungenerous.
In spite of his night's work Lopez was in Manchester Square before nine the following morning, and on the side of his brow he bore a great patch of black plaster. 'My head is very thick,' he said laughing, when Everett asked after his wound. 'But it would have gone badly with me if the ruffian had struck an inch lower. I suppose my hat saved me, though I remember very little. Yes, old fellow, I have written to your father, and I think he will come up. It was better that it should be so.'
'There is nothing the matter with me,' said Everett.
'One didn't quite know last night whether there was or no. At any rate his coming won't hurt you. It's always well to have your banker near you, when your funds are low.'
Then after a pause Everett made his apology, - 'I know I made a great ass of myself last night.'
'Don't think about it.'
'I used a word I shouldn't have used, and I beg your pardon.'
'Not another word, Everett. Between you and me things can't go wrong. We love each other too well.'
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 23 SURRENDER.