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CHAPTER 29 THE TWO CANDIDATES FOR SILVERBRIDGE.
On his arrival in London Ferdinand Lopez found a letter waiting for him from the Duchess. This came into his hand immediately on his reaching the rooms at Belgrave Mansions and was of course the first object of his care. 'That contains my fate,' he said to his wife, putting his hand down upon the letter. He had talked to her much of the chance that had come in his way, and had shown himself to be very ambitious of the honour offered to him. She of course had sympathized with him, and was willing to think all good things both of the Duchess and the Duke, if they would between them put her husband into Parliament. He paused a moment still holding the letter under his hand. 'You would hardly think that I should be such a coward that I don't like to open it,' he said.
'You've got to do it.'
'Unless I make you do it for me,' he said, holding out the letter to her. 'You will have to learn how weak I am. When I am really anxious I become like a child.'
'I do not think you are ever weak,' she said, caressing him. 'If there were a thing to be done you would do it at once. But I'll open it if you like.' Then he tore off the envelope with an air of comic importance, and stood for a few minutes while he read it.
'What I first perceive is that there has been a row about it,' he said.
'A row about it! What sort of row?'
'My dear friend the Duchess has not quite hit it off with my less dear friend the Duke.'
'She does not say so?'
Oh dear no! My friend the Duchess is much too discreet for that; - but I can see that it has been so.'
'Are you to be the new member? If that is arranged I don't care a bit about the Duke and Duchess.'
'These things do not settle themselves quite so easily as that. I am not to have the seat at any rate without fighting for it. There's the letter.'
The Duchess's letter to her new adherent shall be given, but it must first be understood that many different ideas had passed through the writer's mind between the writing of the letter and the order given by the Prime Minister to his wife concerning the borough. She of course became aware at once that Mr Lopez must be informed that she could not do for him what she had suggested that she would do. But there was no necessity of writing at the instant. Mr Grey had not yet vacated the seat, and Mr Lopez was away on his travels. The month of January was passed in comparative quiet at the Castle, and during that time it became known at Silverbridge that the election would be open. The Duke would not even make a suggestion, and would neither express, nor feel, resentment should a member be returned altogether hostile to his Ministry. By degrees the Duchess accustomed herself to this condition of affairs, and as the consternation caused by her husband's very imperious conduct wore off, she began to ask herself whether even yet she need not quite give up the game. She could not make a Member of Parliament altogether out of her own hand, as she had once fondly hoped she might do; but still she might do something. She would in nothing disobey her husband, but if Mr Lopez were to stand for Silverbridge, it could not but be known in the borough that Mr Lopez was her friend. Therefore she wrote the following letter:
Gatherum, - January, 18 -
MY DEAR MR LOPEZ,
I remember that you said that you would be at home at this time, and therefore I write to you about the borough. Things are changed since you went away, and I fear, not changed for your advantage.
We understand that Mr Grey will apply for the Chiltern Hundreds at the end of March, and that the election will take place in April. No candidates will appear as favoured from hence. We need to run a favourite, and our favourite would sometimes win, - would sometimes even have a walk over, but good times are gone. All the good times are going, I think. There is no reason that I know why you should not stand as well as anyone else. You can be early in the field; - because it is only now known that there will be no Gatherum interest. And I fancy it has already leaked out that you would have been the favourite had there been a favourite; - which might be beneficial.
I need hardly say that I do not wish my name to be mentioned in the matter.
Sprugeon, the ironmonger, would I do not doubt, be proud to nominate you.
'I don't understand much about it,' said Emily.
'I dare say not. It is not meant that any novice should understand much about it. Of course you will not mention her Grace's letter.'
'She intends to do the very best she can for me. I have no doubt that some understrapper from the Castle has had some communication with Mr Sprugeon. The fact is that the Duke won't be seen in it, but that the Duchess does not mean that the borough shall quite slip through their fingers.'
'Shall you try it?'
'If I do I must send an agent down to see Mr Sprugeon on the sly, and the sooner I do the better. I wonder what your father will say about it.'
'He is an old Conservative.'
'But would he not like his son-in-law to be in Parliament?'
'I don't know that he would care about it very much. He seems always to laugh at people who want to get into Parliament. But if you have set your heart upon it, Ferdinand - '
'I have not set my heart on spending a great deal of money. When I first thought of Silverbridge the expense would have been almost nothing. It would have been a walk over, as the Duchess calls it. But now there will certainly be a contest.'
'Give it up if you cannot afford it.'
'Nothing venture nothing have. You don't think your father would help me doing it? It would add almost as much to your position as to mine.' Emily shook her head. She had always heard her father ridicule the folly of men who spent more than they could afford in the vanity of writing two letters after their name, and she now explained that it had always been so with him. 'You would not mind asking him,' he said.
'I will ask him if you wish it, certainly.' Ever since their marriage he had been teaching her, - intentionally teaching her, - that it would be the duty of both of them to get all they could from her father. She had learned the lesson, but it had been very distasteful to her. It had not induced her to think ill of her husband. She was too much engrossed with him, too much in love with him for that. But she was beginning to feel that the world in general was hard and greedy and uncomfortable. If it was proper that a father should give his daughter money when she was married, why did not her father do so without being asked? And yet, if he were unwilling to do so, would it not be better to leave him to his pleasure in the matter? But now she began to perceive that her father was to be regarded as a milch cow, and that she was to be the dairy-maid. Her husband at times would become terribly anxious on the subject. On receiving the promise of 3,000 pounds he had been elated, but since that he had continually talked of what more her father ought to do for them.
'Perhaps I had better take the bull by the horns,' he said, 'and do it myself. Then I shall find out whether he really has our interest at heart, or whether he looks on you as a stranger because you've gone away from him.'
'I don't think he will look upon me as a stranger.'
'We'll see,' said Lopez.
It was not long before he made the experiment. He had called himself a coward as to the opening of the Duchess's letter, but he had in truth always courage for perils of this nature. On the day of their arrival they dined with Mr Wharton in Manchester Square, and certainly the old man had received his daughter with great delight. He had been courteous to Lopez, and Emily, amidst the pleasure of his welcome, had forgotten some of her troubles. The three were alone together, and when Emily had asked after her brother, Mr Wharton had laughed and said that Everett was an ass. 'You have quarrelled with him?' she said. He ridiculed the idea of any quarrel, but again said Everett was an ass.
After dinner Mr Wharton and Lopez were left together, as the old man, whether alone or in company, always sat for half an hour sipping port wine after the manner of his forefathers. Lopez had already determined that he would not let the opportunity escape him, and began his attack at once. 'I have been invited, sir,' he said with his sweetest smile, 'to stand for Silverbridge.'
'You too?' said Mr Wharton. But though there was a certain amount of satire in the exclamation, it had been good-humoured satire.
'Yes sir. We all get bit sooner or later, I suppose.'
'I never was bit.'
'Your sagacity and philosophy have been the wonder of the world, sir. There can be no doubt that in my profession a seat in the House would be of the greatest possible advantage to me. It enables a man to do a great many things which he could not touch without it.'
'It may be so. I don't know anything about it.'
'And then it is a great honour.'
'That depends on how you get it, and how you use it, - very much also on whether you are fit for it.'
'I shall get it honestly if I do get it. I hope I may use it well. And as for my fitness, I must leave that to be ascertained when I am there. I am sorry to say there will probably be a contest.'
'I suppose so. A seat in Parliament without a contest does not drop into every young man's mouth.'
'It very nearly dropped into mine.' Then he told his father-inlaw almost all the particulars of the offer which had been made to him, and of the manner in which the seat was now suggested to him. He somewhat hesitated in the use of the name of the Duchess, leaving an impression on Mr Wharton that the offer had in truth come from the Duke. 'Should there be a contest, would you help me?'
'In what way? I could not canvass at Silverbridge, if you mean that.'
'I was not thinking of giving you personal trouble.'
'I don't know a soul in the place. I shouldn't know that there was such a place except that it returns members of Parliament.'
'I meant with money, sir.'
'To pay the election bills! No, certainly not. Why should I?'
'For Emily's sake.'
'I don't think it would do Emily any good, or you either. It would certainly do me none. It is a kind of luxury that a man should not attempt unless he can afford it easily.'
'Yes, a luxury; just as much as a four-in-hand coach, or a yacht. Men go into Parliament because it gives them fashion, position, and power.'
'I should go to serve my country.'
'Success in your profession I thought you said was your object. Of course you must go as you please. If you ask me my advice, I advise you not to try it. But certainly I will not help you with money. That ass Everett is quarrelling with me at this moment because I won't give him money to go and stand somewhere.'
'Not at Silverbridge?'
'I'm sure I can't say. But don't let me do him an injury. To give him his due, he is more reasonable than you, ,and only wants a promise from me that I will pay his electioneering bills for him at the next general election. I have refused him, - though for reasons which I need not mention I think him better fitted for Parliament than you. I must certainly also refuse you. I cannot imagine any circumstances which would induce me to pay a shilling towards getting you into Parliament. If you won't drink any more wine, we'll join Emily upstairs.'
This had been very plain speaking, and by no means comfortable to Lopez. What of personal discourtesy there had been in the lawyer's words, - and they had certainly not been flattering,-he could throw off from him as meaning nothing. As he could not afford to quarrel with his father-in-law, he thought it probable that he might have to bear a good deal of incivility from the old man. He was quite prepared to bear it as long as he could see a chance of a reward; - though, should there be no such chance, he would be ready to avenge it. But there had been a decision in the present refusal which made him quite sure that it would be vain to repeat his request. 'I shall find out, sir,' he said, 'whether it may probably be a costly affair, and if so I shall give up. You are rather hard upon me as to my motives.'
'I only repeated what you told me yourself.'
'I am quite sure of my own intentions, and know that I need not be ashamed of them.'
'Not if you have plenty of money. It all depends on that. If you have plenty of money, and your fancy goes that way, it is all very well. Come, we'll go upstairs.'
The next day he saw Everett Wharton, who welcomed him back with warm affection. 'He'll do nothing for me; - nothing at all. I am almost beginning to doubt whether he'll ever speak to me again.'
'I tell you everything, you know,' said Everett. 'In January I lost a little money at whist. They got plunging at the club, and I was in it. I had to tell him, of course. He keeps me so short that I can't stand any blow without going to him like a schoolboy.'
'Was it much?'
'No; - to him no more than half-a-crown to you. I had to ask him for a hundred and fifty.'
'He refused it!'
'No; - he didn't do that. Had it been ten times as much, if I owed the money, he would pay it. But he blew me up, and talked about gambling, - and - and - '
'I should have taken that as a matter of course.'
'But I'm not a gambler. A man now and then may fall into a thing of that kind, and if he's decently well off and don't do it often, he can bear it.'
'I thought your quarrel had been altogether about Parliament.'
'Oh no! He has been always the same about that. He told me that I was going head foremost to the dogs, and I couldn't stand that. I shouldn't be surprised if he hasn't lost more at cards than I have during the last two years.' Lopez made an offer to act as go-between, to effect a reconciliation; but Everett declined the offer. 'It would be making too much of an absurdity,' he said. 'When he wants to see me, I suppose he'll send for me.'
Lopez did dispatch an agent down to Mr Sprugeon at Silverbridge, and the agent found that Mr Sprugeon was a very discreet man. Mr Sprugeon at first knew little or nothing, - seemed hardly to be aware that there was a member of Parliament for Silverbridge, and declared himself to be indifferent as to the parliamentary character of the borough. But at last he melted a little, and by degrees, over a glass of hot brandy-and-water with the agent at the Palliser Arms, confessed to a shade of opinion that the return of Mr Lopez for the borough would not be disagreeable to some person or persons who did not live quite a hundred miles away. The instructions given by Lopez to his agent were of the most cautious kind. The agent was merely to feel the ground, make a few inquiries, and do nothing. His client did not intend to stand unless he could see the way to almost certain success with very little outlay. But the agent, perhaps liking his job, did a little outstep his employer's orders. Mr Sprugeon, when the frost of his first modesty had been thawed, introduced the agent to Mr Sprout, the maker of cork soles, and Mr Sprugeon and Mr Sprout between them had soon decided that Mr Ferdinand Lopez should be run for the borough as the 'Castle' candidate. 'The Duke won't interfere,' said Sprugeon; 'and, of course, the Duke's man of business can't do anything openly; - but the Duke's people will know.' Then Mr Sprout told the agent that there was already another candidate in the field, and in a whisper communicated the gentleman's name. When the agent got back to London, he gave Lopez to understand that he must certainly put himself forward. The borough expected him. Sprugeon and Sprout considered themselves pledged to bring him forward and support him, - on behalf of the Castle. Sprugeon was quite sure that the Castle influence was predominant. The Duke's name had never been mentioned at Silverbridge, - hardly even that of the Duchess. Since the Duke's declaration 'The Castle' had taken the part which the old Duke used to play. The agent was quite sure that no one would get in for Silverbridge without having the Castle on His side. No doubt the Duke's declaration had the ill effect of bringing in a competitor, and thus of causing expense. That could not be helped. The agent was of the opinion that the Duke had no alternative. The agent hinted that times were changing, and that though dukes were still dukes, and could still exercise ducal influences, they were driven by these changes to act in an altered form. The proclamation had been especially necessary because the Duke was Prime Minister. The agent did not think that Mr Lopez should be in the least angry with the Duke. Everything would be done that the Castle could do, and Lopez would be no doubt returned, - though, unfortunately, not without some expense. How would it cost? Any accurate answer to such a question would be impossible, but probably about 600 pounds. It might be 800 pounds; - could not possibly be above 1,000 pounds. Lopez winced as he heard these sums named, but he did not decline the contest.
Then the name of the opposition candidate was whispered to Lopez. It was Arthur Fletcher! Lopez started, and asked some question as to Mr Fletcher's interest in the neighbourhood. The Fletchers were connected with the De Courcys, and as soon as the declaration of the Duke had been made known, the De Courcy interest had aroused itself, and had invited that rising young barrister, Arthur Fletcher, to stand for the borough on strictly conservative views. Arthur Fletcher had acceded, and a printed declaration of his purpose and political principles had been just published. 'I have beaten him once,' said Lopez to himself, 'and I think I can beat him again.'
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 30 'YES: - A LIE!'