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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



Arthur Fletcher, in his letter to Mrs Lopez, had told her that when he found out who was to be his antagonist at Silverbridge, it was too late for him to give up the contest. He was, he said, bound in faith to continue it by what had passed between himself and others. But in truth he had not reached this conclusion without some persuasion from others. He had been at Longbarns with his brother when he first heard that Lopez intended to stand, and he at once signified his desire to give way. The information reached him from Mr Frank Gresham, of Greshambury, a gentleman connected with the De Courcys who was now supposed to represent the De Courcy interest in the county, and who had first suggested to Arthur that he should come forward. It was held at Longbarns that Arthur was bound in honour to Mr Gresham and to Mr Gresham's friends, and to this opinion he had yielded.

Since Emily Wharton's marriage her name had never been mentioned at Longbarns in Arthur's presence. When he was away, - and of course his life was chiefly passed in London, - old Mrs Fletcher was free enough in her abuse of the silly creature who had allowed herself to be taken out of her own rank by a Portuguese Jew. But she had been made to understand by her elder son, the lord of Longbarns, that not a word was to be said when Arthur was there. 'I think he ought to be taught to forget her.' Mrs Fletcher had said. But John in his own quiet but imperious way, had declared that there were some men to whom such lessons could not be taught, and that Arthur was one of them. 'Is he never to get a wife, then?' Mrs Fletcher had asked. John wouldn't pretend to answer the question, but was quite sure that his brother would not be tempted into other matrimonial arrangements by anything that could be said against Emily Lopez. When Mrs Fletcher declared her extreme anger that Arthur was a fool for his trouble, John did not contradict her, but declared that the folly was of a nature to require tender treatment.

Matters were in this condition at Longbarns when Arthur communicated to his brother the contents of Mr Gresham's letter, and expressed his own purpose of giving up Silverbridge. 'I don't quite see that,' said John.

'No; - and it is impossible that you should be expected to see it. I don't quite know how to talk about it even to you, though I think you are about the softest-hearted fellow out.'

'I don't acknowledge the soft heart, - but go on.'

'I don't want to interfere with that man. I have a sort of feeling that as he has got her he might as well have the seat too.'

'The seat, as you call it, is not there for his gratification or for yours. The seat is there in order that the people of Silverbridge may be represented in Parliament.'

'Let them get somebody else. I don't want to put myself in opposition to him, and I certainly do not want to oppose her.'

'They can't change their candidate in that way at a day's notice. You would be throwing Gresham over, and, if you ask me, I think that is a thing you have no right to do. This objection of yours is sentimental, and there is nothing of which a man should be so much in dread is sentimentalism. It is not your fault that you oppose Mr Lopez. You were in the field first, and you must go on with it.' John Fletcher, when he spoke in this way, was, at Longbarns, always supposed to be right; and on the present occasion he, as usual, prevailed. Then Arthur Fletcher wrote his letter to the lady. He would not have liked to have had it known that the composition and copying of that little note had cost him an hour. He had wished that she should understand his feelings, and yet it was necessary that he should address her in words that should be perfectly free from affection or emotion. He must let her know that, though he wrote to her, the letter was for her husband as well as for herself, and he must do this in a manner which would not imply any fear that his writing to her would be taken amiss. The letter when completed was at any rate simple and true; and yet, as we know, it was taken very much amiss.

Arthur Fletcher had by no means recovered from the blow he had received that day when Emily had told him everything down by the river side; but then, it must be said of him, that he had no intention of recovery. He was as a man who, having taken a burden on his back, declares to himself that he will, for certain reasons, carry it throughout his life. The man knows that with the burden he cannot walk as men walk who are unencumbered, but for those reasons of his he has chosen to lade himself, and having done so he abandons regret and submits to his circumstances. So had it been with him. He would make no attempts to throw off the load. It was now far back in his life, as much at least as three years, since he at first assured himself of his desire to make Emily Wharton the companion of his life. From that day she had been the pivot on which his whole existence had moved. She had refused his offers more than once, but had done so with so much tender kindness, that, though he had found himself to be wounded and bruised, he had never abandoned his object. Her father and all his own friends encouraged him. He was continually told that her coldness was due to the simple fact that she had not yet learned to give her heart away. And so he had persevered, being ever thoroughly intent on his purpose, till he was told by herself that her love was given to this other man.

Then he knew that it behoved him to set some altered course of life before him. He could not shoot his rival or knock him over the head, nor could he carry off his girl, as used to be done in rougher times. There was nothing now for a man in such a catastrophe as this but submission. But he might submit and shake off his burden, or submit and carry it hopelessly. He told himself that he would do the latter. She had been his goddess, and he would not now worship at another shrine. And then ideas came into his head, - hot hopes, or purposes, or a belief even in any possibility, - but vague ideas, mere castles in the air, that a time might come in which it might be in his power to serve her, and to prove to her beyond doubting what had been the nature of his love. Like others of his family, he thought ill of Lopez, believing the man to be an adventurer, one who would too probably fall into misfortune, however high he might now seem to hold his head. He was certainly a man not standing on the solid basis of land, or of the Three Per Cents, - those solidities to which such as the Whartons and the Fletchers are wont to trust. No doubt, should there be such fall, the man's wife would have other help than that of her rejected lover. She had a father, brother, and cousins, who would also be there to aid her. The idea was, therefore, but a castle in the air. And yet it was dear to him. At any rate he resolved that he would live for it, and that the woman should still be his goddess, though she was the wife of another man, and might now perhaps never even be seen by him. Then came upon him, immediately almost after their marriage, the necessity of writing to her. The task was one which, of course, he did not perform lightly.

He never said a word of this to anybody else; - but his brother understood it all, and in a somewhat silent fashion fully sympathized with him. John could not talk to him about love, or mark passages of poetry for him to read, or deal with him at all romantically; but he could take care that his brother had the best horses to ride, and the warmest corner out shooting, and that everything in the house could be done for his brother's comfort. As the squire looked and spoke at Longbarns, others looked and spoke, - so that everybody knew than Mr Arthur was to be contradicted in nothing. Had he, just at this period, ordered a tree in the park cut down, it would, I think, have been cut down, without reference to the master! But, perhaps, John's power was most felt in the way in which he repressed the expressions of his mother's high indignation. 'Mean slut!,' she once said, speaking of Emily in her elder son's hearing. For the girl, to her thinking, had been mean and had been a slut. She had not known, - so Mrs Fletcher thought, - what birth and blood required of her.

'Mother,' John Fletcher had said, 'you would break Arthur's heart if he heard you speak of her in that way, and I am sure you would drive him from Longbarns. Keep it to yourself.' The old woman had shaken her head angrily, but she had endeavoured to do as she had been bid.

'Isn't your brother riding that horse a little rashly?' Reginald Cosgrave said to John Fletcher in the hunting field one day.

'I didn't observe,' said John; 'but whatever horse he's on he always rides rashly.' Arthur was mounted on a long, raking thorough-bred black animal, which he had bought himself about a month ago, and which, having been run at steeplechase, rushed at every fence as though he was going to swallow it. His brother had begged him to put some rough-rider up till the horse could be got to go quietly, but Arthur had persevered. And during the whole of this day the squire had been in a tremor, lest there should be some accident.

'He used to have a little more judgement, I think,' said Cosgrave. 'He went at that double just now as hard as the brute could tear. If the horse hadn't done it all, where would he have been?'

'In the further ditch, I suppose. But you see the horse did it all.'

This was all very well as an answer to Reginald Cosgrave, - to whom it was not necessary that Fletcher should explain the circumstances. But the squire had known as well as Cosgrave that his brother had been riding rashly, and he had understood the reason why. 'I don't think a man ought to break his neck,' he said, 'because he can't get everything that he wishes.' The two brothers were standing then together before the fire in the squire's own room, having just come in from hunting.

'Who is going to break his neck?'

'They tell me you tried to-day.'

'Because I was riding a pulling horse. I'll back him to be the biggest leaper and the quickest horse in Hertfordshire.'

'I dare say, - though for the matter of that the chances are very much against it. But a man shouldn't ride so as to have those things said of him.'

'What is a fellow to do if he can't ride a horse?'

'Get off him.'

'That's nonsense, John.'

'No, it's not. You know what I mean very well. If I were to lose half my property tomorrow, don't you think it would cut me up a good deal?'

'It would me, I know.'

'But what would you think of me if I howled about it?'

'Do I howl?'asked Arthur angrily.

'Every man howls who is driven out of is ordinary course by any trouble. A man howls if he goes about frowning always.'

'Do I frown?'

'Or laughing.'

'Do I laugh?'

'Or galloping over the country like a mad devil who wants to get rid of his debts by breaking his neck. Aeqam mememto - You remember all that, don't you?'

'I remember it, but it isn't so easy to do, is it?'

'Try. There are other things to be done in life except getting married. You are going into Parliament.'

'I don't know that.'

'Gresham tells me there isn't a doubt about it. Think of that. Fix your mind upon it. Don't take it only as an accident, but as the thing you're to live for. If you'll do that, - if you'll manage that there shall be something to be done in Parliament which only you can do, you won't ride a runaway horse as you did that brute to-day.' Arthur looked up into his brother's face almost weeping. 'We expect much of you, you know. I'm not a man to do anything except be a good steward for the family property, and keep the old house from falling down. You're a clever fellow, - so that between us, if we both do our duty, the Fletchers may still thrive in the land. My house shall be your house, and my wife your wife, and my children your children. And then the honour you win shall be my honour. Hold up your head,-and sell the beast.' Arthur Fletcher squeezed his brother's hand and went away to dress.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 34 THE SILVERBRIDGE ELECTION.

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