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CHAPTER 34 THE SILVERBRIDGE ELECTION.
About a month after this affair with the runaway horse Arthur Fletcher went to Greshambury, preparatory to his final sojourn at Silverbridge for the week previous to the election. Greshambury, the seat of Francis Gresham, Esq., who was a great man in these parts, was about twenty miles from Silverbridge, and the tedious work of canvassing the electors could not therefore be done from thence; - but he spent a couple of pleasant days with his old friend, and learned what was being said and what was being done in and about the borough. Mr Gresham was a man, not as yet quite forty years of age, very popular, with a large family, of great wealth, and master of the county hounds. His father had been an embarrassed man, with a large estate, but this Gresham had married a lady with immense wealth, and had prospered in the world. He was not an active politician. He did not himself care for Parliament, or for the good things which political power can give, and was on this account averse to the Coalition. He thought that Sir Orlando Drought and the others were touching pitch and had defiled themselves. But he was conscious that in so thinking he was one of but a small minority. And, bad as the world around him certainly was, terrible as had been the fall of the glory of old England, he was nevertheless content to live without loud grumbling as long as the farmers paid him their wages, and the land when sold would fetch thirty years' purchase. He had not therefore been careful to ascertain that Arthur Fletcher would pledge himself to oppose the Coalition before he proffered his assistance in this matter of the borough. It would not be easy to find such a candidate, or perhaps possible to bring him in when found. The Fletchers had always been good Conservatives, and were proper people to be in Parliament. A Conservative in Parliament is, of course, obliged to promote a great many things which he does not really approve. Mr Gresham quite understood that. You can't have tests and qualifications, rotten boroughs and the divine right of kings, back again. But as the glorious institutions of the country are made to perish, one after the other, it is better that they should receive the coup de grace tenderly from loving hands than be roughly throttled by the Radicals. Mr Gresham would thank his stars that he could still preserve foxes down in his own country, instead of doing any of this dirty work, - for let the best be made of such work, still it was dirty, - and was willing, now as always, to give his assistance, and if necessary to spend a little money, to put a Fletcher into Parliament and to keep a Lopez out.
There was to be a third candidate. That was the first news that Fletcher heard. 'It will do us all the good in the world,' said Mr Gresham. 'The rads in the borough are not satisfied with Mr Lopez. They say they don't know him. As long as a certain set could make it be believed that he was the Duke's nominee they were content to accept him - even though he was not proposed directly by the Duke's people in the usual way. But the Duke has made himself understood at last. You have seen the Duke's letter?' Arthur had not seen the Duke's letter, which had only been published in the "Silverbridge Gazette" of that week, and he read it, sitting in Mr Gresham's magistrate's-room, as a certain chamber in the house had been called since the days of the present squire's great-grandfather.
The Duke's letter was addressed to his recognized man of business in those parts, and was as follows:
Carlton Terrace, - March, 187-
MY DEAR MR MORETON
(Mr Moreton was the successor of one Mr Fothergill, who had reigned supreme in those parts under the old Duke.}
I am afraid that my wishes with regard to the borough and the forthcoming election there of a member of Parliament are not yet clearly understood, although I endeavoured to declare them when I was at Gatherum Castle. I trust that no elector will vote for this or that gentleman with an idea that the return of any special candidate will please me. The ballot will of course prevent me or any other man from knowing how an elector may vote; - but I beg to assure the electors generally that should they think fit to return a member pledged to oppose the Government of which I form part, it would not in any way change my cordial feelings towards the town. I may perhaps be allowed to add that, in my opinion, no elector can do his duty except by voting for the candidate whom he thinks best qualified to serve the country. In regard to the gentlemen who are now before the constituency, I have no feeling for one rather than for the other; and had I any such feeling I should not wish it to actuate the vote of a single elector. I should be glad if this letter could be published so as to be brought under the eyes of the electors generally.
When the Duke said that he feared that his wishes were not understood, and spoke of the inefficacy of his former declaration, he was alluding of course to the Duchess and to Mr Sprugeon. Mr Sprugeon guessed that it might be so, and, still wishing to have the Duchess for his good friend, was at once assiduous in explaining to his friends in the borough that even this letter did not mean anything. A Prime Minister was bound to say that kind of thing! But the borough, if it wished to please the Duke, must return Lopez in spite of the Duke's letter. Such was Mr Sprugeon's doctrine. But he did not carry Mr Sprout with him. Mr Sprout at once saw his opportunity, and suggested to Mr Du Boung, the local brewer, that he should come forward. Du Boung was a man rapidly growing into provincial eminence, and jumped at the offer. Consequently there were three candidates. Du Boung came forward as a Conservative prepared to give a cautious, but very cautious, support to the Coalition. Mr Du Boung in his printed address said very sweet things of the Duke generally. The borough was blessed by the vicinity of the Duke. But, looking at the present perhaps unprecedented crisis in affairs, Mr Du Boung was prepared to give no more than a very cautious support to the Duke's Government. Arthur Fletcher read Mr Du Boung's address immediately after the Duke's letter.
'The more the merrier,' said Arthur.
'Just so. Du Boung will not rob you of a vote, but he will cut the ground altogether from under the other man's feet. You see that as far as the actual political programme goes there isn't much to choose between any of you. You are all Government men.'
'With a difference.'
'One man in these days is so like another,' continued Gresham sarcastically, 'that it requires eyes to meet the shades of the colours.'
'Then you had better support Du Boung,' said Arthur.
'I think you've just a turn in your favour. Besides I couldn't really carry a vote myself. As for Du Boung, I'd sooner have him than a foreign cad like Lopez.' Then Arthur frowned and Mr Gresham became confused, remembering the catastrophe about the young lady whose story he had heard. 'Du Boung used to be plain English as Bung before he got rich and made his name beautiful,' continued Gresham, 'but I suppose Mr Lopez does come of foreign extraction.'
'I don't know what he comes from,' said Arthur moodily. 'They tell me he's a gentleman. However, as we are to have a contest, I hope he mayn't win.'
'Of course you do. And he shan't win. Nor shall the great Du Boung. You shall win, and become Prime Minister, and make me a peer. Would you like papa to be Lord Greshambury?' he said to a little girl, who then rushed into the room.
'No, I wouldn't. I'd like my papa to give me the pony which the man wants to sell out in the yard.'
'She's quite right, Fletcher,' said the squire, 'I'm much more likely to be able to buy them ponies as simple Frank Gresham than I should be if I had a lord's coronet to pay for.'
This was on a Saturday, and on the following Monday Mr Gresham drove the candidate over to Silverbridge and started him on his work of canvassing. Mr Du Boung had been busy ever since Mr Sprout's brilliant suggestion had been made, and Lopez had been in the field even before him. Each one of the candidates called at the house of every elector in the borough, - and every man in the borough was an elector. When they had been at work for four or five days each candidate assured the borough that he had already received promises of votes sufficient to insure his success, and each candidate was as anxious as ever, - nay was more rabidly anxious than ever, - to secure the promise of a single vote. Hints were made by honest citizens of the pleasure they would have in supporting this or that gentleman, - for the honest citizens assured one gentleman after the other of the satisfaction they had in seeing so all-sufficient a candidate in the borough, - if the smallest pecuniary help were given them, even a day's pay, so that their poor children might not be injured by their going to the poll. But the candidates and their agents were stern in their replies to such temptations. 'That's a dodge of the rascal Sprout,' said Sprugeon to Mr Lopez. 'That's one of Sprout's men. If he could get half-a-crown from you it would be all up with us.' But tough Sprugeon called Sprout a rascal, he laid it in the same bait both for Du Boung and for Fletcher; - but laid it in vain. Everybody said that it was a very clean election. 'A brewer standing, and the devil a glass of beer!' said one old elector who had remembered better things when the borough never heard of a contest.
On the third day of his canvass Arthur Fletcher with his gang of agents and followers behind him met Lopez with his gang in the street. It was probable that they would so meet, and Fletcher had resolved what he would do when such a meeting took place. He walked up to Lopez, and with a kindly smile offered his hand. The two men, though they had never been intimate, had known each other, and Fletcher was determined to show that he would not quarrel with a man because that man had been his favoured rival. In comparison with that other matter this affair of the candidature was of course trivial. But Lopez who had, as the reader may remember, made some threat about a horsewhip, had come to a resolution of a very different nature. He put his arms akimbo, resting his hands on his hips, and altogether declined to proffered civility. 'You had better walk on,' he said, and then stood, scowling, on the spot till the other should pass by. Fletcher looked at him for a moment, then bowed and passed on. At least a dozen men saw what had taken place, and were aware that Mr Lopez had expressed his determination to quarrel personally with Mr Fletcher, in opposition to Mr Fletcher's expressed wish for amity. And before they had gone to bed that night all the dozen knew the reason why. Of course there was someone at Silverbridge clever enough to find out that Arthur Fletcher had been in love with Miss Wharton, but that Miss Wharton had lately been married to Mr Lopez. No doubt the incident added a pleasurable emotion to the excitement caused by the election at Silverbridge generally. A personal quarrel is attractive everywhere. The expectation of such an occurrence will bring together the whole House of Commons. And of course this quarrel was very attractive at Silverbridge. There were some Fletcherites and Lopezites in the quarrel; as there were able Du Boungites, who maintained that when gentlemen could not canvass without quarrelling in the streets they were manifestly unfit to represent such a borough as Silverbridge in Parliament; - and that therefore Mr Du Boung should be returned.
Mr Gresham was in the town that day, though not till after the occurrence, and Fletcher could not avoid speaking of it. 'The man must be a cur,' said Gresham.
'It would make no difference in the world to me,' said Arthur, struggling hard to prevent signs of emotion from showing themselves in his face, 'were it not that he has married a lady whom I have long known and whom I greatly esteem.' He felt that he could hardly avoid all mention of the marriage, and yet he was determined that he would say no word that his brother would call 'howling'.
'There has been no previous quarrel, or offence?' asked Gresham.
'None in the least.' When Arthur so spoke he forgot altogether the letter he had written; nor, had he then remembered it, would he have thought it possible that that letter should have given offence. He had been the sufferer, not Lopez. This man had robbed him of his happiness; and, though it would have been foolish in him to make a quarrel for a grievance such as that, there might have been some excuse had he done so. It had taken him some time to perceive that greatly as this man had injured him, there had been no injustice done to him, and that therefore there should be no complaint made by him. But that this other man should complain was to him unintelligible.
'He is not worth your notice,' said Mr Gresham. 'He is simply not a gentleman, and does not know how to behave himself. I am very sorry for the young lady; - that's all.' At this allusion to Emily Arthur felt his face become red with rising blood; and he felt also that his friend should not have spoken thus openly, - this irreverently, - on so sacred a subject. But at the moment he said nothing further. As far as his canvass was concerned it had been successful, and he was beginning to feel sure that he would be the new member. He endeavoured therefore to drown his sorrow in this coming triumph.
But Lopez had been by no means gratified with his canvass or with the conduct of the borough generally. He had already begun to feel that the Duchess and Mr Sprugeon and the borough had thrown him over shamefully. Immediately on his arrival in Silverbridge a local attorney had with the blandest possible smile asked him for a cheque for 500 pounds. Of course there must be money spent at once, and of course the money must come out of the candidate's pocket. He had known all this beforehand, and yet the demand for the money had come upon him as an injury. He gave the cheque, but showed clearly by his manner that he resented the application. This did not tend to bind him more closely to the services of those who were present when the demand was made. And then, as he began his canvass, he found that he could not conjure at all with the name of the Duke, or even with that of the Duchess; and was told on the second day by Mr Sprugeon himself that he had better fight the battle 'on his own hook'. Now his own hook in Silverbridge was certainly not a strong hook. Mr Sprugeon was still of the opinion that a good deal might be done by judicious manipulation, and went so far as to suggest that another cheque for 500 pounds in the hands of Mr Wise, the lawyer, would be effective. But Lopez did not give the other cheque, and Sprugeon whispered to him that the Duke had been too many for the Duchess. Still he had persevered, and a set of understrappers around him, who would make nothing out of the election without his candidature, assured him from time to time that he would even as yet come out all right at the ballot. But, on the morning of the day on which he met Fletcher in the street, Mr Du Boung had called upon him accompanied by two of the Du Boung agents and by Mr Sprugeon himself, - and had suggested that he, Lopez, should withdraw from the contest, so that Du Boung might be returned, and that the 'liberal interests' of the borough might not be sacrificed.
This was a heavy blow, and one which Ferdinand Lopez was not the man to bear with equanimity. From the moment in which the Duchess had mentioned the borough to him, he had regarded the thing as certain. After a while he had understood that his return must be accompanied by more trouble and greater expense than he had at first anticipated; - but still he had thought that it was all but sure. He had altogether misunderstood the nature of the influence exercised by the Duchess, and the nature also of the Duke's resolution. Mr Sprugeon had of course wished to have a candidate, and had allured him. Perhaps he had in some degree been ill-treated by the borough. But he was a man, whom the feeling of injustice to himself would drive him almost to frenzy, though he never measured the amount of his own injustice to others. When the proposition was made to him, he scowled at them all, and declared that he would fight the borough to the last. 'Then you'll let Mr Fletcher in to a certainty.'said Mr Sprout. Now there was an idea in the borough that, although all the candidates were ready to support the Duke's government, Mr Du Boung and Mr Lopez were the two Liberals. Mr Du Boung was sitting in the room when the appeal was made, and declared that he feared that such would be the result. 'I'll tell you what I'll do,' said Lopez. 'I'll toss up which of us retires.' Mr Sprout, on behalf of Mr Du Boung, protested against that proposition. Mr Du Boung, who was a gentleman of great local influence, was in possession of four-fifths of the liberal interests in the borough. Even were he to retire, Mr Lopez could not get in. Mr Sprout declared that this was known to all the borough at large. He, Sprout, was sorry that a gentleman like Mr Lopez should have been brought down there under false ideas. He had all through told Mr Sprugeon that the Duke had been in earnest, but Mr Sprugeon had not comprehended the position. It had been a pity. But anybody who understood the borough could see with one eye that Mr Lopez had not a chance. If Mr Lopez would retire Mr Du Boung would no doubt be returned. If Mr Lopez went to the poll, Mr Fletcher would probably be the new member. This was the picture as it was painted by Mr Sprout, - who had, even then, heard something of the loves of the two candidates, and who had thought that Lopez would be glad to injure Arthur Fletcher's chances of success. So far he was not wrong; - but the sense of injury done to himself oppressed Lopez so much that he could not guide himself by reason. The idea of retiring was very painful to him, and he did not believe these men. He thought it to be quite possible that they were there to facilitate the return of Arthur Fletcher. He had never even heard of Du Boung till he had come to Silverbridge two or three days ago. He still could not believe that Du Boung would be returned. He thought over it all for a moment, and then he gave his answer. 'I've been brought down here to fight, and I'll fight it to the last,' he said. 'Then you'll hand over the borough to Mr Fletcher,' said Sprout, getting up and ushering Mr Du Boung out of the room.
It was after that, but on the same day, that Lopez and Fletcher met each other in the street. The affair did not take a minute, and then they parted, each on his own way. In the course of the evening Mr Sprugeon told his candidate that he, Sprugeon, could not concern himself any further in that election. He was very sorry for what had occurred, - very sorry indeed. It was no doubt a pity that the Duke had been so firm. 'But,' - and Mr Sprugeon shrugged his shoulders as he spoke, - 'when a nobleman like the Duke chooses to have a way of his own, he must have it.' Mr Sprugeon went on to declare that any further candidature would be a waste of money, waste of time, and waste of energy, and then signified his intention of retiring, as far as the election went, into private life. When asked, he acknowledged that they who had been acting with him had come to the same resolve. Mr Lopez had in fact come there as the Duke's nominee, and as the Duke had no nominee, Mr Lopez was in fact 'nowhere'.
'I don't' suppose that any man was ever so treated before, since members were first returned to Parliament,' said Lopez.
'Well, sir; - yes, sir; it is a little hard. But, you see, sir, her Grace meant the best. Her Grace did mean the best, no doubt. It may be, sir, there was a little misunderstanding; - a little misunderstanding at the Castle, sir.' Then Mr Sprugeon retired, and Lopez understood that he was to see nothing more of the ironmonger.
Of course there was nothing for him now but to retire; - to shake the dust off his feet and get out of Silverbridge as quickly as he could. But his friends had all deserted him and he did not know how to retire. He had paid 500 pounds, and he had a strong opinion that a portion at least of the money should be returned to him. He had a keen sense of ill-usage, and at the same time a feeling that he ought not to run out of the borough like a whipt dog, without showing his face to any one. But his strongest suspicion at this moment was one of hatred against Arthur Fletcher. He was sure that Arthur Fletcher would be the new member. He did not put the least trust in Mr Du Boung. He had taught himself really to think that Fletcher had insulted him by writing to his wife, and that a further insult had been offered to him at that meeting in the street. He had told his wife that he would ask Fletcher to give up the borough, and that he would make the request with a horsewhip in his hand. It was too late now to say anything of the borough, but it might not be too late for the horsewhip. He had a great desire to make good that threat as far as the horsewhip was concerned, - having an idea that he would thus lower Fletcher in his wife's eyes. It was not that he was jealous, - not jealous in the ordinary meaning of the word. His wife's love to himself had been too recently given and too warmly maintained for such a feeling as that. But there was a rancorous hatred in his heart against the man, and a conviction that his wife at any rate esteemed a man whom he hated. And then would he not make his retreat from the borough with more honour if before he left he could horsewhip his successful antagonist? We, who know the feeling of Englishmen generally better than Mr Lopez did, would say - certainly not. We would think that such an incident would by no means redound to the credit of Mr Lopez. And he himself, probably, at cooler moments, would have seen the folly of such an idea. But anger about the borough had driven him mad, and now in his wretchedness the suggestion had for him a certain charm. The man had outraged all propriety by writing to his wife. Of course he would be justified in horsewhipping him. But there were difficulties. A man is not horsewhipped simply because you wish to horsewhip him.
In the evening, as he was sitting alone, he got a note from Mr Sprugeon. 'Mr Sprugeon's compliments. Doesn't Mr Lopez think an address to the electors should appear in tomorrow's "Gazette",-very short and easy; - something like the following.' Then Mr Sprugeon added a very 'short and easy letter' to the electors of the borough of Silverbridge, in which Mr Lopez was supposed to tell them that although his canvass had promised him every success, he felt that he owed it to the borough to retire, lest he should injure the borough by splitting the Liberal interest with their much respected fellow-townsman, Mr Du Boung. In the course of the evening he did copy that letter, and sent it out to the newspaper office. He must retire, and it was better for him that he should retire after some recognized fashion. But he wrote another letter also, and sent it over to the opposition hotel. The other letter was as follows:
Before this election began you were guilty of gross impertinence in writing a letter to my wife, - to her extreme annoyance and to my most justifiable anger. Any gentleman would think that the treatment you had already received at her hands would have served to save her from such insult, but there are men who will never take a lesson without a beating. And now, since you have been here, you have presumed to offer to shake hands with me in the street, though you ought to have known that I should not choose to meet you on friendly terms after what has taken place. I now write to tell you that I shall carry a horsewhip while I am here, and that if I meet you in the streets again before I leave the town I shall use it.
Mr Arthur Fletcher.
This letter he sent at once to his enemy, and then sat late into the night thinking of the threat and the manner in which he would follow it up. If he could only get one fair blow at Fletcher his purpose, he thought, would be achieved. In any matter of horsewhipping the truth hardly ever gets itself correctly known. The man who has given the first blow, is generally supposed to have thrashed the other. What might follow, though it might be inconvenient, must be borne. The man had insulted him by writing to his wife, and the sympathies of the world, he thought, would be with him. To give him his due, it must be owned that he had no personal fear as to the encounter.
That night Arthur Fletcher had gone over the Greshambury, and on the following morning he returned with Mr Gresham. 'For heaven's sake, look at that!' he said, handing the letter to his friend.
'Did you ever write to his wife?' asked Gresham, when he read it.
'Yes, - I did. All this is dreadful to me: - dreadful. Well;-you know how it used to be with me. I need not go into all that, need I?'
'Don't say a word more than you think necessary.'
'When you asked me to stand for the place I had not heard that he thought of being a candidate. I wrote and told her so, and told her also that had I known it before I would not have come here.'
'I don't quite see that,' said Gresham.
'Perhaps not; - perhaps I was a fool. But we needn't go into that. At any rate there was no insult to him. I wrote in the simplest language.'
'Looking at it all round I think you had better not have written.'
'You wouldn't say so if you saw the letter. I'm sure you wouldn't. I had known her all my life. My brother is married to her cousin. Oh heavens! we had been all but engaged. I would have done anything for her. Was it not natural that I should tell her? As far as the language was concerned the letter was one to be read at Charing Cross.'
'He says that she was annoyed and insulted.'
'Impossible! It was a letter that any man might have written to any woman.'
'Well; - you have got to take care of yourself at any rate. What will you do?'
'What ought I to do?'
'Go to the police.' Mr Gresham had himself once, when young, thrashed a man who had offended him, and had then thought himself much aggrieved because the police had been called in. But that had been twenty years ago, and Mr Gresham's opinions had been matured and, perhaps, corrected by age.'
'No; I won't do that,' said Arthur Fletcher.
'That's what you ought to do.'
'I couldn't do that.'
'Then take no notice of the letter, and carry a fairly big stick. It should be big enough to hurt him a good deal, but not to do him any serious damage.' At that moment an agent came in with the news of the man's retirement from the contest. 'Has he left the town?' asked Gresham. No; - he had not left the town, nor had he been seen by any one that morning. 'You had better let me go out and get the stick, before you show yourself,' said Gresham. And so the stick was selected.
As the two walked down the street together, almost the first thing they saw was Lopez standing at his hotel door with a cutting whip in his hand. He was at that moment quite alone, but on the opposite side of the street was a policeman, - one of the borough constables, - very slowly making his way along the pavement. His movement, indeed, was so slow that anyone watching him would have come to the conclusion that that particular part of the High Street had some attraction for him at that special moment. Alas, alas! How age will alter the spirit of a man! Twenty years since Frank Gresham would have thought any one to be a mean miscreant who would have interposed a policeman between him and his foe. But it is to be feared that while selecting that stick he had said a word which was causing the constable to loiter on the pavement!
'Do you usually walk around attended by a policeman?' said Lopez.
'I didn't know that the man was here,' said Fletcher.
'You may tell that to the marines. All the borough shall know what a coward you are.' Then he turned round and addressed the street, but still under the shadow, as it were, of the policeman's helmet. 'This man who presumes to offer himself as a candidate to represent Silverbridge in Parliament has insulted my wife. And now, because he fears that I shall horsewhip him, he goes about the street under the care of a policeman.'
'This is intolerable,' said Fletcher, turning to his friend.
'Mr Lopez,' said Gresham. 'I am sorry to say that I must give you in charge; - unless you will undertake to leave the town without interfering further with Mr Fletcher, either by word or deed.'
'I will undertake nothing,' said Lopez. 'The man has insulted my wife, and is a coward.'
About two o'clock on the afternoon of that day Mr Lopez appeared before the Silverbridge bench of magistrates, and was there sworn to keep the peace to Mr Fletcher for the next six months. After that he was allowed to leave the town, and was back in London with his wife in Belgrave Mansions, to dinner that evening.
On the day but one after this the ballot was taken and at eight o'clock on the evening of that day Arthur Fletcher was declared to be duly elected. But Mr Du Boung ran him very hard.
The numbers were -
FLETCHER . . . . . . .315
DU BOUNG . . . . . . .308
Mr Du Boung's friends during these last two days had not hesitated to make what use they could on behalf of their own candidate of the Lopez and Fletcher quarrel. If Mr Fletcher had insulted he other man's wife, surely he could not be a proper member for Silverbridge. And then the row was declared to have been altogether discreditable. Two strangers had come into this peaceful town and had absolutely quarrelled with sticks and whips in the street, calling each other opprobrious names. Would it not be better that they should elect their own respectable townsman? All this was nearly effective. But, in spite of all, Arthur Fletcher was at last returned.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 35 LOPEZ BACK IN LONDON.