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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



Lopez, as he returned to town, recovered something of his senses, though he still fancied that Arthur Fletcher had done him a positive injury by writing to his wife. But something of that madness left him which had come from a deep sense of injury, both as to the letter and as to the borough, and he began to feel that he had been wrong about the horsewhip. He was very low in spirits on this return journey. The money which he had spent had been material to him, and the loss of it for the moment left him nearly bare. While he had before his eyes the hope of being a member of Parliament he had been able to buoy himself up. The position itself would have gone very far with Sexty Parker, and would, he thought, have had some effect even with his father-inlaw. But now he was returning a beaten man. Who is there that has not felt that fall from high hope to utter despair which comes from some single failure? As he thought of this he was conscious that his anger had led him into great imprudence at Silverbridge. He had not been circumspect, as it specially behoved a man to be surrounded by such difficulties as his. All his life he had been schooling his temper so as to keep it under control, - sometimes with great difficulty, but always with a consciousness that in his life everything might depend on it. Now he had, alas, allowed it to get the better of him. No doubt he had been insulted, - but, nevertheless, he had been wrong to speak of a horsewhip.

His one great object must now be to conciliate his father-in-law, and he had certainly increased his difficulty in doing this by his squabble down at Silverbridge. Of course the whole thing would be reported in the London papers, and of course the story would be told against him, as the respectabilities of the town had been opposed to him. But he knew himself to be clever, and he still hoped that he might overcome these difficulties. Then it occurred to him that in doing this he must take care to have his wife entirely on his side. He did not doubt her love; he did not in the least doubt her rectitude - but there was that lamentable fact that she thought well of Arthur Fletcher. It might be that he had been a little too imperious with his wife. It suited his disposition to be imperious within his own household; - to be imperious out of it, if that were possible;-but he was conscious of having had a fall at Silverbridge, and he must for a while take in some sail.

He had telegraphed to her, acquainting her with his defeat, and telling her to expect his return. 'Oh, Ferdinand,' she said, 'I am so unhappy about this. It has made me so wretched!'

'Better luck next time,' he said with his sweetest smile. 'It is not good groaning over spilt milk. They haven't treated me really well, - have they?'

'I suppose not, - though I do not quite understand it all.'

He was burning to abuse Arthur Fletcher, but he abstained. He would abstain at any rate for the present moment. 'Dukes and duchesses are no doubt very grand people,' he said, 'but it is a pity they should not know now to behave honestly, as they expect others to behave to them. The Duchess has thrown me over in the most infernal way. I really can't understand it. When I think of it I am in wonder. The truth, I suppose, is, that there has been some quarrel between him and her.'

'Who will get in?'

'Oh Du Boung, no doubt.' He did not think so, but he could not bring himself to declare the success of his enemy to her. 'The people there know him. Your old friend is as much a stranger there as I am. By-the-way, he and I had a little row in the place.'

'A row, Ferdinand?'

'You needn't look like that, my pet. I haven't killed him. But he came up to speak to me in the street, and I told him what I thought about his writing to you.' On hearing this Emily looked very wretched. 'I could not restrain myself from doing that. Come, - you must admit that he shouldn't have written.'

'He meant it in kindness.'

'Then he shouldn't have meant it. Just think of it. Suppose that I had making up to any girl, - which by-the-way I never did but to one in my life,' - then he put his arm round her waist and kissed her, 'and she were to have married someone else. What would have been said of me if I had begun to correspond with her immediately? Don't suppose I am blaming you, dear.'

'Certainly I do not suppose that,' said Emily.

'But you must admit that it was rather strong.' He paused, but she said nothing. 'Only I suppose you can bring yourself to admit nothing against him. However, so it was. There was a row, and a policeman came up, and they made me give a promise that I didn't mean to shoot him or anything of that kind.' As she heard this she turned pale, but said nothing. 'Of course I didn't want to shoot him. I wished him to know what I thought about it, and I told him. I hate to trouble you with all this, but I couldn't bear that you shouldn't know it all.'

'It is very sad!'

'Sad enough! I have had plenty to bear I can tell you. Everybody seemed to turn away from me there. Everybody deserted me.' As he said this he could perceive that he must obtain her sympathy by recounting his own miseries and not Arthur Fletcher's sins. 'I was all alone and hardly knew how to hold up my head against so much wretchedness. And then I found myself called upon to pay an enormous sum for my expenses.'

'Oh, Ferdinand!'

'Think of their demanding 500 pounds!'

'Did you pay it?'

'Yes, indeed. I had no alternative. Of course they took care to come for that before they talked of my resigning. I believe it was all planned beforehand. The whole thing seems to me to have been a swindle from beginning to end. By heaven, I'm almost inclined to think that the Duchess knew all about it herself!'

'About the 500 pounds!'

'Perhaps not the exact sum, but the way in which the thing was to be done. In these days one doesn't know whom to trust. Men, and women too, have become so dishonest that nobody is safe anywhere. It has been awfully hard upon me, - awfully hard. I don't suppose that there was ever a moment in my life when the loss of 500 pounds would have been so much to me as it is now. The question is, what will your father do for us?' Emily could not but remember her husband's intense desire to obtain money from her father not yet three months since, as though all the world depended on his getting it, - and his subsequent elation as though all his sorrows were over for ever, because the money had been promised. And now, - almost immediately, - he was again in the same position. She endeavoured to judge him kindly, but a feeling of insecurity in reference to his affairs struck her at once and made her heart cold. Everything had been achieved, then, by a gift of 3,000 pounds, - surely a small sum to effect such a result with a man living as her husband lived. And now the whole 3,000 pounds was gone; - surely a large sum to have vanished in so short a time! Something of the uncertainty of business she could understand, but a business must be perilously uncertain if subject to such vicissitudes as these! But as ideas of this nature crowded themselves into her mind she told herself again and again that she had taken him for better and for worse. If the worse were already coming, she would still be true to her promise. 'You had better tell papa everything.'

'Had it not better come from you?'

'No, Ferdinand. Of course I will do as you bid me. I will do anything that I can do. But you had better tell him. His nature is such that he will respect you more if it come from yourself. And then it is so necessary that he should know all; - all.' She put whatever emphasis she knew how to use upon this word.

'You could tell him - all, as well as I.'

'You would not bring yourself to tell it to me, nor could I understand it. He will understand everything, and if he thinks that you have told him everything, he will at any rate respect you.'

He sat silent for a while meditating, feeling always more and more acutely that he had been ill-used, - never thinking for an instant that he had ill-used others. '3,000 pounds, you know, was no fortune for your father to give you!' She had no answer to make, but she groaned in spirit as she heard the accusation. 'Don't you feel that yourself?'

'I know nothing of money, Ferdinand. If you had told me to speak to him about it before we were married, I would have done so.'

'He ought to have spoken to me. It is marvellous how closefisted an old man can be. He can't take it with him.' Then he sat for half an hour in moody silence, during which she was busy with her needle. After that he jumped up, with a manner altogether altered, - gay, only that the attempt was too visible to deceive even her, - and shook himself, as though he were ridding himself of his trouble. 'You are right, old girl. You are always right, - almost. I will go to your father to-morrow, and tell him everything. It isn't so very much that I want him to do. Things will all come right again. I'm ashamed that you should have seen me in this way, - but I have been disappointed about the election, and troubled about that Mr Fletcher. You shall not see me give way again like this. Give me a kiss, old girl.'

She kissed him, but she could not even pretend to recover her self as he had done. 'Had we not better give up the brougham?' she said.

'Certainly not. For heaven's sake do not speak in that way! You do not understand things.'

'No; certainly I do not.'

'It isn't that I haven't the means of living, but that my business money is so often required for instant use. And situated as I am at the present an addition to my capital would enable me to do so much!' She certainly did not understand it, but she had sufficient knowledge of the world and sufficient common sense to be aware that their present rate of expenditure ought to be a matter of importance to a man who felt the loss of 500 pounds as he felt that loss at Silverbridge.

On the next morning Lopez was at Mr Wharton's chambers early,-so early that the lawyer had not yet reached them. He had resolved, - not that he would tell everything, for such men never even intend to tell everything, - but that he would tell a good deal. He must, if possible, affect the mind of the old man in two ways. He must ingratiate himself; - and at the same time make it understood that Emily's comfort in life would depend very much on her father's generosity. The first must be first accomplished, if possible, - and then the second, as to which he could certainly produce at any rate belief. He had not married a rich man's daughter without an intention of getting the rich man's money! Mr Wharton would understand that. If the worst came to the worst, Mr Wharton must of course maintain his daughter, - and his daughter's husband! But things had not come to the worst as yet, and he did not intend on the present occasion to present that view of his affairs to his father-in-law.

Mr Wharton when he entered his chambers found Lopez seated there. He was himself at this moment very unhappy. He had renewed his quarrel with Everett, - or Everett rather had renewed the quarrel with him. There had been words between them about money lost at cards. Hard words had been used, and Everett had told his father that if either of them were a gambler it was not he. Mr Wharton had resented this bitterly and had driven his son from his presence, - and now the quarrel with him had made him very wretched. He certainly was sorry that he had called his son a gambler, but his son had been, as he thought, inexcusable in the retort which he had made. He was a man to whom his friends gave credit for much sternness; - but still he was one who certainly had no happiness in the world independent of his children. His daughter had left him, not as he thought under happy auspices,-and he was now, at this moment, soft-hearted and tender in his regards as to her. What was there in the world for him but his children? And now he felt himself to be alone and destitute. He was already tired of whist at the Eldon. That which would have been a delight to him once or twice a week, became almost loathsome when it was renewed from day to day; - and not the less when his son told him that he also was a gambler. 'So you have come back from Silverbridge?' he said.

'Yes, sir; I have come back not exactly triumphant. A man should not expect to win always.' Lopez had resolved to pluck up his spirit and carry himself like a man.

'You seem to have got into some scrape down there, besides losing your election.'

'Oh; you have seen that in the papers already. I have come to tell you of it. As Emily is concerned in it you ought to know.'

'Emily concerned! How is she concerned?'

Then Lopez told the whole story, - after his own fashion, and yet with no palpable lie. Fletcher had written to her a letter which he had thought to be very offensive. On hearing this, Mr Wharton looked very grave, and asked for the letter. Lopez said that he had destroyed it, not thinking that such a document should be preserved. Then he went on to explain that it had had reference to the election, and that he had thought it to be highly improper that Fletcher should write to his wife on that or on any other subject. 'It depends very much on the letter,' said the old man.

'But on any subject, - after what has passed.'

'They were very old friends.'

'Of course I will not agree with you, Mr Wharton; but I own that it angered me. It angered me very much, - very much indeed. I took it to be an insult to her, and when he accosted me in the street down at Silverbridge I told him so. I may not have been very wise, but I did it on her behalf. Surely you can understand that such a letter might make a man angry.'

'What did he say?'

'That he would do anything for her sake, - even retire from Silverbridge if his friends would let him.' Mr Wharton scratched his head, and Lopez saw that he was perplexed. 'Should he have offered to do anything for her sake, after what has passed?'

'I know the man so well,' said Mr Wharton, 'that I cannot and do not believe him to have harboured an improper thought in reference to my child.'

'Perhaps it was an indiscretion only.'

'Perhaps so. I cannot say. And then they took you before the magistrates?'

'Yes, - in my anger I had threatened him. Then there was a policeman and a row. And I had to swear that I would not hurt him. Of course I had no wish to hurt him.'

'I suppose it ruined your chance at Silverbridge?'

'I suppose it did.' This was a lie, as Lopez had retired before the row took place. 'What I care for most now is that you should think I have misbehaved myself.'

The story had been told very well, and Mr Wharton was almost disposed to sympathize with his son-in-law. That Arthur Fletcher had meant nothing that could be regarded as offensive to his daughter he was quite sure; - but it might be that in making an offer intended to be generous he had used language which the condition of the persons concerned made indiscreet. 'I suppose,' he said, 'that you spent a lot of money at Silverbridge?' This gave Lopez the opening he wanted, and he described the manner in which the 500 pounds had been extracted from him. 'You can't play that game for nothing,' said Mr Wharton.

'And just at present I could ill afford it. I should not have done it if I had not felt it a pity to neglect such a chance of rising in the world. After all, a seat in the British House of Commons is an honour.'

'Yes; - yes; - yes.'

'And the Duchess, when she spoke to me about it, was so certain.'

'I will pay the 500 pounds,' said Mr Wharton.

'Oh, sir, that is generous!' Then he got up and took the old man's hands. 'Some day, when you are at liberty, I hope that you will allow me to explain to you the exact state of my affairs. When I wrote to you from Como I told you that I would wish to do so. You do not object?'

'No,' said the lawyer, - but with infinite hesitation in his voice. 'No, I don't object. But I do not know how I could serve them. I shall be busy just now, but I will give you the cheque. And if you and Emily have nothing better to do, come and dine tomorrow.' Lopez with real tears in his eyes took the cheque, and promised to come on the morrow. 'And in the meantime I wish you would see Everett.' Of course he promised that he would see Everett.

Again he was exalted, on this occasion not so much by the acquisition of the money as by the growing conviction that his father-in-law was a cow capable of being milked. And the quarrel between Everett and his father might clearly be useful to him. He might either serve the old man by reducing Everett to proper submission, or he might manage to creep into the empty space which his son's defection would make in the father's heart and the father's life. He might at any rate make himself necessary to the old man, and become such a part of the household in Manchester Square as to be indispensable. Then the old man would every day become older and more in want of assistance. He thought that he saw the way to worm himself into confidence, and, so on into possession. The old man was not a man of iron as he had feared, but quite human, and if properly managed, soft and malleable.

He saw Sexty Parker in the city that day, and used his cheque for 500 pounds in some triumphant way, partly cajoling and partly bullying his poor victim. To Sexty also he had to tell his own story about the row down at Silverbridge. He had threatened to thrash the fellow in the street, and the fellow had not dared to come out of his house without a policeman. Yes; - he had lost his election. The swindling of those fellows at Silverbridge had been too much for him. But he flattered himself that he had got the better of Master Fletcher. That was the tone in which he told the story to his friend in the city.

Then, before dinner, he found Everett at the club. Everett Wharton was to be found there now almost every day. His excuse to himself lay in the political character of the institution. The club intended to do great things, - to find Liberal candidates for all the boroughs and counties in England which had not hitherto been furnished, and then to supply the candidates with money. Such was the great purpose of the Progress. It had not as yet sent out many candidates or collected much money. And yet it was, politically, almost quiescent. And therefore Everett Wharton, whose sense of duty took him there, spent his afternoons either in the whist-room or at the billiard-table.

The story of Silverbridge had to be told yet again, and was told nearly with the same incidents as had been narrated to the father. He could of course abuse Arthur Fletcher more roundly, and be more confident in the assertion that Fletcher had insulted his wife. But he came as quickly as he could to the task which he had on hand. 'What's all this between you and your father?'

'Simply this. I sometimes play a game of whist, and therefore he called me a gambler. Then I reminded him that he also sometimes played a game of whist, and I asked him what deduction was to be drawn.'

'He is awfully angry with you.'

'Of course I was a fool. My father has the whip-hand of me, because he has money and I have none, and it was simply kicking against the pricks to speak as I did. And then too there isn't a fellow in London has a higher respect for his father than I have, not yet a warmer affection. But it is hard to be driven in that way. Gambler is a nasty word.'

'Yes, it is very nasty. But I suppose a man does gamble when he loses so much money that he has to ask his father to pay it for him.'

'If he does so often, he gambles. I never asked him for money to pay what I had lost before in my life.'

'I wonder you told him.'

'I never lie to him, and he ought to know that. But he is just the man to be harder to his own son than to anybody else in the world. What does he want me to do now?'

'I don't know that he wants you to do anything,' said Lopez.

'Did he send you to me?'

'Well; - no; I can't say that he did. I told him that I should see you as a matter of course, and he said something rough,-about your being an ass.'

'I dare say he did.'

'But if you ask me,' said Lopez, 'I think he would take it kindly of you if you were to go and see him. Come and dine to-day, just as if nothing had happened.'

'I could not do that, - unless he asked me.'

'I can't say that he asked you, Everett, I would say so, in spite of its being a lie, if I didn't fear that your father might say something unkind, so that the lie would be detected by both of you.'

'And yet you ask me to go and dine there!'

'Yes, I do. It's only going away if he does cut up rough. And if he takes it well, - why then, - the whole thing is done.'

'If he wants me, he can ask me.'

'You talk about it, my boy, just as if a father were the same as anybody else. If I had a father with a lot of money, by George he should knock me about with his stick if he liked, and I would be just the same next day.'

'Unfortunately I am of a stiffer nature,' said Everett, taking some pride to himself for his stiffness, and being perhaps as little 'stiff' as any young man of his day.

That evening after dinner at Manchester Square, the conversation between the father-in-law and the son-in-law turned almost exclusively to the son and brother-in-law. Little or nothing was said about the election, and the name of Arthur Fletcher was not mentioned. But out of his full heart the father spoke. He was wretched about Everett. Did Everett mean to cut him?

'He wants you to withdraw some name you called him,' said Lopez.

'Withdraw some name, - as he might ask some hot-headed fellow to do, if his own age, like himself, some fellow that he had quarrelled with! Does he expect his father to send him a written apology? He had been gambling, and I told him that he was a gambler. Is that too much for a father to say?' Lopez shrugged his shoulders, and declared that it was a pity. 'He will break my heart if he goes on like this,' said the old man.

'I asked him to come and dine to-day, but he didn't seem to like it.'

'Like it! No. He likes nothing but that infernal club.'

When the evening was over Lopez felt that he had done a good stroke of work. He had not exactly made up his mind to keep the father and son apart. That was not a part of his strategy, - at any rate as yet. But he did intend to make himself necessary to the old man, - to become the old man's son, and if possible the favourite son. And now he thought that he had already done much towards the achievement of his object.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 36 THE JOLLY BLACKBIRD.

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