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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



As they strolled home Lopez told his wife that he had accepted an invitation to dine the next day at the Parker's cottage. In doing this his manner was not quite so gentle as when he had asked her to call on them. He had been a little ruffled by what had been said, and now exhibited his temper. 'I don't suppose it will be very nice,' he said, 'but we may have to put up with worse things than that.'

'I have made no objection.'

'But you don't seem to take it very cordially.'

'I had thought I had got on very well with Mrs Parker. If you can eat your dinner with them, I'm sure I can. You do not seem to like him altogether, and I wish you had got a partner more to your taste.'

'Taste indeed! When you come to this kind of thing it isn't a matter of taste. The fact is, that I am in the fellow's hands to an extent I don't like to think of, and don't see my way out of it unless your father will do as he ought to do. You altogether refuse to help me with your father, and you must, therefore, put up with Sexty Parker and his wife. It is quite on the cards that worse things may come even than Sexty Parker.' To this she made no immediate answer, but walked on, increasing her pace, not only unhappy, but also very angry. It was becoming a matter of doubt to her whether she could continue to bear the repeated attacks about her father's money. 'I can see how it is,' he continued. 'You think that a husband should bear all the troubles of life, and that a wife should never be made to hear of them.'

'Ferdinand,' she said, 'I declare I did not think that any man could be so unfair to a woman as you are to me.'

'Of course! Because I haven't got thousands a year to spend on you I am unfair.'

'I am content to live in any way that you may direct. If you are poor, I am satisfied to be poor. If you are even ruined, I am content to be ruined.'

'Who is talking about ruin?'

'If you are in want of everything, I also will be in want and will never complain. Whatever our joint lot may bring to us I will endure and endeavour to endure with cheerfulness. But I will not ask my father for money, either for you or for myself. He knows what he ought to do. I trust him implicitly.'

'And me not at all.'

'He is, I know, in communication with you about what should be done. I can only say, - tell him everything.'

'My dear, that is a matter in which it may be possible that I understand my own interest best.'

'Very likely. I certainly understand nothing, for I do not even know the nature of your business. How can I tell him that he ought to give you money?'

'You might have asked him for your own.'

'I have got nothing. Did I ever tell you that I had?'

'You ought to have known.'

'Do you mean that when you asked me to marry you I should have refused you because I did not know what money my papa would give me? Why did you not ask papa?'

'Had I known him then as well as I do now you may be quite sure that I should have done so.'

'Ferdinand, it will be better that we should not speak about my father. I will in all things strive to do as you would have me, but I cannot hear him abused. If you have anything to say, go to Everett.'

'Yes; - when he is such a gambler that your father won't even speak to him. Your father will be found dead in bed some day, and all his money will have been left to some cursed hospital.' They were at their own door when this was said, and she, without further answer, went up to her bedroom.

All these bitter things had been said, not because Lopez had thought that he could further his own views by saying them; - he knew indeed that he was injuring himself by every display of illtemper; - but she was in his power, and Sexty Parker was rebelling. He thought a good deal that day on the delight he would have in 'kicking that ill-conditioned cur', if only he could afford to kick him. But is wife was his own, and she must be taught to endure his will, and must be made to know that though she was not to be kicked, yet she was to be tormented and ill-used. And it might be possible that he should cow her spirits as to bring her to act as she should direct. Still, as he walked alone along the sea-shore, he knew that it would be better for him to control his temper.

On that evening he did write to Mr Wharton, - as follows, - and he dated the letter from Little Tankard Yard, so that Mr Wharton might suppose that that was his own place of business, and that he was there, at his work:

You have asked for a schedule of my affairs, and I have found it quite impossible to give it. As it was with the merchants whom Shakespeare and the other dramatists described, - so it is with me. My caravels are out at sea, and will not always come home in time. My property at this moment consists of certain shares of cargoes of jute, Kauri gum, guano, and sulphur, worth altogether at the present moment something over 26,000 pounds, of which Mr Parker possesses a half; - but then of this property only a portion is paid for, - perhaps something more than a half. For the other half our bills are in the market. But in February next these articles will probably be sold for considerably more than 30,000 pounds. If I had 5,000 pounds placed to my credit now, I should be worth about 15,000 pounds by the end of next February. I am engaged in sundry other smaller ventures, all returning profits; - -but in such a condition of things it is impossible that I should make a schedule.

I am undoubtedly in the condition of a man trading beyond his capital. I have been tempted by fair offers, and what I think I may call something beyond an average understanding of such matters, to go into ventures beyond my means. I have stretched my arm out too far. In such a position it is not perhaps unnatural that I should ask a wealthy father-in-law to assist me. It is certainly not unnatural that I should wish him to do so.

I do not think I am a mercenary man. When I married your daughter I raised no question of her fortune. Being embarked in trade I no doubt thought that her means,- whatever they might be, - would be joined with my own. I know that a sum of 20,000 pounds, with my expeditious use of the money, would give us a noble income. But I would not condescend to ask a question which might lead to a supposition that I was marrying her for her money and not because I loved her.

You now know, I think, all that I can tell you. If there be any other questions I would willingly answer them. It is certainly the case that Emily's fortune, whatever you may choose to give her, would be of infinitely greater use to me now, - and consequently to her, - than at a future date which I sincerely pray may be very long deferred.
Believe me to be, your affectionate son-in-law
A. Wharton, Esq.

This letter he himself took up to town on the following day, and there posted, addressing it to Wharton Hall. He did not expect very great results from it. As he read it over, he was painfully aware that all this trash about caravels and cargoes of sulphur would not go very far with Mr Wharton. But it might go farther than nothing. He was bound not to neglect Mr Wharton's letter to him. When a man is in difficulty about money, even a lie, - even a lie that is sure to be found out to be a lie, - will serve his immediate turn better than silence. There is nothing that the courts hate so much as contempt; - not even perjury. And Lopez felt that Mr Wharton was the judge before whom he was bound to plead.

He returned to Dovercourt on that day, and he and his wife dined with the Parkers. No woman of her age had known better what were the manners of ladies and gentlemen than Emily Wharton. She had thoroughly understood that when in Hertfordshire she was surrounded by people of that class, and that when she was with her aunt, Mrs Roby, she was not quite so happily placed. No doubt she had been terribly deceived by her husband, - but the deceit had come from the fact that his manners gave no indication of his character. When she found herself in Mrs Parker's little sitting-room, with Mr Parker making florid speeches to her, she knew that she had fallen among people for whose society she had not been intended. But this was a part, and only a very trifling part, of the punishment which she felt that she deserved. If that, and things like that, were all, she would bear them without a murmur.

'Now I call Dovercourt a dooced nice little place,' said Mrs Parker, as he helped her to the 'bit fish', which he told her he had brought down with him from London.

'It is very healthy, I should think.

'Just the thing for the children, ma'am. You've none of your own, Mrs Lopez, but there's a good time coming. You were up today, weren't you, Lopez. Any news?'

'Things seemed to be very quiet in the city.'

'Too quiet, I'm afraid. I hate having 'em quiet. You must come and see me in Little Tankard Yard some of these days, Mrs Lopez. We can give you a glass of champagne and the wing of a chicken;-can't we, Lopez?'

'I don't know. It's more than you ever gave me,' said Lopez, trying to look good-humoured.

'But you ain't a lady.'

'Or me,' said Mrs Parker.

'You're only a wife. If Mrs Lopez will make a day of it we'll treat her well in the city; - won't we, Ferdinand?' A black cloud come across 'Ferdinand's' face, but he said nothing. Emily of a sudden drew herself up unconsciously, - and then at once relaxed her features and smiled. If her husband chose that it should be so, she would make no objection.

'Upon my honour, Sexty, you are very familiar,' said Mrs Parker.

'It's a way we have in the city,' said Sexty. Sexty knew what he was about. His partner called him Sexty, and why shouldn't he call his partner Ferdinand?

'He'll call you Emily before long,' said Lopez.

'When you call my wife Jane, I shall, - and I've no objection in life. I don't see why people ain't to call each other by their Christian names. Take a glass of champagne, Mrs Lopez. I brought down half-a-dozen to-day so that we might be jolly. Care killed a cat. Whatever we call each other, I'm very glad to see you here, Mrs Lopez, and I hope it's the first of a great many. Here's to your health.'

It was all his ordering, and if he bade her dine with a crossingsweeper she would do it. But she could not but remember that not long since he had told her that his partner was not a person with whom she could fitly associated; and she did not fail to perceive that he must be going down in the world to admit such associations for her after he had so spoken. And as she sipped the mixture which Sexty called champagne, she thought of Hertfordshire and the banks of the Wye, and - alas, alas, - she thought of Arthur Fletcher. Nevertheless, come what might, she would do her duty, even though it might call upon her to sit at dinner with Mr Parker three days in the week. Lopez was her husband, and would be the father of her child, and she would make herself one with him. It mattered not what people might call him, - or even her. She had acted on her own judgement in marrying him, and had been a fool; and now she would bear the punishment without complaint.

When dinner was over Mrs Parker helped the servant to remove the dinner things from the single sitting-room, and the two men went out to smoke their cigars in the covered porch. Mrs Parker herself took out the whisky and hot water, and sugar and lemons, and then returned to have a little matronly discourse with her guest. 'Does Mr Lopez ever take a drop too much?'

'Never,' said Mrs Lopez.

'Perhaps it don't affect him as it do Sexty. He ain't a drinker; - certainly not. And he's one that works hard every day of his life. But he's getting fond of it these last twelve months, and though he don't take very much it hurries him and flurries him. If I speaks at night he gets cross; - and in the morning when he gets up, which he always do regular, though it's ever so bad with him, then I haven't the heart to scold him. It's very hard sometimes for a wife to know what to do, Mrs Lopez.'

'Yes, indeed.' Emily could not but think how soon she herself had learned that lesson.

'Of course I'd anything for Sexty, - the father of my bairns, and has always been a good husband to me. You don't know him, of course, but I do. A right good man at bottom; but so weak!'

'If he, - if he, - injures his health, shouldn't you talk to him about it?'

'It isn't the drink as is the evil, Mrs Lopez, but that which makes him drink. He's not one as goes a mucker merely for the pleasure. When things are going right he'll sit out in our arbour at home, and smoke pipe after pipe, playing with the children, and one glass of gin and water will see him to bed. Tobacco, dry, do agree with him, I think. But when he comes to three or four goes of hot toddy, I know it's not as it should be.'

'You should restrain him, Mrs Parker.'

'Of course I should; - but how? Am I to walk off with the bottle and disgrace him before the servant girl? Or am I to let the children know as their father takes too much? If I was as much as to make one fight of it, it'd be all over Ponder's End that he's a drunkard; - which he ain't. Restrain him; - oh yes! If I could restrain that gambling instead of regular business. That's what I would like to restrain.'

'Does he gamble?'

'What is it but gambling that he and Mr Lopez is a-doing together? Or course, ma'am, I don't know you, and you are different from me. I ain't foolish enough not to know all that. My father stood in Smithfield and sold hay, and your father is a gentleman as has been high up in the Courts all his life. But it's your husband is a-doing this.'

'Oh, Mrs Parker!'

'He is then. I don't know about commerce, Mrs Lopez, because I'm only a woman; but it can't be fair. They goes and buys things that they haven't got the money to pay for, and then waits to see if they'll turn up trumps. Isn't that gambling?'

'I cannot say. I do not know.' She felt now that her husband had been accused, and that part of that accusation had been levelled at herself. There was something in her manner of saying these few words which the poor complaining woman perceived, feeling immediately that she had been inhospitable and perhaps unjust. She put out her hand softly, touching the other woman's arm, and looking up into her guest's face. 'If this is so, it's terrible,' said Emily.

'Perhaps I shouldn't speak so free.'

'Oh, yes; - for your children, and yourself, and your husband.'

'It's them, - and him. Of course it's not your doing, and Mr Lopez, I'm sure, is a very fine gentleman. And if he gets wrong one way, he'll get himself right in another.' Upon hearing this Emily shook her head. 'Your papa is a rich man, and won't see you and yours come to want. There's nothing more to come to me or Sexty let it be ever so.'

'Why does he do it?'

'Why does who do it?'

'Your husband. Why don't you speak to him as you do to me, and tell him to mind only his proper business?'

'Now you are angry with me.'

'Angry! No; - indeed I am not angry. Every word that you say is good and true, and just what you ought to say. I am not angry; but I am terrified. I know nothing of my husband's business. I cannot tell you that you should trust to it. He is very clever, but-'

'But what, ma'am?'

'Perhaps I should say that he is ambitious.'

'You mean he wants to get rich too quick, ma'am.'

'I'm afraid so.'

'Then it's just the same with Sexty. He's ambitious too. But what's the good of being ambitious, Mrs Lopez, if you never know whether you're on your head or your heels? And what's the good of being ambitious if you're to get into the workhouse? I know what that means. There's one or two of them sort of men gets into Parliament, and has houses as big as the Queen's palace, while hundreds of them has their wives and children in the gutter. Who ever hears of them? Nobody. It don't become any man to be ambitious who has got a wife and family. If he's a bachelor, who, of course, he can go to the Colonies. There's Mary Jane and the two little ones right down on the sea, with their feet in the water. She we put on our hats, Mrs Lopez, and go and look after them?' To this proposition Emily assented, and the two ladies went out after the children.

'Mix yourself another glass,' said Sexty to his partner.

'I'd rather not. Don't ask me again. You know I never drink, and I don't like being pressed.'

'By George, - you're particular.'

'What's the use of teasing a fellow to do a thing he doesn't like?'

'You won't mind me having another?'

'Fifty if you please, so that I'm not forced to join you.'

'Forced! It's liberty 'all here, and you can do as you please. Only when a fellow will take a drop with me, he's better company.'

'Then I'm d-d bad company, and you'd better get somebody else to be jolly with. To tell you the truth, Sexty, I suit you better at business than at this sort of thing. I'm like Shylock, you know.'

'I don't know about Shylock, but I'm blessed if I think you suit me very well at anything. I'm putting up with a deal of illusage, and when I try to be happy with you, you won't drink, and you tell me about Shylock. He was a Jew, wasn't he?'

'That is the general idea.'

'Then you ain't much very like him, for they're the sort of people that always has money about them.'

'How do you suppose he made his money to begin with? What an ass you are!'

'That's true, I am. Ever since I began putting my name on the same bit of paper with yours, I've been an ass.'

'You'll have to be one a bit longer yet; - unless you mean to throw up everything. At this present moment you are six or seven thousand pounds richer than you were before you first met me.'

'I wish I could see the money.'

'That's like you. What's the use of money you can see? How are you to make money out of money by looking at it? I like to know that my money is fructifying.'

'I like to know that it's all there, - and I did know it before I ever saw you. I'm blessed if I know it now. Go down and join the ladies, will you? You ain't much of a companion up here.'

Shortly after that Lopez told Mrs Parker that he had already bade adieu to her husband, and then he took his wife to their own lodgings.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 47 AS FOR LOVE!

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