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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



The time spent by Mrs Lopez at Dovercourt was by no means one of complete happiness. Her husband did not come down very frequently, alleging that his business kept him in town, and that the journey was too long. When he did come he annoyed her either by moroseness or tyranny, or by an affectation of loving goodhumour, which was the more disagreeable alternative of the two. She knew that he had not right to be good-humoured, and she was quite able to appreciate the difference between fictitious love and love that was real. He did not while she was at Dovercourt speak to her again directly about her father's money, - but he gave her to understand that he required from her very close economy. Then again she referred to the brougham which she knew was to be in readiness on her return to London, but he told her that he was the best judge of that. The economy which he demanded was that comfortless heartrending economy which nips the practiser at every turn, but does not betray itself to the world at large. He would have her save out of her washerwoman and linendraper, and yet have a smart gown and go in a brougham. He begrudged her postage stamps, and stopped the subscription at Mudie's, though he insisted on a front seat in the Dovercourt church, paying half a guinea more for it than he would for a place at the side. And then before their sojourn at the place had come to an end he left her for a while absolutely penniless, so that when the butcher and baker called for their money she could not pay them. That was a dreadful calamity to her, and of which she was hardly able to measure the real worth. It had never happened to her before to have to refuse an application for money that was due. In her father's house such a thing, as far as she knew, had never happened. She had sometimes heard that Everett was impecunious, but that had simply indicated an additional call upon her father. When the butcher came the second time she wrote to her husband in an agony. Should she write to her father for a supply? She was sure that her father would not leave them in actual want. Then he sent her a cheque, enclosed in an angry letter. Apply to her father! Had she not learnt as yet that she was to lean upon her father any longer, but simply on him? And was she such a fool as to suppose that a tradesman could not wait a month for his money?

During all this time she had no friend, - no person to whom she could speak, - except Mrs Parker. Mrs Parker was very open and very confidential about the business, really knowing very much more about it than did Mrs Lopez. There was some sympathy and confidence between her and her husband, though they had latterly been much lessened by Sexty's conduct. Mrs Parker talked daily about the business now that her mouth had been opened, and was very clearly of the opinion that it was not a good business. 'Sexty don't think it good himself,' she said.

'Then why does he go on with it?'

'Business is a thing, Mrs Lopez, as people can't drop out of just at a moment. A man gets himself entangled, and must free himself as best he can. I know he's terribly afeard; - and sometimes he does say such things of your husband!' Emily shrunk almost into herself as she heard this. 'You mustn't be angry, for indeed it's better you should know all.'

'I'm not angry; only very unhappy. Surely, Mr Parker could separate himself from Mr Lopez if he pleased?'

'That's what I say to him. Give it up, though it be ever so much as you've got to lose by him. Give it up, and begin again. You've always got your experience, and if it's only a crust you can earn, that's sure and safe. But then he declares that he means to pull through, Mrs Lopez. There shouldn't be no need of pulling through. It should all come just of its own accord,-little and little, but safe.' Then, when the days of their marine holiday were coming to an end, - in the first week in October, - the day before the return of the Parkers to Ponder's End, she made a strong appeal to her new friend. 'You ain't afraid of him, are you?'

'Of my husband?' said Mrs Lopez. 'I hope not. Why should you ask?'

'Believe me, a woman should never be afraid of 'em. I never would give in to be bullied and made little of by Sexty. I'd do a'most anything to make him comfortable. I'm soft-hearted. And why not, when he's the father of my children? But I'm not going not to say a thing if I think it right, because I'm afeard.'

'I think I could say anything if I thought it right.'

'Then tell him of me and my babes, - as how I can never have a quiet night while this is going on. It isn't that they two men are fond of one another. Nothing of the sort. Now you; - I've got to be downright fond of you, though, of course, you think me common.' Mrs Lopez would not contradict her but stooped forward and kissed her cheek. 'I'm downright fond of you, I am,' continued Mrs Parker, snuffling and sobbing, 'but they two men are only together because Mr Lopez wants to gamble, and Parker has got a little money to gamble with.' This aspect of the thing was so terrible to Mrs Lopez that she could only weep and hid her face. 'Now, if you would tell him the truth! Tell him what I say, and that I've been a-saying it! Tell him it's for my children I'm a-speaking, who won't have bread in their very mouths if their father's squeezed dry like a sponge! Sure, if you'd tell him this, he wouldn't go on!' Then she paused a moment, looking up into the other woman's face. 'He'd have some bowels of compassion; - wouldn't he now?'

'I'll try,' said Mrs Lopez.

'I know you're good and kind-hearted, my dear. I saw it in your eyes from the very first. But then men, when they get on at money-making, - or money-losing, which makes 'em worse, - are like tigers clawing one another. They don't care how many they kills, so that they has at least bit for themselves. There ain't no fear of God init, nor yet no mercy, nor ere a morsel of heart. It ain't what I call manly, - not that longing after other folk's money. When it's come by hard work, as I tell Sexty, - by the very sweat of his brow, - oh, - it's sweet as sweet. When he'd tell me that he'd made his three pound, or his five pound, or, perhaps, his ten in a day, and'd calculate it up, how much it'd come to if he did that every day, and where we could go to, and what we could do for the children, I loved to hear him talk about money. But now - ! why, it's altered the looks of the man altogether. It's just as though he was a-thirsting for blood.'

Thirsting for blood! Yes, indeed. It was the very idea that had occurred to Mrs Lopez herself when her husband bade her to 'get round her father'. No; - it certainly was not manly. There certainly was neither the fear of God in it, nor mercy. Yes;-she would try. But as for bowels of compassion in Ferdinand Lopez - ; she, the young wife, had already seen enough of her husband to think that he was not to be moved by any prayers on that side. Then the two women bade each other farewell. 'Parker has been talking of my going to Manchester Square,' said Mrs Parker, 'but I shan't. What'd I be in Manchester Square? And, besides, there'd better be an end of it. Mr Lopez'd turn Sexty and me out of the house at a moment's notice if it wasn't for the money.'

'It's papa's house,' said Mrs Lopez, not, however, meaning to make an attack upon her husband.

'I suppose so, but I shan't come to trouble no one, and we live ever so far away, at Ponder's End, - out or your line altogether, Mrs Lopez. But I've taken to you and will never think ill of you in any way - and do as you said you would.'

'I will try,' said Mrs Lopez.

In the meantime Lopez received from Mr Wharton an answer to his letter about the missing caravels, which did not please him. Here is the letter:

I cannot say that your statement is satisfactory, nor can I reconcile it to your assurance to me that you have made a trade income for some years past of 2,000 pounds a year. I do not know much of business, but I cannot imagine such a result from such a condition of things as you describe. Have you any books; and if so, will you allow them to be inspected by any accountant that I may name?

You say that a sum of 20,000 pounds would suit your business better now than when I am dead. Very likely. But with such an account of the business as that you have given me, I do not know that I feel disposed to confide my savings of my life to assist so very doubtful an enterprise. Of course whatever I may do to your advantage will be done for the sake of Emily and her children, should she have any. As far I can see at present, I shall best do my duty to her, by leaving what I may have to leave to her, to trustees, for her benefit and that of her children.
Yours truly,

This, of course, did not tend to mollify the spirit of the man to whom it was written, or to make him gracious towards his wife. He received the letter three weeks before the lodgings at Dovercourt were given up, - but during these three weeks he was very little at the place, and when there did not mention the letter. On these occasions he said nothing about business, but satisfied himself with giving strict injunctions as to economy. Then he took her back to town on the day after her promise to Mrs Parker that she would 'try'. Mrs Parker had told her that no woman ought to be afraid to speak to her husband, and, if necessary, to speak roundly on such subjects. Mrs Parker was certainly not a highly educated lady, but she had impressed Emily with an admiration for her practical good sense and proper feeling. The lady who was a lady had begun to feel that in the troubles of her life she might fine a much less satisfactory companion than the lady who was not a lady. She would do as Mrs Parker had told her. She would not be afraid. Of course it was right that she should speak on such a matter. She knew herself to be an obedient wife. She had borne all her unexpected sorrows without a complaint, with a resolve that she would bear all for his sake, - not because she loved him, but because she had made herself his wife. Into whatever calamities he might fall, she would share them. Though he should bring her utterly into the dirt, she would remain in that dirt with him. It seemed probable to her that it might be so; - that they might have to go into the dirt; - and if it were so, she would still be true to him. She had chosen to marry him, and she would be a true wife. But, as such, she would not be afraid of him. Mrs Parker had told her that 'a woman should never be afraid of 'em', and she believed in Mrs Parker. In this case, too, it was clearly her duty to speak, - for the injury being done was terrible, and might too probably become tragical. How could she endure to think of that woman and her children, should she come to know that the husband of the woman and the father of the children had been ruined by her husband?

Yes; - she would speak to him. But she did fear. It is all very well for a woman to tell herself that she will encounter some anticipated difficulty without fear, - or for a man either. The fear cannot be overcome by will. The thing, however, may be done, whether it be leading a forlorn hope, or speaking to an angry husband, - in spite of fear. She would do it; but when the moment for doing it came, her very heart trembled within her. He had been so masterful with her, so persistent in repudiating her interference, so exacting in his demands for obedience, so capable of making her miserable by his moroseness when she failed to comply with his wishes, that she could not go to her task without fear. But she did feel that she ought not to be afraid, or that her fears, at any rate, should not be allowed to restrain her. A wife, she knew, should be prepared to yield, but yet was entitled to be her husband's counsellor. And it was now the case that in this matter she was conversant with circumstances which were unknown to her husband. It was to her that Mrs Parker's appeal had been made, and with a direct request from the poor woman that it should be repeated to her husband's partner.

She found that she could not do it on the journey home from Dovercourt, nor yet on that evening. Mrs Dick Roby, who had come back from sojourn at Boulogne, was with them in the Square, and brought her dear friend Mrs Leslie with her, and also Lady Eustace. The reader may remember that Mr Wharton had met these ladies at Mrs Dick's house some months before his daughter's marriage, but he certainly had never asked them into his own. On this occasion Emily had given them no invitation, but had been told by her husband that her aunt would probably bring them with her. 'Mrs Leslie and Lady Eustace!' she exclaimed with a little shudder. 'I suppose your aunt may bring a couple of friends with her to see you, though it is your father's house?' he had replied. She had said no more, not daring to have a fight on that subject at present, while the other matter was pressing on her mind. The evening passed away pleasantly enough, she thought, to all except herself. Mrs Leslie and Lady Eustace had talked a great deal, and her husband had borne himself quite as though he had been a wealthy man and the owner of the house in Manchester Square. In the course of the evening Dick Roby came in and Major Pountney, who since the late affairs at Silverbridge had become intimate with Lopez. So that there was quite a party; and Emily was astonished to hear her husband declare that he was only watching the opportunity of another vacancy in order that he might get into the House, and expose the miserable duplicity of the Duke of Omnium. And yet this man, within the last month, had taken away her subscription at Mudie's, and told her that she shouldn't wear things that wanted washing! But he was able to say so ever many pretty little things to Lady Eustace, and had given a new fan to Mrs Dick, and talked of taking a box for Mrs Leslie at The Gaiety.

But on the next morning before breakfast she began. 'Ferdinand,' she said, 'while I was at Dovercourt I saw a good deal of Mrs Parker.'

'I could not help that. Or rather you might have helped it if you pleased. It was necessary that you should meet, but I didn't tell you that you were to see a great deal of her.'

'I liked her very much.'

'Then I must say you've got a very odd taste. Did you like him?'

'No. I did not see very much of him, and I think that the manners of women are less objectionable than those of men. But I want to tell you what passed between her and me.'

'If it is about her husband's business she ought to have held her tongue, and you had better hold yours now.'

This was not a happy beginning, but still she was determined to go on. 'It was I think more about your business than his.'

'Then it was infernal impudence on her part, and you should not have listened to her for a moment.'

'You do not want to ruin her and her children?'

'What have I to do with her and her children? I did not marry her, and I am not their father. He has got to look to that.'

'She thinks you are enticing him into risks which he cannot afford.'

'Am I doing anything for him that I ain't doing for myself! If there is money made, will not he share it? If money has to be lost, of course he must do the same.' Lopez stating his case omitted to say that whatever capital was now being used belonged to his partner. 'But women when they get together talk all manner of nonsense. Is it likely that I shall alter my course of action because you tell me that she tells you that he tells her that he is losing money? He is a half-hearted fellow who quails at every turn against him. And when he is crying drunk I dare say he makes a poor mouth to her.'

'I think, Ferdinand, it is more than that. She says that - '

'To tell the truth, Emily, I don't give a d - what she says. Now give me some tea.'

The roughness of this absolutely quelled her. It was not now that she was afraid of him, but that she was knocked down as though by a blow. She had been altogether so unused to such language that she could not get on with her matter in hand, letting the bad word pass by her as an unmeaning expletive. She wearily poured out the cup of tea and sat herself down silent. The man was too strong for her, and would be so always. She told herself at this moment that language such as that must always absolutely silence her. Then, within a few minutes, he desired her, quite cheerfully, to ask her uncle and aunt to dinner the day but one following, and also to ask Lady Eustace and Mrs Leslie. 'I will pick up a couple of men which will make us all right,' he said.

This was in every way horrible to her. Her father had been back in town, had not been very well, and had been recommended to return to the country. He had consequently removed himself,-not to Hertfordshire, - but to Brighton, and was now living at an hotel, almost within an hour of London. Had he been at home he certainly would not have invited Mrs Leslie and Lady Eustace to his house. He had often expressed a feeling of dislike to the former lady in the hearing of his son-in-law, and had ridiculed his sister-in-law for allowing herself to be acquainted with Lady Eustace, whose name had at one time been very common in the mouths of people. Emily also felt that she was hardly entitled to give a dinner party in his house in his absence. And, after all that she had lately heard about her husband's poverty, she could not understand how he should wish to incur the expense. 'You would not ask Mrs Leslie here!' she said.

'Why should we not ask Mrs Leslie?'

'Papa dislikes her.'

'But "papa", as you call him, isn't going to meet her.'

'He has said that he doesn't know what day he may be home. And he does more than dislike her. He disapproves of her.'

'Nonsense! She is your aunt's friend. Because your father once heard some cock-and-bull story about her, and because he has always taken it upon himself to criticize your aunt's friends, I am not to be civil to a person I like.'

'But, Ferdinand, I do not like her myself. She never was in this house till that other night.'

'Look here, my dear. Lady Eustace can be useful to me, and I cannot ask Lady Eustace without asking her friend. You do as I bid you, - or else I shall do it myself.'

She paused for a moment, and then she positively refused. 'I cannot bring myself to ask Mrs Leslie to dine in this house. If she comes to dine with you, of course I shall sit at the table, but she will be sure to see that she is not welcome.'

'It seems to me that you are determined to go against me in everything I propose.'

'I don't think you would say that if you knew how miserable yo made me.'

'I tell you that that other woman can be very useful to me.'

'In what way useful?'

'Are you jealous, my dear?'

'Certainly not of Lady Eustace, - nor of any woman. But it seems so odd that such a person's services should be required.'

'Will you do as I tell you, and ask them? You can go round and tell your aunt about it. She knows that I mean to ask them. Lady Eustace is a very rich woman, and is disposed to do a little in commerce. Now do you understand?'

'Not in the least,' said Emily.

'Why shouldn't a woman who has money buy coffee as well as buy shares?'

'Does she buy shares?'

'By George, Emily, I think you are a fool.'

'I dare say I am, Ferdinand. I do not in the least know what it all means. But I do know this, that you ought not, in papa's absence, to ask people to dine here whom he particularly dislikes, and whom he would not wish to have in the house.'

'You think I am to be governed by you in such a matter as that?'

'I don't want to govern you.'

'You think that a wife should dictate to a husband as to the way in which he is to do his work, and the partners he may be allowed to have in his business, and the persons whom he may ask to dinner! Because you have been dictating to me on all these matters. Now, look here, my dear. As to my business, you had better never speak to me about it any more. I have endeavoured to take you into my confidence and to get you to act with me, but you have declined that, and have preferred to stick to your father. As to my partners, whether I may choose to have Sexty Parker or Lady Eustace, I am a better judge thanyou. And as to asking Mrs Leslie and Lady Eustace or any other persons to dinner, as I am obliged to make even the recreation of life subservient to work, I must claim permission to have my own way.' She had listened, but when he paused she made no reply. 'Do you mean to do as I bid and ask these ladies?'

'I cannot do that. I know that it ought not to be done. This is papa's house, and we are living here as his guests.'

'D - your papa!' he said as he burst out of the room. After a quarter of an hour he put his head into the room and saw her sitting, like a statue, exactly where he had left her. 'I have written the notes to Lady Eustace and to Mrs Leslie,' he said. 'You can't think it any sin at any rate to ask your aunt.'

'I will see my aunt,' she said.

'And remember I am not going to be your father's guest as you call it. I mean to pay for the dinner myself, and to send in my own wines. Your father shall have nothing to complain of on that head.'

'Could you not ask them to Richmond, or to some hotel?' she said.

'What, in October! If you think I am going to live in a house in which I can't invite a friend to dinner, you are mistaken.' And with that he took his departure.

The whole thing had now become so horrible to her that she felt unable any longer to hold up her head. It seemed to her to be sacrilege that these women should come and sit in her father's room, but when she spoke of her father her husband had cursed him with scorn! Lopez was going to send food and wine into the house, which would be gall and wormwood to her father. At one time she thought she would at once write to her father and tell him of it all, - or perhaps telegraph to him; but she could not do so without letting her husband know what she had done, and then he would have justice on his side in calling her disobedient. Were she to do that, then it would indeed be necessary that she should take part against her husband.

She had brought all this misery on herself and on her father because she had been obstinate in thinking she could with certainty read a lover's character. As for love, - that of course had died away in her heart, - imperceptibly, though, alas, so quickly! It was impossible that she could continue to love a man who from day to day was teaching her mean lessons, and who was ever doing mean things, the meanness of which was so little apparent to himself that he did not scruple to divulge them to her. How could she love a man who would make no sacrifice either to her comfort or her pride, or her conscience? But still she might obey him, - if she could feel sure that obedience to him was a duty. Could it be a duty to sin against her father's wishes, and to assist in profaning his house and abusing his hospitality after this fashion? Then her mind again went back to the troubles of Mrs Parker, and her absolute inefficiency in that matter. It seemed to her that she had given herself over body and soul and mind to some evil genius, and that there was no escape.

'Of course we'll come,' said Mrs Roby had said to her when she went round the corner into Berkeley Street early in the day. 'Lopez spoke to me about it before.'

'What will papa say about it, Aunt Harriet?'

'I suppose he and Lopez understand each other.'

'I do not think papa will understand this.'

'I am sure Mr Wharton would not lend his house to his son-in-law and then object to the man he had lent it to asking a friend to dine with him. And I am sure that Mr Lopez would not consent to occupy a house on those terms. If you don't like it, of course we won't come.'

'Pray do not say that. As these other women are to come, pray do not desert me. But I cannot say I think it is right.' Mrs Dick, however, only laughed at her scruples.

In the course of the evening Emily got letters addressed to herself, from Lady Eustace and Mrs Leslie, informing her that they would have very much pleasure in dining with her on the day named. And Lady Eustace went on to say, with much pleasantry, that she always regarded little parties, got up without any ceremony, as being the pleasantest, and that she should come on this occasion without any ceremonial observance. Then Emily was aware that her husband had not only written the notes in her name, but had put into her mouth some studied apology as to the shortness of the invitation. Well! She was the man's wife, and she supposed that he was entitled to put any words that he please into her mouth.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 48 'HAS HE ILL-TREATED YOU?'

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