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CHAPTER 54 LIZZIE.
It cannot be supposed that Ferdinand Lopez at this time was a very happy man. He had, at any rate, once loved his wife, and would have loved her still could he have trained her to think as he thought, to share his wishes, and 'to put herself into the same boat with him', - as he was wont to describe the unison and sympathy which he required from her. To give him his due, he did not know that he was a villain. When he was exhorting her to 'get round her father' he was not aware that he was giving her lessons which must shock a well-conditioned girl. He did not understand that everything that she had discovered of his moral disposition since her marriage was of a nature to disgust her. And, not understanding all this, he conceived that he was grievously wronged by her, in that she adhered to her father rather than to him. This made him unhappy, and doubly disappointed him. He had neither got the wife that he had expected nor the fortune. But he still thought that the fortune may come if he would only hold on to the wife which he had got.
And then everything had gone badly with him since his marriage. He was apt, when thinking over his affairs, to attribute all this to the fears and hesitation and parsimony of Sexty Parker. None of his late ventures with Sexty Parker had been successful. And now Sexty was in a bad condition, very violent, drinking hard, declaring himself to be a ruined man, and swearing that if this and that were not done he would have bitter revenge. Sexty still believed in the wealth of his partner's father-in-law, and still had some hope of salvation from that source. Lopez would declare to him, and up to this very time persevered in protesting, that salvation would be found in Bios. If Sexty would only risk two or three thousand pounds more upon Bios, - or his credit to that amount failing the immediate money, - things might still be right. 'Bios be d-d,' said Sexty, uttering a string of heavy imprecations. On that morning, he had been trusting to native produce rather than to the new African spirit. But now, as the Guatemala scheme really took form and loomed on Lopez's eyesight as a thing that might be real, he endeavoured to keep out of Sexty's way. But in vain, Sexty too had heard of Guatemala, and in his misery hunted Lopez about the city. 'By G-, I believe you're afraid to come to Little Tankard Yard,' he said on day, having caught his victim under the equestrian statue in front of the Exchange.
'What is the good of my coming when you will do nothing when I am there?'
'I'll tell what it is, Lopez, - you're not going out of the country about this mining business, if I know it.'
'Who said I was?'
'I'll put a spoke in your wheel there, my man. I'll give a written account of the dealings between us to the Directors. By G-, they shall know their man.'
'You're an ass, Sexty, and always were. Look here. If I can carry on as though I were going to this place, I can draw 5,000 pounds from old Wharton. He has already offered it. He has treated me with a stinginess that I never knew equalled. Had he done what I had a right to expect, you and I would have been rich men now. But at last I have got a hold upon him to 5,000 pounds. As you and I stand, pretty nearly the whole of that will go to you. But don't you spoil it all by making an ass of yourself.'
Sexty, who was three parts drunk, looked up into his face for a few seconds, and then made his reply. 'I'm d-d if I believe a word of it.' Upon that Lopez affected to laugh, and then made his escape.
All this, as I have said, did not tend to make his life happy. Though he had impudence enough, and callousness of conscience enough to get his bills paid by Mr Wharton as often as he could, he was not quite easy in his mind while he was doing so. His ambition had never been high, but it had soared higher than that. He had had great hopes. He had lived with some high people. He had dined with lords and ladies. He had been the guest of a Duchess. He had married the daughter of a gentleman. He had nearly been a member of Parliament. He still belonged to what he considered to be a first-rate club. From a great altitude he looked down upon Sexty Parker and men of Sexty's class, because of his social successes, and because he knew how to talk and to look like a gentleman. It was unpleasant to him, therefore, to be driven to the life he was now living. And the idea of going to Guatemala and burying himself in a mine in Central America was not to him a happy idea. In spite of all that he had done he had still some hope that he might avoid the banishment. He had spoken the truth to Sexty Parker in saying that he intended to get the 5,000 pounds from Mr Wharton without that terrible personal sacrifice, though he had hardly spoken the truth when he assured his friend that the greater portion of that money would go to him. There were many schemes fluctuating through his brain, and all accompanied by many doubts. If he could get Mr Wharton's money by giving up his wife, should he consent to give her up? In either case should he stay or should he go? Should he run one further great chance with Bios, - and if so, by whose assistance? And if he should at least decide that he would do so by the aid of a certain friend that was yet left to him, should he throw himself at that friend's feet, the friend being a lady, and propose to desert his wife and begin the world again with her? For the lady in question was a lady in possession, as he believed, of very large means. Or should he cut his throat and have done with all his troubles, acknowledging to himself that his career had been a failure, and that, therefore, it might be brought with advantage to an end? 'After all,' said he to himself, 'that may be the best way of winding up a bankrupt concern.'
Our old friend Lady Eustace, in these days, lived in a very small house in a very small street bordering upon Mayfair; but the street, though very small, and having disagreeable relations with a mews, still had an air of fashion about it. And with her lived the widow, Mrs Leslie, who had introduced Mrs Dick Roby, and through Mrs Roby, to Ferdinand Lopez. Lady Eustace was in the enjoyment of a handsome income, as I hope that some of my readers may remember, - and this income, during the last year or two, she had learned to foster, if not with much discretion, at any rate with great zeal. During her short life she had had many aspirations. Love, poetry, sport, religion, fashion, Bohemianism had all been tried; but in each crisis there had been a certain care for wealth which had saved her from the folly of squandering what she had won by her early energies in the pursuit of her then prevailing passion. She had given her money to no lover, had not lost it on race-courses, or in building churches, - nor even had she materially damaged her resources by servants and equipages. At the present time she was still young, and still pretty,-though her hair and complexion took rather more time than in the days when she won Sir Florian Eustace. She still liked a lover, - or perhaps two, - though she had thoroughly convinced herself that a lover may be bought too dear. She could still ride a horse, though hunting regularly was too expensive for her. She could talk of religion if she could find herself close to a wellgot-up clergyman, - being quite indifferent as to the denomination of the religion. But perhaps a wild dash for a time into fast vulgarity was what in her heart of hearts she liked best, - only that it was so difficult to enjoy the pleasures without risk of losing everything. And then, together with these passions, and perhaps above them all, there had lately sprung up in the heart of Lady Eustace a desire to multiply her means by successful speculation. This was the friend with whom Ferdinand Lopez had lately become intimate, and by whose aid he hoped to extricate himself from some of his difficulties.
Poor as he was he had contrived to bribe Mrs Leslie by handsome presents out of Bond Street; - for, as he still lived in Manchester Square, and was the undoubted son-in-law of Mr Wharton, his credit was not altogether gone. In the giving of these gifts no purport was, of course, named, but Mrs Leslie was probably aware that her good word with her friend was expected. 'I only know what I used to hear from Mrs Roby,' Mrs Leslie had said to her friend. 'He was mixed up with Hunky's people, who roll in money. Old Wharton wouldn't have given him his daughter if he had not been doing well.'
'It's very hard to be sure,' said Lizzie Eustace.
'He looks like a man who'd know how to feather his own nest,' said Mrs Leslie. 'Don't you think he's very handsome?'
'I don't know that he's likely to do the better for that.'
'Well; no; but there are men of whom you are sure, when you look at them, that they'll be successful. I don't suppose he was anything to begin with, but see where he is now!'
'I believe you are in love with him, my dear,' said Lizzie Eustace.
'Not exactly. I don't know that he has given me any provocation. But I don't see why a woman shouldn't be in love with him if she likes. He is deal nicer than those fair-headed men who haven't got a word to say to you, and yet look as though you ought to jump down their mouths: - like that fellow you were trying to talk to last night, - that Mr Fletcher. He could just jerk out three words at a time, and yet he was proud as Lucifer. I like a man who if he likes me is neither ashamed nor afraid to say so.'
'There's a romance there, you know. Mr Fletcher was in love with Emily Wharton, and she threw him over for Ferdinand Lopez. They say he has not held his head up since.'
'She was quite right,' said Mrs Leslie. 'But she is one of those stiff-necked creatures who are set up with pride though they have nothing to be proud of. I suppose she had a lot of money. Lopez would never have taken her without.'
When, therefore, Lopez called one day at the little house in the little street he was not an unwelcome visitor. Mrs Leslie was in the drawing-room, but soon left it after his arrival. He had of late been often there, and when he at once introduced the subject on which he was himself intent it was not unexpected. 'Seven thousand five hundred pounds!' said Lizzie, after listening to the proposition which he had come to make. 'That is a very large sum of money!'
'Yes; - it's a large sum of money. It's a large affair. I'm in it to rather more than that, I believe.'
'How are you going to get people to drink it?' she asked after a pause.
'By telling them that they ought to drink it. Advertise it. It has become a certainty now that if you will only advertise sufficiently you may make a fortune by selling anything. Only the interest on the money expended increases in so large a ratio in accordance with the magnitude of the operation! If you spend a few hundreds in advertising you throw them away. A hundred thousand pounds well laid out makes a certainty of anything.'
'What am I to get to show for my money; - I mean immediately, you know?'
'Registered shares in the Company.'
'The Bios Company?'
'No; - we did propose to call ourselves Parker and Co., limited. I think we shall change the name. They will probably use my name. Lopez and Co., limited.'
'But it's all for Bios?'
'Oh yes; - all for Bios.'
'And it's to come from Central Africa?'
'It will be rectified in London, you know. Some English spirit will perhaps be mixed. But I must not tell you the secrets of the trade till you join us. That Bios is distilled from the bark of the Duffer-tree is a certainty.'
'Have you drank any?'
'I've tasted it.'
'Is it nice?'
'Very nice; - rather sweet, you know, and will be the better for mixing.'
'Gin?' suggested her ladyship.
'Perhaps so, - or whisky. I think I may say that you can't do very much better with your money. You know I would not say this to you were it not true. In such a matter I treat you as if,-as if you were my sister.'
'I know how good you are, - but seven thousand five hundred! I couldn't raise so much as that just at present.'
'There are to be six shares,' said Lopez, 'making 45,000 pounds capital. Would you consent to take a share jointly with me? That would be three thousand seven hundred and fifty.'
'But you have a share already,' said Lizzie suspiciously.
'I should then divide that with Mr Parker. We intend to register at any rate as many as nine partners. Would you object to hold it with me?' Lopez, as he asked this question, looked at her as though he were offering her half his heart.
'No,' said Lizzie slowly, 'I don't suppose I should object to that.'
'I should be doubly eager about the affair if I were in partnership with you.'
'It's such a venture.'
'Nothing venture nothing have.'
'But I've got something as it is, Mr Lopez, and I don't want to lose it all.'
'There's no chance of that if you join us.'
'You think Bios is so sure?'
'Quite safe,' said Lopez.
'You must give me a little more time to think about it,' said Lady Eustace at last, panting with anxiety, struggling with herself, anxious for the excitement which would come to her from dealing in Bios, but still fearing to risk the money.
This had taken place immediately after Mr Wharton's offer of the 5,000 pounds in making which he had stipulated that Emily should be left at home. Then a few days went by, and Lopez was pressed for his money, at the office of the San Juan mine. Did he or did he not mean to take up the mining shares allotted to him? If he did mean to do so, he must do it at once. He swore by all his gods that of course he meant to take them up. Had not Mr Wharton himself been at the office, saying that he intended to pay for them? Was not that a sufficient guarantee? They knew well enough that Mr Wharton was a man to whom the raising of 5,000 pounds could be a matter of no difficulty. But they did not know, never could know, how impossible it was to get anything done by Mr Wharton. But Mr Wharton had promised to pay for the shares, and when money was concerned his word would surely suffice. Mr Hartlepod, backed by two of the Directors, said if the thing was to go on at all, the money must really be paid at once. But the conference was ended by allowing the new local manager another fortnight in which to complete the arrangement.
Lopez allowed four days to pass by, during each of which he was closeted for a time with Lady Eustace, and then made an attempt to get at Mr Wharton through his wife. 'Your father has said that he will pay the money for me,' said Lopez.
'If he has said it he certainly will do it.'
'But he has promised it on the condition that you should remain at home. Do you wish to desert your husband?' To this she made no immediate answer. 'Are you already anxious to be rid of me?'
'I should prefer to remain at home,' she said in a very low voice.
'Then you do wish to desert your husband?'
'What is the use of all this, Ferdinand? You do not love me. You did not marry me because I loved you.'
'By heaven I did; - for that and that only.'
'And how have you treated me?'
'What have I done to you?'
'But I do not mean to make accusations, Ferdinand. I should only add to our miseries by that. We should be happier apart.'
'Not I. Nor is that my idea of marriage. Tell your father that you wish to go with me, and then he will let us have the money.'
'I will tell him no lie, Ferdinand. If you bid me go, I will go. Where you find a home I must find one too if it be your pleasure to take me. But I will not ask my father to give you money because it is my pleasure to go. Were I to say so he would not believe me.'
'It is you who have told him to give it me only on the condition of your staying.'
'I have told him nothing. He knows that I do not wish to go. He cannot but know that. But he knows that I mean to go if you require it.'
'And you will do nothing for me?'
'Nothing; - in regard to my father.' He raised his fist with the thought of striking her, and she saw the motion. But his arm fell again to his side. He had not quite come to that yet. 'Surely you will have the charity to tell me whether I am to go, if it be fixed,' she said.
'Have I not told you twenty times?'
'Then it is fixed.'
Yes; - it is fixed. Your father will tell you about your things. He has promised some beggarly sum, - about as much as a tallowchandler would give his daughter.'
'Whatever he does for me will be sufficient for me. I am not afraid of my father, Ferdinand.'
'You shall be afraid of me before I have done with you,' said he, leaving the room.
Then as he sat at his club, dining there alone, there came across his mind what the world would be like to him if he could leave his wife at home and take Lizzie Eustace with him to Guatemala. Guatemala was very distant, and it would matter little there whether the woman he brought with him was his wife or no. It was clear enough to him that his wife desired no more of his company. What were the conventions of the world to him? This other woman had money at her own command. He could not make it his own because he could not marry her, but he fancied that it might be possible to bring her so far under his control as to make the money almost as good as his own. Mr Wharton's money was very hard to reach, and would be as hard to reach, - perhaps harder,-when Mr Wharton was dead, as now, during his life. He had said a good deal to the lady since the interview of which a report has been given. She had declared herself to be afraid of Bios. She did not in the least doubt that great things might be ultimately done with Bios, but she did not quite see the way with her small capital, - thus humbly did she speak of her wealth, - to be one of those who should take the initiative in the matter. Bios evidently required a great deal of advertisement, and Lizzie Eustace had a short-sighted objection to expend what money she had saved on the hoardings of London. Then he opened to her the glories of Guatemala, not contenting himself with describing the certainty of twenty per cent, but enlarging on the luxurious happiness of life in a country so golden, so green, so gorgeous, and so grand. It had been the very apple of the eye of the old Spaniards. In Guatemala, he said, Cortez and Pizzaro had met and embraced. They might have done so for anything as far as Lizzie Eustace knew to the contrary. And here our hero took advantage of his name. Don Diego di Lopez had been the first to raise the banner of freedom in Guatemala when the kings of Spain became tyrants to their American subjects. All is fair in love and war, and Lizzie amidst the hard business of her life still loved a dash of romance. Yet, he was about to change the scene and try his fortune in that golden, green, and gorgeous country. 'You will take your wife of course,' Lady Eustace had said. Then Lopez had smiled, and shrugging his shoulders had left the room.
It was certainly the fact that she could not eat him. Other men before Lopez have had to pick up what courage they could in their attacks upon women by remembering that fact. She had flirted with him in a very pleasant way, mixing up her prettiness and her percentages in a manner that was peculiar to herself. He did not know her, and he knew that he did not know her; - but still there was the chance. She had thrown his wife more than once in his face, after the fashion women do when they are wooed by married men since the days of Cleopatra downwards. But he had taken that simply as encouragement. He had already let her know that his wife was a vixen who troubled his life. Lizzie had given him her sympathy, and had almost given him a tear. 'But I am not a man to be broken-hearted because I have made a mistake,' said Lopez. 'Marriage vows are very well, but they shall never bind me to misery.' 'Marriage vows are not very well. They may be very ill,' Lizzie had replied, remembering certain passages in her own life.
There was no doubt about her money, and certainly she could not eat him. The fortnight allowed him by the San Juan Company had nearly gone by when he called at the little house in the little street, resolved to push his fortune in that direction without fear and without hesitation. Mrs Leslie again took her departure, leaving them together, and Lizzie allowed her friend to go, although the last words that Lopez had spoken had been, as he thought, a fair prelude to the words he intended to speak today. 'And what do you think of it?' he said, taking both her hands in his.
'Think of what?'
'Of our Spanish venture.'
'Have you given up Bios, my friend?'
'No; certainly not,' said Lopez, seating himself beside her. 'I have not taken the other half share, but I have kept my old venture in the scheme. I believe in Bios, you know.'
'Ah; - it is nice to believe.'
'But I believe more firmly in the country to which I am going.'
'You are going then?'
'Yes; my friend; - I am going. The allurements are too strong to be resisted. Think of that climate and of this.' He probably had not heard of the mosquitoes of Central America when he so spoke. 'Remember that an income that gives you comfort here will there produce every luxury which wealth can purchase. It is to be a king there, or to be but very common among commoners here.'
'And yet England is a dear old country.'
'Have you found it so? Think of the wrongs which you have endured; - of the injuries you have suffered.'
'Yes indeed.' For Lizzie Eustace had gone through hard days in her time.
'I certainly will fly from such a country to those golden shores on which man may be free and unshackled.'
'And your wife?'
'Oh, Lizzie!' It was the first time he had called her Lizzie, and she was apparently neither shocked nor abashed. Perhaps he thought too much of this, not knowing how many men had called her Lizzie in her time. 'Do not you at least understand that a man or a woman may undergo a tie, and yet be justified in disregarding it altogether?'
'Oh yes; - if there has been bigamy, or divorce, or anything of that kind.' Now Lizzie had convicted her second husband of bigamy, and had freed herself after that fashion.
'To h - with their prurient laws,' said Lopez, rising suddenly from his chair. 'I will neither appeal to them nor will I obey them. And I expect from you as little subservience as I myself am prepared to pay. Lizzy Eustace, will you go with me to that land of the sun,
Where the rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle
Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime?
Will you dare to escape with me from the cold conventionalities, from the miserable thraldom of this country bound in swaddling cloths? Lizzie Eustace, if you will say the word, I will take you to that land of glorious happiness.'
But Lizzie Eustace had 4,000 pounds a year and a balance at her banker's. 'Mr Lopez,' she said.
'What answer have you to make me?'
'Mr Lopez, I think you must be a fool.'
He did at last succeed in getting himself into the street, and at any rate she had not eaten him.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 55 MRS PARKER'S SORROWS.