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CHAPTER 58 'QUITE SETTLED.'
The abuse which was now publicly heaped on the name of Ferdinand Lopez hit the man very hard; but not so hard perhaps as his rejection by Lady Eustace. That was an episode in his life of which even he felt ashamed, and of which he was unable to shake the disgrace from his memory. He had no inner appreciation whatsoever of what was really good or was what really bad in a man's conduct. He did not know that he had done evil in applying to the Duke for money. He had only meant to attack the Duke; and when the money had come it had been regarded as justifiable prey. And when after receiving the Duke's money, he had kept also Mr Wharton's money, he had justified himself again by reminding himself that Mr Wharton certainly owed him much more than that. In a sense he was what is called a gentleman. He knew how to speak, and how to look, how to use a knife and fork, how to dress himself, and how to walk. But he had not the faintest notion of the feelings of a gentleman. He had, however, a very keen conception of the evil of being generally ill spoken of. Even now, though he was making his mind up to leave England for a long term of years, he understood the disadvantage of leaving it under so heavy a cloud; - and he understood also that the cloud might possibly impede his going altogether. Even in Coleman Street they were looking black upon him, and Mr Hartlepod went so far as to say to Lopez himself, that, 'by Jove, he had put his foot in it.' He had endeavoured to be courageous under his burden, and every day walked into the offices of the Mining Company, endeavouring to look as though he had committed no fault of which he had to be ashamed. But after the second day he found that nothing was said to him of the affairs of the Company, and on the fourth day Mr Hartlepod informed him that the time allowed for paying up his shares had passed by, and that another local manager would be appointed. 'The time is not over till tomorrow,'said Lopez angrily. 'I tell you what I am told to tell you,' said Mr Hartlepod. 'You will only waste your time by coming here any more.'
He had not once seen Mr Wharton since the statement made in the Parliament, although he had lived in the same house with him. Everett Wharton had come home, and they two had met; - but the meeting had been stormy. 'It seems to me, Lopez, that you are a scoundrel,' Everett said to him on day, after having heard the whole story, - or rather many stories, - from his father. This took place not in Manchester Square, but at the club, where Everett had endeavoured to cut his brother-in-law. It need hardly be said that at this time Lopez was not popular at his club. On the next day a meeting of the whole club was to be held that the propriety of expelling him might be discussed. But he had resolved that he would not be cowed, that he would still show himself, and still defend his conduct. He did not know, however, that Everett Wharton had already made known to the Committee of the club all the facts of the double payment.
He had addressed Everett in that solicitude to which a man should never be reduced of seeking to be recognized by at any rate one acquaintance, - and now his brother-in-law had called him a scoundrel in the presence of other men. He raised his arm as though to use the cane in his hand, but he was cowed by the feeling that all there were his adversaries. 'How dare you use that language to me!' he said very weakly.
'It is the language I must use if you speak to me.'
'I am your brother-in-law, and that restrains me.'
'Unfortunately you are.'
'And am living in your father's house.'
'That, again, is a misfortune which it appears difficult to remedy. You have been told to go, and you won't go.'
'Your ingratitude, sir, is marvellous! Who saved your life when you were attacked in the park, and were too drunk to take care of yourself? Who has stood your friend with your close-fisted old father when you have lost money at play that you could not pay? But you are one of those who would turn away from any benefactor in his misfortune.'
'I must certainly turn away from a man who has disgraced himself as you have done,' said Everett, leaving the room. Lopez threw himself into an easy-chair, and rang the bell loudly for a cup of coffee, and lit a cigar. He had not been turned out of the club as yet, and the servant at any rate was bound to attend to him.
That night he waited up for his father-in-law in Manchester Square. He would certainly go to Guatemala now, - if it were not too late. He would go though he were forced to leave his wife behind him, and thus surrender any further hope for money from Mr Wharton beyond the sum which he would receive as the price of his banishment. It was true that the fortnight allowed to him by the Company was only at an end that day, and that, therefore, the following morning might be taken as the last day named for the payment of the money. No doubt, also, Mr Wharton's bill at a few days' date would be accepted if that gentleman could not at the moment give a cheque for so large a sum as was required. And the appointment had been distinctly promised to him with no other stipulation than that the money required for the shares should be paid. He did not believe in Mr Hartlepod's threat. It was impossible, he thought, that he should be treated in so infamous a manner merely because he had had his election expenses repaid him by the Duke of Omnium! He would, therefore, ask for the money, and - renounce the society of his wife.
As he made this resolve, something like real love returned to his heart, and he became for a while sick with regret. He assured himself that he had loved her, and that he could love her still; - but why had she not been true to him? Why had she clung to her father instead of clinging to her husband? Why had she not learnt his ways, - as a wife is bound to learn the ways of the man she marries? Why had she not helped him in his devices, fallen into his plans, been regardful of his fortunes, and made herself one with him? There had been present to him at times an idea that if he could take her away with him to that distant country to which he thought to go, and thus remove her from the upas influence of her father's roof-tree, she would then fall into his views and become his wife indeed. Then he would again be tender to her, again love her, again endeavour to make the world soft to her. But it was too late now for that. He had failed in everything as far as England was concerned, and it was chiefly by her fault that he had failed. He would consent to leave her; - but, as he thought of it in solitude, his eyes became moist with regret.
In these days Mr Wharton never came home till about midnight, and then passed rapidly through the hall to his own room, - and in the morning had his breakfast brought to him in the same room, so that he might not even see his son-in-law. His daughter would go to him when at breakfast, and there, together for some half-hour, they would endeavour to look forward to their future fate. But hitherto they had never been able to look forward in accord, as she still persisted in declaring that if her husband bade her to go with him, - she would go. On this night Lopez sat up in the dining-room, and as soon as he heard Mr Wharton's key in the door, he placed himself in the hall. 'I wish to speak to you tonight, sir,' he said. 'Would you object to come in for a few moments?' Then Mr Wharton followed him into the room. 'As we live now,' continued Lopez, 'I have not had much opportunity of speaking to you, even on business.'
'Well, sir; you can speak now, - if you have anything to say.'
'The 5,000 pounds you promised me must be paid to-morrow. It is the last day.'
'I promised it only on certain conditions. Had you complied with them the money would have been paid before.'
'Just so. The conditions were very hard, Mr Wharton. It surprises me that such a one as you should think it right to separate a husband from his wife.'
'I think it right, sir, to separate my daughter from such a one as you are. I thought so before, but I think so doubly now. If I can secure your absence in Guatemala by the payment of this money, and if you will give me a document that shall be prepared by Mr Walker and signed by yourself, assuring your wife that you will not hereafter call upon her to live with you, the money shall be paid.'
'All that will take time, Mr Wharton.'
'I will not pay a penny without it. I can meet you at the office in Coleman Street to-morrow, and doubtless they will accept my written assurance to pay the money as soon as those stipulations shall be complied with.'
'That would disgrace me in the office, Mr Wharton.'
'And are you not disgraced there already? Can you tell me that they have not heard of your conduct in Coleman Street, or that hearing it they disregard it?' His son-in-law stood frowning at him, but did not at the moment say a word. 'Nevertheless, I will meet you there if you please, at any time that you may name, and if they do not object to employ such a man as their manager, I shall not object on their behalf.'
'To the last you are hard and cruel to me,' said Lopez; - 'but I will meet you at Coleman Street at eleven to-morrow.' Then Mr Wharton left the room, and Lopez was there alone amidst the gloom of the heavy curtains and the dark paper. A London dining-room at night is always dark, cavernous, and unlovely. The very pictures on the walls lacked brightness, and the furniture is black and heavy. This room was large, but old-fashioned and very dark. Here Lopez walked up and down after Mr Wharton had left him, trying to think how far Fate and how far he himself were responsible for his present misfortunes. No doubt he had begun the world well. His father had been little better than a travelling pedlar, but had made some money by selling jewellery, and had educated his son. Lopez could on no score impute blame to his father for what had happened to him. And, when he thought of the means at his disposal in his early youth, he felt that he had a right to boast of some success. He had worked hard, and had won his way upwards, and had almost lodged himself securely among those people with whom it had been his ambition to live. Early in life he had found himself among those who were called gentlemen and ladies. He had been able to assume their manners, and had lived with them on equal terms. When thinking of his past life he never forgot to remind himself that he had been a guest at the house of the Duke of Omnium! And yet how far was it with him now? He was penniless. He was rejected by his fatherin-law. He was feared, and, as he thought, detested, by his wife. He was expelled from his club. He was cut by his old friends. And he had been told very plainly by the Secretary in Coleman Street that his presence there was no longer desired. What should he do with himself if Mr Wharton's money were now refused, and if the appointment in Guatemala were denied to him? And then he thought of Sexty Parker and his family. He was not naturally an ill-natured man. Though he could upbraid his wife for alluding to Mrs Parker's misery, declaring that Mrs Parker must take the rubs of the world just as others took them, still the misfortunes which he had brought on her and on her children did add something to the weight of his own misfortunes. If he could not go to Guatemala, what should he do with himself;-where should he go? Thus he walked up and down the room for an hour. Would not a pistol or a razor give him the best solution for all his difficulties?
On the following morning he kept his appointment at the office in Coleman Street, as did Mr Wharton also. The latter was there first by some minutes, and explained to Mr Hartlepod that he had come there to meet his son-in-law. Mr Hartlepod was civil, but very cold. Mr Wharton saw at the first glance that the services of Ferdinand Lopez were no longer in request by the San Juan Mining Company; but he sat down and waited. Now that he was there, however painful the interview would be, he would go through it. At ten minutes past eleven me made up his mind that he would wait until the half hour, - and then go, with the fixed resolution that he would never willingly spend another shilling on behalf of that wretched man. But at a quarter past eleven the wretched man came, - swaggering into the office, though it had not, hitherto, been his custom to swagger. But misfortune masters all but the great men, and upsets her best-learned lesson of even a long life. 'I hope I have not kept you waiting, Mr Wharton. Well, Hartlepod, how are you to-day? So this little affair is going to be settled at last, and now these shares shall be bought and paid for.' Mr Wharton did not say a word, not even rising from his chair, or greeting his son-in-law by a word. 'I dare say Mr Wharton has already explained himself,' said Lopez.
'I don't know that there is any necessity,' said Mr Hartlepod.
'Well, - I suppose it's simple enough,' continued Lopez. 'Mr Wharton, I believe I am right in saying that you are ready to pay the money at once.'
'Yes; - I am ready to pay the money as soon as I am assured that you are on your route to Guatemala. I will not pay a penny till I know that as a fact.'
The Mr Hartlepod rose from his seat and spoke. 'Gentlemen,' he said, 'the matter within the last few days has assumed a different complexion.'
'As how?' exclaimed Lopez.
'The Directors have changed their mind as to sending out Mr Lopez as their local manager. The Directors intend to appoint another gentleman. I had already acquainted Mr Lopez with the Directors' intention.'
'Then the matter is settled?' said Mr Wharton.
'Quite settled,' said Mr Hartlepod.
As a matter of course Lopez began to fume and to be furious. What! - after all that had been done, and the Directors mean to go back from their word? After he had been induced to abandon his business in his own country, was he to be thrown over in that way? If the Company intended to treat him like that, the Company would very soon hear from him. Thank God there were laws in the land. 'Yesterday was the last day fixed for the payment of the money,'said Mr Hartlepod.
'It is at any rate certain that Mr Lopez is not to go to Guatemala?' asked Mr Wharton.
'Quite certain,' said Mr Hartlepod. Then Mr Wharton rose from his chair and quitted the room.
'By G-, you have ruined me among you,'said Lopez; - 'ruined me in the most shameful manner. There is no mercy, no friendship, no kindness, no forbearance anywhere! Why am I to be treated in this manner?'
'If you have any complaint to make,' said Mr Hartlepod,' you had better write to the Directors. I have nothing to do but my duty.'
'By heavens, the Directors shall hear of it!' said Lopez as he left the office.
Mr Wharton went to his chambers and endeavoured to make up his mind what step he must now take in reference to this dreadful incubus. Of course he could turn the man out of his house, but in so doing it might well be that he would also turn out his own daughter. He believed Lopez to be utterly without means, and a man so destitute would generally be glad to be relieved from the burden of his wife's support. But this man would care nothing for his wife's comfort; nothing even, as Mr Wharton believed, for his wife's life. He would simply use his wife as best he might as a means for obtaining money. There was nothing to be done but to buy him off, by so much money down and by so much at stated intervals as long as he should keep away. Mr Walker must manage it, but it was quite clear to Mr Wharton that the Guatemala scheme was altogether at an end. In the meantime a certain sum must be offered to the man at once, on condition that he would leave the house and do so without taking his wife with him.
So far Mr Wharton had a plan, and a plan that was at least feasible. Wretched as he was, miserable, as he thought the fate which had befallen his daughter, - there was still a prospect of some relief. But Lopez as he walked out of the office had nothing to which he could look for comfort. He slowly made his way to Little Tankard Yard and there he found Sexty Parker balancing himself on the back legs of his chair, with a small decanter of public-house sherry before him. 'What; you here?' he said.
'Yes; - I have come to say good-bye.'
'Where are you going then? You shan't start to Guatemala if I know it.'
'That's all over, my boy,' said Lopez, smiling.
'What is it you mean?' said Sexty, sitting square on his chair and looking very serious.
'I am not going to Guatemala or anywhere else. I though I'd just look in to tell you that I'm done for, - that I haven't a hope of a shilling now or hereafter. You told me the other day that I was afraid to come here. You see that as soon as anything is fixed, I come and tell you everything at once.'
'What is fixed?'
'That I am ruined. That there isn't a penny to come from any source.'
'Wharton has got money,' said Sexty.
'And there is money in the Bank of England, - but I cannot get at it.'
'What are you going to do, Lopez?'
'Ah; that's the question. What am I going to do? I can say nothing about that, but I can say, Sexty, that our affairs are at an end. I'm very sorry for it, old boy. We ought to have made fortunes, but we didn't. As far as the work went, I did my best. Good-bye, old fellow. You'll do well some of these days yet, I don't doubt. Don't teach the bairns to curse me. As for Mrs P. I have not hope there, I know.' Then he went, leaving Sexty Parker quite aghast.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 59 THE FIRST AND THE LAST.