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The Prime Minister

by Anthony Trollope



Lopez had now been dead more than five months, and not a word had been heard by his widow of Mrs Parker and her children. Her own sorrows had been so great that she had hardly thought of those of the poor woman who had come to her but a few days before her husband's death, telling her of the ruin caused by her husband's treachery. But late on the evening before her departure for Hertfordshire, - very shortly after Everett left the house,-there was a ring at the door, and a poorly-clad female asked to see Mrs Lopez. The poorly-clad female was Sexty Parker's wife. The servant, who did not remember her, would not leave her alone in the hall, having an eye to the coats and umbrellas, but called up one of the maids to carry the message. The poor woman understood the insult and resented it in her heart. But Mrs Lopez recognized the name in a moment, and went down to her in the parlour, leaving Mr Wharton upstairs. Mrs Parker, smarting from her present grievance, had bent her mind on complaining at once of the treatment she had received from the servant, but the sight of the widow's weeds quelled her. Emily had never been much given to fine clothes, either as a girl or as a married woman; but it had always been her husband's pleasure that she should be well dressed, - though he had never carried his trouble so far as to pay the bills; and Mrs Parker's remembrance of her friend at Dovercourt had been that of a fine lady in bright apparel. Now a black shade, - something almost like a dark ghost, - glided into the room and Mrs Parker forgot her recent injury. Emily came forward and offered her hand, and was the first to speak. 'I have had a great sorrow since we met,' she said.

'Yes, indeed, Mrs Lopez. I don't think there is anything left in the world now except sorrow.'

'I hope Mr Parker is well. Will you not sit down, Mrs Parker?'

'Thank you, ma'am. Indeed, then, he is not well at all. How should he be well? Everything, - everything has been taken away from him.' Poor Emily groaned as she heard this. 'I wouldn't say a word against them as is gone, Mrs Lopez, if I could help it. I know it is bad to bear when him who once loved you isn't no more. And perhaps it is all the worse when things didn't go well with him, and it was, maybe, his own fault. I wouldn't do it, Mrs Lopez, if I could help it.'

'Let me hear what you have to say,' said Emily, determined to suffer everything patiently.

'Well; - it is just this. He has left us that bare that there is nothing left. And that, they say, isn't the worst of all,-though what can be worse than doing that, how is a woman to think? Parker was that soft, and he had that way with him of talking, that he has talked me and mine out of the very linen on our backs.'

'What do you mean by saying that that is not the worst?'

'They've come upon Sexty for a bill for four thousand and fifty, - something to do with that stuff they call Bios, - and Sexty says it isn't his name at all. But he's been in that state he don't hardly know how to swear to anything. But he's sure he didn't sign it. The bill was brought to him by Lopez and there was words between them, and he wouldn't have nothing to do with it. How is he to go to law? And it don't make much difference neither, for they can't take much more from him than they have already taken.' Emily as she heard all this sat shivering, trying to repress her groans. 'Only,' continued Mrs Parker, 'they hadn't sold the furniture, and I was thinking they might let me stay in the house, and try to do with letting lodgings,-and now they're seizing everything along of this bill. Sexty is like a mad man, swearing this and swearing that; - but what can he do, Mrs Lopez? It's as like his hand as two peas; but he was clever at everything was, - was - you know who I mean, ma'am.' Then Emily covered her face with her hands and burst into violent tears. She had not determined whether she did or did not believe this last accusation made against her husband. She had had hardly time to realize the criminality of the offence imputed. But she did believe that the woman before her had been ruined by her husband's speculations. 'It's very bad, ma'am; isn't it?' said Mrs Parker, crying for company. 'It's bad all round. If you had five children as hadn't bread you'd know how I feel. I've got to go back by the 10.15 to-night, and when I've paid for a third-class ticket I shan't have but twopence left in this world.'

This utter depth of immediate poverty, this want of bread for the morrow and the next day, Emily could relieve out of her own pocket. And, thinking of this and remembering that her purse was not with her at the moment, she started up with the idea of getting it. But it occurred to her that that would not suffice; that her duty required more of her than that. And yet, by her own power, she could do no more. From month to month, almost from week to week, since her husband's death, her father had been called upon to satisfy claims for money which he would not resist, lest by doing so he should add to her misery. She had felt that she ought to bind herself to the strictest personal economy because of the miserable losses to which she had subjected him by her ill-starred marriage. 'What would you wish me to do?' she said, resuming her seat.

'You are rich,' said Mrs Parker. Emily shook her head. 'They say your papa is rich. I thought you would not like to see me in want like this.'

'Indeed, indeed, it makes me very unhappy.'

'Wouldn't your papa do something? It wasn't Sexty's fault nigh so much as it was his. I wouldn't say it to you if it wasn't for starving. I wouldn't say it to you if it wasn't for the children. I'd lie in the ditch and die if it was only for myself, because, - because I know what your feelings is. But what wouldn't you do, and what wouldn't you say, if you had five children at home as hadn't a loaf of bread among 'em?' Hereupon Emily got up and left the room, bidding her visitor wait for a few minutes. Presently the offensive butler came in, who had wronged Mrs Parker by watching his master's coats, and brought a tray with meat and wine. Mr Wharton, said the altered man, hoped that Mrs Parker would take a little refreshment, and he would be down himself very soon. Mrs Parker, knowing that strength for her journey home would be necessary to her, remembering that she would have to walk all through the city to the Bishopgate Street station, did take some refreshment, and permitted herself to drink the glass of sherry that her late enemy had benignantly poured out for her.

Emily had been with her father nearly half an hour before Mr Wharton's heavy step was heard upon the stairs. And when he reached the dining-room door he paused a moment before he ventured to turn the lock. He had not told Emily what he would do, and hardly as yet made up his own mind. As every fresh call was made upon him, his hatred for the memory of the man who had stepped in and disturbed his whole life, and turned all the mellow satisfaction of his evening into storm and gloom, was of course increased. The scoundrel's name was so odious to him that he could hardly keep himself from shuddering visibly before his daughter even when the servants called her by it. But yet he had determined that he would devote himself to save her from further suffering. It had been her fault, no doubt. But she was expiating it in very sackcloth and ashes, and he would add nothing to the burden on her back. He would pay, and pay, and pay, merely remembering that what he paid must be deducted from her share of his property. He had never intended to make what is called an elder son of Everett, and now there was less necessity than ever that he should do so, as Everett had become an elder son in another direction. He could satisfy almost any demand that might be made without material injury to himself. But these demands, one after another, scalded him by their frequency, and by the baseness of the man who had occasioned them. His daughter had now repeated to him with sobbings and wailings the whole story as it had been told to her by the woman downstairs. 'Papa,' she had said, 'I don't know how to tell you or how not.' Then he had encouraged her, and had listened without saying a word. He had endeavoured not even to shrink as the charge of forgery was repeated to him by his own child, - the widow of the guilty man. He endeavoured not to remember at the moment that she had claimed this wretch as the chosen one of her maiden heart, in opposition to all his wishes. It hardly occurred to him to disbelieve the accusation. It was so probable! What was there to hinder the man from forgery, if he could only make it believed that his victim had signed the bill when intoxicated? He heard it all; - kissed his daughter, and then went down to the dining-room.

Mrs Parker, when she saw him, got up, and curtsied low, and then sat down again. Old Wharton looked at her from under his bushy eyebrows before he spoke, and then sat opposite her. 'Madam,' he said, 'this is a very sad story that I have heard.' Mrs Parker again rose, and again curtsied, and put her handkerchief to her face. 'It is of no use talking any more about it here.'

'No, sir,' said Mrs Parker.

'I and my daughter leave town early to-morrow morning.'

'Indeed, sir. Mrs Lopez didn't tell me.'

'My clerk will be in London, at No.12, Stone Buildings, Lincoln's Inn, till I come back. Do you think you can find the place? I have written it there.'

'Yes, sir, I can find it,' said Mrs Parker, just raising herself from her chair at every word he spoke.

'I have written his name, you see. Mr Crumpy.'

'Yes, sir.'

'If you will permit me, I will give you two sovereigns now.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'And if you can make it convenient to call on Mr Crumpy every Thursday morning about twelve, he will pay you two sovereigns a week till I come back to town. Then I will see about it.'

'God Almighty bless you, sir!'

'And as to the furniture, I will write to my attorney, Mr Walker. You need not trouble yourself by going to him.'

'No, sir.'

'If necessary, he will send to you, and he will see what can be done. Good night Mrs Parker.' Then he walked across the room with two sovereigns which he dropped into her hand. Mrs Parker, with many sobs, bade him farewell, and Mr Wharton stood in the hall immoveable till the front door had been closed behind her. 'I have settled it,' he said to Emily. 'I'll tell you to-morrow, or some day. Don't worry yourself now, but go to bed.' She looked wistfully, - so sadly, up into his face, and then did as he bade her.

But Mr Wharton could not go to bed without further trouble. It was incumbent on him to write full particulars that very night both to Mr Walker and to Mr Crumpy. And the odious letters in the writing became very long; - odious because he had to confess in them over and over again that his daughter, the very apple of his eye, had been the wife of a scoundrel. To Mr Walker he had to tell the whole story of the alleged forgery, and in doing so could not abstain from the use of hard words. 'I don't suppose that it can be proved, but there is every reason to believe that it's true.' And again - 'I believe the man to have been as vile a scoundrel as ever was made by the love of money.' Even to Mr Crumpy he could not be reticent. 'She is an object of pity,' he said. 'Her husband was ruined by the infamous speculations of Mr Lopez.' Then he betook himself to bed. Oh, how happy would he be to pay the two thousand weekly pounds, - even to add to that the amount of the forged bill, if by doing so he might be saved from ever hearing again the name of Lopez.

The amount of the bill was ultimately lost by the bankers who had advanced the money on it. As for Mrs Sexty Parker, from week to week, and from month to month, and at last from year to year, she and her children, - and probably her husband also, - were supported by the weekly pension of two sovereigns which she always received on Thursday mornings form the hands of Mr Crumpy himself. In a little time the one excitement of her life was the weekly journey to Mr Crumpy, whom she came to regard as a man appointed by Providence to supply her with 40s on Thursday morning. As to poor Sexty Parker, - it is to be feared that he never again became a prosperous man.

'You will tell me what you did for that poor woman, papa,' said Emily, leaning over her father in the train.

'I have settled it, my dear.'

'You said you'd tell me.'

'Crumpy will pay her two pounds a week till we know more about it.' Emily pressed her father's hand, and that was an end. No one ever did know any more about it, and Crumpy continued to pay the money.

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 70 AT WHARTON.

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