The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 30

‘Yes:— A Lie!’

‘So you went to Happerton after all,’ said Lopez to his ally, Mr Sextus Parker. ‘You couldn’t believe me when I told you the money was all right! What a cur you are!’

‘That’s right; — abuse me.’

‘Well, it was horrid. Didn’t I tell you that it must necessarily injure me with the house? How are two fellows to get on together unless they can put some trust in each other? Even if I did run you into a difficulty, do you really think I’m ruffian enough to tell you that the money was there if it was untrue?’

Sexty looked like a cur and felt like a cur, as he was being thus abused. He was not angry with his friend for calling him bad names, but only anxious to excuse himself. ‘I was out of sorts,’ he said, ‘and so d-d hippish. I didn’t know what I was about.’

‘Brandy-and-soda,’ suggested Lopez.

‘Perhaps a little of that; — though, by Jove, it isn’t often I do that kind of thing. I don’t know a fellow who works harder for his wife and children than I do. But when one sees such things all round one — a fellow utterly smashed here who had a string of hunters yesterday, and another fellow buying a house in Piccadilly and pulling it down because it isn’t big enough, who was contented with a little box in Hornsey last summer, one doesn’t quite know how to keep one’s legs.’

‘If you want to learn a lesson look at the two men, and see where the difference lies. The one has had some heart about him, and the other has been a coward.’

Parker scratched his head, balanced himself on the hind legs of his stool, and tacitly acknowledged the truth of all that his enterprising friend had said to him. ‘Has old Wharton come down well?’ at last he asked.

‘I have never said a word to old Wharton about money,’ Lopez replied — ‘except as the cost of this election I was telling you of.’

‘And he wouldn’t do anything in that?’

‘He doesn’t approve of the thing itself. I don’t doubt but that the old gentleman and I shall understand each other before long.’

‘You’ve got the length of his foot.’

‘But I don’t mean to drive him. I can get along without that. He’s an old man, and he can’t take his money along with him when he goes the great journey.’

‘There’s a brother, Lopez — isn’t there?’

‘Yes — there’s a brother; but Wharton has enough for two, and if he were to put either out of his will it wouldn’t be my wife. Old men don’t like parting with their money, and he’s like other old men. If it were not so I shouldn’t bother myself coming into the city at all.’

‘Has he enough for that, Lopez?’

‘I suppose he’s worth a quarter of a million.’

‘By Jove! And where did he get it?’

‘Perseverance, sir. Put by a shilling a day, and let it have its natural increase, and see what it will come to at the end of fifty years. I suppose old Wharton has been putting two or three thousand out of his professional income, at any rate for the last thirty years, and never for a moment forgetting its natural increase. That’s one way to make a fortune.’

‘It ain’t rapid enough for you and me, Lopez.’

‘No. That is the old-fashioned way, and the most sure. But, as you say, it is not rapid enough; and it robs a man of the power of enjoying his money when he has made it. But it’s a very good thing to be closely connected with a man who has already done that kind of thing. There’s not doubt about the money when it is there. It does not take to itself wings and fly away.’

‘But the man who has it sticks to it uncommon hard.’

‘Of course he does; — but he can’t take it away with him.’

‘He can leave it to hospitals, Lopez. That’s the devil.’

‘Sexty, my boy, I see you have taken an outlook into human life which does you credit. Yes, he can leave it to hospitals. But why does he leave it to hospitals?’

‘Something of being afraid about his soul, I suppose.’

‘No; I don’t believe in that. Such a man as this, who has been hard-fisted all his life, and who has had his eyes thoroughly open, who has made his own money in the sharp intercourse of man to man, and who keeps it to the last gasp — he doesn’t believe that he’ll do his soul any good by giving it to hospitals when he can’t keep it himself any longer. His mind has freed itself from those cobwebs long since. He gives his money to hospitals because the last pleasure of which he is capable is that of spitting his relations. And it is a great pleasure to an old man, when his relations have been disgusted with him for being old and loving his money. I rather think I should do it myself.’

‘I’d give myself a chance of going to heaven, I think,’ said Parker.

‘Don’t you know that men will rob and cheat on their death-beds, and say their prayers all the time? Old Wharton won’t leave his money to hospitals if he’s well handled by those about him.’

‘And you’ll handle him well; — eh, Lopez?’

‘I won’t quarrel with him, or tell him that he’s a curmudgeon because he doesn’t do all that I want him. He’s over seventy, and he can’t carry his money with him.’

All this left so vivid an impression of the wisdom of his friend on the mind of Sextus Parker, that in spite of the harrowing fears by which he had been tormented on more than one occasion already, he allowed himself to be persuaded into certain fiscal arrangements, by which Lopez would find himself put at ease with reference to money at any rate for the next four months. He had at once told himself that this election would cost him 1,000 pounds. When various sums were mentioned in reference to such an affair, safety alone could be found in taking the outside sum; — perhaps might generally be more securely found by adding fifty per cent to that. He knew that he was wrong about the election, but he assured himself that he had had no alternative. The misfortune had been that the Duke should have made his proclamation about the borough immediately after the offer made by the Duchess. He had been almost forced to send the agent down to inquire; — and the agent, when making his inquiries, had compromised him. He must go on with it now. Perhaps some idea of the pleasantness of increased intimacy with the Duchess of Omnium encouraged him in his way of thinking. The Duchess was up in town in February, and Lopez left a card in Carlton Terrace. On the very next day the card of the Duchess was left for Mrs Lopez at the Belgrave Mansions.

Lopez went into the city every day, leaving home at about eleven o’clock, and not returning much before dinner. The young wife at first found that she hardly knew what to do with her time. Her aunt, Mrs Roby, was distasteful to her. She had already learned from her husband that he had but little respect for Mrs Roby. ‘You remember the sapphire brooch,’ he said once. ‘That was part of the price I had to pay for being allowed to approach you.’ He was sitting at the time with his hand round her waist, looking out on the beautiful scenery and talking of his old difficulties. She could not find it in her heart to be angry with him, but the idea brought to her mind was disagreeable to her. And she was thoroughly angry with Mrs Roby. Of course in these days Mrs Roby. came to see her, and of course when she was up in Manchester Square, she went to the house round the corner — but there was no close intimacy between the aunt and the niece. And many of her father’s friends — whom she regarded as the Hertfordshire set — were very cold to her. She had not made herself a glory to Hertfordshire, and — as all these people said — had broken the heart of the best Hertfordshire young man of the day. This made a great falling-off in her acquaintance, which was the more felt as she had never been, as a girl, devoted to a large circle of dearest female friends. She whom she had loved best had been Mary Wharton, and Mary Wharton had refused to be her bridesmaid almost without an expression of regret. She saw her father occasionally. Once he came and dined with them at their rooms, on which occasion Lopez struggled hard to make up a well-sounding party. There were Roby from the Admiralty, and the Happertons, and Sir Timothy Beeswax, with whom Lopez had become acquainted at Gatherum, and old Lord Mongrober. But the barrister, who had dined out a good deal in his time, perceived the effort. Who, that ever with difficulty scraped his dinner guests together, was able afterwards to obliterate the signs of the struggle? It was, however, a first attempt, and Lopez, whose courage was good, thought that he might do better before long. If he could get into the House and make his mark there people then would dine with him fast enough. But while that was going on Emily’s life was rather dull. He had provided her with a brougham, and everything around her was even luxurious, but there came upon her gradually a feeling that by her marriage she had divided herself from her own people. She did not for a moment allow this feeling to interfere with her loyalty to him. Had she not known that this division would surely take place? Had she not married him because she loved him better than her own people? So she sat herself down to read Dante — for they had studied Italian together during their honeymoon, and she found that he knew the language well. And she was busy with her needle. And she already began to anticipate the happiness which would come to her when a child of his should be lying in her arms.

She was of course much interested about the election. Nothing could as yet be done, because as yet there was no vacancy; but still the subject was discussed daily between them. ‘Who do you think is going to stand against me?’ he said one day with a smile. ‘A very old friend of yours.’ She knew at once who the man was and the blood came to her face. ‘I think he might as well have left it alone, you know,’ he said.

‘Did he know?’ she asked in a whisper.

‘Know; — of course he knew. He is doing it on purpose. But I beat him once, old girl, didn’t I? And I’ll beat him again.’ She liked him to call her old girl. She loved the perfect intimacy with which he treated her. But there was something which grated against her feelings in the allusion by him to the other man who had loved her. Of course she had told him the whole story. She had conceived it to be her duty to do so. But then the thing should have been over. It was necessary, perhaps, that he should tell her who was his opponent. It was impossible that she should not know when the fight came. But she did not like to hear that he had beaten Arthur Fletcher once, and that he would beat him again. By doing so he likened the sweet fragrance of her love to the dirty turmoil of an electioneering contest.

He did not understand — how could he? — that though she had never loved Arthur Fletcher, had never been able to bring herself to love him when all her friends had wished it, her feelings to him were nevertheless those of affectionate friendship; — that she regarded him as being perfect in his way, a thorough gentleman, a man who would not for worlds tell a lie, as most generous among the generous, most noble among the noble. When the other Whartons had thrown her off, he had not been cold to her. That very day, as soon as her husband had left her, she looked again at that little note. ‘I am as I always have been!’ And she remembered that farewell down by the banks of the Wye. ‘You will always have one — one besides him — who will love you best in the world.’ They were dangerous words for her to remember; but in recalling them to her memory she had often assured herself that they should not be dangerous to her. She had loved the one man and had not loved the other; — but yet, now when her husband talked of beating him again, she could not but remember his words.

She did not think — or rather had not thought — that Arthur Fletcher would willingly stand against her husband. It had occurred to her at once that he must first have become a candidate without knowing who would be his opponent. But Ferdinand had assured her as a matter of fact that Fletcher had known all about it. ‘I suppose in politics men are different,’ she said to herself. Her husband had evidently supposed that Arthur Fletcher had proposed himself as a candidate for Silverbridge, with the express object of doing an injury to the man who had carried off his love. And she repeated to herself her husband’s words, ‘He’s doing it on purpose.’ She did not like to differ from her husband, but she could hardly bring herself to believe that revenge of this kind should have recommended itself to Arthur Fletcher.

Some little time after this, when she had settled in London, above a month, a letter was brought to her, and she at once recognized Arthur Fletcher’s writing. She was alone at the time, and it occurred to her at first that perhaps she ought not to open any communication from him without showing it to her husband. But then it seemed that such a hesitation would imply a doubt of the man, and almost a doubt of herself. Why should she fear what any man might write to her? So she opened the letter, and read it — with infinite pleasure. It was as follows:

DEAR Mrs LOPEZ,
I think it best to make an explanation to you as to a
certain coincidence which might possibly be misunderstood
unless explained. I find that your husband and I are
opponents at Silverbridge. I wish to say that I had
pledged myself to the borough before I had heard his name
as connected with it. I have very old associations with
the neighbourhood, and was invited to stand by friends
who had known me all my life as soon as it was understood
that there would be an open contest. I cannot retire now
without breaking faith with my party, nor do I know that
there is a reason why I should do so. I should not,
however, have come forward had I known that Mr Lopez was
to stand. I think you had better tell him so, and tell
him also, with my compliments, that I hope we may fight
our political battle with mutual good-fellowship and good
feeling.
Yours very sincerely,
ARTHUR FLETCHER

Emily was very much pleased by this letter, and yet she wept over it. She felt that she understood accurately all the motives that were at work within the man’s breast when he was writing it. As to its truth — of course the letter was gospel to her. Oh — if the man could become her husband’s friend how sweet it would be! Of course she wished, thoroughly wished, that her husband should succeed at Silverbridge. But she could understand that such a contest as this might be carried out without personal animosity. The letter was so like Arthur Fletcher — so good, so noble, so generous, so true! The moment her husband came in she showed it to him with delight. ‘I was sure,’ she said as he was reading the letter, ‘that he had not known you were to stand.’

‘He knew it as well as I did,’ he replied, and as he spoke there came a dark scowl across his brow. ‘His writing to you is a piece of infernal impudence.’

‘Oh, Ferdinand!’

‘You don’t understand, but I do. He deserves to be horsewhipped for daring to write to you, and if I come across him he shall have it.’

‘Oh; — for heaven’s sake.’

‘A man who was your rejected lover — who has been trying to marry you for the last two years, presuming to commence a correspondence with you without your husband’s sanction!’

‘He meant you to see it. He says I’m to tell you.’

‘Psha! That is simple cowardice. He meant you not to tell me; and then when you answered him without telling me, he would have had the whip-hand of you.’

‘Oh, Ferdinand, what evil thoughts you have!’

‘You are a child, my dear, and must allow me to dictate to you what you ought to think in such a matter as this. I tell you he knew all about my candidature, and that what he has said here to the contrary is a mere lie — yes, a lie.’ He repeated the word because he saw that she shrank at hearing it; but he did not understand why she shrank — that the idea of such an accusation against Arthur Fletcher was intolerable to her. ‘I have never heard of such a thing,’ he continued. ‘Do you suppose it is common for men who have been thrown over to write to the ladies who have rejected them immediately after their marriage?’

‘Do not the circumstances justify it?’

‘No; — they make it infinitely worse. He should have felt himself to be debarred from writing to you, both as being my wife and as being the wife of the man whom he intends to oppose at Silverbridge.’

This he said with so much anger that he frightened her. ‘It is not my fault,’ she said.

‘No; it is not your fault. But you should regard it as a great fault committed by him.’

‘What am I to do?’

‘Give me the letter. You, of course, can do nothing.’

‘You will not quarrel with him?’

‘Certainly I will. I have quarrelled with him already. Do you think I will allow any man to insult my wife without quarrelling with him? What I shall do I cannot as yet say, and whatever I may do, you had better not know. I never thought much of these Hertfordshire swells who believe themselves to be the very cream of the earth, and now I think less of them than ever.’

He was then silent, and slowly she took herself out of the room, and went away to dress. All this was very terrible. He had never been rough to her before, and she could not at all understand why he had been so rough to her now. Surely it was impossible that he should be jealous because her old lover had written to her such a letter as that which she had shown him! And then she was almost stunned by the opinions he had expressed about Fletcher, opinions which she knew — was sure that she knew — to be absolutely erroneous. A liar! Oh, heavens! And then the letter itself was so ingenuous and so honest! Anxious as she was to do all that her husband bade her, she could not be guided by him in this matter. And then she remembered his words: ‘You must allow me to dictate to you what you ought to think.’ Could it be that marriage meant as much as that — that a husband was to claim to dictate to his wife what opinions she was to form about this and that person — about a person she had known so well, whom he had never known? Surely she could only think in accordance with her own experience and her own intelligence! She was certain that Arthur Fletcher was no liar. Not even her own husband could make her think that.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43