The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 31

‘Yes; — With a Horsewhip in My Hand.’

Emily Lopez, when she crept out of her own room and joined her husband just before dinner, was hardly able to speak to him so thoroughly was she dismayed, and troubled, and horrified, by the manner in which he had taken Arthur Fletcher’s letter. While she had been alone she had thought it all over, anxious if possible to bring herself into sympathy with her husband; but the more she thought of it the more evident did it become to her that he was altogether wrong. He was so wrong that it seemed to her that she would be a hypocrite if she pretended to agree with him. There were half-a-dozen accusations conveyed against Mr Fletcher by her husband’s view of the matter. He was a liar, giving a false account of his candidature; — and he was a coward; and an enemy to her, who had laid a plot by which he had hoped to make her act fraudulently towards her own husband, who had endeavoured to creep into a correspondence with her, and so to compromise her! All this, which her husband’s mind so easily conceived, was not only impossible to her, but so horrible that she could not refrain from disgust at her husband’s conception. The letter had been left with him, but she remembered every word of it. She was sure that it was an honest letter, meaning no more than had been said — simply intending to explain to her that he would not willingly have stood in the way of a friend whom he had loved, by interfering with her husband’s prospects. And yet she was told that she was to think as her husband bade her think! She could not think so. She could not say that she thought so. If her husband would not credit her judgement, let the matter be referred to her father. Ferdinand would at any rate acknowledge that her father could understand such a matter even if she could not.

During dinner he said nothing on the subject, nor did she. They were attended by a page in buttons whom he had hired to wait upon her, and the meal passed off almost in silence. She looked up at him frequently and saw that his brow was still black. As soon as they were alone she spoke to him, having studied during dinner what words she would first say: ‘Are you going down to the club tonight!’ He had told her that the matter of this election had been taken up at the Progress, and that possibly he might have to meet two or three persons there on this evening. There had been a proposition that the club should bear a part of the expenditure, and he was very solicitous that such an arrangement should be made.

‘No,’ said he, ‘I shall not go out to-night. I am not sufficiently light-hearted.’

‘What makes you heavy-hearted, Ferdinand?’

‘I should have thought you would have known.’

‘I suppose I do know — but I don’t know why it should. I don’t know why you should be displeased. At any rate, I have done nothing wrong.’

‘No; — not as to the letter. But it astonishes me that you should be so — so bound to this man that-’

‘Bound to him, Ferdinand!’

‘No; — you are bound to me. But that you have so much regard for him as not to see that he has grossly insulted you.’

‘I have a regard for him.’

‘And you dare to tell me so?’

‘Dare! What should I be if I had any feeling which I did not dare to tell you? There is no harm in regarding a man with friendly feelings whom I have known since I was a child, and whom all my family have loved.’

‘Your family wanted you to marry him!’

‘They did. But I have married you, because I loved you. But I need not think badly of an old friend, because I did not love him. Why should you be angry with him? What can you have to be afraid of?’ Then she came and sat on his knee and caressed him.

‘It is he that shall be afraid of me,’ said Lopez. ‘Let him give the borough up if he means what he says.’

‘Who could ask him to do that?’

‘Not you — certainly.’

‘Oh, no.’

‘I can ask him.’

‘Could you, Ferdinand?’

‘Yes; — with a horsewhip in my hand.’

‘Indeed, indeed you do not know him. Will you do this; — will you tell my father everything, and leave it to him to say whether Mr Fletcher has behaved badly to you?’

‘Certainly not. I will not have any interference from your father between you and me. If I had listened to your father, you would not have been here now. Your father is not as yet a friend of mine. When he comes to know what I can do for myself, and that I can rise higher than these Hertfordshire people, then perhaps he may become my friend. But I will consult him in nothing so peculiar to myself as my own wife. And you must understand that in coming to me all obligation from you to him become extinct. Of course he is your father; but in such a matter as this he has no more say to you than any stranger.’ After that he hardly spoke to her; but sat for an hour with a book in his hand, and then rose and said that he would go down to the club. ‘There is so much villainy about,’ he said, ‘that a man if he means to do anything must keep himself on the watch.’

When she was alone she at once burst into tears; but she soon dried her eyes, and putting down her work, settled herself to think of it all. What did it mean? Why was he thus changed to her? Could it be that he was the same Ferdinand to whom she had given herself, without a doubt as to his personal merit? Every word that he had spoken since she had shown him the letter from Arthur Fletcher had been injurious to her, and offensive. It almost seemed as though he had determined to show himself to be a tyrant to her, and had only put off playing the part till the first convenient opportunity after their honeymoon. But through all this, her ideas were loyal to him. She would obey him in all things where obedience was possible, and would love him better than all the world. Oh yes; — for was he not her husband? Were he to prove himself the worst of men she would still love him. It had been for better or for worse; and as she had repeated the words to herself, she had sworn that if the worst should come, she would still be true.

But she could not bring herself to say that Arthur Fletcher had behaved badly. She could not. She knew well that his conduct had been noble and generous. Then unconsciously and involuntarily — or rather in opposition to her own will and inward efforts — her mind would draw comparisons between her husband and Arthur Fletcher. There was some peculiar gift, or grace, or acquirement belonging without dispute to the one, which the other lacked. What was it? She had heard her father say when talking of gentlemen — of that race of gentlemen with whom it had been his lot to live — that you could not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The use of the proverb had offended her much, for she had known well whom he had then regarded as a silk purse and whom a sow’s ear. But now she perceived that there had been truth in all this, though she was as anxious as ever to think well of her husband, and to endow him with all possible virtues. She had once ventured to form a doctrine for herself, to preach to herself a sermon of her own, and to tell herself that this gift of gentle blood and of gentle nurture, of which her father thought so much, and to which something of divinity was attributed down in Hertfordshire, was after all but a weak, spiritless quality. It could exist without intellect, without heart, and with very moderate culture. It was compatible with many littlenesses and with many vices. As for that love of honest, courageous truth which her father was wont to attribute to it, she regarded his theory as based on legends, as in earlier years was the theory of the courage, and constancy, and loyalty, of the knights of those days. The beau ideal of a man which she then pictured to herself was graced, first with intelligence, then with affection, and lastly with ambition. She knew no reason why such a hero as her fancy created should be born of lords and ladies rather than of working mechanics, should be English rather than Spanish or French. The man could not be her hero without education, without attributes to be attained no doubt more easily by the rich than the poor; but, with that granted, with those attained, she did not see why she, or why the world, should go beyond the man’s own self. Such had been her theories as to men and their attributes, and acting on that, she had given herself and all her happiness into the keeping of Ferdinand Lopez. Now, there was gradually coming upon her a change in her convictions — a change that was most unwelcome, that she strove to reject — one which she would not acknowledge that she had adopted even while adopting it. But now — ay, from the very hour of her marriage — she had commenced to learn what it was that her father had meant when he spoke of the pleasure of living with gentlemen. Arthur Fletcher certainly was a gentleman. He would not have entertained the suspicion which her husband had expressed. He could not have failed to believe such assertions as had been made. He could never have suggested to his own wife that another man had endeavoured to entrap her into a secret correspondence. She seemed to hear the tones of Arthur Fletcher’s voice, as those of her husband still rang in her ear when he bade her remember that she was now removed from her father’s control. Every now and then the tears would come to her eyes, and she would sit pondering, listless, low in heart. Then she would suddenly rouse herself with a shake, and take up her book with a resolve that she would read steadily, would assure herself as she did so that her husband should still be her hero. The intelligence at any rate was there, and, in spite of his roughness, the affection which she craved. And the ambition, too, was there. But, alas, alas! why should such vile suspicions have fouled his mind?

He was late that night, but when he came he kissed her brow as she lay in bed, and she knew that his temper was again smooth. She feigned to be sleepy, though not asleep, as she just put her hand up to his cheek. She did not wish to speak to him again that night, but she was glad to know that in the morning he would smile on her. ‘Be early at breakfast,’ he said to her as he left her next morning, ‘for I’m going down to Silverbridge today.’

Then she started up. ‘To-day!’

‘Yes — by the 11.20. There is plenty of time, only don’t be unusually late.’

Of course she was something more than usually early, and when she came out she found him reading his paper. ‘It’s all settled now,’ he said. ‘Grey has applied for the Hundreds, and Mr Rattler is to move for the new writ tomorrow. It has come rather sudden at last, as these things always do after long delays. But they say the suddenness is rather in my favour.’

‘When will the election take place?’

‘I suppose in about a fortnight; — perhaps a little longer.’

‘And must you be at Silverbridge all that time?’

‘Oh dear no. I shall stay there to-night, and perhaps tomorrow night. Of course I shall telegraph you directly I find how it is to be. I shall see the principal inhabitants, and probably make a speech or two.’

‘I do wish I could hear you.’

‘You’d find it awfully dull work, my girl. And I shall find it awfully dull too. I do not imagine that Mr Sprugeon and Mr Sprout will be pleasant companions. Well; I shall stay there a day or two and settle when I am to go down for the absolute canvass. I shall have to go with my hat in my hand to every blessed inhabitant in that dirty little town, and ask them all to be kind enough to drop in a paper for the most humble of their servants, Ferdinand Lopez.’

‘I suppose all candidates have to do the same.’

‘Oh yes; — your friend, Master Fletcher, will have to do it.’ She winced at this. Arthur Fletcher was her friend, but at the present moment he ought not so to have spoken of him. ‘And from all I hear, he is just the sort of fellow that will like the doing of it. It is odious to me to ask a fellow that I despise for anything.’

‘Why should you despise them?’

‘Low, ignorant, greasy cads, who have no idea of the real meaning of political privileges; — men who would all sell their votes for thirty shillings each, if that game had not been made a little too hot!’

‘If they are like that I would not represent them.’

‘Oh yes, you would; — when you came to understand the world. It’s a fine thing to be in Parliament, and that is the way to get in. However, on this visit I shall only see the great men of the town — the Sprouts and Sprugeons.’

‘Shall you go to Gatherum Castle?’

‘Oh, heavens no! I may go anywhere now rather than there. The Duke is supposed to be in absolute ignorance of the very names of the candidates, or whether there are candidates. I don’t suppose that the word Silverbridge will be even whispered in his ear till the thing is over.’

‘But you are to get in by his friendship.’

‘Or by hers; — at least I hope so. I have no doubt that the Sprouts and the Sprugeons have been given to understand by the Lococks and the Pritchards what are the Duchess’s wishes, and that it has also been intimated in some subtle way that the Duke is willing to oblige the Duchess. There are ever so many ways, you know, of killing a cat.’

‘And the expense?’ suggested Emily.

‘Oh — ah; the expense. When you come to talk of the expense things are not so pleasant. I never saw such a set of meaningless asses in my life as those men at the club. They talk and talk, but there is not one of them who knows how to do anything. Now at the club over the way, they do arrange matters. It’s a common cause, and I don’t see what right they have to expect that one man should bear all the expense. I’ve a deuced good mind to leave them in the lurch.’

‘Don’t do it, Ferdinand, if you can’t afford it.’

‘I shall go with it now. I can’t help feeling that I’ve been a little let in among them. When the Duchess first promised me it was to be a simple walk over. Now that they’ve got their candidate, they go back from that and open the thing to any comer. I can’t tell you what I think of Fletcher for taking advantage of such a chance. And then the political committee of the club coolly say that they’ve got no money. It isn’t honest, you know.’

‘I don’t understand all that,’ said Emily sadly. Every word that he said about Fletcher cut her to the heart; — not because it grieved her that Fletcher should be abused, but that her husband should condescend to abuse him. She escaped from further conflict at the moment by proclaiming her ignorance of the whole matter; but she knew enough of it to be well aware that Arthur Fletcher had as good a right to stand as her husband, and that her husband lowered himself by personal animosity to the man. Then Lopez took his departure. ‘Oh, Ferdinand,’ she said, ‘I do so hope you may be successful.’

‘I don’t think he can have a chance. From what people say, he must be a fool to try. That is, the Castle is true to me. I shall know more about it when I come back.’

That afternoon she dined with her father, and there met Mrs Roby. It was of course known that Lopez had gone down to Silverbridge, and Emily learned in Manchester Square that Everett had gone with him. ‘From all I hear, they’re two fools for their pains,’ said the lawyer.

‘Why, papa?’

‘The Duke has given the thing up.’

‘But still his interest remains.’

‘No such thing! If there is an honest man in England it is the Duke of Omnium, and when he says a thing he means it. Left to themselves the people of a little town like Silverbridge are sure to return a Conservative. They are half of them small farmers, and of course will go that way if not made to go to the other. If the club mean to pay the cost —’

‘The club will pay nothing, papa.’

‘Then I can only hope that Lopez is doing well in his business!’ After that nothing further was said about the election, but she perceived that her father was altogether opposed to the idea of her husband being in Parliament, and that his sympathies and even his wishes were on the other side. When Mrs Roby suggested that it would be a very nice thing for them all to have Ferdinand in Parliament — she always called him Ferdinand now — Mr Wharton railed at her. ‘Why should it be a nice thing? I wonder whether you have any idea of a meaning in your head when you say that. Do you suppose that a man gets 1000 pounds a year by going into Parliament?’

‘Laws, Mr Wharton; how uncivil you are! Of course I know that members of Parliament aren’t paid.’

‘Where’s the niceness then? If a man has his time at his command and has studied the art of legislation it be nice, because he will be doing his duty; — or if he wants to get into the government ruck like your brother-inlaw, it may be nice; — or if he be an idle man with a large fortune it may be nice to have some place to go. But why should it be nice for Ferdinand Lopez. I cannot understand. Everett has some idea in his head when he talks about Parliament — though I cannot say that I agree with him.’ It may easily be understood that after this Emily would say nothing further in Manchester Square as to her husband’s prospects at Silverbridge.

Lopez was at Silverbridge for a couple of days, and then returned, as his wife thought, by no means confident of success. He remained in town nearly a week, and during that time he managed to see the Duchess. He had written to her saying that he would do himself the honour of calling on her, and when he came was admitted. But the account he gave to his wife of the visit did not express much satisfaction. It was quite late in the evening before he told her whither he had been. He had intended to keep the matter to himself, and at last spoke of it — guided by the feeling which induces all men to tell their secrets to their wives — because it was a comfort to him to talk to someone who would not openly contradict him. ‘She’s a sly creature after all,’ he said.

‘I had always thought that she was too open rather than sly,’ said his wife.

‘People always try to get a character just opposite to what they deserve. When I hear that a man is always to be believed, I know that he is the most dangerous liar going. She hummed and hawed and would not say a word about the borough. She went so far as to tell me that I wasn’t to say a word about it to her.’

‘Wasn’t that best if her husband wished her not to talk of it?’

‘It is all humbug and falsehood to the very bottom. She knows that I am spending money about it, and she ought to be on the square with me. She ought to tell me what she can do and what she can’t. When I asked her whether Sprugeon might be trusted, she said that she really wished I wouldn’t say anything more to her about it. I call that dishonest and sly. I shouldn’t at all wonder but that Fletcher has been with the Duke. If I find that out, won’t I expose them both!’

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