The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 39

‘Get Round Him.’

Ferdinand Lopez maintained his anger against his wife for more than a week, after the scene at Richmond, feeding it with reflections on what he called her disobedience. Nor was it a make-believe anger. She had declared her intention to act in opposition to his expressed orders. He felt that his present condition was prejudicial to his interests, and that he must take his wife back into favour, in order the he might make progress with her father, but could hardly bring himself to swallow his wrath. He thought it was her duty to obey him in everything — and that disobedience on a matter touching her old lover was an abominable offence, to be visited with severest marital displeasure, and with a succession of scowls that should make her miserable for a month at least. Nor on her behalf would he have hesitated, though the misery might have continued three months. But then the old man was the main hope in his life, and must be made its mainstay. Brilliant prospects were before him. He used to think that Mr Wharton was a hale man, with some terribly vexatious term of his life before him. But now, now that he was seen more closely, he appeared to be very old. He would sit half bent in the arm-chair in Stone Buildings, and look as though he were near a hundred. And from day to day he seemed to lean more upon his son-inlaw, whose visits to him were continued, and always well taken. The constant subject of discourse between them was Everett Wharton, who had not yet seen his father since the misfortune of their quarrel. Everett had declared to Lopez a dozen times that he would go to his father if his father wished it, and Lopez as often reported the father that Everett would not go to him unless he expressed such a wish. And so they had been kept apart. Lopez did not suppose that the old man would disinherit his son altogether — did not, perhaps, wish it. But he thought that the condition of the old man’s mind would affect the partition of his property, and that the old man would surely make some new will in the present state of his affairs. The old man always asked after his daughter, begging that she would come to see him, and at last it was necessary that an evening should be fixed. ‘We shall be delighted to come today or tomorrow,’ Lopez said.

‘We had better say tomorrow. There would be nothing to eat today. The house isn’t now what it used to be.’ It was therefore expedient that Lopez should drop his anger when he got home, and prepare his wife to dine in Manchester Square in a proper frame of mind.

Her misery had been extreme; — very much more bitter than he had imagined. It was not only that his displeasure made her life for the time wearisome, and robbed the only society she had of all its charms. It was not only that her heart was wounded by his anger. Those evils might have been short-lived. But she had seen — she could not fail to see — that his conduct was unworthy of her and of her deep love. Though she struggled hard against the feeling, she could not but despise the meanness of his jealousy. She knew thoroughly well that there had been no grain of offence in that letter from Arthur Fletcher — and she knew that no man, to true man, would have taken offence at it. She tried to quench her judgement, and to silence the verdict which her intellect gave against him, but her intellect was too strong even for her heart. She was beginning to learn that the god of idolatry was but a little human creature, and that she should not have worshipped at so poor a shrine. But nevertheless the love should be continued, and, if possible, the worship, though the idol had been already found to have feet of clay. He was her husband, and she would be true to him. As morning after morning he left her still with that harsh, unmanly frown upon his face, she would look up at him with entreating eyes, and when he returned would receive him with her fondest smile. At length he, too, smiled. He came to after that interview with Mr Wharton and told her, speaking with the soft yet incisive voice which she used to love so well, that they were to dine in the Square on the following day. ‘Let there be an end of all of this,’ he said, taking her in his arms and kissing her. Of course she did not tell him that ‘all this’ had sprung from his ill-humour and not from hers. ‘I own I have been angry,’ he continued. ‘I will say nothing more about it now; but that man did vex me.’

‘I have been so sorry that you should have been vexed.’

‘Well; — let it pass away. I don’t think your father is looking very well.’

‘He is not ill?’

‘Oh no. He feels the loss of your society. He is so much alone. You must be more with him.’

‘Has he not seen Everett yet?’

‘No. Everett is not behaving altogether well.’ Emily was made unhappy by this, and showed it. ‘He is the best fellow in the world. I may safely say there is no other man whom I regard so warmly as I do your brother. But he takes wrong ideas into his head, and nothing will knock them out. I wonder what your father has done about his will.’

‘I have not an idea. Nothing you may be sure will make him unjust to Everett.’

‘Ah! — You don’t happen to know whether he ever made a will?’

‘Not at all. He would be sure to say nothing to me about it — or to anybody.’

‘That is the kind of secrecy which I think is wrong. It leads to so much uncertainty. You wouldn’t like to ask him?’

‘No; — certainly.’

‘It is astonishing to me how afraid you are of your father. He hasn’t any land, has he?’

‘Land!’

‘Real estate. You know what I mean. He couldn’t well have landed property without your knowing it.’ She shook her head. ‘It might make an immense difference to us, you know.’

‘Why so?’

‘If he were to die without a will, any land — houses and that kind of property — would go to Everett. I never knew a man who told his children so little. I want you to understand these things. You and I will be badly off if he doesn’t do something for us.’

‘You don’t think he is really ill?’

‘No; — not ill. Men above seventy are apt to die, you know.’

‘Oh, Ferdinand — what a way to talk of it!’

‘Well, my love, the thing is so seriously matter-of-fact, that it is better to look at it in a matter-of-fact way. I don’t want your father to die.’

‘I hope not. I hope not.’

‘But I should be very glad to learn what he means to do while he lives. I want to get you into sympathy with me on this matter; — but it is so difficult.’

‘Indeed I sympathise with you.’

‘The truth is that he has taken an aversion to Everett.’

‘God forbid!’

‘I am doing all I can to prevent it. But if he does throw Everett over we ought to have advantage of it. There is no harm in saying as much as that. Think what it should be if he should take it into his head to leave his money to hospitals. My G-; fancy what my condition would be if I were to hear of such a will as that! If he destroyed the old will. Partly because he didn’t like our marriage, and partly in anger against Everett, and then die without making another, the property would be divided — unless he bought land. You see how many dangers there are. Oh dear! I can look forward and see myself mad — or else myself so proudly triumphant!’ All this horrified her, but he did not see her horror. He knew that she disliked it, but thought that disliked the trouble, and that she dreaded her father. ‘Now I do think that you could help me a little,’ he continued.

‘What can I do?’

‘Get round him when he’s a little down in the mouth. That is the way in which old men are conquered.’ How utterly ignorant he was of the very nature of her mind and disposition! To be told by her husband that she was to ‘get round’ her father! ‘You should see him every day. He would be delighted if you would go to him at his chambers. Or you could take care to be in the Square when he comes home. I don’t know whether we had not better leave this and go an live near him. Would you mind that?’

‘I would do anything you suggest as to living anywhere.’

‘But you won’t do anything I suggest as to your father.’

‘As to my being with him, if I thought he wished it — though I had to walk my feet off, I would go to him.’

‘There’s no need of hurting your feet. There’s the brougham.’

‘I do so wish, Ferdinand, you would discontinue the brougham. I don’t at all want it. I don’t at all dislike cabs. And I was only joking about walking. I walk very well.’

‘Certainly not. You fail altogether to understand my ideas about things. If things were going bad with us, I would infinitely prefer getting a pair of horses for you to putting down the one you have.’ She certainly did not understand his ideas. ‘Whatever we do we must hold our heads up. I think he is coming round to cotton to me. He is very close, but I can see that he likes my going to him. Of course, as he gets older from day to day, he’ll constantly want someone to lean on more than heretofore.’

‘I would go and stay with him if he wanted me.’

‘I have thought of that too. Now that would be a saving — without any fall. And if we were both there we could hardly fail to know what he was doing. You could offer that, couldn’t you? You could say as much as that?’

‘I could ask him if he wished it.’

‘Just so. Say that it occurs to you that he is lonely by himself, and that we will both go to the Square at a moment’s notice if he thinks it will make him comfortable. I feel sure that that will be the best step to take. I have already had an offer for these rooms, and could get rid of the things we have bought to advantage.’

This, too, was terrible to her, and at the same time altogether unintelligible. She had been invited to buy little treasures to make their home more comfortable, and had already learned to take that delight in her belongings which is one of the greatest pleasures of a young married woman’s life. A girl in her old home, before she is given up to a husband, has many sources of interest, and probably from day to day sees many people. And the man just married goes to his work, and occupies his time, and has his thickly-peopled world around him. But the bride, when the bridal honours of the honeymoon are over, when the sweet care of the first cradle has not yet come to her, is apt to be lonely and to be driven to the contemplation of the pretty things with which her husband and her friends have surrounded her. It had certainly been so with this young bride, whose husband left her in the morning and only returned for their late dinner. And now she was told that her household gods had had a price put on them, and that they were to be sold. She had intended to suggest that she would pay her father a visit, and her husband immediately proposed that they should quarter themselves permanently on the old man! She was ready to give up her brougham, though she liked the comfort of it well enough, but to that he would not consent because the possession of it gave him an air of wealth; but without a moment’s hesitation he could catch up the idea of throwing upon her father the burden of maintaining both her and himself! She understood the meaning of this. She could read his mind so far. She endeavoured not to read the book too closely — but there it was, opened to her wider day by day, and she knew that the lessons which it taught were vulgar and damnable.

And yet she had to hide from him her own perception of himself! She had to sympathise with his desires and yet abstain from doing that which his desires demanded from her. Alas, poor girl! She soon knew that the marriage had been a mistake. There was probably no one moment in which she made the confession to herself. But the conviction was there, in her mind, as though the confession had been made. Then there would come upon her unbidden, unwelcome reminiscences of Arthur Fletcher — thoughts that she would struggle to banish, accusing herself of some heinous crime because the thoughts would come back to her. She remembered his light wavy hair, which she had loved as one who loves the beauty of a dog, which had seemed to her young imagination, to her in the ignorance of her early years to lack something of a dreamed-of manliness. She remembered his eager, boyish, honest entreaties to herself, which to her had been without that dignity of a superior being which a husband should possess. She became aware that she had thought the less of him because he had thought more of her. She had worshipped this other man because he had assumed superiority and had told her that he was big enough to be her master. But now — now that it was all too late — the veil had fallen from her eyes. She could not see the difference between manliness and ‘deportment’. Ah — that she should ever have been so blind, she who had given herself credit for seeing so much clearer than they who were their elders! And now, though at last she did see clearly, she could not have the consolation of telling anyone what she had seen. She must bear it all in silence, and live with it, and still love this god of clay that she had chosen. And, above all, she must never allow herself even to think of that other man with the wavy light hair — that man who was rising in the world, of whom all people said good things, and who was showing himself to be a man by the work he did, and whose true tenderness she could never doubt.

Her father was left to her. She could still love her father. It might be that it would be best for him that she should go back to her old home, and take care of his old age. If he should wish it, she would make no difficulty in parting with the things around her. Of what concern were the prettinesses of life to one whose inner soul was hampered with such ugliness! It might be better that they should live in Manchester Square — if her father wished it. It was clear to her now that her husband was in urgent need of money, though of his affairs, even of his way of making money, she knew nothing. As that was the case, of course she would consent to any practicable retrenchment which he would propose. And then she thought of other coming joys and coming troubles — of how in future years she might have to teach a girl falsely to believe that her father was a good man, and to train a boy to honest purposes whatever parental lessons might come from the other side.

But the mistake she had made was acknowledged. The man who could enjoin her to ‘get round’ her father could never have been worthy of the love she had given him.

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