The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 40

‘Come and Try it.’

The husband was almost jovial when he came home just in time to take his young wife to dine with their father. ‘I’ve had such a day in the city,’ he said, laughing. ‘I wish I could introduce you to my friend, Mr Sextus Parker.’

‘Cannot you do so?’

‘Well, no; not exactly. Of course you’d like him, because he is such a wonderful character, but he’d hardly do for your drawing-room. He’s the vulgarest little creature you ever put your eyes on; and yet in a certain way he is my partner.’

‘Then I suppose you trust him?’

‘Indeed I don’t; — but I make him useful. Poor little Sexty! I do trust him to a degree, because he believes in me and thinks he can do best by sticking to me. The old saying of “honour among thieves” isn’t without a dash of truth in it. When two men are in a boat together, they must be true to each other, else neither will get to the shore.’

‘You don’t attribute high motives to your friend.’

‘I’m afraid there are not very many high motives in the world, my girl, especially in the city; — nor yet at Westminster. It can hardly be from high motives when a lot of men, thinking differently on every possible subject, come together for the sake of pay and power. I don’t know whether, after all, Sextus Parker mayn’t have as high motives as the Duke of Omnium. I don’t suppose anyone ever had lower motives than the Duchess when she chiselled me about Silverbridge. Never mind — it’ll all be one a hundred years hence. Get ready, for I want you to be with your father a little before dinner.’

Then, when they were in the brougham together, he began a course of very plain instructions. ‘Look here, dear, you had better get him to talk to you before dinner. I dare say Mrs Roby will be there, and I will get her on one side. At any rate you can manage it, because we shall be early, and I’ll take up a book while you are talking to him.’

‘What do you wish me to say to him, Ferdinand?’

‘I have been thinking of your own proposal, and I am quite sure that we had better join him in the Square. The thing is, I am in a little mess about the rooms, and can’t stay on without paying very dearly for them.’

‘I thought you had paid for them.’

‘Well; — yes; in one sense I had, but you don’t understand about business. You had better not interrupt me now, as I have got a good deal to say before we get to the Square. It will suit me to give up the rooms. I don’t like them, and they are very dear. As you yourself said, it will be a capital thing for us to go and live with your father.’

‘I meant only for a visit.’

‘It will be for a visit; — and we’ll make it a long visit.’ It was odd that the man should have been so devoid of right feeling himself as not to have known that the ideas which he expressed were revolting! ‘You can sound him. Begin by saying that you are afraid he is desolate. He told me himself that he was desolate, and you can refer to that. Then tell him that we are both of us prepared to do anything that we can to relieve him. Put your arm over him, and kiss him, and all that sort of thing.’ She shrunk from him into the corner of the brougham, and yet he did not perceive it. ‘Then say that you think he would be happier if we were to join him here for a time. You can make him understand that there would be no difficulty about the apartments. But don’t say it all in a set speech, as though it were prepared — though of course you can let him know that you have suggested it to me, and that I am willing. Be sure to let him understand that the idea began with you.’

‘But it did not.’

‘You proposed to go and stay with him. Tell him just that. And you should explain to him that he can dine at the club just as much as he likes. When you were alone with him here, of course, he had to come home, but he needn’t do that now unless he chooses. Of course the brougham would be my affair. And if he should say anything about sharing the house expenses, you can tell him that I would do anything he might propose.’ Her father to share the household expenses in his own house, and with his own children! ‘You say as much as you can of all this before dinner, so that when we are sitting below he may suggest it if he pleases. It would suit me to get in there next week if possible.’

And so one lesson had been given. She had said little or nothing in reply, and he had only finished as they entered the Square. She had hardly a minute allowed her to think how far she might follow, and in what she must ignore, her husband’s instructions. If she might use her own judgement, she would tell her father at once that a residence for a time beneath his roof would be of service to them pecuniarily. But this she might not do. She understood that her duty to her husband did forbid her to proclaim his poverty in opposition to his wishes. She would tell nothing that he did not wish her to tell — but make the suggestion about their change of residence, and would make it with proper affection; — but as regarded themselves she would simply say that it would suit their views to give up their rooms if it suited them.

Mr Wharton was all alone when they entered the drawing-room — but as Mr Lopez had surmised, had asked his sister-inlaw round the corner to come to dinner. ‘Roby always likes an excuse to get to his club,’ said the old man, ‘and Harriet likes an excuse to go anywhere.’ It was not long before Lopez began to play his part by seating himself close to the open window and looking out into the Square; and Emily when she found herself close to her father, with her hand in his, could hardly divest herself of a feeling that she also was playing her part. ‘I see so very little of you,’ said the old man plaintively.

‘I’d come oftener if I thought you’d like it.’

‘It isn’t liking, my dear. Of course you have to live with your husband. Isn’t it sad about Everett?’

‘Very sad. But Everett hasn’t lived here for ever so long.’

‘I don’t know why he shouldn’t. He was a fool to go away when he did. Does he go to you?’

‘Yes; — sometimes.’

‘And what does he say?’

‘I’m sure he would be with you at once if you would ask him.’

‘I have asked him. I’ve sent word by Lopez over and over again. If he means that I am to write to him and say that I’m sorry for offending him, I won’t. Don’t talk of him any more. It makes me so angry that I sometimes feel inclined to do things which I know I should repent when dying.’

‘Not anything to injure Everett, papa?’

‘I wonder whether he ever thinks that I am an old man and all alone, and that his brother-inlaw is daily with me. But he’s a fool, and thinks of nothing. I know it is very sad being here night after night by myself.’ Mr Wharton forgot, no doubt, at the moment, that he passed the majority of his evenings at the Eldon — though had he been reminded of it, he might have declared with perfect truth that the delights of his club were not satisfactory.

‘Papa,’ said Emily, ‘would you like us to come and live here?’

‘What — you and Lopez; — here in the Square?’

‘Yes — for a time. He is thinking of giving up the place in Belgrave Mansions.’

‘I thought he had them for — for ever so many months.’

‘He does not like them, and they are expensive, and he can give them up. If you would wish it, we would come here — for a time.’ He turned round and looked at her almost suspiciously; and she — she blushed as she remembered how accurately she was obeying her husband’s orders. ‘It would be such a joy to me to be near you again.’

There was something in her voice which instantly reassured him. ‘Well —;’ he said, ‘come and try it if it will suit him. The house is big enough. It will ease his pocket and be a comfort to me. Come and try it.’

It astonished her that the thing should be done so easily. Here was all that her husband had proposed to arrange by deep diplomacy settled in three words. And yet she felt ashamed of herself — as though she had taken her father in. That terrible behest to ‘get round him’ still grated on her ears. Had she got round him? Had she cheated him into this?

‘Papa,’ she said, ‘do not do this unless you feel sure that you will like it.’

‘How is anybody to feel sure of anything, my dear?’

‘But if you doubt, do not do it.’

‘I feel sure of one thing, that is that it will be a great saving to your husband, and I am nearly sure that ought not to be a matter of indifference to him. There is plenty of room here, and it will at any rate be a comfort to me to see you sometimes.’ Just at this moment Mrs Roby came in, and the old man began to tell his news aloud. ‘Emily has not gone away for long. She’s coming back like a bad shilling.’

‘Not to live in the Square?’ said Mrs Roby, looking round at Lopez.

‘Why not? There’s room here for them, and it will be just as well to save expense. When will you come, my dear?’

‘Whenever the house may be ready, papa.’

‘It’s ready now. You ought to know that I am not going to refurnish the rooms for you, or anything of that kind. Lopez can come in an hang up his hat whenever it pleases him.’

During this time Lopez had hardly known how to speak or what to say. He had been very anxious that his wife should pave the way as he would have called it. He had been urgent with her to break the ice to her father. But it had not occurred to him that the matter would be settled without any reference to himself. Of course he had heard every word that had been spoken, and was aware that his own poverty had been suggested as the cause for such a proceeding. It was a great thing for him in every way. He would live for nothing, and would also have almost unlimited power of being with Mr Wharton as old age grew on him. This ready compliance with his wishes was a benefit far too precious to be lost. But yet he felt that his own dignity required some reference to himself. It was distasteful to him that his father-inlaw should regard him — or, at any rate, that he should speak of him — as a pauper, unable to provide a home for his own wife. ‘Emily’s notion in suggesting it, sir,’ he said, ‘has been her care for her comfort.’ The barrister turned round and looked at him, and Lopez did not quite like the look. ‘It was she thought of it first, and she certainly had no other idea than that. When she mentioned it to me, I was delighted to agree.’

Emily heard it all and blushed. It was not absolutely untrue in words — this assertion of her husband’s — but altogether false in spirit. And yet she could not contradict him. ‘I don’t see why it should not do very well indeed,’ said Mrs Roby.

‘I hope it may,’ said the barrister. ‘Come, Emily, I must take you down to dinner today. You are not at home yet, you know. As you are to come, the sooner the better.’

During dinner not a word was said on the subject. Lopez exerted himself to be pleasant, and told all that he had heard as to the difficulties of the Cabinet. Sir Orlando had resigned, and the general opinion was that the Coalition was going to pieces. Had Mr Wharton seen the last article in the “People’s Banner” about the Duke? Lopez was strongly of the opinion that Mr Wharton ought to see that article. ‘I never had the “People’s Banner” within my fingers in my life,’ said the barrister angrily, ‘and I certainly never will.’

‘Ah, sir; this is an exception. You shall see this. When Slide really means to cut a fellow up, he can do it. There’s no one like him. And the Duke has deserved it. He’s a poor, vacillating creature, led by the Duchess; and she — according to all that one hears — she isn’t much better than she should be.’

‘I thought the Duchess was a great friend of yours.’

‘I don’t care much for such friendship. She threw me over most shamefully.’

‘And therefore you are justified in taking away her character. I never saw the Duchess of Omnium in my life, and should probably be very uncomfortable if I found myself in her society; but I believe her to be a good woman in her way.’ Emily sat perfectly silent, knowing that her husband had been rebuked, but feeling that he had deserved it. He, however, was not abashed; but changed the conversation, dashing into city rumours, and legal reforms. The old man from time to time said sharp little things, showing that his intellect was not senile, all of which his son-inlaw bore imperturbably. It was not that he liked it, or was indifferent, but that he knew he could not get the good things which Mr Wharton could do for him without making some kind of payment. He must take the sharp words of the old man — and take all that he could get besides.

When the two men were alone together after dinner, Mr Wharton used a different tone. ‘If you are to come,’ he said, ‘you might as well do it as soon as possible.’

‘A day or two will be enough for us.’

‘There are one or two things you should understand. I shall be very happy to see your friends at any time, but I shall like to know when they are coming before they come.’

‘Of course, sir.’

‘I dine out a good deal.’

‘At the club,’ suggested Lopez.

‘Well; — at the club or elsewhere. It doesn’t matter. There will always be dinner for you and Emily, just as though I were at home. I say this, so that there need be no questioning’s or doubts about it hereafter. And don’t let there ever be any question of money between us.’

‘Certainly not.’

‘Everett has an allowance, and this will be tantamount to an allowance to Emily. You have also had 3,500 pounds. I hope it has been well expended; — except the 500 pounds at that election, which has, of course, been thrown away.’

‘The other was brought into the business.’

‘I don’t know what the business is. But you and Emily must understand that the money has been given as her fortune.’

‘Oh, quite so; — part of it, you mean.’

‘I mean just what I say.’

‘I call it part of it, because, as you observed just now, our living here will be the same as though made Emily an allowance.’

‘Ah; — well; you can look at it in that light, if you please. John has the key to the cellar. He’s a man I can trust. As a rule I have port and sherry at table every day. If you like claret, I will get some a little cheaper than what I use when friends are here.’

‘What wine I have is indifferent to me.’

‘I like it good, and I have it good. I always breakfast at 9.30. You can have yours earlier if you please. I don’t know that there’s anything else to be said. I hope we shall get into the way of understanding each other, and being mutually comfortable. Shall we go upstairs to Emily and Mrs Roby?’ And so it was determined that Emily was to come back to her old house about eight months after her marriage.

Mr Wharton himself sat late into the night all alone, thinking about it. What had he done, he had done in a morose way, and he was aware that it was so. He had not beamed with smiles, and opened his arms lovingly, and, bidding God bless his dearest children, told them that if they would only come and sit round his hearth he should be the happiest old man in London. He had said little or nothing of his own affection even for his daughter, but had spoken of the matter as one which the pecuniary aspect alone was important. He had found out that the saving so effected would be material to Lopez, and had resolved that there should be no shirking of the truth in what he was prepared to do. He had been almost asked to take the young married couple in, and feed them — so that they might live free of expense. He was willing to do it — but was not willing that there should be any soft-worded, high-toned false pretension. He almost read Lopez to the bottom — not, however giving the man credit for dishonesty so deep or cleverness so great as he possessed. But as regarded Emily, he was so actuated by a personal desire to have her back again as an element of happiness to himself. He had pined for her since he had been left alone, hardly knowing what it was that he had wanted. And how as he thought of it all, he was angry with himself that he had not been more loving and softer in his manner to her. She at any rate was honest. No doubt of that crossed his mind. And now he had been bitter to her — bitter in his manner — simply because he had not wished to appear to have been taken in by her husband. Thinking of all this, he got up, and went to his desk, and wrote her a note, which she would receive on the following morning after her husband had left her. It was very short.

DEAREST E.
I am so overjoyed that you are coming back to me.
A.W.

He had judged her quite rightly. The manner in which the thing had been arranged had made her very wretched. There had been no love in it; — nothing apparently but assertions on the one side that much was being given, and on the other acknowledgments that much was to be received. She was aware that in this her father had condemned her husband. She also had condemned him; — and felt, alas, that she also had been condemned. But this little letter took away that sting. She could read into her father’s note all the action of his mind. He had known that he was bound to acquit her, and he had done so with one of the old long-valued expressions of his love.

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