The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 43

Kauri Gum.

The reader will no doubt think that Ferdinand Lopez must have been very hardly driven indeed by circumstances before he would have made such an appeal to the Duke as given in the last chapter. But it was not the want of money only that had brought it about. It may be remembered that the 500 pounds had already been once repaid him by his father-inlaw — that special sum having been given to him for that special purpose. And Lopez, when he wrote to the Duke, assured himself that if, by any miracle, his letter should produce pecuniary results in the shape of a payment from the Duke, he would refund the money so obtained to Mr Wharton. But when he wrote the letter he did not expect to get the money — nor, indeed, did he expect that aid towards another seat, to which he alluded at the close of the letter. He expected probably nothing but to vex the Duke, and to drive the Duke into correspondence with him.

Though this man had lived nearly all his life in England, he had not quite acquired that knowledge of the way in which things are done which is general among men of a certain class, and so rare among those beneath them. He had not understood that the Duchess’s promise of her assistance at Silverbridge might be taken by him for what it was worth, and that her aid might be used as far as it went — but, that in the event of its failing him, he was bound in honour to take the result without complaining, whatever that result might be. He felt that a grievous injury — even though it were against a woman. He just knew that he could not very well write to the Duchess herself — though there was sometimes present to his mind a plan for attacking her in public, and telling her what evil she had done him. He had half resolved that he would do so in her own garden at The Horns; — but on that occasion the apparition of Arthur Fletcher had disturbed him, and he had vented his anger in another direction. But still his wrath against the Duke and Duchess remained, and he was wont to indulge it with very violent language as he sat upon one of the chairs in Sexty Parker’s office, talking somewhat loudly of his own position, of the things that he would do, and of the injury done him. Sexty Parker sympathized with him to the full — especially as that first 500 pounds, which he had received from Mr Wharton, had gone into Sexty’s coffers. At that time Lopez and Sexty were together committed to large speculations in the guano trade, and Sexty’s mind was by no means easy in the early periods of the day. As he went into town by his train he would think of his wife and family and of the terrible things that might happen to them. But yet, up to this period, money had always been forthcoming from Lopez when absolutely wanted, and Sexty was quite alive to the fact that he was living with a freedom of expenditure in his own household that he had never known before, and that without apparent damage. Whenever, therefore, at some critical moment, a much-needed sum of money was produced Sexty would become light-hearted, triumphant, and very sympathetic. ‘Well; — I never heard such a story,’ he had said when Lopez was insisting on his wrongs. ‘That’s what the Dukes and Duchesses call honour among thieves! Well, Ferdy, my boy, if you stand that you’ll stand anything.’ In these latter days Sexty had become very intimate with his partner.

‘I don’t mean to stand it,’ Lopez had replied, and then on the spot had written the letter which he had dated from Manchester Square. He had certainly contrived to make that letter as oppressive as possible. He had been clever enough to put into it words which were sure to wound the poor Duke and to confound the Duchess. And having written it he was very careful to keep the first draft, so that if occasion came he might use it again and push for vengeance farther. But he certainly had not expected such a result as it produced.

When he received the private Secretary’s letter with the money he was sitting opposite his father-inlaw at breakfast, while his wife was making the tea. Not many of his letters came to Manchester Square. Sexty Parker’s office or his club were more convenient addresses, but in this case he had thought that Manchester Square would have a better sound and appearance. When he opened the letter the cheque of course appeared bearing the Duke’s own signature. He had seen that and the amount before he had read the letter, and as he saw it his eye travelled quickly across the table to his father-inlaw’s face. Mr Wharton might certainly have seen the cheque and even the amount, probably also the signature, without the slightest suspicion as to the nature of the payment made. As it was, he was eating his toast, and had thought nothing about the letter. Lopez, having concealed the cheque, read the few words which the private Secretary had written, and then put the document with its contents into his pocket. ‘So you think, sir, of going down to Hertfordshire on the 15th,’ he said in a very cheery voice. The cheery voice was still pleasant to the old man, but the young wife had already come to distrust it. She had learned, though she was hardly conscious how the lesson had come to her, that a certain tone of cheeriness indicated, if not deceit, at any rate concealment of something. It grated against her spirit, and when this tone reached her ears a frown or look of sorrow would come cross her brow. And her husband also had perceived that it was so, and knew at such times that he was rebuked. He was hardly aware what doings, and especially what feelings, were imputed to him as faults — not understanding the lines which separate right from wrong, but he knew that he was often condemned by his wife, and he lived in fear that he should also be condemned by his wife’s father. Had it been his wife only he thought that he could soon have quenched her condemnation. He would soon have made her tired of showing her disapproval. But he had put himself into the old man’s house, where the old man could see not only him but his treatment of his wife, and the old man’s good-will and good opinion were essential to him. Yet he could not restrain one glance of anger at her when she saw that look upon her face.

‘I suppose I shall,’ said the barrister, ‘I must go somewhere. My going need not disturb you.’

‘I think we have made up our mind,’ said Lopez, ‘to take a cottage at Dovercourt. It is not a very lively place, nor yet fashionable. But it is very healthy, and I can run up to town easily. Unfortunately my business won’t let me be altogether away this autumn.’

‘I wish my business would keep me,’ said the barrister.

‘I did not understand that you had made up your mind to go to Dovercourt,’ said Emily. He had spoken to Mr Wharton of their joint action in the matter, and as the place had only once been named by him to her, she resented what seemed to be a falsehood. She knew that she was to be taken or left as it suited him. If he had said boldly — ‘We’ll go to Dovercourt. That’s what I’ve settled on. That’s what will suit me,’ she would have been contented. She quite understood that he meant to have his own way in such things. But it seemed to her that he wanted to be a tyrant without having the courage for tyranny.

‘I thought you seemed to like it,’ he said.

‘I don’t dislike it at all.’

‘Then, as it suits my business, we might as well consider it settled.’ So saying, he left the room and went off to the city. The old man was still sipping his tea and lingering over his breakfast in a way that was not usual with him. He was generally anxious to get away to Lincoln’s Inn, and on most mornings had left the house before his son-inlaw. Emily of course remained with him, sitting silent in her place opposite to the teapot, meditating perhaps on her prospects of happiness at Dovercourt,- a place of which she had never heard even the name two days ago, and in which it was hardly possible that she should find even an acquaintance. In former years these autumn months, passed in Hertfordshire, had been the delight of her life.

Mr Wharton also had seen the cloud on his daughter’s face, and had understood the nature of the little dialogue about Dovercourt. And he was aware — that the young wife’s manner and tone to her husband was not that of perfect conjugal sympathy. He had already said to himself more than once that she had made her bed for herself, and must lie upon it. She was the man’s wife, and must take her husband as he was. If she suffered under this man’s mode and manner of life, he, as her father, could not assist her — could do nothing for her, unless the man should become absolutely cruel. He had settled that within his own mind already; — but yet his heart yearned towards her, and when he thought that she was unhappy, he longed to comfort her and tell her that she still had a father. But the time had not come as yet in which he could comfort her by sympathizing with her against her husband. There had never fallen from her lips a syllable of complaint. When she had spoken to him a chance word respecting her husband, it had always carried with it some tone of affection. But still he longed to say to her something which might tell her that his heart was soft towards her. ‘Do you like the idea of going to this place?’ he said.

‘I don’t at all know what it will be like. Ferdinand says it will be cheap.’

‘Is that of such a vital consequence?’

‘Ah; — yes, I fear it.’

This was very sad to him. Lopez had already had from him a considerable sum of money, having not yet been married twelve months, and was now living in London almost free of expense. Before his marriage he had always spoken of himself, and had contrived to be spoken of, as a wealthy man, and now he was obliged to choose some small English seaside place to which to retreat, because thus he might have a low rate! Had they been married as poor people there would have been nothing to regret in this; — there would be nothing that might be done with entire satisfaction. But, as it was, it told a bad tale for the future! ‘Do you understand his money matters, Emily?’

‘Not at all, papa.’

‘I do not in the least mean to make inquiry. Perhaps I should have asked before — but if I did make inquiry now it would be of him. But I think a wife should know.’

‘I know nothing.’

‘What is his business?’

‘I have no idea. I used to think he was connected with Mr Mills Happerton and with Messrs Hunky and Sons.’

‘Is he not connected with Hunky’s business?’

‘I think not. He has a partner of the name of Parker, who is — who is not, I think, quite — quite a gentleman. I never saw him.’

‘What does he do with Mr Parker?’

‘I believe they buy guano.’

‘Ah; — that, I fancy, was only one affair.’

‘I’m afraid he lost money, papa, by that election at Silverbridge.’

‘I paid that,’ said Mr Wharton sternly. Surely he would have told his wife that he had received that money from her family!

‘Did you? That was very kind. I am afraid, papa, we are a great burden to you.’

‘I should not mind it, my dear, if there were confidence and happiness. What matter would it be to me whether you had your money now or hereafter, so that you might have it in the manner that would be most beneficial to you? I wish he would be open with me, and tell me everything.’

‘Shall I let him know that you say so?’

He thought for a minute or two before he answered her. Perhaps the man would be more impressed if the message came to him through his wife. ‘If you think that he will not be annoyed with you, you may do so.’

‘I don’t know why he should — but if it be right, that must be borne. I am not afraid to say anything to him.’

‘Then tell him so. Tell him that it will be better that he should let me know the whole condition of his affairs. God bless you, dear.’ Then he stooped over her, and kissed her, and went his way to Stone Buildings.

It was not as he sat at the breakfast table that Ferdinand Lopez made up his mind to pocket the Duke’s money and to say nothing about it to Mr Wharton. He had been careful to conceal the cheque, but he had done so with the feeling that the matter was one to be considered in his own mind before to took any step. As he left the house, already considering it, he was inclined to think the money must be surrendered. Mr Wharton had very generously paid his electioneering expenses, but had not done so simply with the view of making him a present of money. He wished the Duke had taken him at his word. In handing this cheque over to Mr Wharton, he would be forced to tell the story of his letter to the Duke, and was sure that Mr Wharton would not approve of his having written such a letter. How could anyone approve of his having applied for a sum of money which had already been paid to him? How could such a one as Mr Wharton — an old-fashioned English gentleman — approve of such an application being made under any circumstances? Mr Wharton would very probably insist on having the cheque sent back to the Duke — which would be a sorry end to the triumph as at present achieved. And the more he thought of it the more he sure he was that it would be imprudent to mention to Mr Wharton his application to the Duke. The old men of the present day were, he said to himself, such fools that they understood nothing. And then the money was very convenient to him. He was intent on obtaining Sexty Parker’s consent to a large speculation, and knew that he could not do so without a show of funds. By the time, therefore, that he had reached the city he had resolved that at any rate for the present he would use the money and say nothing about it to Mr Wharton. Was it not spoil got from the enemy by his own courage and cleverness? When he was writing his acknowledgement for the money to Warburton he had taught himself to look upon the sum extracted from the Duke as a matter quite distinct from the payment made to him by his father-inlaw.

It was evident on that day to Sexty Parker that his partner was a man of great resources. Though things sometimes looked very bad, yet money always ‘turned up’. Some of their buyings and sellings had answered pretty well. Some had been great failures. No great stroke had been made as yet, but then the great stroke was always being expected. Sexty’s fears were greatly exaggerated by the feeling that the coffee and guano were not always real coffee and guano. His partner, indeed, was of the opinion that in such a trade as this they were following there was no need at all of real coffee or real guano, and explained his theory with considerable eloquence. ‘If I buy a ton of coffee and keep it six weeks, why do I buy it and keep it, and why does the seller sell it instead of keeping it? The seller sells it because he thinks he can do best by parting with it now at a certain price. I buy it because I think I can make money by keeping it. It is just the same as though we were back to our opinions. He backs the fall. I back the rise. You needn’t have coffee and you needn’t have guano to do this. Indeed the possession of the coffee or guano is only a very clumsy addition to the trouble of your profession. I make it my study to watch the markets; — but I needn’t buy everything I see in order to make money by my labour and intelligence.’ Sexty Parker before his lunch always thought that his partner was wrong, but after that ceremony he almost daily became a convert to the great doctrine. Coffee and guano still had to be bought because the world was dull and would not learn the tricks of trade as taught by Ferdinand Lopez — also possibly because somebody might want such articles — but our enterprising hero looked for a time in which no such dull burden should be imposed on him.

On this day, when the Duke’s 500 pounds was turned into the business, Sexty yielded in a large matter which his partner had been pressing upon him for the last week. They bought a cargo of Kauri gum, coming from New Zealand. Lopez had reasons for thinking that Kauri gum must have a great rise. There was an immense demand for amber, and Kauri gum might be used as a substitute, and in six months’ time would be double its present value. This unfortunately was a real cargo. He could not find an individual so enterprising as to venture to deal in a cargo of Kauri gum after his fashion. But the next best thing was done. The real cargo was bought, and his name and Sexty’s name were on the bills given for the goods. On that day he returned home in high spirits for he did believe in his own intelligence and good fortune.

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