The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 44

Mr Wharton Thinks of a New Will.

On that afternoon, immediately on the husband’s return to the house, his wife spoke to him as her father had desired. On that evening Mr Wharton was dining at his club, and therefore there was the whole evening before them; but the thing to be done was disagreeable, and therefore she did it at once — rushing into the matter almost before he had seated himself in the arm-chair which he had appropriated to his use in the drawing-room. ‘Papa was talking about our affairs after you left this morning, and he thinks that it would be so much better if you would tell him about them.’

‘What made him talk of that today?’ he said, turning at her almost angrily and thinking at once of the Duke’s cheque.

‘I suppose it is natural that he should be anxious about us, Ferdinand; — and the more natural as he has money to give if he chooses to give it.’

‘I have asked him for nothing lately; — though, by George, I intend to ask him and that very roundly. Three thousand pounds isn’t much of a sum of money for your father to have given you.’

‘And he paid the election bill; — didn’t he?’

‘He has been complaining of that behind my back — has he? I didn’t ask him for it, he offered it. I wasn’t such a fool as to refuse, but he needn’t bring that up as a grievance to you.’

‘It wasn’t brought up as a grievance. I was saying that your standing had been a heavy expenditure —’

‘Why did you say so? What made you talk about it at all? Why should you be discussing my affairs behind my back?’

‘To my own father! And that too when you are telling me every day that I am to induce him to help you.’

‘Not by complaining that I am poor. But how did it all begin?’ She had to think for a moment before she could recollect how it did begin. ‘There has been something,’ he said, ‘which you are ashamed to tell me.’

‘There is nothing I am ashamed to tell you. There never has been and never will be anything.’ And she stood up as she spoke, with open eyes and extended nostrils. ‘Whatever may come, however wretched it may be, I shall not be ashamed of myself.’

‘But of me!’

‘Why do you say so? Why do you try to make unhappiness between us?’

‘You have been talking of — my poverty.’

‘My father asked why you should go to Dovercourt — and whether it was because it would save expense.’

‘You want to go somewhere?’

‘Not at all. I am contented to stay in London. But I said that I thought the expense had a good deal to do with it. Of course it has.’

‘Where do you want to be taken? I suppose Dovercourt is not fashionable.’

‘I want nothing.’

‘If you are thinking of travelling abroad, I can’t spare the time. It isn’t an affair of money, and you had no business to say so. I thought of the place because it is quiet and because I can get up and down easily. I am sorry that I ever came to live in this house.’

‘Why do you say that, Ferdinand?’

‘Because you and your father make cabals behind my back. If there is anything I hate it is that kind of thing.’

‘You are very unjust,’ she said to him sobbing. ‘I have never caballed. I have never done anything against you. Of course papa ought to know.’

‘Why ought he to know? Why is your father to have the right of inquiry into all my affairs?’

‘Because you want his assistance. It is only natural. You always tell me to get him to assist you. He spoke to me kindly, saying that he would like to know how things are.’

‘Then he won’t know. As for wanting his assistance, of course I want the fortune which he ought to give to you. He is a man of the world enough to know that as I am in business capital must be useful to me. I should have thought that you would understand as much as that yourself.’

‘I do understand it, I suppose.’

‘Then why don’t you act as my friend rather than his? Why don’t you take my part? It seems to me that you are much more his daughter than my wife.’

‘That is most unfair.’

‘If you had any pluck you would make him understand that for your sake he ought to say what he means to do, so that I might have the advantage of the fortune which I suppose he means to give you some day. If you had the slightest anxiety to help me you could influence him. Instead of that you talk to him about my poverty. I don’t want him to think that I am a pauper. That’s not the way to get round a man like your father, who is rich himself and who thinks it a disgrace in other men not to be rich too.’

‘I can’t tell him in the same breath that you are rich and that you want money.’

‘Money is the means by which men make money. If he was confident of my business he’d sell out his cash quick enough! It is because he has been taught to think that I am in a small way. He’ll find his mistake some day.’

‘You won’t speak to him then?’

‘I don’t say that at all. If I find that it will answer my own purpose I shall speak to him. But it would be very much easier to me if I could get you to be cordial in helping me.’

Emily by this time quite knew what such cordiality meant. He had been so free in his words to her that there could be no mistake. He had instructed her to ‘get round’ her father. And now again he spoke of her influence over her father. Although her illusions were all melting away — oh, so quickly vanishing — still she knew that it was her duty to be true to her husband, and to be his wife rather than her father’s daughter. But what could she say on his behalf, knowing nothing of his affairs? She had no idea what was his business, what was his income, what amount of money she ought to spend as his wife. As far as she could see — and her common sense in seeing such things was good, — he had no regular income, and was justified in no expenditure. On her own account she would ask for no information. She was too proud to request that from him which should be given without any request. But in her own defence she must tell him that she could use no influence with her father as she knew none of the circumstances by which her father would be guided. ‘I cannot tell you in the manner you mean,’ she said, ‘because I know nothing myself.’

‘You know that you can trust me to do the best with your money if I could get hold of it, I suppose?’ She certainly did not know this, and held her tongue. ‘You could assure him of that?’

‘I could only tell him to judge for himself.’

‘What you mean is that you’d see me d-d before you would open your mouth for me to the old man!’

He had never sworn at her before, and now she burst out into a flood of tears. It was to her a terrible outrage. I do not know that a woman is very much the worse because her husband may forget himself on an occasion to ‘rap out an oath at her’, as he would call it when making the best of his own sin. Such an offence is compatible with uniform kindness and most affectionate consideration. I have known ladies who would think little or nothing about it — who would go no farther than the mildest protest — ‘Do remember where you are!’ or ‘My dear John!’— if no stranger were present. But then a wife should be initiated into it by degrees and there are different tones of bad language, of which by far the most general is the good-humoured tone. We all of us know men who never damn their servants or inferiors, or strangers, or women — who in fact keep it all for their bosom friends, and if a little does sometimes flow over in the freedom of domestic life, the wife is apt to remember that she is the bosomer of her husband’s friends, and so to pardon the transgression. But here the word had been uttered with all its foulest violence, with virulence and vulgarity. It seemed to the victim to be the sign of a terrible crisis in her early married life — as though the man who had spoken to her could never again love her, never again be kind to her, never again be sweetly gentle and like a love. And as he spoke it he looked at her as though he would like to tear her limbs asunder. She was frightened as well as horrified and astounded. She had not a word to say to him. She did not know in what language to make her complaint of such treatment. She burst into tears, and throwing herself on the sofa, hid her face in her hands. ‘You provoke me to be violent,’ he said. But still she could not speak to him. ‘I come away from the city, tired with work and troubled with a thousand things, and you have not had a kind word to say to me.’ Then there was a pause, during which she still sobbed. ‘If your father has anything to say to me, let him say it. I shall not run away. But as to going to him of my own accord with a story as long as my arm about my affairs, I don’t mean to do it.’ Then he paused a moment again. ‘Come, old girl, cheer up! Don’t pretend to be broken-hearted because I used a hard word. There are worse things than that to be borne in the world.’

‘I— I— I was so startled, Ferdinand.’

‘A man can’t always remember that he isn’t with another man. Don’t think anything more about it, but do bear this in mind — that, situated as we are, your influence with your father may be the making or marring of me.’ And so he left the room.

She had sat for the next ten minutes thinking of it all. The words which he had spoken were so horrible that she could not get them out of her mind — could not bring herself to look upon them as a trifle. The darkness of his countenance still dwelt with her — and that absence of all tenderness, that coarse, unmarital and yet marital roughness, which should not at any rate have come to him so soon. The whole man too was so different from what she had thought him to be. Before their marriage no word as to money had ever reached her ears from his lips. He had talked to her of books — and especially of poetry. Shakespeare and Moliere, Dante and Goethe, had been or had seemed to be, dear to him. And he had been full of fine ideas about women, and about men in their intercourse with women. For his sake she had separated herself from all her old friends. For his sake she had hurried into a marriage altogether distasteful to her father. For his sake she had closed her heart against the other lover. Trusting altogether in him she had ventured to think that she had known what was good for her better than all those who had been her counsellors, and had given herself to him utterly. Now she was awake, her dream was over, and the natural language of the man was still ringing in her ears.

They met together at dinner and passed the evening without a further allusion to the scene which had been acted. He sat with a magazine in his hand, every now and then making some remark intended to be pleasant but which grated on her ears as being fictitious. She would answer him — because it was her duty to do so, and because she would not condescend to sulk; but she could not bring herself even to say to herself that all should be with her as though that horrid word had not been spoken. She sat over her work till ten, answering him when he spoke in a voice which was also fictitious, and then took herself off to her bed that she might weep alone. It would, she knew, be late before he would come to her.

On the next morning there came a message to him as he was dressing. Mr Wharton wished to speak to him. Would he come down before breakfast, or would he call on Mr Wharton in Stone Buildings? He sent down word that he would do the latter at an hour to be fixed, and then did not show himself in the breakfast-room till Mr Wharton was gone. ‘I’ve got to go to your father today,’ he said to his wife, ‘and I thought it best not to begin till we come to the regular business. I hope he does not mean to be unreasonable.’ To this she made no answer. ‘Of course you think the want of reason will be all on my side.’

‘I don’t know why you should say so.’

‘Because I can read your mind. You do think so. You’ve been in the same boat with your father all your life, and you can’t get out of that boat and get into mine. I was wrong to come and live here. Of course it was not the way to withdraw you from his influence.’ She had nothing to say that would not anger him, and was therefore silent. ‘Well; I must do the best I can by myself, I suppose. Good-bye,’ and so he was off.

‘I want to know,’ said Mr Wharton, on whom was thrown by premeditation on the part of Lopez the task of beginning the conversation — ‘I want to know what is the nature of your operation. I have never been quite able to understand it.’

‘I do not know that I quite understand it myself,’ said Lopez laughing.

‘No man alive,’ continued the old barrister almost solemnly, ‘has a greater objection to thrust himself into another man’s affairs than I have. And I didn’t ask the question before your marriage, — as perhaps I ought to have done — I should not do so now, were it not that the disposition of some part of my earnings of my life must depend on the condition of your affairs.’ Lopez immediately perceived that it behoved him to be very much on the alert. It might be that if he showed himself to be very poor, his father-inlaw would see the necessity of assisting him at once, or it might be, that unless he could show himself to be in prosperous circumstances, his father-inlaw would not assist him at all. ‘To tell you the plain truth, I am minded to make a new will. I had of course made arrangements as to my property before Emily’s marriage. Those arrangements I think I shall now alter. I am greatly distressed with Everett, and from what I see and from a few words that have dropped from Emily, I am not, to tell you the truth, quite happy as to your position. If I understand rightly you are a general merchant, buying and selling goods in the market?’

‘That’s about it, sir.’

‘What capital have you in the business?’

‘What capital?’

‘Yes; — how much did you put into it at starting?’

Lopez paused a moment. He had got his wife. The marriage could not be undone. Mr Wharton had money enough for them all, and certainly would not discard his daughter. Mr Wharton could place him on a really equal footing, and might not improbably do so if he could be made to feel some confidence in his son-inlaw. At this moment there was much doubt with the son-inlaw whether he had better not tell the simple truth. ‘It has gone in by degrees,’ he said. ‘Altogether I have about 8,000 pounds in it.’ In truth he had never been possessed of a shilling.

‘Does that include the 3,000 pounds you had from me?’

‘Yes; it does.’

‘Then you have married my girl and started into the world with a business based on 5,000 pounds, and which had so far miscarried that within a month of two after your marriage you were driven to apply to me for funds!’

‘I wanted money for a certain purpose.’

‘Have you any partner, Mr Lopez?’ This address was felt to be very ominous.

‘Yes. I have a partner who is possessed of capital. His name is Parker.’

‘Then his capital is your capital.’

‘Well; — I can’t explain it, but it is not so.’

‘What is the name of your firm?’

‘We haven’t a registered name.’

‘Have you a place of business?’

‘Parker has a place of business in Little Tankard Yard.’

Mr Wharton turned to a directory and found out Parker’s name. ‘Mr Parker is a stockbroker. Are you also a stockbroker?’

‘No — I am not.’

‘Then, sir, it seems to me that you are a commercial adventurer.’

‘I am not at all ashamed of the name, Mr Wharton. According to your manner of reckoning half the business of the City of London is done by commercial adventurers. I watch the markets and buy goods — and sell them at a profit. Mr Parker is a moneyed man, who happens also to be a stockbroker. We can very easily call ourselves merchants, and put up the names of Lopez and Parker over the door.’

‘Do you sign bills together?’

‘Yes.’

‘As Lopez and Parker?’

‘No. I sign them and he signs them. I trade also by myself, and so, I believe, does he.’

‘One other question, Mr Lopez. On what income have you paid income-tax for the last three years?’

‘On 2,000 pounds a year,’ said Lopez. This was a direct lie.

‘Can you make out any schedule showing your exact assets and liabilities at the present time?’

‘Certainly I can.’

‘Then do so, and send it to me before I go into Hertfordshire. My will as it stands at present would not be to your advantage. But I cannot change it till I know more of your circumstances than I do now.’ And so the interview was over.

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