The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 45

Mrs Sexty Parker.

Though Mr Wharton and Lopez met every day for the next week, nothing more was said about the schedule. The old man was thinking about it every day, and so was Lopez. But Mr Wharton had made his demand, and, as he thought, nothing more was to be said on the subject. He could not continue the subject as he would have done with his son. But as day after day passed by he became more and more convinced that his son-inlaw’s affairs were not in a state which could bear to see the light. He had declared his purpose of altering his will in the man’s favour, if the man would satisfy him. And yet nothing was done and nothing was said.

Lopez had come among them and robbed him of his daughter. Since the man had become intimate in his house he had not known an hour’s happiness. The man had destroyed all the plans of his life, broken through his castle, and violated his very hearth. No doubt he himself had vacillated. He was aware of that. No present mood was severe enough in judging himself. In his desolation he had tried to take the man to his heart — had been kind to him, and had even opened his house to him. He had told himself that as the man was the husband of his daughter he had better make the best of it. He had endeavoured to make the best of it, but between him and the man there were such differences that they were poles asunder. And now it became clear to him that the man was, as he had declared to the man’s face, no better than an adventurer!

By his will as it at present stood he had left two-thirds of his property to Everett, and one-third to his daughter, with arrangements for settling her share on her children, should she be married and have children at the time of his death. This will had been made many years ago, and he had long since determined to alter it, in order that he might divide his property equally between his children; — but he had postponed the matter, intending to give a large portion of Emily’s share to her directly on her marriage with Arthur Fletcher. She had not married Arthur Fletcher; — but it was still necessary that a new will should be made.

When he left town for Hertfordshire he had not yet made up his mind how this should be done. He had at one time thought that he would give some considerable sum to Lopez at once, knowing that to a man in business such assistance would be useful. And he had not altogether abandoned that idea, even when he had asked for the schedule. He did not relish the thought of giving his hard-earned money to Lopez, but still the man’s wife was his daughter, and he must do the best that he could for her. Her taste in marrying the man was inexplicable to him. But that was done; — and now how might he best arrange his affairs so as to serve her interests?

About the middle of August he went to Hertfordshire and she to the seaside in Essex — to the little place which Lopez had selected. Before the end of the month the father-inlaw wrote a line to his son-inlaw.

DEAR LOPEZ,
(not without premeditation had he departed from the sternness of
that ‘Mr Lopez’, which in his anger he had used at the chambers.)

When we were discussing your affairs I asked you for a
schedule of your assets and liabilities. I can make no
new arrangement of my property until I receive this.
Should I die leaving my present will as the instrument
under which my property would be conveyed to my heirs,
Emily’s share would go into the hands of trustees for the
use of herself and her possible children. I tell you
this that you may understand that it is for your own
interest to comply with my requisition.
Yours,
A. WHARTON

Of course questions were asked him as to how the newly married couple were getting on. At Wharton these questions were mild and easily put off. Sir Alured was contented with a slight shake of his head, and Lady Wharton only remarked for the fifth or sixth time that it ‘was a pity’. But when they all went to Longbarns, the difficulty became greater. Arthur was not there, and old Mrs Fletcher was in full strength. ‘So the Lopezes have come to live with you in Manchester Square?’ Mr Wharton acknowledged that it was so with an affirmative grunt. ‘I hope he’s a pleasant inmate.’ There was a scorn in the old woman’s voice as she said this, which ought to have provoked any man.

‘More so than most men would be,’ said Mr Wharton.

‘Oh, indeed!’

‘He is courteous and forbearing, and does not think that everything around him should be suited to his own peculiar fancies.’

‘I am glad you are contented with the marriage, Mr Wharton.’

‘Who said that I am contented with it? No one ought to understand or to share my discontent so cordially as yourself, Mrs Fletcher; — and no one ought to be more chary of speaking of it. You and I hoped for other things, and old people do not like to be disappointed. But I needn’t paint the devil blacker than he is.’

‘I’m afraid that, as usual, he is rather black.’

‘Mother,’ said John Fletcher, ‘the thing has been done and you might as well let it be. We are all sorry that Emily has not come nearer to us, but she has a right to choose for herself, and I for one wish — as does my brother also — that she may be happy in the lot she has chosen.’

‘His conduct to Arthur at Silverbridge was so nice!’ said the pertinacious old woman.

‘Never mind his conduct, mother. What is it to us?’

‘That’s all very well, John, but according to that nobody is to talk about anybody.’

‘I would much prefer, at any rate,’ said Mr Wharton, ‘that you would not talk about Mr Lopez in my hearing.’

‘I don’t like Lopez, you know,’ Mr Wharton said to John Fletcher afterwards. ‘How should it be possible that I should like such a man? But there can be no good got by complaints. It is not what your mother suffers, or what evil I can suffer — or, worse again, what Arthur may suffer, that makes the sadness of all this. What will be her life? That is the question. And it is too near me, too important to me, for the endurance either of scorn or pity. I was glad you asked your mother to be silent.’

‘I can understand it,’ said John. ‘I do not think that she will trouble you again.’

In the meantime Lopez received Mr Wharton’s letter at Dovercourt, and had to consider what answer he should give to it. No answer could be satisfactory — unless he could impose a false answer on his father-inlaw so as to make it credible. The more he thought of it, the more he believed this would be impossible. The cautious old lawyer would not accept unverified statements. A certain sum of money — by no means illiberal at present — he had already extracted from the old man. What he wanted was a further and much larger grant. Though Mr Wharton was old he did not want to have to wait for the death even of an old man. The next two or three years — probably the very next year — might be the turning-point of his life. He had married the girl, and ought to have the girl’s fortune — down on the nail! As he thought of this he cursed his ill luck. The husbands of other girls had their fortunes conveyed to them immediately on their marriage. What would not 20,000 pounds do for him, if he could get it into his hand? And so he taught himself to regard the old man as a robber and himself as a victim. Who among us is there who does not teach himself the same lesson? And then too how cruelly, how damnably he had been used by the Duchess of Omnium! And how Sexty Parker, whose fortune he was making for him, whose fortune he at any rate intended to make, was troubling him in various ways. ‘We’re in a boat together,’ Sexty had said. ‘You’ve had the use of my money, and by heavens you have it still. I don’t see why you should be so stiff. Do you bring your missus to Dovercourt, and I’ll take mine, and let ’em know each other.’ There was a little argument on the subject, but Sexty Parker had the best of it, and in this way the trip to Dovercourt was arranged.

Lopez was in a very good humour when he took his wife down, and he walked her round the terraces and esplanades of that not sufficiently well-known marine paradise, now bidding her admire the sea and now laughing at the finery of the people, till she became gradually filled with the idea that he was making himself pleasant, she also ought to do the same. Of course she was not happy. The gilding had so completely and so rapidly been washed off her idol that she could not be very happy. But she also could be good-humoured. ‘And now,’ said he, smiling, ‘I have got something for you to do for me — something that you will find very disagreeable.’

‘What is it? It won’t be very bad, I’m sure.’

‘It will be very bad, I’m afraid. My excellent but horribly vulgar partner, Sexty Parker, when he found that I was coming here, insisted on bringing his wife and children also. I want you to know them.’

‘Is that all? She must be very bad indeed if I can’t put up with that.’

‘In one sense she isn’t bad at all. I believe her to be an excellent woman, intent on spoiling her children and giving her husband a good dinner every day. But I think you will find that she is — well — not quite what you would call a lady.’

‘I shan’t mind that in the least. I’ll help her spoil the children.’

‘You can get a lesson there, you know,’ he said, looking into her face. The little joke was one which a young wife might take with pleasure from her husband, but her life had already been too much embittered for any such delight. Yes; the time was coming when that trouble also would be added to her. She dreaded she knew not what, and had often told herself that it would be better that she should be childless.

‘Do you like him?’ she said.

‘Like him. No; — I can’t say I like him. He is useful, and in one sense honest.’

‘Is he not honest in all senses?’

‘That’s a large order. To tell you the truth, I don’t know any man who is.’

‘Everett is honest.’

‘He loses money at play which he can’t pay without assistance from his father. If his father had refused, where would then have been his honesty? Sexty is as honest as others, I dare say, but I shouldn’t like to trust him much farther than I could see him. I shan’t go up to town tomorrow, and we’ll both look in on them after luncheon.’

In the afternoon the call was made. The Parkers, having children, had dined early, and he was sitting out on a little porch smoking his pipe, drinking whisky and water, and looking at the sea. His eldest girl was standing between his legs, and his wife, with the other three children round her, was sitting on the door-step. ‘I’ve brought my wife to see you,’ said Lopez, holding his hand to Mrs Parker, as she rose from the ground.

‘I told her that you’d be coming,’ said Sexty, ‘and she wanted me to put off my pipe and little drop of drink; but I said that if Mrs Lopez was the lady I took her to be she wouldn’t begrudge a hard-working fellow his pipe and glass on a holiday.’

There was a soundness of sense in this which mollified any feeling of disgust which Emily might have felt at the man’s vulgarity. ‘I think you are quite right, Mr Parker. I should be very sorry if — if —’

‘If I was to put my pipe out. Well, I won’t. You’ll take a glass of sherry, Lopez? Though I’m drinking spirits myself. I brought down a hamper of sherry wine. Oh, nonsense; — you must take something. That’s right, Jane. Let us have the stuff and the glasses, and then they can do as they like.’ Lopez lit a cigar, and allowed his host to pour out for him a glass of ‘sherry wine’, while Mrs Lopez went into the house with Mrs Parker and the children.

Mrs Parker opened herself out to her new friend immediately. She hoped that they two might see ‘a deal of each other — that is, if you don’t think it’s too pushing’. Sextus, she said, was so much away, coming down to Dovercourt only every other day! And then, within the half hour which was consumed by Lopez with his cigar, the poor woman got upon the general troubles of her life. Did Mrs Lopez think that ‘all this speckelation was just the right thing?’

‘I don’t think I know anything about it, Mrs Parker.’

‘But you ought; — oughtn’t you, now? Don’t you think that a wife ought to know what it is that her husband is after; — specially if there’s children? A good bit of money was mine, Mrs Lopez, and though I don’t begrudge it, not one bit, if any good is to come out of it to him or them, a woman doesn’t like what her father has given her should be made ducks and drakes of.’

‘But are they making ducks and drakes?’

‘When he don’t tell me I’m always afeard. And I’ll tell you what I know just as well as two and two. When he comes home a little flustered, and then takes more than his regular allowance, he’s been at something as don’t quite satisfy him. He’s never that way when he’s done a good day’s work at his regular business. He takes to the children then, and has one glass after his dinner, and tells me all about it — down to the shillings and pence. But it’s very seldom he’s that way now.’

‘You may think it very odd, Mrs Parker, but I don’t in the least know what my husband is — in business.’

‘And you never ask?’

‘I haven’t been very long married, you know — only about two months.’

‘I’d had my fust by that time.’

‘Only nine months, I think, indeed.’

‘Well; I wasn’t very long after that. But I took care to know what it was he was a-doing of in the city long before that time. And I did use to know everything, till —’ She was going to say, till Lopez had come upon the scene. But she did not wish, at any rate as yet, to be harsh to her new friend.

‘I hope it is all right,’ said Emily.

‘Sometimes he’s as though the Bank of England was all his own. And there’s been more money come into the house; — that I must say. And there isn’t an open-handeder one than Sexty anywhere. He’d like to see me in a silk gown every day of my life; — and as for the children, there’s nothing smart enough for them. Only I’d sooner have a little and safe, than anything ever so fine, and never be sure whether it wasn’t going to come to an end.’

‘There I agree with you, quite.’

‘I don’t suppose men feels it as we do; but, oh, Mrs Lopez, give me a little safe, so that I may know that I shan’t see my children want. When I thinks what it would be to have them darlings’ little bellies empty, and nothing in the cupboard, I get that low that I’m nigh fit for Bedlam.’

In the meantime the two men outside the porch were discussing their affairs in somewhat the same spirit. At last Lopez showed the friend Wharton’s letter, and told him of the expected schedule. ‘Schedule be d-d, you know,’ said Lopez. ‘How am I to put down a rise of 12s.6d a ton on Kauri gum in a schedule? But when you come to 2,000 tons it’s 1,250 pounds.’

‘He’s very old, isn’t he?’

‘But as strong as a horse.’

‘He’s got the money?’

‘Yes; — he has got it safe enough. There’s no doubt about the money.’

‘What he talks about is only a will. Now you want the money at once.’

‘Of course I do; — and he talks to me as if I were some old fogy with an estate of my own. I must concoct a letter and explain my views; and the more I can make him understand how things really are the better. I don’t suppose he wants to see his daughter come to grief.’

‘Then the sooner you write it the better,’ said Mr Parker.

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