The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 52

‘I Can Sleep Here to-Night, I Suppose?’

That scheme of going to Guatemala had been in the first instance propounded by Lopez with the object of frightening Mr Wharton into terms. There had, indeed, been some previous thoughts on the subject — some plan projected before his marriage, but it had been resuscitated mainly in the hope that it might be efficacious to extract money. When by degrees the son-inlaw began to feel that even this would not be operative on his father-inlaw’s purse — when under this threat neither Wharton nor Emily gave way — and when, with the view of strengthening his threat, he renewed his inquires as to Guatemala and found that there might still an opening for him in that direction — the threat took the shape of a true purpose, and he began to think that he would in real earnest try his fortunes in a new world. From day to day things did not go well with him, and from day to day Sexty Parker became more unendurable. It was impossible for him to keep from his partner this plan of emigration — but he endeavoured to make Parker believe that the thing, if done at all, was not to be done till all his affairs were settled — or in other words all his embarrassments cleared by downright money payments, and that Mr Wharton was to make these payments on the condition that he thus expatriated himself. But Mr Wharton had made no such promise. Though the threatened day came nearer and nearer he could not bring himself to purchase a short respite for his daughter by paying money to a scoundrel, — which payment he felt sure would be of no permanent service. During all this time Mr Wharton was very wretched. If he could have freed his daughter from her marriage by half his fortune he would have done it without a second thought. If he could have assuredly purchased the permanent absence of her husband, he would have done it at a large price. But let him pay what he would, he could see his way to no security. From day to day he became more strongly convinced of the rascality of this man who was his son-inlaw, and who was still an inmate in his own house. Of course he had accusations enough to make within his own breast against his daughter, who, when the choice was open to her, would not take the altogether fitting husband provided for her, but had declared herself to be broken-hearted for ever since she were allowed to throw herself away upon this wretched creature. But he blamed himself as much as he did her. Why had he allowed himself to be so enervated by her prayers at last as to surrender everything — as he had done? How could he presume to think that he should be allowed to escape, when he had done so little to prevent the misery?

He spoke to Emily about it — not often, indeed, but with great earnestness. ‘I have done it myself,’ she said, ‘and I will bear it.’

‘Tell him you cannot go till you know to what home you are going.’

‘That is for him to consider. I have begged him to let me remain, and I can say no more. If he chooses to take me, I shall go.’

Then he spoke to her about money. ‘Of course I have money,’ he said. ‘Of course I have enough both for you and Everett. If I could do any good by giving it to him, he should have it.’

‘Papa,’ she answered, ‘I will never again ask you to give him a single penny. That must be altogether between you and him. He is what they call a speculator. Money is not safe with him.’

‘I shall have to send it to you when you are in want.’

‘When I am — dead there will be no more to be sent. Do not look like that, papa. I know what I have done, and I must bear it. I have thrown away my life, it is just that. If baby had lived it would have been different.’ This was about the end of January, and then Mr Wharton heard of the great attack made by Mr Quintus Slide against the Prime Minister, and heard, of course, of the payment alleged to have been made to Ferdinand Lopez by the Duke on the score of the election at Silverbridge. Some persons spoke to him on the subject. One or two friends at the club asked him what he supposed to be the truth in the matter, and Mrs Roby inquired of him on the subject. ‘I have asked Lopez,’ she said, ‘and I am sure from his manner that he did get the money.’

‘I don’t know anything about it,’ said Mr Wharton.

‘If he did get it I think he was very clever.’ It was well known at this time to Mrs Roby that the Lopez marriage had been a failure, that Lopez was not a rich man, and that Emily, as well as her father, was discontented and unhappy. She had latterly heard of the Guatemala scheme, and had of course expressed her horror. But she sympathized with Lopez rather than with his wife, thinking that if Mr Wharton would only open his pockets wide enough things might still be right. ‘It was all the Duchess’s fault, you know,’ she said to the old man.

‘I know nothing about it, and when I want to know I certainly shall not come to you. The misery that he has brought upon me is so great that it makes me wish I had never seen anyone who knew him.’

‘It was Everett who introduced him to your house.’

It was you who introduced him to Everett.’

‘There you are wrong — as you often are, Mr Wharton. Everett met him first at the club.’

‘What’s the use of arguing about it? It was at your house that Emily met him. It was you that did it. I wonder you can have the face to mention his name to me.’

‘And the man living all the time in your house!’

Up to this time Mr Wharton had not mentioned to a single person the fact that he had paid his son-inlaw’s election expenses at Silverbridge. He had given him the cheque without much consideration, with the feeling that by doing so he would in some degree benefit his daughter, and had since regretted the act, finding that no such payment from him could be of any service to Emily. But the thing had been done — and there had been, so far, an end of it. In no subsequent discussion would Mr Wharton have alluded to it, had not circumstances now as it were driven it back upon his mind. And since the day on which he had paid the money he had been, as he declared to himself, swindled over and over again by his son-inlaw. There was the dinner at Manchester Square, and after that the brougham, and the rent, and a score of bills, some of which he had paid and some declined to pay! And yet he had said but little to the man himself of all these injuries. Of what use was it to say anything? Lopez would simply reply that he had asked him to pay nothing. ‘What is it all,’ Lopez had once said, ‘to the fortune I had a right to expect with your daughter?’ ‘You had no right to expect a shilling,’ Wharton had said. Then Lopez had shrugged his shoulders, and there had been an end of it.

But now, if this rumour were true, there had been a positive dishonesty. From whichever source the man might have got the money first, if the money had been twice got, the second payment had been fraudulently obtained. Surely if the accusation had been untrue Lopez would have come to him and declared it to be false, knowing what must otherwise be his thoughts. Lately, in the daily worry of his life, he had avoided all conversation with the man. He would not allow his mind to contemplate clearly what was coming. He entertained some irrational, undefined hope that something would at last save his daughter from the threatened banishment. It might be, if he held his own hand tight enough, that there would not be money enough even to pay for her passage out. As for her outfit, Lopez would of course order what he wanted and have the bills sent to Manchester Square. Whether or not this was being done neither he nor Emily knew. And thus matters went on without much speech between the two men. But now the old barrister thought that he was bound to speak. He therefore waited on a certain morning till Lopez had come down, having previously desired his daughter to leave the room. ‘Lopez,’ he asked, ‘what is this that the newspapers are saying about your expenses at Silverbridge?’

Lopez had expected the attack and had endeavoured to prepare himself for it. ‘I should have thought, sir, that you would not have paid much attention to such statements in a newspaper.’

‘When they concern myself, I do. I paid your electioneering expenses.

‘You certainly subscribed 500 pounds towards them, Mr Wharton.’

‘I subscribed nothing, sir. There was no question of a subscription — by which you intend to imply contribution from other sources. You told me that the contest cost you 500 pounds and that sum I handed to you, with the full understanding on your part, as well as on mine, that I was paying for the whole. Was that so?’

‘Have it your own way, sir.’

‘If you are not more precise, I shall think that you have defrauded me.’

‘Defrauded you?’

‘Yes, sir; — defrauded me to the Duke of Omnium. The money is gone, and it matters little which. But if that be so I shall know that either from him or from me you have raised money under false pretences.’

‘Of course, Mr Wharton, from you I must bear whatever you may choose to say.’

‘Is it true that you have applied to the Duke of Omnium for money on account of your expenses at Silverbridge, and is it true that he has paid you on that score?’

‘Mr Wharton, as I have said just now, I am bound to hear and to bear from anything you may choose to say. Your connection with my wife and your age alike restrain my resentment. But I am not bound to answer your questions when they are accompanied by such language as you have chosen to use, and I refuse to answer further questions on this subject.’

‘Of course I know that you have taken the money from the Duke.’

‘Then why do you ask me?’

‘And of course I know you are well aware as I am of the nature of the transaction. That you can brazen it out without a blush only proves to me that you have got beyond the reach of shame.’

‘Very well, sir.’

‘And you have no further explanation to make?’

‘What do you expect me to say? Without knowing any of the facts of the case — except the one, that you contributed 500 pounds to my election expenses, you take upon yourself to tell me that I am a shameless, fraudulent swindler. And then you ask for a further explanation! In such a position is it likely that I shall explain anything; — that I can be in a humour to be explanatory? Just turn it all over in your own mind, and ask yourself the question.’

‘I have turned it over in my mind, and I have asked myself the question, and I do not think it probable that you should wish to explain anything. I shall take steps to let the Duke know that I as your father-inlaw had paid the full sum which you had stated that you had spent at Silverbridge.’

‘Much the Duke will care about that.’

‘And after what has passed I am obliged to say that the sooner you leave this house the better I shall be pleased.’

‘Very well, sir. Of course I shall take my wife with me.’

‘That must be as she pleases.’

‘No, Mr Wharton. That must be as I please. She belongs to me — not to you or to herself. Under your influence she has forgotten much of what belongs to the duty of a wife, but I do not think that she will so far have forgotten herself as to give me more trouble than to bid her come with me when I desire it.’

‘Let that be as it may. I must request that you, sir, will absent yourself. I will not entertain as my guest a man who has acted as you have done in this matter — even though he be my son-inlaw.’

‘I can sleep here tonight, I suppose?’

‘Or tomorrow if it suits you. As for Emily, she can remain here, if you will allow her to do so.’

‘That will not suit me,’ said Lopez.

‘In that case, as far as I am concerned, I shall do whatever she may ask me to do. Good morning.’

Mr Wharton left the room, but did not leave the house. Before he did so he would see his daughter, and, thinking it probable that Lopez would also choose to see his wife, he prepared to wait in his own room. But, in about ten minutes, Lopez started from the hall door in a cab, and did so without going upstairs. Mr Wharton had reason to believe that his son-inlaw was almost destitute of money for immediate purposes. Whatever he might have would at any rate be serviceable for him before he started. Any home for Emily must be expensive; and no home in their present circumstances could be so reputable for her as one under her father’s roof. He therefore almost hoped that she might still be left with him till that horrid day should come — if it ever did come — in which she would be taken away from him for ever. ‘Of course, papa, I shall go if he bids me,’ she said, when he told her all that he thought it right to tell her of that morning’s interview.

‘I hardly know how to advise you,’ said the father, meaning in truth to bring himself round to the giving of some advice adverse to her husband’s will.

‘I want no advice, papa.’

‘Want no advice! I never knew a woman who wanted it more.’

‘No, papa. I am bound to do as he tells me. I know what I have done. When some poor wretch has got himself into perpetual prison by his misdeeds, no advice can serve him. So it is with me.’

‘You can at any rate escape from your prison.’

‘No; — no. I have a feeling of pride which tells me that as I chose to become the wife of my husband — so I insisted on it in opposition to all my friends — as I would judge for myself — I am bound to put up with my choice. If this had come upon me through the authority of others, if I had been constrained to marry him, I think I could have reconciled myself to deserting him. But I did it myself, and I will abide by it. When he bids me to go, I shall go.’ Poor Mr Wharton went to his chambers, and sat there the whole day without taking a book or a paper into his hands. Could there be no rescue, no protection, no relief? He turned over in his head various plans, but in a vague and useless manner. What if the Duke were to prosecute Lopez for the fraud! What if he could implore Lopez to abandon his wife — pledging himself by some deed not to return to her — for, say, twenty or even thirty thousand pounds! What if he himself were carry his daughter away to the continent, half forcing and half persuading her to make the journey! Surely there might be some means found by which the man might be frightened into compliance. But there he sat — and did nothing. And in the evening he ate a solitary mutton chop at The Jolly Blackbird, because he could not bear to face even his club, and then returned to his chambers — to the great disgust of the old woman who had them in charge at nights. And at about midnight he crept away to his own house, a wretched old man.

Lopez when he left Manchester Square he did not go in search of a new home for himself and his wife, nor during the whole of the day did he trouble himself on that subject. He spent most of the day at the rooms in Coleman Street of the San Juan Mining Association, of which Mr Mills Happerton had once been Chairman. There was now another Chairman and other Directors; but Mr Mills Happerton’s influence had so far remained with the Company as to enable Lopez to become well-known in the Company’s offices, and acknowledged as a claimant for the office of resident Manager at San Juan in Guatemala. Now the present project was this — that Lopez was to start on behalf of the Company early in May, that the Company was to pay his own personal expenses out to Guatemala, and that they should allow him while there a salary of 1,000 pounds a year for managing the affairs of the mine. As far as this offer went, the thing was true enough. It was true that Lopez had absolutely secured the place. But he done so subject to the burden of one very serious stipulation. He was to become the proprietor of fifty shares in the mine, and to pay up 100 pounds each on those shares. It was considered that the man who was to get 1,000 pounds a year in Guatemala for managing the affair, should at any rate assist the affair, and show his confidence in the affair, to an extent as great as that. Of course the holder of these fifty shares would be fully entitled as any other shareholder to that twenty per cent which those shares who promoted the mine promised as the immediate result of the speculation.

At first Lopez had hoped that he might be enabled to defer the actual payment of the 5,000 pounds till after he had sailed. When once out in Guatemala as manager, as manager he would doubtless remain. But by degrees he found that the payment must actually be made in advance. Now there was nobody to whom he could apply but Mr Wharton. He was, indeed, forced to declare at the office that the money was to come from Mr Wharton, and had given some excellent but fictitious reason why Mr Wharton could not pay the money till February.

And in spite of all that had come and gone he still did hope that if the need to go were actually there he might even get the money from Mr Wharton. Surely Mr Wharton would sooner pay such a sum than be troubled at home with such a son-inlaw. Should the worst come to the worst, of course he could raise the money by consenting to leave his wife at home. But this was not part of his plan, if he could avoid it. 5,000 pounds would be a very low price at which to sell his wife, and all that he might get from his connection with her. As long as he kept her with him he was in possession at any rate of all that Mr Wharton would do for her. He had not therefore as yet made up his final application to his father-inlaw for the money, having found it possible to postpone they payment till the middle of February. His quarrel with Mr Wharton this morning he regarded as having little or no effect upon his circumstances. Mr Wharton would not give him the money because he loved him, nor yet from personal respect, nor from any sense of duty as to what he might owe a son-inlaw. It would simply be given as the price by which his absence might be purchased, and his absence would not be the less desirable because of this morning’s quarrel.

But, even yet, he was not quite resolved as to going to Guatemala. Sexty Parker had been sucked nearly dry, and was in truth at this moment so violent with indignation and fear and remorse that Lopez did not dare to show himself in Little Tankard Yard; but still there were, even yet, certain hopes in that direction from which greater results might come. If a certain new spirit which had just been concocted from the bark of trees in Central Africa, and which was called Bios, could only be made to go up in the market, everything might be satisfactorily arranged. The hoardings of London were already telling the public if it wished to get drunk without any of the usual troubles of intoxication it must drink Bios. The public no doubt does read the literature of the hoardings, but then it reads so slowly! This Bios had hardly been twelve months on the boards as yet! But they were now increasing the size of the letters in the advertisements and the jocundity of the pictures, — and the thing might be done. There was, too, another hope — another hope of instant moneys by which Guatemala might be staved off, as to which further explanation shall be given in a further chapter.

‘I suppose I shall find Dixon a decent sort of fellow?’ said Lopez to the Secretary of the Association in Coleman Street.

‘Rough, you know,’

‘But honest?’

‘Oh yes — he’s all that.’

‘If he’s honest, and what I call loyal, I don’t care a straw for anything else. One doesn’t expect West-end manners in Guatemala. But I shall have a deal to do with him — and I hate a fellow that you can’t depend on.’

‘Mr Happerton used to think a great deal of Dixon.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Lopez. Mr Dixon was the underground manager out at the San Juan mine, and was perhaps as anxious for a loyal and honest colleague as was Mr Lopez. If so, Mr Dixon was very much in the way to be disappointed.

Lopez stayed at the office all the day studying the affairs of the San Juan mine, and then went to the Progress for dinner. Hitherto he had taken no steps whatever as to getting lodgings for himself or his wife.

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