The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 55

Mrs Parker’s Sorrows.

The end of February had come, and as far as Mrs Lopez knew she was to start for Guatemala in a month’s time. And yet there was so much indecision in her husband’s manner, and apparently so little done by him in regard to personal preparation, that she could hardly bring herself to feel certain that she would have to make the journey. From day to day her father would ask her whether she had made her intended purchases, and she would tell him that she had still postponed the work. Then he would say no more, for he himself was hesitating, doubtful what he would do, and still thinking that when at last the time should come, he would buy his daughter’s release at any price that might be demanded. He had seen Lopez more than once, and had also seen Mr Hartlepod. Mr Hartlepod had simply told him that he would be very happy to register the shares on behalf of Lopez as soon as the money was paid. Lopez had been almost insolent in his bearing. ‘Did Mr Wharton think,’ he asked, ‘that he was going to sell his wife for 5,000 pounds?’ ‘I think you will have to raise your offer,’ Mr Walker had said to Mr Wharton. That was all very well. Mr Wharton was willing enough to raise the offer. He would have doubled the offer could he thereby have secured the annihilation of Lopez. ‘I will raise it if he will go without his wife, and give her a written assurance that he would never trouble her again.’ But the arrangement was one which Mr Walker found it very difficult to carry out. So things went on till the end of February had come.

And during all this time Lopez was still a resident in Mr Wharton’s house. ‘Papa,’ she said to him one day, ‘this is the cruellest thing of all. Why don’t you tell him he must go?’

‘Because he would take you with him.’

‘It would be better so. I could come and see you.’

‘I did tell him to go — in my passion. I repented of it instantly, because I should have lost you. But what did my telling matter to him? He was very indignant, and yet he is still here.’

‘You told him to go?’

‘Yes; — but I am glad that he did not obey me. There must be an end of it soon, I suppose.’

‘I do not know, papa.’

‘Do you think he will not go?’

‘I feel that I know nothing, papa. You must not let him stay always, you know.’

‘And what will become of you when he goes?’

‘I must go with him. Why should you be sacrificed also? I will tell him that he must leave the house. I am not afraid of him, papa.’

‘Not yet, my dear; — not yet. We will see.’

At this time Lopez declared his purpose one day of dining at the Progress, and Mr Wharton took advantage of the occasion to remain at home with his daughter. Everett was now expected, and there was a probability that he might come on this evening. Mr Wharton therefore returned from his chambers early; but when he reached the house he was told that there was a woman in the dining-room with Mrs Lopez. The servant did not know what woman. She had asked to see Mrs Lopez, and Mrs Lopez had gone down to her.

The woman in the dining-room was Mrs Parker. She had called at the house about half-past five, and Emily had at once come down when summoned by tidings that a “lady” wanted to see her. Servants have a way of announcing a woman a lady, which clearly expresses their own opinion that the person in question was not a lady. So it had been on the present occasion, but Mrs Lopez had at once gone to her visitor. ‘Oh, Mrs Parker, I am so glad to see you. I hope you are well.’

‘Indeed then, Mrs Lopez, I am very far from well. No poor woman, who is the mother of five children, was ever farther from being well than I am.’

‘Is anything wrong?’

‘Wrong, ma’am. Everything is wrong. When is Mr Lopez going to pay my husband all the money he has took from him?’

‘Has he taken money?’

‘Taken! he has taken everything. He has shorn my husband as bare as a board. We’re ruined, Mrs Lopez, and it’s your husband has done it. When we were at Dovercourt, I told you how it was going to be. His business has left him, and now there is nothing. What are we to do?’ The woman was seated on a chair, leaning forward with her two hands on her knees. The day was wet, the streets were half mud and half snow, and the poor woman, who had made her way through the slush, was soiled and wet. ‘I look to you to tell me what me and my children is to do. He’s your husband, Mrs Lopez.’

‘Yes, Mrs Parker, he is my husband.’

‘Why couldn’t he let Sexty alone? Why should the like of him be taking the bread out of my children’s mouths? What had we ever done to him? You’re rich.’

‘Indeed I am not, Mrs Parker.’

‘Yes, you are. You’re living here in a grand house, and your father’s made of money. You’ll know nothing of want, let the worst come to the worst. What are we to do, Mrs Lopez? I’m the wife of that poor creature, and you’re the wife of the man that has ruined him. What are we to do, Mrs Lopez?’

‘I do not understand my husband’s business, Mrs Parker.’

‘You’re one with him, ain’t you? If anybody has ever come to me and said my husband had robbed him, I’d never have stopped till I knew the truth of it. If any woman had ever said to me that Parker had taken the bread out of her children’s mouths, do you think that I’d sit as you are sitting? I tell that Lopez has robbed us — has robbed us, and taken everything.’

‘What can I say, Mrs Parker; — what can I do?’

‘Where is he?’

‘He is not here. He is dining at his club.’

‘Where is that? I will go there and shame him before them all. Don’t you feel no shame? Because you’ve got things comfortable here, I suppose it’s all nothing to you. You don’t care, though my children were starving in the gutter — as they will do.’

‘If you knew me, Mrs Parker, you wouldn’t speak to me like that.’

‘Know you! Of course I know you. You’re a lady, and your father’s a rich man, and your husband thinks no end of himself. And we’re poor people, so it don’t matter whether we’re robbed and ruined or not. That’s about it.’

‘If I had anything, I’d give you all that I had.’

‘And he’s taken to drinking that hard that he’s never rightly sober from morning to night.’ As she told this story of her husband’s disgrace, the poor woman burst into tears. ‘Who’s to trust him with business now? He’s that broken-hearted that he don’t know which way to turn — only to the bottle. And Lopez has done it all — done it all! I haven’t got a father, ma’am, who has got a house over his head for me and my babies. Only think if you was turned out into the street with your baby, as I am like to be.’

‘I have no baby,’ said the wretched woman through her tears and sobs.

‘Haven’t you, Mrs Lopez? Oh dear!’ exclaimed the soft-hearted woman, reduced at once to pity. ‘How was it then?’

‘He died, Mrs Parker — just a few days after he was born.’

‘Did he now? Well, well. We all have our troubles, I suppose.’

‘I have mine, I know,’ said Emily, ‘and very, very heavy they are. I cannot tell you what I have had to suffer.’

‘Isn’t he good to you?’

‘I cannot talk about it, Mrs Parker. What you tell me about yourself has added greatly to my sorrows. My husband is talking of going away — to live out of England.’

‘Yes, at a place they call — I forgot what they call it, but I heard it.’

‘Guatemala — in America.’

‘I know. Sexty told me. He has no business to go anywhere, while he owes Sexty such a lot of money. He has taken everything, and now he is going to Kattymaly!’ At this moment Mr Wharton knocked at the door and entered the room. As he did so Mrs Parker got up and curtsied.

‘This is my father, Mrs Parker,’ said Emily. ‘Papa, this is Mrs Parker. She is the wife of Mr Parker, who is Ferdinand’s partner. She has come here with bad news.’

‘Very bad news, indeed, sir,’ said Mrs Parker, curtseying again. Mr Wharton frowned, not as being angry with the woman, but feeling that some further horror was to be told him of his son-inlaw. ‘I can’t help coming, sir,’ continued Mrs Parker. ‘Where am I to go if I don’t come? Mr Lopez, sir, has ruined us root and branch — root and branch.’

‘That at any rate is not my fault,’ said Mr Wharton,

‘But she is his wife, sir. Where am I to go if not to where he lives? Am I to put up with everything gone, and my poor husband in the right way to go to Bedlam, and not to say a word about it to the grand relations of him who did it all?’

‘He is a bad man,’ said Mr Wharton. ‘I cannot make him otherwise.’

‘Will he do nothing for us?’

‘I will tell you all I know about him.’ Then Mr Wharton did tell her all that he knew, as to the appointment at Guatemala and the amount of salary which was to be attached to it. ‘Whether he will do anything for you, I cannot say; — I should think not, unless he be forced. I should advise you to go to the offices of the Company in Coleman Street and try to make some terms there. But I fear — I fear that it will all be useless.’

‘Then we may starve.’

‘It is not her fault,’ said Mr Wharton, pointing to his daughter. ‘She has had no hand in it. She knows less of it than you do.’

‘It is my fault,’ said Emily, bursting out in self-reproach — ‘my fault that I married him.’

‘Whether married or single he would have preyed upon Mr Parker to the same extent.’

‘Like enough,’ said the poor wife. ‘He’d prey upon anybody as he could get hold of. And so, Mr Wharton, you think that you can do nothing for me.’

‘If your want be immediate I can relieve it,’ said the barrister. Mrs Parker did not like the idea of accepting direct charity, but, nevertheless, on going away did take the five sovereigns which Mr Wharton offered to her.

After such an interview as that the evening between the father and the daughter was not very happy. She was eaten up by remorse. Gradually she had learned how frightful was the thing she had done in giving herself to a man of whom she had known nothing. And it was not only that she had degraded herself by loving such a man, but that she had been persistent in clinging to him though her father and all his friends had told her of the danger which she was running. And now it seemed that she had destroyed her father as well as herself! All that she could do was to be persistent in her prayer that he would let her go. ‘I have done it,’ she said that night, ‘and I could bear it better, if you would let me bear it alone.’ But he only kissed her, and sobbed over her, and held her close to his heart with his clinging arms — in a manner in which he had never held her in their old happy days.

He took himself to his own rooms before Lopez returned, but she of course had to bear her husband’s presence. As she had declared to her father more than once, she was not afraid of him. Even though he should strike her — though he should kill her — she would not be afraid of him. He had already done worse to her than anything that could follow. ‘Mrs Parker has been here today,’ she said to him that night.

‘And what did Mrs Parker have to say?’

‘That you ruined her husband.’

‘Exactly. When a man speculates and doesn’t win of course he throws the blame on someone else. And when he is too much of a cur to come himself, he sends his wife.’

‘She says you owe him money.’

‘What business have you to listen to what she says? If she comes again, do not see her. Do you understand me?’

‘Yes, I understand. She saw papa also. If you owe him money, should it not be paid?’

‘My dearest love, everybody who owes anything to anybody should always pay it. That is so self-evident that one would almost suppose that it might be understood without being enunciated. But the virtue of paying debts is incompatible with an absence of money. Now, if you please, we will not say anything more about Mrs Parker. She is not at any rate a fit companion for you.’

‘It was you who introduced her.’

‘Hold your tongue about her — and let that be an end of it. I little knew what a world of torment I was preparing for myself when I allowed you to come and live in your father’s house.’

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