The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 60

The Tenway Junction.

And thus the knowledge was conveyed to Mrs Lopez that her fate in life was not to carry her to Guatemala. At the very moment in which she had been summoned to meet Arthur Fletcher she had been busy with her needle preparing that almost endless collection of garments necessary for a journey of many days at sea. And now she was informed, by a chance expression, by a word aside, as it were, that the journey was not to be made. ‘That is all over,’ he had said — and then had left her, telling her nothing further. Of course she stayed her needle. Whether the last word had been true or false, she could not work again, at any rate till it had been contradicted. If it were so, what was to be her fate? One thing was certain to her — that she could not remain under her father’s roof. It was impossible that an arrangement so utterly distasteful as the present one, both on to her father and to herself, should be continued. But where then should they live — and of what nature would her life be should she be separated from her father?

That evening she saw her father, and he corroborated her husband’s statement. ‘It is all over now,’ he said — ‘that scheme of his of going to superintend the mines. The mines don’t want him, and won’t have him. I can’t say I wonder at it.’

‘What are we to do, papa?’

‘Ah; — that I cannot say. I suppose he will condescend still to honour me with his company. I do not know why he should wish to go to Guatemala or elsewhere. He has everything here that he can want.’

‘You know, papa, that that is impossible.’

‘I cannot say what with him is possible or impossible. He is bound by none of the ordinary rules of mankind.’

That evening Lopez returned to his dinner at Manchester Square, which was still regularly served for him and his wife, though the servants who attended upon him did so under silent and oft-repeated protest. He said not a word more as to Arthur Fletcher, nor did her seek any ground of quarrel with his wife. But that he continued melancholy and dejection made anything like good-humour impossible, even on his part, he would have been good — humoured. When they were alone, she asked him as to their future destiny. ‘Papa tells me you are not going,’ she began saying.

‘Did I not tell you so this morning?’

‘Yes; you said so. But I did not know you were in earnest. Is it all over?’

‘All over; — I suppose.’

‘I should have thought that you would have told me with more — more seriousness.’

‘I don’t know what you would have. I was serious enough. The fact is, that your father has delayed so long the payment of the promised money that the thing has fallen through of necessity. I do not know that I can blame the Company.’

Then there was a pause. ‘And now,’ she said, ‘what do you mean to do?’

‘Upon my word I cannot say. I am quite as much in the dark as you can be.’

‘That is nonsense, Ferdinand.’

‘Thank you! Let it be nonsense if you will. It seems to me that there is a great deal of nonsense going on in the world; but very little of it as true as what I say now.’

‘But it is your duty to know. Of course you cannot stay here.’

‘Nor you, I suppose — without me.’

‘I am not speaking of myself. If you choose, I can remain here.’

‘And — just throw me overboard altogether.’

‘If you provide another home for me, I will go to it. However poor it may be I will go to it, if you bid me. But for you — of course you cannot stay here.’

‘Has your father told you to say so to me?’

‘No; — but I can say so without his telling me. You are banishing him from his own house. He has put up with it while he thought that you were going to this foreign country; but there must be an end of that now. You must have some scheme of life.’

‘Upon my soul I have none.’

‘You must have some intentions for the future.’

‘None in the least. I have had intentions, and they have failed; — from want of that support which I had a right to expect. I have struggled and I have failed, and now I have got no intention. What are yours?’

‘It is not my duty to have any purpose, as what I do must depend on your commands.’ Then again there was a silence, during which he lit a cigar, although he was sitting in the drawing-room. This was a profanation of the room on which he had never ventured before, but at the present moment she was unable to notice it by any words. ‘I must tell papa,’ she said after a while, ‘what our plans are.’

‘You can tell him what you please. I have literally nothing to say to him. If he will settle an adequate income on us, payable of course to me, I will go and live elsewhere. If he turns me out in the street without provision, he must turn you out too. That is all I have got to say. It will come better from you than from me. I am sorry, of course, that things have gone wrong with me. When I found myself the son-inlaw of a very rich man I thought that I might spread my wings a bit. But my rich father-inlaw threw me over, and now I am helpless. You are not very cheerful, and I think I’ll go down to the club.’

He went out of the house and did go down to the Progress. The committee which was to be held with the view of judging whether he was or was not a proper person to remain a member of that assemblage had not yet been held, and there was nothing to impede his entrance to the club, or the execution of the command which he gave for tea and buttered toast. But no one spoke to him; nor, though he affected a look of comfort, did he find himself much at his ease. Among the members of the club there was a much divided opinion whether he should be expelled or not. There was a strong party who declared that his conduct socially, morally, and politically, had been so bad that nothing short of expulsion would meet the case. But there were others who said that no act had been proved against him which the club ought to notice. He had, no doubt, shown himself to be a blackguard, a man without a spark of honour or honesty. But then — as they said who thought his position in the club to be unassailable — what had the club to do with that? ‘If you turn out all the blackguards and all the dishonourable men, where will the club be?’ was a question asked with a great deal of vigour by one middle-aged gentleman who was supposed to know the club-world very thoroughly. He had committed no offence which the law could recognize and punish, nor had he sinned against the club rules. ‘He is not required to be a man of honour by any regulation of which I am aware,’ said the middle-aged gentleman. The general opinion seemed to be that he should be asked to go, and that, if he declined, no one should speak to him. This penalty was already inflicted on him, for on the evening in question no one did speak to him.

He drank his tea and ate his toast and read a magazine, striving to look as comfortable and as much at his ease as men at their clubs generally are. He was not a bad actor, and those who saw him and made reports as to his conduct on the following day declared that he had apparently been quite indifferent to the disagreeable incident of his position. But his indifference had been mere acting. His careless manner with his wife had been all assumed. Selfish as he was, void as he was of all principle, utterly unmanly and even unconscious of the worth of manliness, still he was alive to the opinions of others. He thought that the world did not understand the facts of his case, and that the world generally would have done as he had done in similar circumstances. He did not know that there was such a quality as honesty, nor did he understand what the word meant. But he did know that some men, an unfortunate class, became subject to evil report from others who were more successful, and he was aware that he had become one of those unfortunates. Nor could he see any remedy for his position. It was all blank and black before him. It may be doubted whether he got much instruction or amusement from the pages of the magazine which he turned.

At about twelve o’clock he left the club and took his way homewards. But he did not go straight home. It was a nasty cold March night, with a catching wind, and occasional short showers of something between snow and rain — as disagreeable a night for a gentleman to walk in as one could well conceive. But he went round by Trafalgar Square, and along the Strand, and up some dirty streets by the small theatres, and so on to Holborn and by Bloomsbury Square up to Tottenham Court Road, and then through some unused street into Portland Place, along the Marylebone Road, and back to Manchester Square by Baker Street. He had more than doubled the distance — apparently without any object. He had been spoken to frequently by unfortunates of both sexes, but had answered a word to no one. He had trudged on and on with his umbrella over his head, but almost unconscious of the cold and wet. And yet he was a man sedulously attentive to his own personal comfort and health, who had at any rate shown this virtue in his mode of living, that he had never subjected himself to danger by imprudence. But now the working of his mind kept him warm, and, if not dry, at least indifferent to the damp. He had thrown aside with affected nonchalance those questions which his wife had asked him, but still it was necessary that he should answer them. He did not suppose that he could continue to live in Manchester Square in his present condition. Nor, if it was necessary that he should wander forth into the world, could he force his wife to wander with him. If he would consent to leave her, his father-inlaw would probably give him something — some allowance on which he might exist. But then of what sort would be his life?

He did not fail to remind himself over and over again that he had nearly succeeded. He had been the guest of the Prime Minister, and had been the nominee chosen by a Duchess to represent her husband’s borough in Parliament. He had been intimate with Mills Happerton who was fast becoming a millionaire. He had married much above himself in every way. He had achieved a certain popularity and was conscious of intellect. But at the present moment two or three sovereigns in his pocket were the extent of his worldly wealth and his character was utterly ruined. He regarded his fate as does a card-player who day after day holds sixes and sevens when other men have aces and kings. Fate was against him. He saw no reason why he should not have had he aces and kings continually, especially as fate had given him perhaps more than his share of them at first. He had, however, lost rubber after rubber — not paying his stakes for some of the last rubbers lost — till the players would play with him no longer. The misfortune might have happened to any man; — but it had happened to him. There was no beginning again. A possible small allowance and some very retired and solitary life, in which there would be no show of honour, no flattery coming to him, was all that was left to him.

He let himself in at the house, and found his wife still awake. ‘I am wet to the skin,’ he said, ‘I made up my mind to walk, and I would do it; — but I am a fool for my pains.’ She made him some feeble answer, affecting to be half asleep, and merely turned in her bed. ‘I must be out early in the morning. Mind you made them dry my things. They never do anything for my telling.’

‘You don’t want them dried to-night?’

‘Not to-night, of course; — but after I am gone tomorrow. They’ll leave them there without putting a hand to them, if you don’t speak. I must be off before breakfast tomorrow.’

‘Where are you going? Do you want anything packed?’

‘No; nothing. I shall be back for dinner. But I must go down to Birmingham, to see a friend of Happerton’s on business. I will breakfast at the station. As you said today, something must be done. If it’s necessary to sweep a crossing, I must sweep it.’

As she lay awake while he slept, she thought that those last words were the best she had heard from him since they were married. There seemed to be some indication of purpose in them. If he would only sweep a crossing as a man should sweep it, she would stand by him, and at any rate do her duty to him, in spite of all that had happened. Alas! she was not old enough to have learned that a dishonest man cannot begin even to sweep a crossing honestly till he have in very truth repented of his former dishonesty. The lazy man may become lazy no longer, but there must have been first a process through his mind whereby his laziness has become odious to him. And that process can hardly be the immediate result of misfortune arising from misconduct. Had Lopez found his crossing at Birmingham he would hardly have swept it well.

Early on the following morning he was up, and before he left his room he kissed his wife. ‘Good-bye, old girl,’ he said, ‘don’t be down-hearted.’

‘If you have anything before you to do, I will not be down-hearted,’ she said.

‘I shall have something to do before night, I think. Tell your father, when you see him, that I shall not trouble him here much longer. But tell him also, that I have no thanks to give him for his hospitality.’

‘I will not tell him that, Ferdinand.’

‘He shall know it though. But I do not mean to be cross to you. Good-bye, love.’ Then he stooped over and kissed her again; — and so he took his leave of her.

It was raining hard, and when he got into the street he looked about for a cab, but there was none to be found. In Baker Street he got an omnibus which took him down to the underground railway, and by that he went to Gower Street. Through the rain he walked up to the Euston Station, and there he ordered breakfast. Could he have a mutton chop and some tea? And he was very particular that the mutton chop should be well cooked. He was a good-looking man, of fashionable appearance, and the young lady who attended him noticed him and was courteous to him. He condescended even to have a little light conversation with her, and, on the whole, he seemed to enjoy his breakfast. ‘Upon my word. I should like to breakfast here every say of my life,’ he said. The young lady assured him that, as far as she could see, there was no objection to such an arrangement. ‘Only it’s a bore, you know, coming out in the rain when there are no cabs,’ he said. Then there were various little jokes between them, till the young lady was quite impressed with the gentleman’s pleasant affability.

After a while he went back into the hall and took a first-class return ticket not for Birmingham, but for the Tenway Junction, as everybody knows it. From this spot, some six or seven miles distant from London, lines diverge east, west, and north, north-east, and north-west, round the metropolis in every direction, and with direct communication with every other line in and out of London. It is marvellous place, quite unintelligible to the uninitiated, and yet daily used by thousands who only know that when they get there, they are to do what someone tells them. The space occupied by the convergent rails seems to be sufficient for a large farm. And these rails always run into one another with sloping points, and cross passages, and mysterious meandering sidings, till it seems to the thoughtful stranger to be impossible that the best-trained engine should know its own line. Here and there and around there is ever a wilderness of waggons, some loaded, some empty, some smoking with close-packed oxen, and others furlongs in length black with coals, which look as though they had been stranded there by chance, and were never destined to get again into the right path of traffic. Not a minute passes without a train going here or there, some rushing by without noticing Tenway in the least, crashing through like flashes of substantial lightning, and others stopping, disgorging and taking up passengers by the hundreds. Men and women — especially the men, for the women knowing their ignorance are generally willing to trust to the pundits of the place — look doubtful, uneasy, and bewildered. But they all do get properly placed and unplaced, so that the spectator at last acknowledges that over all this apparent chaos there is presiding a great genius of order. From dusky morn to dark night, and indeed almost throughout the night, the air is loaded with a succession of shrieks. The theory goes that each separate shriek — if there can be any separation where the sound is so nearly continuous — is a separate notice to separate ears of the coming or going of a separate train. The stranger, as he speculates on these pandemoniac noises, is able to realize the idea that were they discontinued the excitement necessary for the minds of the pundits might be lowered, and that activity might be lessened, and evil results might follow. But he cannot bring himself to credit that theory of individual notices.

At Tenway Junction there are a half-a-dozen long platforms, on which men and women and luggage are crowded. On one of these for a while Ferdinand Lopez walked backwards and forwards as though waiting for the coming of some especial train. The crowd is ever so great that a man might be supposed to walk there from morning to nigh without exciting special notice. But the pundits are very clever, and have much experience in men and women. A well-taught pundit, who has exercised authority for a year or two at such a station as that of Tenway, will know within a minute of the appearance of each stranger what is his purpose there — whether he be going or has just come, whether he is himself on the way or waiting for others, whether he should be treated with civility or with some curt command — so that if his purport be honest all necessary assistance may be rendered him. As Lopez was walking up and down, with a smiling face and leisurely pace, now reading an advertisement and now watching the contortions of some amazed passenger, a certain pundit asked him his business. He was waiting, he said, for a train from Liverpool, intending, when his friend arrived, to go with him to Dulwich by a train which went round the west of London. It was all feasible, and the pundit told him that the stopping train from Liverpool was due there in six minutes, but that the express from the north would pass first. Lopez thanked the pundit and gave him sixpence — which made the pundit suspicious. A pundit hopes to be paid when he handles luggage, but has no such expectation when he merely gives information.

The pundit still had his eye on our friend when the shriek and the whirr of the express from the north was heard. Lopez walked quickly up towards the edge of the platform, when the pundit followed him, telling him that this was not his train. Lopez then ran a few yards along the platform, not noticing the man, reaching a spot that was unoccupied:— and there he stood fixed. And as he stood the express flashed by. ‘I am fond of seeing them pass like that,’ said Lopez to the man who had followed him.

‘But you shouldn’t do it, sir,’ said the suspicious pundit. ‘No one isn’t allowed to stand near like that. The very hair of it might take you off your legs when you’re not used to it.’

‘All right, old fellow,’ said Lopez retreating. The next train was the Liverpool train; and it seemed that our friend’s friend had not come, for when the Liverpool passengers had cleared themselves off, he was still walking up and down the platform. ‘He’ll come by the next,’ said Lopez to the pundit, who now followed him about and kept an eye on him.

‘There ain’t another from Liverpool stopping here till the 2.20,’ said the pundit. ‘You had better come again if you mean to meet him by that.’

‘He has come part of the way, and will reach this by some other train,’ said Lopez.

‘There ain’t nothing he can come by,’ said the pundit. ‘Gentlemen can’t wait here all day, sir. The horders is against waiting on the platform.’

‘All right,’ said Lopez, moving away as though to make exit through the station.

Now, Tenway Junction is so big a place, and so scattered, that it is impossible that all the pundits should by any combined activity maintain to the letter the order of which our special pundit had spoken. Lopez, departing from the platform which he had hitherto occupied, was soon to be seen on another, walking up and down, and again waiting. But the old pundit had his eye on him, and had followed him round. At that moment there came a shriek louder than all the other shrieks, and the morning express down from Euston to Inverness was seen coming round the curve at a thousand miles an hour. Lopez turned round and looked at it, and again walked towards the edge of the platform but now it was not exactly the edge that he neared, but a descent to a pathway, — an inclined plane leading down to the level of the rails, and made there for certain purposes of traffic. As he did so the pundit called to him, and then made a rush at him — for our friend’s back was turned to the coming train. But Lopez heeded not the call, and the rush was too late. With quick, but still with gentle and apparently unhurried steps, he walked down before the flying engine — and in a moment had been knocked into bloody atoms.

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