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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 60/159 -
tonight!' He had told her that the matter of this election had been taken up at the Progress, and that possibly he might have to meet two or three persons there on this evening. There had been a proposition that the club should bear a part of the expenditure, and he was very solicitous that such an arrangement should be made.
'No,' said he, 'I shall not go out to-night. I am not sufficiently light-hearted.'
'What makes you heavy-hearted, Ferdinand?'
'I should have thought you would have known.'
'I suppose I do know,--but I don't know why it should. I don't know why you should be displeased. At any rate, I have done nothing wrong.'
'No;--not as to the letter. But it astonishes me that you should be so--so bound to this man that-'
'Bound to him, Ferdinand!'
'No;--you are bound to me. But that you have so much regard for him as not to see that he has grossly insulted you.'
'I have a regard for him.'
'And you dare to tell me so?'
'Dare! What should I be if I had any feeling which I did not dare to tell you? There is no harm in regarding a man with friendly feelings whom I have known since I was a child, and whom all my family have loved.'
'Your family wanted you to marry him!'
'They did. But I have married you, because I loved you. But I need not think badly of an old friend, because I did not love him. Why should you be angry with him? What can you have to be afraid of?' Then she came and sat on his knee and caressed him.
'It is he that shall be afraid of me,' said Lopez. 'Let him give the borough up if he means what he says.'
'Who could ask him to do that?'
'I can ask him.'
'Could you, Ferdinand?'
'Yes;--with a horsewhip in my hand.'
'Indeed, indeed you do not know him. Will you do this;--will you tell my father everything, and leave it to him to say whether Mr Fletcher has behaved badly to you?'
'Certainly not. I will not have any interference from your father between you and me. If I had listened to your father, you would not have been here now. Your father is not as yet a friend of mine. When he comes to know what I can do for myself, and that I can rise higher than these Hertfordshire people, then perhaps he may become my friend. But I will consult him in nothing so peculiar to myself as my own wife. And you must understand that in coming to me all obligation from you to him become extinct. Of course he is your father; but in such a matter as this he has no more say to you than any stranger.' After that he hardly spoke to her; but sat for an hour with a book in his hand, and then rose and said that he would go down to the club. 'There is so much villainy about,' he said, 'that a man if he means to do anything must keep himself on the watch.'
When she was alone she at once burst into tears; but she soon dried her eyes, and putting down her work, settled herself to think of it all. What did it mean? Why was he thus changed to her? Could it be that he was the same Ferdinand to whom she had given herself, without a doubt as to his personal merit? Every word that he had spoken since she had shown him the letter from Arthur Fletcher had been injurious to her, and offensive. It almost seemed as though he had determined to show himself to be a tyrant to her, and had only put off playing the part till the first convenient opportunity after their honeymoon. But through all this, her ideas were loyal to him. She would obey him in all things where obedience was possible, and would love him better than all the world. Oh yes;--for was he not her husband? Were he to prove himself the worst of men she would still love him. It had been for better or for worse; and as she had repeated the words to herself, she had sworn that if the worst should come, she would still be true.
But she could not bring herself to say that Arthur Fletcher had behaved badly. She could not. She knew well that his conduct had been noble and generous. Then unconsciously and involuntarily,--or rather in opposition to her own will and inward efforts,--her mind would draw comparisons between her husband and Arthur Fletcher. There was some peculiar gift, or grace, or acquirement belonging without dispute to the one, which the other lacked. What was it? She had heard her father say when talking of gentlemen,--of that race of gentlemen with whom it had been his lot to live,--that you could not make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The use of the proverb had offended her much, for she had known well whom he had then regarded as a silk purse and whom a sow's ear. But now she perceived that there had been truth in all this, though she was as anxious as ever to think well of her husband, and to endow him with all possible virtues. She had once ventured to form a doctrine for herself, to preach to herself a sermon of her own, and to tell herself that this gift of gentle blood and of gentle nurture, of which her father thought so much, and to which something of divinity was attributed down in Hertfordshire, was after all but a weak, spiritless quality. It could exist without intellect, without heart, and with very moderate culture. It was compatible with many littlenesses and with many vices. As for that love of honest, courageous truth which her father was wont to attribute to it, she regarded his theory as based on legends, as in earlier years was the theory of the courage, and constancy, and loyalty, of the knights of those days. The beau ideal of a man which she then pictured to herself was graced, first with intelligence, then with affection, and lastly with ambition. She knew no reason why such a hero as her fancy created should be born of lords and ladies rather than of working mechanics, should be English rather than Spanish or French. The man could not be her hero without education, without attributes to be attained no doubt more easily by the rich than the poor; but, with that granted, with those attained, she did not see why she, or why the world, should go beyond the man's own self. Such had been her theories as to men and their attributes, and acting on that, she had given herself and all her happiness into the keeping of Ferdinand Lopez. Now, there was gradually coming upon her a change in her convictions,--a change that was most unwelcome, that she strove to reject,--one which she would not acknowledge that she had adopted even while adopting it. But now,--ay, from the very hour of her marriage,--she had commenced to learn what it was that her father had meant when he spoke of the pleasure of living with gentlemen. Arthur Fletcher certainly was a gentleman. He would not have entertained the suspicion which her husband had expressed. He could not have failed to believe such assertions as had been made. He could never have suggested to his own wife that another man had endeavoured to entrap her into a secret correspondence. She seemed to hear the tones of Arthur Fletcher's voice, as those of her husband still rang in her ear when he bade her remember that she was now removed from her father's control. Every now and then the tears would come to her eyes, and she would sit pondering, listless, low in heart. Then she would suddenly rouse herself with a shake, and take up her book with a resolve that she would read steadily, would assure herself as she did so that her husband should still be her hero. The intelligence at any rate was there, and, in spite of his roughness, the affection which she craved. And the ambition, too, was there. But, alas, alas! why should such vile suspicions have fouled his mind?
He was late that night, but when he came he kissed her brow as she lay in bed, and she knew that his temper was again smooth. She feigned to be sleepy, though not asleep, as she just put her hand up to his cheek. She did not wish to speak to him again that night, but she was glad to know that in the morning he would smile on her. 'Be early at breakfast,' he said to her as he left her next morning, 'for I'm going down to Silverbridge today.'
Then she started up. 'To-day!'
'Yes,--by the 11.20. There is plenty of time, only don't be unusually late.'
Of course she was something more than usually early, and when she came out she found him reading his paper. 'It's all settled now,' he said. 'Grey has applied for the Hundreds, and Mr Rattler is to move for the new writ to-morrow. It has come rather sudden at last, as these things always do after long delays. But they say the suddenness is rather in my favour.'
'When will the election take place?'
'I suppose in about a fortnight;--perhaps a little longer.'
'And must you be at Silverbridge all that time?'
'Oh dear no. I shall stay there to-night, and perhaps to-morrow night. Of course I shall telegraph you directly I find how it is to be. I shall see the principal inhabitants, and probably make a speech or two.'
'I do wish I could hear you.'
'You'd find it awfully dull work, my girl. And I shall find it awfully dull too. I do not imagine that Mr Sprugeon and Mr Sprout will be pleasant companions. Well; I shall stay there a day or two and settle when I am to go down for the absolute canvass. I shall have to go with my hat in my hand to every blessed inhabitant in that dirty little town, and ask them all to be kind enough to drop in a paper for the most humble of their servants, Ferdinand Lopez.'
'I suppose all candidates have to do the same.'
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