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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 70/159 -


'I can't say that he asked you, Everett, I would say so, in spite of its being a lie, if I didn't fear that your father might say something unkind, so that the lie would be detected by both of you.'

'And yet you ask me to go and dine there!'

'Yes, I do. It's only going away if he does cut up rough. And if he takes it well,--why then,--the whole thing is done.'

'If he wants me, he can ask me.'

'You talk about it, my boy, just as if a father were the same as anybody else. If I had a father with a lot of money, by George he should knock me about with his stick if he liked, and I would be just the same next day.'

'Unfortunately I am of a stiffer nature,' said Everett, taking some pride to himself for his stiffness, and being perhaps as little 'stiff' as any young man of his day.

That evening after dinner at Manchester Square, the conversation between the father-in-law and the son-in-law turned almost exclusively to the son and brother-in-law. Little or nothing was said about the election, and the name of Arthur Fletcher was not mentioned. But out of his full heart the father spoke. He was wretched about Everett. Did Everett mean to cut him?

'He wants you to withdraw some name you called him,' said Lopez.

'Withdraw some name,--as he might ask some hot-headed fellow to do, if his own age, like himself, some fellow that he had quarrelled with! Does he expect his father to send him a written apology? He had been gambling, and I told him that he was a gambler. Is that too much for a father to say?' Lopez shrugged his shoulders, and declared that it was a pity. 'He will break my heart if he goes on like this,' said the old man.

'I asked him to come and dine to-day, but he didn't seem to like it.'

'Like it! No. He likes nothing but that infernal club.'

When the evening was over Lopez felt that he had done a good stroke of work. He had not exactly made up his mind to keep the father and son apart. That was not a part of his strategy,--at any rate as yet. But he did intend to make himself necessary to the old man,--to become the old man's son, and if possible the favourite son. And now he thought that he had already done much towards the achievement of his object.

CHAPTER 36

THE JOLLY BLACKBIRD.

There was great triumph at Longbarns when the news of Arthur's victory reached the place;--and when he arrived there himself with his friend Mr Gresham, he was received as a conquering hero. But of course the tidings of 'the row' had gone before him, and it was necessary that both he and Mr Gresham should tell the story;--nor could it be told privately. Sir Alured Wharton was there, and Mrs Fletcher. The old lady had heard of the row, and of course required to be told all the particulars. This was not pleasant to the hero, as in talking of the man it was impossible for them not to talk of the man's wife. 'What a terrible misfortune for poor Mr Wharton,' said the old lady, nodding her head at Sir Alured. Sir Alured sighed and said nothing. Certainly a terrible misfortune, and one which affected more or less the whole family of Whartons!

'Do you mean to say that he was going to attack Arthur with a whip?' asked John Fletcher.

'I only know that he was standing there with a whip in his hand,' said Mr Gresham.

'I think he would have had the worst of that.'

'You would have laughed,' said Arthur, 'to see me walking majestically along the High Street with a cudgel which Gresham had just bought for me as being of the proper medium size. I don't doubt he meant to have a fight. And then you should have seen the policeman sloping over and putting himself in the way. I never quite understood where the policeman came from.'

'They are very well off for policemen in Silverbridge,' said Gresham. 'They've always got them going about.'

'He must be mad,' said John.

'Poor unfortunate young woman!' said Mrs Fletcher, holding up both her hands. 'I must say that I cannot but blame Mr Wharton. If he had been firm, it never would have come to that. I wonder whether he ever sees him.'

'Of course he does,' said John. 'Why shouldn't he see him? You'd see him if he'd married a daughter of yours.'

'Never!' exclaimed the old woman. 'If I had a child so lost to all respect as that, I do not say that I would not have seen her. Human nature might have prevailed. But I would never willingly have put myself into contact with one who had degraded me and mine.'

'I shall be very anxious to know what Mr Wharton does about his money,' said John.

Arthur allowed himself but a couple of days among his friends, and then hurried up to London to take his seat. When there he was astonished to find how many questions were asked him about 'the row', and how much was known about it,--and at the same time how little was really known. Everybody had heard that there had been a row, and everybody knew that there had been a lady in the case. But there seemed to be a general idea that the lady had been in some way misused, and that Arthur Fletcher had come forwards like a Paladin to protect her. A letter had been written, and the husband, ogre-like, had intercepted the letter. The lady was the most unfortunate of human beings,--or would have been but for that consolation which she must have in the constancy of her old lover. As to all these matters the stories varied; but everybody agreed on one point. All the world knew that Arthur Fletcher had gone to Silverbridge, had stood for the borough, and taken the seat away from his rival,--because that rival had robbed him of his bride. How the robbery had been effected the world could not quite say. The world was still of the opinion that the lady was violently attached to the man she had not married. But Captain Gunner explained it all clearly to Major Pountney by asserting that the poor girl had been coerced into the marriage by her father. And thus Arthur Fletcher found himself almost as much a hero in London as at Longbarns.

Fletcher had not been above a week in town, and had become heartily sick of the rumours which in various shapes made their way round to his own ears, when he received an invitation from Mr Wharton to go and dine with him at a tavern called the Jolly Blackbird. The invitation surprised him,--that he should be asked by such a man to dine at such a place,--but he accepted it as a matter of course. He was indeed much interested in a bill for the drainage of common lands which was to be discussed in the House that night, there was a good deal of common land round Silverbridge, and he had some idea of making his first speech,-- but he calculated that he might get his dinner and yet be back in time for the debate. So he went to the Jolly Blackbird,--a very quaint old-fashioned law dining-house in the neighbourhood of Portugal Street, which had managed not to get itself not pulled down a dozen years ago on behalf of the Law Courts which are to bless some coming generation. Arthur had never been there before and was surprised at the black wainscotting, the black tables, the old-fashioned grate, the two candles on the table, and the silent waiter.

'I wanted to see you Arthur,' said the old man pressing his hand in a melancholy way, 'but I couldn't ask you to Manchester Square. They come in sometimes in the evening, and it might have been unpleasant. At your young men's clubs they let strangers dine. We haven't anything of that kind at the Eldon. You'll find they'll give you a very good bit of fish here, and a fairish steak.' Arthur declared that he thought it a capital place,-- the best fun in the world. 'And they've a very good bottle of claret;--better than we get at the Eldon, I think. I don't know that I can say much for their champagne. We'll try it. You young fellows always like champagne.'

'I hardly ever touch it,' said Arthur. 'Sherry and claret are my wines.'

'Very well;--very well. I did want to see you, my boy. Things haven't turned out just as we wanted;--have they?'

'Not exactly, sir.'

'No indeed. You know the old saying, "God disposes all". I have to make the best of it,--and so no doubt have you.'

'There's no doubt about it, sir,' said Arthur, speaking in a low but almost angry voice. They were not in a room by themselves, but in a recess which separated them from the room. 'I don't know that I want to talk about it, but to me it is one of those things for which there is no remedy. When a man loses his leg, he hobbles on, and sometimes has a good time of it at last;--but there he is, without a leg.'

'It wasn't my fault, Arthur.'

'There has been no fault but my own. I went in for the running, and got distanced. That's simply all about it, and there's no more to be said.'

'You ain't surprised that I should wish to see you.'

'I'm ever so much obliged. I think it's very kind of you.'

'I can't go in for a new life as you can. I can't take up politics and Parliament. It's too late for me.'

'I'm going to. There's a bill coming on this very night that I'm interested about. You mustn't be angry if I rush off a little before ten. We are going to lend money to the parishes on the


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