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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 90/159 -


a half. For the other half our bills are in the market. But in February next these articles will probably be sold for considerably more than 30,000 pounds. If I had 5,000 pounds placed to my credit now, I should be worth about 15,000 pounds by the end of next February. I am engaged in sundry other smaller ventures, all returning profits; --but in such a condition of things it is impossible that I should make a schedule.

I am undoubtedly in the condition of a man trading beyond his capital. I have been tempted by fair offers, and what I think I may call something beyond an average understanding of such matters, to go into ventures beyond my means. I have stretched my arm out too far. In such a position it is not perhaps unnatural that I should ask a wealthy father-in-law to assist me. It is certainly not unnatural that I should wish him to do so.

I do not think I am a mercenary man. When I married your daughter I raised no question of her fortune. Being embarked in trade I no doubt thought that her means,-- whatever they might be,--would be joined with my own. I know that a sum of 20,000 pounds, with my expeditious use of the money, would give us a noble income. But I would not condescend to ask a question which might lead to a supposition that I was marrying her for her money and not because I loved her.

You now know, I think, all that I can tell you. If there be any other questions I would willingly answer them. It is certainly the case that Emily's fortune, whatever you may choose to give her, would be of infinitely greater use to me now,--and consequently to her,--than at a future date which I sincerely pray may be very long deferred. Believe me to be, your affectionate son-in-law FERDINAND LOPEZ A. Wharton, Esq.

This letter he himself took up to town on the following day, and there posted, addressing it to Wharton Hall. He did not expect very great results from it. As he read it over, he was painfully aware that all this trash about caravels and cargoes of sulphur would not go very far with Mr Wharton. But it might go farther than nothing. He was bound not to neglect Mr Wharton's letter to him. When a man is in difficulty about money, even a lie,--even a lie that is sure to be found out to be a lie,--will serve his immediate turn better than silence. There is nothing that the courts hate so much as contempt;--not even perjury. And Lopez felt that Mr Wharton was the judge before whom he was bound to plead.

He returned to Dovercourt on that day, and he and his wife dined with the Parkers. No woman of her age had known better what were the manners of ladies and gentlemen than Emily Wharton. She had thoroughly understood that when in Hertfordshire she was surrounded by people of that class, and that when she was with her aunt, Mrs Roby, she was not quite so happily placed. No doubt she had been terribly deceived by her husband,--but the deceit had come from the fact that his manners gave no indication of his character. When she found herself in Mrs Parker's little sitting-room, with Mr Parker making florid speeches to her, she knew that she had fallen among people for whose society she had not been intended. But this was a part, and only a very trifling part, of the punishment which she felt that she deserved. If that, and things like that, were all, she would bear them without a murmur.

'Now I call Dovercourt a dooced nice little place,' said Mrs Parker, as he helped her to the 'bit fish', which he told her he had brought down with him from London.

'It is very healthy, I should think.

'Just the thing for the children, ma'am. You've none of your own, Mrs Lopez, but there's a good time coming. You were up to- day, weren't you, Lopez. Any news?'

'Things seemed to be very quiet in the city.'

'Too quiet, I'm afraid. I hate having 'em quiet. You must come and see me in Little Tankard Yard some of these days, Mrs Lopez. We can give you a glass of champagne and the wing of a chicken;-- can't we, Lopez?'

'I don't know. It's more than you ever gave me,' said Lopez, trying to look good-humoured.

'But you ain't a lady.'

'Or me,' said Mrs Parker.

'You're only a wife. If Mrs Lopez will make a day of it we'll treat her well in the city;--won't we, Ferdinand?' A black cloud come across 'Ferdinand's' face, but he said nothing. Emily of a sudden drew herself up unconsciously,--and then at once relaxed her features and smiled. If her husband chose that it should be so, she would make no objection.

'Upon my honour, Sexty, you are very familiar,' said Mrs Parker.

'It's a way we have in the city,' said Sexty. Sexty knew what he was about. His partner called him Sexty, and why shouldn't he call his partner Ferdinand?

'He'll call you Emily before long,' said Lopez.

'When you call my wife Jane, I shall,--and I've no objection in life. I don't see why people ain't to call each other by their Christian names. Take a glass of champagne, Mrs Lopez. I brought down half-a-dozen to-day so that we might be jolly. Care killed a cat. Whatever we call each other, I'm very glad to see you here, Mrs Lopez, and I hope it's the first of a great many. Here's to your health.'

It was all his ordering, and if he bade her dine with a crossing- sweeper she would do it. But she could not but remember that not long since he had told her that his partner was not a person with whom she could fitly associated; and she did not fail to perceive that he must be going down in the world to admit such associations for her after he had so spoken. And as she sipped the mixture which Sexty called champagne, she thought of Hertfordshire and the banks of the Wye, and--alas, alas,--she thought of Arthur Fletcher. Nevertheless, come what might, she would do her duty, even though it might call upon her to sit at dinner with Mr Parker three days in the week. Lopez was her husband, and would be the father of her child, and she would make herself one with him. It mattered not what people might call him,--or even her. She had acted on her own judgement in marrying him, and had been a fool; and now she would bear the punishment without complaint.

When dinner was over Mrs Parker helped the servant to remove the dinner things from the single sitting-room, and the two men went out to smoke their cigars in the covered porch. Mrs Parker herself took out the whisky and hot water, and sugar and lemons, and then returned to have a little matronly discourse with her guest. 'Does Mr Lopez ever take a drop too much?'

'Never,' said Mrs Lopez.

'Perhaps it don't affect him as it do Sexty. He ain't a drinker; --certainly not. And he's one that works hard every day of his life. But he's getting fond of it these last twelve months, and though he don't take very much it hurries him and flurries him. If I speaks at night he gets cross;--and in the morning when he gets up, which he always do regular, though it's ever so bad with him, then I haven't the heart to scold him. It's very hard sometimes for a wife to know what to do, Mrs Lopez.'

'Yes, indeed.' Emily could not but think how soon she herself had learned that lesson.

'Of course I'd anything for Sexty,--the father of my bairns, and has always been a good husband to me. You don't know him, of course, but I do. A right good man at bottom; but so weak!'

'If he,--if he,--injures his health, shouldn't you talk to him about it?'

'It isn't the drink as is the evil, Mrs Lopez, but that which makes him drink. He's not one as goes a mucker merely for the pleasure. When things are going right he'll sit out in our arbour at home, and smoke pipe after pipe, playing with the children, and one glass of gin and water will see him to bed. Tobacco, dry, do agree with him, I think. But when he comes to three or four goes of hot toddy, I know it's not as it should be.'

'You should restrain him, Mrs Parker.'

'Of course I should;--but how? Am I to walk off with the bottle and disgrace him before the servant girl? Or am I to let the children know as their father takes too much? If I was as much as to make one fight of it, it'd be all over Ponder's End that he's a drunkard;--which he ain't. Restrain him;--oh yes! If I could restrain that gambling instead of regular business. That's what I would like to restrain.'

'Does he gamble?'

'What is it but gambling that he and Mr Lopez is a-doing together? Or course, ma'am, I don't know you, and you are different from me. I ain't foolish enough not to know all that. My father stood in Smithfield and sold hay, and your father is a gentleman as has been high up in the Courts all his life. But it's your husband is a-doing this.'

'Oh, Mrs Parker!'

'He is then. I don't know about commerce, Mrs Lopez, because I'm only a woman; but it can't be fair. They goes and buys things that they haven't got the money to pay for, and then waits to see if they'll turn up trumps. Isn't that gambling?'

'I cannot say. I do not know.' She felt now that her husband had been accused, and that part of that accusation had been levelled at herself. There was something in her manner of saying these few words which the poor complaining woman perceived, feeling immediately that she had been inhospitable and perhaps unjust. She put out her hand softly, touching the other woman's


OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 90/159

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