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Prime Minister, The





Mrs. Dick's Dinner Party.—No. I

Our readers must not forget the troubles of poor Emily Wharton amidst the gorgeous festivities of the new Prime Minister. Throughout April and May she did not see Ferdinand Lopez. It may be remembered that on the night when the matter was discussed between her and her father, she promised him that she would not do so without his permission,—saying, however, at the same time very openly that her happiness depended on such permission being given to her. For two or three weeks not a word further was said between her and her father on the subject, and he had endeavoured to banish the subject from his mind,—feeling no doubt that if nothing further were ever said it would be so much the better. But then his daughter referred to the matter,—very plainly, with a simple question, and without disguise of her own feeling, but still in a manner which he could not bring himself to rebuke. "Aunt Harriet has asked me once or twice to go there of an evening, when you have been out. I have declined because I thought Mr. Lopez would be there. Must I tell her that I am not to meet Mr. Lopez, papa?"

"If she has him there on purpose to throw him in your way, I shall think very badly of her."

"But he has been in the habit of being there, papa. Of course if you are decided about this, it is better that I should not see him."

"Did I not tell you that I was decided?"

"You said you would make some further inquiry and speak to me again." Now Mr. Wharton had made inquiry, but had learned nothing to reassure himself;—neither had he been able to learn any fact, putting his finger on which he could point out to his daughter clearly that the marriage would be unsuitable for her. Of the man's ability and position, as certainly also of his manners, the world at large seemed to speak well. He had been blackballed at two clubs, but apparently without any defined reason. He lived as though he possessed a handsome income, and yet was in no degree fast or flashy. He was supposed to be an intimate friend of Mr. Mills Happerton, one of the partners in the world-famous commercial house of Hunky and Sons, which dealt in millions. Indeed there had been at one time a rumour that he was going to be taken into the house of Hunky and Sons as a junior partner. It was evident that many people had been favourably impressed by his outward demeanour, by his mode of talk, and by his way of living. But no one knew anything about him. With regard to his material position Mr. Wharton could of course ask direct questions if he pleased, and require evidence as to alleged property. But he felt that by doing so he would abandon his right to object to the man as being a Portuguese stranger, and he did not wish to have Ferdinand Lopez as a son-in-law, even though he should be a partner in Hunky and Sons, and able to maintain a gorgeous palace at South Kensington.

"I have made inquiry."

"Well, papa?"

"I don't know anything about him. Nobody knows anything about him."

"Could you not ask himself anything you want to know? If I might see him I would ask him."

"That would not do at all."

"It comes to this, papa, that I am to sever myself from a man to whom I am attached, and whom you must admit that I have been allowed to meet from day to day with no caution that his intimacy was unpleasant to you, because he is called—Lopez."

"It isn't that at all. There are English people of that name; but he isn't an Englishman."

"Of course, if you say so, papa, it must be so. I have told Aunt Harriet that I consider myself to be prohibited from meeting Mr. Lopez by what you have said; but I think, papa, you are a little—cruel to me."

"Cruel to you!" said Mr. Wharton, almost bursting into tears.

"I am as ready to obey as a child;—but, not being a child, I think I ought to have a reason." To this Mr. Wharton made no further immediate answer, but pulled his hair, and shuffled his feet about, and then escaped out of the room.

A few days afterwards his sister-in-law attacked him. "Are we to understand, Mr. Wharton, that Emily is not to meet Mr. Lopez again? It makes it very unpleasant, because he has been intimate at our house."

"I never said a word about her not meeting him. Of course I do not wish that any meeting should be contrived between them."

"As it stands now it is prejudicial to her. Of course it cannot but be observed, and it is so odd that a young lady should be forbidden to meet a certain man. It looks so unpleasant for her,—as though she had misbehaved herself."

"I have never thought so for a moment."

"Of course you have not. How could you have thought so, Mr. Wharton?"

"I say that I never did."

"What must he think when he knows,—as of course he does know,—that she has been forbidden to meet him? It must make him fancy that he is made very much of. All that is so very bad for a girl! Indeed it is, Mr. Wharton." Of course there was absolute dishonesty in all this on the part of Mrs. Roby. She was true enough to Emily's lover,—too true to him; but she was false to Emily's father. If Emily would have yielded to her she would have arranged meetings at her own house between the lovers altogether in opposition to the father. Nevertheless there was a show of reason about what she said which Mr. Wharton was unable to overcome. And at the same time there was a reality about his girl's sorrow which overcame him. He had never hitherto consulted any one about anything in his family, having always found his own information and intellect sufficient for his own affairs. But now he felt grievously in want of some pillar,—some female pillar,—on which he could lean. He did not know all Mrs. Roby's iniquities; but still he felt that she was not the pillar of which he was in need. There was no such pillar for his use, and he was driven to acknowledge to himself that in this distressing position he must be guided by his own strength, and his own lights. He thought it all out as well as he could in his own chamber, allowing his book or his brief to lie idle beside him for many a half-hour. But he was much puzzled both as to the extent of his own authority and the manner in which it should be used. He certainly had not desired his daughter not to meet the man. He could understand that unless some affront had been offered such an edict enforced as to the conduct of a young lady would induce all her acquaintance to suppose that she was either very much in love or else very prone to misbehave herself. He feared, indeed, that she was very much in love, but it would not be prudent to tell her secret to all the world. Perhaps it would be better that she should meet him,—always with the understanding that she was not to accept from him any peculiar attention. If she would be obedient in one particular, she would probably be so in the other;—and, indeed, he did not at all doubt her obedience. She would obey, but would take care to show him that she was made miserable by obeying. He began to foresee that he had a bad time before him.

And then as he still sat idle, thinking of it all, his mind wandered off to another view of the subject. Could he be happy, or even comfortable, if she were unhappy? Of course he endeavoured to convince himself that if he were bold, determined, and dictatorial with her, it would only be in order that her future happiness might be secured. A parent is often bound to disregard the immediate comfort of a child. But then was he sure that he was right? He of course had his own way of looking at life, but was it reasonable that he should force his girl to look at things with his eyes? The man was distasteful to him as being unlike his idea of an English gentleman, and as being without those far-reaching fibres and roots by which he thought that the solidity and stability of a human tree should be assured. But the world was changing around him every day. Royalty was marrying out of its degree. Peers' sons were looking only for money. And, more than that, peers' daughters were bestowing themselves on Jews and shopkeepers. Had he not better make the usual inquiry about the man's means, and, if satisfied on that head, let the girl do as she would? Added to all this there was growing on him a feeling that ultimately youth would as usual triumph over age, and that he would be beaten. If that were so, why worry himself, or why worry her?

On the day after Mrs. Roby's attack upon him he again saw that lady, having on this occasion sent round to ask her to come to him. "I want you to understand that I put no embargo on Emily as to meeting Mr. Lopez. I can trust her fully. I do not wish her to encourage his attentions, but I by no means wish her to avoid him."

"Am I to tell Emily what you say?"

"I will tell her myself. I think it better to say as much to you, as you seemed to be embarrassed by the fear that they might happen to see each other in your drawing-room."

"It was rather awkward;—wasn't it?"

"I have spoken now because you seemed to think so." His manner to her was not very pleasant, but Mrs. Roby had known him for many years, and did not care very much for his manner. She had an object to gain, and could put up with a good deal for the sake of her object.

"Very well. Then I shall know how to act. But, Mr. Wharton, I must say this, you know Emily has a will of her own, and you must not hold me responsible for anything that may occur." As soon as he heard this he almost resolved to withdraw the concession he had made;—but he did not do so.

Very soon after this there came a special invitation from Mr. and Mrs. Roby, asking the Whartons, father and daughter, to dine with them round the corner. It was quite a special invitation, because it came in the form of a card,—which was unusual between the two families. But the dinner was too, in some degree, a special dinner,—as Emily was enabled to explain to her father, the whole speciality having been fully detailed to herself by her aunt. Mr. Roby, whose belongings were not generally aristocratic, had one great connexion with whom, after many years of quarrelling, he had lately come into amity. This was his half-brother, considerably older than himself, and was no other than that Mr. Roby who was now Secretary to the Admiralty, and who in the last Conservative Government had been one of the Secretaries to the Treasury. The oldest Mr. Roby of all, now long since gathered to his fathers, had had two wives and two sons. The elder son had not been left as well off as friends, or perhaps as he himself, could have wished. But he had risen in the world by his wits, had made his way into Parliament, and had become, as all readers of these chronicles know, a staff of great strength to his party. But he had always been a poor man. His periods of office had been much shorter than those of his friend Rattler, and his other sources of income had not been certain. His younger half-brother, who, as far as the great world was concerned, had none of his elder brother's advantages, had been endowed with some fortune from his mother, and,—in an evil hour for both of them,—had lent the politician money. As one consequence of this transaction, they had not spoken to each other for years. On this quarrel Mrs. Roby was always harping with her own husband,—not taking his part. Her Roby, her Dick, had indeed the means of supporting her with a fair comfort, but had, of his own, no power of introducing her to that sort of society for which her soul craved. But Mr. Thomas Roby was a great man,—though unfortunately poor,—and moved in high circles. Because they had lent their money,—which no doubt was lost for ever,—why should they also lose the advantages of such a connexion? Would it not be wiser rather to take the debt as a basis whereon to found a claim for special fraternal observation and kindred social intercourse? Dick, who was fond of his money, would not for a long time look at the matter in this light, but harassed his brother from time to time by applications which were quite useless, and which by the acerbity of their language altogether shut Mrs. Roby out from the good things which might have accrued to her from so distinguished a brother-in-law. But when it came to pass that Thomas Roby was confirmed in office by the coalition which has been mentioned, Mrs. Dick became very energetic. She went herself to the official hero and told him how desirous she was of peace. Nothing more should be said about the money,—at any rate for the present. Let brothers be brothers. And so it came to pass that the Secretary to the Admiralty with his wife were to dine in Berkeley Street, and that Mr. Wharton was asked to meet them.

"I don't particularly want to meet Mr. Thomas Roby," the old barrister said.

"They want you to come," said Emily, "because there has been some family reconciliation. You usually do go once or twice a year."

"I suppose it may as well be done," said Mr. Wharton.

"I think, papa, that they mean to ask Mr. Lopez," said Emily demurely.

"I told you before that I don't want to have you banished from your aunt's home by any man," said the father. So the matter was settled, and the invitation was accepted. This was just at the end of May, at which time people were beginning to say that the coalition was a success, and some wise men to predict that at last fortuitous parliamentary atoms had so come together by accidental connexion, that a ministry had been formed which might endure for a dozen years. Indeed there was no reason why there should be any end to a ministry built on such a foundation. Of course this was very comfortable to such men as Mr. Roby, so that the Admiralty Secretary when he entered his sister-in-law's drawing-room was suffused with that rosy hue of human bliss which a feeling of triumph bestows. "Yes," said he, in answer to some would-be facetious remark from his brother, "I think we have weathered that storm pretty well. It does seem rather odd, my sitting cheek by jowl with Mr. Monk and gentlemen of that kidney; but they don't bite. I've got one of our own set at the head of our own office, and he leads the House. I think upon the whole we've got a little the best of it." This was listened to by Mr. Wharton with great disgust,—for Mr. Wharton was a Tory of the old school, who hated compromises, and abhorred in his heart the class of politicians to whom politics were a profession rather than a creed.

Mr. Roby senior, having escaped from the House, was of course the last, and had indeed kept all the other guests waiting half-an-hour,—as becomes a parliamentary magnate in the heat of the Session. Mr. Wharton, who had been early, saw all the other guests arrive, and among them Mr. Ferdinand Lopez. There was also Mr. Mills Happerton,—partner in Hunky and Sons,—with his wife, respecting whom Mr. Wharton at once concluded that he was there as being the friend of Ferdinand Lopez. If so, how much influence must Ferdinand Lopez have in that house! Nevertheless, Mr. Mills Happerton was in his way a great man, and a credit to Mrs. Roby. And there were Sir Damask and Lady Monogram, who were people moving quite in the first circles. Sir Damask shot pigeons, and so did also Dick Roby,—whence had perhaps arisen an intimacy. But Lady Monogram was not at all a person to dine with Mrs. Dick Roby without other cause than this. But a great official among one's acquaintance can do so much for one! It was probable that Lady Monogram's presence was among the first fruits of the happy family reconciliation that had taken place. Then there was Mrs. Leslie, a pretty widow, rather poor, who was glad to receive civilities from Mrs. Roby, and was Emily Wharton's pet aversion. Mrs. Leslie had said impertinent things to her about Ferdinand Lopez, and she had snubbed Mrs. Leslie. But Mrs. Leslie was serviceable to Mrs. Roby, and had now been asked to her great dinner party.

But the two most illustrious guests have not yet been mentioned. Mrs. Roby had secured a lord,—an absolute peer of Parliament! This was no less a man than Lord Mongrober, whose father had been a great judge in the early part of the century, and had been made a peer. The Mongrober estates were not supposed to be large, nor was the Mongrober influence at this time extensive. But this nobleman was seen about a good deal in society when the dinners given were supposed to be worth eating. He was a fat, silent, red-faced, elderly gentleman, who said very little, and who when he did speak seemed always to be in an ill-humour. He would now and then make ill-natured remarks about his friends' wines, as suggesting '68 when a man would boast of his '48 claret; and when costly dainties were supplied for his use, would remark that such and such a dish was very well at some other time of the year. So that ladies attentive to their tables and hosts proud of their cellars would almost shake in their shoes before Lord Mongrober. And it may also be said that Lord Mongrober never gave any chance of retaliation by return dinners. There lived not the man or woman who had dined with Lord Mongrober. But yet the Robys of London were glad to entertain him; and the Mrs. Robys, when he was coming, would urge their cooks to superhuman energies by the mention of his name.

And there was Lady Eustace! Of Lady Eustace it was impossible to say whether her beauty, her wit, her wealth, or the remarkable history of her past life, most recommended her to such hosts and hostesses as Mr. and Mrs. Roby. As her history may be already known to some, no details of it shall be repeated here. At this moment she was free from all marital persecution, and was very much run after by a certain set in society. There were others again who declared that no decent man or woman ought to meet her. On the score of lovers there was really little or nothing to be said against her; but she had implicated herself in an unfortunate second marriage, and then there was that old story about the jewels! But there was no doubt about her money and her good looks, and some considered her to be clever. These completed the list of Mrs. Roby's great dinner party.

Mr. Wharton, who had arrived early, could not but take notice that Lopez, who soon followed him into the room, had at once fallen into conversation with Emily, as though there had never been any difficulty in the matter. The father, standing on the rug and pretending to answer the remarks made to him by Dick Roby, could see that Emily said but little. The man, however, was so much at his ease that there was no necessity for her to exert herself. Mr. Wharton hated him for being at his ease. Had he appeared to have been rebuffed by the circumstances of his position the prejudices of the old man would have been lessened. By degrees the guests came. Lord Mongrober stood also on the rug, dumb, with a look of intense impatience for his food, hardly ever condescending to answer the little attempts at conversation made by Mrs. Dick. Lady Eustace gushed into the room, kissing Mrs. Dick and afterwards kissing her great friend of the moment, Mrs. Leslie, who followed. She then looked as though she meant to kiss Lord Mongrober, whom she playfully and almost familiarly addressed. But Lord Mongrober only grunted. Then came Sir Damask and Lady Monogram, and Dick at once began about his pigeons. Sir Damask, who was the most good-natured man in the world, interested himself at once and became energetic; but Lady Monogram looked round the room carefully, and seeing Lady Eustace, turned up her nose, nor did she care much for meeting Lord Mongrober. If she had been taken in as to the Admiralty Robys, then would she let the junior Robys know what she thought about it. Mills Happerton, with his wife, caused the frown on Lady Monogram's brow to loosen itself a little, for, so great was the wealth and power of the house of Hunky and Sons, that Mr. Mills Happerton was no doubt a feature at any dinner party. Then came the Admiralty Secretary with his wife, and the order for dinner was given.