Prime Minister, The




Mrs. Dick's Dinner Party.—No. II

Dick walked downstairs with Lady Monogram. There had been some doubt whether of right he should not have taken Lady Eustace, but it was held by Mrs. Dick that her ladyship had somewhat impaired her rights by the eccentricities of her career, and also that she would amiably pardon any little wrong against her of that kind,—whereas Lady Monogram was a person to be much considered. Then followed Sir Damask with Lady Eustace. They seemed to be paired so well together that there could be no doubt about them. The ministerial Roby, who was really the hero of the night, took Mrs. Happerton, and our friend Mr. Wharton took the Secretary's wife. All that had been easy,—so easy that fate had good-naturedly arranged things which are sometimes difficult of management. But then there came an embarrassment. Of course it would in a usual way be right that a married man as was Mr. Happerton should be assigned to the widow Mrs. Leslie, and that the only two "young" people,—in the usual sense of the word,—should go down to dinner together. But Mrs. Roby was at first afraid of Mr. Wharton, and planned it otherwise. When, however, the last moment came she plucked up courage, gave Mrs. Leslie to the great commercial man, and with a brave smile asked Lopez to give his arm to the lady he loved. It is sometimes so hard to manage these "little things," said she to Lord Mongrober as she put her hand upon his arm. His lordship had been kept standing in that odious drawing-room for more than half-an-hour waiting for a man whom he regarded as a poor Treasury hack, and was by no means in a good humour. Dick Roby's wine was no doubt good, but he was not prepared to purchase it at such a price as this. "Things always get confused when you have waited an hour for any one," he said. "What can one do, you know, when the House is sitting?" said the lady apologetically. "Of course you lords can get away, but then you have nothing to do." Lord Mongrober grunted, meaning to imply by his grunt that any one would be very much mistaken who supposed that he had any work to do because he was a peer of Parliament.

Lopez and Emily were seated next to each other, and immediately opposite to them was Mr. Wharton. Certainly nothing fraudulent had been intended on this occasion,—or it would have been arranged that the father should sit on the same side of the table with the lover, so that he should see nothing of what was going on. But it seemed to Mr. Wharton as though he had been positively swindled by his sister-in-law. There they sat opposite to him, talking to each other apparently with thoroughly mutual confidence, the very two persons whom he most especially desired to keep apart. He had not a word to say to either of the ladies near him. He endeavoured to keep his eyes away from his daughter as much as possible, and to divert his ears from their conversation;—but he could not but look and he could not but listen. Not that he really heard a sentence. Emily's voice hardly reached him, and Lopez understood the game he was playing much too well to allow his voice to travel. And he looked as though his position were the most commonplace in the world, and as though he had nothing of more than ordinary interest to say to his neighbour. Mr. Wharton, as he sat there, almost made up his mind that he would leave his practice, give up his chambers, abandon even his club, and take his daughter at once to—to;—it did not matter where, so that the place should be very distant from Manchester Square. There could be no other remedy for this evil.

Lopez, though he talked throughout the whole of dinner,—turning sometimes indeed to Mrs. Leslie who sat at his left hand,—said very little that all the world might not have heard. But he did say one such word. "It has been so dreary to me, the last month!" Emily of course had no answer to make to this. She could not tell him that her desolation had been infinitely worse than his, and that she had sometimes felt as though her very heart would break. "I wonder whether it must always be like this with me," he said,—and then he went back to the theatres, and other ordinary conversation.

"I suppose you've got to the bottom of that champagne you used to have," said Lord Mongrober, roaring across the table to his host, holding his glass in his hand, and with strong marks of disapprobation on his face.

"The very same wine as we were drinking when your lordship last did me the honour of dining here," said Dick. Lord Mongrober raised his eyebrows, shook his head and put down the glass.

"Shall we try another bottle?" asked Mrs. Dick with solicitude.

"Oh, no;—it'd be all the same, I know. I'll just take a little dry sherry if you have it." The man came with the decanter. "No, dry sherry;—dry sherry," said his lordship. The man was confounded, Mrs. Dick was at her wits' ends, and everything was in confusion. Lord Mongrober was not the man to be kept waiting by a government subordinate without exacting some penalty for such ill-treatment.

"'Is lordship is a little out of sorts," whispered Dick to Lady Monogram.

"Very much out of sorts, it seems."

"And the worst of it is, there isn't a better glass of wine in London, and 'is lordship knows it."

"I suppose that's what he comes for," said Lady Monogram, being quite as uncivil in her way as the nobleman.

"'E's like a good many others. He knows where he can get a good dinner. After all, there's no attraction like that. Of course, a 'ansome woman won't admit that, Lady Monogram."

"I will not admit it, at any rate, Mr. Roby."

"But I don't doubt Monogram is as careful as any one else to get the best cook he can, and takes a good deal of trouble about his wine too. Mongrober is very unfair about that champagne. It came out of Madame Cliquot's cellars before the war, and I gave Sprott and Burlinghammer 110s. for it."


"I don't think there are a dozen men in London can give you such a glass of wine as that. What do you say about that champagne, Monogram?"

"Very tidy wine," said Sir Damask.

"I should think it is. I gave 110s. for it before the war. 'Is lordship's got a fit of the gout coming, I suppose."

But Sir Damask was engaged with his neighbour, Lady Eustace. "Of all things I should so like to see a pigeon match," said Lady Eustace. "I have heard about them all my life. Only I suppose it isn't quite proper for a lady."

"Oh, dear, yes."

"The darling little pigeons! They do sometimes escape, don't they? I hope they escape sometimes. I'll go any day you'll make up a party,—if Lady Monogram will join us." Sir Damask said that he would arrange it, making up his mind, however, at the same time, that this last stipulation, if insisted on, would make the thing impracticable.

Roby the ministerialist, sitting at the end of the table between his sister-in-law and Mrs. Happerton, was very confidential respecting the Government and parliamentary affairs in general. "Yes, indeed;—of course it's a coalition, but I don't see why we shouldn't go on very well. As to the Duke, I've always had the greatest possible respect for him. The truth is, there's nothing special to be done at the present moment, and there's no reason why we shouldn't agree and divide the good things between us. The Duke has got some craze of his own about decimal coinage. He'll amuse himself with that; but it won't come to anything, and it won't hurt us."

"Isn't the Duchess giving a great many parties?" asked Mrs. Happerton.

"Well;—yes. That kind of thing used to be done in old Lady Brock's time, and the Duchess is repeating it. There's no end to their money, you know. But it's rather a bore for the persons who have to go." The ministerial Roby knew well how he would make his sister-in-law's mouth water by such an allusion as this to the great privilege of entering the Prime Minister's mansion in Carlton Terrace.

"I suppose you in the Government are always asked."

"We are expected to go too, and are watched pretty close. Lady Glen, as we used to call her, has the eyes of Argus. And of course we who used to be on the other side are especially bound to pay her observance."

"Don't you like the Duchess?" asked Mrs. Happerton.

"Oh, yes;—I like her very well. She's mad, you know,—mad as a hatter,—and no one can ever guess what freak may come next. One always feels that she'll do something sooner or later that will startle all the world."

"There was a queer story once,—wasn't there?" asked Mrs. Dick.

"I never quite believed that," said Roby. "It was something about some lover she had before she was married. She went off to Switzerland. But the Duke,—he was Mr. Palliser then,—followed her very soon and it all came right."

"When ladies are going to be duchesses, things do come right; don't they?" said Mrs. Happerton.

On the other side of Mrs. Happerton was Mr. Wharton, quite unable to talk to his right-hand neighbour, the Secretary's wife. The elder Mrs. Roby had not, indeed, much to say for herself, and he during the whole dinner was in misery. He had resolved that there should be no intimacy of any kind between his daughter and Ferdinand Lopez,—nothing more than the merest acquaintance; and there they were, talking together before his very eyes, with more evident signs of understanding each other than were exhibited by any other two persons at the table. And yet he had no just ground of complaint against either of them. If people dine together at the same house, it may of course happen that they shall sit next to each other. And if people sit next to each other at dinner, it is expected that they shall talk. Nobody could accuse Emily of flirting; but then she was a girl who under no circumstances would condescend to flirt. But she had declared boldly to her father that she loved this man, and there she was in close conversation with him! Would it not be better for him to give up any further trouble, and let her marry the man? She would certainly do so sooner or later.

When the ladies went upstairs that misery was over for a time, but Mr. Wharton was still not happy. Dick came round and took his wife's chair, so that he sat between the lord and his brother. Lopez and Happerton fell into city conversation, and Sir Damask tried to amuse himself with Mr. Wharton. But the task was hopeless,—as it always is when the elements of a party have been ill-mixed. Mr. Wharton had not even heard of the new Aldershot coach which Sir Damask had just started with Colonel Buskin and Sir Alfonso Blackbird. And when Sir Damask declared that he drove the coach up and down twice a week himself, Mr. Wharton at any rate affected to believe that such a thing was impossible. Then when Sir Damask gave his opinion as to the cause of the failure of a certain horse at Northampton, Mr. Wharton gave him no encouragement whatever. "I never was at a racecourse in my life," said the barrister. After that Sir Damask drank his wine in silence.

"You remember that claret, my lord?" said Dick, thinking that some little compensation was due to him for what had been said about the champagne.

But Lord Mongrober's dinner had not yet had the effect of mollifying the man sufficiently for Dick's purposes. "Oh, yes, I remember the wine. You call it '57, don't you?"

"And it is '57;—'57, Leoville."

"Very likely,—very likely. If it hadn't been heated before the fire—"

"It hasn't been near the fire," said Dick.

"Or put into a hot decanter—"

"Nothing of the kind."

"Or treated after some other damnable fashion, it would be very good wine, I dare say."

"You are hard to please, my lord, to-day," said Dick, who was put beyond his bearing.

"What is a man to say? If you will talk about your wine, I can only tell you what I think. Any man may get good wine,—that is if he can afford to pay the price,—but it isn't one out of ten who knows how to put it on the table." Dick felt this to be very hard. When a man pays 110s. a dozen for his champagne, and then gives it to guests like Lord Mongrober who are not even expected to return the favour, then that man ought to be allowed to talk about his wine without fear of rebuke. One doesn't have an agreement to that effect written down on parchment and sealed; but it is as well understood and ought to be as faithfully kept as any legal contract. Dick, who could on occasions be awakened to a touch of manliness, gave the bottle a shove and threw himself back in his chair. "If you ask me, I can only tell you," repeated Lord Mongrober.

"I don't believe you ever had a bottle of wine put before you in better order in all your life," said Dick. His lordship's face became very square and very red as he looked round at his host. "And as for talking about my wine, of course I talk to a man about what he understands. I talk to Monogram about pigeons, to Tom there about politics, to Apperton and Lopez about the price of consols, and to you about wine. If I asked you what you thought of the last new book, your lordship would be a little surprised." Lord Mongrober grunted and looked redder and squarer than ever; but he made no attempt at reply, and the victory was evidently left with Dick,—very much to the general exaltation of his character. And he was proud of himself. "We had a little tiff, me and Mongrober," he said to his wife that night. "'E's a very good fellow, and of course he's a lord and all that. But he has to be put down occasionally, and, by George, I did it to-night. You ask Lopez."

There were two drawing-rooms up-stairs, opening into each other, but still distinct. Emily had escaped into the back room, avoiding the gushing sentiments and equivocal morals of Lady Eustace and Mrs. Leslie,—and here she was followed by Ferdinand Lopez. Mr. Wharton was in the front room, and though on entering it he did look round furtively for his daughter, he was ashamed to wander about in order that he might watch her. And there were others in the back room,—Dick and Monogram standing on the rug, and the elder Mrs. Roby seated in a corner;—so that there was nothing peculiar in the position of the two lovers.

"Must I understand," said he, "that I am banished from Manchester Square?"

"Has papa banished you?"

"That's what I want you to tell me."

"I know you had an interview with him, Mr. Lopez."

"Yes. I had."

"And you must know best what he told you."

"He would explain himself better to you than he did to me."

"I doubt that very much. Papa, when he has anything to say, generally says it plainly. However, I do think that he did intend to banish you. I do not know why I should not tell you the truth."

"I do not know either."

"I think he did—intend to banish you."

"And you?"

"I shall be guided by him in all things,—as far as I can."

"Then I am banished by you also?"

"I did not say so. But if papa says that you are not to come there, of course I cannot ask you to do so."

"But I may see you here?"

"Mr. Lopez, I will not be asked some questions. I will not indeed."

"You know why I ask them. You know that to me you are more than all the world." She stood still for a moment after hearing this, and then without any reply walked away into the other room. She felt half ashamed of herself in that she had not rebuked him for speaking to her in that fashion after his interview with her father, and yet his words had filled her heart with delight. He had never before plainly declared his love to her,—though she had been driven by her father's questions to declare her own love to herself. She was quite sure of herself,—that the man was and would always be to her the one being whom she would prefer to all others. Her fate was in her father's hands. If he chose to make her wretched he must do so. But on one point she had quite made up her mind. She would make no concealment. To the world at large she had nothing to say on the matter. But with her father there should be no attempt on her part to keep back the truth. Were he to question her on the subject she would tell him, as far as her memory would serve her, the very words which Lopez had spoken to her this evening. She would ask nothing from him. He had already told her that the man was to be rejected, and had refused to give any other reason than his dislike to the absence of any English connexion. She would not again ask even for a reason. But she would make her father understand that though she obeyed him she regarded the exercise of his authority as tyrannical and irrational.

They left the house before any of the other guests and walked round the corner together into the Square. "What a very vulgar set of people!" said Mr. Wharton as soon as they were down the steps.

"Some of them were," said Emily, making a mental reservation of her own.

"Upon my word I don't know where to make the exception. Why on earth any one should want to know such a person as Lord Mongrober I can't understand. What does he bring into society?"

"A title."

"But what does that do of itself? He is an insolent, bloated brute."

"Papa, you are using strong language to-night."

"And that Lady Eustace! Heaven and earth! Am I to be told that that creature is a lady?"

They had now come to their own door, and while that was being opened and as they went up into their own drawing-room, nothing was said, but then Emily began again. "I wonder why you go to Aunt Harriet's at all. You don't like the people?"

"I didn't like any of them to-day."

"Why do you go there? You don't like Aunt Harriet herself. You don't like Uncle Dick. You don't like Mr. Lopez."

"Certainly I do not."

"I don't know who it is you do like."

"I like Mr. Fletcher."

"It's no use saying that to me, papa."

"You ask me a question, and I choose to answer it. I like Arthur Fletcher, because he is a gentleman,—because he is a gentleman of the class to which I belong myself; because he works; because I know all about him, so that I can be sure of him; because he had a decent father and mother; because I am safe with him, being quite sure that he will say to me neither awkward things nor impertinent things. He will not talk to me about driving a mail coach like that foolish baronet, nor tell me the price of all his wines like your uncle." Nor would Ferdinand Lopez do so, thought Emily to herself. "But in all such matters, my dear, the great thing is like to like. I have spoken of a young person, merely because I wish you to understand that I can sympathise with others besides those of my own age. But to-night there was no one there at all like myself,—or, as I hope, like you. That man Roby is a chattering ass. How such a man can be useful to any government I can't conceive. Happerton was the best, but what had he to say for himself? I've always thought that there was very little wit wanted to make a fortune in the City." In this frame of mind Mr. Wharton went off to bed, but not a word more was spoken about Ferdinand Lopez.

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