The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 13

Mr Wharton Complains.

‘I think you have betrayed me.’ This accusation was brought by Mr Wharton against Mrs Roby in that lady’s drawing-room, and was occasioned by a report that had been made to the old lawyer by his daughter. He was very angry and almost violent; — so much so that by his manner, he gave considerable advantage to the lady whom he was accusing.

Mrs Roby undoubtedly had betrayed her brother-inlaw. She had been false to the trust reposed in her. He had explained his wishes to her in regard to his daughter, to whom she had in some sort assumed to stand in place of a mother, and she, while pretending to act in accordance with his wishes, had directly opposed them. But it was not likely that he would be able to prove her treachery though he might be sure of it. He had desired that the girl should see as little as possible of Ferdinand Lopez, but had hesitated to give a positive order that she should not meet him. He had indeed himself taken her to a dinner party at which he knew that she would meet him. But Mrs Roby had betrayed him. Since the dinner party she had arranged a meeting at her own house in behalf of the lover — as to which arrangement Emily Wharton had herself been altogether innocent. Emily had met the man in her aunt’s house, not expecting to meet him, and the lover had had an opportunity of speaking his mind freely. She also had spoken hers freely. She would not engage herself without her father’s consent. With that consent she would do so — oh, so willingly! She did not coy her love. He might be certain that she would give herself to no one else. Her heart was entirely his. But she had pledged herself to her father, and on no consideration would she break that pledge. She went on to say that after what had passed she thought that they had better not meet. In such meetings there could be no satisfaction, and must be much pain. But he had her full permission to use any arguments that he could use with her father. On the evening of that day she told her father all that had passed — omitting no detail either of what she had said or of what had been said to her — adding a positive assurance of obedience, but doing so with a severe solemnity and apparent consciousness of ill-usage which almost broke her father’s heart. ‘Your aunt must have laid him there on purpose,’ Mr Wharton had said. But Emily would neither accuse nor defend her aunt. ‘I at least knew nothing of it,’ she said. ‘I know that,’ Mr Wharton had ejaculated. ‘I know that. I don’t accuse you of anything, my dear — except of thinking that you understand the world better than I do.’ Then Emily had retired and Mr Wharton had been left to pass half the night in perplexed reverie, feeling that he would be forced ultimately to give way, and yet certain that by doing so he would endanger his child’s happiness.

He was so angry with his sister-inlaw, and on the next day, early in the morning, he attacked her. ‘I think you have betrayed me,’ he said.

‘What do you mean by that, Mr Wharton?’

‘You have had this man here on purpose that he might make love to Emily.’

‘I have done no such thing. You told me yourself that they were not to be kept apart. He comes here, and it would be very odd indeed if I were to tell the servants that he is not to be admitted. If you want to quarrel with me, of course you can. I have always endeavoured to be a good friend to Emily.’

‘It is not being a good friend to her, bringing her and this adventurer together.’

‘I don’t know why you call him an adventurer. But you are so very odd in your ideas! He is received everywhere, and is always at the Duchess of Omnium’s.’

‘I don’t care a fig about the Duchess.’

‘I dare say not. Only the Duke happens to be Prime Minister, and his house is considered to have the very best society in England, or indeed, Europe, can give. And I think it is something in a young man’s favour when it is known that he associates with such persons as the Duke of Omnium. I believe that most fathers would have a regard to the company which a man keeps when they think of their daughter’s marrying.’

‘I ain’t thinking of her marrying. I don’t want her to marry; — not this man at least. And I fancy the Duchess of Omnium is just as likely to have scamps in her drawing-room as any other lady in London.’

‘And do such men as Mr Happerton associate with scamps?’

‘I don’t know anything about Mr Happerton — and I don’t care anything about him.’

‘He has 20,000 pounds a year out of his business. And does Everett associate with scamps.’

‘Very likely.’

‘I never knew anyone so much prejudiced as you are, Mr Wharton. When you have a point to carry there’s nothing you won’t say. I suppose it comes from being in the courts.’

‘The long and short of it is this,’ said the lawyer, ‘if I find that Emily is brought here to meet Mr Lopez, I must forbid her to come at all.’

‘You must do as you please about that. But to tell you the truth, Mr Wharton, I think the mischief is done. Such a girl as Emily, when she has taken it into her head to love a man, is not likely to give him up.’

‘She has promised to have nothing to say to him without my sanction.’

‘We all know what that means. You’ll have to give way. You’ll find that it will be so. The stern parent who dooms his daughter to perpetual seclusion because she won’t marry the man he likes, doesn’t belong to this age.’

‘Who talks about seclusion?’

‘Do you suppose that she’ll give up the man she loves because you don’t like him? Is that the way girls live nowadays? She won’t run away with him, because she’s not one of that sort; but unless you’re harder-hearted than I take you to be, she’ll make your life a burden to you. And as for betraying you, that’s nonsense. You’ve no right to say it. I’m not going to quarrel with you whatever you may say, but you’ve no right to say it.’

Mr Wharton as he went away to Lincoln’s Inn, bewailed himself because he knew he was not hard-hearted. What his sister-inlaw had said to him in that respect was true enough. If he could only rid himself of a certain internal ague which made him feel that his life was, indeed, a burden to him while his daughter was unhappy, he need only remain passive and simply not give the permission without which his daughter would not ever engage herself to this man. But the ague troubled every hour of his present life. That sister-inlaw of his was a silly, vulgar, worldly, and most untrustworthy woman; — but she had understood what she was saying.

And there had been something in that argument about the Duchess of Omnium’s parties, and Mr Happerton, which had its effect. If the man did live with the great and wealthy, it must be because they thought well of him and his position. The fact of his being “a nasty foreigner”, and probably of Jewish descent, remained. To him, Wharton, the man must always be distasteful. But he could hardly maintain his opposition to one of whom the choice spirits of the world thought well. And he tried to be fair on the subject. It might be that it was a prejudice. Others probably did not find a man to be odious because he was swarthy, or even object to him if he were a Jew by descent. But it was wonderful to him that his girl should like such a man — should like such a man well enough to choose him as the one companion of her life. She had been brought up to prefer English men, and English thinking, and English ways — and English ways, too, somewhat of a past time. He thought as did Brabantio, that it could not be that without magic, his daughter had also shunned —

“The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
Would ever have, to incur a general mock,
Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
Of such a thing as —”

the distasteful Portuguese.

That evening he said nothing further to his daughter, but sat with her, silent and disconsolate. Later in the evening, after she had gone to her room, Everett came in while the old man was still walking up and down the drawing-room. ‘Where have you been?’ asked the father — not caring a straw as to any reply when he asked the question, but roused almost to anger by the answer when it came.

‘I have been dining with Lopez at the club.’

‘I believe you live with that man.’

‘Is there a reason, sir, why I should not?’

‘You know there is a good reason why there should be no peculiar intimacy. But I don’t suppose that my wishes, or your sister’s welfare, will interest you.’

‘That is severe, sir.’

‘I am not such a fool as to suppose that you are to quarrel with a man because I don’t approve of his addressing your sister; but I do think that while this is going on, and while he perseveres in opposition to my distinct refusal, you need not associate with him in any special manner.’

‘I don’t understand your objection to him, sir.’

‘I dare say not. There are a great many things you don’t understand. But I do object.’

‘He’s a very rising man. Mr Roby was saying to me just now —’

‘Who cares a straw what a fool like Roby says?’

‘I don’t mean Uncle Dick, but his brother — who, I suppose, is somebody in the world. He was saying to me just now that he wondered why Lopez does not go into the House; — that he would be sure to get a seat if he chose, and safe to make a mark when he got there.’

‘I dare say he would get into the House. I don’t know any well-to-do blackguard of whom you might not predict as much. A seat in the House of Commons doesn’t make a man a gentleman, as far as I can see.’

‘I think everyone allows that Ferdinand Lopez is a gentleman.’

‘Who was his father?’

‘I didn’t happen to know him, sir.’

‘And who was his mother? I don’t suppose you will credit anything because I say it, but as far as my experience goes, a man doesn’t often become a gentleman in the first generation. A man may be very worthy, very clever, very rich — very well worth knowing, if you will; — but when one talks of admitting a man into close family communion by marriage, one would, I fancy, wish to know something of his father and mother.’ Then Everett escaped, and Mr Wharton was again left to his own meditations. Oh, what a peril, what a trouble, what a labyrinth of difficulties was a daughter! He must either be known as a stern, hard-hearted parent, utterly indifferent to his child’s feelings, using with tyranny the power over her which came to him only from a sense of filial duty — or else he must give up his own judgement, and yield to her in a matter as to which he believed that such yielding would be most pernicious to her own interests.

Hitherto he really knew nothing of the man’s means; — nor, if he could have his own way, did he want to such information. But, as things were going now, he began to feel that if he could hear anything averse to the man, he might thus strengthen his hands against him. On the following day he went into the city, and called on an old friend, a banker — one whom he had known for nearly half a century, and of whom, therefore, he was not afraid to ask a question. For Mr Wharton was a man not prone, in the ordinary intercourse of life, either to ask or to answer questions. ‘You don’t know anything, do you, of a man named Ferdinand Lopez?’

‘I have heard of him. But why do you ask?’

‘Well; I have reason for asking. I don’t know that I quite wish to say what my reason is.’

‘I have heard of him as connected with Hunky’s house,’ said the banker — ‘or rather with one of the partners in the house.’

‘Is he a man of means?’

‘I imagine him to be so; — but I know nothing. He has rather large dealings, I take it, in foreign stocks. Is he after my old friend, Miss Wharton?’

‘Well; — yes.’

‘You had better get more information than I can give you. But, of course, before anything of that kind was done, you would see that money was settled.’ This was all he heard in the city, and this was not satisfactory. He had not liked to tell his friend that he wished to hear that the foreigner was a needy adventurer, — altogether untrustworthy; but that had really been his desire. Then he thought of the 60,000 pounds which he himself destined for his girl. If the man were to his liking there would be money enough. Though he had been careful to save money, he was not a greedy man, even for his children. Should his daughter insist on marrying this man, he could take care that she should never want a sufficient income.

As a first step — a thing to be done almost at once — he must take her away from London. It was now July, and the custom of the family was that the house in Manchester Square should be left for two months, and that the flitting should take place in about the middle of August. Mr Wharton usually liked to postpone the flitting, as he also liked to hasten the return. But now it was a question whether he had not better start at once — start somewhither, and probably for a much longer period than the usual vacation. Should he take the bull by the horns and declare his purpose of living for the next twelvemonth at —; well, it did not much matter where. Dresden, he thought, was a long way off, and would do as well as any place. Then it occurred to him that his cousin, Sir Alured was in town, and that he had better see his cousin before he came to any decision. They were, as usual, expected at Wharton Hall this autumn, and that arrangement could not be abandoned without explanation.

Sir Alured Wharton was a baronet, with a handsome old family place on the Wye, in Hertfordshire, whose forefathers had been baronets since baronets were first created, and whose earlier forefathers had lived at Wharton Hall much before that time. It may be imagined, therefore, that Sir Alured was proud of his name, of his estate, and of his rank. But there were drawbacks to his happiness. As regarded his name, it was to descend to a nephew whom he specially disliked — and with good cause. As to his estate, delightful as it was in many respects, it was hardly sufficient to maintain his position with that plentiful hospitality which he would have loved; — and other property he had none. And as to his rank, he had almost become ashamed of it, since — as he was wont to declare was now the case — every prosperous tallow-maker throughout the country was made a baronet as a matter of course. So he lived at home through the year with his wife and daughters, not pretending to the luxury of the season for which his modest three or four thousand a year did not suffice; — and so living, apart from all the friction of clubs, parliaments, and mixed society, he did veritably believe that his dear country was going utterly to the dogs. He was so staunch in politics, that during the doings of the last quarter of a century — from the repeal of the Corn Laws down to the Ballot — he had honestly declared one side to be as bad as the other. Thus he felt that all his happiness was to be drawn from the past. There was nothing of joy or glory to which he could look forward either on behalf of his country or his family. His nephew — and alas, his heir — was a needy spendthrift, with whom he would hold no communication. The family settlement for his wife and daughters would leave them but poorly off; and though he did struggle to save something, the duty of living as Sir Alured Wharton of Wharton Hall should live made those struggles very ineffective. He was a melancholy, proud, ignorant man, who could not endure a personal liberty, and who thought the assertion of social equality on the part of men of lower rank to amount to the taking of a personal liberty; — who read little or nothing, and thought that he knew the history of his country because he was aware that Charles I had had his head cut off, and that the Georges had come from Hanover. If Charles I had never had had his head cut off, and if the Georges had never come from Hanover, the Whartons would now probably be great people and Britain a great nation. But the Evil One had been allowed to prevail, and everything had gone astray, and Sir Alured now had nothing of this world to console him but a hazy retrospect of past glories, and a delight in the beauty of his own river, his own park, and his own house. Sir Alured, with all his foibles, and with all his faults, was a pure-minded, simple gentleman, who could not tell a lie, who could not do a wrong, and who was earnest in his desire to make those who were dependent on him comfortable, and, if possible, happy. Once a year he came up to London for a week, to see his lawyers, and get measured for a coat, and go to the dentist. These were the excuses which he gave, but it was fancied by some that his wig was the great moving cause. Sir Alured and Mr Wharton were second cousins, and close friends. Sir Alured trusted his cousin altogether in all things, believing him to be the great legal luminary of Great Britain, and Mr Wharton returned his cousin’s affection, entertaining something akin to reverence for the man who was the head of his family. He dearly loved Sir Alured — and loved Sir Alured’s wife and two daughters. Nevertheless, the second week at Wharton Hall became very tedious to him, and the fourth, fifth and sixth weeks frightful with ennui.

Perhaps it was with some unconscious dread of this tedium that he made a sudden suggestion to Sir Alured in reference to Dresden. Sir Alured had come to him at his chambers, and the two old men were sitting together near the open window. Sir Alured delighted in the privilege of sitting there, which seemed to confer upon him something of an insight into the inner ways of London life beyond what he could get at the hotel or his wigmaker’s. ‘Go to Dresden; — for the winter!’ he exclaimed.

‘Not only for the winter. We should go at once.’

‘Not before you come to Wharton!’ said the amazed baronet.

Mr Wharton replied in a low, sad voice, ‘in that case we should not go down to Hertfordshire at all.’ The baronet looked hurt as well as unhappy. ‘Yes, I know what you will say, and how kind you are.’

‘It isn’t kindness at all. You always come. It would be breaking up everything.’

‘Everything has to be broken up sooner or later. One feels that as one grows older.’

‘You and I, Abel, are just of an age. Why should you talk to me like this? You are strong enough, whatever I am. Why shouldn’t you come? Dresden! I never heard of such a thing. I suppose it’s some nonsense of Emily’s.’

Then Mr Wharton told his whole story. ‘Nonsense of Emily’s!’ he began. ‘Yes, it is nonsense, worse than you think. But she doesn’t want to go abroad.’ The father’s plaint needn’t be repeated to the reader as it was told to the baronet. Though it was necessary that he should explain himself, yet he tried to be reticent. Sir Alured listened in silence. He loved his cousin Emily, and knowing that she would be rich, knowing her advantages of birth, and recognizing her beauty, had expected that she would make a match creditable to the Wharton family. But a Portuguese Jew! A man who had never been even known to allude to his own father! For by degrees Mr Wharton had been driven to confess all the sins of the lover, though he had endeavoured to conceal the extent of his daughter’s love.

‘Do you mean that Emily — favours him?’

‘I am afraid so.’

‘And would she,-would she — do anything without your sanctions?’ He was always thinking of the disgrace attaching to himself by reason of his nephew’s vileness, and now, if a daughter of the family should also go astray, so as to be exiled from the bosom of the Whartons, how manifest would it be that all the glory was departing from their house!

‘No! She will do nothing without my sanction. She has given her word — which is gospel.’ As he spoke the old lawyer struck his hand upon the table.

‘Then why should you run to Dresden?’

‘Because she is unhappy. She will not marry him,-or even see him if I forbid it. But she is near him.’

‘Hertfordshire is a long way off,’ said the baronet pleading.

‘Changes of scene are what she should have,’ said the father.

‘There can’t be more of a change than she would get at Wharton. She always did like Wharton. It was there that she met Arthur Fletcher.’ The father only shook his head as Arthur Fletcher’s name was mentioned. ‘Well — that is sad. I always thoughts she’d give way about Arthur at last.’

‘It is impossible to understand a young woman,’ said the lawyer. With such an English gentleman as Arthur Fletcher on one side, and with his Portuguese Jew on the other, it was to him Hyperion to a Satyr. A darkness had fallen over the girl’s eyes, and for a time her power of judgment had left her.

‘But I don’t see why Wharton should not do just as well as Dresden,’ continued the baronet.

Mr Wharton found himself quite unable to make his cousin understand the greater disruption caused by a residence abroad, the feeling that a new kind of life had been considered necessary for her, and that she must submit to the new kind of life, might be gradually effective, while the journeyings and scenes which had been common to her year after year would have no effect. Nevertheless he gave way. They could hardly start to Germany at once, but the visit to Wharton might be accelerated; and the details of the residence abroad might there be arranged. It was fixed, therefore, that Mr Wharton and Emily should go down to Wharton Hall at any rate before the end of July.

‘Why do you go earlier than usual, papa?’ Emily asked him afterwards.

‘Because I think it’s best,’ he replied angrily. She ought at any rate to understand the reason.

‘Of course I shall be ready, papa. You know that I always like Wharton. There is no place on earth I like so much, and this year it will be especially pleasant to me to go out of town. But —’

‘But what?’

‘I can’t bear to think that I shall be taking you away.’

‘I’ve got to bear worse things than that, my dear.’

‘Oh, papa, do not speak to me like that! Of course I know what you mean. There is no real reason for your going. If you wish it I will promise you I will never see him.’ He only shook his head — meaning to imply that a promise could go no farther than that would not make him happy. ‘It will be just the same, papa, -either here, or at Wharton, or elsewhere. You need not be afraid of me.’

‘I am not afraid of you; — but I am afraid for you. I fear for your happiness — and for my own.’

‘So do I, papa. But what can be done? I suppose sometimes people must be unhappy. I can’t change myself and I can’t change you. I find myself as much bound to Mr Lopez as though I were his wife.’

‘No, no! You shouldn’t say so. You’ve no right to say so.’

‘But I have given you a promise, and I certainly will keep it. If we must be unhappy, still we need not — need not quarrel; need we, papa?’ Then she came up to him and kissed him — whereupon he went out of the room wiping his eyes.

That evening he again spoke to her, saying merely a word. ‘I think, my dear, we’ll have it fixed that we go on the 30th. Sir Alured seemed to wish it.’

‘Very well, papa; — I shall be quite ready.’

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43