The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 4

Mrs Roby.

Mr Wharton, as he walked home, remembered that Mrs Roby was to dine at his house that evening. During the remainder of the day, after the departure of Lopez, he had been unable to take his mind from the consideration of the proposition made to him. He had tried the novel, and he had tried Huggins v. the Trustees of the Charity of St Ambox, a case of undeniable importance in which he was engaged on the part of Huggins, but neither was sufficiently powerful to divert his thoughts. Throughout the morning he was imagining what he would say to Emily about this lover of hers — in what way he would commence the conversation, and how he would express his own opinion should he find that she was in any degree favourable to the man. Should she altogether ignore the man’s pretensions, there would be no difficulty. But if she hesitated, — if, as was certainly possible, she should show any partiality for the man, then there would be a knot which would required untying. Hitherto the intercourse between the father and daughter had been simple and pleasant. He had given her everything she had asked for, and she had obeyed him in all the very few matters as to which he had demanded obedience. Questions of discipline, as far as there had been any discipline, had generally been left to Mrs Roby. Mrs Roby was to dine at Manchester Square today, and perhaps it would be well that he should have a few words with Mrs Roby before he spoke to his daughter.

Mrs Roby had a husband, but Mr Roby had not been asked to dine in the Square on this occasion. Mrs Roby dined in the Square very often, but Mr Roby very seldom — not probably above once a year, on some special occasion. He and Mr Wharton had married sisters, but they were quite unlike in character, and had never become friends. Mrs Wharton had been nearly twenty years younger than her sister; and Mr Roby a year or two younger than his wife. The two men therefore belonged to different periods of life, Mr Roby at the present time being a florid youth of forty. He had a moderate fortune, inherited from his mother, of which he was sufficiently careful; but he loved races, and read sporting papers; he was addicted to hunting and billiards; he shot pigeons — and, so Mr Wharton had declared calumniously more than once to an intimate friend — had not an H in his vocabulary. The poor man did drop an aspirate now and again; but he knew his defect and strove hard, and with fair average success, to overcome it. But Mr Wharton did not love him, and they were not friends. Perhaps neither did Mrs Roby love him very ardently. She was at any rate almost always willing to leave her own house to come to the Square, and on such occasions Mr Roby was always willing to dine at the Nimrod, the club which it delighted him to frequent.

Mr Wharton on entering his own house, met his son on the staircase. ‘Do you dine at home today, Everett?’

‘Well, sir, no, sir. I don’t think I do. I think I half promised to dine with a fellow at the club.’

‘Don’t you think you’d make things meet more easily about the end of the year if you dined oftener here, where you have nothing to pay, and less frequently at the club, where you pay for everything?’

‘But what should I save you would lose, sir. That’s the way I look at it.’

‘Then I advise you to look at it the other way, and leave me to take care of myself. Come in here, I want to speak to you.’ Everett followed his father into a dingy back parlour, which was fitted up with book shelves and was generally called the study, but which was gloomy and comfortless because it was seldom used. ‘I have had your friend Lopez with me at my chambers today. I don’t like your friend Lopez.’

‘I am sorry for that, sir.’

‘He is a man to whom I should wish to have a good deal of evidence before I would trust him to be what he seems to be. I dare say he’s clever.’

‘I think he’s more than clever.’

‘I dare say; — and well instructed in some respects.’

‘I believe him to be a thorough linguist, sir.’

‘I dare say. I remember a waiter in a hotel in Holborn who could speak seven languages. It’s an accomplishment very necessary for a Courier or Queen’s Messenger.’

‘You don’t mean to say, sir, that you disregard foreign languages?’

‘I have said nothing of the kind. But in my estimation they don’t stand in the place of principles, or a profession, or birth, or country. I fancy there has been some conversation between you about your sister.’

‘Certainly there has.’

‘A young man should be very chary about how he speaks to another man, to a stranger, about his sister. A sister’s name should be too sacred for club talk.’

‘Club talk! Good heavens, sir, you don’t think that I have spoken of Emily in that way? There isn’t a man in London who has a higher respect for his sister than I have for mine. This man, by no means in a light way, but with all seriousness, has told me that he was attached to Emily; and I believing him to be a gentleman and well to do in this world, have referred him to you. Can that have been wrong?’

‘I don’t know how he’s “to do”, as you call it. I haven’t asked, and I don’t mean to ask. But I doubt his being a gentleman. He is not an English gentleman. What was his father?’

‘I haven’t the least idea.’

‘Or his mother?’

‘He has never mentioned her to me.’

‘Nor his family; nor anything of their antecedents? He is a man fallen out of the moon. All that is nothing to us as passing acquaintances. Between men such ignorance should I think bar absolute intimacy; — but that may be a matter of taste. But it should be held to be utterly antagonistic to any such alliance as that of marriage. He seems to be a friend of yours. You had better make him understand that it is quite out of the question. I have told him so, and you had better repeat it.’ So saying, Mr Wharton went upstairs to dress, and Everett, having received his father’s instructions, went away to the club.

When Mr Wharton reached the drawing-room, he found Mrs Roby alone, and he at once resolved to discuss the matter with her before he spoke to his daughter. ‘Harriet,’ he said abruptly, ‘do you know anything of Mr Lopez?’

‘Mr Lopez! Oh, yes, I know him.’

‘Do you mean that he is an intimate friend?’

‘As friends go on London, he is. He comes to our house, and I think that he hunts with Dick.’ Dick was Mr Roby.

‘That’s a recommendation.’

‘Well, Mr Wharton, I hardly know what you mean by that,’ said Mrs Roby, smiling. ‘I don’t think my husband will do Mr Lopez any harm; and I am sure Mr Lopez won’t do my husband any.’

‘I dare say not. But that’s not the question. Roby can take care of himself.’

‘Quite so.’

‘And so I dare say can Mr Lopez.’ At this moment Emily entered the room. ‘My dear,’ said her father, ‘I am speaking to your aunt. Would you mind going downstairs and waiting for us? Tell them we shall be ready for dinner in ten minutes.’ Then Emily passed out of the room, and Mrs Roby assumed a grave demeanour. ‘The man we are speaking of has been to me and has made an offer for Emily.’ As he said this he looked anxiously into his sister-inlaw’s face, in order that he might tell from that how far she favoured the idea of such a marriage — and he thought that he perceived at once, that she was not averse to it. ‘You know it is quite out of the question,’ he continued.

‘I don’t know why it should be out of the question. But of course your opinion would have great weight with Emily.’

‘Great weight! Well; — I should hope so. If not, I do not know whose opinion is to have weight. In the first place, the man is a foreigner.’

‘Oh, no; — he is English. But if he were a foreigner many English girls marry foreigners.’

‘My daughter shall not; — not with my permission. You have not encouraged her, I hope.’

‘I have not interfered at all,’ said Mrs Roby. But this was a lie. Mrs Roby had interfered. Mrs Roby, in discussing the merits and character of the lover to the young lady, had always lent herself to the lover’s aid — and had condescended to accept from the lover various presents which she could hardly have taken had she been hostile to him.

‘And now tell me about herself. Has she seen him often?’

‘Why, Mr Wharton, he has dined here, in the house, over and over again. I thought you were encouraging him.’

‘Heavens and earth!’

‘Of course she has seen him. When a man dines at a house he is bound to call. Of course he has called — I don’t know how often. And she has met him round the corner.’—“Round the corner” in Manchester Square, meant Mrs Roby’s house in Berkeley Street. —‘Last Sunday they were at the Zoo together. Dick got them tickets. I thought you knew about it.’

‘Do you mean that my daughter went to the Zoological Gardens alone with this man?’ the father asked in dismay.

‘Dick was with them. I should have gone, only I had a headache. Did you not know that she went?’

‘Yes — I heard about the Gardens. But I heard nothing about the man.’

‘I thought, Mr Wharton, you were all in his favour.’

‘I am not at all in his favour. I dislike him particularly. For anything I know he may have sold pencils about the streets like any other Jew-boy.’

‘He goes to church, just as you do — that is, if he goes anywhere; which I dare say he does about as often as yourself, Mr Wharton.’ Now Mr Wharton, though he was a thorough and perhaps bigoted member of the Church of England, was not fond of going to church.

‘Do you mean to tell me,’ he said, pressing his hands together, and looking very seriously into his sister-inlaw’s face; ‘do you mean to tell me that she — likes him?’

‘Yes; — I think she does like him.’

‘You don’t mean to say — she’s in love with him?’

‘She has never told me that she is. Young ladies are shy of making such assertions as to their own feelings before due time for doing so has come. I think she prefers him to anybody else; and that were he to propose to herself, she would give him her consent to go to you.’

‘He shall never enter this house again,’ said Mr Wharton passionately.

‘You must arrange that with her. If you have so strong an objection to him. I wonder that you should have had him here at all.’

‘How was I to know? God bless my soul! — just because a man was allowed to dine here once or twice! Upon my word, it’s too bad.’

‘Papa, won’t you and aunt come down to dinner?’ asked Emily, opening the door gently. Then they went down to dinner, and during the meal nothing was said about Mr Lopez. But they were not very merry together, and poor Emily felt sure her own affairs had been discussed in a troublesome manner.

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