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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 5/159 -


Then they parted, but Lopez remained in the pathway, walking up and down by the side of the old military club, thinking of things. He certainly knew his friend, the younger Wharton intimately, appreciating the man's good qualities, and being fully aware of the man's weakness. By his questions he had extracted quite enough to assure himself that Emily's father would be adverse to his proposition. He had not felt much doubt before, but now he was certain. 'He doesn't know much about me,' he said, musing to himself. 'Well, no; he doesn't;--and there isn't very much that I can tell him. Of course he's wise,--as wisdom goes. But then, wise men do do foolish things at intervals. The discreetest of city bankers are talked out of their money; the most scrupulous of matrons are talked out of their virtue; the most experienced of statesmen are talked out of their principles. And who can really calculate chances? Men who lead forlorn hopes generally push through without being wounded; --and the fifth or sixth heir comes to a title.' So much he said, palpably, though to himself with his inner voice. Then-- impalpably, with no even inner voice,--he asked himself what chance he might have of prevailing with the girl herself; and he almost ventured to tell himself that in that direction, he need not despair.

In very truth he loved the girl and reverenced her, believing her to be better and higher and nobler than other human beings,--as a man does when he is in love; and so believing, he had those doubts as to his own success which such reverence produces.

CHAPTER 3

MR ABEL WHARTON Q.C.

Lopez was not a man to let grass grow under his feet when he had anything to do. When he was tired of walking backwards and forwards over the same bit of pavement, subject all the while to a cold east wind, he went home and thought of the same matter while he lay in bed. Even were he to get the girl's assurances of love, without her father's consent he might find himself farther from his object than ever. Mr Wharton was a man of old fashions, who would think himself ill-used and his daughter ill- used, and who would think also that a general offence would have been committed against good social manners, if his daughter were to be asked for her hand without his previous consent. Should he absolutely refuse,--why then the battle, though it would be a desperate battle, might perhaps be fought with other strategy; but, giving to the matter his best consideration, Lopez thought it expedient to go at once to the father. In doing this he would have no silly tremors. Whatever he might feel in speaking to the girl, he had sufficient self-confidence to be able to ask the father, if not with assurance, at any rate without trepidation. It was, he thought, probable that the father, at the first attack, would neither altogether accede, or altogether refuse. The disposition of the man was averse to the probability of an absolute reply at the first moment. The lover imagined that it might be possible for him to take advantage of the period of doubt which would be created.

Mr Wharton was and had for a great many years been a barrister practising in the Equity Courts,--or rather in one Equity Court, for throughout a life's work, now extending to nearly fifty years, he had hardly ever gone out of the single Vice- Chancellor's Court which was much better known by Mr Wharton's name than by that of the less eminent judge who now sat there. His had been a very peculiar, a very toilsome, but yet probably a very satisfactory life. He had begun his practice early, and had worked in a stuff gown till he was nearly sixty. At that time, he had amassed a large fortune, mainly from his profession, but partly also by the careful use of his own small patrimony and by his wife's money. Men knew that he was rich, but no one knew the extent of his wealth. When he submitted to take a silk gown, he declared among his friends that he did so as a step preparatory to his retirement. The altered method of work would not suit him at his age, nor,--as he said,--would it be profitable. He would take his silk, as a honour for his declining years, so that he might become a bencher at his Inn. But he had now been working for the last twelve or fourteen years with his silk gown, --almost as hard as in younger days, and with pecuniary results almost as serviceable; and though from month to month he declared his intention of taking no fresh briefs, and though he did now occasionally refuse work, still he was there with his mind as clear as ever, and with his body apparently as little affected by fatigue.

Mr Wharton had not married till he was forty, and his wife had now been two years dead. He had had six children,--of whom but two were now left to make a household for his old age. He had been nearly fifty years when his youngest daughter was born, and was therefore now an old father of a young child. But he was one of those men who, as in youth they are never very young, so in age are they never very old. He could still ride his cob in the park jauntily; and did so carefully every morning in his life, after an early cup of tea and before his breakfast. And he could walk home from his chambers every day, and on Sundays could to the round of the parks on foot. Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, he dined at that old law club, the Eldon, and played whist after dinner till twelve o'clock. This was the great dissipation and, I think, the chief charm of his life. In the middle of August he and his daughter usually went for a month to Wharton Hall in Hertfordshire, the seat of his cousin Sir Alured Wharton;--and this was the one duty of his life which was a burden to him. But he had been made to believe that it was essential to his health, and to his wife's, and then to his girl's, health, that he should every summer leave town for a time,--and where else was there to go? Sir Alured was a relation and a gentleman. Emily liked Wharton Hall. It was the proper thing. He hated Wharton Hall, but then he did not know any place out of London that he would not hate worse. He had once been induced to go up the Rhine; but had never repeated the experiment of foreign travel. Emily sometimes went abroad with her cousins during which periods it was supposed that the old lawyer spent a good deal of his time at the Eldon. He was a spare, thin, strongly made man, with spare light brown hair, hardly yet grizzled, with small grey whiskers, clear eyes, bushy eyebrows, with a long ugly nose, on which young barristers had been heard to declare that you might hang a small kettle, and with considerable vehemence of talk when he was opposed in argument. For, with all his well-known coolness of temper, Mr Wharton could become very hot in an argument, when the nature of the case in hand required heat. On one subject all who knew him were agreed. He was a thorough lawyer. Many doubted his eloquence, and some declared that he had known well the extent of his own powers in abstaining from seeking the higher honours of his profession; but no one doubted his law. He had once written a book,--on the mortgage of stocks in trade; but that had been in early life, and he had never since dabbled in literature.

He was certainly a man of whom men were generally afraid. At the whist-table no one would venture to scold him. In the court no one ever contradicted him. In his own house, though he was very quiet, the servants dreaded to offend him, and were attentive to his slightest behests. When he condescended to ride with any acquaintance in the park, it was always acknowledged that old Wharton was to regulate the pace. His name was Abel, and all his life he had been known as able Abe,--a silent, far-seeing, close-fisted, just old man, who, was not, however, by any means deficient in sympathy either with the sufferings or with the joys of humanity.

It was Easter time, and the courts were not sitting, but Mr Wharton was in his chamber as a matter of course at ten o'clock. He knew no real homely comforts elsewhere,--unless at the whist- table at the Eldon. He ate and drank and slept in his own house in Manchester Square, but he could hardly be said to live there. It was not there that his mind was awake, and the powers of the man were exercised. When he came up from the dining-room to join his daughter after dinner, he would get her to sing him a song, and would then seat himself with a book. But he never read in his own house, invariably falling into a sweet and placid slumber, from which he was never disturbed till his daughter kissed him as she went to bed. Then he would walk about the room and look at his watch, and shuffle uneasily through half an hour, till his conscience allowed him to take himself to his chamber. He was a man of no pursuits in his own house. But from ten in the morning til five, or often six, in the evening, his mind was active in some work. It was not now all law, as it used to be. In the drawer of the old piece of furniture which stood just at the right hand of his own arm-chair there were various books hidden away, which he was sometimes ashamed to have seen by his clients,--poetry and novels, and even fairy tales. For there was nothing Mr Wharton could not read in his chambers, though there was nothing that he could read in his own house. He had a large pleasant room in which to sit, looking out from the ground floor of Stone Buildings on to the gardens belonging to the Inn, --and here, in the centre of the metropolis, but in perfect quiet as far as the outside world was concerned, he had lived and still lived his life.

At about noon on the day following that on which Lopez had made his sudden swoop on Mr Parker and had then dined with Everett Wharton, he called at Stone Buildings, and was shown into the lawyer's room. His quick eye at once discovered the book which Mr Wharton half hid away, and saw upon it Mr Mudie's suspicious ticket. Barristers certainly never get their law books from Mudie, and Lopez at once knew that his hoped-for father-in-law had been reading a novel. He had not suspected such weakness, but argued well from it for the business he had in hand. There must be a soft spot to be found about the heart of an old lawyer who spent his mornings in such occupation. 'How do you do, sir?' said Mr Wharton rising from his seat. 'I hope you are well, sir.' Though he had been reading a novel his tone and manner were very cold. Lopez had never been in Stone Buildings before, and was not quite sure that he might not have committed some offence in coming there. 'Take a seat, Mr Lopez. Is there anything I can do for you in my way?'

There was a great deal that could be done 'in his way' as father, --but how was it to be introduced and the case made clear? Lopez did not know whether the old man had as yet ever suspected such a feeling as that which he now intended to declare. He had been intimate at the house at Manchester Square, and had certainly ingratiated himself very closely with a certain Mrs Roby, who had been Mr Wharton's sister and constant companion, who lived in Berkeley Street, close round the corner from Manchester Square, and spent very much of her time with Emily Wharton. They were together daily, as though Mrs Roby had assumed the part of a second mother, and Lopez was well aware that Mrs Roby knew of his love. If there was a real confidence between Mrs Roby and the


OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 5/159

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