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- OF THE PRIME MINISTER - 7/159 -
'If your have no other objection than that raised, I hope you will allow me to visit in Manchester Square.'
'There may be ten thousand other objections, Mr Lopez, but I really think that the one is enough. Of course I know nothing of my daughter's feelings. I should imagine that the matter is as strange to her as it is to me. But I cannot give you anything like encouragement. If I am ever to have a son-in-law, I should wish to have an English son-in-law. I do not even know what your profession is.'
'I am engaged in foreign loans.'
'Very precarious I should think. A sort of gambling, isn't it?'
'It is the business by which many of the greatest mercantile houses in the city have been made.'
'I dare say;--I dare say;--and by which they come to ruin. I have the greatest respect in the world for mercantile enterprise, and I have had as much to do as most men with mercantile questions. But I ain't sure that I wish to marry my daughter in the City. Of course it's all prejudice. I won't deny that on general subjects I can give as much latitude as any man; but when one's own heart is attacked--'
'Surely such a position as mine, Mr Wharton, is no attack!'
'In my sense it is. When a man proposes to assault and invade the very kernel of another man's heart, to share with him, and indeed to take from him, the very dearest of his possessions, to become part and parcel with him either for infinite good or infinite evil, then a man has a right to guard even his prejudices as precious bulwarks.' Mr Wharton as he said this was walking about the room with his hands in his trouser pockets. 'I have always been for absolute toleration in matters of religion, --have always advocated the admission of Roman Catholics and Jews into Parliament, and even to the Bench. In ordinary life I never question a man's religion. It is nothing to do with me whether he believes in Mahomet, or has no belief at all. But when a man comes to ask for my daughter--'
'I have always belonged to the Church of England,' said Ferdinand Lopez.
'Lopez is at any rate a bad name to go to a Protestant church with, and I don't want my daughter to bear it if I am very frank with you, as in such a matter men ought to understand each other. Personally I have liked you well enough, and have been glad to see you at my house. Everett and you have seemed to be friends, and I have had no objection to make. But marrying into a family is a very serious thing indeed.'
'No man feels that more strongly than I do, Mr Wharton.'
'There had better be an end of it.'
'Even though I should be happy enough to obtain her favour?'
'I can't think that she cares about you. I don't think it for a moment. You say that you haven't spoken to her, and I am sure she's not a girl to throw herself at a man's head. I don't approve it, and it had better fall to the ground. It must fall to the ground.'
'I wish you would give me a reason.'
'Because you are not English.'
'But I am English. My father was a foreigner.'
'It doesn't suit my ideas. I suppose I may have my own ideas about my own family, Mr Lopez? I feel perfectly certain that my child will do nothing to displease me, and this would displease me. If we were to talk for an hour, I could say nothing further.'
'I hope that I may be able to present things to you in an aspect so altered,' said Lopez as he prepared to take his leave, 'as to make you change your mind.'
'Possibly;--possibly,' said Wharton; 'but I do not think it is possible. Good morning to you, sir. If I have said anything that has seemed to be unkind, put it down to my anxiety as a father and to not to my conduct as a man.' Then the door was closed behind his visitor, and Mr Wharton was left walking up and down his room alone. He was by no means satisfied with himself. He felt that he had been rude and at the same time not decisive. He had not explained to the man as he would wish to have done, that it was monstrous and out of the question that a daughter of the Whartons, one of the oldest families in England, should be given to a friendless Portuguese, a probable Jew,--about whom nobody knew nothing. Then he remembered that sooner or later his girl would have at least 60,000 pounds, a fact of which no human being but himself was aware. Would it not be well that somebody should be made aware of it, so that his girl might have the chance of suitors preferable to the swarthy son of Judah? He began to be afraid, as he thought of it, that he was not managing his matters well. How would it be with him if he should find that the girl was really in love with this swarthy son of Judah? He had never inquired about his girl's heart, though there was one to whom he hoped that his girl's heart might some day be given. He almost made up his mind to go home at once, so anxious was he. But the prospect of having to spend an entire afternoon in Manchester Square was too much for him, as he remained in his chamber till the usual hour.
Lopez, as he returned from Lincoln's Inn, westward to his club, was, on the whole, contented with the interview. He had expected opposition. He had not thought the cherry would fall easily into his mouth. But the conversation generally had not taken those turns which he thought would be most detrimental to him.
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 to-day, 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 to-day, 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 to-day. 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.'
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