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CHAPTER 48 'HAS HE ILL-TREATED YOU?'
Lopez relieved his wife from all care as to provision for his guests. 'I've been to a shop in Wigmore Street,' he said, 'and everything will be done. They'll send in a cook to make the things hot, and your father won't have to pay even for a crust of bread.'
'Papa doesn't mind paying for anything,' she said in her indignation.
'It is all very pretty for you to say so, but my experience of him goes just the other way. At any rate there will be nothing to be paid for. Stewam and Sugarscraps will send in everything, if you'll only tell the old fogies downstairs not to interfere.' Then she made a little request. Might she ask Everett who was now in town? 'I've already got Major Pountney and Captain Gunner,' he said. She pleaded that one more would make no difference. 'But that's just what one more always does. It destroys everything, and turns a pretty little dinner into an awkward feed. We won't have him this time. Pountney'll take you, and I'll take her ladyship. Dick will take Mrs Leslie, and Gunner will have Aunt Harriet. Dick will sit opposite to me, and the four ladies will sit at the four corners. We shall be very pleasant, but one more would spoil us.'
She did speak to the 'old fogies' downstairs, - the housekeeper, who had lived with her father since she was a child, and the butler, who had been there still longer, and the cook, who, having been in her place only three years, resigned impetuously within half an hour after the advent of Mr Sugarscaps' head man. The 'fogies' were indignant. The butler expressed his intention of locking himself up in his own peculiar pantry, and the housekeeper took it upon herself to tell her young mistress that 'Master wouldn't like it'. Since she had known Mr Wharton such a thing as cooked food being sent into the house from a shop had never been so much as heard of. Emily, who had hitherto been regarded in the house as a rather strong-minded young woman, could only break down and weep. Why, oh why, had she consented to bring herself and her misery into her father's house? She could at any rate have prevented that by explaining to her father the unfitness of such an arrangement.
The 'party' came. There was Major Pountney, very fine, rather loud, very intimate with the host, whom on one occasion had called 'Ferdy, my boy', and very full of abuse of the Duke and Duchess of Omnium. 'And yet she was a good creature when I knew her', said Lady Eustace. Pountney suggested that the Duchess had not then taken up politics. 'I've got out of her way,' said Lady Eustace, 'since she did that.' And there was Captain Gunner, who defended the Duchess, but who acknowledged that the Duke was the 'most consumedly stuck up coxcomb' then existing. 'And the most dishonest', said Lopez, who had told his new friends nothing about the repayment of the election expenses. And Dick was there. He liked these little parties, in which a good deal of wine could be drunk, and at which ladies were not supposed to be very stiff. The Major and the Captain, and Mrs Leslie and Lady Eustace, were such people as he liked, - all within the pale, but having a piquant relish of fastness and impropriety. Dick was wont to declare that he hated the world in buckram. Aunt Harriet was triumphant in a manner which disgusted Emily, and which she thought to be most disrespectful to her father; - but in truth Aunt Harriett did not now care very much for Mr Wharton, preferring the friendship of Mr Wharton's son-in-law. Mrs Leslie came in gorgeous clothes, which, as she was known to be very poor, and to have attached herself lately with almost more than feminine affection to Lady Eustace, were at any rate open to suspicious cavil. In former days Mrs Leslie had taken upon herself to say bitter things about Mr Lopez, which Emily could now have repeated, to that lady's discomfiture, had such a mode of revenge suited her disposition. With Mrs Leslie there was Lady Eustace, pretty as ever, and sharp and witty, with the old passion for some excitement, the old proneness to pretend to trust everybody, and the old capacity for trusting nobody. Ferdinand Lopez had lately been at her feet, and had fired her imagination with stories of the grand things to be done in trade. Ladies do it? Yes; why not women as well as men? Anyone might do it who had money in his pocket and experience to tell him or to tell her, what to buy and what to sell. And the experience, luckily, might be vicarious. At the present moment half the jewels worn in London were, - if Ferdinand Lopez knew anything about it, - bought from the proceeds of such commerce. Of course there were misfortunes. But these came from a want of that experience which Ferdinand Lopez possessed, and which he was quite willing to place at the service of one whom he admired so thoroughly as he did Lady Eustace. Lady Eustace had been charmed, had seen her way into a new and most delightful life,-but had not yet put any of her money into the hands of Ferdinand Lopez.
I cannot say that the dinner was good. It may be a doubt whether such tradesmen as Messrs Stewam and Sugarscraps do ever produce good food; - or whether, with all the will in the world to do so, such a result is within their power. It is certain, I think, that the humblest mutton chop is better eating than any 'Supreme of chicken after martial manner', - as I have seen the dish named in a French bill of fare, translated by a French pastrycook for the benefit of his English customers, - when sent in from Messrs Stewam and Sugarscraps even with their best exertions. Nor can it be said that the wine was good, though Mr Sugarscraps, when he contracted for the whole entertainment, was eager in his assurance that he procured the very best that London could produce. But the outside look of the things was handsome, and there were many dishes, and enough servants to hand them, and the wines, if not good, were various. Probably Pountney and Gunner did not know good wines. Roby did, but was contented on this occasion to drink them bad. And everything went pleasantly, with perhaps a little too much noise; - everything except the hostess, who was allowed by general consent to be sad and silent, - till there came a loud double-rap at the door.
'There's papa,' said Emily, jumping up from her seat.
Mrs Dick looked at Lopez, and saw at a glance for a moment his courage had failed him. But he recovered himself quickly. 'Hadn't you better keep your seat, my dear?' he said to his wife. 'The servants will attend to Mr Wharton, and I will go to him presently.'
'Oh, no,' said Emily, who by this time was almost at the door.
'You didn't expect him, - did you?' asked Dick Roby.
'Nobody knew when he was coming. I think he told Emily that he might be here any day.'
'He's the most uncertain man alive,' said Mrs Dick, who was a good deal scared by the arrival, though determined to hold up her head and exhibit no fear.
'I suppose the old gentleman will come and have some dinner,' whispered Captain Gunner to his neighbour Mrs Leslie.
'Not if he knows I'm here,' replied Mrs Leslie, tittering. 'He thinks that I am, - oh, something a great deal worse than I can tell you.'
'Is he given to be cross?' asked Lady Eustace, also affecting to whisper.
'Never saw him in my life,' answered the major, 'but I shouldn't wonder if he was. Old gentlemen generally are cross. Gout, and that kind of thing, you know.'
For a minute or two the servants stopped in their ministrations, and things were very uncomfortable; but Lopez, as soon as he had recovered himself, directed Mr Sugarscraps' men to proceed with the banquet. 'We can eat our dinner, I suppose, though my father-in-law has come back,' he said. 'I wish my wife was not so fussy, though that is the kind of thing, Lady Eustace, that one must expect from young wives.' The banquet did go on, but the feeling was general that a misfortune had come upon them, and that something dreadful might possibly happen.
Emily, when she rushed out, met her father in the hall, and ran into his arms. 'Oh, papa!' she exclaimed.
'What's all this about?' he asked, and as he spoke he passed on through the hall to his own room at the back of the house. There were of course many evidences on all sides of the party, - the strange servants, the dishes going in and out, the clatter of glasses, and the smell of viands. 'You've got a dinner party,' he said. 'Had you not better go back to your friends?'
'What is the matter, Emily? You are unhappy.'
'Oh, so unhappy?'
'What is it all about? Who are they? Whose doing is it, - yours or his? What makes you unhappy?'
He was now seated in his arm-chair, and she threw herself on her knees at his feet. 'He would have them. You mustn't be angry with me. You won't be angry with me; - will you?'
He put his hand upon her head, and stroked her hair. 'Why should I be angry with you because your husband has asked friends to dinner?' She was so unlike her usual self that he knew not what to make of it. It had not been her nature to kneel and ask for pardon, or to be timid and submissive. 'What is it, Emily, that makes you like this?'
'He shouldn't have had the people.'
'Well; - granted. But it does not signify much. Is your Aunt Harriet here?'
'It can't be very bad, then.'
'Mrs Leslie is here, and Lady Eustace, - and two men I don't like.'
'Is Everett here?'
'No; - he wouldn't have Everett.'
'Oughtn't you go to them?'
'Don't make me go. I should only cry. I have been crying all day, and the whole of yesterday.' Then she buried her face upon his knees, and sobbed as though she would break her heart.
He couldn't at all understand it. Though he distrusted his sonin-law, and certainly did not love him, he had not as yet learned to hold him in aversion. When the connection was once made he had determined to make the best of it, and had declared to himself that as far as manners went the man was well enough. He had not as yet seen the inside of the man, as it had been the sad fate of the poor wife to see him. It had never occurred to him that his daughter's love had failed her, or that she could already be repenting what she had done. And now, when she was weeping at his feet and deploring the sin of the dinner party, -which, after all, was a trifling sin, - he could not comprehend the feelings which were actuating her. 'I suppose your Aunt Harriet made up the party,' he said.
'He did it.'
'Yes; - he did it. He wrote to the women in my name when I refused.' Then Mr Wharton began to perceive that there had been a quarrel. 'I told him Mrs Leslie oughtn't to come here.'
'I don't love Mrs Leslie, - nor, for the matter of that, - Lady Eustace. But they won't hurt the house, my dear.'
'And he has had the dinner sent in from a shop.'
'Why couldn't he let Mrs Williams do it?' As he said this, the tone of his voice for the first time became angry.
'Cook has gone away. She wouldn't stand it. And Mrs Williams is very angry. And Barker wouldn't wait at table.'
'What's the meaning of it all?'
'He would have it so. Oh, papa, you don't know what I've undergone. I wish, - I wish we had not come here. It would have been better anywhere else.'
'What would have been better, dear?'
'Everything. Whether we lived or died, it would have been better. Why should I bring my misery to you? Oh, papa, you do not know, - you can never know.'
'But I must know. Is there more than this dinner to disturb you?'
Oh, yes; - more than that. Only I couldn't bear that it should be done in your house.'
'Has he - ill-treated you?'
Then she got up, and stood before him. 'I do not mean to complain. I should have said nothing only that you have found us in this way. For myself I will bear it all, whatever it may be. But, papa, I want you to tell him that we must leave this house.'
'He has got no other home for you.'
'He must find one. I will go anywhere. I don't care where it is. But I won't stay here. I have done it myself, but I won't bring it upon you. I could bear it all if I thought that you would never see me again.'
'Yes; - if you would never see me again. I know it all, and that would be best.' She was now walking about the room. 'Why should you see it all?'
'See what, my love?'
'See his ruin, and my unhappiness, and my baby. Oh - oh - oh!'
'I think so very differently, Emily, that under no circumstances will I have you taken to another home. I cannot understand much of all this as yet, but I suppose that I shall come to see it. If Lopez be, as you say, ruined, it is well that I have still enough for us to live on. This is a bad time just now to talk about your husband's affairs.'
'I did not mean to talk about them, papa.'
'What would you like best to do now, - now at once. Can you go down again to your husband's friends?'
'No; - no; - no.'
'As for the dinner, never mind about that. I can't blame him for making use of my house in my absence, as far as that goes,-though I wish he could have contented himself with such a dinner as my servants could have prepared for him. I will have some tea here.'
'Let me stay with you, papa, and make it for you.'
'Very well, dear. I do not mean to be ashamed to enter my own dining-room. I shall, therefore, go in and make your apologies.' Thereupon Mr Wharton walked slowly forth, and marched into the dining-room.
'Oh, Mr Wharton,' said Mrs Dick, 'we didn't expect you.'
'Have you dined yet, sir?' asked Lopez.
'I have dined early,' said Mr Wharton. 'I should not now have come in to disturb you, but that I have found Mrs Lopez unwell, and she has begged me to ask you to excuse her.'
'I will go to her,' said Lopez, rising.
'It is not necessary,' said Wharton. 'She is not ill, but hardly able to take her place at table.' Then Mrs Dick proposed to go to her dear niece, but Mr Wharton would not allow it, and left the room, having succeeded in persuading them to go on with their dinner. Lopez certainly was not happy during the evening, but he was strong enough to hide his misgivings, and to do his duty as host with seeming cheerfulness.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 49 WHERE IS GUATEMALA?