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CHAPTER 15 ARTHUR FLETCHER.
It may, I think, be a question whether the two old men acted wisely in having Arthur Fletcher at Wharton Hall when Emily arrived there. The story of his love for Miss Wharton, as far as it had yet gone, must shortly be told. He had been the second son, as he was now the second brother, of a Hertfordshire squire endowed with much larger property than that belonging to Sir Alured. John Fletcher, Esq., of Longbarns, some twelve miles from Wharton, was a considerable man in Hertfordshire. This present squire had married Sir Alured's eldest daughter, and the younger brother had, almost since they were children together, been known to be in love with Emily Wharton. All the Fletchers and everything belonging to them were almost worshipped at Wharton Hall. There had been marriages between the two families certainly as far back as the time of Henry VII, and they were accustomed to speak, if not of alliances, at any rate of friendships, much anterior to that. As regards family, therefore, the pretensions of a Fletcher would always be held to be good by a Wharton. But this Fletcher was the very pearl of the Fletcher tribe. Though a younger brother, he had a very pleasant little fortune of his own. Though born to comfortable circumstances, he had worked so hard in his younger days as to have already made for himself a name at the bar. He was a fairhaired, handsome fellow, with sharp, eager eyes, with an aquiline nose and just that shape of mouth and chin which such men as Abel Wharton regarded as characteristic of good blood. He was rather thin, about five feet ten in height, and had the character of being one of the best horsemen in the county. He was one of the most popular men in Hertfordshire, and at Longbarns was almost as much thought of as the squire himself. He certainly was not the man to be taken, from his appearance, for a forlorn lover. He looked like one of those happy sons of the gods who are born to success. No young man of his age was more courted both by men and women. There was no one who in his youth had suffered fewer troubles from those causes of trouble which visit English young men, - occasional impecuniosity, sternness of parents, native shyness, fear of ridicule, inability of speech, and a general pervading sense of inferiority combined with an ardent desire to rise to a feeling of conscious superiority. So much had been done for him by nature that he was never called upon to pretend to anything. Throughout the county those were the lucky men-and those too were the happy girls, - who were allowed to call him Arthur. And yet this paragon was vainly in love with Emily Wharton, who, in the way of love, would have nothing to say to him, preferring, - as her father once said in extreme wrath, - a greasy Jew adventurer out of the gutter!
And now it had been thought expedient to have him down to Wharton, although the lawyer's regular summer vacation had not yet commenced. But there was some excuse made for this, over and above the emergency of his own love, in the fact that his brother John, with Mrs Fletcher, was also to be at the Hall, - so that there was gathered there a great family party of the Whartons and Fletchers; for there was present there also old Mrs Fletcher, a magnificently aristocratic and high-minded old lady, with snowwhite hair, and lace worth fifty guineas a yard, who was as anxious as everybody else that her younger son should marry Emily Wharton. Something of the truth as to Emily Wharton's 60,000 pounds was, of course, known to the Longbarns people. Not that I would have it inferred that they wanted their darling to sell himself for money. The Fletchers were great people, with great spirits, too good in every way for such baseness. But when love, old friendship, good birth, together with every other propriety as to age, manners, and conduct, can be joined in money, such a combination will always be thought pleasant.
When Arthur reached the Hall it was felt to be necessary that a word should be said to him as to that wretched interloper, Ferdinand Lopez. Arthur had not of late been often in Manchester Square. Though always most cordially welcomed by old Wharton, and treated with kindness by Emily Wharton short of that love which he desired, he had during the last three or four months abstained from frequenting the house. During the past winter, and early in the spring, he had pressed his suit - but had been rejected, with warmest assurances of all friendship short of love. It had then been arranged between him and the elder Whartons that they should all meet down in the Hall, and there had been sympathetic expressions of hope that all might yet be well. But at that time little or nothing had been known of Ferdinand Lopez.
But now the old baronet spoke to him, the father having deputed the loathsome task to his friend, - being unwilling himself even to hint at his daughter's disgrace. 'Oh, yes, I've heard of him,' said Arthur Fletcher. 'I met him with Everett and I don't think I ever took a stronger dislike to a man. Everett seems very fond of him.' The baronet mournfully shook his head. It was sad to find that Whartons could go so far astray. 'He goes to Carlton Terrace, - to the Duchess's,' continued the young man.
'I don't think that is very much in his favour,' said the baronet.
'I don't know that it is, sir, - only they try to catch all fish in that net that are of any use.'
'Do you go there, Arthur?'
'I should if I were asked, I suppose. I don't know who wouldn't. You see it's a Coalition affair, so that everybody is able to feel that he is supporting his party by going to the Duchess's.'
'I hate Coalitions,' said the baronet. 'I think they are disgraceful.'
'Well; - yes; I don't know. The coach has to be driven somehow. You mustn't stick in the mud, you know. And after all, sir, the Duke of Omnium is a respectable man, though he is a Liberal. A Duke of Omnium can't want to send the country to the dogs.' The old man shook his head. He did not understand much about it, but he felt convinced that the Duke and his colleagues were sending the country to the dogs, whatever might be their wishes. 'I shan't think of politics for the next ten years, and so I don't trouble myself about the Duchess's parties, but I suppose I should go if I were asked.'
Sir Alured felt that he had not as yet begun even to approach the difficult subject. 'I'm glad you don't like that man,' he said.
'I don't like him at all. Tell me, Sir Alured; - why is he always going to Manchester Square?'
'Ah; - that is it.'
'He has been there constantly; - has he not?'
'No; - no I don't think that. Mr Wharton doesn't love him a bit better than you do. My cousin thinks him a most objectionable young man.'
'Ah - That's where it is.'
'You don't mean to say she - cares about that man!'
'He has been encouraged by that aunt of hers, who, as far as I can make out, is a very unfit sort of person to be much with such a girl as our dear Emily. I never saw her but once, and then I didn't like her at all.'
'A vulgar, good-natured woman. But what can she have done? She can't have twisted Emily round her finger.'
'I don't suppose there is very much in it, but I thought it better to tell you. Girls take fancies into their heads, - just for a time.'
'He's a handsome fellow, too,' said Arthur Fletcher, musing in his sorrow.
'My cousin says he's a nasty Jew-looking man.'
'He's not that, Sir Alured. He's a handsome man with a fine voice; - -dark, and not just like an Englishman; but still I can fancy - That's bad news for me, Sir Alured.'
'I think she'll forget him down here.'
'She never forgets anything. I shall ask her, straight away. She knows my feeling about her, and I haven't a doubt that she'll tell me. She's too honest to be able to lie. Has he got any money?'
'My cousin seems to think he's rich.'
'I suppose he is. Oh, Lord! That's a blow. I wish I could have the pleasure of shooting him as a man might a few years ago. But what would be the good? The girl would only hate me the more after it. The best thing to do would be to shoot myself.'
'Don't talk like that, Arthur.'
'I shan't throw up the sponge as long as there's a chance left, Sir Alured. But it will go badly with me if I'm beat at last. I shouldn't have thought it possible that I should have felt anything so much.' Then he pulled his hair, and thrust his hand into his waistcoat; and turned away, so that his old friend might not see the tear in his eye.
His old friend also was much moved. It was dreadful to him that the happiness of a Fletcher, and the comfort of the Whartons generally, should be marred by a man with such a name as Ferdinand Lopez. 'She'll never marry him without her father's consent,' said Sir Alured.
'If she means it, of course he'll consent.'
'That I'm sure he won't. He doesn't like the man a bit better than you do.' Fletcher shook his head. 'And he's as fond of you as though you were already his son.'
'What does it matter? If a girl sets her heart on marrying a man, of course, she will marry him. If he had no money it might be different. But if he's well off, of course he'll succeed. Well -; I suppose other men have borne the same sort of thing before and it hasn't killed them.'
'Let us hope, my boy. I think of her quite as much as of you.'
'Yes, - we can hope. I shan't give it up. As for her, I dare say she knows what will suit her best. I've nothing to say against the man, - excepting that I should like to cut him into four quarters.'
'But a foreigner!'
'Girls don't think about that, - not as you do and Mr Wharton. And I think thy like dark, greasy men with slippery voices, who are up to dodges and full of secrets. Well, sir, I shall go to her at once and have it out.'
'You'll speak to my cousin?'
'Certainly I will. He has always been one of the best friends I ever had in my life. I know it hasn't been his fault. But what can a man do? Girls won't marry this or that because they are told.'
Fletcher did speak to Emily's father, and learned more from him than had been told him by Sir Alured. Indeed he learned the whole truth. Lopez had been twice with the father pressing his suit and had been twice repulsed, with as absolute denial as words could convey. Emily, however, had declared her own feeling openly, expressing her wish to marry the odious man, promising not to do so without her father's consent, but evidently feeling that that consent ought not to be withheld from her. All this Mr Wharton told very plainly, walking with Arthur a little before dinner along a shaded, lonely path, which for half a mile ran along the very marge of the Wye at the bottom of the park. And then he went on to speak other words which seemed to rob his young friend of all hope. The old man was walking slowly, with his hands clasped behind his back and with his eyes fixed on the path as he went; - and he spoke slowly, evidently weighing his words as he uttered them, bringing home to his hearer a conviction that the matter discussed was one of supreme importance to the speaker, - as to which he had thought much, so as to be able to express his settled resolutions. 'I've told you all now, Arthur, - only this. I do not know how long I may be able to resist this man's claim if it be backed by Emily's entreaties. I am thinking very much about it. I do not know that I have really been able to think of anything else for the last two months. It is all the world to me, - what she and Everett do with themselves, and what she may do in this matter of marriage is of infinitely greater importance than can befall him. If he makes a mistake, it may be put right. But with a woman's marrying - , vestigia nulla retrorsum. She has put off all her old bonds and taken new ones, which must be her bonds for life. Feeling this very strongly, and disliking this man greatly,-disliking him, that is to say, in the view of this close relation, - I have felt myself to be justified in so far opposing my child by the use of a high hand. I have refused my sanction to the marriage both to him and to her, - though in truth I have been hard set to find any adequate reason for doing so. I have no right to fashion my girl's life by my prejudices. My life has been lived. Hers is to come. In this matter I should be cruel and unnatural were I to allow myself to be governed by any selfish inclination. Though I were to know that she would be lost to me forever, I must give way, - if once brought to a conviction that by not giving way I should sacrifice her young happiness. In this matter, Arthur, I must not even think of you, though I love you well. I must consider only my child's welfare; and in doing so I must try to sift my own feelings and my own judgement, and ascertain, if it be possible, whether any distance to the man is reasonable or irrational; - whether I should serve her or sacrifice her by obstinacy of refusal. I can speak to you more plainly than to her. Indeed I have laid bare to you my whole heart and my whole mind. You have all my wishes, but you will understand that I do not promise you my continued assistance.' When he had so spoken he put out his hand and pressed his companion's arm. Then he turned slowly into a little by-path which led across the park up to the house, and left Arthur Fletcher standing alone by the river's bank.
And so by degrees the blow had come full home to him. He had been twice refused. Then rumours had reached him, - not at first that he had a rival, but that there was a man who might possibly become so. And now this rivalry, and its success, were declared to him plainly. He told himself from this moment that he had not a chance. Looking forward he could see it. He understood the girl's character sufficiently to be sure that she would not be wafted about, from one lover to another, by change of scene. Taking her to Dresden, - or to New Zealand, would only confirm in her passion such a girl as Emily Wharton. Nothing would shake her but the ascertained unworthiness of the man, - and not that unless it were ascertained beneath her own eyes. And then years must pass by before she would yield to another lover. There was a further question, too, which he did not fail to ask himself. Was the man necessarily unworthy because his name was Lopez, and because he had not come of English blood?
As he strove to think of this, if not coolly yet rationally, he sat himself down among the rocks, among which at that spot the water made its way rapidly. There had been moments in which he had been almost ashamed of his love, - and now he did not know whether to be most ashamed or most proud of it. But he recognized the fact that it was crucifying him, and that it would continue to crucify him. He knew himself in London to be a popular man, - one of those for whom, according to general opinion, girls should sigh, rather than one who would break his heart sighing for a girl. He had often told himself that it was beneath his manliness to be despondent; that he should let such a trouble run from him like water from a duck's back, consoling himself with the reflection that if the girl had such bad taste she could hardly be worthy of him. He had almost tried to belong to that school which throws the heart away and rules by the head alone. He knew that others, - perhaps not those who knew him best, but who nevertheless were the companions of may of his hours, - gave him credit for such power. Why should a man afflict himself by the inward burden of an unsatisfied craving, and allow his heart to sink into his very feet because a girl would not smile when he wooed her? 'If she be not fair for me, what care I how fair she be!' He had repeated the lines to himself a score of times, and had been ashamed of himself because he could not make them come true to himself.
They had not come true in the least. There he was, Arthur Fletcher, whom all the world courted, with his heart in his very boots! There was a miserable load within him, absolutely palpable to his outward feeling, - a very physical pain, - which he could not shake off. As he threw the stones into the water he told himself that it must be so with him always. Though the world did pet him, though he was liked at his club, and courted in the hunting-field, and loved at balls and archery meetings, and reputed by old men to be a rising star, he told himself that he was so maimed and mutilated as to be only half a man. He could not reason about it. Nature had afflicted him with a certain weakness. One man had a hump; - another can hardly see out of his imperfect eyes, - a third can barely utter a few disjointed words. It was his fate to be constructed with some weak arrangement of the blood vessels which left him in this plight. 'The whole damned thing is nothing to me,' he said bursting into absolute tears, after vainly trying to reassure himself by a recollection of the good things which the world still had in store for him.
Then he strove to console himself by thinking that he might take a pride in his love, even though it were so intolerable a burden to him. Was it not something to be able to love as he loved? Was it not something at any rate that she to whom he had condescended to stoop was worthy of all love? But even here he could get no comfort, - being in truth unable to see very closely into the condition of the thing. It was a disgrace to him, - to him within his own bosom, - that she should have preferred to him such a one as Ferdinand Lopez, and this disgrace he exaggerated, ignoring the fact that the girl herself might be deficient in judgement, or led away into her love by falsehood and counterfeit attractions. To him she was such a goddess that she must be right - and therefore his own inferiority to such a one as Ferdinand Lopez was proved. He could take no pride in his rejected love. He would rid himself of it at a moment's notice if he knew the way. He would throw himself at the feet of some second-rate, tawdry, well-born, well-known beauty of the day,-only that there was not now left to him strength to pretend the feeling that would be necessary. Then he heard steps, and jumping up from his seat, stood just in the way of Emily Wharton and her cousin Mary. 'Ain't you going to dress for dinner, young man?' said the latter.
'I shall have time if you have, anyway,' said Arthur, endeavouring to pluck up his spirits.
'That's nice of him; - isn't it?' said Mary. 'Why, we are dressed. What more do you want? We came out to look for you, though we didn't mean to come as far as this. It's past seven now, and we are supposed to dine at a quarter past.'
'Five minutes will do for me.'
'But you've got to get to the house. You needn't be in a tremendous hurry, because papa has only just come in from haymaking. They've got up the last load, and there has been the usual ceremony. Emily and I have been looking at them.'
'I wish I'd been there all the time,' said Emily. 'I do so hate London in July.'
'So do I,' said Arthur, - 'in July and all other times.'
'You hate London?' said Mary.
'Yes, - and Hertfordshire, - and other places generally. If I've got to dress I'd better go across the park as quick as I can go,' and so he left them. Mary turned around and looked at her cousin, but at the moment said nothing. Arthur's passion was well known to Mary Wharton, but Mary had as yet heard nothing of Ferdinand Lopez.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 16 NEVER RUN AWAY!