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CHAPTER 17 GOOD-BYE.
Arthur Fletcher received his brother's teaching as true, and took his brother's advice in good part, - so that, before the morning following, he had resolved that however the deep the wound might be, he would so live before the world, that the world should not see his wound. What people already knew they must know, - but they should learn nothing further either by words or by signs from him. He would, as he had said to his brother, 'have it out with Emily'; and then, if she told him plainly that she loved the man, he would bid her adieu, simply expressing regret that their course for life should be divided. He was confident that she would tell him the entire truth. She would be restrained neither by false modesty, nor by any assumed unwillingness to discuss her own affairs with a friend so true to her as he had been. He knew her well enough to be sure that she recognized the value of his love though she could not bring herself to accept it. There are rejected lovers who, merely because they are lovers, become subject to the scorn and even the disgust of the girls they love. But again there are men who, even when they are rejected, are almost loved, who are considered to be worthy of the reverence, almost of worship; - and yet the worshippers will not love them. Not analysing all this, but somewhat conscious of the light in which this girl regarded him, he knew that what he might say would be treated with deference. As to shaking her, - as to talking her out of one purpose and into another, - that to him did not for a moment seem to be practicable. There was no hope of that. He hardly knew why he should endeavour to say a word to her before he left Wharton. And yet he felt that it must be said. Were he to allow her to be married to this man, without any further previous word between them, it would appear that he had resolved to quarrel with her for ever. But now, at this very moment of time, as he lay in his bed, as he dressed himself in the morning, as he sauntered about among the new hay-stacks with his pipe in his mouth after breakfast, he came to some conclusion in his mind very much averse to such quarrelling.
He had loved her with all his heart. It had not been mere drawing-room love begotten between a couple of waltzes, and fostered by five minutes in a crush. He knew himself to be a man of the world, and he did not wish to be other than he was. He could talk among men as men talked, and act as men acted; - and he could do the same with women. But there was one person who had been to him above all, and round everything, and under everything. There had been a private nook within him into which there had been no entrance but for one image. There had been a holy of holies, which he had guarded within himself, keeping it free from all outer contamination for his own use. He had cherished the idea of a clear fountain of ever-running water which would at last be his, always ready for the comfort of his own lips. Now all his hope was shattered, his trust was gone, and his longing disappointed. But the person was the same person, though she could not be his. The nook was there, though she would not fill it. The holy of holies was not less holy, though he himself might not dare to lift the curtain. The fountain would still run, - still the clearest fountain of all,-though he might not put his lips to it. He would never allow himself to think of it with lessened reverence, or with changed ideas as to her nature.
And then, as he stood leaning against a ladder which still kept its place against one of the hay-stacks, and filled his second pipe unconsciously, he had to realize to himself the probable condition of his future life. Of course she would marry this man with very little further delay. Her father had already declared himself to be too weak to interfere much longer with her wishes. Of course Mr Wharton would give way. And then, - what sort of life would be her life? No one knew anything about the man. There was an idea that he was rich, - but wealth such as his, wealth that is subject to speculation, will fly away at a moment's notice. He might be cruel, a mere adventurer, or a thorough ruffian for all that was known of him. There should, thought Arthur Fletcher to himself, be more stability in the giving and taking of wives than could be reckoned upon here. He became old in that half-hour, taking home to himself and appreciating many saws of wisdom and finger-direction experience which hitherto had been to him matters almost of ridicule. But he could only come to this conclusion, - that as she was still to be to him his holy of holies though he might not lay his hand upon the altar, his fountain though he might not drink of it, the one image which alone could have filled that nook, he would not cease to regard her happiness when she should have become the wife of this stranger. With the stranger himself he never could be on friendly terms; - but for the stranger's wife there should always be a friend, if the friend were needed.
About an hour before lunch John Fletcher, who had been hanging about the house all the morning in a manner very unusual to him, caught Emily Wharton as she was passing through the hall, and told her that Arthur Fletcher was in a certain part of the grounds and wished to speak to her. 'Alone?' she asked. 'Yes, certainly alone.' 'Ought I to go to him, John?' she asked again. 'Certainly I think you ought.' Then he had done his commission and was able to apply himself to whatever business he had in hand.
Emily at once put on her hat, took her parasol, and left the house. There was something distasteful to her in the idea of this going out at lover's bidding, to meet him; but like all Whartons and all Fletchers, she trusted John Fletcher. And then she was aware that there were circumstances which might make a meeting such as this serviceable. She knew nothing of what had taken place during the last four-and-twenty hours. She had no idea that in consequence of words spoken to him by her father and his brother, Arthur Fletcher was about to abandon his suit. There would have been no doubt about her going to meet him had she thought of it. She supposed that she would have to hear again the old story. If so, she would hear it, and would then have an opportunity of telling him that her heart had been given entirely to another. She knew all that she owed to him. After a fashion she did love him. He was entitled to the kindest consideration from her hands. But he should be told the truth.
As she entered the shrubbery he came out to meet her, giving her his hand with a frank, easy air and pleasant smile. His smile was as bright as the ripple of the sea, and his eye would then gleam, and the slightest sparkle of white teeth would be seen between his lips, and the dimple of his chin would show itself deeper than at other times. 'It is very good of you. I thought you'd come. John asked you, I suppose.'
'Yes; - he told me you were here, and he said I ought to come.'
'I don't know about ought, but I think it better. Will you mind walking on, as I've something that I want to say?' Then he turned and she turned with him into the little wood. 'I'm not going to bother you any more my darling,' he said. 'You are still my darling, though I will not call you so after this.' Her heart sank almost in her bosom as she heard this, - though it was exactly what she would have wished to hear. But now there must be some close understanding between them and some tenderness. She knew how much she had owed him, how good he had been to her, how true had been his love; and she felt that words would fail her to say that which ought to be said. 'So you have given yourself to - one Ferdinand Lopez!'
'Yes,' she said, in a hard, dry voice. 'Yes, I have. I do not know who told you; but I have.'
'Your father told me. It was better, - was it not? - that I should know. You are not sorry that I should know?'
'It is better.'
'I am not going to say a word against him.'
'No; - do not do that.'
'Nor against you. I am simply here now to let you know that - I retire.'
'You will not quarrel with me, Arthur?'
'Quarrel with you! I could not quarrel with you, if I would. No; - there shall be no quarrel. But I do not suppose we shall see each other very often.'
'I hope we may.'
'Sometimes, perhaps. A man should not, I think, affect to be friends with a successful rival. I dare say he is an excellent fellow; but how is it possible that he and I should get on together? But you will always have one, - one beside him, - who will love you best in this world.'
'No; - no; - no.'
'It must be so. There will be nothing wrong in that. Everyone has some dearest friend, and you will always be mine. If anything of evil should ever happen to you, - which of course there won't, - there would always be someone who would - . But I don't want to talk buncombe; I only want you to believe me. Good-bye, and God bless you.' Then he put out his right hand, holding his hat under his left arm.
'You are not going away?'
'To-morrow perhaps. But I will say my real good-bye to you here, now to-day. I hope you may be happy. I hope with all my heart. Good-bye. God bless you!'
'Oh, Arthur!' Then she put her hand in his.
'Oh, I have loved you so dearly. It has been with my whole heart. You have never quite understood me, but it has been as true as heaven. I have thought sometimes that had I been a little less earnest about it, I should have been a little less stupid. A man shouldn't let it get the better of him, as I have done. Say good-bye to me, Emily.'
'Good-bye,' she said, still leaving her hand in his.
'I suppose that's about all. Don't let them quarrel with you here if you can help it. Of course at Longbarns they won't like it for a time. Oh, - if it could have been different!' Then he dropped her hand, and turning his back quickly upon her, went away along the path.
She had expected and had almost wished that he should kiss her. A girl's cheek is never so holy to herself as it is to her lover, - if he do love her. There would have been something of reconciliation, something of a promise of future kindness in a kiss, which even Ferdinand would not have grudged. It would, for her, have robbed the parting of that bitterness of pain which his words had given to it. As to all that he had made no calculation; but the bitterness was there for him, and he could have done nothing that would have expelled it.
She wept bitterly as she returned to the house. There might have been cause for joy. It was clear enough that her father, though he had shown no sign of yielding, was nevertheless prepared to yield. It was her father who had caused Arthur Fletcher to take himself off, as a lover really dismissed. But, at this moment, she could not bring herself to look at that aspect of the affair. Her mind would revert to all those choicest moments in her early years in which she had been happy with Arthur Fletcher, in which she had first learned to love him, and had then taught herself to understand by some confused and perplexed lesson that she did not love him as men and women love. But why should she not so have loved him? Would she not have done so could she then have understood how true and firm he was? And then, independently of herself, throwing herself aside for the time as she was bound to do when thinking of one so good to her as Arthur Fletcher, she found that no personal joy could drown the grief which she shared with him. For a moment the idea of a comparison between the men forced itself upon her, - but she drove it from her as she hurried back into the house.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 18 THE DUKE OF OMNIUM THINKS OF HIMSELF.