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CHAPTER 23 SURRENDER.
The letter given in the previous chapter was received at Wharton Hall late in the evening of the day on which it was written, and was discussed among all the Whartons that night. Of course there was no doubt as to the father's going up to town on the morrow. The letter was just such a letter as would surely make a man run to his son's bedside. Had the son written himself it would have been different; but the fact that the letter had come from another man seemed to be evidence that the poor sufferer could not write. Perhaps the urgency with which Lopez had sent off his dispatch, getting his account of the fray ready for the very early day mail, though the fray had not taken place till midnight, did not impress them sufficiently when they accepted this as evidence of Everett's dangerous condition. At this conference at Wharton very little was said about Lopez, but there was a general feeling that he had behaved well. 'It was very odd that they should have parted in the park,' said Sir Alured. 'But very lucky that they should not have parted sooner,' said John Fletcher. If a grain of suspicion against Lopez might have been set afloat in their minds by Sir Alured's suggestion, it was altogether dissipated by John Fletcher's reply; - for everybody there knew that John Fletcher carried common sense for the two families. Of course they all hated Ferdinand Lopez, but nothing could be extracted from the incident, as far as its details were yet known to them, which could be turned to his injury.
While they sat together discussing the matter in the drawing-room Emily Wharton hardly said a word. She uttered a little shriek when the account of the affair was first read to her, and then listened with silent attention to what was said around her. When there had seemed for a moment to be a doubt, - or rather a question, for there had been no doubt, - whether her father should go at once to London, she had spoken just a word. 'Of course you will go, papa.' After that she said nothing till she came to him in his own room. 'Of course I will go with you tomorrow, papa.'
'I don't think that will be necessary.'
'Oh, yes. Think how wretched I should be.'
'I would telegraph to you immediately.'
'And I shouldn't believe the telegraph. Don't you know how it always is? Besides we have been more than the usual time. We were to go to town in ten days, and you would not think of returning to fetch me. Of course I will go with you. I have already begun to pack my things, and Jane is now at it.' Her father, not knowing how to oppose her, yielded, and Emily before she went to bed had made the ladies of the house aware that she also intended to start the next morning at eight o'clock.
During the first part of the journey very little was said between Mr Wharton and Emily. There were other persons in the carriage, and she, though she had determined in some vague way that she would speak some words to her father before she reached their own house, had still wanted time to resolve what those words should be. But before she had reached Gloucester she had made up her mind, and going on from Gloucester she found herself for a time alone with her father. She was sitting opposite to him, and after conversing for a while she touched his knee with her hand. 'Papa,' she said, 'I suppose I must now have to meet Mr Lopez in Manchester Square?'
'Why should you have to meet Mr Lopez?'
'Of course he will come there to see Everett. After what has occurred you can hardly forbid him the house. He has saved Everett's life.'
'I don't know that he has done anything of the kind,' said Mr Wharton, who was vacillating between different opinions. He did in his heart believe that the Portuguese whom he so hated had saved his son from the thieves, and he also had almost come to the conviction that he must give his daughter to the man, - but at the same time he could not as yet bring himself to abandon his opposition to the marriage.
'Perhaps you think the story is not true.'
'I don't doubt the story in the least. Of course one man sticks to another in such an affair, and I have no doubt that Mr Lopez behaved as any English gentleman would.'
'Any English gentleman, papa, would have to come afterwards and see the friend he had saved. Don't you think so?'
'Oh yes, - he might call.'
'And Mr Lopez will have an additional reason for calling, - and I know he will come. Don't you think he will come?'
'I don't want to think anything about it,' said the father.
'But I want you to think about it, papa. Papa, I know you are not indifferent to my happiness.'
'I hope you know it.'
'I do know it. I am quite sure of it. And therefore I don't think you ought to be afraid to talk to me about what must concern my happiness so greatly. As far as my own self and my own will are concerned I consider myself as given away to Mr Lopez already. Nothing but his marrying some other woman, - or his death, - would make me think of myself as otherwise than as belonging to him. I am not a bit ashamed of owning my love - to you or to him, if the opportunity were allowed me. I don't think there should be concealment about anything so important between people who are so dear to each other. I have told you that I will do whatever you bid me about him. If you say that I shall not speak to him or see him I will not speak to him or see him-willingly. You certainly need not be afraid that I should marry without your leave.'
'I am not in the least afraid of it.'
'But I think you should think over what you are doing. And I am quite sure of this, - that you must tell me what I am to do in regard to receiving Mr Lopez in Manchester Square.' Mr Wharton listened attentively to what his daughter said to him, shaking his head from time to time as though almost equally distracted by her passive obedience and by her passionate protestations of love; but he said nothing. When she had completed her supplication he threw himself back in His seat and after a while took his book. It may be doubted whether he read much, for the question as to his girl's happiness was quite as near his heart as she could wish it to be.
It was late in the afternoon before they reached Manchester Square, and they were both happy to find that they were not troubled by Mr Lopez at the first moment. Everett was at home and in bed, and had not indeed as yet recovered the effect of the man's knuckles at his windpipe; but he was well enough to assure his father and sister that they need not have disturbed themselves or hurried their return from Hertfordshire on his account. 'To tell the truth,' said he, 'Ferdinand Lopez was more hurt than I was.'
'He said nothing of being hurt himself,' said Mr Wharton.
'How was he hurt?' asked Emily in the quietest, stillest voice.
'The fact is,' said Everett, beginning to tell the whole story after his own fashion, 'if he hadn't been at hand then, there would have been an end of me. We had separated, you know - '
'What could make two men separate from each other in the darkness of St James's Park?'
'Well, - to tell you the truth, we had quarrelled. I had made an ass of myself. You need not go into that any further, except that you should know that it was all my fault. Of course it wasn't a real quarrel,' - when he said this Emily, who was sitting close to his bed-head, pressed his arm under the clothes with her hand, - 'but I had said something rough, and he had gone on just to put an end to it.'
'It was uncommonly foolish,' said the old Wharton. 'It was very foolish going round the park at that time of night.'
'No doubt, sir, - but it was my doing. And if he had not gone with me, I should have gone alone.' Here there was another pressure. 'I was a little low in spirits, and wanted the walk.'
'But how is he hurt?' asked the father.
'The man who was kneeling on me and squeezing the life out of me jumped up when he heard Lopez coming, and struck him over the head with a bludgeon. I heard the blow, though I was pretty well done for at the time myself. I don't think they hit me, but they got something round my neck, and I was half strangled before I knew what they were doing. Poor Lopez bled horribly, but he says he is none the worse for it.' Here there was another little pressure under the bed-clothes; for Emily felt that her brother was pleading for her in every word that he said.
About ten on the following morning Lopez came and asked for Mr Wharton. He was shown into the study, where he found the old man, and at once began to give his account of the whole concern in an easy, unconcerned manner. He had the large black patch on the side of the head, which had been so put on as almost to become him. But it was so conspicuous as to force a question concerning it from Mr Wharton. 'I am afraid you got rather a sharp knock yourself, Mr Lopez?'
'I did get a knock, certainly; - but the odd part of it is that I knew nothing about it till I found the blood in my eyes after they had decamped. But I lost my hat, and there is a rather long cut just above the temple. It hasn't done me the slightest harm. The worst of it was that the got off with Everett's watch and money.'
'Had he much money?'
'Forty pounds!' And Lopez shook his head, thereby signifying that forty pounds at the present moment was more than Everett Wharton could afford to lose. Upon the whole he carried himself very well, ingratiating himself with the father, raising no question about the daughter, and saying as little as possible about himself. He asked whether he could go up and see his friend, and or course was allowed to do so. A minute before he entered the room Emily left it. They did not see each other. At any rate he did not see her. But there was a feeling with both of them that the other was close, - and there was something present to them, almost amounting to conviction, that the accident of the park robbery would be good for them.
'He certainly did save Everett's life,' Emily said to her father the next day.
'Whether he did or not, he did his best,' said Mr Wharton.
'When one's dearest relation is concerned,' said Emily, 'and when his life has been saved, one feels that one has to be grateful even if it has been an accident. I hope he knows, at any rate, that I am grateful.'
The old man had not been a week in London before he knew that he had absolutely lost the game. Mrs Roby came back to her house round the corner, ostensibly with the object of assisting her relatives in minding Everett, - a purpose for which she certainly was not needed, but, as the matter progressed, Mr Wharton was not without suspicion that her return had been arranged by Ferdinand Lopez. She took upon herself, at any rate, to be loud in the praise of the man who had saved the life of her 'darling nephew', - and to see that others also should be loud in his praise. In a little time all London had heard of the affair, and it had been discussed out of London. Down at Gatherum Castle the matter had been known, - but the telling of it had always been to the great honour and glory of the hero. Major Pountney had almost broken his heart over it, and Captain Gunner, writing to his friend from the Curragh, had asserted his knowledge that it was all a 'gotup' thing between the two men. The "Breakfast Table" and the "Evening Pulpit" had been loud in praise of Lopez, but the "People's Banner", under the management of Mr Quintus Slide, had naturally thrown down much suspicion on the incident when it became known to the Editor that Ferdinand Lopez had been entertained by the Duke and Duchess of Omnium. 'We have always felt some slight doubts as to the details of the affair said to have happened about a fortnight ago, just at midnight, in St James's Park. We should be glad to know whether the policemen have succeeded in tracing any of the stolen property, or whether any real attempt to trace it has been made.' This was one of the paragraphs, and it was hinted still more plainly afterwards that Everett Wharton, being short of money, had arranged the plan with the view or opening his father's purse. But the general effect was certainly serviceable to Lopez. Emily Wharton did believe him to be a hero. Everett was beyond measure grateful to him,-not only for having saved him from the thieves, but also for having told nothing of his previous folly. Mrs Roby always alluded to the matter as if, for all coming ages, every Wharton ought to acknowledge that gratitude to a Lopez was the very first duty of life. The old man felt the absurdity of much of this, but still it offended him. When Lopez came he could not be rough to the man who had done a service to his son. And then he found himself compelled to do something. He must either take his daughter away, or he must yield. But his power of taking his daughter away seemed to be less than it had been. There was an air of quiet, unmerited suffering about her, which quelled him. And so he yielded.
It was after this fashion. Whether affected by the violence of the attack made upon him, or from other cause, Everett had been unwell after the affair, and had kept his room for a fortnight. During this time Lopez came to see him daily, and daily Emily Wharton had to take herself out of the man's way, and hide herself from the man's sight. This she did with much tact, and with lady-like quietness, but not without an air of martyrdom, which cut her father to the quick. 'My dear,' he said to her one evening, as she was preparing to leave the drawing-room on hearing his knock, 'stop and see him if you like it.'
'I don't want to make you wretched. If I could have died first, and got out of the way, perhaps it would have been better.'
'Papa, you will kill me if you speak in that way! If there is anything to say to him, do you say it.' And then she escaped.
Well! It was an added bitterness, but no doubt it was his duty. If he did intend to consent to the marriage, it was certainly for him to signify that consent to the man. It would not be sufficient that he should get out of the way and leave his girl to act for herself as though she had no friend in the world. The surrender which he had made to his daughter had come from a sudden impulse at the moment, but it could not now be withdrawn. So he stood out on the staircase, and when Lopez came up on his way to Everett's bedroom, he took him by the arm and led him into the drawing-room. 'Mr Lopez,' he said, 'you know that I have not been willing to welcome you into my house as a son-in-law. There are reasons on my mind, - perhaps prejudices, - which are strong against it. They are as strong now as ever. But she wishes it, and I have the utmost reliance on her constancy.'
'So have I,' said Lopez.
'Stop a moment, if you please, sir. In such a position a father's thought is only to his daughter's happiness and prosperity. It is not his own that he should consider. I hear you well spoken of in the outer world, and I do not know that I have a right to demand of my daughter that she should tear you from her affections, because - because you are not just such as I would have her husband to be. You have my permission to see her.' Then before Lopez could say a word, he left the room, and took his hat and hurried away to his club.
As he went he was aware that he had made no terms at all; - but then he was inclined to think that no terms could be made. There seemed to be a general understanding that Lopez was doing well in the world, - in a profession of the working of which Mr Wharton himself knew absolutely nothing. He had a large fortune at his own bestowal, - intended for his daughter, - which would have been forthcoming at the moment and paid down on the nail, had she married Arthur Fletcher. The very way in which the money should be invested and tied up and made to be safe and comfortable to the Fletcher-cum-Wharton interests generally, had been fully settled among them. But now this other man, this stranger, this Portuguese had entered upon the inheritance. But the stranger, the Portuguese, must wait. Mr Wharton knew himself to be an old man. She was his child, and he would not wrong her. But she should have her money closely settled upon herself on his death, - and on her children, should she then have any. It should be done by his will. He would say nothing about money to Lopez, and if Lopez should, as was probable, ask after his daughter's fortune, he would answer to this effect. Thus he almost resolved that he would give his daughter to the man without any inquiry as to the man's means. The thing had to be done, and he would take no further trouble about it. The comfort of his life was gone. His home would no longer be a home to him. His daughter could not now be his companion. The sooner that death came to him the better, but till death should come he must console himself as well as he could by playing whist at the Eldon. It was after this fashion that Mr Wharton thought of the coming marriage between his daughter and her lover.
'I have your father's consent to marry your sister,' said Ferdinand immediately on entering Everett's room.
'I knew it must come soon,' said the invalid.
'I cannot say that it has been given in the most gracious manner, - but it has been given very clearly. I have his express permission to see her. Those were his last words.'
Then there was a sending of notes between the sick-room and the sick man's sister's room. Everett wrote and Ferdinand wrote, and Emily wrote, - short lines each of them, - a few words scrawled. The last from Emily was as follows: - 'Let him go into the drawing-room. EW.' And so Ferdinand went down to meet his love, - to encounter her for the first time as her recognized future husband and engaged lover. Passionate, declared, and thorough as was her love for this man, the familiar intercourse between them had hitherto been very limited. There had been little, - we may perhaps say none, - of that dalliance between them which is so delightful to the man and so wondrous to the girl till custom staled the edge of it. He had never sat with her arm around her waist. He had rarely held even her hand in his for a happy recognized pause of a few seconds. He had never kissed even her brow. And there she was now, standing before him, all his own, absolutely given to him, with the fullest assurance of love on her part, and with the declared consent of her father. Even he had been a little confused as he opened the door, - even he, as he paused to close it behind him, had to think how he would address her, and perhaps had thought in vain. But he had not a moment for any thought after entering the room. Whether it was his doing or hers he hardly knew, but she was in his arms, and her lips were pressed to his, and his arms was tight around her waist, holding her close to his breast. It seemed as though all that was wanting had been understood in a moment, and as though they had lived together and loved for the last twelve months, with the fullest mutual confidence. And she was the first to speak -
'Ferdinand, I am so happy! Are you happy?'
'My love, my darling!'
'You have never doubted me, I know, - since you first knew it.'
'Doubted you, my girl!'
'That I would be firm! And now papa has been good to me, and how quickly one's sorrow is over. I am yours, my love, for ever and ever. You knew it before, but I like to tell you. I will be true to you in everything! Oh, my love!'
He had but little to say to her, but we know that for "lovers lacking matter, the cleanliest shift is to kiss." In such moments silence charms, and almost any words are unsuitable except those soft, bird-like murmurings of love which, sweet as they are to the ear, can hardly be so written as to be sweet to the reader.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 24 THE MARRIAGE.