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CHAPTER 36 THE JOLLY BLACKBIRD.
There was great triumph at Longbarns when the news of Arthur's victory reached the place; - and when he arrived there himself with his friend Mr Gresham, he was received as a conquering hero. But of course the tidings of 'the row' had gone before him, and it was necessary that both he and Mr Gresham should tell the story; - nor could it be told privately. Sir Alured Wharton was there, and Mrs Fletcher. The old lady had heard of the row, and of course required to be told all the particulars. This was not pleasant to the hero, as in talking of the man it was impossible for them not to talk of the man's wife. 'What a terrible misfortune for poor Mr Wharton,' said the old lady, nodding her head at Sir Alured. Sir Alured sighed and said nothing. Certainly a terrible misfortune, and one which affected more or less the whole family of Whartons!
'Do you mean to say that he was going to attack Arthur with a whip?' asked John Fletcher.
'I only know that he was standing there with a whip in his hand,' said Mr Gresham.'
'I think he would have had the worst of that.'
'You would have laughed,' said Arthur, 'to see me walking majestically along the High Street with a cudgel which Gresham had just bought for me as being of the proper medium size. I don't doubt he meant to have a fight. And then you should have seen the policeman sloping over and putting himself in the way. I never quite understood where the policeman came from.'
'They are very well off for policemen in Silverbridge,' said Gresham. 'They've always got them going about.'
'He must be mad,' said John.
'Poor unfortunate young woman!' said Mrs Fletcher, holding up both her hands. 'I must say that I cannot but blame Mr Wharton. If he had been firm, it never would have come to that. I wonder whether he ever sees him.'
'Of course he does,' said John. 'Why shouldn't he see him? You'd see him if he'd married a daughter of yours.'
'Never!' exclaimed the old woman. 'If I had a child so lost to all respect as that, I do not say that I would not have seen her. Human nature might have prevailed. But I would never willingly have put myself into contact with one who had degraded me and mine.'
'I shall be very anxious to know what Mr Wharton does about his money,' said John.
Arthur allowed himself but a couple of days among his friends, and then hurried up to London to take his seat. When there he was astonished to find how many questions were asked him about 'the row', and how much was known about it, - and at the same time how little was really known. Everybody had heard that there had been a row, and everybody knew that there had been a lady in the case. But there seemed to be a general idea that the lady had been in some way misused, and that Arthur Fletcher had come forwards like a Paladin to protect her. A letter had been written, and the husband, ogre-like, had intercepted the letter. The lady was the most unfortunate of human beings, - or would have been but for that consolation which she must have in the constancy of her old lover. As to all these matters the stories varied; but everybody agreed on one point. All the world knew that Arthur Fletcher had gone to Silverbridge, had stood for the borough, and taken the seat away from his rival, - because that rival had robbed him of his bride. How the robbery had been effected the world could not quite say. The world was still of the opinion that the lady was violently attached to the man she had not married. But Captain Gunner explained it all clearly to Major Pountney by asserting that the poor girl had been coerced into the marriage by her father. And thus Arthur Fletcher found himself almost as much a hero in London as at Longbarns.
Fletcher had not been above a week in town, and had become heartily sick of the rumours which in various shapes made their way round to his own ears, when he received an invitation from Mr Wharton to go and dine with him at a tavern called the Jolly Blackbird. The invitation surprised him, - that he should be asked by such a man to dine at such a place, - but he accepted it as a matter of course. He was indeed much interested in a bill for the drainage of common lands which was to be discussed in the House that night, there was a good deal of common land round Silverbridge, and he had some idea of making his first speech,-but he calculated that he might get his dinner and yet be back in time for the debate. So he went to the Jolly Blackbird, - a very quaint old-fashioned law dining-house in the neighbourhood of Portugal Street, which had managed not to get itself not pulled down a dozen years ago on behalf of the Law Courts which are to bless some coming generation. Arthur had never been there before and was surprised at the black wainscotting, the black tables, the old-fashioned grate, the two candles on the table, and the silent waiter.
'I wanted to see you Arthur,' said the old man pressing his hand in a melancholy way, 'but I couldn't ask you to Manchester Square. They come in sometimes in the evening, and it might have been unpleasant. At your young men's clubs they let strangers dine. We haven't anything of that kind at the Eldon. You'll find they'll give you a very good bit of fish here, and a fairish steak.' Arthur declared that he thought it a capital place,-the best fun in the world. 'And they've a very good bottle of claret; - better than we get at the Eldon, I think. I don't know that I can say much for their champagne. We'll try it. You young fellows always like champagne.'
'I hardly ever touch it,' said Arthur. 'Sherry and claret are my wines.'
'Very well; - very well. I did want to see you, my boy. Things haven't turned out just as we wanted; - have they?'
'Not exactly, sir.'
'No indeed. You know the old saying, "God disposes all". I have to make the best of it, - and so no doubt have you.'
'There's no doubt about it, sir,' said Arthur, speaking in a low but almost angry voice. They were not in a room by themselves, but in a recess which separated them from the room. 'I don't know that I want to talk about it, but to me it is one of those things for which there is no remedy. When a man loses his leg, he hobbles on, and sometimes has a good time of it at last; - but there he is, without a leg.'
'It wasn't my fault, Arthur.'
'There has been no fault but my own. I went in for the running, and got distanced. That's simply all about it, and there's no more to be said.'
'You ain't surprised that I should wish to see you.'
'I'm ever so much obliged. I think it's very kind of you.'
'I can't go in for a new life as you can. I can't take up politics and Parliament. It's too late for me.'
'I'm going to. There's a bill coming on this very night that I'm interested about. You mustn't be angry if I rush off a little before ten. We are going to lend money to the parishes on the security of the rates for draining bits of common land. Then we shall sell the land and endow the unions, so as to lessen the poor rates, and increase the cereal products of the country. We think we can bring 300,000 acres under the plough in three years, which now produce almost nothing, and in five years would pay all the expenses. Putting the value of the land at 25 pounds an acre, which is low, we shall have created property to the value of seven million and a half. That's something, you know.'
'Oh, yes,' said Mr Wharton, who felt himself quite unable to follow with any interest the aspirations of the young legislator.
'Of course it's complicated,' continued Arthur, 'but when you come to look into it it comes out clear enough. It is one of the instances of the omnipotence of capital. Parliament can do such a thing, not because it has any creative power of its own, but because it has the command of unlimited capital.' Mr Wharton looked at him, sighing inwardly as he reflected that unrequited love should have brought a clear-headed young barrister into mists so thick and labyrinths so mazy as these. 'A very good beef-steak indeed,' said Arthur; 'I don't know when I ate a better one. Thank you, no; - I'll stick to the claret.' Mr Wharton had offered him Madeira. 'Claret and brown meat always go well together. Pancake? I don't object to a pancake. A pancake's a very good thing. Now would you believe it, sir; they can't make a pancake at the House.'
'And yet they sometimes fall very flat too,' said the lawyer, making a real lawyer's joke.
But Mr Wharton still had something to say, though he hardly knew how to say it. 'You must come and see us at the Square after a bit.'
'Oh; - of course.'
'I wouldn't ask you to dine here to-day, because I thought we should be less melancholy here; - but you mustn't cut us altogether. You haven't seen Everett since you've been in town?'
'No, sir. I believe he lives a good deal, - a good deal with-Mr Lopez. There was a little row down at Silverbridge. Of course it will wear off, but just at present his lines and my lines don't converge.'
'I'm very unhappy about him, Arthur.'
'There's nothing the matter?'
'My girl has married that man. I've nothing to say against him; - but of course it wasn't to my taste, and I feel it as a separation. And now Everett has quarrelled with me.'
'Quarrelled with you!'
Then the father told the story as well as he knew how. His son had lost some money, and he had called him a gambler, - and consequently his son would not come near him. 'It is bad to lose them both, Arthur.'
'That is so unlike Everett.'
'It seems to me that everybody has changed, - except myself. Who would have dreamed that she would have married that man? Not that I have anything to say against him except that he was not of our sort. He has been very good about Everett, and is very good about him. But Everett will not come to me unless - I withdraw the word; - say that I was wrong to call him a gambler. That is a proposition no man should make to a father.'
'It is very unlike Everett,' repeated the other. 'Has he written to you to that effect?'
'He has not written a word.'
'Why don't you go to see him yourself, and have it out with him?'
'Am I to go to that club after him?' said the father.
'Write to him and bid him come to you. I'll give up my seat if he don't come to you. Everett was always a quaint fellow, a little idle, you know, - mooning about after ideas - '
'He's no fool, you know,' said the father.
'Not at all; - only vague. But he's the last man in the world to have nasty vulgar ideas of his own importance as distinguished from yours.'
'Lopez says - '
'I wouldn't quite trust Lopez.'
'He isn't a bad fellow in his way, Arthur. Of course he is not what I would have liked for a son-in-law. I needn't tell you that. But he is kind and gentle-mannered, and has always been attached to Everett. You know he saved Everett's life at the risk of his own.' Arthur could not but smile as he perceived how the old man was being won round by the son-in-law, whom he had treated so violently before the man had become his son-in-law. 'By-the-way, what was all that about a letter you wrote to him?'
'Emily, - I mean Mrs Lopez, - will tell you if you ask her.'
'I don't want to ask her. I don't want to appear to set the wife against the husband. I am sure, my boy, you would write nothing that could affront her.'
'I think not, Mr Wharton. If I know myself well at all, or my own nature, it is not probable that I should affront your daughter.'
'No; no; no. I know that, my dear boy. I was always sure of that. Take some more wine.'
'No more, thank you. I must be off because I'm so anxious about this bill.'
'I couldn't ask Emily about this letter. Now that they are married I have to make the best of it, - for her sake. I couldn't bring myself to say anything to her which might seem to accuse him.'
'I thought it right, sir, to explain to her that were I not in the hands of other people, I would not do anything to interfere with her happiness by opposing her husband. My language was more guarded.'
'He destroyed the letter.'
'I have a copy of it if it comes to that,' said Arthur.
'It will be best, perhaps to say nothing further about it. Well; - good night, my boy, if you must go.' Then Fletcher went off to the House, wondering as he went at the change which had apparently come over the character of his old friend. Mr Wharton had always been a strong man, and now he seemed as weak as water. As to Everett, Fletcher was sure that there was something wrong, but he could not see his way to interfere himself. For the present he was divided from the family. Nevertheless he told himself again and again that the division should not be permanent. Of all the world she must always be to him the dearest.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 37 THE HORNS.