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CHAPTER 59 THE FIRST AND THE LAST.
When Mr Wharton was in Coleman Street, having his final interview with Mr Hartlepod, there came a visitor to Mrs Lopez in Manchester Square. Up to this date there had been great doubt with Mr Wharton whether at last the banishment to Guatemala would become a fact. From day to day his mind had changed. It had been an infinite benefit that Lopez should go, if he could be got to go alone, but as great an evil if at last he should take his wife with him. But the father had never dared to express these doubts to her, and she had taught herself to think that absolute banishment with a man whom she certainly no longer loved, was the punishment she had to pay for the evil she had done. It was now March, and the second or third of April had been fixed for her departure. Of course, she had endeavoured from time to time to learn all that was to be learned from her husband. Sometimes he would be almost communicative to her; at other times she could hardly get a word from him. But, through it all, he gave her to believe that she would have to go. Nor did her father make any great effort to turn his mind the other way. If it must be so, of what use would be such false kindness on his part? She had therefore gone to work to make her purchases, studying that economy which must henceforth be the great duty of her life, and reminding herself as to everything she bought that it would have to be worn with tears and used in sorrow.
And then she sent a message to Arthur Fletcher. It so happened that Sir Alured Wharton was up in London at this time with his daughter Mary. Sir Alured did not come to Manchester Square. There was nothing the old baronet could say in the midst of all this misery, - no comfort that he could give. It was well known now to all the Whartons and the Fletchers that this Lopez, who had married her who was to have been the pearl of the two families, had proved himself to be a scoundrel. The two old Whartons met no doubt at some club, or perhaps the Stone Buildings, and spoke some few bitter words to each other; but Sir Alured did not see the unfortunate young woman who had disgraced herself by so wretched a marriage. But Mary came, and by her a message was sent to Arthur Fletcher. 'Tell him that I am going,' said Emily. 'Tell him not to come, but give him my love. He was always one of my kindest friends.'
'Why; - why; - why did you not take him?' said Mary, moved by the excitement of the moment to suggestions which were quite at variance with the fixed propriety of her general idea.
'Why should you speak of that?' said the other. 'I never speak of him, - never think of him. But, if you see him, tell him what I say.' Arthur Fletcher was of course in the Square on the following day, - on that very day on which Mr Wharton learned that, whatever might be his daughter's fate, she would not, at any rate, be taken to Guatemala. They two had never met since the day on which they had been brought together for a moment at the Duchess's party at Richmond. It had of course been understood by both of them that they were not to be allowed to see each other. Her husband had made a pretext of an act of friendship on his part to establish a quarrel, and both of them had been bound by that quarrel. When a husband declares that his wife shall not know a man, that edict must be obeyed, - or, if disobeyed, must be subverted by intrigue. In this case there had been no inclination to intrigue on either side. The order had been obeyed, and as far as the wife was concerned, had been only a small part of the terrible punishment which had come upon her as a result of her marriage. But, now, when Arthur Fletcher had sent up his name, she did not hesitate as to seeing him. No doubt she had thought it probable that she might see him when she gave her message to her cousin.
'I could not let you go without coming to you,' he said.
'It is very good of you. Yes; - I suppose we are going. Guatemala sounds a long way off, Arthur, does it not? But they tell me it is a beautiful country.' She spoke with a cheerful voice, almost as though she liked the idea of her journey; but he looked at her with beseeching, anxious, sorrow-laden eyes. 'After all, what is a journey of a few weeks? Why should I not be as happy in Guatemala as in London? As to friends, I do not know that it will make much difference, - except papa.'
'It seems to me to make a difference,' said he.
'I never see anybody now, - neither your people, nor the Wharton Whartons. Indeed, I see nobody. If it were not for papa I should be glad to go. I am told that it is a charming country. I have not found Manchester Square very charming. I am inclined to think that all the world is very much alike, and that it does not matter very much where one lives, - or, perhaps, what one does. But at any rate I am going, and I am very glad to be able to say good-bye to you before I start.' All this she said rapidly, in a manner unlike herself. She was forcing herself to speak so that she might save herself, if possible, from breaking down in his presence.
'Of course I came when Mary told me.'
'Yes; - she was here. Sir Alured did not come. I don't wonder at that, however. And your mother in town some time ago, - but I didn't expect her to come. Why should they come? I don't know whether you might not have better stayed away. Of course I am a Pariah now; but Pariah as I am, I shall be as good as anyone else in Guatemala. You have seen Everett since he has been in town, perhaps?'
Yes; - I have seen him.'
'I hope they won't quarrel with Everett because of what I have done. I have felt that more than all; - that both papa and he have suffered because of it. Do you know, I think people are hard. They might have thrown me off without being unkind to them. It is that that has killed me, Arthur; - that they should have suffered.' He sat looking at her, not knowing how to interrupt her, or what to say. There was much that he meant to say, but he did not know how to begin it, or how to frame his words. 'When I am gone, perhaps it will be all right,' she continued. 'When he told me that I was to go, that was my comfort. I think I have taught myself to think nothing of myself, to bear it all as a necessity, to put up with it, whatever it may be, as men bear the thirst in the desert. Thank God, Arthur, I have no baby to suffer with me. Here, - here, it is still very bad. When I think of papa creeping in and out of his house, I sometimes feel that I must kill myself. But our going will put an end to all that. It is much better that we should go. I wish we might start to-morrow.' Then she looked up at him, and saw that tears were running down his face, and as she looked she heard his sobs. 'Why should you cry, Arthur? He never cries, - nor do I. When baby died I cried, - but very little. Tears are vain, foolish things. It has to be borne, and there is an end of it. When one makes up one's mind to that, one does not cry. There was a poor woman her the other day whose husband he had ruined. She wept and bewailed herself till I pitied her almost more than myself; - but then she had children.'
'You mustn't call me by my name, because he would be angry. I have to do, you know, as he tells me. And I do so strive to do it! Through it all I have an idea that if I do my duty it will be better for me. There are things, you know, which a husband may tell you to do, but you cannot do. If he tells me to rob, I am not to rob; - am I? And now I think of it, you ought not to be here. He would be very angry, much displeased. But it has been so pleasant once more to see and old friend.'
'I care nothing for his anger,' said Arthur moodily.
'Ah, but I do. I have to care for it.'
'Leave him! Why don't you leave him?'
'You cannot deceive me. You do not try to deceive me. You know that he is altogether unworthy of you.'
'I will hear nothing of the kind, sir.'
'How can I speak otherwise when you yourself tell me of your own misery? Is it possible that I should not know what he is? Would you have me pretend to think well of him?'
'You can hold your tongue, Arthur.'
'No; - I cannot hold my tongue. Have I not held my tongue ever since you married? And if I am to speak at all, must I not speak now?'
'There is nothing to be said that can serve us at all.'
'Then it shall be said without serving. When I bid you leave him, it is not that you may come to me. Though I love you better than all the world put together, I do not mean that at all.'
'Oh, Arthur! Arthur!'
'But let your father save you. Only tell him that you will stay with him, and he will do it. Though I should never see you again, I could help protect you. Of course, I know, - and you know. He is - a scoundrel!'
'I will not hear it,' said she rising from her seat on the sofa with her hands up to her forehead, but still coming nearer to him as she moved.
'Does not your father say the same thing? I will advise nothing that he does not advise. I would not say a word to you that he might not hear. I do love you, I have always loved you. But do you think that I would hurt you with my love?'
'No; - no; - no!'
'No, indeed; - but I would have you feel that those who loved you of old are still anxious for your welfare. You said just now that you had been neglected.'
'I spoke of papa and Everett. For myself, - of course, I have separated myself from everybody.'
'Never from me. You may be ten times his wife, but you cannot separate yourself from me. Getting up in the morning and going to bed at night I still tell myself that you are the one woman that I love. Stay with us, and you shall be honoured, - as that man's wife of course, but still as the dearest friend we have.'
'I cannot stay,' she said. 'He has told me that I am to go, and I am in his hands. When you have a wife, Arthur, you will wish her to do your bidding. I hope she will for your sake, without that pain I have in doing it. Good-bye, dear friend.'
She put her hand out and he grasped it, and stood for a moment looking at her. Then he seized her in his arms and kissed her brow and her lips. 'Oh, Emily, why were you not my wife? My darling, my darling!'
She had hardly extricated herself when the door opened, and Lopez stood in the room. 'Mr Fletcher,' he said, very calmly, 'what is the meaning of this?'
'He has come to bid me farewell,' said Emily. 'When going on so long a journey one likes to see one's old friends, - perhaps for the last time.' There was something of indifference to his anger in her tone, and something also of scorn.
Lopez looked from one to the other, affecting an air of great displeasure. 'You know, sir,' he said, 'that you cannot be welcome here.'
'But he has been welcome,' said his wife.
'And I look upon your coming as a base act. You are here with the intention of creating discord between me and my wife.'
'I am here to tell her that she has a friend to trust to, if she ever wants a friend,' said Fletcher.
'And you think that such trust as that would be safer than trust in her husband? I cannot turn you out of this house, sir, because it does not belong to me, but I desire you to leave at once the room which is occupied by my wife.' Fletcher paused a moment to say good-bye to the poor woman, while Lopez continued with increased indignation. 'If you do not go at once you will force me to desire her to retire. She shall not remain in the same room with you.'
'Good-bye, Mr Fletcher,' she said, again putting out her hand.
But Lopez struck it up, not violently, so as to hurt her, but still with eager roughness. 'Not in my presence,' he said. 'Go, sire, when I desire you.'
'God bless you, my friend,' said Arthur Fletcher. 'I pray that I might live to see you back in the old country.'
'He was - kissing you,' said Lopez, as soon as the door was shut.
'He was,' said Emily.
'And you tell me so to my face, with such an air as that!'
'What am I to tell you when you ask me? I did not bid him kiss me.'
'But afterwards you took his part as his friend.'
'Why not? I should lie to you if I pretended that I was angry with him for what he did.'
'Perhaps you will tell me that you love him.'
'Of course I love him. There are different kinds of love, Ferdinand. There is that which a woman gives to a man when she would fain mate with him. It is the sweetest love of all, if it would only last. And there is another love, - which is not given, but which is won, perhaps through long years, by old friends. I have none older than Arthur Fletcher, and none who are dearer to me.'
'And you think it right that he should take you in his arms and kiss you?'
'On such an occasion, I could not blame him.'
'You were ready enough to receive it, perhaps.'
'Well, I was. He has loved me well, and I shall never see him again. He is very dear to me, and I was parting from him for ever. It was the first and the last, and I did not grudge it to him. You must remember, Ferdinand, that you are taking me across the world from all my friends.'
'Psha,' he said, 'that is all over. You are not going anywhere that I know of, - unless it be out onto the streets when your father shuts his door on you.' And so saying he left the room without another word.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 60 THE TENWAY JUNCTION.