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CHAPTER 75 THE GREAT WHARTON ALLIANCE.
When Mr Wharton got home on that day he said not a word to Emily as to Arthur Fletcher. He had resolved to take various courses; - first to tell her roundly that she was neglecting her duty to herself and to her family, and that he would no longer take her part and be her good friend unless she would consent to marry the man whom she had confessed that she loved. But as he thought of this he became aware, - first that he could not carry out such a threat, and then that he would lack even the firmness to make it. There was something in her face, something even in her dress, something in her whole manner to himself, which softened him and reduced him to vassalage directly he saw her. Then he determined to throw himself on her compassion and to implore her to put an end to all this misery by making herself happy. But as he drew near home he found himself unable to do even this. How is a father to beseech his widowed daughter to give herself away in a second marriage? And therefore when he entered the house and found her waiting for him he said nothing. At first she looked at him wistfully, - anxious to learn by his face whether her lover had been with him. But when he spoke not a word, simply kissing her in his usual quiet way, she became cheerful in a manner and communicative. 'Papa,' she said, 'I have had a letter from Mary.'
'Well, my dear.'
'Just a nice chatty letter, - full of Everett, of course.'
'Everett is a great man now.'
'I am sure that you are very glad that he is what he is. Will you see Mary's letter?' Mr Wharton was not specially given to reading young ladies' correspondence, and did not know why this particular letter should be offered to him. 'You don't suspect anything at Wharton, do you?' she asked.
'Suspect anything! No; I don't suspect anything.' But now, having had his curiosity aroused, he took the letter which was offered to him and read it. The letter was as follows:
We all hope that you had a pleasant journey up to London, and that Mr Wharton is quite well. Your brother Everett came over to Longbarns the day after you started and drove me back to Wharton in the dog-cart. It was such a pleasant journey, though, now I remember, it rained all the way. But Everett has always so much to say that I didn't mind the rain. I think it will end in John taking the hounds. He says he won't because he does not wish to be the slave of the whole county; - but he says it in that sort of way that we all think he means to do it. Everett tells him that he ought, because he is the only hunting man on this side of the county who can afford to do without feeling it much; and of course what Everett says will go a long way with him. Sarah, - (Sarah was John Fletcher's wife), - is rather against it. But if he makes up his mind she'll be sure to turn round. Of course it makes us all very anxious at present to know how it is to end, for the Master of the Hounds always is the leading man in our part of the world. Papa went to the bench at Ross yesterday and took Everett with him. It was the first time that Everett had sat there. He says I am to tell his father he has not hung anybody as yet.
They have already begun to cut down, or what they call stubb up, Barnton Spinnies. Everett said that it is no good keeping it as a wood, and papa agreed. So it is to go into the home farm, and Griffiths is to pay rent for it. I don't like having it cut down, as the boys always used to get nuts there, but Everett says it won't do to keep woods for little boys to get nuts.
Mary Stocking has been very ill since you went, and I'm afraid she won't last long. When they get to be so very bad with rheumatism I almost think it's wrong to pray for them, because they are in so much pain. We thought at one time the mamma's ointment had done her good, but when we came to inquire we found that she had swallowed it. Wasn't it dreadful? But it didn't seem to do her any harm. Everett says that it wouldn't make any difference which she did.
Papa is beginning to be afraid that Everett is a Radical. But I'm sure he's not. He says he is as good a Conservative as there is in all Hertfordshire, only that he likes to know what is to be conserved. Papa said after dinner yesterday that everything English should be maintained. Everett said that according to that we should have kept the Star Chamber. 'Of course I would,' said papa. Then they went at it hammer and tongs. Everett had the best of it. At any rate he talked the longest. But I do hope he is not a Radical. No country gentleman ought to be a Radical. Ought he, dear?
Mrs Fletcher says you are to get the lozenges at Squire's in Oxford Street, and be sure to ask for the Vade mecum lozenges. She is all in a flutter about those hounds. She says she hopes John will do nothing of the kind because of the expense; but we all know that she would like him to have them. The subscription is not very good, only 1,500 pounds, and it would cost him ever so much a year. But everybody says he is very rich and that he ought to do it. If you see Arthur give him our love. Of course a member of Parliament is too busy to write letters. But I don't think Arthur was ever good at writing. Everett says that men never ought to write letters. Give my love to Mr Wharton.
I am, dearest Emily,
Your most affectionate Cousin,
'Everett is a fool,' said Mr Wharton as soon as he had read the letter.
'Why is he a fool, papa?'
'Because he will quarrel with Sir Alured about politics before he knows where he is. What business has a young fellow like that to have an opinion either one side or the other, before his betters?'
'But Everett always has strong opinions.'
'It didn't matter as long as he only talked nonsense at a club in London, but how he'll break that old man's heart.'
'But, papa, don't you see anything else?'
'I see that John Fletcher is going to make an ass of himself and spend a thousand a year in keeping a pack of hounds for other people to ride after.'
'I think I see something else besides that.'
'What do you see?'
'Would it annoy you if Everett was to become engaged to Mary?'
Then Mr Wharton whistled. 'To be sure he does put his name into every line of the letter. No; it wouldn't annoy me. I don't see why he shouldn't marry his second cousin if he likes. Only if he is engaged to her, I think it odd that he shouldn't write and tell us.'
'I'm sure she is not engaged to him as yet. She wouldn't write all in that way if she were engaged. Everybody would be told at once, and Sir Alured would never be able to keep it a secret. Why should there be a secret? But I'm sure that she is very fond of him. Mary would never write about any man in that way unless she were beginning to be attached to him.
About ten days after this there came two letters from Wharton Hall to Manchester Square, the shortest of which shall be given first. It ran as follows:
MY DEAR FATHER,
I have proposed to my cousin Mary, and she has accepted me. Everybody here seems to like the idea. I hope it will not displease you. Of course you and Emily will come down. I will tell you when the day is fixed.
Your affectionate Son,
This the old man read as he sat at breakfast with his daughter opposite to him, while Emily was reading a very much longer letter from the same house. 'So it's going to be just as you guessed,' he said.
'I was quite sure of it, papa. Is that from Everett? Is he very happy?'
'Upon my word, I can't say whether he's happy or not. If he had got a new horse he would have written at much greater length about it. It seems, however, to be quite fixed.'
'Oh yes. This is from Mary. She is happy at any rate. I suppose men never say so much about these things as women.'
'May I see Mary's letter?'
'I don't think it would be quite fair, papa. It's only a girl's rhapsody about the man she loves, - very nice and womanly, but not intended for anyone but me. It does not seem that they mean to wait very long.'
'Why should they wait? Is any day fixed?'
'Mary says that Everett talks about the middle of May. Of course you will go down.'
'We must both go.'
'You will at any rate. Don't promise for me just at present. It must make Sir Alured very happy. It is almost the same as finding himself at last with a son of his own. I suppose they will live at Wharton altogether now, - unless Everett gets into Parliament.'
But the reader may see the young lady's letter, though her future father-in-law was not permitted to do so, and will perceive that there was a paragraph at the close of it which perhaps was more conducive to Emily's secrecy than her feelings as to the sacred obligations of female correspondence.
I wonder whether you will be much surprised at the news I have to tell you. You cannot be more so that I am at having to write it. It has all been so very sudden that I almost feel ashamed of myself. Everett has proposed to me, and I have accepted him. There; - now you know it all. Though you never can know how very dearly I love him and how thoroughly I admire him, I do think that he is everything that a man ought to be, and that I am the most fortunate young woman in the world. Only isn't it odd that I should always have to live my life in the same house, and never change my name, - just like a man, or an old maid? But I don't mind that because I do love him so dearly and because he is so good. He has written to Mr Wharton. I know. I was sitting by him and his letter didn't take him a minute. But he says that long letters about such things only give trouble. I hope you won't think my letter troublesome. He is not sitting by me now, but has gone over to Longbarns to help settle about the hounds. John is going to have them after all. I wish it hadn't happened just at this time because all the gentlemen do think so much about it. Of course Everett is one of the committee.
Papa and mamma are both very, very glad of it. Of course it is nice for them, as it will keep Everett and me here. If I had married anybody else, - though I am sure I never should, - she would have been very lonely. And of course papa likes to think that Everett is already one of us. I hope they will never quarrel about politics, but as Everett says, the world does change as it goes on, and young men and old men never will think quite the same about things. Everett told papa the other day that if he could be put back a century he would be a Radical. Then there were ever so many words. But Everett always laughs, and at last papa comes round.
I can't tell you, my dear, what a fuss we are in already about it all. Everett wants our marriage early in May, so that we may have two months in Switzerland before London is what he calls turned loose. And papa says that there is no use in delaying, because he gets older every day. Of course that is true of everybody. So that we are all in flutter about getting things. Mamma did talk of going up to town, but I believe they have things quite as good at Hereford. Sarah, when she was married, had all her things from London, but they say that there has been a great change since that. I am sure I think that you may get anything you want at Muddocks and Cramble's. But mamma says I am to have my veil from Howell and James's.
Of course you and Mr Wharton will come. I shan't think it any marriage without. Papa and mama talk of it as quite of course. You know how fond papa is of the bishop. I think he will marry us. I own I should like to be married by a bishop. It would make it so sweet and so solemn. Mr Higgenbottom could of course assist; - but he is such an odd old man, with his snuff and his spectacles always tumbling off, that I shouldn't like to have no one else. I have often thought that if it were only for marrying people we ought to have a nicer rector at Wharton.
Almost all the tenants have been to wish me joy. They are very fond of Everett already, and now they feel that there will never be any very great change. I do think it is the very best thing that could be done, even if it were not that I am so thoroughly in love with him. I didn't think I should ever be able to own that I was in love with a man; but now I feel quite proud of it. I don't mind telling you because he is your brother, and I think that you will be glad of it.
He talks very often about you. Of course you know what it is that we all wish. I love Arthur Fletcher almost as much as if he were my brother. He is my sister's brother-in-law, and if he could become my husband's brother-in-law too, I should be so happy. Of course we all know that he wishes it. Write immediately to wish me joy. Perhaps you could go to Howell and James's about the veil. And promise to come to us in May. Sarah says the veil should cost about thirty pounds.
Dearest, dearest Emily,
I shall soon be your most affectionate sister,
Emily's answer was full of warm, affectionate congratulations. She had much to say in favour of Everett. She promised to use all her little skill at Howell and James's. She expressed a hope that the overtures to be made in regard to the bishop might be successful. And she made kind remarks even as to Muddocks and Crumble. But she would not promise that she herself would be at Wharton on the happy day. 'Dear Mary,' she said, 'remember what I have suffered, and that I cannot be quite as other people are. I could not stand at your marriage in black clothes, - nor should I have the courage even if had the will to dress myself in others.' None of the Whartons had come to her wedding. There was no feeling of anger now left as to that. She was quite aware that they had done right to stay away. But the very fact that it had been right that they should stay away would make it wrong that the widow of Ferdinand Lopez should now assist at the marriage of one Wharton to another. This was all that a marriage ought to be, whereas that had been - all that a marriage ought not to be. In answer to the paragraph about Arthur Fletcher Emily Lopez had not a word to say.
Soon after this, early in April, Everett came up to town. Though his bride might be content to get her bridal clothes in Hereford, none but a London tailor could decorate him properly for such an occasion. During these last weeks Arthur Fletcher had not been seen at Manchester Square; nor had his name been mentioned there by Mr Wharton. Of anything that may have passed between them Emily was altogether ignorant. She observed, or thought that she observed, that her father was more silent with her, - perhaps less tender than he had been since the day on which her husband had perished. His manner of life was the same. He almost always dined at home in order that she might not be alone, and made no complaint as to her conduct. But she could see that he was unhappy, and she knew the cause of his grief. 'I think, papa,' she said one day, 'that it would be better that I should go away.' This was on the day before Everett's arrival, - of which, however, he had given no notice.
'Go away! Where would you go to?'
'It does not matter. I do not make you happy.'
'What do you mean? Who says that I am not happy? Why do you talk like that?'
'Do not be angry with me. Nobody says so. I can see it well enough. I know how good you are to me, but I am making your life wretched. I am a wet blanket to you, and yet I cannot help myself. If I could go somewhere, where I could be of use.'
'I don't know what you mean. This is your proper home.'
'No; - it is not my home. I ought to have forfeited it. I ought to go where I could work and be of some use in the world.'
'You might use it if you chose, my dear. Your proper career is before you if you would condescend to accept it. It is not for me to persuade you, but I can see and feel the truth. Till you can bring yourself to do that, your days will be blighted, - and so will mine. You have made one great mistake in life. Stop a moment. I do not speak often, but I wish to listen to me now. Such mistakes do generally produce misery and ruin in all who are concerned. With you it chances that it may be otherwise. You can put your foot agin upon the firm ground and recover everything. Of course there must be a struggle. One person has to struggle with circumstances, another with his foes, and a third with his own feelings. I can understand that there should be a struggle with you; but it ought to be made. You ought to be brave enough and strong enough to conquer your regrets, and to begin again. In no other way can you do anything for me or for yourself. To talk of going away is childish nonsense. Whither would you go? I shall not urge you any more, but I would not have you talk to me in that way.' Then he got up and left the room and the house and went down to his club, - in order that she might think of what he had said in solitude.
And she did think of it; - but still continually with an assurance to herself that her father did not understand her feelings. The career of which he spoke was no doubt open to her, but she could not regard it as that which it was proper that she should fulfil, as he did. When she told her lover that she had lain among the pots till she was black and defiled, she expressed in the strongest language that which was her real conviction. He did not think her to have been defiled, - or at any rate thought that she might again bear the wings of a dove; but she felt it, and therefore knew herself to be unfit. The next morning, when he came into the parlour where she was already sitting, she looked up at him almost reproachfully. Did he think that a woman was a piece of furniture which you could mend, and re-varnish, and fit out with new ornaments, and then send out for use, second-hand indeed, but for all purposes good as new?
Then, while she was in this frame of mind, Everett came in upon her unawares, and with his almost boisterous happiness succeeded for a while in changing the current of her thoughts. He was of course now uppermost in his own thoughts. The last few months had made so much of him that he might be excused for being unable to sink himself in the presence of others. He was the heir to the baronetcy, - and to the double fortunes of the two old men. And he was going to be married in a manner as everyone told him to increase the glory and stability of the family. 'It's all nonsense about your not coming down,' he said. She smiled and shook her head. 'I can only tell you that it will give the greatest offence to everyone. If you knew how much they talk about you down there I don't think you would like to hurt them.'
'Of course I would not like to hurt them.'
'And considering that you have no other brother - '
'I think more about it, perhaps, than you do. I think you owe it me to come down. You will never probably have another chance of being present at your brother's marriage.' This he said in a tone that was almost lachrymose.
'A wedding, Everett, should be merry.'
'I don't know about that. It is a very serious sort of thing, to my way of thinking. When Mary got your letter it nearly broke her heart. I think I have a right to expect it, and if you don't come I shall feel myself injured. I don't see what is the use of having a family if the members of it do not stick together. What would you think if I were to desert you?'
'Desert you, Everett!'
Well, yes; - it is something of the kind. I have made my request, and you can comply with it or not as you please.'
'I will go,' she said very slowly. Then she left him and went to her own room to think in what description of garments she could appear at a wedding with the least violence to the condition of her life.
'I have got her to say she'll come,' he said to his father that evening. 'If you leave her to me, I'll bring her round.'
Soon after that, - within a day or two, - there came out a paragraph in one of the fashionable newspapers of the day, saying that an alliance had been arranged between the heir to the Wharton title and property and the daughter of the present baronet. I think that this had probably originated in the club gossip. I trust it did not spring directly from the activity or ambition of Everett himself.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 76 WHO WILL IT BE?