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CHAPTER 79 THE WHARTON WEDDING.
It was at last settled that the Wharton marriage should take place during the second week in June. There were various reasons for the postponement. In the first place Mary Wharton, after a few preliminary inquiries, found herself forced to declare that Messrs Muddocks and Cramble could not send her forth equipped as she ought to be equipped for such a husband in so short a time. 'Perhaps they do it quicker in London,' she said to Everett with a soft regret, remembering the metropolitan glories of her sister's wedding. And then Arthur Fletcher could be present during the Whitsuntide holidays, and the presence of Arthur Fletcher was essential. And it was not only his presence at the altar that was needed; - Parliament was not so exacting but that he might have given that; - but it was considered by the united families to be highly desirable that he should on this occasion remain some days in the country. Emily had promised to attend the wedding, and would of course be at Wharton for at least a week. As soon as Everett had succeeded in wresting a promise from his sister, the tidings were conveyed to the Fletchers. It was a great step gained. When in London she was her own mistress; but surrounded as she would be down in Hertfordshire by Fletchers and Whartons, she must be stubborn indeed if she should still refuse to be taken back into the flock, and be made once more happy by marrying the man whom she confessed that she loved with her whole heart. The letter to Arthur Fletcher containing the news was from his brother John, and was written in a very businesslike fashion. 'We have put off Mary's marriage for a few days, so that you and she should be down here together. If you mean to go on with it, now is your time.' Arthur, in answer to this, merely said he would spend the Whitsuntide holidays at Longbarns.
It is probable that Emily herself had some idea in her own mind of what was being done to entrap her. Her brother's words to her had been so strong, and the occasion of the marriage was itself so sacred to her, that she had not been able to refuse his request. But from the moment that she had made the promise, she felt that she had greatly added to her own difficulties. That she could yield to Arthur never occurred to her. She was certain of her own persistency. Whatever might be the wishes of others, the fitness of things required that Arthur Fletcher's wife should not have been the widow of Ferdinand Lopez, - and required also that the woman who had married Ferdinand Lopez should bear the results of her own folly. Though since his death she had never spoken a syllable against him, - if those passionate words be excepted which Arthur himself had drawn from her, - still she had not refrained from acknowledging the truth to herself. He had been a man disgraced, - and she as his wife, having become his wife in opposition to the wishes of all her friends, was disgraced also. Let them do what they will with her, she would not soil Arthur Fletcher's name with his infamy. Such was still her steadfast resolution; but she knew that it would be, not endangered, but increased in difficulty by this visit to Hertfordshire.
And there were other troubles. 'Papa,' she said, 'I must get a dress for Everett's marriage.'
'I can't bear, after all that I have cost you, putting you to such useless expense.'
'It is not useless, and such expenses as that I can surely afford without groaning. Do it handsomely and you will please me best.'
Then she went forth and chose her dress, - a grey silk, light enough not to throw quite a gloom on the brightness of the day, and yet dark enough to declare that she was not as other women are. The very act of purchasing this, almost blushing at her own request as she sat at the counter in her widow's weeds, was a pain to her. But she had no one whom she could employ. On such an occasion she could not ask her aunt Harriet to act for her, as her aunt was distrusted and disliked. And then there was the fitting on of the dress, - very grievous to her, as it was the first time since the heavy black mourning came home that she had clothed herself in other garments.
The day before that fixed for the marriage she and her father went down to Hertfordshire together, the conversation on the way being all in respect to Everett. Where was he to live? What was he to do? What income would he require till he should inherit the good things which destiny had in store for him? The old man seemed to feel that Providence, having been so very good to his son in killing that other heir, had put rather a heavy burden on himself. 'He'll want a house of his own, of course,' he said, in a somewhat lachrymose tone.
'I suppose he'll spend a good deal of his time at Wharton.'
'He won't be content to live in another man's house altogether, my dear, and Sir Alured can allow him nothing. It means, of course, that I must give him a thousand a year. It seems very natural to him, I dare say, but he might have asked the question before he took a wife to himself.'
'You won't be angry with him, papa!'
'It's no good being angry. No; - I'm not angry. Only it seems that everybody is uncommonly well pleased without thinking who has to pay for the piper.'
On that evening, at Wharton, Emily still wore her mourning dress. No one, indeed, dared to speak to her on the subject, and Mary was even afraid lest she might appear in black on the following day. We all know in what condition is a house on the eve of a marriage, - how the bride feels that all the world is going to be changed, and that therefore everything is for the moment disjointed; and how the rest of the household, including the servants, are led to share the feeling. Everett was of course away. He was over at Longbarns with the Fletchers, and was to be brought to Wharton Church on the following morning. Old Mrs Fletcher was at Wharton Hall, - and the bishop, whose services had been happily secured. He was formally introduced to Mrs Lopez, the use of the name for the occasion being absolutely necessary, and with all the smiling urbanity, which as a bishop he was bound to possess, he was hardly able not to be funereal as he looked at her and remembered her story. Before the evening was over Mrs Fletcher did venture to give a hint. 'We are so glad you have come, my dear.'
'I could not stay away when Everett said he wished it.'
'It would have been very wrong; yes, my dear, - wrong. It is your duty, and the duty of us all, to subordinate our feelings to those of others. Even sorrow may be selfish.' Poor Emily listened, but could make no reply. 'It is sometimes harder for us to be mindful of others in our grief than in our joy. You should remember, dear, that there are some who will never be light-hearted till they see you smile.'
'Do not say that, Mrs Fletcher.'
'It is quite true; - and right that you should think of it. It will be particularly necessary that you should think of it tomorrow. You will have to wear a light dress, and - '
'I have come provided,' said the widow.
'Try then to make you heart as light as your frock. You will be doing it for Everett's sake, and for your father's, and for Mary's sake - and Arthur's. You will be doing it for the sake of all of us on a day that should be joyous.' She could not make any promise in reply to this homily, but in her heart of hearts she acknowledged that it was true, and declared to herself that she would make the effort required of her.
On the following morning the house was of course in confusion. There was to be a breakfast after the service, and after the breakfast the bride was to be taken away in a carriage and four as far as Hereford on her route to Paris; - but before the great breakfast there was of course a subsidiary breakfast, - or how could a bishop, bride, or bridesmaids have sustained the ceremony? At this meal Emily did not appear, having begged for a cup of tea in her own room. The carriages to take the party to the church, which was but the other side of the park, were ordered at eleven, and at a quarter before eleven she appeared for the first time in her grey silk dress, and without a widow's cap. Everything was very plain, but the alteration was so great that it was impossible not to look at her. Even her father had not seen the change before. Not a word was said, though old Mrs Fletcher's thanks were implied by the graciousness of her smile. As there were four bridesmaids and four other ladies besides the bride herself, in a few minutes she became obscured by the brightness of the others, - and then they were all packed in their carriages and taken to the church. The eyes which she most dreaded did not meet hers till they were all standing round the altar. It was only then that she saw Arthur Fletcher, who was there as her brother's best man, and it was then that he took her hand and held it for half a minute as though he never meant to part with it, hidden behind the widespread glories of the bridesmaids' finery.
The marriage was sweet and solemn as a kind-hearted bishop could make it, and all the ladies looked particularly well. The veil from London - with the orange wreath, also metropolitan - was perfect, and as for the dress, I doubt whether any woman would have it known it to be provincial. Everett looked the rising baronet, every inch of him, and the old barrister smiled and seemed, at least, to be well pleased. Then came the breakfast, and the speech-making, in which Arthur Fletcher shone triumphantly. It was a very nice wedding, and Mary Wharton - as she then and still was - felt herself for a moment to be a heroine. But, through it all, there was present to the hearts of most of them a feeling that much more was to be effected, if possible, than this simple and cosy marriage, and that the fate of Mary Wharton was hardly so important to them as that of Emily Lopez.
When the carriage and four was gone there came upon the household the difficulty usual on such occasions of getting through the rest of the day. The bridesmaids retired and repacked their splendours so that they might come out fresh for other secondrate needs, and with the bridesmaids went the widow. Arthur Fletcher remained at Wharton with all the other Fletchers for the night, and was prepared to renew his suit on that very day, if an opportunity were given him, but Emily did not again show herself till a few minutes before dinner, and then she came down with all the appurtenances of mourning which she usually wore. The grey silk had been put on for the marriage ceremony, and for that only. 'You should have kept your dress at any rate for the day,' said Mrs Fletcher. She replied that she had changed it for Everett, and that as Everett was gone there was no further need for to wear clothes unfitted for her position. Arthur would have cared very little for the clothes could he have had his way with the woman who wore them; - could he have had his way even so far as to have found himself alone with her for half-an-hour. But no such chance was his. She retreated from the party early, and did not show herself on the following morning till after he had started for Longbarns.
All the Fletchers went back, - not, however, with any intention on the part of Arthur to abandon his immediate attempt. The distance between the houses was not so great but that he could drive himself over at any time. 'I shall go now,' he said to Mr Wharton, 'because I have promised John to fish with him tomorrow, but I shall come over on Monday or Tuesday, and stay till I go back to town. I hope she will at any rate let me speak to her.' The father said he would do his best, but that that obstinate resumption of her weeds on her brother's very wedding day had nearly broken his heart.
When the Fletchers were back at Longbarns, the two ladies were very severe on her. 'It was downright obstinacy,' said the squire's wife, 'and it almost makes me think that it would serve her right to leave her as she is.'
'It's pride,' said the old lady. 'She won't give way. I said ever so much to her, but it's no use. I feel it the more because we have gone so much out of the way to be good to her after she made such a fool of herself. If it goes on much longer, I shall never forgive her again.'
'You'll have to forgive her, mother,' said her eldest son, 'let her sins be what they may, - or else you will have to quarrel with Arthur.'
'I do think it's very hard,' said the old lady, taking herself out of the room. And it was hard. The offence in the first instance had been very great and the forgiveness very difficult. But Mrs Fletcher had lived long enough to know that when sons are thoroughly respectable a widowed mother has to do their bidding.
Emily, through the whole wedding day, and the next day, and day after day, remembered Mrs Fletcher's words. 'There are some who will never be light-hearted again till they see you smile.' And the old woman had named her dearest friends, and had ended by naming Arthur Fletcher. She had then acknowledged to herself that it was her duty to smile in order that others might smile also. But how is one to smile with a heavy heart? Should one smile and lie? And how long and to what good purpose can such forced contentment last? She had marred her whole life. In former days she had been proud of all her virgin glories, - proud of her intellect, proud of her beauty, proud of that obeisance which beauty, birth, and intellect combined, exact from all comers. She had been ambitious as to her future life; - had intended to be careful not to surrender herself to some empty fool; - had thought herself well qualified to pick her own steps. And this had come of it! They told her that she might still make everything right, annul the past and begin the world again as fresh as ever; - if she would only smile and study to forget! Do it for the sake of others, they said, and then it will be done for yourself also. But she could not conquer the past. The fire and water of repentance, adequate as they may be for eternity, cannot burn out or wash away the remorse of this life. They scorch and choke, - and unless it be so there is no repentance. So she told herself, - and yet it was her duty to be lighthearted that others around her might not be made miserable by her sorrow! If she could in truth be light-hearted, then would she know herself to be unfeeling and worthless.
On the third day after the marriage Arthur Fletcher came back to Wharton with the declared intention of remaining there till the end of the holiday. She could make no objection to such an arrangement, nor could she hasten her own return to London. That had been fixed before her departure, and was to made together with her father. She felt that she was being attacked with unfair weapons, and that undue advantage was taken of the sacrifice which she had made for her brother's sake. And yet,-yet how good to her they all were! How wonderful it was that after the thing she had done, after the disgrace she had brought on herself and them, after the destruction of all that pride which had once been hers, they should still wish to have her among them! As for him, - of whom she was always thinking, - of what nature must be his love, when he was willing to take to himself as his wife such a thing as she had made of herself! But, thinking of this, she would only tell herself that, as he would not protect himself, she was bound to be his protector. Yes; - she would protect him, though she could dream of a world of joy that might be hers if she could do as he would ask her.
He caught her at last, and forced her to come out with him into the grounds. He could tell his tale better as he walked by her side than sitting restlessly on a chair and moving awkwardly about the room, as on such an occasion he would be sure to do. Within four walls she would have some advantage over him. She could sit still and be dignified in her stillness. But in the open air, when they would both be on their legs, she might not be so powerful with him, and he perhaps might be stronger with her. She could not refuse him when he asked her to walk with him. And why should she refuse him? Of course he must be allowed to utter his prayer, - and then she must be allowed to make her answer. 'I think the marriage went off very well,' he said.
'Very well. Everett ought to be a happy man.'
'No doubt he will be, - when he settles down to something. Everything will come right for him. With some people things seem to go smooth, don't they? They have not hitherto gone smoothly with you and me, Emily.'
'You are prosperous. You have everything before you that a man can wish, if only you will allow yourself to think so. Your profession is successful, and you are in Parliament, and everyone likes you.'
'It is all nothing.'
'That is the general discontent of the world.'
'It is all nothing - unless I have you too. Remember that I had said so long before I was successful, when I did not dream of Parliament; before we had heard the name of the man who came between us and my happiness. I think I am entitled to be believed when I say so. I think I know my own mind. There are many men who would have been changed by the episode of such a marriage.'
'You ought to be changed by it, - and by its result.'
'It had no such effect. Here I am, after it all, telling you as I used to tell you before. I have to look to you for my happiness.'
'You should be ashamed to confess it, Arthur.'
'Never; - not to you, nor to all the world. I know what it has been. I know you are not now as you were then. You have been his wife, and are now his widow.'
'That should be enough.'
'But, such as you are, my happiness is in your hands. If it were not so, do you think that all my family as well as yours would join in wishing that you may become my wife? There is nothing to conceal. When you married this man, you know what my mother thought of it, and what John thought of it, and his wife. They had wanted you to be my wife; and they want it now - because they are anxious for my happiness. And your father wishes it, and your brother wishes it, - because they trust me, and I think that I should be a good husband to you.'
'Good!' she exclaimed, hardly knowing what she meant by repeating the word.
'After that you have no right to set yourself to judge what may be best for my happiness. They who know how to judge are all united. Whatever you may have been, they believe that it will be good for me that you should now be my wife. After that you must talk about me no longer, unless you will talk of my wishes.'
'Do you think that I am not anxious for your happiness?'
'I do not know; - but I shall find out in time. That is what I have to say about myself. And as to you, is it not much the same? I know you love me. Whatever the feeling was that overcame you as to that other man, - it has gone. I cannot now stop to be tender and soft in my words. The thing to be said is too serious to me. And every friend you have wants you to marry the man you love, and to put an end to the desolation which you have brought on yourself. There is not one among us, Fletchers and Whartons, whose comfort does not more or less depend on your sacrificing the luxury of your own woe.'
'Yes; luxury. No man ever had a right to say more positively to a woman that it is her duty to marry him, than I have to you. And I do say it. I say it on behalf of all of us, that it is your duty. I won't talk of my own love now, because you know it. But I say that it is your duty to give up drowning us all in tears, burying us in desolation. You are one of us, and should do as all of us wish you. If, indeed, you could not love me it would be different. There! I have said what I have got to say. You are crying, and I will not take your answer now. I will come again to-morrow, and then you shall answer me. But, remember when you do so that the happiness of many people depends on what you say.' Then he left her very suddenly and hurried back to the house by himself.
He had been very rough with her, - but not once attempted to touch her hand or even her arm, had spoken no soft word to her, speaking of his own love as a thing too certain to need further words; and he had declared himself to be so assured of her love that there was no favour for him now to ask, nothing for which he was bound to pray as a lover. All that was past. He had simply declared it to be her duty to marry him, and he had told her so with much sternness. He had walked fast, compelling her to accompany him, had frowned at her, and had more than once stamped his foot upon the ground. During the whole interview she had been so near to weeping that she could hardly speak. Once or twice she had almost thought him to be cruel; - but he had forced her to acknowledge to herself that all that he had said was true and unanswerable. Had he pressed her for an answer at that moment she would have known in what words to couch a refusal. And yet as she made her way alone back to the house she assured herself that she would have refused.
He had given her four-and-twenty hours, and at the end of that time she would be bound to give him an answer, - and answer which must then be final. And as she said this to herself she found that she was admitting a doubt. She hardly knew how not to doubt, knowing as she did, that all whom she loved were on one side, while on the other was nothing but the stubbornness of her own convictions. But still the conviction was left to her. Over and over again she declared to herself that it was not fit, meaning thereby to assure herself that a higher duty even than that which she owed to her friends, demanded from her that she should be true to her convictions. She met him that day at dinner, but he hardly spoke to her. They sat together in the same room during the evening, but she hardly once heard his voice. It seemed to her that he avoided even looking at her. When they separated for the night, he parted from her almost as though they had been strangers. Surely he was angry with her because she was stubborn, - thought evil of her because she would not do as others wished her! She lay awake during the long night thinking of it all. If it might be so! Oh; - if it might be so! If it might be done without utter ruin to her own self-respect as a woman!
In the morning she was down early, - not having anything to say, with no clear purpose as yet before her; - but still with a feeling that perhaps that morning might alter all things for her. He was the latest of the party, not coming in for prayers as he did all the others, but taking his seat when the others had half finished their breakfast. As he sat down he gave a general halfuttered greeting to them all, but spoke no special word to any of them. It chanced that his seat was next to hers, but to her he did not address himself at all. Then the meal was over, and the chairs were withdrawn, and the party grouped itself about with vague, uncertain movements, as men and women do before they leave the breakfast table for the work of the day. She meditated her escape, but felt that she could not leave the room before Lady Wharton or Mrs Fletcher; - who had remained at Wharton to keep her mother company for a while. At last they went; - but then, just as she was escaping, he put his hand upon her and reminded her of her appointment. 'I shall be in the hall in a quarter of an hour,' he said. 'Will you meet me there?' Then she bowed her head to him and passed on.
She was there at the time named, and found him standing by the hall door, waiting for her. His hat was already on his head and his back was almost turned to her. He opened the door, and, allowing her to pass out first, led the way to the shrubbery. He did not speak to her till he had closed behind her the little iron gate which separated the walk from the garden, and then he turned upon her with one word. 'Well?' he said. She was silent for a moment, and then he repeated his eager question: 'Well;-well?'
'I should disgrace you,' she said, not firmly, as before, but whispering the words.
He waited for no other assent. The form of the words told him that he had won the day. In a moment his arms were round her, and her veil was off, and his lips were pressed to hers; - and when she could see his countenance the whole form of his face was altered to her. It was bright as it used to be bright in the old days, and he was smiling on her as he used to smile. 'My own,' he said; - 'my wife - my own!' And she had no longer the power to deny him. 'Not yet, Arthur; not yet,' was all that she could say.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER 80 THE LAST MEETING AT MATCHING.