The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 61

The Widow and Her Friends.

The catastrophe described in the last chapter had taken place during the first week in March. By the end of that month old Mr Wharton had probably reconciled himself to the tragedy, although in fact it had affected him very deeply. In the first days after the news had reached him he seemed to be bowed to the ground. Stone Buildings were neglected, and the Eldon saw nothing of him. Indeed, he barely left the house from which he had been so long banished by the presence of his son-inlaw. It seemed to Everett, who now came to live with him and his sister, as though his father was overcome by the horror of the affair. But after a while he recovered himself, and appeared one morning in court with his wig and gown, and argued a case — which was now unusual with him — as though to show the world that a dreadful episode in his life was passed, and should be thought of no more. At this period, three or four weeks after the occurrence — he rarely spoke to his daughter about Lopez; but to Everett the man’s name would often be on his tongue. ‘I do not know that there could have been any other deliverance,’ he said to his son one day. ‘I thought it would have killed me when I first heard it, and it nearly killed her. But, at any rate, now there is peace.’

But the widow seemed to feel it more as time went on. At first she was stunned, and for a while absolutely senseless. It was not till two days after the occurrence that the fact became known to her — not known as a certainty to her father and brother. It seemed as though the man had been careful to carry with him no record of identity, the nature of which would permit it to outlive the crush of the train. No card was found, no scrap of paper with his name; and it was discovered at last that when he left the house on the fatal morning he had been careful to dress himself in shirt and socks, with handkerchief and collar that had been newly purchased for his proposed journey and which bore no mark. The fragments of his body set identity at defiance, and even his watch had been crumpled into ashes. Of course the fact became certain with no great delay. The man himself was missing, and was accurately described both by the young lady from the refreshment room, and by the suspicious pundit who had actually seen the thing done. There was first belief that it was so, which was not communicated to Emily — and then certainty.

There was an inquest held of course — well, we will say on the body — and, singularly enough, great difference of opinion as to the manner, though of course none as to the immediate cause of the death. Had it been accidental, or premeditated? The pundit, who in the performance of his duties on the Tenway platform was so efficient and valuable, gave half-a-dozen opinions in half-a-dozen minutes when subjected to the questions of the Coroner. In his own mind he had not the least doubt in the world as to what had happened. But he was made to believe that he was not to speak his own mind. The gentleman, he said, certainly might have walked down by accident. The gentleman’s back was turned, and it was possible that the gentleman did not hear the train. He was quite certain that the gentleman knew of the train; but yet he could not say. The gentleman walked down before the train o’purpose; but perhaps he didn’t mean to do himself an injury. There was a deal of this, till the Coroner, putting all his wrath into his brow, told the man that he was a disgrace to the service, and expressed a hope that the Company would no longer employ a man so evidently unfit for his position. But the man was in truth a conscientious and useful pundit, with a large family, and evident capabilities for his business. At last a verdict was given — that the man’s name was Ferdinand Lopez, that he had been crushed by an express train on the London and North Western Line, and that there was no evidence to show how his presence on the line had been occasioned. Of course, Mr Wharton had employed counsel, and of course the counsel’s object had been to avoid a verdict of felo de se. Appended to the verdict was a recommendation from the jury that the Railway Company should be advised to signalize their express trains at the Tenway Junction Station.

When these tidings were told to the widow she had already given way to many fears. Lopez had gone, purporting, as he said — to be back to dinner. He had not come then, nor on the following morning, nor had he written. Then she remembered all that he had done and said; — how he had kissed her, and left a parting malediction for her father. She did not at first imagine that he had destroyed himself, but that he had gone away, intending to vanish as other men before now had vanished. As she thought of this something almost like love came back upon her heart. Of course he was bad. Even in her sorrow, even when alarmed as to his fate, she could not deny that. But her oath to him had not been to love him only while he was good. She had made herself a part of him, and was she not bound to be true to him, whether good or bad? She implored her father and she implored her brother to be ceaseless in their endeavours to trace him — sometimes seeming almost to fear that in this respect she could not fully trust them. Then she discerned from their manner a doubt as to her husband’s fate. ‘Oh, papa, if you think anything, tell me what you think,’ she said late on the evening of the second day. He was then nearly sure that the man who had been killed at Tenway was Ferdinand Lopez; — but he was not quite sure, and he would not tell her. But on the following morning, somewhat before noon, having himself gone out early to Euston Square, he came back to his own house — and then he told her all. For the first hour she did not shed a tear or lose her consciousness of the horror of the thing; — but sat still and silent, gazing at nothing, casting back her mind over the history of her life, and the misery which she had brought to all who belonged to her. Then at last she gave way, fell into tears, hysteric sobbings, convulsions so violent as for a time to take the appearance of epileptic fits, and was at last exhausted and, happily for herself, unconscious.

After that she was ill for many weeks — so ill that at times both her father and her brother thought that she would die. When the first month or six weeks had passed by she would often speak of her husband, especially to her father, and always speaking of him as though she had brought him to his untimely fate. Nor could she endure at this time that her father should say a word against him, even when she obliged the old man to speak of one whose conduct had been so infamous. It had all been her doing! Had she not married him there would have been no misfortune! She did not say that he had been noble, true, or honest — but she asserted that all the evils which had come upon him had been produced by herself. ‘My dear,’ her father said to her one evening, ‘it is a matter which we cannot forget, but on which it is well that we should be silent.’

‘I shall always know what that silence means,’ she replied.

‘It will never mean condemnation of you by me,’ said he.

‘But I have destroyed your life — and his, I know. I ought not to have married him, because you bade me not. And I know that I should have been gentler with him, and more obedient when I was his wife. I sometimes wish that I were a Catholic, and that I could go into a convent, and bury it all amidst sackcloths and ashes.’

‘That would not bury it,’ said her father.

‘But I should at least be buried. If I were out of sight, you might forget it all.’

She once stirred Everett up to speak more plainly than her father ever dared to do, and then also she herself used language that was very plain. ‘My darling,’ said her brother once, when she had been trying to make out that her husband had been more sinned against than sinning — ‘he was a bad man. It is better that the truth should be said.’

‘And who is a good man?’ she said, raising herself in her bed and looking at him full in the face with her deep-sunken eyes. ‘If there be any truth in our religion, are we not all bad? Who is to tell the shades of difference of badness? He was not a drunkard, or a gambler. Through it all he was true to his wife.’ She, poor creature, was ignorant of the little scene in the little street near Mayfair, in which Lopez had offered to carry Lizzie Eustace away with him to Guatemala. ‘He was industrious. His ideas about money were not the same as yours or papa’s. How was he worse than others? It happened that his faults were distasteful to you — and so, perhaps, his virtues.’

‘His faults, such as they were, brought all these miseries.’

‘He would have been successful now if he had never seen me. But why should we talk of it? We shall never agree. And you, Everett, can never understand all that has passed through my mind during the last two years.’

There were two or three persons who attempted to see her at this period, but she avoided them all. First came Mrs Roby, who as her nearest neighbour, as her aunt, and as an aunt who had been so nearly allied to her, had almost a right to demand admittance. But she would not see Mrs Roby. She sent down word to say that she was too ill. And when Mrs Roby wrote to her, she got her father to answer the note. ‘You had better let it drop,’ the old man said at last to his sister-inlaw. ‘Of course she remembers that it was you who brought them together.’

‘But I didn’t bring them together, Mr Wharton. How often am I to tell you so? It was Everett brought Mr Lopez here.’

‘The marriage was made up in your house, and it has destroyed me and my child. I will not quarrel with my wife’s sister if I can help it, but at present you had better keep apart.’ Then he had left her abruptly, and Mrs Roby had not dared either to write or call again.

At this time Arthur Fletcher saw both Everett and Mr Wharton frequently, but he did not go to the Square, contenting himself with asking whether he might be allowed to do so. ‘Not yet, Arthur,’ said the old man. ‘I am sure she thinks you one of her best friends, but she could not see you yet.’

‘She would have nothing to fear,’ said Arthur. ‘We knew each other when we were children, and I should be now only as I was then.’

‘Not yet, Arthur, not yet,’ said the barrister.

Then there came a letter, or rather two letters from Mary Wharton; — one to Mr Wharton and the other to Emily. To tell the truth as to these letters, they contained the combined wisdom and tenderness of Wharton Hall and Longbarns. As soon as the fate of Lopez had been ascertained and thoroughly discussed in Hertfordshire, there went forth an edict that Emily had suffered punishment sufficient and was to be forgiven. Old Mrs Fletcher did not come to this at once — having some deep-seated feeling which she did not dare to express even to her son, though she muttered it to her daughter-inlaw, that Arthur would be disgraced for ever if he were to marry the widow of such a man as Ferdinand Lopez. But when this question of receiving Emily back into family favour was mooted in the Longbarns Parliament no one alluded to the possibility of such a marriage. There was the fact that she whom they all had loved had been freed by a great tragedy from the husband whom they all had condemned — and also the knowledge that the poor victim had suffered greatly during the period of her married life. Mrs Fletcher had frowned, and shaken her head, and made a little speech about the duties of women, and the necessarily fatal consequences when those duties are neglected. There were present there, with the old lady, John Fletcher and his wife, Sir Alured and Lady Wharton, and Mary Wharton. Arthur was not in the county, nor could the discussion have been held in his presence. ‘I can only say,’ said John, getting up and looking away from his mother, ‘that she shall always find a home at Longbarns when she chooses to come here, and I hope Sir Alured will say the same as to Wharton Hall.’ After all, John Fletcher was king in these parts, and Mrs Fletcher, with many noddings and some sobbing, had to give way to King John. The end of all this was that Mary Wharton wrote her letters. In that to Mr Wharton she asked whether it would not be better that her cousin should change the scene and come at once into the country. Let her come and stay a month at Wharton, then go onto Longbarns. She might be sure that there would be no company at either house. In June the Fletchers would go to town for a week, and then Emily might return to Wharton Hall. It was a long letter, and Mary gave many reasons why the poor sufferer would be better in the country than in town. The letter to Emily herself was shorter, but full of affection. ‘Do, do do come. You know how we all love you. Let it be as it used to be. You always liked the country. I will devote myself to try and comfort you.’ But Emily could not as yet submit to receive devotion even from her cousin Mary. Through it all, and under it all — though she would ever defend her husband because he was dead — she knew that she had disgraced the Whartons and brought a load of sorrow upon the Fletchers, and she was too proud to be forgiven so quickly.

Then she received another tender of affection from a quarter whence she certainly did not expect it. The Duchess of Omnium wrote to her. The Duchess, though she had lately been considerably restrained by the condition of the Duke’s mind, and by the effects of her own political and social mistakes, still from time to time made renewed efforts to keep together the Coalition by giving dinners, balls, and garden parties, and by binding to herself the gratitude and worship of young parliamentary aspirants. In carrying out her plans, she had lately showered her courtesies upon Arthur Fletcher, who had been made welcome even by the Duke as the sitting member for Silverbridge. With Arthur she had of course discussed the conduct of Lopez as to the election bills, and had been very loud in condemning him. And from Arthur also she had heard something of the sorrows of Emily Lopez. Arthur had been very desirous that the Duchess, who had received them both at her house, should distinguish between the husband and the wife. Then had come the tragedy, to which the notoriety of the man’s conduct of course gave additional interest. It was believed that Lopez had destroyed himself because of the disgrace which had fallen upon him from the Silverbridge affair. And for much of that Silverbridge affair the Duchess herself was responsible. She waited till a couple of months had gone by, and then, in the beginning of May, sent to the widow what was intended to be, and indeed was, a very kind note. The Duchess had heard the sad story with the greatest grief. She hoped that Mrs Lopez would permit her to avail herself of a short acquaintance to express her sincere sympathy. She would not venture to call as yet, but hoped that before long she might be allowed to come to Manchester Square.

This note touched the poor woman to whom it was written, not because she herself was solicitous to be acquainted with the Duchess of Omnium, but because the application seemed to her to contain something like an acquittal, or at any rate a pardon, of her husband. His sin in that measure of the Silverbridge election — a sin which her father had been loud in denouncing before the wretch had destroyed himself — had been specially against the Duke of Omnium. And now the Duchess came forward to say that it should be forgiven and forgotten. When she showed the letter to her father, and asked him what she should say in answer to it, he only shook his head. ‘It is meant for kindness, papa.’

‘Yes; — I think it is. There are people who have no right to be kind to me. If a man stopped me in the street and offered me a half-a-crown it might be kindness — but I don’t want the man’s half — crown.’

‘I don’t think it is the same, papa. There is a reason here.’

‘Perhaps so, my dear, but I do not see the reason.’

She became very red, but even to him she would not explain her ideas. ‘I think I shall answer it.’

‘Certainly answer it. Your compliments to the Duchess and thank her for her kind inquiries.’

‘But she says she will come here.’

‘I should not notice that.’

‘Very well, papa. If you think so, of course I will not. Perhaps it would be an inconvenience, if she were really to come.’ On the next day she did write a note, not quite so cold as that which her father proposed, but still saying nothing as to the offered visit. She felt, she said, very grateful for the Duchess’s kind remembrance of her. The Duchess would perhaps understand that at present her sorrow overwhelmed her.

And there was one other tender of kindness which was more surprising than even that from the Duchess. The reader may perhaps remember that Ferdinand Lopez and Lady Eustace had not parted when they last saw each other on the pleasantest terms. He had been very affectionate; but when he had proposed to devote his whole life to her and to carry her off to Guatemala she had simply told him that he was — a fool. Then he had escaped from her house and had never again seen Lizzie Eustace. She had not thought very much about it. Had he returned to her the next day with some more tempting proposition for making money she would have listened to him — and had he begged her pardon for what had taken place on the former day she would have merely laughed. She was not more offended than she would have been had he asked her for half her fortune instead of her person and her honour. But, as it was, he had escaped and had never again shown himself in the little street near May Fair. Then she had the tidings of his death, first seeing the account in a very sensational article from the pen of Mr Quintus Slide himself. She was immediately filled with an intense interest which was infinitely increased by the fact that the man had but a few days before declared himself to be her lover. It was bringing her almost as near the event as though she had seen it! She was, perhaps, entitled to think that she had caused it! Nay; — in one sense she had caused it, for he certainly would not have destroyed himself had she consented to go with him to Guatemala or elsewhere. And she knew his wife. An uninteresting, dowdy creature she had called her. But, nevertheless, they had been in company together more than once. So she presented her compliments, and expressed her sorrow, and hoped that she might be allowed to call. There had been no one for whom she had felt more sincere respect and esteem than for her late friend Mr Ferdinand Lopez. To this note there was an answer written by Mr Wharton himself.

MADAM,
My daughter is too ill to see even her own friends.
I am, Madam,
Your obedient servant
ABEL WHARTON

After this, life went on in a very quiet way at Manchester Square for many weeks. Gradually Mrs Lopez recovered her capability of attending to the duties of life. Gradually she became again able to interest herself in her brother’s pursuits and in her father’s comforts, and the house returned to its old form as it had been before these terrible two years, in which the happiness of the Wharton and Fletcher families had been marred, and scotched, and almost destroyed for ever by the interference of Ferdinand Lopez. But Mrs Lopez never for a moment forgot that she had done the mischief — and that the black enduring cloud had been created solely by her own perversity and self-will. Though she would still defend her late husband if any attack were made upon his memory, not the less did she feel that hers had been the fault, though the punishment had come upon them all.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43