The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 71

The Ladies at Longbarns Doubt.

It came at last to be decided among them that when old Mr Wharton returned to town — and he had now been at Wharton longer than he had ever been known to remain there before — Emily should still remain in Hertfordshire, and that at some period not then fixed she should go for a month to Longbarns. There were various reasons which induced her to consent to this change of plans. In the first place she found herself to be infinitely more comfortable in the country than in the town. She could go out and move about and bestir herself, whereas in Manchester Square she could only sit at home. Her father had assured her that he thought that it would be better that she should be away from the reminiscences of the house in town. And then when the first week of February was past Arthur would be up in town, and she would be far away from him at Longbarns, whereas in London she would be close within his reach. Many little schemes were laid and struggles made both by herself and the others before at last their plans were settled. Mr Wharton was to return to London in the middle of January. It was quite impossible that he could remain longer away either from Stone Buildings or from the Eldon, and then at the same time, or a day or two following, Mrs Fletcher was to go back to Longbarns. John Fletcher and his wife and children were already gone; — and Arthur also had been at Longbarns. The two brothers and Everett had been backwards and forwards. Emily was anxious to remain at Wharton at any rate till Parliament should have met, so that she might not be at home with Arthur in his own house. But matters would not arrange themselves exactly as she wished. It was at last settled that she should go to Longbarns with Mary Wharton under the charge of John Fletcher in the first week in February. As arrangements were already in progress for the purchase of Barnton Spinnies, Sir Alured could not possibly leave his own house. Not to have walked through the wood on the first day it became part of the Wharton property would to him have been treason to the estate. His experience ought to have told him that there was no chance of a lawyer and a college dealing together with such rapidity; but in the present state of things he could not bear to absent himself. Orders had already been given for the cutting down of certain trees which could not have been touched had the reprobate lived, and it was indispensable that if a tree fell at Wharton he should see the fall. It thus came to pass that there was a week during which Emily would be forced to live under the roof of the Fletchers together with Arthur Fletcher.

The week came and she was absolutely received by Arthur at the door of Longbarns. She had not been at the house since it had first been intimated to the Fletchers that she was disposed to receive with favour the addresses of Ferdinand Lopez. As she remembered this it seemed to her to be an age ago since that man had induced her to believe that of all the men she had ever met he was the nearest to a hero. She never spoke of him now, but of course her thoughts of him were never ending — as also of herself in that she had allowed herself to be so deceived. She would recall to her mind with bitter inward sobbings all those lessons of iniquity which he had striven to teach her, and which had first opened her eyes to his true character — how sedulously he had endeavoured to persuade her that it was her duty to rob her father on his behalf, how continually he had endeavoured to make her think that appearance in the world was everything, and that, being in truth poor adventurers, it behoved them to cheat the world into thinking them rich and respectable. Every hint that had been so given had been a wound to her, and those wounds were all now remembered. Though since his death she had never allowed a word to be spoken in her presence against him, she could not but hate his memory. How glorious was that other man in her eyes, as he stood there at the door welcoming her to Longbarns, fair-haired, open-eyed, with bronzed brow and cheek, and surly the honestest face that a loving woman ever loved to gaze on. During the various lessons she had learned in her married life, she had become gradually but surely aware that the face of that other man had been dishonest. She had learned the false meaning of every glance of his eyes, the subtlety of his mouth, the counterfeit manoeuvres of his body — the deceit even of his dress. He had been all a lie from head to foot, and he had thrown her love aside as useless when she also would not be a liar. And here was this man — spotless in her estimation, compounded of all good qualities, which she could now see and take at their proper value. She hated herself for the simplicity with which she had been cheated by soft words and a false demeanour into so great a sacrifice.

Life at Longbarns was very quiet during the days which she passed there before she left them. She was frequently alone with him, but he, if he still loved her, did not speak of his love. He explained it all one day to his mother. ‘If it is to be,’ said the old lady, ‘I don’t see the use of more delay. Of course the marriage ought not to be till March twelvemonths. But if it is understood that it is to be, she might alter her dress by degrees — and alter her manner of living. These things should always be done by degrees. I think it had better be settled, Arthur, if it is to be settled.’

‘I am afraid, mother.’

‘Dear me! I didn’t think you were the man ever to be afraid of a woman. What can she say to you?’

‘Refuse me.’

‘Then you had better know at once. But I don’t think she’ll be fool enough for that.’

‘Perhaps you hardly understand her, mother.’

Mrs Fletcher shook her head with a look of considerable annoyance. ‘Perhaps not. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t like young women whom I can’t understand. Young women shouldn’t be mysterious. I like people of whom I can give a pretty good guess what they’ll do. I’m sure I never could have guessed that she would have married that man.’

‘If you love me, mother, do not let that be mentioned between us again. When I said that you did not understand her, I did not mean that she was mysterious. I think that before he died, and since his death, she learned of what sort that man was. I will not say that she hates his memory, but she hates herself for what she has done.’

‘So she ought,’ said Mrs Fletcher.

‘She has not yet brought herself to think that her life should be anything but one long period of mourning, not for him, but for her own mistake. You may be quite sure that I am in earnest. It is not because I doubt of myself that I put it off. But I fear that if once she asserts to me her resolution to remain as she is, she will feel herself bound to keep her word.’

‘I suppose she is very much the same as other women, after all, my dear,’ said Mrs Fletcher, who was almost jealous of the peculiar superiority of sentiment which her son seemed to attribute to this woman.

‘Circumstances, mother, make people different,’ he replied.

‘So you are going without having anything fixed,’ his elder brother said to him the day before he started.

‘Yes, old fellow. It seems to be rather slack; — doesn’t it?’

‘I dare say you know best what you’re about. But if you have set your mind on it-’

‘You may take your oath on that.’

‘Then I don’t see why one word shouldn’t put it all right. There never is any place so good for that kind of thing as a country house.’

‘I don’t think that with her it will make much difference where the house is, or what the circumstances.’

‘She knows what you mean as well as I do.’

‘I dare say she does, John. She must have a very bad idea of me if she doesn’t. But she may know what I mean and not mean the same thing herself.’

‘How are you to know if you don’t ask her?’

‘You may be sure that I shall ask her as soon as I can hope that my doing so may give her more pleasure than pain. Remember, I have had all this out with her father. I have determined that I will wait till twelve months have passed since that wretched man perished.’

On that afternoon before dinner he was alone with her in the library some minutes before they went up to dress for dinner. ‘I shall hardly see you tomorrow,’ he said, ‘as I must leave this at half-past eight. I breakfast at eight. I don’t suppose anyone will be down except my mother.’

‘I am generally as early as that. I will come down and see you start.’

‘I am so glad that you have been here, Emily.’

‘So am I. Everybody has been so good to me.’

‘It has been like old days — almost.’

‘It will never quite be like old days again, I think. But I have been very glad to be here; — and at Wharton. I sometimes almost wish that I were never going back to London again — only for papa.’

‘I like London myself.’

‘You! Yes, of course you like London. You have everything in life before you. You have things to do, and much to hope for. It is all beginning for you, Arthur.’

‘I am five years older than you are.’

‘What does that matter? It seems to me that age does not go by years. It is long since I have felt myself to be an old woman. But you are quite young. Everybody is proud of you, and you ought to be happy.’

‘I don’t know,’ said he, ‘it is hard to say what makes a person happy.’ He almost made up his mind to speak to her then; but he had made up his mind before to put it off still for a little time, and he would not allow himself to be changed on the spur of the moment. He had thought of it much, and he had almost taught himself to think that it would be better for herself that she should not accept another man’s love so soon. ‘I shall come and see you in town,’ he said.

‘You must come and see papa. It seems to me that Everett is to be a great deal at Wharton. I had better go up to dress now, or I shall be keeping them waiting.’ He put his hand to her, and wished her good-bye, excusing himself by saying that they should not be alone together before he started.

She saw him go on the next morning — and then she almost felt herself to be abandoned, almost deserted. It was a fine crisp winter day, dry and fresh, and clear, but with the frost still on the ground. After breakfast she went out to walk by herself in the long shrubbery paths which went round the house, and here she remained for above an hour. She told herself that she was very thankful to him for not having spoken to her on a subject so unfit for her ears as love. She strengthened herself in her determination never again to listen to a man willingly on that subject. She had made herself quite unfit to have any dealings of that nature. It was not that she could not love. Oh no! She knew well enough that she did love — love will all her heart. If it were not that she were so torn to rags that she was not fit to be worn again, she could now have thrown herself into his arms with a whole heaven of joy before her. A woman, she told herself, had no right to a second chance in life, after having made a shipwreck of herself in the first. But the danger of being seduced from her judgement by Arthur Fletcher was all over. He had been near her for the last week and had not spoken a word. He had been in the same house with her for the last ten days and had been with her as a brother might be with his sister. It was not only she who had seen the propriety of this. He also had acknowledged it, and she was — grateful to him. As she endeavoured in her solitude to express her gratitude in spoken words the tears rolled down her cheeks. She was glad, she told herself, very glad that it was so. How much trouble and pain to both of them would thus be spared! And yet her tears were bitter tears. It was better as it was; — and yet one word of love would have been very sweet. She almost thought that she would have liked to tell him that for his sake, for his dear sake, she would refuse — that which now would never be offered to her. She was quite clear as to the rectitude of her own judgement, clear as ever. And yet her heart was heavy with disappointment.

It was the end of March before she left Hertfordshire for London, having spent the greater part of the time at Longbarns. The ladies at that place were moved by many doubts as to what would be the end of all this. Mrs Fletcher the elder at last almost taught herself to believe that there would be no marriage, and having got back to that belief, was again opposed to the idea of marriage. Anything and everything that Arthur wanted he ought to have. The old lady felt no doubt as to that. When convinced that he did not want to have the widow — this woman whose life had hitherto been so unfortunate — she had for his sake taken the woman again by the hand, and had assisted in making her one of themselves. But how much better it would it be that Arthur should think better of it! It was the maddest constancy — this clinging to the widow of such a man as Ferdinand Lopez! If there were any doubt, then she would be prepared to do all she could to prevent the marriage. Emily had been forgiven, and the pardon bestowed must of course be continued. But she might be pardoned without being made Mrs Arthur Fletcher. While Emily was still at Longbarns the old lady almost talked over her daughter-inlaw to this way of thinking — till John Fletcher put his foot upon it altogether. ‘I don’t pretend to say what she may do,’ he said.

‘Oh, John,’ said his mother, ‘to hear a man like you talk like that is absurd. She’d jump at him if he looked at her with half an eye.’

‘What she may do,’ he continued saying, without appearing to listen to his mother, ‘I cannot say. But that he will ask her to be his wife is as certain as I stand here.’

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