During the whole of that evening there was a forced attempt on the part of all the party at Wharton Hall to be merry — which, however, as is the case whenever such attempts are forced, was a failure. There had been a haymaking harvest-home which was supposed to give special occasion for mirth, as Sir Alured farmed the land around the park himself, and was great in hay. ‘I don’t think it pays very well,’ he said with a gentle smile, ‘but I like to employ some of the people myself. I think the old people find it easier with me than with the tenants.’
‘I shouldn’t wonder,’ said his cousin; —‘but that’s charity; not employment.’
‘No, no,’ exclaimed the baronet. ‘They work for their wages and do their best. Powell sees to that.’ Powell was the bailiff, who knew the length of his master’s foot to a quarter of an inch, and was quite aware that the Wharton haymakers were not to be overtasked. ‘Powell doesn’t keep any cats about the place, but what catch mice. But I am not quite sure that haymaking does pay.’
‘How do the tenants manage?’
‘Of course they look to things closer. You wouldn’t wish me to let the land up to the house next door.’
‘I think,’ said old Mrs Fletcher, ‘that a landlord should consent to lose a little by his own farming. It does good in the long run.’ Both Mr Wharton and Sir Alured felt that this might be very well at Longbarns, though it could hardly be afforded at Wharton.
‘I don’t think I lose much by my farming,’ said the squire of Longbarns. ‘I have four hundred acres on hand, and I keep my accounts pretty regularly.’
‘Johnson is a very good man, I dare say,’ said the baronet.
‘Like most of the others,’ continued the squire, ‘he’s very well as long as he’s looked after. I think I know as much about it as Johnson. Of course, I don’t expect a farmer’s profit; but I do expect my rent, and I get it.’
‘I don’t think I manage it in quite that way,’ said the baronet in a melancholy tone.
‘I’m afraid not,’ said the barrister.
‘John is as hard upon the men as any one of the tenants,’ said John’s wife, Mrs Fletcher of Longbarns.
‘I’m not hard at all,’ said John, ‘and you understand nothing about it. I’m paying three shillings a week more to every man, and eighteen pence a week more to every woman, than I did three years ago.’
‘That’s because of the Unions,’ said the barrister.
‘I don’t care a straw for the Unions. If the Unions interfered with my comfort, I’d let the land and leave the place.’
‘Oh, John!’ ejaculated John’s mother.
‘I would not consent to be made a slave even for the sake of the country. But the wages had to be raised — having raised them I expect to get proper value for my money. If anything has to be given away, let it be given away — so that the people should know what it is that they receive.’
‘That’s just what we don’t want to do here,’ said Lady Wharton, who did not often join in any of these arguments.
‘You’re wrong, my lady,’ said her stepson. ‘You’re only breeding idleness when you teach people to think that they are earning wages without working for their money. Whatever you do with them, let them know and feel the truth. It’ll be the best in the long run.’
‘I’m sometimes happy when I think that I shan’t live to see the long run,’ said the baronet. This was the manner in which they tried to be merry that evening after dinner at Wharton Hall. The two girls sat listening to their seniors in contented silence — listening or perhaps thinking of their own peculiar troubles, while Arthur Fletcher held some book in his hand which he strove to read with all his might.
There was not one there in the room who did not know that it was the wish of the united families that Arthur Fletcher should marry Emily Wharton, and also that Emily had refused him. To Arthur of course the feeling that it was so could not but be an additional vexation; but the knowledge had grown up and had become common in the two families without any power on his part to prevent so disagreeable a condition of affairs. There was not one in that room, unless it was Mary Wharton, who was not more or less angry with Emily, thinking her to be perverse and unreasonable. Even to Mary her cousin’s strange obstinacy was a matter of surprise and sorrow — for to her Arthur Fletcher was one of those demigods, who should never be refused, who are not expected to do more than express a wish and be accepted. Her own heart had not strayed that way because she thought but little of herself, knowing herself to be portionless, and believing from long thought on the subject that it was not her destiny to the wife of any man. She regarded Arthur Fletcher as being of all men the most lovable — though, knowing her own condition, she did not dream of loving him. It did not become her to be angry with another girl on such a cause; — but she was amazed that Arthur Fletcher should sigh in vain.
The girl’s folly and perverseness on this head were known to them all — but as yet her greater folly and worse perverseness, her vitiated taste and dreadful partiality for the Portuguese adventurer, were known but to the two old men and to poor Arthur himself. When that sternly magnificent old lady Mrs Fletcher — whose ancestors had been Welsh kings in the time of the Romans — when she should hear this story, the roof of the old hall would hardly be able to hold her wrath and her dismay! The old kings had died away, but the Fletchers and the Vaughans — of whom she had been one — and the Whartons remained, a peculiar people in an age that was then surrendering itself to quick perdition, and with peculiar duties. Among these duties, the chiefest of them incumbent on females was that of so restraining their affections that they should never damage the good cause by leaving it. They might marry within the pale — or remain single, as might be their lot. She would not take upon herself to say that Emily Wharton was bound to accept Arthur Fletcher, merely because such a marriage was fitting — although she did think that there was much perverseness in the girl, who might have taught herself, had she not been so stubborn, to comply with the wishes of the families. But to love one so below herself, a man without a father, a foreigner, a black Portuguese Jew, merely because he had a bright eye, and a hook nose, and a glib tongue — that a girl from the Whartons should do this —! It was so unnatural to Mrs Fletcher that it would be hardly possible to her to be civil to the girl after she had heard that her mind and taste were so astray. All this Sir Alured knew and the barrister knew it — and they feared her indignation the more because they sympathized with the old lady’s feelings.
‘Emily Wharton doesn’t seem to me to be a bit more gracious than she used to be,’ Mrs Fletcher said to Lady Wharton that night. The two old ladies were sitting together upstairs, and Mrs John Fletcher was with them. In such conferences Mrs Fletcher always domineered — to perfect contentment of old Lady Wharton, but not equally so to that of her daughter-inlaw.
‘I’m afraid she’s not very happy,’ said Lady Wharton.
‘She has everything that ought to make a girl happy, and I don’t know what it is she wants. It makes me quite angry to see her so discontented. She doesn’t say a word, but sits there as glum as death. If I were Arthur I would leave her for six months, and never speak to her during that time.’
‘I suppose, mother,’ said the younger Mrs Fletcher — who called her husband’s mother, mother, and her own mother, mamma — ‘a girl needn’t marry a man unless she likes him.’
‘But she should try to like him if it’s suitable in other respects. I don’t mean to take any trouble about it. Arthur needn’t beg for any favour. Only I wouldn’t have come here if I had thought that she had intended to sit silent like that always.’
‘It makes her unhappy, I suppose,’ said Lady Wharton, ‘because she can’t do what we all want.’
‘Fall, lall! She’d have wanted it herself if nobody else had wished it. I’m surprised that Arthur should be so much taken with her.’
‘You’d better say nothing more about it, mother.’
‘I don’t mean to say anything more about it. It’s nothing to me. Arthur can do very well in the world without Emily Wharton. Only a girl like that will sometimes make a disgraceful match; and we should all feel that.’
‘I don’t think Emily will do anything disgraceful,’ said Lady Wharton. And so they parted.
In the meantime the two brothers were smoking their pipes in the housekeeper’s room, which, at Wharton, when the Fletchers or Everett were there, was freely used for that purpose.
‘Isn’t it rather quaint of you,’ said the elder brother, ‘coming down here in the middle of term time?’
‘It doesn’t matter much.’
‘I should have thought it would matter; — that is, if you mean to go on with it.’
‘I’m not going to make a slave of myself about it, if you mean that. I don’t suppose I shall ever marry — and for rising to be a swell in the profession, I don’t care about it.’
‘You used to care about it — very much. You used to say that if you didn’t get to the top it shouldn’t be your own fault.’
‘And I have worked; — and I do work. But things get changed somehow. I’ve half a mind to give it all up — to raise a lot of money, and to start off with a resolution to see every corner of the world. I suppose a man could do it in about thirty years if he lived so long. It’s the kind of thing that would suit me.’
‘Exactly. I don’t know of any fellow who has been more into society, and therefore you are exactly the man to live alone for the rest of your life. You’ve always worked hard, I will say that for you; — and therefore you’re just the man to be contented with idleness. You’ve always been ambitious and self-confident, and therefore it will suit you to a T, to be nobody, and to do nothing.’ Arthur sat silent, smoking his pipe with all his might, and his brother continued — ‘Besides — you read sometimes, I fancy.’
‘I should read all the more.’
‘Very likely. But what you have read, in the old plays, for instance, must have taught you that when a man is cut about a woman — which I suppose is your case just at present — he never does get over it. He never gets all right after a time — does he? Such a one had better go and turn monk at once, as the world is over for him altogether; — isn’t it? Men don’t recover after a month or two, and go on just the same. You’ve never seen that kind of thing yourself?’
‘I’m not going to cut my throat or turn monk either.’
‘No. There are so many steamboats and railways now that travelling seems easier. Suppose you go as far as St Petersburg, and see if that does you any good. If it don’t, you needn’t go on, because it will be hopeless. If it does — why, you can come back, because the second journey will do the rest.’
‘There never was anything, John, that wasn’t a matter for chaff with you.’
‘And I hope there never will be. People understand it when logic would be thrown away. I suppose the truth is the girl cares for somebody else.’ Arthur nodded his head. ‘Who is it? Anyone I know?’
‘I think not.’
‘Anyone you know?’
‘I have met the man.’
‘Disgustingly indecent, I should say.’ John looked very black, for even with him the feeling about the Whartons and the Vaughans and the Fletchers was very strong. ‘He’s a man I should say you wouldn’t let into Longbarns.’
‘There might be various reasons for that. It might be that you wouldn’t care to meet him.’
‘Well; — no — I don’t suppose I should. But without that you wouldn’t like him. I don’t think he’s an Englishman.’
‘He has got a foreign name.’
‘An Italian nobleman?’
‘I don’t think he’s noble in any country.’
‘Who the d-d is he?’
‘His name is — Lopez.’
‘Yes — Everett’s friend. I ain’t very much obliged to Master Everett for what he has done.’
‘I’ve seen the man. Indeed I may say I know him — for I dined with him at Manchester Square. Old Wharton himself must have asked him there.’
‘He was there as Everett’s friend. I only heard all this today, you know — though I had heard about it before.’
‘And therefore you want me to set out your travels. As far as I saw I should say he was a clever fellow.’
‘I don’t doubt that.’
‘And a gentleman.’
‘I don’t know that he is not,’ said Arthur. ‘I’ve no right to say word against him. From what Wharton says I suppose he’s rich.’
‘He’s good-looking too; — at least he’s the sort of man that women like to look at.’
‘Just so. I’ve no cause to quarrel with him — nor with her. But —’
‘Yes, my friend. I see it all,’ said the elder brother. ‘I think I know all about it. But running away is not the thing. One may be pretty nearly sure that one is right when one says that a man shouldn’t run away from anything.’
‘The thing is to be happy if you can,’ said Arthur.
‘No; — that’s not the thing. I’m not much of a philosopher, but as far as I can see there are two philosophies in the world. The one is to make one’s self happy, and the other is to make other people happy. The latter answers the best.’
‘I can’t add to her happiness by hanging about London.’
‘That’s a quibble. It isn’t her happiness we are talking about, — nor yet your hanging about London. Gird yourself up and go on with what you’ve got to do. Put your work before your feelings. What does a poor man do, who goes out hedging and ditching with a dead child lying in his house? If you get a blow in the face, return it if it ought to be returned, but never complain of the pain. If you must have your vitals eaten into — have them eaten into like a man. But mind you — these ain’t your vitals.’
‘It goes pretty near.’
‘These ain’t your vitals. A man gets cured of it — almost always. I believe always; though some men get hit so hard they can never bring themselves to try it again. But tell me this. Has old Wharton given his consent?’
‘No. He has refused,’ said Arthur with strong emphasis.
‘How is to be, then?’
‘He has dealt very fairly by me. He has done all he could to get rid of the man — both with him and with her. He has told Emily that he will have nothing to do with the man. And she will do nothing without his sanction.’
‘Then it will remain as it is.’
‘No, John; it will not. He has gone on to say that though he has refused — and has refused roughly enough — he must give way if he sees that she has really set her heart upon him. And she has.’
‘Has she told you so?’
‘No; — but he has told me. I shall have it out with her tomorrow, if I can. And then I shall be off.’
‘You’ll be here for the shooting on the 1st?’
‘No. I dare say you’re right in what you say about sticking to my work. It does seem unmanly to run away because of a girl.’
‘Because of anything! Stop and face it, whatever it is.’
‘Just so; — but I can’t stop and face her. It would do no good. For all our sakes I should be better away. I can get shooting with Musgrave and Carnegie in Perthshire. I dare say I shall go there, and take a share with them.’
‘That’s better than going into all quarters of the globe.’
‘I didn’t mean that I was to surrender and start at once. You take a fellow up so short. I shall do very well, I’ve no doubt, and shall be hunting here as jolly as ever at Christmas. But a fellow must say it all to somebody.’ The elder brother put his hand out and laid it affectionately upon the younger one’s arm. ‘I’m not going to whimper about the world like a whipped dog. The worst of it is so many people have known of this.’
‘You mean down here.’
‘Oh; — everywhere. I have never told them. It has been a kind of family affair and thought to be fit for general discussions.’
‘That’ll wear away.’
‘In the meantime, it’s a bore. But that shall be the end of it. Don’t you say another word to me about it, and I won’t to you. And tell mother not to, or Sarah.’ Sarah was John Fletcher’s wife. ‘It has got to be dropped, and let us drop it as quickly as we can. If she does marry this man, I don’t suppose she’ll be much at Longbarns or Wharton.’
‘Not at Longbarns certainly, I should say,’ replied John. ‘Fancy mother having to curtsey to her as Mrs Lopez! And I doubt whether Sir Alured would like him. He isn’t of our sort. He’s too clever, too cosmopolitan — a sort of man whitewashed of all prejudices, who wouldn’t mind whether he ate horseflesh or beef if horseflesh were as good as beef, and never had on any occasion in his life. I’m not sure that he’s not on the safest side. Good-night, old fellow. Pluck up, and send us plenty of grouse if you do go to Scotland.’
John Fletcher, as I hope may have been already seen, was by no means a weak man or an indifferent brother. He was warm-hearted, sharp-witted, and though perhaps a little self-opinionated, considered throughout the county to be one of the most prudent in it. Indeed no one ever ventured to doubt his wisdom on all practical matters — save his mother, who seeing him almost every day, had a stronger bias towards her younger son. ‘Arthur has been hit hard about that girl,’ he said to his wife that night.
‘Yes; — your cousin Emily. Don’t say anything to him, but be as good to him as you know how.’
‘Good to Arthur! Am I not always good to him?’
‘Be a little more than usually tender with him. It makes one almost cry to see such a fellow hurt like that. I can understand it, though I never had anything of it myself.’
‘You never had, John,’ said the wife leaning close upon the husband’s breast as she spoke. ‘It all came very easily to you; — too easily perhaps.’
‘If any girl had refused me, I should have taken her at her word. I can tell you. There would have been no second “hop” to that ball.’
‘Then I suppose I was right to catch it the first time?’
‘I don’t say how that may be.’
‘I was right. Oh, dear me! — Suppose I had doubted, just for once, and you had gone off. You should have tried once more — wouldn’t you?’
‘You’d have gone about it like a broken-winged old hen, and have softened me in that way.’
‘And now Arthur has had his wing broken.’
‘You mustn’t let on to know it’s broken, and the wing will be healed in due time. But what fools girls are!’
‘Indeed they are, John — particularly me.’
‘Fancy a girl like Emily Wharton,’ said he, not condescending to notice her little joke, ‘throwing herself over a fellow like Arthur for a greasy, black foreigner.’
‘Yes — a man named Lopez. Don’t say anything about it at present. Won’t she live to find out the difference, and to know what she has done! I can tell her of one who won’t pity her.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14