The Duchess of Omnium was not the most discreet woman in the world. That was admitted by her best friends, and was the great sin alleged against her by her worst enemies. In her desire to say sharp things, she would say the sharp thing in the wrong place, and in her wish to be good-natured she was apt to run into offences. Just as she was about to leave town, which did not take place for some days after Parliament had risen, she made an indiscreet proposition to her husband. ‘Should you mind asking Mrs Lopez down to Matching? We shall only be a small party.’
Now the very name of Lopez was terrible to the Duke’s ears. Anything which recalled the wretch and that wretched tragedy to the Duke’s mind gave him a stab. The Duchess ought to have felt that any communication between her husband and even the man’s widow was to be avoided rather than sought. ‘Quite out of the question!’ said the Duke, drawing himself up.
‘Why out of the question?’
‘There are a thousand reasons I could not have it.’
‘Then I shall say nothing more about it. But there’s a romance there — something quite touching.’
‘You don’t mean that she has —-a lover?’
‘Well; — yes.’
‘And she lost her husband only the other day — lost him in so terrible a manner? If that is so certainly I do not wish to see her again.’
‘Ah, that is because you don’t know the story.’
‘I don’t wish to know it.’
‘The man who wants to marry her knew her long before she had seen Lopez, and had offered to her so many times. He is a fine fellow, and you know him.’
‘I had rather not hear any more about it,’ said the Duke, walking away.
There was an end to the Duchess’s scheme of getting Emily down to Matching — a scheme which could hardly have been successful even had the Duke not objected to it. But yet the Duchess would not abandon her project of befriending the widow. She had injured Lopez. She had liked what she had seen of Mrs Lopez. And she was now endeavouring to take Arthur Fletcher by the hand. She called therefore at Manchester Square on the day before she started for Matching, and left a card and a note. This was on the 15th of August, when London was as empty as it ever is. The streets at the West End were deserted. The houses were shut up. The very sweepers of the crossings seemed to have gone out of town. The public offices were manned by one or two unfortunates each, who consoled themselves by reading novels at their desks. Half the cab-drivers had gone apparently to the seaside — or to bed. The shops were still open, but all the respectable shopkeepers were either in Switzerland or at their marine villas. The travelling world had divided itself into Cookites and Hookites:— those who escaped trouble under the auspices of Mr Cook, and those who boldly combatted the extortions of foreign innkeepers and the Anti-Anglican tendencies of foreign railway officials ‘on their own hooks.’ The Duchess of Omnium was nevertheless in town, and the Duke might still be seen going in at the back entrance of the Treasury Chambers every day at eleven o’clock. Mr Warburton thought it very hard, for he, too, could shoot grouse; but he would have perished rather than have spoken a word.
The Duchess did not ask to see Mrs Lopez, but left her card and a note. She had not liked, she said, to leave town without calling, though she would not seek to be admitted. She hoped that Mrs Lopez was recovering her health, and trusted that on her return to town she might be allowed to renew her acquaintance. The note was very simple, and could not be taken as other than friendly. If she had been simply Mrs Palliser, and her husband had been a junior clerk in the Treasury, such a visit would have been a courtesy; and it was not less so because it was made by the Duchess of Omnium and by the wife of the Prime Minister. But yet among all the poor widow’s acquaintance she was the only one who had ventured to call since Lopez had destroyed himself. Mrs Roby had been told not to come. Lady Eustace had been sternly rejected. Even old Mrs Fletcher when she had been up in town, had, after a very solemn meeting with Mr Wharton, contented herself with sending her love. It had come to pass that the idea of being immured was growing to be natural to Emily herself. The longer that it was continued the more did it seem to be impossible to her that she should break from her seclusion. But yet she was gratified by the note from the Duchess.
‘She means to be civil, papa,’
‘Oh yes — but there are people whose civility I don’t want.’
‘Certainly. I did not want the civility of that horrid Lady Eustace. But I can understand this. She thinks that she did Ferdinand an injury.’
‘When you begin, my dear — and I hope it will be soon — to get back to the world, you will find it more comfortable, I think, to find yourself among your own people.’
‘I don’t want to go back,’ she said, sobbing bitterly.
‘But I want you to go back. All who know you want you to go back. Only don’t begin at that end.’
‘You don’t suppose, papa, that I wish to go to the Duchess?’
‘I wish you to go somewhere. It can’t be good for you to remain here. Indeed I shall think it wicked, or at any rate weak, if you continue to seclude yourself.’
‘Where shall I go,’ she said imploringly.
‘To Wharton. I certainly think you ought to go there first.’
‘If you would go, papa, and leave me here — just this once. Next year I will go — if they ask me.’
‘When I may be dead, for aught any of us know.’
‘Do not say that, papa. Of course anyone may die.’
‘I certainly shall not go without you. You may take that as certain. Is it likely that I should leave you alone in August and September in this great gloomy house? If you stay, I shall stay.’ Now this meant a great deal than it had meant in former years. Since Lopez had died Mr Wharton had not once dined at the Eldon. He came home regularly at six o’clock, sat with his daughter an hour before dinner, and then remained with her all the evening. It seemed as though he were determined to force her out of her solitude by her natural consideration for him. She would implore him to go to his club and have his rubber, but he would never give way. No; — he didn’t care for the Eldon, and disliked whist. So he said. Till at last he spoke more plainly. ‘You are dull enough here all day, and I will not leave you in the evenings.’ There was a persistent tenderness in this which she had not expected from the antecedents of his life. When, therefore, he told her that he would not go into the country without her, she felt herself almost constrained to yield.
And she would have yielded at once but for one fear. How could she insure to herself that Arthur Fletcher should not be there? Of course he would be at Longbarns, and how could she prevent his coming over from Longbarns to Wharton? She could hardly bring herself to ask the question of her father. But she felt an insuperable objection to finding herself in Arthur’s presence. Of course she loved him. Of course in all the world he was the dearest of all to her. Of course if she could wipe out the past as with a wet towel, if she could put the crape of her mind as well as from her limbs, she would become his wife with the greatest joy. But the very feeling that she loved him was disgraceful to her in her own thoughts. She had allowed his caress while Lopez was still her husband — the husband who had ill-used her and betrayed her, who had sought to drag her down to his own depth of baseness. But now she could not endure to think that the other man should even touch her. It was forbidden to her, she believed, by all the canons of womanhood eve to think of love again. There ought to be nothing left for her but crape and weepers. She had done it all by her own obstinacy, and she could make no compensation either to her family, or the world, or to her own feelings, but by drinking the cup of her misery down to the very dregs. Even to think of joy would in her be a treason. On that occasion she did not yield to her father, conquering him as she had conquered him before the pleading of her looks rather than her words.
But a day or two afterwards he came to her with arguments of a very different kind. He at any rate must go to Wharton immediately in reference to a letter of vital importance which he had received from Sir Alured. The reader may perhaps remember that Sir Alured’s heir — the heir to the title and property — was a nephew for whom he entertained no affection whatever. This Wharton had been discarded by all the Whartons as a profligate drunkard. Some years ago Sir Alured had endeavoured to reclaim the man, and spent perhaps more money than had been justified in doing in the endeavour, seeing that, as present occupier of the property, he was bound to provide for his own daughters, and that at his death every acre must go to this ne’er-do-well. The money had been allowed to flow like water for a twelvemonth and had done no good whatever. There had been no hope. The man was strong and likely to live — and after a while had married a wife, some woman that he took from the very streets. This had been his last known achievement, and from that moment not even had his name been mentioned at Wharton. Now there came tidings of his death. It was said that he had perished in some attempt to cross some glaciers in Switzerland; — but by degrees it appeared that the glacier itself had been less dangerous than the brandy which he had swallowed whilst on his journey. At any rate he was dead. As to that Sir Alured’s letter was certain. And he was equally certain that he had left no son.
These tidings were quite important to Mr Wharton as to Sir Alured — more important to Everett Wharton than to either of them, as he would inherit all after the death of those two old men. At this moment he was away yachting with a friend, and even his address was unknown. Letter for him were to be sent to Oban, and might, or might not, reach him in the course of a month. But in a man of Sir Alured’s feelings, this catastrophe produced a great change. The heir to his title and property was one whom he was bound to regard with affection and almost with reverence — if it were only possible for him to do so. With his late heir it had been impossible. But Everett Wharton he had always liked. Everett had not been quite all that his father and uncle had wished. But his faults had been exactly those which could be cured — or would almost be virtues — by the possession of a title and property. Distaste for a profession and aptitude for Parliament would become a young man who was heir not only to the Wharton estates, but to half his father’s money.
Sir Alured in his letter expressed a hope that Everett might be informed instantly. He would have written himself had he known Everett’s address. But he did know that his elder cousin was in town, and he besought his elder cousin to come at once — quite at once — to Wharton. Emily, he said, would of course accompany her father on such an occasion. Then there were long letters from Mary Wharton, and even from Lady Wharton, to Emily. The Whartons must have been very much moved when Lady Wharton could be induced to write a long letter. The Whartons were very much moved. They were in a state of enthusiasm at these news, amounting almost to fury. It seemed as though they thought that every tenant and labourer on the estate, and every tenant a labourer’s wife, would be in an abnormal condition and unfit for the duties of life, till they should have seen Everett as heir to the property. Lady Wharton went so far as to tell Emily which bedroom was being prepared for Everett — a bedroom very different in honour from any by the occupation of which he had yet been graced. And there were twenty points as to new wills and new deeds as to which the present baronet wanted the immediate advice of his cousin. There were a score of things which could now be done which were before impossible. Trees could be cut down, and buildings put up; and a little bit of land sold, and a little bit of land bought; — the doing of all which would give new life to Sir Alured. A life interest in an estate is a much pleasanter thing when the heir is a friend who can be walked about the property, than when he is an enemy who must be kept at arm’s length. All these delights could now be Sir Alured’s — if the old heir would give him his counsel and the young one his assistance.
This change of affairs occasioned some flutter also in Manchester Square. It could not make much difference personally to old Mr Wharton. He was, in fact, as old as the baronet, and did not pay much regard to his own chance of succession. But the position was one which would suit him admirably, and he was now on good terms with his son. He had convinced himself that Lopez had done all that he could to separate them, and therefore found himself to be more bound to his son than ever. ‘We must go at once,’ he said to his daughter, speaking as though he had forgotten her misery for the moment.
‘I suppose you and Everett ought to be there.’
‘Heaven knows where Everett is. I ought to be there, and I suppose that on such an occasion as this you will condescend to go with me.’
‘Condescend, papa; — what does that mean?’
‘You know I cannot go alone. It is out of the question that I should leave you here.’
‘And at such a time the family ought to come together. Of course they will take it very much amiss if you refuse. What will Lady Wharton think if you refuse afer her writing such a letter as that? It is my duty to tell you that you ought to go. You cannot think that is right to throw over every friend that you have in the world.’
There was a great deal more said in which it almost seemed that the father’s tenderness had worn out. His words were much rougher and more imperious than any that he had yet spoken since his daughter had become a widow, but they were also more efficacious, and therefore probably more salutary. After twenty-four hours of this she found she was obliged to yield, and a telegram was sent to Wharton — by no means the first telegram that had been sent since the news had arrived — saying that Emily would accompany her father. They were to occupy themselves for two days further in preparations for their journey.
These preparations to Emily were so sad as almost to break her heart. She had never as yet packed up her widow’s weeds. She had never as yet contemplated the necessity of coming down to dinner in them before other eyes than those of her father and brother. She had as yet made none of those struggles with which widows seek to lessen the deformity of their costume. It was incumbent on her now to get a ribbon or two less ghastly than those weepers which had, for the last five months, hung about her face and shoulders. And then how would she look if he were to be there? It was not to be expected that the Whartons should seclude themselves because of her grief. This very change in the circumstances of the property would be sure, of itself, to bring the Fletchers to Wharton — and then how should she look at him, how answer him, if he spoke to her tenderly? It is very hard for a woman to tell a lie to a man when she loves him. She may speak the words. She may be able to assure him that he is indifferent to her. But when a woman really loves a man, as she loved this man, there is a desire to touch him which quivers at her fingers’ ends, a longing to look at him which she cannot keep out of her eyes, an inclination to be near him which affects every motion of her body. She cannot refrain herself from excessive attention to his words. She has a god to worship, and she cannot control her admiration. Of all this Emily herself felt much — but felt at the same time that she would never pardon herself if she betrayed her love by a gleam of her eye, by the tone of a word, or the movement of a finger. What — should she be known to love again after such a mistake as hers, after such a catastrophe?
The evening before they started who should bustle into the house but Everett himself. It was about six o’clock, and he was going to leave London by the night mail. That he should be a little given to bustle on such an occasion may perhaps be forgiven him. He had heard the news down on the Scotch coast, and had flown up to London, telegraphing as he did so backwards and forwards to Wharton. Of course he felt that the destruction of his cousin among the glaciers — whether by brandy or ice he did not much care — had made him for the nonce one of the important people of the world. The young man who would not so feel might be the better philosopher, but one might doubt whether he would be the better young man. He quite agreed with his father that it was his sister’s duty to go to Wharton, and he was now in a position to speak with authority as to the duties of the members of his family. He could not wait, even for one night, in order that he might travel with them. Sir Alured was impatient. Sir Alured wanted him in Hertfordshire. Sir Alured had said that on such an occasion he, the heir, ought to be on the property with the shortest possible delay. His father smiled; — but with an approving smile. Everett therefore started by the night mail, leaving his father and sister to follow him on the morrow.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55