The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
Chapter 65. There Must Be Time.
At the end of the third week in July, when the Session was still sitting, and when no day had been absolutely as yet fixed for the escape of members, Mr Wharton received a letter from his friend Arthur Fletcher which certainly surprised him very much, and which left him for a day or two unable to decide what answer ought to be given. It will be remembered that Ferdinand Lopez destroyed himself in March, now three months since. The act had been more than a nine days' wonder, having been kept in the memory of many men by the sedulous efforts of Quintus Slide, and by the fact that the name of so great a man as the Prime Minister was concerned in the matter. But gradually the feeling about Ferdinand Lopez had died away, and his fate, though it had outlived the nominal nine days, had sunk into general oblivion before the end of the ninth week. The Prime Minister had not forgotten the man, nor had Quintus Slide. The name was still common in the columns of the "People's Banner", and was ever mentioned without being read by the unfortunate Duke. But others had ceased to talk about Ferdinand Lopez.
To the mind, however, of Arthur Fletcher the fact of the man's death was always present. A dreadful incubus had come upon his life, blighting all his prospects, obscuring all his sun by a great cloud, covering up all his hopes, and changing for him all his outlook into the world. It was not only that Emily Wharton should not have become his wife, but that the woman whom he loved with so perfect a love, should have been sacrificed to so vile a creature as this man. He never blamed her,--but looked upon his fate as Fate. Then on a sudden he heard that the incubus was removed. The man who had made him and her wretched had by a sudden stroke been taken away and annihilated. There was nothing between him and her,--but a memory. He could certainly forgive, if she could forget.
Of course he had felt at the first moment that time must pass by. He had become certain that her mad love for the man had perished. He had been made sure that she had repented her own deed in sackcloth and ashes. It had been acknowledged to him by her father that she had been anxious to be separated from her husband if her husband would consent to such a separation. And then, remembering as he did his last interview with her, having in his mind as he had every circumstance of that caress which he had given her,--down to the very quiver of the fingers he had pressed,--he could not but flatter himself that at last he had touched her heart. But there must be time! The conventions of the world operate on all hearts, especially on the female heart, and teach that new vows, too quickly given, are disgraceful. The world has seemed to decide that a widow should take two years before she can bestow herself on a second man without a touch of scandal. But the two years is to include everything, the courtship of the second as well as the burial of the first,--and not only the courtship, but the preparation of the dresses and the wedding itself. And then this case was different from all the others. Of course there must be time, but surely not here a full period of two years! Why should the life of two young persons be so wasted, if it were the case that they loved each other! There was horror here, remorse, pity, perhaps pardon; but there was no love,--none of that love which is always for a little time increased in its fervour by the loss of the loved object; none of that passionate devotion which must at first make the very idea of another man's love intolerable. There had been a great escape,--an escape which could not but be inwardly acknowledged, however little prone the tongue might be to confess it. Of course there must be time,--but how much time? He argued it in his mind daily, and at each daily argument the time considered by him to be appropriate was shortened. Three months had passed and he had not yet seen her. He had resolved that he would not even attempt to see her till her father would consent. But surely a period had passed sufficient to justify him in applying for that permission. And then he bethought himself that it would be best in applying for that permission to tell everything to Mr Wharton. He well knew that he would be telling no secret. Mr Wharton knew the state of his feelings as well as he knew it himself. If ever there was a case in which time might be abridged, this was one; and therefore he wrote his letter,-- as follows:
When Mr Wharton got this letter he was very much puzzled. Could he have had his wish, he too would have left the chasm behind him as proposed by his young friend, and have never cast an eye back upon the frightful abyss. He would willingly have allowed the whole Lopez incident to be passed over as an episode in their lives, which, if it could not be forgotten, should at any rate never be mentioned. They had all been severely punished, as Fletcher had said, and if the matter could end there he would be well content to bear on his own shoulders all that remained of the punishment, and to let everything begin again. But he knew very well it could not be so with her. Even yet it was impossible to induce Emily to think of her husband without regret. It had been only too manifest during the last year of their married life that she had felt horror rather than love towards him. When there had been a question of his leaving her behind, should he go to Central America, she had always expressed herself more than willing to comply with such an arrangement. She would go with him should he order her to do so, but would infinitely sooner remain in England. And then too, she had spoken of him while alive with disdain and disgust, and had submitted to hear her father describe him as infamous. Her life had been one long misery, under which she had seemed gradually to be perishing. Now she was relieved, and her health was re- established. A certain amount of unjoyous cheerfulness was returning to her. It was impossible to doubt that she must have known that a great burden had fallen from her back. And yet she would never allow his name to be mentioned without giving some outward sign of affection for his memory. If he was bad, so were others bad. There were many worse than he. Such were the excuses she made for her late husband. Old Mr Wharton, who really thought that in all his experience he had never known anyone worse than his son-in-law, would sometimes become testy, and at last resolved that he would altogether hold his tongue. But he could hardly hold his tongue now.
He, no doubt, had already formed his hopes in regard to Arthur Fletcher. He had trusted that the man whom he had taught himself some years since to regard as his wished-for son-in-law, might be constant and strong enough in his love to forget all that was past, and to be still willing to redeem his daughter from misery. But as days had crept on since the scene as the Tenway Junction, he had become aware that time must do much before such relief would be accepted. It was, however, still possible that the presence of the man might do something. Hitherto, since the deed had been done, no stranger had dined in Manchester Square. She herself had seen no visitor. She had hardly left the house except to go to church, and then had been enveloped in the deepest crape. Once or twice she had allowed herself to be driven out in a carriage, and, when she had done so, her father had always accompanied her. No widow, since the seclusion of widows was first ordained, has been more strict in maintaining the restraints of widowhood, as enjoined. How then could he bid her receive a new lover,--or how suggest to her that a lover was possible? And yet he did not like to answer Arthur Fletcher without naming some period for the present mourning,--some time at which he might at least show himself in Manchester Square.
'I have had a letter from Arthur Fletcher,' he said to his daughter a day or two after he had received it. He was sitting after dinner, and Everett was also in the room.
'Is he in Hertfordshire?' she asked.
'No;--he is up in town, attending to the House of Commons, I suppose. He had something to say to me, and as we are not in the way of meeting he wrote. He wants to come and see you.'
'Not yet, papa.'
'He talked of coming and dining here.'
'Oh yes, pray let him come.'
'You would not mind that?'
'I would dine early and be out of the way. I should be do glad if you would have somebody sometimes. I shouldn't think then that I was such a--such a restraint on you.'
But this was not what Mr Wharton desired. 'I shouldn't like that, my dear. Of course he would know that you were in the house.'
'Upon my word, I think you might meet an old friend like that,' said Everett.
She looked at her brother, and then at her father, and burst into tears. 'Of course you shall not be pressed if it would be irksome to you,' said her father.
'It is the first plunge that hurts,' said Everett. 'If you could once bring yourself to do it, you would find afterwards that you were more comfortable.'
'Papa,' she said slowly. 'I know what it means. His goodness I shall always remember. You may tell him I say so. But I cannot meet him yet.' Then they pressed her no further. Of course she had understood. Her father could not even ask her to say a word which might give comfort to Arthur as to some long distant time.
He went down to the House of Commons the next day, and saw his young friend there. Then they walked up and down Westminster Hall for nearly an hour, talking over the matter with the most absolute freedom. 'It cannot be for the benefit of anyone,' said Arthur Fletcher, 'that she should immolate herself like an Indian widow,--and for the sake of such a man as that! Of course I have no right to dictate to you,--hardly, perhaps, to give an opinion.'
'Yes, yes, yes.'
'It does seem to me, then, that you ought to force her out of that kind of thing. Why should she not go down to Hertfordshire?'
'In time, Arthur,--in time.'
'But people's lives are running away.'
'My dear fellow, if you were to see her you would know how vain it would be to try to hurry her. There must be time.'