The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 10

Florence Burton at the Rectory

Harry Clavering went down to Stratton, slept one night at old Mr. Burton’s house, and drove Florence over to Clavering — twenty miles across the country, on the following day. This journey together had been looked forward to with great delight by both of them, and Florence in spite of the snubbing which she had received from her lover because of her prudence, was very happy as she seated herself alongside of him in the vehicle which had been sent over from the rectory, and which he called a trap. Not a word had as yet been said between them as to that snubbing, nor was Harry minded that anything should be said. He meant to carry on his revenge by being dumb on that subject. But such was not Florence’s intention. She desired not only to have her own way in this matter, but desired also that he should assent to her arrangements.

It was a charming day for such a journey. It was cold, but not cold enough to make them uncomfortable. There was a wind, but not wind enough to torment them. Once there came on a little shower, which just sufficed to give Harry an opportunity of wrapping his companion very closely, but he had hardly completed the ceremony before the necessity for it was over. They both agreed that this mode of travelling was infinitely preferable to a journey by railroad, and I myself should be of the name opinion if one could always make one’s journeys under the same circumstances. And it must be understood that Harry, though no doubt he was still taking his revenge on Florence by abstaining from all allusion to her letter, was not disposed to make himself otherwise disagreeable. He played his part of lover very well, and Florence was supremely happy.

“Harry,” she said, when the journey was more than half completed, “you never told me what you thought of my letter.”

“Which letter?” But he knew very well which was the letter in question.

“My prudent letter — written in answer to yours that was very imprudent.”

“I thought there was nothing more to be said about it.”

“Come, Harry, don’t let there be any subject between us that we don’t care to think about and discuss. I know what you meant by not answering me. You meant to punish me, did you not, for having an opinion different from yours? Is not that true, Harry?”

“Punish you, no; I did not want to punish you. It was I that was punished, I think.”

“But you know I was right. Was I not right?”

“I think you were wrong, but I don’t want to say anything more about it now.”

“Ah, but, Harry, I want you to talk about it. Is it not everything to me — everything in this world — that you and I should agree about this? I have nothing else to think of but you. I have nothing to hope for but that I may live to be your wife. My only care in the world is my care for you! Come, Harry, don’t be glum with me.”

“I am not glum.”

“Speak a nice word to me. Tell me that you believe me when I say that it is not of myself I am thinking, but of you.”

“Why can’t you let me think for myself in this?”

“Because you have got to think for me.”

“And I think you’d do very well on the income we ye got. If you’ll consent to marry, this Summer, I won’t be glum, as you call it, a moment longer.”

“No, Harry; I must not do that. I should be false to my duty to you if I did.”

“Then it’s no use saying anything more about it.”

“Look here, Harry, if an engagement for two years is tedious to you —”

“Of course it is tedious. Is not waiting for anything always tedious? There’s nothing I hate so much as waiting.”

“But listen to me,” said she, gravely. “If it is too tedious, if it is more than you think you can bear without being unhappy, I will release you from your engagement.”

“Florence!”

“Hear me to the end. It will make no change in me and then if you like to come to me again at the end of the two years, you may be sure of the way in which I shall receive you.”

“And what good would that do?”

“Simply this good, that you would not be bound in a manner that makes you unhappy. If you did not intend that when you asked me to be your wife — Oh, Harry, all I want is to make you happy. That is all that I care for, all that I think about?”

Harry swore to her with ten thousand oaths that he would not release her from any part of her engagement with him, that he would give her no loophole of escape from him, that he intended to hold her so firmly that if she divided herself from him, she should be accounted among women a paragon of falseness. He was ready, he said, to marry her to-morrow. That was his wish, his idea of what would be best for both of them; and after that, if not to-morrow, then on the next day, and so on till the day should come on which she should consent to become his wife. He went on also to say that he should continue to torment her on the subject about once a week till he had induced her to give way; and then he quoted a Latin line to show that a constant dropping of water will hollow a stone. This was somewhat at variance with a declaration he had made to Mrs. Burton, of Onslow Crescent, to the effect that he would never speak to Florence again upon the subject; but then men do occasionally change their minds, and Harry Clavering was a man who often changed his.

Florence, as he made the declaration above described, thought that he played his part of lover very well, and drew herself a little closer to him as she thanked him for his warmth. “Dear Harry, you are so good and so kind, and I do love you so truly!” In this way the journey was made very pleasantly, and when Florence was driven up to the rectory door she was quite contented with her coachman.

Harry Clavering, who is the hero of our story, will not, I fear have hitherto presented himself to the reader as having much of the heroic nature in his character. It will, perhaps, be complained of him that he is fickle, vain, easily led, and almost as easily led to evil as to good. But it should be remembered that hitherto he has been rather hardly dealt with in these pages, and that his faults and weaknesses have been exposed almost unfairly. That he had such faults, and was subject to such weaknesses, may be believed of him; but there may be a question whether as much evil would not be known of most men, let them be heroes or not be heroes, if their characters were, so to say, turned inside out before our eyes.

Harry Clavering, fellow of his college, six feet high, with handsome face and person, and with plenty to say for himself on all subjects, was esteemed highly and regarded much by those who knew him, in spite of those little foibles which marred his character; and I must beg the reader to take the world’s opinion about him, and not to estimate him too meanly thus early in this history of his adventures.

If this tale should ever be read by any lady who, in the course of her career, has entered a house under circumstances similar to those which had brought Florence Burton to Clavering rectory, she will understand how anxious must have been that young lady when she encountered the whole Clavering family in the hall. She had been blown about by the wind, and her cloaks and shawls were heavy on her, and her hat was a little out of shape — from some fault on the part of Harry, as I believe — and she felt herself to be a dowdy as she appeared among them. What would they think of her, and what would they think of Harry in that he had chosen such an one to be his wife? Mrs. Clavering had kissed her before she had seen that lady’s face; and Mary and Fanny had kissed her before she knew which was which; and then a stout, clerical gentleman kissed her who, no doubt, was Mr. Clavering, senior. After that, another clerical gentleman, very much younger and very much slighter, shock hands with her. He might have kissed her, too, had he been so minded, for Florence was too confused to be capable of making any exact reckoning in the matter. He might have done so — that is, as far as Florence was concerned. It may be a question whether Mary Clavering would not have objected; for this clerical gentleman was the Rev. Edward Fielding, who was to become her husband in three days’ time.

“Now, Florence,” said Fanny, “come up stairs into mamma’s room and have some tea, and we’ll look at you. Harry, you needn’t come. You’ve had her to yourself for a long time, and can have her again in the evening.”

Florence, in this way, was taken up stairs and found herself seated by a fire, while three pairs of hands were taking from her her shawls and hat and cloak, almost before she knew where she was.

“It is so odd to have you here,” said Fanny. “We have only one brother, so, of course, we shall make very much of you. Isn’t she nice, mamma?”

“I’m sure she is; very nice. But I shouldn’t have told her so before her face, if you hadn’t asked the question.”

“That’s nonsense, mamma. You musn’t believe mamma when she pretends to be grand and sententious. It’s only put on as a sort of company air, but we don’t mean to make company of you.”

“Pray don’t,” said Florence.

“I’m so glad you are come just at this time,” said Mary. “I think so much of having Harry’s future wife at my wedding. I wish we were both going to be married the same day.”

“But we are not going to be married for ever so long. Two years hence has been the shortest time named.”

“Don’t be sure of that, Florence,” said Fanny. “We have all of us received a special commission from Harry to talk you out of that heresy; have we not, mamma?”

“I think you had better not tease Florence about that immediately on her arrival. It’s hardly fair.” Then, when they had drunk their tea, Florence was taken away to her own room, and before she was allowed to go down stairs she was intimate with both the girls, and had so far overcome her awe of Harry’s mother as to be able to answer her without confusion.

“Well, sir, what do you think of her?” said Harry to his father, as soon as they were alone.

“I have not had time to think much of her yet. She seems to be very pretty. She isn’t so tall as I thought she would be.”

“No; she’s not tall,” said Harry, in a voice of disappointment.

“I’ve no doubt we shall like her very much. What money is she to have?”

“A hundred a year while her father lives.”

“That’s not much.”

“Much or little, it made no difference with me. I should never have thought of marrying a girl for her money. It’s a kind of thing that I hate. I almost wish she was to have nothing.”

“I shouldn’t refuse it if I were you.”

“Of course, I shant refuse it; but what I mean is that I never thought about it when I asked her to have me; and I shouldn’t have been a bit more likely to ask her if she had ten times as much.”

“A fortune with one’s wife isn’t a bad thing for a poor man, Harry.”

“But a poor man must be poor in more senses than one when he looks about to get a fortune in that way.”

“I suppose you won’t marry just yet,” said the father. “Including everything, you would not have five hundred a year, and that would be very close work in London.”

“It’s not quite decided yet, sir. As far as I am myself concerned, I think that people are a great deal too prudent about money, I believe I could live as a married man on a hundred a year, if I had no more; and as for London, I don’t see why London should be more expensive than any other place. You can get exactly what you want in London, and make your halfpence go farther there than anywhere else.”

“And your sovereigns go quicker,” said the rector.

“All that is wanted,” said Harry, “is the will to live on your income, and a little firmness in carrying out your plans.”

The rector of Clavering, as he heard all this wisdom fall from his son’s lips, looked at Harry’s expensive clothes, at the ring on his finger, at the gold chain on his waistcoat, at the studs in his shirt, and smiled gently. He was by no means so clever a man as his son, but he knew something more of the world, and though not much given to general reading, he had read his son’s character. “A great deal of firmness and of fortitude also is wanted for that kind of life,” he said. “There are men who can go through it without suffering, but I would not advise any young man to commence it in a hurry. If I were you I should wait a year or two. Come, let’s have a walk; that is, if you can tear yourself away from your lady-love for an hour. If there is not Saul coming up the avenue! Take your hat, Harry, and we’ll get out the other way. He only wants to see the girls about the school, but if he catches us he’ll keep us for an hour.” Then Harry asked after Mr. Saul’s love-affairs. “I’ve not heard one single word about it since you went away,” said the rector. “It seems to have passed off like a dream. He and Fanny go on the same as ever, and I suppose he knows that he made a fool of himself.” But in this matter the rector of Clavering was mistaken. Mr. Saul did not by any means think that he made a fool of himself.

“He has never spoken a word to me since,” said Fanny to her brother that evening; “that is, not a word as to what occurred then. Of course it was very embarrassing at first, though I don’t think he minded it much. He came after a day or two just the same as ever, and he almost made me think that he had forgotten it.”

“And he wasn’t confused?”

“Not at all. He never is. The only difference is that I think he scolds me more than he used to do.”

“Scold you!”

“Oh dear, yes; he always scolded me if he thought there was anything wrong, especially about giving the children holidays. But he does it now more than ever.”

“How do you bear it?”

“In a half-and-half sort of a way. I laugh at him, and then do as I’m bid. He makes everybody do what he bids them at Clavering — except papa, sometimes. But he scolds him, too. I heard him the other day in the library.”

“And did my father take it from him?”

“He did, in a sort of a way. I don’t think papa likes him; but then he knows, and we all know, that he is so good. He never spares himself in anything. He has nothing but his curacy, and what he gives away is wonderful.”

“I hope he won’t take to scolding me,” said Harry, proudly.

“As you don’t concern yourself about the parish, I should say that you’re safe. I suppose he thinks mamma does everything right, for he never scolds her.”

“There is no talk of his going away.”

“None at all. I think we should all be sorry, because he does so much good.”

Florence reigned supreme in the estimation of the rectory family all the evening of her arrival and till after breakfast the next morning, but then the bride elect was restored to her natured preeminence. This, however, lasted only for two days, after which the bride was taken away. The wedding was very nice, and pretty, and comfortable; and the people of Clavering were much better satisfied with it than they had been with that other marriage which has been mentioned as having been celebrated in Clavering Church. The rectory family was generally popular, and everybody wished well to the daughter who was being given away. When they were gone there was a breakfast at the rectory, and speeches were made with much volubility. On such an occasion the rector was a great man, and Harry also shone in conspicious rivalry with his father. But Mr. Saul’s spirit was not so well tuned to the occasion as that of the rector or his son, and when he got upon his legs, and mournfully expressed a hope that his friend Mm Fielding might be enabled to bear the trials of this life with fortitude, it was felt by them all that the speaking had better be brought to an end.

“You shouldn’t laugh at him, Harry,” Fanny said to her brother afterward, almost seriously. “One man can do one thing and one another. You can make a speech better than he can, but I don’t think you could preach so good a sermon.”

“I declare I think you’re getting fond of him, after all,” said Harry. Upon hearing this Fanny turned away with a look of great offence. “No one but a brother,” said she, “would say such a thing as that to me, because I don’t like to hear the poor man ridiculed without cause.” That evening, when they were alone, Fanny told Florence the whole story about Mr. Saul. “I tell you, you know, because you’re like one of ourselves now. It has never been mentioned to any one out of the family.”

Florence declared that the story would be sacred with her.

“I’m sure of that, dear, and therefore I like you to know it. Of course such a thing was quite out of the question. The poor fellow has no means at all — literally, none. And then independently of that —”

“I don’t think I should ever bring myself to think of that as the first thing,” said Florence.

“No, nor would I. If I really were attached to a man, I think I would tell him so, and agree to wait, either with hope or without it.”

“Just so, Fanny.”

“But there was nothing of that kind; and, indeed, he’s the sort of man that no girl would think of being in love with — isn’t he? You see he will hardly take the trouble to dress himself decently.”

“I have only seen him at a wedding, you know.”

“And for him he was quite bright. But you will see plenty of him if you will go to the schools with me. And indeed he comes here a great deal, quite as much as he did before that happened. He is so good, Florence!”

“Poor man!”

“I can’t in the least make out from his manner whether he has given up thinking about it. I suppose he has. Indeed, of course he has, because he must know that it would be of no sort of use. But he is one of those men of whom you can never say whether they are happy or not; and you never can be quite sure what may be in his mind.”

“He is not bound to the place at all — not like your father?”

“Oh, no,” said Fanny, thinking perhaps that Mr. Saul might find himself to be bound to the place, though not exactly with bonds similar to those which kept her father there.

“If he found himself to be unhappy, he could go,” said Florence.

“Oh, yes; he could go if he were unhappy,” said Fanny. “That is, he could go if he pleased.”

Lady Clavering had come to the wedding; but no one else had been present from the great house. Sir Hugh, indeed, was not at home; but, as the rector truly observed, he might have been at home if he had so pleased. “But he is a man,” said the father to the son, “who always does a rude thing if it be in his power. For myself, I care nothing for him, as he knows. But he thinks that Mary would have liked to have seen him as the head of the family, and therefore he does not come. He has greater skill in making himself odious than any man I ever knew. As for her, they say he’s leading her a terrible life. And he’s becoming so stingy about money, too!”

“I hear that Archie is very heavy on him.”

“I don’t believe that he would allow any man to be heavy on him, as you call it. Archie has means of his own, and I suppose has not run through them yet. If Hugh has advanced him money, you may be sure that he has security. As for Archie, he will come to an end very soon, if what I hear is true. They tell me he is always at Newmarket, and he always loses.”

But though Sir Hugh was thus uncorteous to the rector and to the rector’s daughter, he was so far prepared to be civil to his cousin Harry, that he allowed his wife to ask all the rectory family to dine up at the house, in honor of Harry’s sweetheart. Florence Burton was specially invited, with Lady Clavering’s sweetest smile. Florence, of course, referred the matter to her hostess, but it was decided that they should all accept the invitation. It was given, personally, after the breakfast, and it is not always easy to decline invitations so given. It may, I think, be doubted whether any man or woman has a right to give an invitation in this way, and whether all invitations so given should not be null and void, from the fact of the unfair advantage that has been taken. The man who fires at a sitting bird is known to be no sportsman. Now, the dinner-giver who catches his guest in an unguarded moment, and bags him when he has had no chance to rise upon his wing, does fire at a sitting bird. In this instance, however, Lady Clavering’s little speeches were made only to Mrs. Clavering and to Florence. She said nothing personally to the rector, and he therefore might have escaped. But his wife talked him over.

“I think you should go for Harry’s sake,” said Mrs. Clavering.

“I don’t see what good it will do Harry.”

“It will show that you approve of the match.”

“I don’t approve or disapprove of it. He’s his own master.”

“But you approve, you know, as you countenance it; and there cannot possibly be a sweeter girl than Florence Burton. We all like her, and I’m sure you seem to take to her thoroughly.”

“Take to her; yes, I take to her very well. She’s ladylike, and though she’s no beauty, she looks pretty, and is spirited. And I daresay she’s clever.”

“And so good.”

“If she’s good, that’s better than all. Only I don’t see what they’re to live.”

“But as she is here, you will go with us to the great house?”

Mrs. Clavering never asked her husband anything in vain, and the rector agreed to go. He apologized for this afterward to his son, by explaining that he did it as a duty. “It will serve for six months,” he said. “If I did not go there about once in six months, there would be supposed to be a family quarrel, and that would be bad for the parish.”

Harry was to remain only a week at Clavering, and the dinner was to take place the evening before he went away. On that morning he walked all round the park with Florence — as he had before often walked with Julia — and took that occasion of giving her a full history of the Clavering family. “We none of us like my cousin Hugh,” he said. “But she is at least harmless, and she means to be good-natured. She is very unlike her sister, Lady Ongar.”

“So I should suppose, from what you have told me.”

“Altogether an inferior being.”

“And she has only one child.”

“Only one — a boy now two years old. They say he’s anything but strong.”

“And Sir Hugh has one brother.”

“Yes; Archie Clavering. I think Archie is a worse fellow even than Hugh. He makes more attempts to be agreeable, but there is something in his eye which I always distrust. And then he is a man who does no good in the world to anybody.”

“He’s not married?”

“No; he’s not married, and I don’t suppose he ever will marry. It’s on the cards, Florence, that the future baronet may be.” Then she frowned on him, walked on quickly, and changed the conversation.

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