The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 3

Lord Ongar

On the next morning Harry Clavering rode over to Stratton, thinking much of his misery as he went. It was all very well for him, in the presence of his own family to talk of his profession as the one subject which was to him of any importance; but he knew very well himself that he was only beguiling them in doing so. This question of a profession was, after all, but dead leaves to him — to him who had a canker at his heart, a perpetual thorn in his bosom, a misery within him which no profession could mitigate! Those dear ones at home guessed nothing of this, and he would take care that they should guess nothing. Why should they have the pain of knowing that he had been made wretched forever by blighted hopes? His mother, indeed, had suspected something in those sweet days of his roaming with Julia through the park. She had once or twice said a word to warn him. But of the very truth of his deep love — so he told himself — she had been happily ignorant. Let her be ignorant. Why should he make his mother unhappy? As these thoughts passed through his mind, I think that he revelled in his wretchedness, and made much to himself of his misery. He sucked in his sorrow greedily, and was somewhat proud to have had occasion to break his heart. But not the less, because he was thus early blighted, would he struggle for success in the world. He would show her that, as his wife, she might have had a worthier position than Lord Ongar could give her. He, too, might probably rise the quicker in the world, as now he would have no impediment of wife or family. Then, as he rode along, he composed a sonnet, fitting to his case, the strength and rhythm of which seemed to him, as he sat on horseback, to be almost perfect. Unfortunately, when he was back at Clavering, and sat in his room with the pen in his hand, the turn of the words had escaped him.

He found Mr. Burton at home, and was not long in concluding his business. Messrs. Beilby & Burton were not only civil engineers, but were land surveyors also, and land valuers on a great scale. They were employed much by Government upon public buildings, and if not architects themselves, were supposed to know all that architects should do and should not do. In the purchase of great properties Mr. Burton’s opinion was supposed to be, or to have been, as good as any in the kingdom, and therefore there was very much to be learned in the office at Stratton. But Mr. Burton was not a rich man like his partner, Mr. Beilby, nor an ambitious man. He had never soared Parliamentwards, had never speculated, had never invented, and never been great. He had been the father of a very large family, all of whom were doing as well in the world, and some of them perhaps better, than their father. Indeed, there were many who said that Mr. Burton would have been a richer man if he had not joined himself in partnership with Mr. Beilby. Mr. Beilby had the reputation of swallowing more than his share wherever he went.

When the business part of the arrangement was finished Mr. Burton talked to his future pupil about lodgings, and went out with him into the town to look for rooms. The old man found that Harry Clavering was rather nice in this respect, and in his own mind formed an idea that this new beginner might have been a more auspicious pupil, had he not already become a fellow of a college. Indeed, Harry talked to him quite as though they two were on an equality together; and, before they had parted, Mr. Burton was not sure that Harry did not patronize him. He asked the young man, however, to join them at their early dinner, and then introduced him to Mrs. Burton, and to their youngest daughter, the only child who was still living with them. “All my other girls are married, Mr. Clavering; and all of them married to men connected with my own profession.” The color came slightly to Florence Burton’s cheeks as she heard her father’s words, and Harry asked himself whether the old man expected that he should go through the same ordeal; but Mr. Burton himself was quite unaware that he had said anything wrong, and then went on to speak of the successes of his sons. “But they began early, Mr. Clavering; and worked hard — very hard indeed.” He was a good, kindly, garrulous old man; but Harry began to doubt whether he would learn much at Stratton. It was, however, too late to think of that now, and everything was fixed.

Harry, when he looked at Florence Burton, at once declared to himself that she was plain. Anything more unlike Julia Brabazon never appeared in the guise of a young lady. Julia was tall, with a high brow, a glorious complexion, a nose as finely modelled as though a Grecian sculptor had cut it, a small mouth, but lovely in its curves; and a chin that finished and made perfect the symmetry of her face. Her neck was long, but graceful as a swan’s, her bust was full, and her whole figure like that of a goddess. Added to this, when he had first known her, she had all the charm of youth. When she had returned to Clavering the other day, the affianced bride of Lord Ongar, he had hardly known whether to admire or to deplore the settled air of established womanhood which she had assumed. Her large eyes had always lacked something of rapid, glancing, sparkling brightness. They had been glorious eyes to him, and in those early days he had not known that they lacked aught; but he had perceived, or perhaps fancied, that now, in her present condition, they were often cold, and sometimes almost cruel. Nevertheless, he was ready to swear that she was perfect in her beauty.

Poor Florence Burton was short of stature, was brown, meagre, and poor-looking. So said Harry Clavering to himself. Her small band, though soft, lacked that wondrous charm of touch which Julia’s possessed. Her face was short, and her forehead, though it was broad and open, had none of that feminine command which Julia’s look conveyed. That Florence’s eyes were very bright — bright and soft as well, he allowed; and her dark brown hair was very glossy; but she was, on the whole, a mean-looking little thing. He could not, as he said to himself on his return home, avoid the comparison, as she was the first girl he had seen since he had parted from Julia Brabazon.

“I hope you’ll find youself comfortable at Stratton, sir,” said old Mrs. Burton.

“Thank you,” said Harry, “but I want very little myself in that way. Anything does for me.”

“One young gentleman we had took a bedroom at Mrs. Pott’s, and did very nicely without any second room at all. Don’t you remember, Mr. B.? it was young Granger.”

“Young Granger had a very short allowance,” said Mr. Burton. “He lived upon fifty pounds a year all the time he was here.”

“And I don’t think Scarness had more when he began,” said Mrs. Burton. “Mr. Scarness married one of my girls, Mr. Clavering, when he started himself at Liverpool. He has pretty nigh all the Liverpool docks under him now. I have heard him say that butcher’s meat did not cost him four shillings a week all the time he was here. I’ve always thought Stratton one of the reasonablest places anywhere for a young man to do for himself in.”

“I don’t know, my dear,” said the husband, “that Mr: Clavering will care very much for that.”

“Perhaps not, Mr. B.; but I do like to see young men careful about their spendings. What’s the use of spending a shilling when sixpence will do as well; and sixpence saved when a man has nothing but himself, becomes pounds and pounds by the time he has a family about him.”

During all this time Miss Burton said little or nothing, and Harry Clavering himself did not say much. He could not express any intention of rivalling Mr. Scarness’s economy in the article of butcher’s meat, nor could he promise to content himself with Granger’s solitary bedroom. But as he rode home he almost began to fear that he had made a mistake. He was not wedded to the joys of his college hall, or the college common room. He did not like the narrowness of college life. But he doubted whether the change from that to the oft-repeated hospitalities of Mrs. Burton might not be too much for hire. Scarness’s four shillings’-worth of butcher’s meat had already made him half sick of his new profession, and though Stratton might be the “reasonablest place anywhere for a young man,” he could not look forward to living there for a year with much delight. As for Miss Burton, it might be quite as well that she was plain, as he wished for none of the delights which beauty affords to young men.

On his return home, however, he made no complaint of Stratton. He was too strong-willed to own that he had been in any way wrong, and when early in the following week he started for St. Cuthbert’s, he was able to speak with cheerful hope of his new prospects. If ultimately he should find life in Stratton to be unendurable, he would cut that part of his career short, and contrive to get up to London at an earlier time than he had intended.

On the 31st of August Lord Ongar and Sir Hugh Clavering reached Clavering Park, and, as has been already told, a pretty little note was at once sent up to Miss Brabazon in her bedroom. When she met Lord Ongar in the drawing-room, about an hour afterwards, she had instructed herself that it would be best to say nothing of the note; but she could not refrain from a word. “I am much obliged, my lord, by your kindness and generosity,” she said, as she gave him her hand. He merely bowed and smiled, and muttered something as to his hoping that he might always find it as easy to gratify her. He was a little man, on whose behalf it certainly appeared that the Peerage must have told a falsehood; it seemed so at least to those who judged of his years from his appearance. The Peerage said that he was thirty-six, and that, no doubt, was in truth his age, but any one would have declared him to be ten years older. This look was produced chiefly by the effect of an elaborately dressed jet black wig which he wore. What misfortune had made him bald so early — if to be bald early in life be a misfortune — I cannot say; but he had lost the hair from the crown of his head, and had preferred wiggery to baldness. No doubt an effort was made to hide the wiggishness of his wigs, but what effect in that direction was ever made successfully? He was, moreover, weak, thin, and physically poor, and had, no doubt, increased this weakness and poorness by hard living. Though others thought him old, time had gone swiftly with him, and he still thought himself a young man. He hunted, though he could not ride. He shot, though he could not walk. And, unfortunately, he drank, though he had no capacity for drinking! His friends at last had taught him to believe that his only chance of saving himself lay in marriage, and therefore he had engaged himself to Julia Brabazon, purchasing her at the price of a brilliant settlement. If Lord Ongar should die before her, Ongar Park was to be hers for life, with thousands a year to maintain it. Courton Castle, the great family seat, would of course go to the heir; but Ongar Park was supposed to be the most delightful small country-seat anywhere within thirty miles of London. It lay among the Surrey hills, and all the world had heard of the charms of Ongar Park. If Julia were to survive her lord, Ongar Park was to be hers; and they who saw them both together had but little doubt that she would come to the enjoyment of this clause in her settlement. Lady Clavering had been clever in arranging the match; and Sir Hugh, though he might have been unwilling to give his sister-in-law money out of his own pocket had performed his duty as a brother-in-law in looking to her future welfare. Julia Brabazon had no doubt that she was doing well. Poor Harry Clavering! She had loved him in the days of her romance. She, too, had written her sonnets. But she had grown old earlier in life than he had done, and had taught herself that romance could not be allowed to a woman in her position. She was highly born, the daughter of a peer, without money, and even without a home to which she had any claim. Of course she had accepted Lord Ongar, but she had not put out her hand to take all these good things without resolving that she would do her duty to her future lord. The duty would be doubtless disagreeable, but she would do it with all the more diligence on that account.

September passed by, hecatombs of partridges were slaughtered, and the day of the wedding drew nigh. It was pretty to see Lord Ongar and the self-satisfaction which he enjoyed at this time. The world was becoming young with him again, and he thought that he rather liked the respectability of his present mode of life. He gave himself but scanty allowances of wine, and no allowance of anything stronger than wine, and did not dislike his temperance. There was about him at all hours an air which seemed to say, “There; I told you all that I could do it as soon as there was any necessity.” And in these halcyon days he could shoot for an hour without his pony, and he liked the gentle, courteous badinage which was bestowed upon his courtship, and he liked also Julia’s beauty. Her conduct to him was perfect. She was never pert, never exigeant, never romantic, and never humble. She never bored him, and yet was always ready to be with him when he wished it. She was never exalted; and yet she bore her high place as became a woman nobly born and acknowledged to be beautiful.

“I declare you have quite made a lover of him,” said Lady Clavering to her sister. When a thought of the match had first arisen in Sir Hugh’s London house, Lady Clavering had been eager in praise of Lord Ongar, or eager in praise rather of the position which the future Lady Ongar might hold; but since the prize had been secured, since it had become plain that Julia was to be the greater woman of the two, she had harped sometimes on the other string. As a sister she had striven for a sister’s welfare, but as a woman she could not keep herself from comparisons which might tend to show that after all, well as Julia was doing, she was not doing better than her elder sister had done. Hermione had married simply a baronet, and not the richest or the most amiable among baronets; but she had married a man suitable in age and wealth, with whom any girl might have been in love. She had not sold herself to be the nurse, or not to be the nurse, as it might turn out, of a worn-out debauché. She would have hinted nothing of this, perhaps have thought nothing of this, had not Julia and Lord Ongar walked together through the Clavering groves as though they were two young people. She owed it as a duty to her sister to point out that Lord Ongar could not be a romantic young person, and ought not to be encouraged to play that part.

“I don’t know that I have made anything of him,” answered Julia. “I suppose he’s much like other men when they’re going to be married.” Julia quite understood the ideas that were passing through her sister’s mind, and did not feel them to be unnatural.

“What I mean is, that he has come out so strong in the Romeo line, which we hardly expected, you know. We shall have him under your bedroom window with a guitar, like Don Giovanni.”

“I hope not, because it’s so cold. I don’t think it likely, as he seems fond of going to bed early.”

“And it’s the best thing for him,” said Lady Clavering, becoming serious and carefully benevolent. “It’s quite a wonder what good hours and quiet living have done for him in so short a time. I was observing him as he walked yesterday, and he put his feet to the ground as firmly almost as Hugh does.”

“Did he indeed? I hope he won’t have the habit of putting his hand down firmly as Hugh does sometimes.”

“As for that,” said Lady Clavering, with a little tremor, “I don’t think there’s much difference between them. They all say that when Lord Ongar means a thing he does mean it.”

“I think a man ought to have a way of his own.”

“And a woman also, don’t you, my dear? But, as I was saying, if Lord Ongar will continue to take care of himself he may become quite a different man. Hugh says that he drinks next to nothing now, and though he sometimes lights a cigar in the smoking room at night, he hardly ever smokes it. You must do what you can to keep him from tobacco. I happen to know that Sir Charles Poddy said that so many cigars were worse for him even than brandy.”

All this Julia bore with an even temper. She was determined to bear everything till her time should come. Indeed she had made herself understand that the hearing of such things as these was a part of the price which she was to be called upon to pay. It was not pleasant for her to hear what Sir Charles Poddy had said about the tobacco and brandy of the man she was just going to marry. She would sooner have heard of his riding sixty miles a day, or dancing all night, as she might have heard had she been contented to take Harry Clavering. But she had made her selection with her eyes open, and was not disposed to quarrel with her bargain, because that which she had bought was no better than the article which she had known it to be when she was making her purchase. Nor was she even angry with her sister. “I will do the best I can, Hermy; you may be sure of that. But there are some things which it is useless to talk about.”

“But it was as well you should know what Sir Charles said.”

“I know quite enough of what he says, Hermy — quite as much, I dare say, as you do. But, never mind. If Lord Ongar has given up smoking, I quite agree with you that it’s a good thing. I wish they’d all give it up, for I hate the smell of it. Hugh has got worse and worse. He never cares about changing his clothes now.”

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said Sir Hugh to his wife that night; “sixty thousand a year is a very fine income, but Julia will find she has caught a tartar.”

“I suppose he’ll hardly live long; will he?”

“I don’t know or care when he lives or when he dies; but, by heaven, he is the most overbearing fellow I ever had in the house with me. I wouldn’t stand him here for another fortnight — not even to make her all safe.”

“It will soon be over. They’ll be gone on Thursday.”

“What do you think of his having the impudence to tell Cunliffe”— Cunliffe was the head keeper —“before my face, that he didn’t know anything about pheasants! ‘Well, my lord, I think we’ve got a few about the place,’ said Cunliffe. ‘Very few,’ said Ongar, with a sneer. Now, if I haven’t a better head of game here than he has at Courton, I’ll eat him. But the impudence of his saying that before me!”

“Did you make him any answer?”

“‘There’s about enough to suit me,’ I said. Then he skulked away, knocked off his pins. I shouldn’t like to be his wife; I can tell Julia that.”

“Julia is very clever,” said the sister.

The day of the marriage came, and everything at Clavering was done with much splendor. Four bridesmaids came down from London on the preceding day; two were already staying in the house, and the two cousins came as two more from the rectory. Julia Brabazon had never been really intimate with Mary and Fanny Clavering, but she had known them well enough to make it odd if she did not ask them to come to her wedding and to take a part in the ceremony. And, moreover, she had thought of Harry and her little romance of other days. Harry, perhaps, might be glad to know that she had shown this courtesy to his sisters. Harry, she knew, would be away at his school. Though she had asked him whether he meant to come to her wedding, she had been better pleased that he should be absent. She had not many regrets herself but it pleased her to think that he should have them. So Mary and Fanny Clavering were asked to attend her at the altar. Mary and Fanny would both have preferred to decline, but their mother had told them that they could not do so. “It would make ill-feeling,” said Mrs. Clavering; “and that is what your papa particularly wishes to avoid.”

“When you say papa particularly wishes anything, mamma, you always mean that you wish it particularly yourself,” said Fanny. “But if it must be done, it must; and then I shall know how to behave when Mary’s time comes.”

The bells were rung lustily all the morning, and all the parish was there, round about the church, to see. There was no record of a lord ever having been married in Clavering church before; and now this lord was going to marry my lady’s sister. It was all one as though she were a Clavering herself. But there was no ecstatic joy in the parish. There were to be no bonfires, and no eating and drinking at Sir Hugh’s expense — no comforts provided for any of the poor by Lady Clavering on that special occasion. Indeed, there was never much of such kindnesses between the lord of the soil and his dependants. A certain stipulated dole was given at Christmas for coals and blankets; but even for that there was generally some wrangle between the rector and the steward. “If there’s to be all this row about it,” the rector had said to the steward, “I’ll never ask for it again.” “I wish my uncle would only be as good as his word,” Sir Hugh had said, when the rector’s speech was repeated to him. Therefore, there was not much of real rejoicing in the parish on this occasion, though the bells were rung loudly, and though the people, young and old, did cluster round the churchyard to see the lord lead his bride out of the church. “A puir feckless thing, tottering along like-not half the makings of a man. A stout lass like she could a’most blow him away wi’ a puff of her mouth.” That was the verdict which an old farmer’s wife passed upon him, and that verdict was made good by the general opinion of the parish.

But though the lord might be only half a man, Julia Brabazon walked out from the church every inch a countess. Whatever price she might have paid, she had at any rate got the thing which she had intended to buy. And as she stepped into the chariot which carried her away to the railway station on her way to Dover, she told herself that she had done right. She had chosen her profession, as Harry Clavering had chosen his; and having so far succeeded, she would do her best to make her success perfect. Mercenary! Of course she had been mercenary. Were not all men and women mercenary upon whom devolved the necessity of earning their bread?

There was a great breakfast at the park — for the quality — and the rector on this occasion submitted himself to become the guest of the nephew whom he thoroughly disliked.

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