Harry Clavering might not be an usher, but, nevertheless, he was home for the holidays. And who can say where the usher ends and the school-master begins? He, perhaps, may properly be called an usher, who is hired by a private schoolmaster to assist himself in his private occupation, whereas Harry Clavering had been selected by a public body out of a hundred candidates, with much real or pretended reference to certificates of qualification. He was certainly not an usher, as he was paid three hundred a year for his work — which is quite beyond the mark of ushers. So much was certain; but yet the word stuck in his throat and made him uncomfortable. He did not like to reflect that he was home for the holidays.
But he had determined that he would never come home for the holidays again. At Christmas he would leave the school at which he had won his appointment with so much trouble, and go into an open profession. Indeed he had chosen his profession, and his mode of entering it. He would become a civil engineer, and perhaps a land surveyor, and with this view he would enter himself as a pupil in the great house of Beilby & Burton. The terms even had been settled. He was to pay a premium of five hundred pounds and join Mr. Burton, who was settled in the town of Stratton, for twelve months before he placed himself in Mr. Beilby’s office in London. Stratton was less than twenty miles from Clavering. It was a comfort to him to think that he could pay this five hundred pounds out of his own earnings, without troubling his father. It was a comfort, even though he had earned that money by “ushering” for the last two years.
When he left Julia Brabazon in the garden, Harry Clavering did not go at once home to the rectory, but sauntered out all alone into the park, intending to indulge in reminiscences of his past romance. It was all over, that idea of having Julia Brabazon for his love; and now he had to ask himself whether he intended to be made permanently miserable by her wordly falseness, or whether he would borrow something of her wordly wisdom, and agree with himself to look back on what was past as a pleasurable excitement in his boyhood. Of course we all know that really permanent misery was in truth out of the question. Nature had not made him physically or mentally so poor a creature as to be incapable of a cure. But on this occasion he decided on permanent misery. There was about his heart — about his actual anatomical heart, with its internal arrangement of valves and blood-vessels — a heavy dragging feeling that almost amounted to corporeal pain, and which he described to himself as agony. Why should this rich, debauched, disreputable lord have the power of taking the cup from his lip, the one morsel of bread which he coveted from his mouth, his one ingot of treasure out of his coffer? Fight him! No, he knew he could not fight Lord Ongar. The world was against such an arrangement. And in truth Harry Clavering had so much contempt for Lord Ongar, that he had no wish to fight so poor a creature. The man had had delirium tremens, and was a worn-out miserable object. So at least Harry Clavering was only too ready to believe. He did not care much for Lord Ongar in the matter. His anger was against her; that she should have deserted him for a miserable creature, who had nothing to back him but wealth and rank!
There was wretchedness in every view of the matter. He loved her so well, and yet he could do nothing! He could take no step toward saving her or assisting himself. The marriage bells would ring within a month from the present time, and his own father would go to the church and marry them. Unless Lord Ongar were to die before then by God’s hand, there could be no escape — and of such escape Harry Clavering had no thought. He felt a weary, dragging soreness at his heart, and told himself that he must be miserable for-ever — not so miserable but what he would work, but so wretched that the world could have for him no satisfaction.
What could he do? What thing could he achieve so that she should know that he did not let her go from him without more thought than his poor words had expressed? He was perfectly aware that in their conversation she had had the best of the argument — that he had talked almost like a boy, while she had talked quite like a woman. She had treated him de haut en bas with all that superiority which youth and beauty give to a young woman over a very young man. What could he do? Before he returned to the rectory, he had made up his mind what he would do, and on the following morning Julia Brabazon received by the hands of her maid the following note: “I think I understood all that you said to me yesterday. At any rate, I understand that you have one trouble left, and that I have the means of curing it.” In the first draft of his letter he said something about ushering, but that he omitted afterwards. “You may be assured that the inclosed is all my own, and that it is entirely at my own disposal. You may also be quite sure of good faith on the part of the lender. — H. C.” And in this letter he inclosed a check for six hundred pounds. It was the money which he had saved since he took his degree, and had been intended for Messrs. Beilby & Burton. But he would wait another two years — continuing to do his ushering for her sake. What did it matter to a man who must, under any circumstances, be permanently miserable?
Sir Hugh was not yet at Clavering. He was to come with Lord Ongar on the eve of the partridge-shooting. The two sisters, therefore, had the house all to themselves. At about twelve they sat down to breakfast together in a little upstairs chamber adjoining Lady Clavering’s own room, Julia Brabazon at that time having her lover’s generous letter in her pocket. She knew that it was as improper as it was generous, and that, moreover, it was very dangerous. There was no knowing what might be the result of such a letter should Lord Ongar even know that she had received it. She was not absolutely angry with Harry, but had, to herself, twenty times called him a foolish, indiscreet, dear, generous boy. But what was she to do with the check? As to that, she had hardly as yet made up her mind when she joined her sister on the morning in question. Even to Hermione she did not dare to tell the fact that such a letter had been received by her.
But in truth her debts were a great torment to her; and yet how trifling they were when compared with the wealth of the man who was to become her husband in six weeks! Let her marry him, and not pay them, and he probably would never be the wiser. They would get themselves paid almost without his knowledge, perhaps altogether without his hearing of them. But yet she feared him, knowing him to be greedy about money; and, to give her such merit as was due to her, she felt the meanness of going to her husband with debts on her shoulder. She had five thousand pounds of her own; but the very settlement which gave her a noble dower, and which made the marriage so brilliant, made over this small sum in its entirety to her lord. She had been wrong not to tell the lawyer of her trouble when he had brought the paper for her to sign; but she had not told him. If Sir Hugh Clavering had been her own brother there would have been no difficulty, but he was only her brother-in-law, and she feared to speak to him. Her sister, however, knew that there were debts, and on that subject she was not afraid to speak to Hermione.
“Hermy,” said she, “what am I to do about this money that I owe? I got a bill from Colclugh’s this morning.”
“Just because he knows you’re going to be married; that’s all.”
“But how am I to pay him?”
“Take no notice of it till next spring. I don’t know what else you can do.
You’ll be sure to have money when you come back from the Continent.”
“You couldn’t lend it me; could you?”
“Who? I? Did you ever know me have any money in hand since I was married? I have the name of an allowance, but it is always spent before it comes to me, and I am always in debt.”
“Would Hugh — let me have it?”
“What, give it you?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be so very much for him. I never asked him for a pound yet.”
“I think he would say something you wouldn’t like if you were to ask him; but of course, you can try it if you please.”
“Then what am I to do?”
“Lord Ongar should have let you keep your own fortune. It would have been nothing to him.”
“Hugh didn’t let you keep your own fortune.”
“But the money which will be nothing to Lord Ongar was a good deal to Hugh. You’re going to have sixty thousand a year, while we have to do with seven or eight. Besides, I hadn’t been out in London, and it wasn’t likely I should owe much in Nice. He did ask me, and there was something.”
“What am I to do, Hermy?”
“Write and ask Lord Ongar to let you have what you want out of your own money. Write to-day, so that he may get your letter before he comes.”
“Oh, dear! oh, dear! I never wrote a word to him yet, and to begin with asking him for money!”
“I don’t think he can be angry with you for that.”
“I shouldn’t know what to say. Would you write for me, and let me see how it looks?”
This Lady Clavering did; and had she refused to do it, I think that poor Harry Clavering’s check would have been used. As it was, Lady Clavering wrote the letter to “My dear Lord Ongar,” and it was copied and signed by “Yours most affectionately, Julia Brabazon.” The effect of this was the receipt of a check for a thousand pounds in a very pretty note from Lord Ongar, which the lord brought with him to Clavering, and sent up to Julia as he was dressing for dinner. It was an extremely comfortable arrangement, and Julia was very glad of the money — feeling it to be a portion of that which was her own. And Harry’s check had been returned to him on the day of its receipt. “Of course I cannot take it, and of course you should not have sent it.” These words were written on the morsel of paper in which the money was returned. But Miss Brabazon had torn the signature off the check, so that it might be safe, whereas Harry Clavering had taken no precaution with it whatever. But then Harry Clavering had not lived two years in London.
During the hours that the check was away from him, Harry had told his father that perhaps, even yet, he might change his purpose as to going to Messrs. Beilby & Burton. He did not know, he said, but he was still in doubt. This had sprung from some chance question which his father had asked, and which had seemed to demand an answer. Mr. Clavering greatly disliked the scheme of life which his son had made, Harry’s life hitherto had been prosperous and very creditable. He had gone early to Cambridge, and at twenty-two had become a fellow of his college. This fellowship he could hold for five or six years without going into orders. It would then lead to a living, and would in the meantime afford a livelihood. But, beyond this, Harry, with an energy which he certainly had not inherited from his father, had become a schoolmaster, and was already a rich man. He had done more than well, and there was a great probability that between them they might be able to buy the next presentation to Clavering, when the time should come in which Sir Hugh should determine on selling it. That Sir Hugh should give the family living to his cousin was never thought probable by any of the family at the rectory; but he might perhaps part with it under such circumstances on favorable terms. For all these reasons the father was very anxious that his son should follow out the course for which he had been intended; but that he, being unenergetic and having hitherto done little for his son, should dictate to a young man who had been energetic, and who had done much for himself, was out of the question. Harry, therefore, was to be the arbiter of his own fate. But when Harry received back the check from Julia Brabazon, then he again returned to his resolution respecting Messrs. Beilby & Burton, and took the first opportunity of telling his father that such was the case.
After breakfast he followed his father into his study, and there, sitting in two easy chairs opposite to each other, they lit each a cigar. Such was the reverend gentleman’s custom in the afternoon, and such also in the morning. I do not know whether the smoking of four or five cigars daily by the parson of a parish may now-a-day be considered as a vice in him, but if so, it was the only vice with which Mr. Clavering could be charged. He was a kind, soft-hearted, gracious man, tender to his wife, whom he ever regarded as the angel of his house, indulgent to his daughters, whom he idolized, ever patient with his parishioners, and awake — though not widely awake — to the responsibilities of his calling. The world had been too comfortable for him, and also too narrow; so that he had sunk into idleness. The world had given him much to eat and drink, but it had given him little to do, and thus he had gradually fallen away from his early purposes, till his energy hardly sufficed for the doing of that little. His living gave him eight hundred a year; his wife’s fortune nearly doubled that. He had married early, and had got his living early, and had been very prosperous. But he was not a happy man. He knew that he had put off the day of action till the power of action had passed away from him. His library was well furnished, but he rarely read much else than novels and poetry; and of late years the reading even of poetry had given way to the reading of novels. Till within ten years of the hour of which I speak, he had been a hunting parson — not hunting loudly, but following his sport as it is followed by moderate sportsmen. Then there had come a new bishop, and the new bishop had sent for him — nay, finally had come to him, and had lectured him with blatant authority. “My lord,” said the parson of Clavering, plucking up something of his past energy, as the color rose to his face, “I think you are wrong in this. I think you are especially wrong to interfere with me in this way on your first coming among us. You feel it to be your duty no doubt; but to me it seems that you mistake your duty. But as the matter is simply one of my own pleasure, I shall give it up.” After that Mr. Clavering hunted no more, and never spoke a good word to any one of the bishop of his diocese. For myself, I think it as well that clergymen should not hunt; but had I been the parson of Clavering, I should, under those circumstances, have hunted double.
Mr. Clavering hunted no more, and probably smoked a greater number of cigars in consequence. He had an increased amount of time at his disposal, but did not, therefore, give more time to his duties. Alas! What time did he give to his duties? He kept a most energetic curate, whom he allowed to do almost what he would with the parish. Every-day services he did prohibit, declaring that he would not have the parish church made ridiculous; but in other respects his curate was the pastor. Once every Sunday he read the service, and once every Sunday he preached, and he resided in his parsonage ten months every year. His wife and daughters went among the poor — and he smoked cigars in his library. Though not yet fifty, he was becoming fat and idle — unwilling to walk, and not caring much even for such riding as the bishop had left to him. And to make matters worse — far worse, he knew all this of himself, and understood it thoroughly. “I see a better path, and know how good it is, but I follow ever the worse.” He was saying that to himself daily, and was saying it always without hope.
And his wife had given him up. She had given him up, not with disdainful rejection, nor with contempt in her eye, or censure in her voice, not with diminution of love or of outward respect. She had given him up as a man abandons his attempts to make his favorite dog take the water. He would fain that the dog he loves should dash into the stream as other dogs will do. It is, to his thinking, a noble instinct in a dog. But his dog dreads the water. As, however, he has learned to love the beast, he puts up with this mischance, and never dreams of banishing poor Ponto from his hearth because of this failure. And so it was with Mrs. Clavering and her husband at the rectory. He understood it all. He knew that he was so far rejected; and he acknowledged to himself the necessity for such rejection.
“It is a very serious thing to decide upon,” he said, when his son had spoken to him.
“Yes; it is serious — about as serious a thing as a man can think of; but a man cannot put it off on that account. If I mean to make such a change in my plans, the sooner I do it the better.”
“But yesterday you were in another mind.”
“No, father, not in another mind. I did not tell you then, nor can I tell you all now. I had thought that I should want my money for another purpose for a year or two; but that I have abandoned.”
“Is the purpose a secret, Harry?”
“It is a secret, because it concerns another person.”
“You were going to lend your money to some one?”
“I must keep it a secret, though you know I seldom have any secrets from you. That idea, however, is abandoned, and I mean to go over to Stratton to-morrow, and tell Mr. Burton that I shall be there after Christmas. I must be at St. Cuthbert’s on Tuesday.”
Then they both sat silent for a while, silently blowing out their clouds of smoke. The son had said all that he cared to say, and would have wished that there might then be an end of it; but he knew that his father had much on his mind, and would fain express, if he could express it without too much trouble, or without too evident a need of self-reproach, his own thoughts on the subject. “You have made up your mind, then, altogether that you do not like the church as a profession,” he said at last.
“I think I have, father.”
“And on what grounds? The grounds which recommend it to you are very strong. Your education has adapted you for it. Your success in it is already insured by your fellowship. In a great degree you have entered it as a profession already by taking a fellowship. What you are doing is not choosing a line in life, but changing one already chosen. You are making of yourself a rolling stone.”
“A stone should roll till it has come to the spot that suits it.”
“Why not give up the school if it irks you?”
“And become a Cambridge Don, and practice deportment among the undergraduates.”
“I don’t see that you need do that. You need not even live at Cambridge. Take a church in London. You would be sure to get one by holding up your hand. If that, with your fellowship, is not sufficient, I will give you what more you want.”
“No, father — no. By God’s blessing I will never ask you for a pound. I can hold my fellowship for four years longer without orders, and in four years’ time I think I can earn my bread.”
“I don’t doubt that, Harry.”
“Then why should I not follow my wishes in this matter? The truth is, I do not feel myself qualified to be a good clergyman.”
“It is not that you have doubts, is it?”
“I might have them if I came to think much about it — as I must do if I took orders. And I do not wish to be crippled in doing what I think lawful by conventional rules. A rebellious clergyman is, I think, a sorry abject. It seems to me that he is a bird fouling his own nest. Now, I know I should be a rebellious clergyman.”
“In our church the life of a clergyman is as the life of any other gentleman — within very broad limits.”
“Then why did Bishop Proudie interfere with your hunting?”
“Limits may be very broad, Harry, and yet exclude hunting. Bishop Proudie was vulgar and intrusive, such being the nature of his wife, who instructs him; but if you were in orders I should be very sorry to see you take to hunting.”
“It seems to me that a clergyman has nothing to do in life unless he is always preaching and teaching. Look at Saul”— Mr. Saul was the curate of Clavering —“he is always preaching and teaching. He is doing the best he can; and what a life of it he has. He has literally thrown off all worldly cares — and, consequently, everybody laughs at him, and nobody loves him. I don’t believe a better man breathes, but I shouldn’t like his life.”
At this point there was another pause, which lasted till the cigars had come to an end. Then, as he threw the stump into the fire, Mr. Clavering spoke again. “The truth is, Harry, that you have had, all your life, a bad example before you.”
“Yes, my son; let me speak on to the end, and then you can say what you please. In me you have had a bad example on one side, and now, in poor Saul, you have a bad example on the other side. Can you fancy no life between the two, which would fit your physical nature, which is larger than his, and your mental wants, which are higher than mine? Yes, they are, Harry. It is my duty to say this, but it would be unseemly that there should be any controversy between us on the subject.”
“If you choose to stop me in that way —”
“I do choose to stop you in that way. As for Saul, it is impossible that you should become such a man as he. It is not that he mortifies his flesh, but that he has no flesh to mortify. He is unconscious of the flavor of venison, or the scent of roses, or the beauty of women. He is an exceptional specimen of a man, and you need no more fear, than you should venture to hope, that you could become such as he is.”
At this point they were interrupted by the entrance of Fanny Clavering, who came to say that Mr. Saul was in the drawing room. “What does he want, Fanny?”
This question Mr. Clavering asked half in a whisper, but with something of comic humor in his face, as though partly afraid that Mr. Saul should hear it, and partly intending to convey a wish that he might escape Mr. Saul, if it were possible.
“It’s about the iron church, papa. He says it is come — or part of it has, come — and he wants you to go out to Cumberly Green about the site.”
“I thought that was all settled.”
“He says not.”
“What does it matter where it is? He can put it anywhere he likes on the Green. However, I had better go to him.” So Mr. Clavering went. Cumberly Green was a hamlet in the parish of Clavering, three miles distant from the church, the people of which had got into a wicked habit of going to a dissenting chapel near to them. By Mr. Saul’s energy, but chiefly out of Mr. Clavering’s purse, an iron chapel had been purchased for a hundred and fifty pounds, and Mr. Saul proposed to add to his own duties the pleasing occupation of walking to Cumberly Green every Sunday morning before breakfast, and every Wednesday evening after dinner, to perform a service and bring back to the true flock as many of the erring sheep of Cumberly Green as he might be able to catch. Towards the purchase of this iron church Mr. Clavering had at first given a hundred pounds. Sir Hugh, in answer to the fifth application, had very ungraciously, through his steward, bestowed ten pounds. Among the farmers one pound nine and eightpence had been collected. Mr. Saul had given two pounds; Mrs. Clavering gave five pounds; the girls gave ten shillings each; Henry Clavering gave five pounds — and then the parson made up the remainder. But Mr. Saul had journeyed thrice painfully to Bristol, making the bargain for the church, going and coming each time by third-class, and he had written all the letters; but Mrs. Clavering had paid the postage, and she and the girls between them were making the covering for the little altar.
“Is it all settled, Harry?” said Fanny, stopping with her brother, and hanging over his chair. She was a pretty, gay-spirited girl, with bright eyes and dark brown hair, which fell in two curls behind her ears.
“He has said nothing to unsettle it.”
“I know it makes him very unhappy.”
“No, Fanny, not very unhappy. He would rather that I should go into the church, but that is about all.”
“I think you are quite right.”
“And Mary thinks I am quite wrong.”
“Mary thinks so, of course. So should I, too, perhaps, if I were engaged to a clergyman. That’s the old story of the fox who had lost his tail.”
“And your tail isn’t gone yet?”
“No, my tail isn’t gone yet. Mary thinks that no life is like a clergyman’s life. But, Harry, though mamma hasn’t said so, I’m sure she thinks you are right. She won’t say so as long as it may seem to interfere with anything papa may choose to say; but I’m sure she’s glad in her heart.”
“And I am glad in my heart, Fanny. And as I’m the person most concerned I suppose that’s the most material thing.” Then they followed their father into the drawing room.
“Couldn’t you drive Mrs. Clavering over in the pony chair, and settle it between you,” said Mr. Clavering to his curate. Mr. Saul looked disappointed. In the first place, he hated driving the pony, which was a rapid-footed little beast, that had a will of his own; and in the next place, he thought the rector ought to visit the spot on such an occasion. “Or Mrs. Clavering will drive you,” said the rector, remembering Mr. Saul’s objection to the pony. Still Mr. Saul looked unhappy. Mr. Saul was very tall and very thin, with a tall thin head, and weak eyes, and a sharp, well-cut nose, and, so to say, no lips, and very white teeth, with no beard, and a well-cut chin. His face was so thin that his cheek bones obtruded themselves unpleasantly. He wore a long rusty black coat, and a high rusty black waistcoat, and trousers that were brown with dirty roads and general ill-usage. Nevertheless, it never occurred to any one that Mr. Saul did not look like a gentleman, not even to himself to whom no ideas whatever on that subject ever presented themselves. But that he was a gentleman I think he knew well enough, and was able to carry himself before Sir Hugh and his wife with quite as much ease as he could do in the rectory. Once or twice he had dined at the great house; but Lady Clavering had declared him to be a bore, and Sir Hugh had called him “that most offensive of all animals, a clerical prig.” It had therefore been decided that he was not to be asked to the great house any more. It may be as well to state here, as elsewhere, that Mr. Clavering very rarely went to his nephew’s table. On certain occasions he did do so, so that there might be no recognized quarrel between him and Sir Hugh; but such visits were few and far between.
After a few more words from Mr. Saul, and a glance from his wife’s eye, Mr. Clavering consented to go to Cumberly Green, though there was nothing he liked so little as a morning spent with his curate. When he had started, Harry told his mother also of his final decision. “I shall go to Stratton to-morrow and settle it all.”
“And what does papa say?” asked the mother.
“Just what he has said before. It is not so much that he wishes me to be a clergyman, as that he does not wish me to have lost all my time up to this.”
“It is more than that, I think, Harry,” said his elder sister, a tall girl, less pretty than her sister, apparently less careful of her prettiness, very quiet, or, as some said, demure, but known to be good as gold by all who knew her well.
“I doubt it,” said Harry, stoutly. “But, however that may be, a man must choose for himself.”
“We all thought you had chosen,” said Mary.
“If it is settled,” said the mother, “I suppose we shall do no good by opposing it.”
“Would you wish to oppose it, mamma?” said Harry.
“No, my dear. I think you should judge for yourself.”
“You see I could have no scope in the church for that sort of ambition which would satisfy me. Look at such men as Locke, and Stephenson, and Brassey. They are the men who seem to me to do most in the world. They were all self-educated, but surely a man can’t have a worse chance because he has learned something. Look at old Beilby with a seat in Parliament, and a property worth two or three hundred thousand pounds! When he was my age he had nothing but his weekly wages.”
“I don’t know whether Mr. Beilby is a very happy man or a very good man,” said Mary.
“I don’t know, either,” said Harry; “but I do know that he has thrown a single arch over a wider span of water than ever was done before, and that ought to make him happy.” After saying this in a tone of high authority, befitting his dignity as a fellow of his college, Harry Clavering went out, leaving his mother and sisters to discuss the subject, which to two of them was all-important. As to Mary, she had hopes of her own, vested in the clerical concerns of a neighboring parish.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55