As he sat with his father that evening, he told the story of his quarrel with his cousin. His father shrugged his shoulders and raised his eyebrows. “You are a bolder man than I am,” he said. “I certainly should not have dared to advise Hugh as to what he should do with his wife.”
“But I did not advise him. I only said that I had been talking to her about it. If he were to say to you that he had been recommending my mother to do this or that, you would not take it amiss?”
“But Hugh is a peculiar man.”
“No man has a right to be peculiar. Every man is bound to accept such usage as is customary in the world.”
“I don’t suppose that it will signify much,” said the rector. “To have your cousin’s doors barred against you, either here or in London, will not injure you.”
“Oh, no; it will not injure me; but I do not wish you to think that I have been unreasonable.”
The night went by and so did the next day, and still the letter did not get itself written. On the third morning after the funeral he heard that Sir Hugh had gone away; but he, of course, did not go up to the house, remembering well that he had been warned by the master not to do so in the master’s absence. His mother, however, went to Lady Clavering, and some intercourse between the families was renewed. He had intended to stay but one day after the funeral, but at the end of a week he was still at the rectory. It was Whitsuntide he said, and he might as well take his holiday as he was down there. Of course they were glad that he should remain with them, but they did not fail to perceive that things with him were not altogether right; nor had Fanny failed to perceive that he had not once mentioned Florence’s name since he had been at the rectory.
“Harry,” she said, “there is nothing wrong between you and Florence?”
“Wrong! what should there be wrong? What do you mean by wrong?”
“I had a letter from her to-day, and she asks where you are.”
“Women expect such a lot of letter-writing! But I have been remiss I know. I got out of my business way of doing things when I came down here and have neglected it. Do you write to her to-morrow, and tell her that she shall hear from me directly I get back to town.”
“But why should you not write to her from here?”
“Because I can get you to do it for me.”
Fanny felt that this was not at all like a lover, and not at all like such a lover as her brother had been. While Florence had been at Clavering he had been most constant with his letters, and Fanny had often heard Florence boast of them as being perfect in their way. She did not say anything further at the present moment, but she knew that things were not altogether right. Things were by no means right. He had written neither to Lady Ongar nor to Florence, and the longer he put off the task the more burdensome did it become. He was now telling himself that he would write to neither till he got back to London.
On the day before he went, there came to him a letter from Stratton. Fanny was with him when he received it, and observed that he put it into his pocket without opening it. In his pocket he carried it unopened half the day, till he was ashamed of his own weakness. At last, almost in despair with himself, he broke the seal and forced himself to read it. There was nothing in it that need have alarmed him. It contained hardly a word that was intended for a rebuke.
“I wonder why you should have been two whole weeks without writing,” she said. “It seems so odd to me, because you have spoiled me by your customary goodness. I know that other men when they are engaged do not trouble themselves with constant letter-writing. Even Theodore, who, according to Cecilia, is perfect, would not write to her then very often; and now, when he is away, his letters are only three lines. I suppose you are teaching me not to be exacting. If so, I will kiss the rod like a good child; but I feel it the more because the lesson has not come soon enough.”
Then she went on in her usual strain, telling him of what she had done, what she had read and what she had thought. There was no suspicion in her letters no fear, no hint at jealousy. And she should have no further cause for jealousy! One of the two must be sacrificed, and it was most fitting that Julia should be the sacriflce. Julia should be sacrificed — Julia and himself! But still he could not write to Florence till he had written to Julia. He could not bring himself to send soft, pretty, loving words to one woman while the other was still regarding him as her affianced lover.
“Was your letter from Florence this morning?” Fanny asked.
“Yes; it was.”
“Had she received mine?”
“I don’t know. Of course she had. If you sent it by post of course she got it.”
“She might have mentioned it, perhaps.”
“I daresay she did. I don’t remember.”
“Well, Harry you need not be cross with me because I love the girl who is going to be your wife. You would not like it if I did not care about her.”
“I hate being called cross.”
“Suppose I were to say that I hated your being cross. I’m sure I do; and you are going away to-morrow, too. You have hardly said a nice word to me since you have been home.”
Harry threw himself back into a chair almost in despair. He was not enough a hypocrite to say nice words when his heart within him was not at ease. He could not bring himself to pretend that things were pleasant.
“If you are in trouble, Harry, I will not go on teasing you.”
“I am in trouble,” he said.
“And cannot I help you?”
“No; you cannot help me. No one can help me. But do not ask any questions.”
“Oh, Harry! is it about money?”
“No, no; it has nothing to do with money.”
“You have not really quarrelled with Florence?”
“No; I have not quarrelled with her at all. But I will not answer more questions. And, Fanny, do not speak of this to my father or mother. It will be over before long, and then, if possible, I will tell you.”
“Harry, you are not going to fight with Hugh?”
“Fight with Hugh! no. Not that I should mind it; but he is not fool enough for that. If he wanted fighting done, he would do it by deputy. But there is nothing of that kind.”
She asked him no more questions, and on the. next morning he returned to London. On his table he found a note which he at once knew to be from Lady Ongar, and which had come only that afternoon.
“Come to me at once; at once.” That was all that note contained. Fanny Clavering, while she was inquiring of her brother about his troubles, had not been without troubles of her own. For some days past she had been aware — almost aware — that Mr. Saul’s love was not among the things that were past. I am not prepared to say that this conviction on her part was altogether an unalloyed trouble, or that there might have been no faint touch of sadness, of silent melancholy about her, had it been otherwise. But Mr. Saul was undoubtedly a trouble to her; and Mr. Saul with his love in activity would be more troublesome than Mr. Saul with his love in abeyance. “It would be madness either in him or in me,” Fanny had said to herself very often; “he has not a shilling in the world.” But she thought no more in these days of the awkwardness of his gait, or of his rusty clothes, or his abstracted manner; and for his doings as a clergyman her admiration had become very great. Her mother saw something of all this, and cautioned her; but Fanny’s demure manner deceived Mrs. Clavering. “Oh, mamma, of course I know that anything of the kind must be impossible; and I’m sure he does not think of it himself any longer.” When she had said this, Mrs. Clavering had believed that it was all right. The reader must not suppose that Fanny had been a hypocrite. There had been no hypocrisy in her words to her mother. At that moment the conviction that Mr. Saul’s love was not among past events had not reached her; and as regarded, herself; she was quite sincere when she said that anything of the kind must be impossible.
It will be remembered that Florence Burton had advised Mr. Saul to try again, and that Mr. Saul had resolved that he would do so — resolving, also, that should he try in vain he must leave Clavering and seek another home. He was a solemn, earnest, thoughtful man; to whom such a matter as this was a phase of life very serious, causing infinite present trouble, nay, causing tribulation, and, to the same extent, capable of causing infinite joy. From day to day he went about his work, seeing her amid his ministrations almost daily. And never during these days did he say a word to her of his love — never since that day in which he had plainly pleaded his cause in the muddy lane. To no one but Florence Burton had he since spoken of it, and Florence had certainly been true to her trust; but, notwithstanding all that, Fanny’s conviction was very strong.
Florence had counselled Mr. Saul to try again, and Mr. Saul was prepared to make the attempt; but he was a man who allowed himself to do nothing in a hurry. He thought much of the matter before he could prepare himself to recur to the subject; doubting, sometimes, whether he would be right to do so without first speaking to Fanny’s father; doubting, afterward, whether he might not best serve his cause by asking the assistance of Fanny’s mother. But he resolved at last that he would depend on himself alone. As to the rector, if his suit to Fanny were a fault against Mr. Clavering as Fanny’s father, that fault had been already committed. But Mr. Saul would not admit himself that it was a fault. I fancy that he considered himself to have, as a gentleman, a right to address himself to any lady with whom he was thrown into close contact. I fancy that he ignored all want of worldly preparation — never for a moment attempting to place himself on a footing with men who were richer than himself; and, as the world goes, brighter, but still feeling himself to be in no way lower than they. If any woman so lived as to show that she thought his line better than their line, it was open to him to ask such a woman to join her lot to his. If he failed, the misfortune was his; and the misfortune, as he well knew, was one which it was hard to bear. And as to the mother, though he had learned to love Mrs. Clavering dearly — appreciating her kindness to all those around her, her conduct to her husband, her solicitude in the parish, all her genuine goodness, still he was averse to trust to her for any part of his success. Though Mr. Saul was no knight, though he had nothing knightly about him, though he was a poor curate in very rusty clothes and with manner strangely unfitted for much communion with the outer world, still he had a feeling that the spoil which he desired to win should be won by his own spear, and that his triumph would lose half its glory if it were not achieved by his own prowess. He was no coward, even in such matters as this, or in any other. When circumstances de manded that he should speak he could speak his mind freely, with manly vigor, and sometimes not without a certain manly grace.
How did Fanny know that it was coming? She did know it, though he had said nothing to her beyond his usual parish communications. He was often with her in the two schools; often returned with her in the sweet Spring evenings along the lane that led back to the rectory from Cumberly Green; often inspected with her the little amounts of parish charities and entries of pence collected from such parents as could pay. He had never reverted to that other subject. But yet Fanny knew that it was coming, and when she had questioned Harry about his troubles she had been thinking also of her own.
It was now the middle of May, and the Spring was giving way to the early Summer almost before the Spring had itself arrived. It is so, I think, in these latter years. The sharpness of March prolongs itself almost through April, and then, while we are still hoping for the Spring, there falls upon us suddenly a bright, dangerous, delicious gleam of Summer. The lane from Cumberly Green was no longer muddy, and Fanny could go backward and forward between the parsonage and her distant school without that wading for which feminine apparel is so unsuited. One evening, just as she had finished her work, Mr. Saul’s head appeared at the school-door, and he asked her whether she were about to return home. As soon as she saw his eye and heard his voice, she feared that the day was come. She was prepared with no new answer, and could only give the answer that she had given before. She had always told herself that it was impossible; and as to all other questions, about her own heart or such like, she had put such questions away from her as being unnecessary, and, perhaps, unseemly. The thing was impossible, and should therefore be put away out of thought, as a matter completed and at an end. But now the time was come, and she almost wished that she had been more definite in her own resolutions.
“Yes, Mr. Saul, I have just done.”
“I will walk with you, if you will let me.” Then Fanny spoke some words of experienced wisdom to two or three girls, in order that she might show to them, to him, and to herself that she was quite collected. She lingered in the room. for a few minutes, and was very wise and very experienced. “I am quite ready now, Mr. Saul.” So saying, she came forth upon the green lane, and he followed her.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01