The letter which had summoned harry to the parsonage had been from his mother, and had begged him to come to Clavering at once, as trouble had come upon them from an unexpected source. His father had quarrelled with Mr. Saul. The rector and the curate had had an interview, in which there had been high words, and Mr. Clavering had refused to see Mr. Saul again. Fanny also was in great trouble — and the parish was, as it were, in hot water. Mrs. Clavering thought that Harry had better run down to Clavering, and see Mr. Saul. Harry, not unwillingly, acceded to his mother’s request, much wondering at the source of this new misfortune. As to Fanny, she, as he believed, had held out no encouragement to Mr. Saul’s overtures. When Mr. Saul had proposed to her — making that first offer of which Harry had been aware — nothing could have been more steadfast than her rejection of the gentleman’s hand. Harry had regarded Mr. Saul as little less than mad to think of such a thing, but, thinking of him as a man very different in his ways and feelings from other men, had believed that he might go on at Clavering comfortably as curate in spite of that little accident. It appeared, however, that he was not going on comfortably; but Harry, when he left London, could not quite imagine how such violent discomfort should have arisen that the rector and the curate should be unable to meet each other. If the reader will allow me, I will go back a little and explain this.
The reader already knows what Fanny’s brother did not know — namely, that Mr. Saul had pressed his suit again, and had pressed it very strongly,; and he also knows that Fanny’s reception of the second offer was very different from her reception of the first. She had begun to doubt — to doubt whether her first judgment as to Mr. Saul’s character had not been unjust — to doubt whether, in addressing her, he was not right, seeing that his love for her was so strong — to doubt whether she did not like him better than she had thought she did — to doubt whether an engagement with a penniless curate was in truth a position utterly to be reprehended and avoided. Young penniless curates must love somebody as well as young beneficed vicars and rectors. And then Mr. Saul pleaded his cause so well!
She did not at once speak to her mother on the matter, and the fact that she had a secret made her very wretched. She had left Mr. Saul in doubt, giving him no answer, and he had said that he would ask her again in a few days what was to be his fate. She hardly knew how to tell her mother of this till she had told herself what were her own wishes. She thoroughly desired to have her mother in her confidence, and promised herself that it should be so before Mr. Saul renewed his suit. He was a man who was never hurried or impatient in his doings. But Fanny put off the interview with her mother, and put off her own final resolution, till it was too late, and Mr. Saul came upon her again, when she was but ill prepared for him.
A woman, when she doubts whether she loves or does not love, is inclined five parts out of six toward the man of whom she is thinking. When a woman doubts she is lost, the cynics say. I simply assert, being no cynic, that when a woman doubts she is won. The more Fanny thought of Mr. Saul, the more she felt that he was not the man for whom she had first taken him — that he was of larger dimensions as regarded spirit, manhood and heart, and better entitled to a woman’s love. She would not tell herself that she was attached to him; but in all her arguments with herself against him, she rested her objection mainly on the fact that he had but seventy pounds a year. And then the threatened attack, the attack that was to be final, came upon her before she was prepared for it!
They had been together as usual during the intervening time. It was, indeed, impossible that they should not be together. Since she had first begun to doubt about Mr. Saul, she had been more diligent than heretofore in visiting the poor and in attending to her school, as though she were recognizing the duty which would specially be hers if she were to marry such a one as he. And thus they had been brought together more than ever. All this her mother had seen, and seeing, had trembled; but she had not thought it wise to say anything till Fanny should speak. Fanny was very good and very prudent. It could not be but that Fanny should know how impossible must be such a marriage. As to the rector, he had no suspicions on the matter. Saul had made himself an ass on one occasion, and there had been an end of it. As a curate, Saul was invaluable, and therefore the fact of his having made himself an ass had been forgiven him. It was thus that the rector looked at it.
It was hardly more than ten days since the last walk in Cumberly Lane when Mr. Saul renewed the attack. He did it again on the same spot, and at the same hour of the day. Twice a week, always on the same days, he was in the chapel up at this end of the parish, and on these days he could always find Fanny on her way home. When he put his head in at the little school door and asked for her, her mind misgave her. He had not walked home with her since, and though he had been in the school with her often, had always left her there, going about his own business, as though he were by no means desirous of her company. Now the time had come, and Fanny felt that she was not prepared. But she took up her hat, and went out to him, knowing that there was no escape.
“So Miss Clavering,” said he, “have you thought of what I was saying to you?” To this she made no answer, but merely played with the point of the parasol which she held in her hand. “You cannot but have thought of it,” he continued. “You could not dismiss it altogether from your thoughts.”
“I have thought about it, of course,” she said.
“And what does your mind say? Or rather what does your heart say? Both should speak, but I would sooner hear the heart first.”
“I am sure, Mr. Saul, that it is quite impossible.”
“In what way impossible?”
“Papa would not allow it.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Oh, dear, no.”
“Or Mrs. Clavering?”
Fanny blushed as she remembered how she had permitted the days to go by without asking her mother’s counsel. “No; I have spoken to no one. Why should I, when I knew that it is impossible?”
“May I speak to Mr. Clavering?” To this Fanny made no immediate answer, and then Mr. Saul urged the question again. “May I speak to your father?”
Fanny felt that she was assenting, even in that she did not answer such a question by an immediate refusal of her permission; and yet she did not mean to assent. “Miss Clavering,” he said, “if you regard me with affection, you have no right to refuse me this request. I tell you so boldly. If you feel for me that love which would enable you to accept me as your husband, it is your duty to tell me so — your duty to me, to yourself and to your God.”
Fanny did not quite see the thing in this light, and yet she did not wish to contradict him. At this moment she forgot that in order to put herself on perfectly firm ground, she should have gone back to the first hypothesis, and assured him that she did not feel any such regard for him. Mr. Saul, whose intellect was more acute, took advantage of her here, and chose to believe that that matter of her affection was now conceded to him. He knew what he was doing well, and is open to a charge of some jesuitry. “Mr. Saul,” said Fanny, with grave prudence, “it cannot be right for people to marry when they have nothing to live upon.” When she had shown him so plainly that she had no other piece left on the board to play than this, the game may be said to have been won on his side.
“If that be your sole objection,” said he, “you cannot but think it right that I and your father should discuss it.” To this she made no reply whatever, and they walked along the lane for a con siderable way in silence. Mr. Saul would have been glad to have had the interview over now, feeling that at any future meeting he would have stronger power of assuming the position of an accepted lover than he would do now. Another man would have desired to get from her lips a decided word of love — to take her hand, perhaps, and to feel some response from it — to go further than this, as is not unlikely, and plead for the happy indulgences of an accepted lover. But Mr. Saul abstained, and was wise in abstaining. She had not so far committed herself but that she might even now have drawn back, had he pressed her too hard. For hand-pressing, and the titillations of love-making, Mr. Saul was not adapted; but he was a man who, having once loved, would love on to the end.
The way, however, was too long to be completed without further speech. Fanny, as she walked, was struggling to find some words by which she might still hold her ground, but the words were not forthcoming. It seemed to herself that she was being carried away by this man, because she had suddenly lost her remembrance of all negatives. The more she struggled the more she failed, and at last gave it up in despair. Let Mr. Saul say what he would, it was impossible that they should be married. All his arguments about duty were nonsense. It could not be her duty to marry a man who would have to starve in his attempt to keep her. She wished she had told him at first that she did not love him, but that seemed to be too late now. The moment that she was in the house she would go to her mother and tell her everything.
“Miss Clavering,” said he, “I shall see your father to-morrow.”
“No, no,” she ejaculated.
“I shall certainly do so in any event. I shall either tell him that I must leave the parish — explaining to him why I must go; or I shall ask him to let me remain herein the hope that I may become his son-in-law. You will not now tell me that I am to go?” Fanny was again silent, her memory failing her as to either negative or affirmative that would be of service. “To stay here hopeless would be impossible to me. Now I am not hopeless. Now I am full of hope. I think I could be happy, though I had to wait as Jacob waited.”
“And perhaps have Jacob’s consolation,” said Fanny. She was lost by the joke and he knew it. A grim smile of satisfaction crossed his thin face as he heard it, and there was a feeling of triumph at his heart. “I am hardly fitted to be a patriarch, as the patriarchs were of old,” he said. “Though the seven years should be prolonged to fourteen, I do not think I should seek any Leah.”
They were soon at the gate, and his work for that evening was done. He would go home to his solitary room at a neighboring farm-house, and sit in triumph as he eat his morsel of cold mutton by himself. He, without any advantages of person to back him, poor, friendless, hitherto conscious that he was unfitted to mix even in ordinary social life — he had won the heart of the fairest woman he had ever seen. “You will give me your hand at parting,” he said, whereupon she tendered it to him with her eyes fixed upon the ground. “I hope we understand each other,” he continued. “You may at any rate understand this, that I love you with all my heart and all my strength. If things prosper with me, all my prosperity shall be for you. If there be no prosperity for me, you shall be my only consolation in this world. You are my Alpha and my Omega, my first and last, my beginning and end — my everything, my all.” Then he turned away and left her, and there had come no negative from her lips. As far as her lips were concerned, no negative was any longer possible to her.
She went into the house knowing that she must at once seek her mother but she allowed herself first to remain for some half — hour in her own bedroom, preparing the words that she would use. The interview she knew would be difficult — much more difficult than it would have been before her last walk with Mr. Saul; and the worst of it was that she could not quite make up her mind as to what it was that she wished to say. She waited till she could hear her mother’s step on the stairs. At last Mrs. Clavering came up to dress, and then Fanny, following her quickly into her bedroom, abruptly began:
“Mamma,” she said, “I want to speak to you very much.”
“Well, my dear?”
“But you mustn’t be in a hurry, mamma.” Mrs. Clavering looked at her watch, and declaring that it still wanted three-quarters of an hour to dinner, promised that she would not be very much in a hurry.
“Mamma, Mr. Saul has been speaking to me again.
“Has he, my dear? You cannot, of course, help it if he chooses to speak to you, but he ought to know that it is very foolish. It must end in his having to leave us.”
“That is what he says, mamma. He says he must go away unless —”
“Unless I will consent that he shall remain here as —”
“As your accepted lover. Is that it, Fanny?”
“Then he must go, I suppose. What else can any of us say? I shall be sorry both for his sake and for your papa’s.” Mrs. Clavering, as she said this, looked at her daughter, and saw at once that this edict on her part did not settle the difficulty. There was that in Fanny’s face which showed trouble and the necessity of further explanation. “Is not that what you think yourself my dear?” Mrs. Clavering asked.
“I should be very sorry if he had to leave the parish on my account.”
“We all shall feel that, dearest; but what can we do? I presume you don’t wish him to remain as your lover?”
“I don’t know, mamma,” said Fanny.
It was then as Mrs. Clavering had feared. Indeed, from the first word that Fanny had spoken on the present occasion, she had almost been sure of the facts, as they now were. To her father it would appear wonderful that his daughter should have come to love such a man as Mr. Saul, but Mrs. Clavering knew better than he how far perseverance will go with women — perseverance joined with high mental capacity, and with high spirit to back it. She was grieved but not surprised, and would at once have accepted the idea of Mr. Saul becoming her son-in-law, had not the poverty of the man been so much against him. “Do you mean, my dear, that you wish him to remain here after what he has said to you? That would be tantamount to accepting him. You understand that, Fanny; eh, dear?”
“I suppose it would, mamma.”
“And is that what you mean? Come, dearest, tell me the whole of it. What have you said to him yourself? What has he been led to think from the answer you have given him to-day?”
“He says that he means to see papa to-morrow.”
“But is he to see him with your consent?” Fanny had hitherto placed herself in the nook of a bow-window which looked out into the garden, and there, though she was near to the dressing-table at which her mother was sitting, she could so far screen herself as almost to hide her face when she was speaking. From this retreat her mother found it necessary to withdraw her; so she rose, and going to a sofa in the room, bade her daughter come and sit beside her. “A doctor, my dear, can never do any good,” she said, “unless the patient will tell him everything. Have you told Mr. Saul that he may see papa — as coming from you, you know?”
“No, mamma; I did not tell him that. I told him that it would be altogether impossible, because we should be so poor.”
“He ought to have known that himself.”
“But I don’t think he ever thinks of such things as that, mamma. I can’t tell you quite what he said, but it went to show that he didn’t regard money at all.”
“But that is nonsense; is it not, Fanny?”
“What he means is, not that people if they are fond of each other ought to marry at once when they have got nothing to live upon, but that they ought to tell each other so, and then be content to wait. I suppose he thinks that some day he may have a living.”
“But, Fanny, are you fond of him; and have you ever told him so?”
“I have never told him so, mamma.”
“But you are fond of him?” To this question Fanny made no answer, and now Mrs. Clavering knew it all. She felt no inclination to scold her daughter, or even to point out in very strong language how foolish Fanny had been in allowing a man to engage her affections merely by asking for them. The thing was a misfortune, and should have been avoided by the departure of Mr. Saul from the parish after his first declaration of love. He had been allowed to remain for the sake of the rector’s comfort, and the best must now be made of it. That Mr. Saul must now go was certain, and Fanny must endure the weariness of an attachment with an absent lover to which her father would not consent. It was very bad, but Mrs. Clavering did not think that she could make it better by attempting to scold her daughter into renouncing the man.
“I suppose you would like me to tell papa all this before Mr. Saul comes to-morrow?”
“If you think it best, mamma.”
“And you mean, dear, that you would wish to accept him, only that he has no income?”
“I think so, mamma.”
“Have you told him so?”
“I did not tell him so, but he understands it.”
“If you did not tell him so, you might still think of it again.”
But Fanny had surrendered herself now, and was determined to make no further attempt at sending the garrison up to the wall. “I am sure, mamma, that if he were well off like Edward, I should accept him. It is only because he has no income.”
“But you have not told him that?”
“I would not tell him anything without your consent and papa’s. He said he should go to papa to-morrow, and I could not prevent that. I did say that I knew it was quite impossible.”
The mischief was done and there was no help for it. Mrs. Clavering told her daughter that she would talk it all over with the rector that night, so that Fanny was able to come down to dinner without fearing any further scene on that evening. But on the following morning she did not appear at prayers, nor was she present at the breakfast table. Her mother went to her early, and she immediately asked if it was considered necessary that she should see her father before Mr. Saul came. But this was not required of her.
“Papa says that it is out of the question,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“I told him so myself” said Fanny, beginning to whimper.
“And there must be no engagements,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“No, mamma. I haven’t engaged myself. I told him it was impossible.”
“And papa thinks that Mr. Saul must leave him,” continued Mrs. Clavering.
“I knew papa would say that; but, mamma, I shall not forget him for that reason.
To this Mrs. Clavering made no reply, and Fanny was allowed to remain upstairs till Mr. Saul had come and gone.
Very soon after breakfast Mr. Saul did come. His presence at the rectory was so common that the servants were not generally summoned to announce his arrivals, but his visits were made to Mrs. Clavering and Fanny more often than to the rector. On this occasion he rang the bell, and asked for Mr. Clavering, and was shown into the rector’s so-called study, in a way that the maid-servant felt to be unusual. And the rector was sitting uncomfortably prepared for the visit, not having had his after-breakfast cigar. He had been induced to declare that he was not, and would not be, angry with Fanny; but Mr. Saul was left to such indignation as he thought it incumbent on himself to express. In his opinion, the marriage was impossible, not only because there was no money, but because Mr. Saul was Mr. Saul, and because Fanny Clavering was Fanny Clavering. Mr. Saul was a gentleman; but that was all that could be said of him. There is a class of country clergymen in England, of whom Mr. Clavering was one, and his son-in-law, Mr. Fielding, another, which is so closely allied to the squirearchy as to possess a double identity. Such clergymen are not only clergymen, but they are country gentlemen also. Mr. Clavering regarded clergymen of his class — of the country gentlemen class — as being quite distinct from all others, and as being, I may say, very much higher than all others, without reference to any money question. When meeting his brother rectors and vicars, he had quite a different tone in addressing them, as they might belong to his class, or to another. There was no offence in this. The clerical country gentlemen understood it all as though there were some secret sign or shibboleth between them; but the outsiders had no complaint to make of arrogance, and did not feel themselves aggrieved. They hardly knew that there was an inner clerical familiarity to which they were not admitted. But now that there was a young curate from the outer circle demanding Mr. Clavering’s daughter in marriage, and that without a shilling in his pocket, Mr. Clavering felt that the eyes of the offender must be opened. The nuisance to him was very great, but this opening of Mr. Saul’s eyes was a duty from which he could not shrink.
He got up when the curate entered, and greeted his curate, as though he were unaware of the purpose of the present visit. The whole burden of the story was to be thrown upon Mr. Saul. But that gentleman was not long in casting the burden from his shoulders.
“Mr. Clavering,” he said, “I have come to ask your permission to be a suitor for your daughter’s hand.”
The rector was almost taken aback by the abruptness of the re quest. “Quite impossible, Mr. Saul,” he said; “quite impossible. I am told by Mrs. Clavering that you were speaking to Fanny again about this yesterday, and I must say that I think you have been behaving very badly.”
“In what way have I behaved badly?”
“In endeavoring to gain her affections behind my back.”
“But, Mr. Clavering, how otherwise could I gain them? How otherwise does any man gain any woman’s love? If you mean —”
“Look here, Mr. Saul. I don’t think that there is any necessity for an argument between you and me on this point. That you cannot marry Miss Clavering is so self-evident that it does not require to be discussed. If there were nothing else against it, neither of you have got a penny. I have not seen my daughter since I heard of this madness — hear me out if you please, sir — since I heard of this madness, but her mother tells me that she is quite aware of that fact. Your coming to me with such a proposition is an absurdity if it is nothing worse. Now you must do one of two things, Mr. Saul. You must either promise me that this shall be at an end altogether, or you must leave the parish.”
“I certainly shall not promise you that my hopes as they regard your daughter will be at an end.”
“Then, Mr. Saul, the sooner you go the better.”
A dark cloud came across Mr. Saul’s brow as he heard these last words. “That is the way in which you would send away your groom, if he had offended you,” he said.
“I do not wish to be unnecessarily harsh,” said Mr. Clavering, “and what I say to you now I say to you not as my curate, but as to a most unwarranted suitor for my daughter’s hand. Of course I cannot turn you out of the parish at a day’s notice. I know that well enough. But your feelings as a gentleman ought to make you aware that you should go at once.”
“And that is to be my only answer?”
“What answer did you expect?”
“I have been thinking so much lately of the answers I might get from your daughter, that I have not made other calculations. Perhaps I had no right to expect any other than that you have now given.”
“Of course you had not. And now I ask you again to give her up.”
“I shall not do that, certainly.”
“Then, Mr. Saul, you must go; and, inconvenient as it will be to myself — terribly inconvenient — I must ask you to go at once. Of course I cannot allow you to meet my daughter any more. As long as you remain she will be debarred from going to her school, and you will be debarred from coming here.”
“If I say that I will not seek her at the school?”
“I will not have it. It is out of the question that you should remain in the parish. You ought to feel it.”
“Mr. Clavering, my going — I mean my instant going — is a matter of which I have not yet thought. I must consider it before I give you an answer.”
“It ought to require no consideration,” said Mr. Clavering, rising from his chair —” none at all; not a moment’s. Heavens and earth! Why, what did you suppose you were to live upon? But I won’t discuss it. I will not say one more word upon a subject which is so distasteful to me. You must excuse me if I leave you.”
Mr. Saul then departed, and from this interview had arisen that state of things in the parish which had induced Mrs. Clavering to call Harry to their assistance. The rector had become more energetic on the subject than any of them had expected. He did not actually forbid his wife to see Mr. Saul, but he did say that Mr. Saul should not come to the rectory. Then there arose a question as to the Sunday services, and yet Mr. Clavering would have no intercourse with his curate. He would have no intercourse with him unless he would fix an immediate day for going, or else promise that he would think no more of Fanny. Hitherto he had done neither, and therefore Mrs. Clavering had sent for her son.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01