When Harry Clavering left London he was not well, though he did not care to tell himself that he was ill. But he had been so harassed by his position, was so ashamed of himself and as yet so unable to see any escape from his misery, that he was sore with fatigue and almost worn out with trouble. On his arrival at the parsonage, his mother at once asked him if he was ill, and received his petulant denial with an ill-satisfied countenance. That there was something wrong between him and Florence she suspected, but at the present moment she was not disposed to inquire into that matter. Harry’s love affairs had for her a great interest, but Fanny’s love affairs at the present moment were paramount in her bosom. Fanny, indeed, had become very troublesome since Mr. Saul’s visit to her father. On the evening of her conversation with her mother, and on the following morning, Fanny had carried herself with bravery, and Mrs. Clavering had been disposed to think that her daughter’s heart was not wounded deeply. She had admitted the impossibility of her marriage with Mr. Saul, and had never insisted on the strength of her attachment. But no sooner was she told that Mr. Saul had been banished from the house, than she took upon herself to mope in the most love-lorn fashion, and behaved herself as though she were the victim of an all-absorbing passion. Between her and her father no word on the subject had been spoken, and even to her mother she was silent, respectful and subdued, as it becomes daughters to be who are hardly used when they are in love. Now, Mrs. Clavering felt that in this her daughter was not treating her well.
“But you don’t mean to say that she cares for him?” Harry said to his mother, when they were alone on the evening of his arrival.
“Yes, she cares for him, certainly. As far as I can tell, she cares for him very much.”
“It is the oddest thing I ever knew in my life. I should have said he was the last man in the world for success of that kind.”
“One never can tell, Harry. You see he is a very good young man.”
“But girls don’t fall in love with men because they’re good, mother.”
“I hope they do — for that and other things together.”
“But he has got none of the other things. What a pity it was that he was let to stay here after he first made a fool of himself.”
“It’s too late to think of that now, Harry. Of course she can’t marry him. They would have nothing to live on. I should say that he has no prospect of a living.”
“I can’t conceive how a man can do such a wicked thing,” said Harry, moralizing, and forgetting for a moment his own sins. “Coming into a house like this, and in such a position, and then undermining a girl’s affections, when he must know that it is quite out of the question that he should marry her! I call it downright wicked. It is treachery of the worst sort, and coming from a clergyman is, of course, the more to be condemned. I shan’t be slow to tell him my mind.”
“You will gain nothing by quarrelling with him.”
“But how can I help it, if I am to see him at all?”
“I mean that I would not be rough with him. The great thing is to make him feel that he should go away as soon as possible, and renounce all idea of seeing Fanny again. You see, your father will have no conversation with him at all, and it is so disagreeable about the services. They’ll have to meet in the vestry-room on Sunday, and they won’t speak. Will not that be terrible? Anything will be better than that he should remain here.”
“And. what will my father do for a curate?”
“He can’t do anything till he knows when Mr. Saul will go. He talks of taking all the services himself.”
“He couldn’t do it, mother. He must not think of it. However, I’ll see Saul the first thing to-morrow.”
The next day was Tuesday, and Harry proposed to leave the rectory at ten o’clock for Mr. Saul’s lodgings. Before he did so, he had a few words with his father who professed even deeper animosity against Mr. Saul than his son. “After that,” he said, “I’ll believe that a girl may fall in love with any man! People say all manner of things about the folly of girls; but nothing but this — nothing short of this — would have convinced me that it was possible that Fanny should have been such a fool. An ape of a fellow — not made like a man — with a thin hatchet face, and unwholesome stubbly chin. Good heavens!”
“He has talked her into it.”
“But he is such an ass. As far as I know him, he can’t say Bo! to a goose.”
“There I think you are perhaps wrong.”
“Upon my word I’ve never been able to get a word from him except about the parish. He is the most uncompanionable fellow. There’s Edward Fielding is as active a clergyman as Saul; but Edward Fielding has something to say for himself.”
“Saul is a cleverer man than Edward is; but his cleverness is of a different sort.”
“It is of a sort that is very invisible to me. But what does all that matter? He hasn’t got a shilling. When I was a curate, we didn’t think of doing such things as that.” Mr. Clavering had only been a curate for twelve months, and during that time had become engaged to his present wife with the consent of every one concerned. “But clergymen were gentlemen then. I don’t know what the Church will come to; I don’t indeed.”
After this Harry went away upon his mission. What a farce it was that he should be engaged to make straight the affairs of other people, when his own affairs were so very crooked! As he walked up to the old farm-house in which Mr. Saul was living, he thought of this, and acknowledged to himself that he could hardly make himself in earnest about his sister’s affairs, because of his own troubles. He tried to fill himself with a proper feeling of dignified wrath and high paternal indignation against the poor curate; but under it all, and at the back of it all, and in front of it all, there was ever present to him his own position. Did he wish to escape from Lady Ongar; and if so, how was he to do it? And if he did not escape from Lady Ongar, how was he ever to hold up his head again?
He had sent a note to Mr. Saul on the previous evening giving notice of his intended visit, and had received an answer, in which the curate had promised that he would be at home. He had never been in Mr. Saul’s room, and as he entered it, felt more strongly than ever how incongruous was the idea of Mr. Saul as a suitor to his sister. The Claverings had always had things comfortable around them. They were a people who had ever lived on Brussels carpets, and had seated themselves in capacious chairs. Ormolu, damask hangings, and Sévres china were not familiar to them; but they had never lacked anything that is needed for the comfort of the first-class clerical world. Mr. Saul in his abode boasted but few comforts. He inhabited a big bed-room, in which there was a vast fireplace and a very small grate — the grate being very much more modern than the fireplace. There was a small rag of a carpet near the hearth, and on this stood a large deal table — a table made of unalloyed deal, without any mendacious paint, putting forward a pretence in the direction of mahogany. One wooden Windsor arm-chair — very comfortable in its way — was appropriated to the use of Mr. Saul himself; and two other small wooden chairs flanked the other side of the fireplace. In one distant corner stood Mr. Saul’s small bed, and in another distant corner stood his small dressing-table. Against the wall stood a ricketty deal press in which he kept his clothes. Other furniture there was none. One of the large windows facing toward the farmyard had been permanently closed, and in the wide embrasure was placed a portion of Mr. Saul’s library — books which he had brought with him from college; and on the ground under this closed window were arranged the others, making a long row, which stretched from the bed to the dressing-table, very pervious, I fear, to the attacks of mice. The big table near the fireplace was covered with books and papers — and, alas, with dust; for he had fallen into that terrible habit which prevails among bachelors, of allowing his work to remain ever open, never finished, always confused — with papers above books, and books above papers — looking as though no useful product could ever be made to come forth from such chaotic elements. But there Mr. Saul composed his sermons, and studied his Bible, and followed up, no doubt, some special darling pursuit, which his ambition dictated. But there he did not eat his meals; that had been made impossible by the pile of papers and dust; and his chop, therefore, or his broiled rasher, or bit of pig’s fry was deposited for him on the little dressing-table, and there consumed.
Such was the solitary apartment of the gentleman who now aspired to the hand of Miss Clavering; and for this accommodation, including attendance, he paid the reasonable sum of £10 per annum. He then had £60 left, with which to feed himself; clothe himself like a gentleman — a duty somewhat neglected — and perform his charities!
Harry Clavering, as he looked around him, felt almost ashamed of his sister. The walls were whitewashed, and stained in many places; and the floor in the middle of the room seemed to be very rotten. What young man who has himself dwelt ever in comfort would like such a house for his sister? Mr. Saul, however, came forward with no marks of visible shame on his face, and greeted his visitor frankly with an open hand. “You came down from London yesterday, I suppose?” said Mr. Saul.
“Just so,” said Harry.
“Take a seat;” and Mr. Saul suggested the arm-chair, but Harry contented himself with one of the others. “I hope Mrs. Clavering is well?” “Quite well,” said Harry, cheerfully. “And your father — and sister?” “Quite well, thank you,” said Harry, very stiffly. “I would have come down to you at the rectory,” said Mr. Saul, instead of bringing you up here; only, as you have heard, no doubt, I and your father have unfortunately had a difference.” This Mr. Saul said without any apparent effort, and then left Harry to commence the further conversation.
“Of course, you know what I’m come here about?” said Harry.
“Not exactly; at any rate not so clearly but what I would wish you to tell me.”
“You have gone to my father as a suitor for my sister’s hand.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Now you must know that that is altogether impossible — a thing not to be even talked of.”
“So your father says. I need not tell you that I was very sorry to hear him speak in that way.”
“But, my dear fellow, you can’t really be in earnest? You can’t suppose it possible that he would allow such an engagement?”
“As to the latter question, I have no answer to give; but I certainly was, and certainly am in earnest.”
“Then I must say that I think you have a very erroneous idea of what the conduct of a gentleman should be.”
“Stop a moment, Clavering,” said Mr. Saul, rising, and standing with his back to the big fireplace. “Don’t allow yourself to say in a hurry words which you will afterward regret. I do not think you can have intended to come here and tell me that I am not a gentleman.”
“I don’t want to have an argument with you; but you must give it up; that’s all.”
“Give what up? If you mean give up your sister, I certainly shall never do that. She may give me up, and if you have anything to say on that head, you had better say it to her.”
“What right can you have — without a shilling in the world —?”
“I should have no right to marry her in such a condition — with your father’s consent or without it. It is a thing which I have never proposed to myself for a moment — or to her.”
“And what have you proposed to yourself?”
Mr. Saul paused a moment before he spoke, looking down at the dusty heaps upon his table, as though hoping that inspiration might come to him from them. “I will tell you what I have proposed,” said he at last, “as nearly as I can put it into words. I propose to myself to have the image in my heart of one human being whom I can love above all the world beside; I propose to hope that I, as others, may some day marry, and that she whom I so love may become my wife; I propose to bear with such courage as I can much certain delay, and probable absolute failure in all this; and I propose also to expect — no, hardly to expect — that that which I will do for her, she will do for me. Now you know all my mind, and you may be sure of this, that I will instigate your sister to no disobedience.”
“Of course she will not see you again.”
“I shall think that hard after what has passed between us; but I certainly shall not endeavor to see her clandestinely.”
“And under these circumstances, Mr. Saul, of course you must leave us.”
“So your father says.”
“But leave us at once, I mean. It cannot be comfortable that you and my father should go on in the parish together in this way.”
“What does your father mean by ‘at once?’”
“The sooner the better; say in two months’ time at furthest.”
“Very well. I will go in two months’ time. I have no other home to go to, and no other means of livelihood; but as your father wishes it, I will go at the end of two months. As I comply with this, I hope my request to see your sister once before I go will not be refused.”
“It could do no good, Mr. Saul.”
“To me it would do great good, and, as I think, no harm to her.”
“My father, I am sure, will not allow it. Indeed, why should he? Nor, as I understand, would my sister wish it.”
“Has she said so?”
“Not to me; but she has acknowledged that any idea of a marriage between herself and you is quite impossible, and after that I’m sure she’ll have too much sense to wish for an interview. If there is anything further that I can do for you, I shall be most happy.” Mr. Saul did not see that Harry Clavering could do anything for him, and then Harry took his leave. The rector; when he heard of the arrangement, expressed himself as in some sort satisfied. One month would have been better than two, but then it could hardly be expected that Mr. Saul could take himself away instantly, without looking for a hole in which to lay his head. “Of course it is understood that he is not to see her?” the rector said. In answer to this, Harry explained what had taken place, expressing his opinion that Mr. Saul would, at any rate, keep his word. “Interview, indeed!” said the rector. “It is the man’s audacity that most astonishes me. It passes me to think how such a fellow can dare to propose such a thing. ‘What is it that he expects as the end of it?” Then Harry endeavored to repeat what Mr. Saul had said as to his own expectations, but he was quite aware that he failed to make his father understand those expectations as he had understood them when the words came from Mr. Saul’s own mouth. Harry Claver ing had acknowledged to himself that it was impossible not to respect the poor curate.
To Mrs. Clavering, of course, fell the task of explaining to Fanny what had been done, and what was going to be done. “He is to go away, my dear, at the end of two months.”
“Very well, mamma.”
“And, of course, you and he are not to meet before that.”
“Of course not, if you and papa say so.”
“I have told your papa that it will only be necessary to tell you this, and that then you can go to your school just as usual, if you please. Neither papa nor I would doubt your word for a moment.”
“But what can I do if he comes to me?” asked Fanny, almost whimpering.
“He has said that he will not, and we do not doubt his word either.”
“That I am sure you need not. Whatever anybody may say, Mr. Saul is as much a gentleman as though he had the best living in the diocese. No one ever knew him break his word — not a hair’s breadth — or do — anything else — that he ought — not to do.” And Fanny, as she pronounced this rather strong eulogium, began to sob. Mrs. Clavering felt that Fanny was headstrong, and almost ill-natured, in speaking in this tone of her lover, after the manner in which she had been treated; but there could be no use in discussing Mr. Saul’s virtues, and therefore she let the matter drop. “If you will take my advice,” she said, “you will go about your occupations just as usual. You’ll soon recover your spirits in that way.”
“I don’t want to recover my spirits,” said Fanny; “but if you wish it, I’ll go on with the schools.”
It was quite manifest now that Fanny intended to play the role of a broken-hearted young lady, and to regard the absent Mr. Saul with passionate devotion. That this should be so Mrs. Clavering felt to be the more cruel, because no such tendencies had been shown before the paternal sentence against Mr. Saul had been passed. Fanny, in telling her own tale, had begun by declaring that any such an engagement was an impossibility. She had not asked permission to have Mr. Saul for a lover. She had given no hint that she even hoped for such permission. But now when that was done which she herself had almost dictated, she took upon herself to live as though she were ill-used as badly as a heroine in a castle among the Apennines! And in this way she would really become deeply in love with Mr. Saul — thinking of all which Mrs. Clavering almost regretted that the edict of banishment had gone forth. It would, perhaps, have been better to have left Mr. Saul to go about the parish, and to have laughed Fanny out of her fancy. But it was too late now for that, and Mrs. Clavering said nothing further on the subject to any one.
On the day following his visit to the farm-house, Harry Clavering was unwell — too unwell to go back to London; and on the next day he was ill in bed. Then it was that he got his mother to write to Mrs. Burton; and then also he told his mother a part of his troubles. When the letter was written he was very anxious to see it, and was desirous that it should be specially worded, and so written as to make Mrs. Burton certain that he was in truth too ill to come to London, though not ill enough to create alarm. “Why not simply let me say that you are kept here for a day or two?” asked Mrs. Clavering.
“Because I promised that I would be in Onslow Terrace to-morrow, and she must not think that I would stay away if I could avoid it.”
Then Mrs. Clavering closed the letter and directed it. When she had done that, and put on it the postage-stamp, she asked in a voice that was intended to be indifferent, whether Florence was in London; and, hearing that she was so, expressed her surprise that the letter should not be written to Florence.
“My engagement was with Mrs. Burton,” said Harry.
“I hope there is nothing wrong between you and Florence?” said his mother. To this question Harry made no immediate answer, and Mrs. Clavering was afraid to press it. But after a while he returned to the subject himself. “Mother,” he said, “things are wrong between Florence and me.”
“Oh, Harry; what has she done?”
“It is rather what have I done! As for her, she has simply trusted herself to a man who has been false to her.”
“Dear Harry, do not say that. What is it that you mean? It is not true about Lady Ongar?”
“Then you have heard, mother. Of course I do not know what you have heard, but it can be hardly worse than the truth. But you must not blame her. Whatever fault there may be, is all mine.” Then he told her much of what had occurred in Bolton Street. We may suppose that he said nothing of that mad caress — nothing, perhaps, of the final promise which he made to Julia as he last passed out of her presence; but he did give her to understand that he had in some way returned to his old passion for the woman whom he had first loved.
I should describe Mrs. Clavering in language too highly eulogistic were I to lead the reader to believe that she was altogether averse to such advantages as would accrue to her son from a marriage so brilliant as that which he might now make with the grandly dowered widow of the late earl. Mrs. Clavering by no means despised worldly goods; and she had, moreover, an idea that her highly gifted son was better adapted to the spending than to the making of money. It had come to be believed at the rectory that though Harry had worked very hard at college — as is the case with many highly born young gentlemen — and though he would, undoubtedly, continue to work hard if he were thrown among congenial occupations — such as politics and the like — nevertheless, he would never excel greatly in any drudgery that would be necessary for the making of money. There had been something to be proud of in this, but there had, of course, been more to regret. But now if Harry were to marry Lady Ongar, all trouble on that score would be over. But poor Florence! When Mrs. Clavering allowed herself to think of the matter, she knew that Florence’s claims should be held as paramount. And when she thought further and thought seriously, she knew also that Harry’s honor and Harry’s happiness demanded that he should be true to the girl to whom his hand had been promised. And, then, was not Lady Ongar’s name tainted? It might be that she had suffered cruel ill-usage in this. It might be that no such taint had been deserved. Mrs. Clavering could plead the injured woman’s cause when speaking of it without any close reference to her own belongings; but it would have been very grievous to her, even had there been no Florence Burton in the case, that her son should make his fortune by marrying a woman as to whose character the world was in doubt.
She came to him late in the evening when his sister and father had just left him, and sitting with her hand upon his, spoke one word, which perhaps had more weight with Harry than any word that had yet been spoken. “Have you slept, dear?” she said.
“A little before my father came in.”
“My darling,” she said, “you will be true to Florence; will you not?” Then there was a pause. “My own Harry, tell me that you will be true when your truth is due.”
“I will, mother,” he said.
“My own boy; my darling boy; my own true gentleman!” Harry felt that he did not deserve the praise; but praise undeserved, though it may be satire in disguise, is often very useful.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01