Florence Burton had taken upon herself to say that Mrs. Clavering would have no difficulty in making to Mr. Saul the communication which was now needed before he could be received at the rectory, as the rector’s successor and future son-in-law; but Mrs. Clavering was by no means so confident of her own powers. To her it seemed as though the undertaking which she had in hand was one surrounded with difficulties. Her husband, when the matter was being discussed, at once made her understand that he would not relieve her by an offer to perform the task. He had been made to break the bad news to Lady Clavering, and, having been submissive in that matter, felt himself able to stand aloof altogether as to this more difficult embassy. “I suppose it would hardly do to ask Harry to see him again,” Mrs. Clavering had said. “You would do it much better, my dear.” the rector had replied. Then Mrs. Clavering had submitted in her turn; and when the scheme was fully matured, and the time had come in which the making of the proposition could no longer be delayed with prudence, Mr. Saul was summoned by a short note. “Dear Mr. Saul:— If you are disengaged, would you come to me at the rectory at eleven to-morrow? Yours ever, M. C.” Mr. Saul of course said that he would come. When the to-morrow had arrived and breakfast was over, the rector and Harry took themselves off somewhere about the grounds of the great house, counting up their treasures of proprietorship, as we can fancy that men so circumstanced would do, while Mary Fielding, with Fanny and Florence, retired up stairs, so that they might be well out of the way. They knew, all of them, what was about to be done, and Fanny behaved herself like a white lamb, decked with bright ribbons for the sacrificial altar. To her it was a sacrificial morning — very sacred, very solemn, and very trying to the nerves.
“I don’t think that any girl was ever in such a position before,” she said to her sister.
“A great many girls would be glad to be in the same position,” Mrs. Fielding replied.
“Do you think so? To me there is something almost humiliating in the idea that he should be asked to take me.”
“Fiddlestick, my dear,” replied Mrs. Fielding.
Mr. Saul came, punctual as the church clock, of which he had the regulating himself and was shown into the rectory dining-room, where Mrs. Clavering was sitting alone. He looked, as he ever did, serious, composed, ill-dressed, and like a gentleman. Of course he must have supposed that the present rector would make some change in his mode of living, and could not be surprised that he should have been summoned to the rectory; but he was surprised that the summons should have come from Mrs. Clavering, and not from the rector himself. It appeared to him that the old enmity must be very enduring if, even now, Mr. Clavering could not bring himself to see his curate on a matter of business.
“It seems a long time since we have seen you here, Mr. Saul,” said Mrs. Clavering.
“Yes; when I have remembered how often I used to be here, my absence has seemed long and strange.”
“It has been a source of great grief to me.”
“And to me, Mrs. Clavering.”
“But, as circumstances then were, in truth it could not be avoided. Common prudence made it necessary. Don’t you think so, Mr. Saul?”
“If you ask me, I must answer according to my own ideas. Common prudence should not have made it necessary — at least not according to my view of things. Common prudence, with different people, means such different things! But I am not going to quarrel with your ideas of common prudence, Mrs. Clavering.”
Mrs. Clavering had begun badly, and was aware of it. She should have said nothing about the past. She had foreseen, from the first, the danger of doing so, but had been unable to rush at once into the golden future. “I hope we shall have no more quarrelling, at any rate,” she said.
“There shall be none on my part. Only, Mrs. Clavering, you must not suppose, from my saying so, that I intend to give up my pretensions. A word from your daughter would make me do so, but no words from any one else.”
“She ought to be very proud of such constancy on your part, Mr. Saul, and I have no doubt she will be.” Mr. Saul did not understand this, and made no reply to it. “I don’t know whether you have heard that Mr. Clavering intends to — give up the living.”
“I have not heard it. I have thought it probable that he would do so.”
“He has made up his mind that he will. The fact is that if he held it, he must neglect either that or the property.” We will not stop at this moment to examine what Mr. Saul’s ideas must have been as to the exigencies of the property, which would leave no time for the performance of such clerical duties as had fallen for some years past to the share of the rector himself. “He hopes that he may be allowed to take some part in the services, but he means to resign the living.”
“I suppose that will not much affect me for the little time that I have to remain.”
“We think it will affect you, and hope that it may. Mr. Clavering wishes you to accept the living.”
“To accept the living?” And for a moment even Mr. Saul looked as though he were surprised.
“Yes, Mr. Saul.”
“To be rector of Clavering?”
“If you see no objection to such an arrangement.”
“It is a most munificent offer, but as strange as it is munificent. Unless, indeed —” And then some glimpse of the truth made its way into the chinks of Mr. Saul’s mind.
“Mr. Clavering would, no doubt, have made the offer to you himself had it not been that I can, perhap; speak to you about dear Fanny better than he could. Though our prudence has not been quite to your mind, you can, at any rate, understand that we might very much object to her marrying you when there was nothing for you to live on, even though we had no objection to yourself personally.”
“But Mr. Clavering did object on both grounds.”
“I was not aware that he had done so; but if so, no such objection is now made by him — or by me. My idea is that a child should be allowed to consult her own heart, and to indulge her own choice, provided that in doing so sho does not prepare for herself a life of indigence, which must be a life of misery; and of course providing also that there be no strong personal objection.”
“A life of indigence need not be a life of misery,” said Mr. Saul, with that obstinacy which formed so great a part of his character.
“I am very indigent, but I am not at all miserable. If we are to be made miserable by that, what is the use of all our teaching?”
“But, at any rate a competence is comfortable.”
“Too comfortable!” As Mr. Saul made this exclamation, Mrs. Clavering could not but wonder at her daughter’s taste. But the matter had gone too far now for any possibility of receding.
“You will not refuse it, I hope, as it will be accompanied by what you say you still desire.”
“No, I will not refuse it. And may God give her and me grace so to use the riches of this world that they become not a stumbling-block to us, and a rock of offence. It is possible that the camel should be made to go through the needle’s eye. It is possible.”
“The position, you know, is not one of great wealth.”
“It is to me, who have barely hitherto had the means of support. Will you tell your husband from me that I will accept, and endeavor not to betray the double trust he proposes to confer on me? It is much that he should give to me his daughter. She shall be to me bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. If God will give me his grace thereto, I will watch over her, so that no harm shall come nigh her. I love her as the apple of my eye; and I am thankful — very thankful that the rich gift should be made to me.”
“I am sure that you love her, Mr. Saul.”
“But,” continued he, not marking her interruption, “that other trust is one still greater, and requiring a more tender care and even a closer sympathy. I shall feel that the souls of these people will be, as it were, in my hand, and that I shall be called upon to give an account of their welfare. I will strive — I will strive. And she, also, will be with me to help me.”
When Mrs. Clavering described this scene to her husband, he shook his head, and there came over his face a smile, in which there was much of melancholy, as he said, “Ah I yes, that is all very well now. He will settle down as other men do, I suppose, when he has four or five children around him.” Such were the ideas which the experience of the outgoing and elder clergyman taught him to entertain as to the ecstatic piety of his younger brother.
It was Mrs. Clavering who suggested to Mr. Saul that perhaps he would like to see Fanny. This she did when her story had been told, and he was preparing to leave her. “Certainly, if she will come to me.”
“I will make no promise,” said Mrs. Clavering, “but I will see.” Then she went up stairs to the room where the girls were sitting, and the sacrificial lamb was sent down into the drawing-room. “I suppose, if you say so, mamma —”
“I think, my dear, that you had better see him. You will meet then more comfortably afterward.” So Fanny went into the drawing-room, and Mr. Saul was sent to her there. What passed between them all readers of these pages will understand. Few young ladies, I fear, will envy Fanny Clavering her lover; but they will remember that Love will still be lord of all, and they will acknowledge that he had done much to deserve the success in life which had come in his way.
It was long before the old rector could reconcile himself either to the new rector or his new son-in-law. Mrs. Clavering had now so warmly taken up Fanny’s part, and had so completely assumed a mother’s interest in her coming marriage, that Mr. Clavering, or Sir Henry, as we may now call him, had found himself obliged to abstain from repeating to her the wonder with which he still regarded his daughter’s choice. But to Harry he could still be eloquent on the subject. “Of course it’s all right now,” ho said. “He’s a very good young man, and nobody would work harder in the parish. I always thought I was very lucky to have such an assistant; but, upon my word, I can not understand Fanny — I can not, indeed.”
“She has been taken by the religious side of her character,” said Harry.
“Yes, of course. And no doubt it is very gratifying to me to see that she thinks so much of religion. It should be the first consideration with all of us at all times. But she has never been used to men like Mr. Saul.”
“Nobody can deny that he is a gentleman.”
“Yes, he is a gentleman; God forbid that I should say he was not, especially now that he is going to marry your sister. But — I don’t know whether you quite understand what I mean.”
“I think I do. He isn’t quite one of our sort.”
“How on earth she can ever have brought herself to look at him in that light?”
“There’s no accounting for tastes, sir. And, after all, as he’s to have the living, there will be nothing to regret.”
“No, nothing to regret. I suppose he’ll be up at the other house occasionally? I never could make anything of him when he dined at the rectory; perhaps he’ll be better there. Perhaps, when he’s married, he’ll get into the way of drinking a glass of wine like any body else. Dear Fanny, I hope she’ll be happy. That’s every thing.” In answer to this, Harry took upon himself to assure his father that Fanny would be happy; and then they changed the conversation, and discussed the alterations which they would make in reference to the preservation of pheasants.
Mr. Saul and Fanny remained long together on that occasion, and when they parted he went off about his work, not saying a word to any other person in the house, and she betook herself as fast as her feet could carry her to her own room.
She said not a word either to her mother, or to her sister. or to Florence as to what had passed at that interview; but, when she was first seen by any of them, she was very grave in her demeanor, and very silent. When her father congratulated her, which he did with as much cordiality as he was able to assume, she kissed him, and thanked him for his care and kindness; but even this she did almost solemnly. “Ah! I see how it is to be,” said the old rector to his wife. “There are to be no more cakes and ale in the parish.” Then his wife reminded him of what he himself had said of the change which would take place in Mr. Saul’s ways when he should have a lot of children running about his feet. “Then I can only hope that they’ll begin to run about very soon,” said the old rector.
To her sister, Mary Fielding, Fanny said little or nothing of her coming marriage, but to Florence, who, as regarded that event, was in the same position as herself, she frequently did express her feelings, declaring how awful to her was the responsibility of the thing she was about to do. “Of course that’s quite true,” said Florence, “but it doesn’t make one doubt that one is right to marry.”
“I don’t know,” said Fanny. “When I think of it, it almost makes me doubt.”
“Then, if I were Mr. Saul, I would not let you think of it at all.”
“Ah! that shows that you do not understand him. He would be the first to advise me to hesitate if he thought that — that — that — I don’t know that I can quite express what I mean.” “Under those circumstances Mr. Saul won’t think that — that —”
“Oh, Florence, it is too serious for laughing — it is, indeed.” Then Florence also hoped that a time might come, and that shortly, in which Mr. Saul might moderate his views, though she did not express herself exactly as the rector had done.
Immediately after this Florence went back to Stratton in order that she might pass what remained to her of her freedom with her mother and father, and that she might prepare herself for her wedding. The affair with her was so much hurried that she had hardly time to give her mind those considerations which were weighing so heavily on Fanny’s mind. It was felt by all the Burtons, especially by Cecilia, that there was need for extension of their views in regard to millinery, seeing that Florence was to marry the eldest son and heir of a baronet. And old Mrs. Burton was awed almost into acquiescence by the reflections which came upon her when she thought of the breakfast, and of the presence of Sir Henry Clavering. She at once summoned her daughter-in-law from Ramsgate to her assistance, and felt that all her experience, gathered from the wedding breakfasts of so many elder daughters, would hardly carry her through the difficulties of the present occasion.
The two widowed sisters were still at the great house when Sir Henry Clavering, with Harry and Fanny, went to Stratton, but they left it on the following day. The father and son went up together to bid them farewell, on the eve of their departure, and to press upon them, over and over again, the fact that they were still to regard the Claverings of Clavering Park as their nearest relations and friends. The eldest sister simply cried when this was said to her — cried easily with plenteous tears, till the weeds which enveloped her seemed to be damp from the ever-running fountain. Hitherto to weep had been her only refuge; but I think that even this had already become preferable to her former life. Lady Ongar assured Sir Henry, or Mr. Clavering, as he was still called till after their departure, that she would always remember and accept his kindness. “And you will come to us?” said he. “Certainly; when I can make Hermy come. She will be better when the Summer is here. And then after that, we will think about it.” On this occasion she seemed to be quite cheerful herself, and bade Harry farewell with all the frank affection of an old friend.
“I have given up the house in Bolton Street,” she said to him.
“And where do you mean to live?”
“Anywhere; just as it may suit Hermy. What difference does it make? We are going to Tenby now, and though Tenby seems to me to have as few attractions as any place I ever knew, I dare say we shall stay there, simply because we shall be there. That consideration weighs most with such old women as we. Good-by, Harry.”
“Good-by, Julia. I hope I may yet see you — you and Hermy, happy before long.”
“I don’t know much about happiness, Harry. There comes a dream of it sometimes — such as you have got now. But I will answer for this — you shall never hear of my being downhearted — at least not on my own account,” she added, in a whisper. “Poor Hermy may sometimes drag me down; but I will do my best. And, Harry, tell your wife I shall write to her occasionally — once a year, or something like that, so that she need not be afraid. Good-by, Harry.” “Good-by, Julia.” And so they parted.
Immediately on her arrival at Tenby, Lady Ongar communicated to Mr. Turnbull her intention of giving back to the Courton family not only the place called Ongar Park, but also the whole of her income with the exception of eight hundred a year, so that in that respect she might be equal to her sister. This brought Mr. Turnbull down to Tenby, and there was interview after interview between the countess and the lawyer. The proposition, however, was made to the Courtons, and was absolutely refused by them. Ongar Park was accepted on behalf of the mother of the present earl; but as regarded the money, the widow of the late earl was assured by the elder surviving brother that no one doubted her right to it, or would be a party to accepting it from her. “Then,” said Lady Ongar, “it will accumulate in my hands, and I can leave it as I please in my will.”
“As to that, no one can control you,” said her brother-in-law, who went to Tenby to see her; “but you must not be angry if I advise you not to make any such resolution. Such hoards never have good results.” This good result, however, did come from the effort which the poor broken-spirited woman was making — an intimacy, and at last a close friendship, was formed between her and the relatives of her deceased lord.
And now my story is done. My readers will easily understand what would be the future life of Harry Clavering and his wife after the completion of that tour in Italy and the birth of the heir, the preparations for which made the tour somewhat shorter than Harry had intended. His father, of course, gave up to him the shooting, and the farming of the home farm, and, after a while, the management of the property. Sir Henry preached occasionally — believing himself able to preach much oftener than he did — and usually performed some portion of the morning service. “Oh yes,” said Theodore Burton in answer to some comfortable remark from his wife, “Providence has done very well for Florence. And Providence has done very well for him also; but Providence was making a great mistake when he expected him to earn his bread.”
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