During Harry’s absence in London, a circumstance had occurred at the rectory which had surprised some of them and annoyed others a good deal. Mr. Saul, the curate, had made an offer to Fanny. The Rector and Fanny declared themselves to be both surprised and annoyed. That the Rector was in truth troubled by the thing was very evident. Mrs. Clavering said that she had almost suspected it — that she was at any rate not surprised; as to the offer itself of course she was sorry that it should have been made, as it could not suit Fanny to accept it. Mary was surprised, as she had thought Mr. Saul to be wholly intent on other things; but she could not see any reason why the offer should be regarded as being on his part unreasonable.
“How can you say so, mamma?” Such had been Fanny’s indignant exclamation when Mrs. Clavering had hinted that Mr. Saul’s proceeding had been expected by her.
“Simply because I saw that he liked you, my dear. Men under such circumstances have different ways of showing their liking.”
Fanny, who had seen all of Mary’s love affair from the beginning to the end, and who had watched the Reverend Edward Fielding in all his very conspicuous manoeuvres, would not agree to this. Edward Fielding from the first moment of his intimate acquaintance with Mary had left no doubt of his intentions on the mind of any one. He had talked to Mary and walked with Mary whenever, he was allowed or found it possible to do so. When driven to talk to Fanny, he had always talked about Mary. He had been a lover of the good, old, plainspoken stamp, about whom there had been no mistake. From the first moment of his coming much about Clavering Rectory the only question had been about his income. “I don’t think Mr. Saul ever said a word to me except about the poor people and the church services,” said Fanny. “That was merely his way,” said Mrs. Clavering. “Then he must be a goose,” said Fanny. “I am very sorry if I have made him unhappy, but he had no business to come to me in that way.”
“I suppose I shall have to look for another curate,” said the Rector. But this was said in private to his wife.
“I don’t see that at all,” said Mrs. Clavering. “With many men it would be so; but I think you will find that he will take an answer, and that there will be an end of it.”
Fanny, perhaps, had a right to be indignant, for certainly Mr. Saul had given her no fair warning of his intention. Mary had for some months been intent rather on Mr. Fielding’s church matters than on those going on in her own parish, and therefore there had been nothing singular in the fact that Mr. Saul had said more on such matters to Fanny than to her sister. Fanny was eager and active, and as Mr. Saul was very eager and very active, it was natural that they should have had some interests in common. But there had been no private walkings, and no talkings that could properly be called private. There was a certain book which Fanny kept, containing the names of all the poor people in the parish, to which Mr. Saul had access equally with herself; but its contents were of a most prosaic nature, and when she had sat over it in the rectory drawing-room, with Mr. Saul by her side, striving to extract more than twelve pennies out of charity shillings, she had never thought that it would lead to a declaration of love.
He had never called her Fanny in his life — not up to the moment when she declined the honor of becoming Mrs. Saul. The offer itself was made in this wise. She had been at the house of old Widow Tubb, half-way between Cumberly Green and the little village of Clavering, striving to make that rheumatic old woman believe that she had not been cheated by a general conspiracy of the parish in the matter of a distribution of coal, when, just as she was about to leave the cottage, Mr. Saul came up. It was then past four, and the evening was becoming dark, and there was, moreover, a slight drizzle of rain. It was not a tempting evening for a walk of a mile and a half through a very dirty lane; but Fanny Clavering did not care much for such things, and was just stepping out into the mud and moisture, with her dress well looped up, when Mr. Saul accosted her.
“I’m afraid you’ll be very wet, Miss Clavering.”
“That will be better than going without my cup of tea, Mr. Saul, which I should have to do if I stayed any longer with Mrs. Tubb. And I have got an umbrella.”
“But it is so dark and dirty,” said he.
“I’m used to that, as you ought to know.”
“Yes; I do know it,” said he, walking on with her. “I do know that nothing ever turns you away from the good work.”
There was something in the tone of his voice which Fanny did not like. He had never complimented her before. They had been very intimate, and had often scolded each other. Fanny would accuse him of exacting too much from the people, and he would retort upon her that she coddled them. Fanny would often decline to obey him, and he would make angry hints as to his clerical authority. In this way they had worked together pleasantly, without any of the awkwardness which on other terms would have arisen between a young man and a young woman. But now that he began to praise her with some peculiar intention of meaning in his tone, she was confounded. She had made no immediate answer to him, but walked on rapidly through the mud and slush.
“You are very constant,” said he; “I have not been two years at Clavering without finding that out.” It was becoming worse and worse. It was not so much his words which provoked her as the tone in which they were uttered. And yet she had not the slightest idea of what was coming. If, thoroughly admiring her devotion and mistaken as to her character, he were to ask her to become a Protestant nun, or suggest to her that she should leave her home and go as nurse into a hospital, then there would have occurred the sort of folly of which she believed him to be capable. Of the folly which he now committed, she had not believed him to be capable.
It had come on to rain hard, and she held her umbrella low over her head. He also was walking with an open umbrella in his hand, so that they were not very close to each other. Fanny, as she stepped on impetuously, put her foot into the depth of a pool, and splashed herself thoroughly.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” said she; “this is very disagreeable.”
“Miss Clavering,” said he, “I have been looking for an opportunity to speak to you, and I do not know when I may find another so suitable as this.” She still believed that some proposition was to be made to her which would be disagreeable, and perhaps impertinent; but it never occurred to her that Mr. Saul was in want of a wife.
“Doesn’t it rain too hard for talking?” she said.
“As I have begun, I must go on with it now,” he replied, raising his voice a little, as though it were necessary that he should do so to make her hear him through the rain and darkness. She moved a little further away from him with unthinking irritation; but still he went on with his purpose. “Miss Clavering, I know that I am ill-suited to play the part of a lover; very ill-suited.” Then she gave a start and again splashed herself sadly. “I have never read how it is done in books, and have not allowed my imagination to dwell much on such things.”
“Mr. Saul, don’t go on; pray don’t.” Now she did understand what was coming.
“Yes, Miss Clavering, I must go on now; but not on that account would I press you to give me an answer to-day. I have learned to love you, and, if you can love me in return, I will take you by the hand, and you shall be my wife. I have found that in you which I have been unable not to love — not to covet that I may bind it to myself as my own forever. Will you think of this, and give me an answer when you have considered it fully?” He had not spoken altogether amiss, and Fanny, though she was very angry with him, was conscious of this. The time he had chosen might not be con sidered suitable for a declaration of love, nor the place; but, having chosen them, he had, perhaps, made the best of them. There had been no hesitation in his voice, and his words had been perfectly audible.
“Oh, Mr. Saul, of course I can assure you at once,” said Fanny. “There need not be any consideration. I really have never thought —” Fanny, who knew her own mind on the matter thoroughly, was hardly able to express herself plainly and without incivility. As soon as that phrase “of course” had passed her lips, she felt that it should not have been spoken. There was no need that she should insult him by telling him that such a proposition from him could have but one answer.
“No, Miss Clavering; I know you have never thought of it, and therefore it would be well that you should take time. I have not been able to make manifest to you by little signs, as men do who are less awkward, all the love that I have felt for you. Indeed, could I have done so, I should still have hesitated till I had thoroughly resolved that I might be better with a wife than without one, and had resolved also, as far as that might be possible for me, that you also would be better with a husband.”
“Mr. Saul, really that should be for me to think of.”
“And for me also. Can any man offer to marry a woman — to bind a woman for life to certain duties, and to so close an obligation, without thinking whether such bonds would be good for her as well as for himself? Of course, you must think for yourself — and so have I thought for you. You should think for yourself, and you should think also for me.”
Fanny was quite aware that, as regarded herself, the matter was one which required no more thinking. Mr. Saul was not a man with whom she could bring herself to be in love. She had her own ideas as to what was loveable in men, and the eager curate, splashing through the rain by her side, by no means came up to her standard of excellence. She was unconsciously aware that he had altogether mistaken her character, and given her credit for more abnegation of the world than she pretended to possess, or was desirous of possessing. Fanny Clavering was in no hurry to get married. I do not know that she had even made up her mind that marriage would be a good thing for her; but she bad an untroubled conviction that, if she did marry, her husband should have a house and an income. She had no reliance on her own power of living on a potato, and with one new dress every year. A comfortable home, with nice, comfortable things around her, ease in money matters and elegance in life, were charms with which she had not quarrelled, and, though she did not wish to be hard upon Mr. Saul on account of his mistake, she did feel that in making his proposition he had blundered. Because she chose to do her duty as a parish clergyman’s daughter, he thought himself entitled to regard her as a devotee, who would be willing to resign everything to become the wife of a clergyman, who was active, indeed, but who had not one shilling of income beyond his curacy. “Mr. Saul,” she said, “I can assure you I need take no time for further thinking. It cannot be as you would have it.”
“Perhaps I have been abrupt. Indeed, I feel that it is so, though I did not know how to avoid it.”
“It would have made no difference. Indeed, indeed, Mr. Saul, nothing of that kind could have made a difference.”
“Will you grant me this — that I may speak to you again on the same subject after six months?”
“It cannot do any good.”
“It will do this good — that for so much time you will have had the idea before you.” Fanny thought that she would have Mr. Saul himself before her, and that that would be enough. Mr. Saul, with his rusty clothes and his thick, dirty shoes, and his weak, blinking eyes, and his mind always set upon the one wish of his life, could not be made to present himself to her in the guise of a lover. He was one of those men of whom women become very fond with the fondness of friendship, but from whom young women seem to be as far removed in the way of love as though they belonged to some other species. “I will not press you further,” said he, “as I gather by your tone that it distresses you.”
“I am so sorry if I distress you, but really, Mr. Saul, I could give you — I never could give you any other answer.”
Then they walked on silently through the rain — silently, without a single word — for more than half a mile, till they reached the rectory gate. Here it was necessary that they should, at any rate, speak to each other, and for the last three hundred yards Fanny had been trying to find the words which would be suitable. But he was the first to break the silence. “Good-night, Miss Clavering,” he said, stopping and putting out his hand.
“Good-night, Mr. Saul.”
“I hope that there may be no difference in our bearing to each other, because of what I have to-day said to you?”
“Not on my part — that is, if you will forget it.”
“No, Miss Clavering; I shall not forget it. If it had been a thing to be forgotten, I should not have spoken. I certainly shall not forget it.”
“You know what I mean, Mr. Saul.”
“I shall not forget it even in the way that you mean. But still I think you need not fear me, because you know that I love you. I think I can promise that you need not withdraw yourself from me, because of what has passed. But you will tell your father and your mother, and of course will be guided by them. And now, good-night.” Then he went, and she was astonished at finding that he had had much the best of it in his manner of speaking and conducting himself. She had refused him very curtly, and he had borne it well. He had not been abashed, nor had he become sulky, nor had he tried to melt her by mention of his own misery. In truth, he had done it very well — only that he should have known better than to make any such attempt at all.
Mr. Saul had been right in one thing. Of course she told her mother, and of course her mother told her father. Before dinner that evening the whole affair was being debated in the family conclave. They all agreed that Fanny had had no alternative but to reject the proposition at once. That, indeed was so thoroughly taken for granted, that the point was not discussed. But there came to be a difference between the Rector and Fanny on one side, and Mrs. Clavering and Mary on the other. “Upon my word,” said the Rector, “I think it was very impertinent.” Fanny would not have liked to use that word herself but she loved her father for using it.
“I do not see that,” said Mrs. Clavering. “He could not know what Fanny’s views in life might be. Curates very often marry out of the houses of the clergymen with whom they are placed, and I do not see why Mr. Saul should be debarred from the privilege of trying.”
“If he had got to like Fanny what else was he to do?” said Mary.
“Oh, Mary, don’t talk such nonsense,” said Fanny. “Got to like! People shouldn’t get to like people unless there’s some reason for it.”
“What on earth did he intend to live on?” demanded the Rector.
“Edward had nothing to live on, when you first allowed him to come here,” said Mary.
“But Edward had prospects, and Saul, as far as I know, has none. He had given no one the slightest notice. If the man in the moon had come to Fanny I don’t suppose she would have been more surprised.”
“Not half so much, papa.”
Then it was that Mrs. Clavering had declared that she was not surprised — that she had suspected it, and had almost made Fanny angry by saying so. When Harry came hack two days afterward, the family news was imparted to him, and he immediately ranged himself on his father’s side. “Upon my word I think that he ought to be forbidden the house,” said Harry. “He has forgotten himself in making such a proposition.”
“That’s nonsense, Harry,” said his mother. “If he can he comfortable coming here, there can be no reason why he should be uncomfortable. It would be an injustice to him to ask him to go, and a great trouble to your father to find another curate that would suit him so well.” There could he no doubt whatever as to the latter proposition, and therefore it was quietly argued that Mr. Saul’s fault, if there had been a fault, should be condoned. On the next day he came to the rectory, and they were all astonished at the ease with which he bore himself. It was not that he affected any special freedom of manner, or that he altogether avoided any change in his mode of speaking to them. A slight blush came upon his sallow face as he first spoke to Mrs. Clavering, and he hardly did more than say a single word to Fanny. But he carried himself as though conscious of what he had done, hut in no degree ashamed of the doing it. The Rector’s manner to him was stiff and formal; seeing which, Mrs. Clavering spoke to him gently, and with a smile. “I saw you were a little hard on him, and therefore I tried to make up for it,” said she afterward. “You were quite right,” said the husband. “You always are. But I wish he had not made such a fool of himself. It will never be the same thing with him again.” Harry hardly spoke to Mr. Saul the first time he met him, all of which Mr. Saul understood perfectly.
“Clavering,” he said to Harry, a day or two after this, “I hope there is to be no difference between you and me.”
“Difference! I don’t know what you mean by difference.”
“We were good friends, and I hope that we are to remain so. No doubt you know what has taken place between me and your sister.”
“Oh, yes; I have been told, of course.”
“What I mean is, that I hope you are not going to quarrel with me on that account? What I did, is it not what you would have done in my position — only you would have done it successfully?”
“I think a fellow should have some income, you know.”
“Can you say that you would have waited for income before you spoke of marriage?”
“I think it might have been better that you should have gone to my father.”
“It may be that that is the rule in such things, but if so, I do not know it. Would she have liked that better?”
“Well; I can’t say.”
You are engaged? Did you go to the young lady’s family first?”
“I can’t say I did; but I think I had given them some ground to expect it. I fancy they all knew what I was about. But it’s over now; and I don’t know that we need say anything more about it.”
“Certainly not. Nothing can be said that would be of any use; but I do not think I have done anything that you should resent.”
“Resent is a strong word. I don’t resent it, or, at any rate, I won’t; and there may be an end of it.” After this, Harry was more gracious with Mr. Saul, having an idea that the curate had made some sort of apology for what he had done. But that, I fancy, was by no means Mr. Saul’s view of the case. Had he offered to marry the daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of the daughter of the Rector of Clavering, he would not have imagined that his doing so needed an apology.
The day after his return from London, Lady Clavering sent for Harry up to the House. “So you saw my sister in London?!” she said.
“Yes,” said Harry, blushing; “as I was in town, I thought that I might as well meet her. But, as you said, Lady Ongar is able to do without much assistance of that kind. I only just saw her.”
“Julia took it so kindly of you; but she seems surprised that you did not come to her the following day. She thought you would have called.”
“Oh, dear, no. I fancied that she would be too tired and too busy to wish to see any mere acquaintance.”
“Ah, Harry, I see that she has angered you,” said Lady Clavering; “otherwise you would not talk about mere acquaintance.”
“Not in the least. Angered me! How could she anger me? What I meant was that at such a time she would probably wish to see no one but people on business — unless it was some one near to her, like yourself or Hugh.”
“Hugh will not go to her.”
“But you will do so; will you not?”
“Before long I will. You don’t seem to understand, Harry — and, perhaps, it would be odd if you did — that I can’t run up to town and back as I please. I ought not to tell you this, I dare say, but one feels as though one wanted to talk to some one about one’s affairs. At the present moment, I have not the money to go — even if there was no other reason.” These last words she said almost in a whisper, and then she looked up into the young man’s face, to see what he thought of the communication she had made him.
“Oh, money!” he said. “You could soon get money. But I hope it won’t be long before you go.”
On the next morning but one, a letter came by the post for him from Lady Ongar. When he saw the handwriting, which he knew, his heart was at once in his mouth, and he hesitated to open his letter at the breakfast table. He did open it and read it, but, in truth, he hardly understood it or digested it till he had taken it away with him up to his own room. The letter, which was very short, was as follows:
Dear Friend:— I felt your kindness in coming to me at the station so much! the more, perhaps, because others, who owed me more kindness, have paid me less. Don’t suppose that I allude to poor Hermione, for, in truth, I have no intention to complain of her. I thought, perhaps, you would have come to see me before you left London; but I suppose you were hurried. I hear from Clavering that you are to be up about your new profession in a day or two. Pray come and see me before you have been many days in London. I shall have so much to say to you! The rooms you have taken are everything that I wanted, and I am so grateful!
When Harry had read and had digested this, he became aware that he was again fluttered. “Poor creature!” he said to himself; “it is sad to think how much she is in want of a friend.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01