I must now, shortly—as shortly as it is in my power to do it—introduce a new character to my reader. Mention has been made of the rectory of Greshamsbury; but, hitherto, no opportunity has offered itself for the Rev Caleb Oriel to come upon the boards.
Mr Oriel was a man of family and fortune, who, having gone to Oxford with the usual views of such men, had become inoculated there with very High-Church principles, and had gone into orders influenced by a feeling of enthusiastic love for the priesthood. He was by no means an ascetic—such men, indeed, seldom are—nor was he a devotee. He was a man well able, and certainly willing to do the work of a parish clergyman; and when he became one, he was efficacious in his profession. But it may perhaps be said of him, without speaking slanderously, that his original calling, as a young man, was rather to the outward and visible signs of religion than to its inward and spiritual graces.
He delighted in lecterns and credence-tables, in services at dark hours of winter mornings when no one would attend, in high waistcoats and narrow white neckties, in chanted services and intoned prayers, and in all the paraphernalia of Anglican formalities which have given such offence to those of our brethren who live in daily fear of the scarlet lady. Many of his friends declared that Mr Oriel would sooner or later deliver himself over body and soul to that lady; but there was no need to fear for him: for though sufficiently enthusiastic to get out of bed at five am on winter mornings—he did so, at least, all through his first winter at Greshamsbury—he was not made of that stuff which is necessary for a staunch, burning, self-denying convert. It was not in him to change his very sleek black coat for a Capuchin’s filthy cassock, nor his pleasant parsonage for some dirty hole in Rome. And it was better so both for him and others. There are but few, very few, to whom it is given to be a Huss, a Wickliffe, or a Luther; and a man gains but little by being a false Huss, or a false Luther—and his neighbours gain less.
But certain lengths in self-privation Mr Oriel did go; at any rate, for some time. He eschewed matrimony, imagining that it became him as a priest to do so. He fasted rigorously on Fridays; and the neighbours declared that he scourged himself.
Mr Oriel was, it has been said, a man of fortune; that is to say, when he came of age he was master of thirty thousand pounds. When he took it into his head to go into the Church, his friends bought for him the next presentation to the living at Greshamsbury; and, a year after his ordination, the living falling in, Mr Oriel brought himself and his sister to the rectory.
Mr Oriel soon became popular. He was a dark-haired, good-looking man, of polished manners, agreeable in society, not given to monkish austerities—except in the matter of Fridays—nor yet to the Low-Church severity of demeanour. He was thoroughly a gentleman, good-humoured, inoffensive, and sociable. But he had one fault: he was not a marrying man.
On this ground there was a feeling against him so strong as almost at one time to throw him into serious danger. It was not only that he should be sworn against matrimony in his individual self—he whom fate had made so able to sustain the weight of a wife and family; but what an example he was setting! If other clergymen all around should declare against wives and families, what was to become of the country? What was to be done in the rural districts? The religious observances, as regards women, of a Brigham Young were hardly so bad as this!
There were around Greshamsbury very many unmarried ladies—I believe there generally are so round must such villages. From the great house he did not receive much annoyance. Beatrice was then only just on the verge of being brought out, and was not perhaps inclined to think very much of a young clergyman; and Augusta certainly intended to fly at higher game. But there were the Miss Athelings, the daughters of a neighbouring clergyman, who were ready to go all lengths with him in High-Church matters, except as that one tremendously papal step of celibacy; and the two Miss Hesterwells, of Hesterwell Park, the younger of whom boldly declared her purpose of civilizing the savage; and Mrs Opie Green, a very pretty widow, with a very pretty jointure, who lived in a very pretty house about a mile from Greshamsbury, and who declared her opinion that Mr Oriel was quite right in his view of a clergyman’s position. How could a woman, situated as she was, have the comfort of a clergyman’s attention if he were to be regarded just as any other man? She could now know in what light to regard Mr Oriel, and would be able without scruple to avail herself of his zeal. So she did avail herself of his zeal—and that without any scruple.
And then there was Miss Gushing—a young thing. Miss Gushing had a great advantage over the other competitors for the civilization of Mr Oriel, namely, in this—that she was able to attend his morning services. If Mr Oriel was to be reached in any way, it was probable that he might be reached in this way. If anything could civilize him, this would do it. Therefore, the young thing, through all one long, tedious winter, tore herself from her warm bed, and was to be seen—no, not seen, but heard—entering Mr Oriel’s church at six o’clock. With indefatigable assiduity the responses were made, uttered from under a close bonnet, and out of a dark corner, in an enthusiastically feminine voice, through the whole winter.
Nor did Miss Gushing altogether fail in her object. When a clergyman’s daily audience consists of but one person, and that person is a young lady, it is hardly possible that he should not become personally intimate with her; hardly possible that he should not be in some measure grateful. Miss Gushing’s responses came from her with such fervour, and she begged for ghostly advice with such eager longing to have her scruples satisfied, that Mr Oriel had nothing for it but to give way to a certain amount of civilization.
By degrees it came to pass that Miss Gushing could never get her final prayer said, her shawl and boa adjusted, and stow away her nice new Prayer Book with the red letters inside, and the cross on the back, till Mr Oriel had been into his vestry and got rid of his surplice. And then they met at the church-porch, and naturally walked together till Mr Oriel’s cruel gateway separated them. The young thing did sometimes think that, as the parson’s civilization progressed, he might have taken the trouble to walk with her as far as Mrs Yates Umbleby’s hall door; but she had hope to sustain her, and a firm resolve to merit success, even though she might not attain it.
‘It is not ten thousand pities,’ she once said to him, ‘that none here should avail themselves of the inestimable privilege which your coming has conferred upon us? Oh, Mr Oriel, I do so wonder at it! To me it is so delightful! The morning service in the dark church is so beautiful, so touching!’
‘I suppose they think it a bore getting up so early,’ said Mr Oriel.
‘Ah, a bore!’ said Miss Gushing, in an enthusiastic tone of depreciation. ‘How insensate they must be! To me it gives a new charm to life. It quiets one for the day; makes one so fitter for one’s daily trials and daily troubles. Does it not, Mr Oriel?’
‘I look upon morning prayer as an imperative duty, certainly.’
‘Oh, certainly, a most imperative duty; but so delicious at the same time. I spoke to Mrs Umbleby about it, but she said she could not leave the children.’
‘No: I dare say not,’ said Mr Oriel.
‘And Mr Umbleby said business kept him up so late at night.’
‘Very probably. I hardly expect the attendance of men of business.’
‘But the servants might come, mightn’t they, Mr Oriel?’
‘I fear that servants seldom can have time for daily prayers in church.’
‘Oh, ah, no; perhaps not.’ And then Miss Gushing began to bethink herself of whom should be composed the congregation which it must be presumed that Mr Oriel wished to see around him. But on this matter he did not enlighten her.
Then Miss Gushing took to fasting on Fridays, and made some futile attempts to induce her priest to give her the comfort of confessional absolution. But, unfortunately, the zeal of the master waxed cool as that of the pupil waxed hot; and, at last, when the young thing returned to Greshamsbury from an autumn excursion which she made with Mrs Umbleby to Weston-super-Mare, she found that the delicious morning services had died a natural death. Miss Gushing did not on that account give up the game, but she was bound to fight with no particular advantage in her favour.
Miss Oriel, though a good Churchwoman, was by no means a convert to her brother’s extremist views, and perhaps gave but scanty credit to the Gushings, Athelings, and Opie Greens for the sincerity of their religion. But, nevertheless, she and her brother were staunch friends; and she still hoped to see the day when he might be induced to think that an English parson might get through his parish work with the assistance of a wife better than he could do without such feminine encumbrance. The girl whom she selected for his bride was not the young thing, but Beatrice Gresham.
And at last it seemed probable to Mr Oriel’s nearest friends that he was in a fair way to be overcome. Not that he had begun to make love to Beatrice, or committed himself by the utterance of any opinion as to the propriety of clerical marriages; but he daily became looser about his peculiar tenets, raved less immoderately than heretofore as to the atrocity of the Greshamsbury church pews, and was observed to take some opportunities of conversing alone with Beatrice. Beatrice had always denied the imputation—this had usually been made by Mary in their happy days—with the vehement asseverations of anger; and Miss Gushing had tittered, and expressed herself as supposing that great people’s daughters might be as barefaced as they pleased.
All this had happened previous to the great Greshamsbury feud. Mr Oriel gradually got himself into a way of sauntering up to the great house, sauntering into the drawing-room for the purpose, as I am sure he thought, of talking with Lady Arabella, and then of sauntering home again, having usually found an opportunity for saying a few words to Beatrice during the visit. This went on all through the feud up to the period of Lady Arabella’s illness; and then one morning, about a month before the date fixed for Frank’s return, Mr Oriel found himself engaged to Miss Beatrice Gresham.
From the day that Miss Gushing heard of it—which was not however for some considerable time after this—she became an Independent Methodist. She could no longer, she said at first, have any faith in any religion; and for an hour or so she was almost tempted to swear that she could no longer have any faith in any man. She had nearly completed a worked cover for a credence-table when the news reached her, as to which, in the young enthusiasm of her heart, she had not been able to remain silent; it had already been promised to Mr Oriel; that promise she swore should not be kept. He was an apostate, she said, from his principles; an utter pervert; a false, designing man, with whom she would never have trusted herself alone on dark mornings had she known that he had such grovelling, worldly inclinations. So Miss Gushing became an Independent Methodist; the credence-table covering was cut up into slippers for the preacher’s feet; and the young thing herself, more happy in this direction than she had been in the other, became the arbiter of that preacher’s domestic happiness.
But this little history of Miss Gushing’s future life is premature. Mr Oriel became engaged demurely, nay, almost silently, to Beatrice, and no one out of their own immediate families was at the time informed of the matter. It was arranged very differently from those other two matches—embryo, or not embryo, those, namely, of Augusta with Mr Moffat, and Frank with Mary Thorne. All Barsetshire had heard of them; but that of Beatrice and Mr Oriel was managed in a much more private manner.
‘I do think you are a happy girl,’ said Patience to her one morning.
‘Indeed I am.’
‘He is so good. You don’t know how good he is as yet; he never thinks of himself, and thinks so much of those he loves.’
Beatrice took her friend’s hand in her own and kissed it. She was full of joy. When a girl is about to be married, when she may lawfully talk of love, there is no music in her ears so sweet as the praises of her lover.
‘I made up my mind from the first that he should marry you.’
‘I did, indeed. I made up my mind that he should marry; and there were only two to choose from.’
‘Me and Miss Gushing,’ said Beatrice, laughing.
‘No; not exactly Miss Gushing. I had not many fears for Caleb there.’
‘I declare she is very pretty,’ said Beatrice, who could afford to be good-natured. Now Miss Gushing certainly was pretty; and would have been very pretty had her nose not turned up so much, and could she have parted her hair in the centre.
‘Well, I am very glad you chose me;—if it was you who chose,’ said Beatrice, modestly; having, however, in her own mind a strong opinion that Mr Oriel had chosen for himself, and had never any doubt in the matter. ‘And who was the other?’
‘Can’t you guess?’
‘I won’t guess any more; perhaps Mrs Green.’
‘Oh, no; certainly not a widow. I don’t like widows marrying. But of course you could guess if you would; of course it was Mary Thorne. But I soon saw Mary would not do, for two reasons; Caleb would never have liked her well enough nor would she have ever liked him.’
‘Not like him! oh I hope she will; I do so love Mary Thorne.’
‘So do I dearly; and so does Caleb; but he could never have loved her as he loves you.’
‘But, Patience, have you told Mary?’
‘No, I have told no one, and shall not without your leave.’
‘Ah, you must tell her. Tell it her with my best, and kindest, warmest love. Tell her how happy I am, and how I long to talk to her. Tell that I will have her for my bridesmaid. Oh! I do hope that before that all this horrid quarrel will be settled.
Patience undertook the commission, and did tell Mary; did give her also the message which Beatrice had sent. And Mary was rejoiced to hear it; for though, as Patience had said of her, she had never herself felt any inclination to fall in love with Mr Oriel, she believed him to be one in whose hands her friend’s happiness would be secure. Then, by degrees, the conversation changed from the loves of Mr Oriel and Beatrice to the troubles of Frank Gresham and herself.
‘She says that let what will happen you shall be one of her bridesmaids.’
‘Ah, yes, dear Trichy! that was settled between us in auld lang syne; but those settlements are all unsettled now, and must be broken. No, I cannot be her bridesmaid; but I shall yet hope to see her once before her marriage.’
‘And why not be her bridesmaid? Lady Arabella will hardly object to that.’
‘Lady Arabella!’ said Mary, curling up her lip with deep scorn. ‘I do not care that for Lady Arabella,’ and she let her silver thimble fall from her fingers onto the table. ‘If Beatrice invited me to her wedding, she might manage as to that; I should ask no question as to Lady Arabella.’
‘Then why not come to it?’
She remained silent for a while, and then boldly answered. ‘Though I do not care for Lady Arabella, I do care for Mr Gresham:— and I do care for his son.’
‘But the squire always loved you.’
‘Yes, and therefore I will not be there to vex his sight. I will tell you the truth, Patience. I can never be in that house again till Frank Gresham is a married man, or till I am about to be a married woman. I do not think they have treated me well, but I will not treat them ill.’
‘I am sure you will not do that,’ said Miss Oriel.
‘I will endeavour not to do so; and, therefore, will go to none of their fetes! No, Patience.’ And then she turned her head to the arm of the sofa, and silently, without audible sobs, hiding her face, she endeavoured to get rid of the tears unseen. For one moment she had all but resolved to pour out the whole truth of her love into her friend’s ears; but suddenly she changed her mind. Why should she talk of her own unhappiness? Why should she speak of her own love when she was fully determined not to speak of Frank’s promises.
‘Mary, dear Mary.’
‘Anything, but pity, Patience; anything but that,’ said she, convulsively, swallowing her sobs, and rubbing away her tears. ‘I cannot bear that. Tell Beatrice from me, that I wish her every happiness; and, with such a husband, I am sure she will be happy. I wish her every joy; give her my kindest love; but tell her that I cannot be at her marriage. Oh, I should like to see her; not there, you know, but here, in my own room, where I still have liberty to speak.’
‘But why should you decide now? She is not to be married yet, you know.’
‘Now, or this day twelvemonth, can make no difference. I will not go into that house again, unless—but never mind; I will not go into it all; never, never again. If I could forgive her for myself, I could not forgive her for my uncle. But tell me, Patience, might not Beatrice now come here? It is so dreadful to see her every Sunday in church and never to speak to her, never to kiss her. She seems to look away from me as though she too had chosen to quarrel with me.’
Miss Oriel promised to do her best. She could not imagine, she said, that such a visit could be objected to on such an occasion. She would not advise Beatrice to come without telling her mother; but she could not think that Lady Arabella would be so cruel as to make any objection, knowing, as she could not but know, that her daughter, when married, would be at liberty to choose her own friends.
‘Good-bye, Mary,’ said Patience. ‘I wish I knew how to say more to comfort you.’
‘Oh, comfort! I don’t want comfort. I want to be let alone.’
‘That’s just it: you are so ferocious in your scorn, so unbending, so determined to take all the punishment that comes in your way.’
‘What I do take, I’ll take without complaint,’ said Mary; and then they kissed each other and parted.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41