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I. Julia Brabazon II. Harry Clavering Chooses His Profession III. Lord Ongar IV. Florence Burton V. Lady Ongar's Return VI. The Rev. Samuel Saul VII. Some Scenes in the Life of a Countess VIII. The House in Onslow Crescent IX. Too Prudent By Half X. Florence Burton at the Rectory XI. Sir Hugh and His Brother Archie XII. Lady Ongar Takes Possession XIII. A Visitor Calls At Ongar Park XIV. Count Pateroff XV. Madame Gordeloup XVI. An Evening In Bolton Street XVII. The Rivals XVIII. "Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged" XIX. Let Her Know That You're There XX. Captain Clavering Makes His First Attempt XXI. The Blue Posts XXII. Desolation XXIII. Sir Hugh's Return XXIV. Yes; Wrong—Certainly Wrong XXV. The Day of the Funeral XXVI. Too Many, And Too Few XXVII. Cumberly Lane Without The Mud XXVIII. The Russian Spy XXIX. What Would Men Say To You? XXX. The Man Who Dusted His Boots With His Handkerchief XXXI. Freshwater Gate XXXII. What Cecilia Burton Did For Her Sister-In-Law XXXIII. How Damon Parted From Pythias XXXIV. Vain Repentance XXXV. Doodles In Mount Street XXXVI. Harry Clavering's Confession XXXVII. Florence Burton's Return XXXVIII. Florence Burton Makes Up A Packet XXXIX. Showing Why Harry Clavering Was Wanted At The Rectory XL. Mr. Saul's Abode XLI. Going To Norway XLII. Parting XLIII. Captain Clavering Makes His Last Attempt XLIV. What Lady Ongar Thought About It XLV. How To Dispose Of A Wife XLVI. Showing How Mrs. Burton Fought Her Battle XLVII. The Sheep Returns To The Fold XLVIII. Lady Ongar's Revenge XLIX. Showing What Happened Off Heligoland L. Madam Gordeloup Retires From British Diplomacy LI. Showing How Things Settled Themselves At The Rectory LII. Conclusion
The gardens of Clavering Park were removed some three hundred yards from the large, square, sombre-looking stone mansion which was the country-house of Sir Hugh Clavering, the eleventh baronet of that name; and in these gardens, which had but little of beauty to recommend them, I will introduce my readers to two of the personages with whom I wish to make them acquainted in the following story. It was now the end of August, and the parterres, beds, and bits of lawn were dry, disfigured, and almost ugly, from the effects of a long drought. In gardens to which care and labor are given abundantly, flower-beds will be pretty, and grass will be green, let the weather be what it may; but care and labor were but scantily bestowed on the Clavering Gardens, and everything was yellow, adust, harsh, and dry. Over the burnt turf toward a gate that led to the house, a lady was walking, and by her side there walked a gentleman.
"You are going in, then, Miss Brabazon," said the gentleman, and it was very manifest from his tone that he intended to convey some deep reproach in his words.
"Of course I am going in," said the lady. "You asked me to walk with you, and I refused. You have now waylaid me, and therefore I shall escape—unless I am prevented by violence." As she spoke she stood still for a moment, and looked into his face with a smile which seemed to indicate that if such violence were used, within rational bounds, she would not feel herself driven to great danger.
But though she might be inclined to be playful, he was by no means in that mood. "And why did you refuse me when I asked you?" said he.
"For two reasons, partly because I thought it better to avoid any conversation with you."
"That is civil to an old friend."
"But chiefly"—and now as she spoke she drew herself up, and dismissed the smile from her face, and allowed her eyes to fall upon the ground—"but chiefly because I thought that Lord Ongar would prefer that I should not roam alone about Clavering Park with any young gentleman while I am down here; and that he might specially object to my roaming with you, were he to know that you and I were—old acquaintances. Now I have been very frank, Mr. Clavering, and I think that that ought to be enough."
"You are afraid of him already, then?"
"I am afraid of offending any one whom I love, and especially any one to whom I owe any duty."
"Enough! Indeed it is not. From what you know of me, do you think it likely that that will be enough?" He was now standing in front of her, between her and the gate, and she made no effort to leave him.
"And what is it you want? I suppose you do not mean to fight Lord Ongar, and that if you did you would not come to me."
"Fight him! No; I have no quarrel with him. Fighting him would do no good."
"None in the least; and he would not fight if you were to ask him; and you could not ask without being false to me."
"I should have had an example for that, at any rate."
"That's nonsense, Mr. Clavering. My falsehood, if you should choose to call me false, is of a very different nature, and is pardonable by all laws known to the world."
"You are a jilt! that is all."
"Come, Harry, don't use hard words."—and she put her hand kindly upon his arm. "Look at me, such as I am, and at yourself, and then say whether anything but misery could come of a match between you and me. Our ages by the register are the same, but I am ten years older than you by the world. I have two hundred a year, and I owe at this moment six hundred pounds. You have, perhaps, double as much, and would lose half of that if you married. You are an usher at school."
"No, madam, I am not an usher at a school."
"Well, well, you know I don't mean to make you angry."
"At the present moment, I am a schoolmaster, and if I remain so, I might fairly look forward to a liberal income. But I am going to give that up."
"You will not be more fit for matrimony because you are going to give up your profession. Now, Lord Ongar has—heaven knows what—perhaps sixty thousand a year."
"In all my life I never heard such effrontery—such baldfaced, shameless worldliness!"
"Why should I not love a man with a large income?"
"He is old enough to be your father."
"He is thirty-six, and I am twenty-four."
"There is the Peerage for you to look at. But, my dear Harry, do you not know that you are perplexing me and yourself too, for nothing? I was fool enough when I came here from Nice, after papa's death to let you talk nonsense to me for a month or two."
"Did you or did you not swear that you loved me?"
"Oh, Mr. Clavering, I did not imagine that your strength would have condescended to take such advantage over the weakness of a woman. I remember no oaths of any kind, and what foolish assertions I may have made, I am not going to repeat. It must have become manifest to you during these two years that all that was a romance. If it be a pleasure to you to look back to it, of that pleasure I cannot deprive you. Perhaps I also may sometimes look back. But I shall never speak of that time again; and you, if you are as noble as I take you to be, will not speak of it either. I know you would not wish to injure me."
"I would wish to save you from the misery you are bringing on yourself."
"In that you must allow me to look after myself. Lord Ongar certainly wants a wife, and I intend to be true to him, and useful."
"How about love?"
"And to love him, sir. Do you think that no man can win a woman's love, unless he is filled to the brim with poetry, and has a neck like Lord Byron, and is handsome like your worship? You are very handsome, Harry, and you, too, should go into the market and make the best of yourself. Why should you not learn to love some nice girl that has money to assist you?"
"No, sir; I will not be called Julia. If you do, I will be insulted, and leave you instantly. I may call you Harry, as being so much younger—though we were born in the same month—and as a sort of cousin. But I shall never do that after to-day."
"You have courage enough, then, to tell me that you have not ill-used me?"
"Certainly I have. Why, what a fool you would have me be! Look at me, and tell me whether I am fit to be the wife of such a one as you. By the time you are entering the world, I shall be an old woman, and shall have lived my life. Even if I were fit to be your mate when we were living here together, am I fit, after what I have done and seen during the last two years? Do you think it would really do any good to any one if I were to jilt, as you call it, Lord Ongar, and tell them all—your cousin, Sir Hugh, and my sister, and your father—that I was going to keep myself up, and marry you when you were ready for me?"
"You mean to say that the evil is done."
"No, indeed. At the present moment I owe six hundred pounds, and I don't know where to turn for it, so that my husband may not be dunned for my debts as soon as he has married me. What a wife I should have been for you—should I not?"
"I could pay the six hundred pounds for you with money that I have earned myself—though you do call me an usher—and perhaps would ask fewer questions about it than Lord Ongar will do with all his thousands."
"Dear Harry, I beg your pardon about the usher. Of course, I know that you are a fellow of your college, and that St. Cuthbert's, where you teach the boys, is one of the grandest schools in England; and I hope you'll be a bishop; nay—I think you will, if you make up your mind to try for it."
"I have given up all idea of going into the church."
"Then you'll be a judge. I know you'll be great and distinguished, and that you'll do it all yourself. You are distinguished already. If you could only know how infinitely I should prefer your lot to mine! Oh, Harry, I envy you! I do envy you! You have got the ball at your feet, and the world before you, and can win everything for yourself."
"But nothing is anything without your love."
"Pshaw! Love, indeed. What could it do for you but ruin you? You know it as well as I do; but you are selfish enough to wish to continue a romance which would be absolutely destructive to me, though for a while it might afford a pleasant relaxation to your graver studies. Harry, you can choose in the world. You have divinity, and law, and literature, and art. And if debarred from love now by the exigencies of labor, you will be as fit for love in ten years' time as you are at present."
"But I do love now."
"Be a man, then, and keep it to yourself. Love is not to be our master. You can choose, as I say; but I have had no choice—no choice but to be married well, or to go out like a snuff of a candle. I don't like the snuff of a candle, and, therefore, I am going to be married well."
"And that suffices?"
"It must suffice. And why should it not suffice? You are very uncivil, cousin, and very unlike the rest of the world. Everybody compliments me on my marriage. Lord Ongar is not only rich, but he is a man of fashion, and a man of talent."
"Are you fond of race-horses yourself?"
"Very fond of them."
"And of that kind of life?"
"Very fond of it. I mean to be fond of everything that Lord Ongar likes. I know that I can't change him, and, therefore, I shall not try."
"You are right there, Miss Brabazon."
"You mean to be impertinent, sir; but I will not take it so. This is to be our last meeting in private, and I won't acknowledge that I am insulted. But it must be over now, Harry; and here I have been pacing round and round the garden with you, in spite of my refusal just now. It must not be repeated, or things will be said which I do not mean to have ever said of me. Good-by, Harry."
"Well, for that once let it pass. And remember this: I have told you all my hopes, and my one trouble. I have been thus open with you because I thought it might serve to make you look at things in a right light. I trust to your honor as a gentleman to repeat nothing that I have said to you."
I am not given to repeat such things as those."
"I'm sure you are not. And I hope you will not misunderstand the spirit in which they have been spoken. I shall never regret what I have told you now, if it tends to make you perceive that we must both regard our past acquaintance as a romance, which must, from the stern necessity of things, be treated as a dream which we have dreamt, or a poem which we have read."
"You can treat it as you please."
"God bless you, Harry; and I will always hope for your welfare, and hear of your success with joy. Will you come up and shoot with them on Thursday?"
"What, with Hugh? No; Hugh and I do not hit it off together. If I shot at Clavering I should have to do it as a sort of head-keeper. It's a higher position, I know, than that of an usher, but it doesn't suit me."
"Oh, Harry! that is so cruel! But you will come up to the house. Lord Ongar will be there on the thirty-first; the day after to-morrow, you know."
"I must decline even that temptation. I never go into the house when Hugh is there, except about twice a year on solemn invitation—just to prevent there being a family quarrel."
"Good-by, then," and she offered him her hand.
"Good-by, if it must be so."
"I don't know whether you mean to grace my marriage?"
"Certainly not. I shall be away from Clavering, so that the marriage bells may not wound my ears. For the matter of that, I shall be at the school."
"I suppose we shall meet some day in town."
"Most probably not. My ways and Lord Ongar's will be altogether different, even if I should succeed in getting up to London. If you ever come to see Hermione here, I may chance to meet you in the house. But you will not do that often, the place is so dull and unattractive."
"It is the dearest old park."
"You won't care much for old parks as Lady Ongar."
"You don't know what I may care about as Lady Ongar; but as Julia Brabazon I will now say good-by for the last time." Then they parted, and the lady returned to the great house, while Harry Clavering made his way across the park toward the rectory.
Three years before this scene in the gardens at Clavering Park, Lord Brabazon had died at Nice, leaving one unmarried daughter, the lady to whom the reader has just been introduced. One other daughter he had, who was then already married to Sir Hugh Clavering, and Lady Clavering was the Hermione of whom mention has already been made. Lord Brabazon, whose peerage had descended to him in a direct line from the time of the Plantagenets, was one of those unfortunate nobles of whom England is burdened with but few, who have no means equal to their rank. He had married late in life, and had died without a male heir. The title which had come from the Plantagenets was now lapsed; and when the last lord died about four hundred a year was divided between his two daughters. The elder had already made an excellent match, as regarded fortune, in marrying Sir Hugh Clavering; and the younger was now about to make a much more splendid match in her alliance with Lord Ongar. Of them I do not know that it is necessary to say much more at present.
And of Harry Clavering it perhaps may not be necessary to say much in the way of description. The attentive reader will have already gathered nearly all that should be known of him before he makes himself known by his own deeds. He was the only son of the Reverend Henry Clavering, rector of Clavering, uncle of the present Sir Hugh Clavering, and brother of the last Sir Hugh. The Reverend Henry Clavering and Mrs. Clavering his wife, and his two daughters, Mary and Fanny Clavering, lived always at Clavering Rectory, on the outskirts of Clavering Park, at a full mile's distance from the house. The church stood in the park, about midway between the two residences. When I have named one more Clavering, Captain Clavering, Captain Archibald Clavering, Sir Hugh's brother, all when I shall have said also that both Sir Hugh and Captain Clavering were men fond of pleasure and fond of money, I shall have said all that I need now say about the Clavering family at large.
Julia Brabazon had indulged in some reminiscence of the romance of her past poetic life when she talked of cousinship between her and Harry Clavering. Her sister was the wife of Harry Clavering's first cousin, but between her and Harry there was no relationship whatever. When old Lord Brabazon had died at Nice she had come to Clavering Park, and had created some astonishment among those who knew Sir Hugh by making good her footing in his establishment. He was not the man to take up a wife's sister, and make his house her home, out of charity or from domestic love. Lady Clavering, who had been a handsome woman and fashionable withal, no doubt may have had some influence; but Sir Hugh was a man much prone to follow his own courses. It must be presumed that Julia Brabazon had made herself agreeable in the house, and also probably useful. She had been taken to London through two seasons, and had there held up her head among the bravest. And she had been taken abroad—for Sir Hugh did not love Clavering Park, except during six weeks of partridge shooting; and she had been at Newmarket with them, and at the house of a certain fast hunting duke with whom Sir Hugh was intimate; and at Brighton with her sister, when it suited Sir Hugh to remain alone at the duke's; and then again up in London, where she finally arranged matters with Lord Ongar. It was acknowledged by all the friends of the two families, and indeed I may say of the three families now—among the Brabazon people, and the Clavering people, and the Courton people—Lord Ongar's family name was Courton—that Julia Brabazon had been very clever. Of her and Harry Clavering together no one had ever said a word. If any words had been spoken between her and Hermione on the subject, the two sisters had been discreet enough to manage that they should go no further.
In those short months of Julia's romance Sir Hugh had been away from Clavering, and Hermione had been much occupied in giving birth to an heir. Julia had now lived past her one short spell of poetry, had written her one sonnet, and was prepared for the business of the world.
Harry Clavering Chooses His Profession
Harry Clavering might not be an usher, but, nevertheless, he was home for the holidays. And who can say where the usher ends and the school-master begins? He, perhaps, may properly be called an usher, who is hired by a private schoolmaster to assist himself in his private occupation, whereas Harry Clavering had been selected by a public body out of a hundred candidates, with much real or pretended reference to certificates of qualification. He was certainly not an usher, as he was paid three hundred a year for his work—which is quite beyond the mark of ushers. So much was certain; but yet the word stuck in his throat and made him uncomfortable. He did not like to reflect that he was home for the holidays.
But he had determined that he would never come home for the holidays again. At Christmas he would leave the school at which he had won his appointment with so much trouble, and go into an open profession. Indeed he had chosen his profession, and his mode of entering it. He would become a civil engineer, and perhaps a land surveyor, and with this view he would enter himself as a pupil in the great house of Beilby & Burton. The terms even had been settled. He was to pay a premium of five hundred pounds and join Mr. Burton, who was settled in the town of Stratton, for twelve months before he placed himself in Mr. Beilby's office in London. Stratton was less than twenty miles from Clavering. It was a comfort to him to think that he could pay this five hundred pounds out of his own earnings, without troubling his father. It was a comfort, even though he had earned that money by "ushering" for the last two years.
When he left Julia Brabazon in the garden, Harry Clavering did not go at once home to the rectory, but sauntered out all alone into the park, intending to indulge in reminiscences of his past romance. It was all over, that idea of having Julia Brabazon for his love; and now he had to ask himself whether he intended to be made permanently miserable by her wordly falseness, or whether he would borrow something of her wordly wisdom, and agree with himself to look back on what was past as a pleasurable excitement in his boyhood. Of course we all know that really permanent misery was in truth out of the question. Nature had not made him physically or mentally so poor a creature as to be incapable of a cure. But on this occasion he decided on permanent misery. There was about his heart—about his actual anatomical heart, with its internal arrangement of valves and blood-vessels—a heavy dragging feeling that almost amounted to corporeal pain, and which he described to himself as agony. Why should this rich, debauched, disreputable lord have the power of taking the cup from his lip, the one morsel of bread which he coveted from his mouth, his one ingot of treasure out of his coffer? Fight him! No, he knew he could not fight Lord Ongar. The world was against such an arrangement. And in truth Harry Clavering had so much contempt for Lord Ongar, that he had no wish to fight so poor a creature. The man had had delirium tremens, and was a worn-out miserable object. So at least Harry Clavering was only too ready to believe. He did not care much for Lord Ongar in the matter. His anger was against her; that she should have deserted him for a miserable creature, who had nothing to back him but wealth and rank!
There was wretchedness in every view of the matter. He loved her so well, and yet he could do nothing! He could take no step toward saving her or assisting himself. The marriage bells would ring within a month from the present time, and his own father would go to the church and marry them. Unless Lord Ongar were to die before then by God's hand, there could be no escape—and of such escape Harry Clavering had no thought. He felt a weary, dragging soreness at his heart, and told himself that he must be miserable for-ever—not so miserable but what he would work, but so wretched that the world could have for him no satisfaction.
What could he do? What thing could he achieve so that she should know that he did not let her go from him without more thought than his poor words had expressed? He was perfectly aware that in their conversation she had had the best of the argument—that he had talked almost like a boy, while she had talked quite like a woman. She had treated him de haut en bas with all that superiority which youth and beauty give to a young woman over a very young man. What could he do? Before he returned to the rectory, he had made up his mind what he would do, and on the following morning Julia Brabazon received by the hands of her maid the following note: "I think I understood all that you said to me yesterday. At any rate, I understand that you have one trouble left, and that I have the means of curing it." In the first draft of his letter he said something about ushering, but that he omitted afterwards. "You may be assured that the inclosed is all my own, and that it is entirely at my own disposal. You may also be quite sure of good faith on the part of the lender.—H. C." And in this letter he inclosed a check for six hundred pounds. It was the money which he had saved since he took his degree, and had been intended for Messrs. Beilby & Burton. But he would wait another two years—continuing to do his ushering for her sake. What did it matter to a man who must, under any circumstances, be permanently miserable?
Sir Hugh was not yet at Clavering. He was to come with Lord Ongar on the eve of the partridge-shooting. The two sisters, therefore, had the house all to themselves. At about twelve they sat down to breakfast together in a little upstairs chamber adjoining Lady Clavering's own room, Julia Brabazon at that time having her lover's generous letter in her pocket. She knew that it was as improper as it was generous, and that, moreover, it was very dangerous. There was no knowing what might be the result of such a letter should Lord Ongar even know that she had received it. She was not absolutely angry with Harry, but had, to herself, twenty times called him a foolish, indiscreet, dear, generous boy. But what was she to do with the check? As to that, she had hardly as yet made up her mind when she joined her sister on the morning in question. Even to Hermione she did not dare to tell the fact that such a letter had been received by her.
But in truth her debts were a great torment to her; and yet how trifling they were when compared with the wealth of the man who was to become her husband in six weeks! Let her marry him, and not pay them, and he probably would never be the wiser. They would get themselves paid almost without his knowledge, perhaps altogether without his hearing of them. But yet she feared him, knowing him to be greedy about money; and, to give her such merit as was due to her, she felt the meanness of going to her husband with debts on her shoulder. She had five thousand pounds of her own; but the very settlement which gave her a noble dower, and which made the marriage so brilliant, made over this small sum in its entirety to her lord. She had been wrong not to tell the lawyer of her trouble when he had brought the paper for her to sign; but she had not told him. If Sir Hugh Clavering had been her own brother there would have been no difficulty, but he was only her brother-in-law, and she feared to speak to him. Her sister, however, knew that there were debts, and on that subject she was not afraid to speak to Hermione.
"Hermy," said she, "what am I to do about this money that I owe? I got a bill from Colclugh's this morning."
"Just because he knows you're going to be married; that's all."
"But how am I to pay him?"
"Take no notice of it till next spring. I don't know what else you can do. You'll be sure to have money when you come back from the Continent."
"You couldn't lend it me; could you?"
"Who? I? Did you ever know me have any money in hand since I was married? I have the name of an allowance, but it is always spent before it comes to me, and I am always in debt."
"Would Hugh—let me have it?"
"What, give it you?"
"Well, it wouldn't be so very much for him. I never asked him for a pound yet."
"I think he would say something you wouldn't like if you were to ask him; but of course, you can try it if you please."
"Then what am I to do?"
"Lord Ongar should have let you keep your own fortune. It would have been nothing to him."
"Hugh didn't let you keep your own fortune."
"But the money which will be nothing to Lord Ongar was a good deal to Hugh. You're going to have sixty thousand a year, while we have to do with seven or eight. Besides, I hadn't been out in London, and it wasn't likely I should owe much in Nice. He did ask me, and there was something."
"What am I to do, Hermy?"
"Write and ask Lord Ongar to let you have what you want out of your own money. Write to-day, so that he may get your letter before he comes."
"Oh, dear! oh, dear! I never wrote a word to him yet, and to begin with asking him for money!"
"I don't think he can be angry with you for that."
"I shouldn't know what to say. Would you write for me, and let me see how it looks?"
This Lady Clavering did; and had she refused to do it, I think that poor Harry Clavering's check would have been used. As it was, Lady Clavering wrote the letter to "My dear Lord Ongar," and it was copied and signed by "Yours most affectionately, Julia Brabazon." The effect of this was the receipt of a check for a thousand pounds in a very pretty note from Lord Ongar, which the lord brought with him to Clavering, and sent up to Julia as he was dressing for dinner. It was an extremely comfortable arrangement, and Julia was very glad of the money—feeling it to be a portion of that which was her own. And Harry's check had been returned to him on the day of its receipt. "Of course I cannot take it, and of course you should not have sent it." These words were written on the morsel of paper in which the money was returned. But Miss Brabazon had torn the signature off the check, so that it might be safe, whereas Harry Clavering had taken no precaution with it whatever. But then Harry Clavering had not lived two years in London.
During the hours that the check was away from him, Harry had told his father that perhaps, even yet, he might change his purpose as to going to Messrs. Beilby & Burton. He did not know, he said, but he was still in doubt. This had sprung from some chance question which his father had asked, and which had seemed to demand an answer. Mr. Clavering greatly disliked the scheme of life which his son had made, Harry's life hitherto had been prosperous and very creditable. He had gone early to Cambridge, and at twenty-two had become a fellow of his college. This fellowship he could hold for five or six years without going into orders. It would then lead to a living, and would in the meantime afford a livelihood. But, beyond this, Harry, with an energy which he certainly had not inherited from his father, had become a schoolmaster, and was already a rich man. He had done more than well, and there was a great probability that between them they might be able to buy the next presentation to Clavering, when the time should come in which Sir Hugh should determine on selling it. That Sir Hugh should give the family living to his cousin was never thought probable by any of the family at the rectory; but he might perhaps part with it under such circumstances on favorable terms. For all these reasons the father was very anxious that his son should follow out the course for which he had been intended; but that he, being unenergetic and having hitherto done little for his son, should dictate to a young man who had been energetic, and who had done much for himself, was out of the question. Harry, therefore, was to be the arbiter of his own fate. But when Harry received back the check from Julia Brabazon, then he again returned to his resolution respecting Messrs. Beilby & Burton, and took the first opportunity of telling his father that such was the case.
After breakfast he followed his father into his study, and there, sitting in two easy chairs opposite to each other, they lit each a cigar. Such was the reverend gentleman's custom in the afternoon, and such also in the morning. I do not know whether the smoking of four or five cigars daily by the parson of a parish may now-a-day be considered as a vice in him, but if so, it was the only vice with which Mr. Clavering could be charged. He was a kind, soft-hearted, gracious man, tender to his wife, whom he ever regarded as the angel of his house, indulgent to his daughters, whom he idolized, ever patient with his parishioners, and awake—though not widely awake—to the responsibilities of his calling. The world had been too comfortable for him, and also too narrow; so that he had sunk into idleness. The world had given him much to eat and drink, but it had given him little to do, and thus he had gradually fallen away from his early purposes, till his energy hardly sufficed for the doing of that little. His living gave him eight hundred a year; his wife's fortune nearly doubled that. He had married early, and had got his living early, and had been very prosperous. But he was not a happy man. He knew that he had put off the day of action till the power of action had passed away from him. His library was well furnished, but he rarely read much else than novels and poetry; and of late years the reading even of poetry had given way to the reading of novels. Till within ten years of the hour of which I speak, he had been a hunting parson—not hunting loudly, but following his sport as it is followed by moderate sportsmen. Then there had come a new bishop, and the new bishop had sent for him—nay, finally had come to him, and had lectured him with blatant authority. "My lord," said the parson of Clavering, plucking up something of his past energy, as the color rose to his face, "I think you are wrong in this. I think you are especially wrong to interfere with me in this way on your first coming among us. You feel it to be your duty no doubt; but to me it seems that you mistake your duty. But as the matter is simply one of my own pleasure, I shall give it up." After that Mr. Clavering hunted no more, and never spoke a good word to any one of the bishop of his diocese. For myself, I think it as well that clergymen should not hunt; but had I been the parson of Clavering, I should, under those circumstances, have hunted double.
Mr. Clavering hunted no more, and probably smoked a greater number of cigars in consequence. He had an increased amount of time at his disposal, but did not, therefore, give more time to his duties. Alas! What time did he give to his duties? He kept a most energetic curate, whom he allowed to do almost what he would with the parish. Every-day services he did prohibit, declaring that he would not have the parish church made ridiculous; but in other respects his curate was the pastor. Once every Sunday he read the service, and once every Sunday he preached, and he resided in his parsonage ten months every year. His wife and daughters went among the poor—and he smoked cigars in his library. Though not yet fifty, he was becoming fat and idle—unwilling to walk, and not caring much even for such riding as the bishop had left to him. And to make matters worse—far worse, he knew all this of himself, and understood it thoroughly. "I see a better path, and know how good it is, but I follow ever the worse." He was saying that to himself daily, and was saying it always without hope.
And his wife had given him up. She had given him up, not with disdainful rejection, nor with contempt in her eye, or censure in her voice, not with diminution of love or of outward respect. She had given him up as a man abandons his attempts to make his favorite dog take the water. He would fain that the dog he loves should dash into the stream as other dogs will do. It is, to his thinking, a noble instinct in a dog. But his dog dreads the water. As, however, he has learned to love the beast, he puts up with this mischance, and never dreams of banishing poor Ponto from his hearth because of this failure. And so it was with Mrs. Clavering and her husband at the rectory. He understood it all. He knew that he was so far rejected; and he acknowledged to himself the necessity for such rejection.
"It is a very serious thing to decide upon," he said, when his son had spoken to him.
"Yes; it is serious—about as serious a thing as a man can think of; but a man cannot put it off on that account. If I mean to make such a change in my plans, the sooner I do it the better."
"But yesterday you were in another mind."
"No, father, not in another mind. I did not tell you then, nor can I tell you all now. I had thought that I should want my money for another purpose for a year or two; but that I have abandoned."
"Is the purpose a secret, Harry?"
"It is a secret, because it concerns another person."
"You were going to lend your money to some one?"
"I must keep it a secret, though you know I seldom have any secrets from you. That idea, however, is abandoned, and I mean to go over to Stratton to-morrow, and tell Mr. Burton that I shall be there after Christmas. I must be at St. Cuthbert's on Tuesday."
Then they both sat silent for a while, silently blowing out their clouds of smoke. The son had said all that he cared to say, and would have wished that there might then be an end of it; but he knew that his father had much on his mind, and would fain express, if he could express it without too much trouble, or without too evident a need of self-reproach, his own thoughts on the subject. "You have made up your mind, then, altogether that you do not like the church as a profession," he said at last.
"I think I have, father."
"And on what grounds? The grounds which recommend it to you are very strong. Your education has adapted you for it. Your success in it is already insured by your fellowship. In a great degree you have entered it as a profession already by taking a fellowship. What you are doing is not choosing a line in life, but changing one already chosen. You are making of yourself a rolling stone."
"A stone should roll till it has come to the spot that suits it."
"Why not give up the school if it irks you?"
"And become a Cambridge Don, and practice deportment among the undergraduates."
"I don't see that you need do that. You need not even live at Cambridge. Take a church in London. You would be sure to get one by holding up your hand. If that, with your fellowship, is not sufficient, I will give you what more you want."
"No, father—no. By God's blessing I will never ask you for a pound. I can hold my fellowship for four years longer without orders, and in four years' time I think I can earn my bread."
"I don't doubt that, Harry."
"Then why should I not follow my wishes in this matter? The truth is, I do not feel myself qualified to be a good clergyman."
"It is not that you have doubts, is it?"
"I might have them if I came to think much about it—as I must do if I took orders. And I do not wish to be crippled in doing what I think lawful by conventional rules. A rebellious clergyman is, I think, a sorry abject. It seems to me that he is a bird fouling his own nest. Now, I know I should be a rebellious clergyman."
"In our church the life of a clergyman is as the life of any other gentleman—within very broad limits."
"Then why did Bishop Proudie interfere with your hunting?"
"Limits may be very broad, Harry, and yet exclude hunting. Bishop Proudie was vulgar and intrusive, such being the nature of his wife, who instructs him; but if you were in orders I should be very sorry to see you take to hunting."
"It seems to me that a clergyman has nothing to do in life unless he is always preaching and teaching. Look at Saul"—Mr. Saul was the curate of Clavering—"he is always preaching and teaching. He is doing the best he can; and what a life of it he has. He has literally thrown off all worldly cares—and, consequently, everybody laughs at him, and nobody loves him. I don't believe a better man breathes, but I shouldn't like his life."
At this point there was another pause, which lasted till the cigars had come to an end. Then, as he threw the stump into the fire, Mr. Clavering spoke again. "The truth is, Harry, that you have had, all your life, a bad example before you."
"Yes, my son; let me speak on to the end, and then you can say what you please. In me you have had a bad example on one side, and now, in poor Saul, you have a bad example on the other side. Can you fancy no life between the two, which would fit your physical nature, which is larger than his, and your mental wants, which are higher than mine? Yes, they are, Harry. It is my duty to say this, but it would be unseemly that there should be any controversy between us on the subject."
"If you choose to stop me in that way—"
"I do choose to stop you in that way. As for Saul, it is impossible that you should become such a man as he. It is not that he mortifies his flesh, but that he has no flesh to mortify. He is unconscious of the flavor of venison, or the scent of roses, or the beauty of women. He is an exceptional specimen of a man, and you need no more fear, than you should venture to hope, that you could become such as he is."
At this point they were interrupted by the entrance of Fanny Clavering, who came to say that Mr. Saul was in the drawing room. "What does he want, Fanny?"
This question Mr. Clavering asked half in a whisper, but with something of comic humor in his face, as though partly afraid that Mr. Saul should hear it, and partly intending to convey a wish that he might escape Mr. Saul, if it were possible.
"It's about the iron church, papa. He says it is come—or part of it has, come—and he wants you to go out to Cumberly Green about the site."
"I thought that was all settled."
"He says not."
"What does it matter where it is? He can put it anywhere he likes on the Green. However, I had better go to him." So Mr. Clavering went. Cumberly Green was a hamlet in the parish of Clavering, three miles distant from the church, the people of which had got into a wicked habit of going to a dissenting chapel near to them. By Mr. Saul's energy, but chiefly out of Mr. Clavering's purse, an iron chapel had been purchased for a hundred and fifty pounds, and Mr. Saul proposed to add to his own duties the pleasing occupation of walking to Cumberly Green every Sunday morning before breakfast, and every Wednesday evening after dinner, to perform a service and bring back to the true flock as many of the erring sheep of Cumberly Green as he might be able to catch. Towards the purchase of this iron church Mr. Clavering had at first given a hundred pounds. Sir Hugh, in answer to the fifth application, had very ungraciously, through his steward, bestowed ten pounds. Among the farmers one pound nine and eightpence had been collected. Mr. Saul had given two pounds; Mrs. Clavering gave five pounds; the girls gave ten shillings each; Henry Clavering gave five pounds—and then the parson made up the remainder. But Mr. Saul had journeyed thrice painfully to Bristol, making the bargain for the church, going and coming each time by third-class, and he had written all the letters; but Mrs. Clavering had paid the postage, and she and the girls between them were making the covering for the little altar.
"Is it all settled, Harry?" said Fanny, stopping with her brother, and hanging over his chair. She was a pretty, gay-spirited girl, with bright eyes and dark brown hair, which fell in two curls behind her ears.
"He has said nothing to unsettle it."
"I know it makes him very unhappy."
"No, Fanny, not very unhappy. He would rather that I should go into the church, but that is about all."
"I think you are quite right."
"And Mary thinks I am quite wrong."
"Mary thinks so, of course. So should I, too, perhaps, if I were engaged to a clergyman. That's the old story of the fox who had lost his tail."
"And your tail isn't gone yet?"
"No, my tail isn't gone yet. Mary thinks that no life is like a clergyman's life. But, Harry, though mamma hasn't said so, I'm sure she thinks you are right. She won't say so as long as it may seem to interfere with anything papa may choose to say; but I'm sure she's glad in her heart."
"And I am glad in my heart, Fanny. And as I'm the person most concerned I suppose that's the most material thing." Then they followed their father into the drawing room.
"Couldn't you drive Mrs. Clavering over in the pony chair, and settle it between you," said Mr. Clavering to his curate. Mr. Saul looked disappointed. In the first place, he hated driving the pony, which was a rapid-footed little beast, that had a will of his own; and in the next place, he thought the rector ought to visit the spot on such an occasion. "Or Mrs. Clavering will drive you," said the rector, remembering Mr. Saul's objection to the pony. Still Mr. Saul looked unhappy. Mr. Saul was very tall and very thin, with a tall thin head, and weak eyes, and a sharp, well-cut nose, and, so to say, no lips, and very white teeth, with no beard, and a well-cut chin. His face was so thin that his cheek bones obtruded themselves unpleasantly. He wore a long rusty black coat, and a high rusty black waistcoat, and trousers that were brown with dirty roads and general ill-usage. Nevertheless, it never occurred to any one that Mr. Saul did not look like a gentleman, not even to himself to whom no ideas whatever on that subject ever presented themselves. But that he was a gentleman I think he knew well enough, and was able to carry himself before Sir Hugh and his wife with quite as much ease as he could do in the rectory. Once or twice he had dined at the great house; but Lady Clavering had declared him to be a bore, and Sir Hugh had called him "that most offensive of all animals, a clerical prig." It had therefore been decided that he was not to be asked to the great house any more. It may be as well to state here, as elsewhere, that Mr. Clavering very rarely went to his nephew's table. On certain occasions he did do so, so that there might be no recognized quarrel between him and Sir Hugh; but such visits were few and far between.
After a few more words from Mr. Saul, and a glance from his wife's eye, Mr. Clavering consented to go to Cumberly Green, though there was nothing he liked so little as a morning spent with his curate. When he had started, Harry told his mother also of his final decision. "I shall go to Stratton to-morrow and settle it all."
"And what does papa say?" asked the mother.
"Just what he has said before. It is not so much that he wishes me to be a clergyman, as that he does not wish me to have lost all my time up to this."
"It is more than that, I think, Harry," said his elder sister, a tall girl, less pretty than her sister, apparently less careful of her prettiness, very quiet, or, as some said, demure, but known to be good as gold by all who knew her well.
"I doubt it," said Harry, stoutly. "But, however that may be, a man must choose for himself."
"We all thought you had chosen," said Mary.
"If it is settled," said the mother, "I suppose we shall do no good by opposing it."
"Would you wish to oppose it, mamma?" said Harry.
"No, my dear. I think you should judge for yourself."
"You see I could have no scope in the church for that sort of ambition which would satisfy me. Look at such men as Locke, and Stephenson, and Brassey. They are the men who seem to me to do most in the world. They were all self-educated, but surely a man can't have a worse chance because he has learned something. Look at old Beilby with a seat in Parliament, and a property worth two or three hundred thousand pounds! When he was my age he had nothing but his weekly wages."
"I don't know whether Mr. Beilby is a very happy man or a very good man," said Mary.
"I don't know, either," said Harry; "but I do know that he has thrown a single arch over a wider span of water than ever was done before, and that ought to make him happy." After saying this in a tone of high authority, befitting his dignity as a fellow of his college, Harry Clavering went out, leaving his mother and sisters to discuss the subject, which to two of them was all-important. As to Mary, she had hopes of her own, vested in the clerical concerns of a neighboring parish.
On the next morning Harry Clavering rode over to Stratton, thinking much of his misery as he went. It was all very well for him, in the presence of his own family to talk of his profession as the one subject which was to him of any importance; but he knew very well himself that he was only beguiling them in doing so. This question of a profession was, after all, but dead leaves to him—to him who had a canker at his heart, a perpetual thorn in his bosom, a misery within him which no profession could mitigate! Those dear ones at home guessed nothing of this, and he would take care that they should guess nothing. Why should they have the pain of knowing that he had been made wretched forever by blighted hopes? His mother, indeed, had suspected something in those sweet days of his roaming with Julia through the park. She had once or twice said a word to warn him. But of the very truth of his deep love—so he told himself—she had been happily ignorant. Let her be ignorant. Why should he make his mother unhappy? As these thoughts passed through his mind, I think that he revelled in his wretchedness, and made much to himself of his misery. He sucked in his sorrow greedily, and was somewhat proud to have had occasion to break his heart. But not the less, because he was thus early blighted, would he struggle for success in the world. He would show her that, as his wife, she might have had a worthier position than Lord Ongar could give her. He, too, might probably rise the quicker in the world, as now he would have no impediment of wife or family. Then, as he rode along, he composed a sonnet, fitting to his case, the strength and rhythm of which seemed to him, as he sat on horseback, to be almost perfect. Unfortunately, when he was back at Clavering, and sat in his room with the pen in his hand, the turn of the words had escaped him.
He found Mr. Burton at home, and was not long in concluding his business. Messrs. Beilby & Burton were not only civil engineers, but were land surveyors also, and land valuers on a great scale. They were employed much by Government upon public buildings, and if not architects themselves, were supposed to know all that architects should do and should not do. In the purchase of great properties Mr. Burton's opinion was supposed to be, or to have been, as good as any in the kingdom, and therefore there was very much to be learned in the office at Stratton. But Mr. Burton was not a rich man like his partner, Mr. Beilby, nor an ambitious man. He had never soared Parliamentwards, had never speculated, had never invented, and never been great. He had been the father of a very large family, all of whom were doing as well in the world, and some of them perhaps better, than their father. Indeed, there were many who said that Mr. Burton would have been a richer man if he had not joined himself in partnership with Mr. Beilby. Mr. Beilby had the reputation of swallowing more than his share wherever he went.
When the business part of the arrangement was finished Mr. Burton talked to his future pupil about lodgings, and went out with him into the town to look for rooms. The old man found that Harry Clavering was rather nice in this respect, and in his own mind formed an idea that this new beginner might have been a more auspicious pupil, had he not already become a fellow of a college. Indeed, Harry talked to him quite as though they two were on an equality together; and, before they had parted, Mr. Burton was not sure that Harry did not patronize him. He asked the young man, however, to join them at their early dinner, and then introduced him to Mrs. Burton, and to their youngest daughter, the only child who was still living with them. "All my other girls are married, Mr. Clavering; and all of them married to men connected with my own profession." The color came slightly to Florence Burton's cheeks as she heard her father's words, and Harry asked himself whether the old man expected that he should go through the same ordeal; but Mr. Burton himself was quite unaware that he had said anything wrong, and then went on to speak of the successes of his sons. "But they began early, Mr. Clavering; and worked hard—very hard indeed." He was a good, kindly, garrulous old man; but Harry began to doubt whether he would learn much at Stratton. It was, however, too late to think of that now, and everything was fixed.
Harry, when he looked at Florence Burton, at once declared to himself that she was plain. Anything more unlike Julia Brabazon never appeared in the guise of a young lady. Julia was tall, with a high brow, a glorious complexion, a nose as finely modelled as though a Grecian sculptor had cut it, a small mouth, but lovely in its curves; and a chin that finished and made perfect the symmetry of her face. Her neck was long, but graceful as a swan's, her bust was full, and her whole figure like that of a goddess. Added to this, when he had first known her, she had all the charm of youth. When she had returned to Clavering the other day, the affianced bride of Lord Ongar, he had hardly known whether to admire or to deplore the settled air of established womanhood which she had assumed. Her large eyes had always lacked something of rapid, glancing, sparkling brightness. They had been glorious eyes to him, and in those early days he had not known that they lacked aught; but he had perceived, or perhaps fancied, that now, in her present condition, they were often cold, and sometimes almost cruel. Nevertheless, he was ready to swear that she was perfect in her beauty.
Poor Florence Burton was short of stature, was brown, meagre, and poor-looking. So said Harry Clavering to himself. Her small band, though soft, lacked that wondrous charm of touch which Julia's possessed. Her face was short, and her forehead, though it was broad and open, had none of that feminine command which Julia's look conveyed. That Florence's eyes were very bright—bright and soft as well, he allowed; and her dark brown hair was very glossy; but she was, on the whole, a mean-looking little thing. He could not, as he said to himself on his return home, avoid the comparison, as she was the first girl he had seen since he had parted from Julia Brabazon.
"I hope you'll find yourself comfortable at Stratton, sir," said old Mrs. Burton.
"Thank you," said Harry, "but I want very little myself in that way. Anything does for me."
"One young gentleman we had took a bedroom at Mrs. Pott's, and did very nicely without any second room at all. Don't you remember, Mr. B.? it was young Granger."
"Young Granger had a very short allowance," said Mr. Burton. "He lived upon fifty pounds a year all the time he was here."
"And I don't think Scarness had more when he began," said Mrs. Burton. "Mr. Scarness married one of my girls, Mr. Clavering, when he started himself at Liverpool. He has pretty nigh all the Liverpool docks under him now. I have heard him say that butcher's meat did not cost him four shillings a week all the time he was here. I've always thought Stratton one of the reasonablest places anywhere for a young man to do for himself in."
"I don't know, my dear," said the husband, "that Mr: Clavering will care very much for that."
"Perhaps not, Mr. B.; but I do like to see young men careful about their spendings. What's the use of spending a shilling when sixpence will do as well; and sixpence saved when a man has nothing but himself, becomes pounds and pounds by the time he has a family about him."
During all this time Miss Burton said little or nothing, and Harry Clavering himself did not say much. He could not express any intention of rivalling Mr. Scarness's economy in the article of butcher's meat, nor could he promise to content himself with Granger's solitary bedroom. But as he rode home he almost began to fear that he had made a mistake. He was not wedded to the joys of his college hall, or the college common room. He did not like the narrowness of college life. But he doubted whether the change from that to the oft-repeated hospitalities of Mrs. Burton might not be too much for hire. Scarness's four shillings'-worth of butcher's meat had already made him half sick of his new profession, and though Stratton might be the "reasonablest place anywhere for a young man," he could not look forward to living there for a year with much delight. As for Miss Burton, it might be quite as well that she was plain, as he wished for none of the delights which beauty affords to young men.
On his return home, however, he made no complaint of Stratton. He was too strong-willed to own that he had been in any way wrong, and when early in the following week he started for St. Cuthbert's, he was able to speak with cheerful hope of his new prospects. If ultimately he should find life in Stratton to be unendurable, he would cut that part of his career short, and contrive to get up to London at an earlier time than he had intended.
On the 31st of August Lord Ongar and Sir Hugh Clavering reached Clavering Park, and, as has been already told, a pretty little note was at once sent up to Miss Brabazon in her bedroom. When she met Lord Ongar in the drawing-room, about an hour afterwards, she had instructed herself that it would be best to say nothing of the note; but she could not refrain from a word. "I am much obliged, my lord, by your kindness and generosity," she said, as she gave him her hand. He merely bowed and smiled, and muttered something as to his hoping that he might always find it as easy to gratify her. He was a little man, on whose behalf it certainly appeared that the Peerage must have told a falsehood; it seemed so at least to those who judged of his years from his appearance. The Peerage said that he was thirty-six, and that, no doubt, was in truth his age, but any one would have declared him to be ten years older. This look was produced chiefly by the effect of an elaborately dressed jet black wig which he wore. What misfortune had made him bald so early—if to be bald early in life be a misfortune—I cannot say; but he had lost the hair from the crown of his head, and had preferred wiggery to baldness. No doubt an effort was made to hide the wiggishness of his wigs, but what effect in that direction was ever made successfully? He was, moreover, weak, thin, and physically poor, and had, no doubt, increased this weakness and poorness by hard living. Though others thought him old, time had gone swiftly with him, and he still thought himself a young man. He hunted, though he could not ride. He shot, though he could not walk. And, unfortunately, he drank, though he had no capacity for drinking! His friends at last had taught him to believe that his only chance of saving himself lay in marriage, and therefore he had engaged himself to Julia Brabazon, purchasing her at the price of a brilliant settlement. If Lord Ongar should die before her, Ongar Park was to be hers for life, with thousands a year to maintain it. Courton Castle, the great family seat, would of course go to the heir; but Ongar Park was supposed to be the most delightful small country-seat anywhere within thirty miles of London. It lay among the Surrey hills, and all the world had heard of the charms of Ongar Park. If Julia were to survive her lord, Ongar Park was to be hers; and they who saw them both together had but little doubt that she would come to the enjoyment of this clause in her settlement. Lady Clavering had been clever in arranging the match; and Sir Hugh, though he might have been unwilling to give his sister-in-law money out of his own pocket had performed his duty as a brother-in-law in looking to her future welfare. Julia Brabazon had no doubt that she was doing well. Poor Harry Clavering! She had loved him in the days of her romance. She, too, had written her sonnets. But she had grown old earlier in life than he had done, and had taught herself that romance could not be allowed to a woman in her position. She was highly born, the daughter of a peer, without money, and even without a home to which she had any claim. Of course she had accepted Lord Ongar, but she had not put out her hand to take all these good things without resolving that she would do her duty to her future lord. The duty would be doubtless disagreeable, but she would do it with all the more diligence on that account.
September passed by, hecatombs of partridges were slaughtered, and the day of the wedding drew nigh. It was pretty to see Lord Ongar and the self-satisfaction which he enjoyed at this time. The world was becoming young with him again, and he thought that he rather liked the respectability of his present mode of life. He gave himself but scanty allowances of wine, and no allowance of anything stronger than wine, and did not dislike his temperance. There was about him at all hours an air which seemed to say, "There; I told you all that I could do it as soon as there was any necessity." And in these halcyon days he could shoot for an hour without his pony, and he liked the gentle, courteous badinage which was bestowed upon his courtship, and he liked also Julia's beauty. Her conduct to him was perfect. She was never pert, never exigeant, never romantic, and never humble. She never bored him, and yet was always ready to be with him when he wished it. She was never exalted; and yet she bore her high place as became a woman nobly born and acknowledged to be beautiful.
"I declare you have quite made a lover of him," said Lady Clavering to her sister. When a thought of the match had first arisen in Sir Hugh's London house, Lady Clavering had been eager in praise of Lord Ongar, or eager in praise rather of the position which the future Lady Ongar might hold; but since the prize had been secured, since it had become plain that Julia was to be the greater woman of the two, she had harped sometimes on the other string. As a sister she had striven for a sister's welfare, but as a woman she could not keep herself from comparisons which might tend to show that after all, well as Julia was doing, she was not doing better than her elder sister had done. Hermione had married simply a baronet, and not the richest or the most amiable among baronets; but she had married a man suitable in age and wealth, with whom any girl might have been in love. She had not sold herself to be the nurse, or not to be the nurse, as it might turn out, of a worn-out debauche. She would have hinted nothing of this, perhaps have thought nothing of this, had not Julia and Lord Ongar walked together through the Clavering groves as though they were two young people. She owed it as a duty to her sister to point out that Lord Ongar could not be a romantic young person, and ought not to be encouraged to play that part.
"I don't know that I have made anything of him," answered Julia. "I suppose he's much like other men when they're going to be married." Julia quite understood the ideas that were passing through her sister's mind, and did not feel them to be unnatural.
"What I mean is, that he has come out so strong in the Romeo line, which we hardly expected, you know. We shall have him under your bedroom window with a guitar, like Don Giovanni."
"I hope not, because it's so cold. I don't think it likely, as he seems fond of going to bed early."
"And it's the best thing for him," said Lady Clavering, becoming serious and carefully benevolent. "It's quite a wonder what good hours and quiet living have done for him in so short a time. I was observing him as he walked yesterday, and he put his feet to the ground as firmly almost as Hugh does."
"Did he indeed? I hope he won't have the habit of putting his hand down firmly as Hugh does sometimes."
"As for that," said Lady Clavering, with a little tremor, "I don't think there's much difference between them. They all say that when Lord Ongar means a thing he does mean it."
"I think a man ought to have a way of his own."
"And a woman also, don't you, my dear? But, as I was saying, if Lord Ongar will continue to take care of himself he may become quite a different man. Hugh says that he drinks next to nothing now, and though he sometimes lights a cigar in the smoking room at night, he hardly ever smokes it. You must do what you can to keep him from tobacco. I happen to know that Sir Charles Poddy said that so many cigars were worse for him even than brandy."
All this Julia bore with an even temper. She was determined to bear everything till her time should come. Indeed she had made herself understand that the hearing of such things as these was a part of the price which she was to be called upon to pay. It was not pleasant for her to hear what Sir Charles Poddy had said about the tobacco and brandy of the man she was just going to marry. She would sooner have heard of his riding sixty miles a day, or dancing all night, as she might have heard had she been contented to take Harry Clavering. But she had made her selection with her eyes open, and was not disposed to quarrel with her bargain, because that which she had bought was no better than the article which she had known it to be when she was making her purchase. Nor was she even angry with her sister. "I will do the best I can, Hermy; you may be sure of that. But there are some things which it is useless to talk about."
"But it was as well you should know what Sir Charles said."
"I know quite enough of what he says, Hermy—quite as much, I dare say, as you do. But, never mind. If Lord Ongar has given up smoking, I quite agree with you that it's a good thing. I wish they'd all give it up, for I hate the smell of it. Hugh has got worse and worse. He never cares about changing his clothes now."
"I'll tell you what it is," said Sir Hugh to his wife that night; "sixty thousand a year is a very fine income, but Julia will find she has caught a tartar."
"I suppose he'll hardly live long; will he?"
"I don't know or care when he lives or when he dies; but, by heaven, he is the most overbearing fellow I ever had in the house with me. I wouldn't stand him here for another fortnight—not even to make her all safe."
"It will soon be over. They'll be gone on Thursday."
"What do you think of his having the impudence to tell Cunliffe"—Cunliffe was the head keeper—"before my face, that he didn't know anything about pheasants! 'Well, my lord, I think we've got a few about the place,' said Cunliffe. 'Very few,' said Ongar, with a sneer. Now, if I haven't a better head of game here than he has at Courton, I'll eat him. But the impudence of his saying that before me!"
"Did you make him any answer?"
"'There's about enough to suit me,' I said. Then he skulked away, knocked off his pins. I shouldn't like to be his wife; I can tell Julia that."
"Julia is very clever," said the sister.
The day of the marriage came, and everything at Clavering was done with much splendor. Four bridesmaids came down from London on the preceding day; two were already staying in the house, and the two cousins came as two more from the rectory. Julia Brabazon had never been really intimate with Mary and Fanny Clavering, but she had known them well enough to make it odd if she did not ask them to come to her wedding and to take a part in the ceremony. And, moreover, she had thought of Harry and her little romance of other days. Harry, perhaps, might be glad to know that she had shown this courtesy to his sisters. Harry, she knew, would be away at his school. Though she had asked him whether he meant to come to her wedding, she had been better pleased that he should be absent. She had not many regrets herself but it pleased her to think that he should have them. So Mary and Fanny Clavering were asked to attend her at the altar. Mary and Fanny would both have preferred to decline, but their mother had told them that they could not do so. "It would make ill-feeling," said Mrs. Clavering; "and that is what your papa particularly wishes to avoid."
"When you say papa particularly wishes anything, mamma, you always mean that you wish it particularly yourself," said Fanny. "But if it must be done, it must; and then I shall know how to behave when Mary's time comes."
The bells were rung lustily all the morning, and all the parish was there, round about the church, to see. There was no record of a lord ever having been married in Clavering church before; and now this lord was going to marry my lady's sister. It was all one as though she were a Clavering herself. But there was no ecstatic joy in the parish. There were to be no bonfires, and no eating and drinking at Sir Hugh's expense—no comforts provided for any of the poor by Lady Clavering on that special occasion. Indeed, there was never much of such kindnesses between the lord of the soil and his dependants. A certain stipulated dole was given at Christmas for coals and blankets; but even for that there was generally some wrangle between the rector and the steward. "If there's to be all this row about it," the rector had said to the steward, "I'll never ask for it again." "I wish my uncle would only be as good as his word," Sir Hugh had said, when the rector's speech was repeated to him. Therefore, there was not much of real rejoicing in the parish on this occasion, though the bells were rung loudly, and though the people, young and old, did cluster round the churchyard to see the lord lead his bride out of the church. "A puir feckless thing, tottering along like-not half the makings of a man. A stout lass like she could a'most blow him away wi' a puff of her mouth." That was the verdict which an old farmer's wife passed upon him, and that verdict was made good by the general opinion of the parish.
But though the lord might be only half a man, Julia Brabazon walked out from the church every inch a countess. Whatever price she might have paid, she had at any rate got the thing which she had intended to buy. And as she stepped into the chariot which carried her away to the railway station on her way to Dover, she told herself that she had done right. She had chosen her profession, as Harry Clavering had chosen his; and having so far succeeded, she would do her best to make her success perfect. Mercenary! Of course she had been mercenary. Were not all men and women mercenary upon whom devolved the necessity of earning their bread?
There was a great breakfast at the park—for the quality—and the rector on this occasion submitted himself to become the guest of the nephew whom he thoroughly disliked.
It was now Christmas time at Stratton, or rather Christmas time was near at hand; not the Christmas next after the autumn of Lord Ongar's marriage, but the following Christmas, and Harry Clavering had finished his studies in Mr. Burton's office. He flattered himself that he had not been idle while he was there, and was now about to commence his more advanced stage of pupilage, under the great Mr. Beilby, in London, with hopes which were still good, if they were not so magnificent as they once had been.
When he first saw Mr. Burton in his office, and beheld the dusty pigeonholes with dusty papers, and caught the first glimpse of things as they really were in the workshop of that man of business, he had, to say the truth, been disgusted. And Mrs. Burton's early dinner, and Florence Burton's "plain face" and plain ways, had disconcerted him. On that day he had repented of his intention with regard to Stratton; but he had carried out his purpose like a man, and now he rejoiced greatly that he had done so. He rejoiced greatly, though his hopes were somewhat sobered, and his views of life less grand than they had been. He was to start for Clavering early on the following morning, intending to spend his Christmas at home, and we will see him and listen to him as he bade farewell to one of the members of Mr. Burton's family.
He was sitting in a small hack parlor in Mr. Burton's house, and on the table of the room there was burning a single candle. It was a dull, dingy, brown room, furnished with horsehair-covered chairs, an old horsehair sofa and heavy, rusty curtains. I don't know that there was in the room any attempt at ornament, as certainly there was no evidence of wealth. It was now about seven o'clock in the evening, and tea was over in Mrs. Burton's establishment. Harry Clavering had had his tea, and had eaten his hot muffin, at the further side from the fire of the family table, while Florence had poured out the tea, and Mrs. Burton had sat by the fire on one side with a handkerchief over her lap, and Mr. Burton had been comfortable with his arm-chair and his slippers on the other side. When tea was over, Harry had made his parting speech to Mrs. Burton, and that lady had kissed him, and bade God bless him. "I'll see you for a moment before you go, in my office, Harry," Mr. Burton had said. Then Harry had gone down stairs, and some one else had gone boldly with him, and they two were sitting together in the dingy brown room. After that I need hardly tell my reader what had become of Harry Clavering's perpetual, life-enduring heart's misery.
He and Florence were sitting on the old horsehair sofa and Florence's hand was in his. "My darling," he said, "how am I to live for the next two years?"
"You mean five years, Harry."
"No; I mean two—that is, two, unless I can make the time less. I believe you'd be better pleased to think it was ten."
"Much better pleased to think it was ten than to have no such hope at all. Of course we shall see each other. It's not as though you were going to New Zealand."
"I almost wish I were. One would agree then as to the necessity of this cursed delay."
"It is accursed. The prudence of the World in these latter days seems to me to be more abominable than all its other iniquities."
"But, Harry, we should have no income."
"Income is a word that I hate."
"Now you are getting on to your high horse, and you know I always go out of the way when you begin to prance on that beast. As for me, I don't want to leave papa's house where I'm sure of my bread and butter, till I'm sure of it in another."
"You say that, Florence, on purpose to torment me."
"Dear Harry, do you think I want to torment you on your last night? The truth is, I love you so well that I can afford to be patient for you."
"I hate patience, and always did. Patience is one of the worst vices I know. It's almost as bad as humility. You'll tell me you're 'umble next. If you'll only add that you're contented, you'll describe yourself as one of the lowest of God's creatures."
"I don't know about being 'umble, but I am contented. Are not you contented with me, sir?"
"No—because you're not in a hurry to be married."
"What a goose you are. Do you know I'm not sure that if you really love a person, and are quite confident about him—as I am of you—that having to look forward to being married is not the best part of it all. I suppose you'll like to get my letters now, but I don't know that you'll care for them much when we've been man and wife for ten years."
"But one can't live upon letters."
"I shall expect you to live upon mine, and to grow fat on them. There; I heard papa's step on the stairs. He said you were to go to him. Good-by, Harry—dearest Harry! What a blessed wind it was that blew you here."
"Stop a moment; about your getting to Clavering. I shall come for you on Easter eve."
"Oh, no; why should you have so much trouble and expense?"
"I tell you I shall come for you—unless, indeed, you decline to travel with me."
"It will be so nice! And then I shall be sure to have you with me the first moment I see them. I shall think it very awful when I first meet your father."
"He's the most good-natured man, I should say, in England."
"But he'll think me so plain. You did at first, you know. But he won't be uncivil enough to tell me so, as you did. And Mary is to be married in Easter week? Oh, dear, oh, dear; I shall be so shy among them all."
"You shy! I never saw you shy in my life. I don't suppose you were ever really put out yet."
"But I must really put you out, because papa is waiting for you. Dear, dear, dearest Harry. Though I am so patient I shall count the hours till you come for me. Dearest Harry!" Then she bore with him, as he pressed her close to his bosom, and kissed her lips, and her forehead, and her glossy hair. When he was gone, she sat down alone for a few minutes on the old sofa, and hugged herself in her happiness. What a happy wind that had been which had blown such a lover as that for her to Stratton!
"I think he's a good young man," said Mrs. Burton, as soon as she was left with her old husband up stairs.
"Yes, he's a good young man. He means very well."
"But he is not idle; is he?"
"No—no: he's not idle. And he's very clever—too clever, I'm afraid. But I think he'll do well, though it may take him some time to settle."
"It seems so natural, his taking to Flo; doesn't it? They've all taken one when they went away, and they've all done very well. Deary me; how sad the house will be when Flo has gone."
"Yes—it'll make a difference that way. But what then? I wouldn't wish to keep one of 'em at home for that reason."
"No, indeed. I think I'd feel ashamed of myself to have a daughter not married, or not in the way to be married afore she's thirty. I couldn't bear to think that no young man should take a fancy to a girl of mine. But Flo's not twenty yet, and Carry, who was the oldest to go, wasn't four-and-twenty when Scarness took her." Thereupon the old lady put her handkerchief to the corner of her eyes, and wept gently.
"Flo isn't gone yet," said Mr. Burton.
"But I hope, B., it's not to be a long engagement. I don't like long engagements. It ain't good—not for the girl; it ain't, indeed."
"We were engaged for seven years."
"People weren't so much in a hurry then at anything; but I ain't sure it was very good for me. And though we weren't just married, we were living next door and saw each other. What'll come to Flo if she's to be here and he's to be up in London, pleasuring himself?"
"Flo must bear it as other girls do," said the father, as he got up from his chair.
"I think he's a good young man; I think he is," said the mother. "But don't stand out for too much for 'em to begin upon. What matters? Sure, if they were to be a little short you could help 'em." To such a suggestion as this Mr. Burton thought it as well to make no answer, but with ponderous steps descended to his office.
"Well, Harry," said Mr. Burton, "so you're to be off in the morning?"
"Yes, sir; I shall breakfast at home to-morrow."
"Ah—when I was your age, I always used to make an early start. Three hours before breakfast never does any hurt. But it shouldn't be more than that. The wind gets into the stomach." Harry had no remark to make on this, and waited, therefore, till Mr. Burton went on. "And you'll be up in London by the 10th of next month?"
"Yes, sir; I intend to be at Mr. Beilby's office on the 11th."
"That's right. Never lose a day. In losing a day now, you don't lose what you might earn now in a day, but what you might be earning when you're at your best. A young man should always remember that. You can't dispense with a round in the ladder going up. You only make your time at the top so much the shorter."
"I hope you'll find that I'm all right, sir. I don't mean to be idle."
"Pray don't. Of course, you know, I speak to you very differently from what I should do if you were simply going away from my office. What I shall have to give Florence will be very little—that is, comparatively little. She shall have a hundred a year, when she marries, till I die; and after my death and her mother's she will share with the others. But a hundred a year will be nothing to you."
"Won't it, sir? I think a very great deal of a hundred a year. I'm to have a hundred and fifty from the office; and I should be ready to marry on that to-morrow."
"You couldn't live on such an income—unless you were to alter your habits very much."
"But I will alter them."
"We shall see. You are so placed, that by marrying you would lose a considerable income; and I would advise you to put off thinking of it for the next two years."
"My belief is, that settling down would be the best thing in the world to make me work."
"We'll try what a year will do. So Florence is to go to your father's house at Easter?"
"Yes, sir; she has been good enough to promise to come, if you have no objection."
"It is quite as well that they should know her early. I only hope they will like her, as well as we like you. Now I'll say good-night—and good-by." Then Harry went, and walking up and down the High Street of Stratton, thought of all that he had done during the past year.
On his arrival at Stratton, that idea of perpetual misery arising from blighted affection was still strong within his breast. He had given all his heart to a false woman who had betrayed him. He had risked all his fortune on one cast of the die, and, gambler-like, had lost everything. On the day of Julia's marriage he had shut himself up at the school—luckily it was a holiday—and had flattered himself that he had gone through some hours of intense agony. No doubt he did suffer somewhat, for in truth he had loved the woman; but such sufferings are seldom perpetual, and with him they had been as easy of cure as with most others. A little more than a year had passed, and now he was already engaged to another woman. As he thought of this he did not by any means accuse himself of inconstancy or of weakness of heart. It appeared to him now the most natural thing in the world that he should love Florence Burton. In those old days he had never seen Florence, and had hardly thought seriously of what qualities a man really wants in a wife. As he walked up and down the hill of Stratton Street, with the kiss of the dear, modest, affectionate girl still warm upon his lips, he told himself that a marriage with such a one as Julia Brabazon would have been altogether fatal to his chance of happiness.
And things had occurred and rumors had reached him which assisted him much in adopting this view of the subject. It was known to all the Claverings—and even to all others who cared about such things—that Lord and Lady Ongar were not happy together, and it had been already said that Lady Ongar had misconducted herself. There was a certain count whose name had come to be mingled with hers in a way that was, to say the least of it, very unfortunate. Sir Hugh Clavering had declared, in Mrs. Clavering's hearing, though but little disposed in general to make any revelations to any of the family at the rectory, "that he did not intend to take his sister-in-law's part. She had made her own bed, and she must lie upon it. She had known what Lord Ongar was before she had married him, and the fault was her own." So much Sir Hugh had said, and, in saying it, had done all that in him lay to damn his sister-in-law's fair fame. Harry Clavering, little as he had lived in the world during the last twelve months, still knew that some people told a different story. The earl, too, and his wife had not been in England since their marriage; so that these rumors had been filtered to them at home through a foreign medium. During most of their time they had been in Italy, and now, as Harry knew, they were at Florence. He had heard that Lord Ongar had declared his intention of suing for a divorce; but that he supposed to be erroneous, as the two were still living under the same roof. Then he heard that Lord Ongar was ill; and whispers were spread abroad darkly and doubtingly, as though great misfortunes were apprehended.
Harry could not fail to tell himself that had Julia become his wife, as she had once promised, these whispers and this darkness would hardly have come to pass. But not on that account did he now regret that her early vows had not been kept. Living at Stratton, he had taught himself to think much of the quiet domesticities of life, and to believe that Florence Burton was fitter to be his wife than Julia Brabazon. He told himself that he had done well to find this out, and that he had been wise to act upon it. His wisdom had in truth consisted in his capacity to feel that Florence was a nice girl, clever, well-minded, high-principled, and full of spirit—and in falling in love with her as a consequence. All his regard for the quiet domesticities had come from his love, and had had no share in producing it. Florence was bright-eyed. No eyes were over brighter, either in tears or in laughter. And when he came to look at her well, he found that he had been an idiot to think her plain.
"There are things that grow to beauty as you look at them—to exquisite beauty; and you are one of them," he had said to her. "And there are men," she had answered, "who grow to flattery as you listen to them—to impudent flattery; and you are one of them." "I thought you plain the first day I saw you. That's not flattery." "Yes, sir, it is; and you mean it for flattery. But after all, Harry, it comes only to this, that you want to tell me that you have learned to love me." He repeated all this to himself as he walked up and down Stratton, and declared to himself that she was very lovely. It had been given to him to ascertain this, and he was rather proud of himself. But he was a little diffident about his father. He thought that, perhaps, his father might see Florence as he himself had first seen her, and might not have discernment enough to ascertain his mistake, as he had done. But Florence was not going to Clavering at once, and he would be able to give beforehand his own account of her. He had not been home since his engagement had been a thing settled; but his position with regard to Florence had been declared by letter, and his mother had written to the young, lady asking her to come to Clavering.
When Harry got home, all the family received him with congratulations. "I am so glad to think that you should marry early," his mother said to him in a whisper.
"But I am not married yet, mother," he answered.
"Do show me a lock of her hair," said Fanny, laughing.
"It's twice prettier hair than yours, though she doesn't think half so much about it as you do," said her brother, pinching Fanny's arm.
"But you'll show me a lock, wont you?" said Fanny.
"I'm so glad she's to be here at my marriage," said Mary; "because then Edward will know her. I'm so glad that he will see her."