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- The Parson's Daughter of Oxney Colne - 5/6 -
upon the subject.
On that afternoon he went down and received the parson's benediction and congratulations with a good grace. Patience said very little on the occasion, and indeed was absent during the greater part of the interview. The two lovers then walked up to Oxney Combe, and there were more benedictions and more congratulations. "All went merry as a marriage bell," at any rate as far as Patience was concerned. Not a word had yet fallen from that dear mouth, not a look had yet come over that handsome face, which tended in any way to mar her bliss. Her first day of acknowledged love was a day altogether happy, and when she prayed for him as she knelt beside her bed there was no feeling in her mind that any fear need disturb her joy.
I will pass over the next three or four days very quickly, merely saying that Patience did not find them so pleasant as that first day after her engagement. There was something in her lover's manner-- something which at first she could not define--which by degrees seemed to grate against her feelings.
He was sufficiently affectionate, that being a matter on which she did not require much demonstration; but joined to his affection there seemed to be--; she hardly liked to suggest to herself a harsh word, but could it be possible that he was beginning to think that she was not good enough for him? And then she asked herself the question--was she good enough for him? If there were doubt about that, the match should be broken off, though she tore her own heart out in the struggle. The truth, however, was this--that he had begun that teaching which he had already found to be so necessary. Now, had any one essayed to teach Patience German or mathematics, with that young lady's free consent, I believe that she would have been found a meek scholar. But it was not probable that she would be meek when she found a self-appointed tutor teaching her manners and conduct without her consent.
So matters went on for four or five days, and on the evening of the fifth day Captain Broughton and his aunt drank tea at the parsonage. Nothing very especial occurred; but as the parson and Miss La Smyrger insisted on playing backgammon with devoted perseverance during the whole evening, Broughton had a good opportunity of saying a word or two about those changes in his lady-love which a life in London would require--and some word he said also--some single slight word as to the higher station in life to which he would exalt his bride. Patience bore it--for her father and Miss La Smyrger were in the room--she bore it well, speaking no syllable of anger, and enduring, for the moment, the implied scorn of the old parsonage. Then the evening broke up, and Captain Broughton walked back to Oxney Combe with his aunt. "Patty," her father said to her before they went to bed, "he seems to me to be a most excellent young man." "Dear papa," she answered, kissing him. "And terribly deep in love," said Mr. Woolsworthy. "Oh, I don't know about that," she answered, as she left him with her sweetest smile. But though she could thus smile at her father's joke, she had already made up her mind that there was still something to be learned as to her promised husband before she could place herself altogether in his hands. She would ask him whether he thought himself liable to injury from this proposed marriage; and though he should deny any such thought, she would know from the manner of his denial what his true feelings were.
And he, too, on that night, during his silent walk with Miss Le Smyrger, had entertained some similar thoughts. "I fear she is obstinate," he said to himself; and then he had half accused her of being sullen also. "If that be her temper, what a life of misery I have before me!"
"Have you fixed a day yet?" his aunt asked him as they came near to her house.
"No, not yet; I don't know whether it will suit me to fix it before I leave."
"Why, it was but the other day you were in such a hurry."
"Ah--yes--I have thought more about it since then."
"I should have imagined that this would depend on what Patty thinks," said Miss Le Smyrger, standing up for the privileges of her sex. "It is presumed that the gentleman is always ready as soon as the lady will consent."
"Yes, in ordinary cases it is so; but when a girl is taken out of her own sphere--"
"Her own sphere! Let me caution you, Master John, not to talk to Patty about her own sphere."
"Aunt Penelope, as Patience is to be my wife and not yours, I must claim permission to speak to her on such subjects as may seem suitable to me." And then they parted--not in the best humour with each other.
On the following day Captain Broughton and Miss Woolsworthy did not meet till the evening. She had said, before those few ill-omened words had passed her lover's lips, that she would probably be at Miss Le Smyrger's house on the following morning. Those ill-omened words did pass her lover's lips, and then she remained at home. This did not come from sullenness, nor even from anger, but from a conviction that it would be well that she should think much before she met him again. Nor was he anxious to hurry a meeting. His thought--his base thought-- was this; that she would be sure to come up to the Combe after him; but she did not come, and therefore in the evening he went down to her, and asked her to walk with him.
They went away by the path that led to Helpholme, and little was said between them till they had walked some mile together.
Patience, as she went along the path, remembered almost to the letter the sweet words which had greeted her ears as she came down that way with him on the night of his arrival; but he remembered nothing of that sweetness then. Had he not made an ass of himself during these last six months? That was the thought which very much had possession of his mind.
"Patience," he said at last, having hitherto spoken only an indifferent word now and again since they had left the parsonage, "Patience, 1 hope you realise the importance of the step which you and I are about to take?"
"Of course I do," she answered. "What an odd question that is for you to ask!"
"Because," said he, "sometimes I almost doubt it. It seems to me as though you thought you could remove yourself from here to your new home with no more trouble than when you go from home up to the Combe."
"Is that meant for a reproach, John?"
"No, not for a reproach, but for advice. Certainly not for a reproach."
"I am glad of that."
"But I should wish to make you think how great is the leap in the world which you are about to take." Then again they walked on for many steps before she answered him.
"Tell me, then, John," she said, when she had sufficiently considered what words she should speak; and as she spoke a bright colour suffused her face, and her eyes flashed almost with anger. "What leap do you mean? Do you mean a leap upwards?"
"Well, yes; I hope it will be so."
"In one sense, certainly, it would be a leap upwards. To be the wife of the man I loved; to have the privilege of holding his happiness in my hand; to know that I was his own--the companion whom he had chosen out of all the world--that would, indeed, be a leap upwards; a leap almost to heaven, if all that were so. But if you mean upwards in any other sense--"
"I was thinking of the social scale."
"Then, Captain Broughton, your thoughts were doing me dishonour."
"Doing you dishonour!"
"Yes, doing me dishonour. That your father is, in the world's esteem, a greater man than mine is doubtless true enough. That you, as a man, are richer than I am as a woman, is doubtless also true. But you dishonour me, and yourself also, if these things can weigh with you now."
"Patience,--I think you can hardly know what words you are saying to me."
"Pardon me, but I think I do. Nothing that you can give me--no gifts of that description--can weigh aught against that which I am giving you. If you had all the wealth and rank of the greatest lord in the land, it would count as nothing in such a scale. If--as I have not doubted--if in return for my heart you have given me yours, then--then- -then you have paid me fully. But when gifts such as those are going, nothing else can count even as a make-weight."
"I do not quite understand you," he answered, after a pause. "I fear you are a little high-flown." And then, while the evening was still early, they walked back to the parsonage almost without another word.
Captain Broughton at this time had only one full day more to remain at Oxney Colne. On the afternoon following that he was to go as far as Exeter, and thence return to London. Of course, it was to be expected that the wedding day would be fixed before he went, and much had been said about it during the first day or two of his engagement. Then he had pressed for an early time, and Patience, with a girl's usual diffidence, had asked for some little delay. But now nothing was said on the subject; and how was it probable that such a matter could be settled after such a conversation as that which I have related? That evening, Miss Le Smyrger asked whether the day had been fixed. "No," said Captain Broughton, harshly; "nothing has been fixed." "But it will be arranged before you go?" "Probably not," he said; and then the subject was dropped for the time.
"John," she said, just before she went to bed, "if there be anything wrong between you and Patience, I conjure you to tell me."
"You had better ask her," he replied. "I can tell you nothing."
On the following morning he was much surprised by seeing Patience on the gravel path before Miss Le Smyrger's gate immediately after breakfast. He went to the door to open it for her, and she, as she gave him her hand, told him that she came up to speak to him. There was no hesitation in her manner, nor any look of anger in her face.
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