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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesOld Man's Love - Volume 1 - Chapter 9. The Rev Montagu Blake
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Old Man's Love - Volume 1 - Chapter 9. The Rev Montagu Blake Post by :Infobiz Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :3571

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Old Man's Love - Volume 1 - Chapter 9. The Rev Montagu Blake

CHAPTER IX. THE REV MONTAGU BLAKE

John Gordon, when he left the room, went out to look for Mr Whittlestaff, but was told that he had gone into the town. Mr Whittlestaff had had his own troubles in thinking of the unlucky coincidence of John Gordon's return, and had wandered forth, determined to leave those two together, so that they might speak to each other as they pleased. And during his walk he did come to a certain resolution. Should a request of any kind be made to him by John Gordon, it should receive not the slightest attention. He was a man to whom he owed nothing, and for whose welfare he was not in the least solicitous. "Why should I be punished and he be made happy?" It was thus he spoke to himself. Should he encounter the degradation of disappointment, in order that John Gordon should win the object on which he had set his heart? Certainly not. His own heart was much dearer to him than that of John Gordon.

But if a request should be made to him by Mary Lawrie? Alas! if it were so, then there must be sharp misery in store for him. In the first place, were she to make the request, were she to tell him to his face, she who had promised to be his wife, that this man was dear to her, how was it possible that he should go to the altar with the girl, and there accept from her her troth? She had spoken already of a fancy which had crossed her mind respecting a man who could have been no more than a dream to her, of whose whereabouts and condition--nay, of his very existence--she was unaware. And she had told him that no promise, no word of love, had passed between them. "Yes, you may think of him," he had said, meaning not to debar her from the use of thought, which should be open to all the world, "but let him not be spoken of." Then she had promised; and when she had come again to withdraw her promise, she had done so with some cock-and-bull story about the old woman, which had had no weight with him. Then he had her presence during the interview between the three on which to form his judgment. As far as he could remember, as he wandered through the fields thinking of it, she had not spoken hardly above a word during that interview. She had sat silent, apparently unhappy, but not explaining the cause of her unhappiness. It might well be that she should be unhappy in the presence of her affianced husband and her old lover. But now if she would tell him that she wished to be relieved from him, and to give herself to this stranger, she should be allowed to go. But he told himself also that he would carry his generosity no further. He was not called upon to offer to surrender himself. The man's coming had been a misfortune; but let him go, and in process of time he would be forgotten. It was thus that Mr Whittlestaff resolved as he walked across the country, while he left the two lovers to themselves in his own parlour.

It was now nearly five o'clock, and Mr Whittlestaff, as Gordon was told, dined at six. He felt that he would not find the man before dinner unless he remained at the house,--and for doing so he had no excuse. He must return in the evening, or sleep at the inn and come back the next morning. He must manage to catch the man alone, because he was assuredly minded to use upon him all the power of eloquence which he had at his command. And as he thought it improbable so to find him in the evening, he determined to postpone his task. But in doing so he felt that he should be at a loss. The eager words were hot now within his memory, having been sharpened against the anvil of his thoughts by his colloquy with Mary Lawrie. To-morrow they might have cooled. His purpose might be as strong; but a man when he wishes to use burning words should use them while the words are on fire.

John Gordon had a friend at Alresford, or rather an acquaintance, on whom he had determined to call, unless circumstances, as they should occur at Croker's Hall, should make him too ecstatic in his wish for any such operation. The ecstasy certainly had not come as yet, and he went forth therefore to call on the Reverend Mr Blake. Of Mr Blake he only knew that he was a curate of a neighbouring parish, and that they two had been at Oxford together. So he walked down to the inn to order his dinner, not feeling his intimacy with Mr Blake sufficient to justify him in looking for his dinner with him. A man always dines, let his sorrow be what it may. A woman contents herself with tea, and mitigates her sorrow, we must suppose, by an extra cup. John Gordon ordered a roast fowl,--the safest dinner at an English country inn,--and asked his way to the curate's house.

The Rev Montagu Blake was curate of Little Alresford, a parish, though hardly to be called a village, lying about three miles from the town. The vicar was a feeble old gentleman who had gone away to die in the Riviera, and Mr Blake had the care of souls to himself. He was a man to whom his lines had fallen in pleasant places. There were about 250 men, women, and children, in his parish, and not a Dissenter among them. For looking after these folk he had L120 per annum, and as pretty a little parsonage as could be found in England. There was a squire with whom he was growing in grace and friendship, who, being the patron of the living, might probably bestow it upon him. It was worth only L250, and was not, therefore, too valuable to be expected. He had a modest fortune of his own, L300 a-year perhaps, and,--for the best of his luck shall be mentioned last,--he was engaged to the daughter of one of the prebendaries of Winchester, a pretty bright little girl, with a further sum of L5000 belonging to herself. He was thirty years of age, in the possession of perfect health, and not so strict in matters of religion as to make it necessary for him to abandon any of the innocent pleasures of this world. He could dine out, and play cricket, and read a novel. And should he chance, when riding his cob about the parish, or visiting some neighbouring parish, to come across the hounds, he would not scruple to see them over a field or two. So that the Rev Montagu Blake was upon the whole a happy fellow.

He and John Gordon had been thrown together at Oxford for a short time during the last months of their residence, and though they were men quite unlike each other in their pursuits, circumstances had made them intimate. It was well that Gordon should take a stroll for a couple of hours before dinner, and therefore he started off for Little Alresford. Going into the parsonage gate he was overtaken by Blake, and of course introduced himself. "Don't you remember Gordon at Exeter?"

"John Gordon! Gracious me! Of course I do. What a good fellow you are to come and look a fellow up! Where have you come from, and where are you going to, and what brings you to Alresford, beyond the charitable intention of dining with me? Oh, nonsense! not dine; but you will, and I can give you a bed too, and breakfast, and shall be delighted to do it for a week. Ordered your dinner? Then we'll unorder it. I'll send the boy in and put that all right. Shall I make him bring your bag back?" Gordon, however, though he assented to the proposition as regarded dinner, made his friend understand that it was imperative that he should be at the inn that night.

"Yes," said Blake, when they had settled down to wait for their dinner, "I am parson here,--a sort of a one at least. I am not only curate, but live in expectation of higher things. Our squire here, who owns the living, talks of giving it to me. There isn't a better fellow living than Mr Furnival, or his wife, or his four daughters."

"Will he be as generous with one of them as with the living?"

"There is no necessity, as far as I am concerned. I came here already provided in that respect. If you'll remain here till September, you'll see me a married man. One Kattie Forrester intends to condescend to become Mrs Montagu Blake. Though I say it as shouldn't, a sweeter human being doesn't live on the earth. I met her soon after I had taken orders. But I had to wait till I had some sort of a house to put her into. Her father is a clergyman like myself, so we are all in a boat together. She's got a little bit of money, and I've got a little bit of money, so that we shan't absolutely starve. Now you know all about me; and what have you been doing yourself?"

John Gordon thought that this friend of his had been most communicative. He had been told everything concerning his friend's life. Had Mr Blake written a biography of himself down to the present period, he could not have been more full or accurate in his details. But Gordon felt that as regarded himself he must be more reticent. "I intended to have joined my father's bank, but that came to grief."

"Yes; I did hear of some trouble in that respect."

"And then I went out to the diamond-fields."

"Dear me! that was a long way."

"Yes, it is a long way,--and rather rough towards the end."

"Did you do any good at the diamond-fields? I don't fancy that men often bring much money home with them."

"I brought some."

"Enough to do a fellow any good in his after life?"

"Well, yes; enough to content me, only that a man is not easily contented who has been among diamonds."

"Crescit amor diamonds!" said the parson. "I can easily understand that. And then, when a fellow goes back again, he is so apt to lose it all. Don't you expect to see your diamonds turn into slate-stones?"

"Not except in the ordinary way of expenditure. I don't think the gnomes or the spirits will interfere with them,--though the thieves may, if they can get a hand upon them. But my diamonds have, for the most part, been turned into ready money, and at the present moment take the comfortable shape of a balance at my banker's."

"I'd leave it there,--or buy land, or railway shares. If I had realised in that venture enough to look at, I'd never go out to the diamond-fields again."

"It's hard to bring an occupation of that kind to an end all at once," said John Gordon.

"Crescit amor diamonds!" repeated the Reverend Montagu Blake, shaking his head. "If you gave me three, I could easily imagine that I should toss up with another fellow who had three also, double or quits, till I lost them all. But we'll make sure of dinner, at any rate, without any such hazardous proceeding." Then they went into the dining-room, and enjoyed themselves, without any reference having been made as yet to the business which had brought John Gordon into the neighbourhood of Alresford.

"You'll find that port wine rather good. I can't afford claret, because it takes such a lot to go far enough. To tell the truth, when I'm alone I confine myself to whisky and water. Blake is a very good name for whisky."

"Why do you make a ceremony with me?"

"Because it's so pleasant to have an excuse for such a ceremony. It wasn't you only I was thinking of when I came out just now, and uncorked the bottle. Think what it is to have a prudent mind. I had to get it myself out of the cellar, because girls can't understand that wine shouldn't be treated in the same way as physic. By-the-by, what brought you into this part of the world at all?"

"I came to see one Mr Whittlestaff."

"What! old William Whittlestaff? Then, let me tell you, you have come to see as honest a fellow, and as good-hearted a Christian, as any that I know."

"You do know him?"

"Oh yes, I know him. I'd like to see the man whose bond is better than old Whittlestaff's. Did you hear what he did about that young lady who is living with him? She was the daughter of a friend,--simply of a friend who died in pecuniary distress. Old Whittlestaff just brought her into his house, and made her his own daughter. It isn't every one who will do that, you know."

"Why do you call him old?" said John Gordon.

"Well; I don't know. He is old."

"Just turned fifty."

"Fifty is old. I don't mean that he is a cripple or bedridden. Perhaps if he had been a married man, he'd have looked younger. He has got a very nice girl there with him; and if he isn't too old to think of such things, he may marry her. Do you know Miss Lawrie?"

"Yes; I know her."

"Don't you think she's nice? Only my goose is cooked, I'd go in for her sooner than any one I see about."

"Sooner than your own squire's four daughters?"

"Well,--yes. They're nice girls too. But I don't quite fancy one out of four. And they'd look higher than the curate."

"A prebendary is as high as a squire," said Gordon.

"There are prebendaries and there are squires. Our squire isn't a swell, though he's an uncommonly good fellow. If I get a wife from one and a living from the other, I shall think myself very lucky. Miss Lawrie is a handsome girl, and everything that she ought to be; but if you were to see Kattie Forrester, I think you would say that she was A 1. I sometimes wonder whether old Whittlestaff will think of marrying."

Gordon sat silent, turning over one or two matters in his mind. How supremely happy was this young parson with his Kattie Forrester and his promised living,--in earning the proceeds of which there need be no risk, and very little labour,--and with his bottle of port wine and comfortable house! All the world seemed to have smiled with Montagu Blake. But with him, though there had been much success, there had been none of the world's smiles. He was aware at this moment, or thought that he was aware, that the world would never smile on him,--unless he should succeed in persuading Mr Whittlestaff to give up the wife whom he had chosen. Then he felt tempted to tell his own story to this young parson. They were alone together, and it seemed as though Providence had provided him with a friend. And the subject of Mary Lawrie's intended marriage had been brought forward in a peculiar manner. But he was by nature altogether different from Mr Blake, and could not blurt out his love-story with easy indifference. "Do you know Mr Whittlestaff well?" he asked.

"Pretty well. I've been here four years; and he's a near neighbour. I think I do know him well."

"Is he a sort of man likely to fall in love with such a girl as Miss Lawrie, seeing that she is an inmate of his house?"

"Well," said the parson, after some consideration, "if you ask me, I don't think he is. He seems to have settled himself down to a certain manner of life, and will not, I should say, be stirred from it very quickly. If you have any views in that direction, I don't think he'll be your rival."

"Is he a man to care much for a girl's love?"

"I should say not."

"But if he had once brought himself to ask her?" said Gordon.

"And if she had accepted him?" suggested the other.

"That's what I mean."

"I don't think he'd let her go very easily. He's a sort of dog whom you cannot easily persuade to give up a bone. If he has set his heart upon matrimony, he will not be turned from it. Do you know anything of his intentions?"

"I fancy that he is thinking of it."

"And you mean that you were thinking of it, too, with the same lady."

"No, I didn't mean that." Then he added, after a pause, "That is just what I did not mean to say. I did not mean to talk about myself. But since you ask me the question, I will answer it truly,--I have thought of the same lady. And my thoughts were earlier in the field than his. I must say good-night now," he said, rising somewhat brusquely from his chair. "I have to walk back to Alresford, and must see Mr Whittlestaff early in the morning. According to your view of the case I shan't do much with him. And if it be so, I shall be off to the diamond-fields again by the first mail."

"You don't say so!"

"That is to be my lot in life. I am very glad to have come across you once again, and am delighted to find you so happy in your prospects. You have told me everything, and I have done pretty much the same to you. I shall disappear from Alresford, and never more be heard of. You needn't talk much about me and my love; for though I shall be out of the way at Kimberley, many thousand miles from here, a man does not care to have his name in every one's mouth."

"Oh no," said Blake. "I won't say a word about Miss Lawrie;--unless indeed you should be successful."

"There is not the remotest possibility of that," said Gordon, as he took his leave.

"I wonder whether she is fond of him," said the curate to himself, when he resolved to go to bed instead of beginning his sermon that night. "I shouldn't wonder if she is, for he is just the sort of man to make a girl fond of him."

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