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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 31. Mary Lowther Feels Her Way
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 31. Mary Lowther Feels Her Way Post by :robbud Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :771

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 31. Mary Lowther Feels Her Way

CHAPTER XXXI. MARY LOWTHER FEELS HER WAY

That afternoon there came down to the parsonage a note from Mary to the Captain, asking her lover to meet her, and walk with her before dinner. He met her, and they took their accustomed stroll along the towing-path and into the fields. Mary had thought much of her aunt's words before the note was written, and had a fixed purpose of her own in view. It was true enough that though she loved this man with all her heart and soul, so loved him that she could not look forward to life apart from him without seeing that such life would be a great blank, yet she was aware that she hardly knew him. We are apt to suppose that love should follow personal acquaintance; and yet love at third sight is probably as common as any love at all, and it takes a great many sights before one human being can know another. Years are wanted to make a friendship, but days suffice for men and women to get married. Mary was, after a fashion, aware that she had been too quick in giving away her heart, and that now, when the gift had been made in full, it became her business to learn what sort of man was he to whom she had given it. And it was not only his nature as it affected her, but his nature as it affected himself that she must study. She did not doubt but that he was good, and true, and noble-minded; but it might be possible that a man good, true, and noble-minded, might have lived with so many indulgences around him as to be unable to achieve the constancy of heart which would be necessary for such a life as that which would be now before them if they married. She had told him that he should decide for himself and for her also,--thus throwing upon him the responsibility, and throwing upon him also, very probably, the necessity of a sacrifice. She had meant to be generous and trusting; but it might be that of all courses that which she had adopted was the least generous. In order that she might put this wrong right, if there were a wrong, she had asked him to come and walk with her. They met at the usual spot, and she put her hand through his arm with her accustomed smile, leaning upon him somewhat heavily for a minute, as girls do when they want to show that they claim the arm that they lean on as their own.

"Have you told Parson John?" said Mary.

"Oh, yes."

"And what does he say?"

"Just what a crabbed, crafty, selfish old bachelor of seventy would be sure to say."

"You mean that he has told you to give up all idea of comforting yourself with a wife."

"Just that."

"And Aunt Sarah has been saying exactly the same to me. You can't think how eloquent Aunt Sarah has been. And her energy has quite surprised me."

"I don't think Aunt Sarah was ever much of a friend of mine," said the Captain.

"Not in the way of matrimony; in other respects she approves of you highly, and is rather proud of you as a Marrable. If you were only heir to the title, or something of that kind, she would think you the finest fellow going."

"I wish I could gratify her, with all my heart."

"She is such a dear old creature! You don't know her in the least, Walter. I am told she was ever so pretty when she was a girl; but she had no fortune of her own at that time, and she didn't care to marry beneath her position. You mustn't abuse her."

"I've not abused her."

"What she has been saying I am sure is very true; and I dare say Parson John has been saying the same thing."

"If she has caused you to change your mind, say so at once, Mary. I shan't complain."

Mary pressed his arm involuntarily, and loved him so dearly for the little burst of wrath. Was it really true that he, too, had set his heart upon it?--that all that the crafty old uncle had said had been of no avail?--that he also loved so well that he was willing to change the whole course of his life and become another person for the sake of her? If it were so, she would not say a word that could by possibility make him think that she was afraid. She would feel her way carefully, so that he might not be led by a chance phrase to imagine that what she was about to say was said on her own behalf. She would be very careful, but at the same time she would be so explicit that there should be no doubt on his mind but that he had her full permission to retire from the engagement if he thought it best to do so. She was quite ready to share the burthens of life with him, let them be what they might; but she would not be a mill-stone round his neck. At any rate, he should not be weighted with the mill-stone, if he himself looked upon a loving wife in that light.

"She has not caused me to change my mind at all, Walter. Of course I know that all this is very serious. I knew that without Aunt Sarah's telling me. After all, Aunt Sarah can't be so wise as you ought to be, who have seen India and who know it well."

"India is not a nice place to live in--especially for women."

"I don't know that Loring is very nice;--but one has to take that as it comes. Of course it would be nicer if you could live at home and have plenty of money. I wish I had a fortune of my own. I never cared for it before, but I do now."

"Things don't come by wishing, Mary."

"No; but things do come by resolving and struggling. I have no doubt but that you will live yet to do something and to be somebody. I have that faith in you. But I can well understand that a wife may be a great impediment in your way."

"I don't want to think of myself at all."

"But you must think of yourself. For a woman, after all, it doesn't matter much. She isn't expected to do anything particular. A man of course must look to his own career, and take care that he does nothing to mar it."

"I don't quite understand what you're driving at," said the Captain.

"Well;--I'm driving at this: that I think that you are bound to decide upon doing that which you feel to be wisest without reference to my feelings. Of course I love you better than anything in the world. I can't be so false as to say it isn't so. Indeed, to tell the truth, I don't know that I really ever loved anybody else. But if it is proper that we should be separated, I shall get over it,--in a way."

"You mean you'd marry somebody else in the process of time."

"No, Walter; I don't mean that. Women shouldn't make protestations; but I don't think I ever should. But a woman can live and get on very well without being married, and I should always have you in my heart, and I should try to comfort myself with remembering that you had loved me."

"I am quite sure that I shall never marry anyone else," said the Captain.

"You know what I'm driving at now;--eh, Walter?"

"Partly."

"I want you to know wholly. I told you this morning that I should leave it to you to decide. I still say the same. I consider myself for the present as much bound to obey you as though I were your wife already. But after saying that, and after hearing Aunt Mary's sermon, I felt that I ought to make you understand that I am quite aware that it may be impossible for you to keep to your engagement. You understand all that better than I do. Our engagement was made when you thought you had money, and even then you felt that there was little enough."

"It was very little."

"And now there is none. I don't profess to be afraid of poverty myself, because I don't quite know what it means."

"It means something very unpleasant."

"No doubt; and it would be unpleasant to be parted;--wouldn't it?"

"It would be horrible."

She pressed his arm again as she went on. "You must judge between the two. What I want you to understand is this, that whatever you may judge to be right and best, I will agree to it, and will think that it is right and best. If you say that we will get ourselves married and try it, I shall feel that not to get ourselves married and not to try it is a manifest impossibility; and if you say that we should be wrong to get married and try it, then I will feel that to have done so was quite a manifest impossibility."

"Mary," said he, "you're an angel."

"No; but I'm a woman who loves well enough to be determined not to hurt the man she loves if she can help it."

"There is one thing on which I think we must decide."

"What is that?"

"I must at any rate go out before we are married." Mary Lowther felt this to be a decision in her favour,--to be a decision which for the time made her happy and light-hearted. She had so dreaded a positive and permanent separation, that the delay seemed to her to be hardly an evil.

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