BROTHER OWEN'S STORY
THE PARSON'S SCRUPLE.
IF you had been in the far West of England about thirteen years
since, and if you had happened to take up one of the Cornish
newspapers on a certain day of the month, which need not be
specially mentioned, you would have seen this notice of a
marriage at the top of a column:
On the third instant, at the parish church, the Reverend Alfred
Carling, Rector of Penliddy, to Emily Harriet, relict of the late
Fergus Duncan, Esq., of Glendarn, N. B.
The rector's marriage did not produce a very favorable impression
in the town, solely in consequence of the unaccountable private
and unpretending manner in which the ceremony had been performed.
The middle-aged bride and bridegroom had walked quietly to church
one morning, had been married by the curate before any one was
aware of it, and had embarked immediately afterward in the
steamer for Tenby, where they proposed to pass their honeymoon.
The bride being a stranger at Penliddy, all inquiries about her
previous history were fruitless, and the townspeople had no
alternative but to trust to their own investigations for
enlightenment when the rector and his wife came home to settle
among their friends.
After six weeks' absence Mr. and Mrs. Carling returned, and the
simple story of the rector's courtship and marriage was gathered
together in fragments, by inquisitive friends, from his own lips
and from the lips of his wife.
Mr. Carling and Mrs. Duncan had met at Torquay. The rector, who
had exchanged houses and duties for the season with a brother
clergyman settled at Torquay, had called on Mrs. Duncan in his
clerical capacity, and had come away from the interview deeply
impressed and interested by the widow's manners and conversation.
The visits were repeated; the acquaintance grew into friendship,
and the friendship into love--ardent, devoted love on both sides.
Middle-aged man though he was, this was Mr. Carling's first
attachment, and it was met by the same freshness of feeling on
the lady's part. Her life with her first husband had not been a
happy one. She had made the fatal mistake of marrying to please
her parents rather than herself, and had repented it ever
afterward. On her husband's death his family had not behaved well
to her, and she had passed her widowhood, with her only child, a
daughter, in the retirement of a small Scotch town many miles
away from the home of her married life. After a time the little
girl's health had begun to fail, and, by the doctor's advice, she
had migrated southward to the mild climate of Torquay. The change
had proved to be of no avail; and, rather more than a year since,
the child had died. The place where her darling was buried was a
sacred place to her and she remained a resident at Torquay. Her
position in the world was now a lonely one. She was herself an
only child; her father and mother were both dead; and, excepting
cousins, her one near relation left alive was a maternal uncle
living in London.
These particulars were all related simply and unaffectedly before
Mr. Carling ventured on the confession of his attachment. When he
made his proposal of marriage, Mrs. Duncan received it with an
excess of agitation which astonished and almost alarmed the
inexperienced clergyman. As soon as she could speak, she begged
with extraordinary earnestness and anxiety for a week to consider
her answer, and requested Mr. Carling not to visit her on any
account until the week had expired.
The next morning she and her maid departed for London. They did
not return until the week for consideration had expired. On the
eighth day Mr. Carling called again and was accepted.
The proposal to make the marriage as private as possible came
from the lady. She had been to London to consult her uncle (whose
health, she regretted to say, would not allow him to travel to
Cornwall to give his niece away at the altar), and he agreed with
Mrs. Duncan that the wedding could not be too private and
unpretending. If it was made public, the family of her first
husband would expect cards to be sent to them, and a renewal of
intercourse, which would be painful on both sides, might be the
consequence. Other friends in Scotland, again, would resent her
marrying a second time at her age, and would distress her and
annoy her future husband in many ways. She was anxious to break
altogether with her past existence, and to begin a new and
happier life untrammeled by any connection with former times and
troubles. She urged these points, as she had received the offer
of marriage, with an agitation which was almost painful to see.
This peculiarity in her conduct, however, which might have
irritated some men, and rendered others distrustful, had no
unfavorable effect on Mr. Carling. He set it down to an excess of
sensitiveness and delicacy which charmed him. He was
himself--though he never would confess it--a shy, nervous man by
nature. Ostentation of any sort was something which he shrank
from instinctively, even in the simplest affairs of daily life;
and his future wife's proposal to avoid all the usual ceremony
and publicity of a wedding was therefore more than agreeable to
him--it was a positive relief.
The courtship was kept secret at Torquay, and the marriage was
celebrated privately at Penliddy. It found its way into the local
newspapers as a matter of course, but it was not, as usual in
such cases, also advertised in the Times. Both husband and wife
were equally happy in the enjoyment of their new life, and
equally unsocial in taking no measures whatever to publish it to
Such was the story of the rector's marriage. Socially, Mr.
Carling's position was but little affected either way by the
change in his life. As a bachelor, his circle of friends had been
a small one, and when he married he made no attempt to enlarge
it. He had never been popular with the inhabitants of his parish
generally. Essentially a weak man, he was, like other weak men,
only capable of asserting himself positively in serious matters
by running into extremes. As a consequence of this moral defect,
he presented some singular anomalies in character. In the
ordinary affairs of life he was the gentlest and most yielding of
men, but in all that related to strictness of religious principle
he was the sternest and the most aggressive of fanatics. In the
pulpit he was a preacher of merciless sermons--an interpreter of
the Bible by the letter rather than by the spirit, as pitiless
and gloomy as one of the Puritans of old; while, on the other
hand, by his own fireside he was considerate, forbearing, and
humble almost to a fault. As a necessary result of this singular
inconsistency of character, he was feared, and sometimes even
disliked, by the members of his congregation who only knew him as
their pastor, and he was prized and loved by the small circle of
friends who also knew him as a man.
Those friends gathered round him more closely and more
affectionately than ever after his marriage, not on his own
account only, but influenced also by the attractions that they
found in the society of his wife. Her refinement and gentleness
of manner; her extraordinary accomplishments as a musician; her
unvarying sweetness of temper, and her quick, winning, womanly
intelligence in conversation, charmed every one who approached
her. She was quoted as a model wife and woman by all her
husband's friends, and she amply deserved the character that they
gave her. Although no children came to cheer it, a happier and a
more admirable married life has seldom been witnessed in this
world than the life which was once to be seen in the rectory
house at Penliddy.
With these necessary explanations, that preliminary part of my
narrative of which the events may be massed together generally,
for brevity's sake, comes to a close. What I have next to tell is
of a deeper and a more serious interest, and must be carefully
related in detail.
The rector and his wife had lived together without, as I honestly
believe, a harsh word or an unkind look once passing between them
for upward of two years, when Mr. Carling took his first step
toward the fatal future that was awaiting him by devoting his
leisure hours to the apparently simple a nd harmless occupation
of writing a pamphlet.
He had been connected for many years with one of our great
Missionary Societies, and had taken as active a part as a country
clergyman could in the management of its affairs. At the period
of which I speak, certain influential members of the society had
proposed a plan for greatly extending the sphere of its
operations, trusting to a proportionate increase in the annual
subscriptions to defray the additional expenses of the new
movement. The question was not now brought forward for the first
time. It had been agitated eight years previously, and the
settlement of it had been at that time deferred to a future
opportunity. The revival of the project, as usual in such cases,
split the working members of the society into two parties; one
party cautiously objecting to run any risks, the other hopefully
declaring that the venture was a safe one, and that success was
sure to attend it. Mr. Carling sided enthusiastically with the
members who espoused this latter side of the question, and the
object of his pamphlet was to address the subscribers to the
society on the subject, and so to interest them in it as to win
their charitable support, on a larger scale than usual, to the
He had worked hard at his pamphlet, and had got more than half
way through it, when he found himself brought to a stand-still
for want of certain facts which had been produced on the
discussion of the question eight years since, and which were
necessary to the full and fair statement of his case.
At first he thought of writing to the secretary of the society
for information; but, remembering that he had not held his office
more than two years, he had thought it little likely that this
gentleman would be able to help him, and looked back to his own
Diary of the period to see if he had made any notes in it
relating to the original discussion of the affair. He found a
note referring in general terms only to the matter in hand, but
alluding at the end to a report in the Times of the proceedings
of a deputation from the society which had waited on a member of
the government of that day, and to certain letters to the editor
which had followed the publication of the report. The note
described these letters as "very important," and Mr. Carling
felt, as he put his Diary away again, that the successful
conclusion of his pamphlet now depended on his being able to get
access to the back numbers of the Times of eight years since.
It was winter time when he was thus stopped in his work, and the
prospect of a journey to London (the only place he knew of at
which files of the paper were to be found) did not present many
attractions; and yet he could see no other and easier means of
effecting his object. After considering for a little while and
arriving at no positive conclusion, he left the study, and went
into the drawing-room to consult his wife.
He found her working industriously by the blazing fire. She
looked so happy and comfortable--so gentle and charming in her
pretty little lace cap, and her warm brown morning-dress, with
its bright cherry-colored ribbons, and its delicate swan's down
trimming circling round her neck and nestling over her bosom,
that he stooped and kissed her with the tenderness of his
bridegroom days before he spoke. When he told her of the cause
that had suspended his literary occupation, she listened, with
the sensation of the kiss still lingering in her downcast eyes
and her smiling lips, until he came to the subject of his Diary
and its reference to the newspaper.
As he mentioned the name of the Times she altered and looked
him straight in the face gravely.
"Can you suggest any plan, love," he went on, "which may save me
the necessity of a journey to London at this bleak time of the
year? I must positively have this information, and, so far as I
can see, London is the only place at which I can hope to meet
with a file of the Times."
"A file of the Times?" she repeated.
"Yes--of eight years since," he said.
The instant the words passed his lips he saw her face overspread
by a ghastly paleness; her eyes fixed on him with a strange
mixture of rigidity and vacancy in their look; her hands, with
her work held tight in them, dropped slowly on her lap, and a
shiver ran through her from head to foot.
He sprang to his feet, and snatched the smelling-salts from her
work-table, thinking she was going to faint. She put the bottle
from her, when he offered it, with a hand that thrilled him with
the deadly coldness of its touch, and said, in a whisper:
"A sudden chill, dear--let me go upstairs and lie down."
He took her to her room. As he laid her down on the bed, she
caught his hand, and said, entreatingly:
"You won't go to London, darling, and leave me here ill?"
He promised that nothing should separate him from her until she
was well again, and then ran downstairs to send for the doctor.
The doctor came, and pronounced that Mrs. Carling was only
suffering from a nervous attack; that there was not the least
reason to be alarmed; and that, with proper care, she would be
well again in a few days.
Both husband and wife had a dinner engagement in the town for
that evening. Mr. Carling proposed to write an apology and to
remain with his wife. But she would not hear of his abandoning
the party on her account. The doctor also recommended that his
patient should be left to her maid's care, to fall asleep under
the influence of the quieting medicine which he meant to give
her. Yielding to this advice, Mr. Carling did his best to
suppress his own anxieties, and went to the dinner-party.