George Silverman's Explanation (Part three)
A short story
This story was originally serialized in three installments. See Part One of this story. See Part Two.
My timidity and my obscurity occasioned me to live a secluded life at College, and to be little known. No relative ever came to visit me, for I had no relative. No intimate friends broke in upon my studies, for I made no intimate friends. I supported myself on my scholarship, and read much. My College time was otherwise not so very different from my time at Hoghton Towers.
Knowing myself to be unfit for the noisier stir of social existence, but believing myself qualified to do my duty in a moderate though earnest way if I could obtain some small preferment in the Church, I applied my mind to the clerical profession. In due sequence I took orders, was ordained, and began to look about me for employment. I must observe that I had taken a good degree, that I had succeeded in winning a good fellowship, and that my means were ample for my retired way of life. By this time I had read with several young men, and the occupation increased my income, while it was highly interesting to me. I once accidentally overheard our greatest Don say, to my boundless joy, "That he heard it reported of Silverman that his gift of quiet explanation, his patience, his amiable temper, and his conscientiousness, made him the best of Coaches." May my "gift of quiet explanation" come more seasonably and powerfully to my aid in this present explanation than I think it will!
It may be, in a certain degree, owing to the situation of my College rooms (in a corner where the daylight was sobered), but it is in a much larger degree referable to the state of my own mind, that I seem to myself, on looking back to this time of my life, to have been always in the peaceful shade. I can see others in the sunlight; I can see our boats' crews and our athletic young men on the glistening water, or speckled with the moving lights of sunlit leaves; but I myself am always in the shadow looking on. Not unsympathetically,—God forbid!—but looking on, alone, much as I looked at Sylvia from the shadows of the ruined house, or looked at the red gleam shining through the farmer's windows, and listened to the fall of dancing feet, when all the ruin was dark that night in the quadrangle.
I now come to the reason of my quoting that laudation of myself above given. Without such reason, to repeat it would have been mere boastfulness.
Among those who had read with me was Mr. Fareway, second son of Lady Fareway, widow of Sir Gaston Fareway, Baronet. This young gentleman's abilities were much above the average, but he came of a rich family, and was idle and luxurious. He presented himself to me too late, and afterwards came to me too irregularly, to admit of my being of much service to him. In the end I considered it my duty to dissuade him from going up for an examination which he could never pass, and he left College without taking a degree. After his departure, Lady Fareway wrote to me representing the justice of my returning half my fee, as I had been of so little use to her son. Within my knowledge a similar demand had not been made in any other case, and I most freely admit that the justice of it had not occurred to me until it was pointed out. But I at once perceived it, yielded to it, and returned the money.
Mr. Fareway had been gone two years or more and I had forgotten him, when he one day walked into my rooms as I was sitting at my books.
Said he, after the usual salutations had passed: "Mr. Silverman, my mother is in town here, at the hotel, and wishes me to present you to her."
I was not comfortable with strangers, and I dare say I betrayed that I was a little nervous or unwilling. For, said he, without my having spoken, "I think the interview may tend to the advancement of your prospects."
It put me to the blush to think that I should be tempted by a worldly reason, and I rose immediately.
Said Mr. Fareway, as we went along, "Are you a good hand at business?"
"I think not," said I.
Said Mr. Fareway then, "My mother is."
"Truly?" said I.
"Yes. My mother is what is usually called a managing woman. Doesn't make a bad thing, for instance, even out of the spendthrift habits of my eldest brother abroad. In short, a managing woman. This is in confidence."
He had never spoken to me in confidence, and I was surprised by his doing so. I said I should respect his confidence, of course, and said no more on the delicate subject. We had but a little way to walk, and I was soon in his mother's company. He presented me, shook hands with me, and left us two (as he said) to business.
I saw in my Lady Fareway a handsome, well-preserved lady of somewhat large stature, with a steady glare in her great round dark eyes that embarrassed me.
Said my Lady: "I have heard from my son, Mr. Silverman, that you would be glad of some preferment in the Church ?"
I gave my Lady to understand that was so.
"I don't know whether you are aware," my Lady proceeded, "that we have a presentation to a living? I say we have, but in point of fact I have."
I gave my Lady to understand that I had not been aware of this.
Said my Lady: "So it is. Indeed, I have two presentations: one, to two hundred a year; one, to six. Both livings are in our county,—North Devonshire, as you probably know. The first is vacant. Would you like it?"
What with my Lady's eyes, and what with the suddenness of this proposed gift, I was much confused.
"I am sorry it is not the larger presentation," said my Lady, rather coldly, "though I will not, Mr. Silverman, pay you the bad compliment of supposing that you are, because that would be mercenary,—and mercenary I am persuaded you are not."
Said I, with my utmost earnestness: "Thank you, Lady Fareway, thank you, thank you! I should be deeply hurt if I thought I bore the character."
"Naturally," said my Lady. "Always detestable, but particularly in a clergyman. You have not said whether you will like the Living?"
With apologies for my remissness or indistinctness, I assured my Lady that I accepted it most readily and gratefully. I added that I hoped she would not estimate my appreciation of the generosity of her choice by my flow of words, for I was not a ready man in that respect when taken by surprise or touched at heart.
"The affair is concluded," said my Lady. "Concluded. You will find the duties very light, Mr. Silverman. Charming house; charming little garden, orchard, and all that. You will be able to take pupils. By the by! No. I will return to the word afterwards. What was I going to mention, when it put me out?"
My Lady stared at me, as if I knew. And I did not know. And that perplexed me afresh.
Said my Lady, after some consideration: "Oh! Of course. How very dull of me! The last incumbent,—least mercenary man I ever saw,—in consideration of the duties being so light and the house so delicious, couldn't rest, he said, unless I permitted him to help me with my correspondence, accounts, and various little things of that kind; nothing in themselves, but which it worries a lady to cope with. Would Mr. Silverman also like to—? Or shall I—?"
I hastened to say that my poor help would be always at her ladyship's service.
"I am absolutely blessed," said my Lady, casting up her eyes (and so taking them off of me for one moment), "in having to do with gentlemen who cannot endure an approach to the idea of being mercenary!" She shivered at the word. "And now as to the pupil."
"The—?" I was quite at a loss.
"Mr. Silverman, you have no idea what she is. She is," said my Lady, laying her touch upon my coat-sleeve, "I do verily believe, the most extraordinary girl in this world. Already knows more Greek and Latin than Lady Jane Grey. And taught herself! Has not yet, remember, derived a moment's advantage from Mr. Silverman's classical acquirements. To say nothing of mathematics, which she is bent upon becoming versed in, and in which Mr. Silverman's reputation is so deservedly high!"
Under my Lady's eyes, I must have lost the clew, I felt persuaded; and yet I did not know where I could have dropped it.
"Adelina," said my Lady, "is my only daughter. If I did not feel quite convinced that I am not blindcd by a mother's partiality; unless I was absolutely sure that when you know her, Mr. Silverman, you will esteem it a high and unusual privilege to direct her studies,—I should introduce a mercenary element into this conversation, and ask you on what terms—"
I entreated my lady to go no further. My Lady saw that I was troubled, aud did me the honor to comply with my request.
Everything in mental acquisition that her brother might have been, if he would, and everything in all gracious charms and admirable qualities that no one but herself could be,—this was Adelina.
I will not expatiate upon her beauty. I will not expatiate upon her intelligence, her quickness of perception, her powers of memory, her sweet consideration from the first moment for the slow-paced tutor who ministered to her wonderful gifts. I was thirty then; I am over sixty now; she is ever present to me in these hours as she was in those, bright and beautiful and young, wise and fanciful and good.
When I discovered that I loved her, how can I say? In the first day? In the first week? In the first month? Impossible to trace. If I be (as I am) unable to represent to myself any previous period of my life as quite separable from her attracting power, how can I answer for this one detail?
Whensoever I made the discovery, it laid a heavy burden on me. And yet, comparing it with the far heavier burden that I afterwards took up, it does not seem to me now to have been very hard to bear. In the knowledge that I did love her, and that I should love her while my life lasted, and that I was ever to hide my secret deep in my own breast, and she was never to find it, there was a kind of sustaining joy or pride or comfort mingled with my pain.
But later on—say a year later on—when I made another discovery, then indeed my suffering and my struggles were strong. That other discovery was—?
These words will never see the light, if ever, until my heart is dust; until her bright spirit has returned to the regions of which, when imprisoned here, it surely retained some unusual glimpse of remembrance; until all the pulses that ever beat around us shall have long been quiet; until all the fruits of all the tiny victories and defeats achieved in our little breasts shall have withered away. That discovery was, that she loved me.
She may have enhanced my knowledge, and loved me for that; she may have overvalued my discharge of duty to her, and loved me for that; she may have refined upon a playful compassion which she would sometimes show for what she called my want of wisdom according to the light of the world's dark lanterns, and loved me for that; she may—she must—have confused the borrowed light of what I had only learned, with its brightness in its pure original rays; but she loved me at that time, and she made me know it.
Pride of family and pride of wealth put me as far off from her in my Lady's eyes as if I had been some domesticated creature of another kind. But they could not put me farther from her than I put myself when I set my merits against hers. More than that. They could not put me, by millions of fathoms, half so low beneath her as I put myself when in imagination I took advantage of her noble trustfulness, took the fortune that I knew she must possess in her own right, and left her to find herself, in the zenith of her beauty and genius, bound to poor rusty plodding Me.
No. Worldliness should not enter here, at any cost. If I had tried to keep it out of other ground, how much harder was I bound to try to keep it from this sacred place.
But there was something daring in her broad generous character that demanded at so delicate a crisis to be delicately and patiently addressed. After many and many a bitter night (O, I found I could cry for reasons not purely physical, at this pass of my life!) I took my course.
My Lady had in our first interview unconsciously overstated the accommodation of my pretty house. There was room in it for only one pupil. He was a young gentleman near coming of age, very well connected, but what is called a poor relation. His parents were dead. The charges of his living and reading with me were defrayed by an uncle, and he and I were to do our utmost together for three years towards qualifying him to make his way. At this time he had entered into his second year with me. He was well-looking, clever, energetic, enthusiastic, bold; in the best sense of the term, a thorough young Anglo-Saxon.
I resolved to bring these two together.
Said I, one night, when I had conquered myself: "Mr. Granville,"—Mr. Granville Wharton his name was,—"I doubt if you have ever yet so much as seen Miss Fareway."
"Well, sir," returned he, laughing, "you see her so much yourself, that you hardly leave another fellow a chance of seeing her."
"I am her tutor, you know," said I.
And there the subject dropped for that time. But I so contrived as that they should come together shortly afterwards. I had previously so contrived as to keep them asunder, for while I loved her—I mean before I had determined on my sacrifice—a lurking jealousy of Mr. Granville lay within my unworthy breast.
It was quite an ordinary interview in the Fareway Park; but they talked easily together for some time; like takes to like, and they had many points of resemblance. Said Mr. Granville to me, when he and I sat at our supper that night: "Miss Fareway is remarkably beautiful, sir, and remarkably engaging. Don't you think so?" "I think so," said I. And I stole a glance at him, and saw that he had reddened and was thoughtful. I remember it most vividly, because the mixed feeling of grave pleasure and acute pain that the slight circumstance caused me was the first of a long, long series of such mixed impressions under which my hair turned slowly gray.
I had not much need to feign to be subdued, but I counterfeited to be older than I was in all respects, (Heaven knows, my heart being all too young the while!) and feigned to be more of a recluse and bookworm than I had really become, and gradually set up more and more of a fatherly manner towards Adelina. Likewise, I made my tuition less imaginative than before; separated myself from my poets and philosophers; was careful to present them in their own light, and me, their lowly servant, in my own shade. Moreover, in the matter of apparel I was equally mindful. Not that I had ever been dapper that way, but that I was slovenly now.
As I depressed myself with one hand, so did I labor to raise Mr. Granville with the other; directing his attention to such subjects as I too well knew most interested her, and fashioning him (do not deride or misconstrue the expression, unknown reader of this writing, for I have suffered!) into a greater resemblance to myself in my solitary one strong aspect. And gradually, gradually, as I saw him take more and more to these thrown-out lures of mine, then did I come to know better and better that love was drawing him on, and was drawing Her from me.
So passed more than another year; every day a year in its number of my mixed impressions of grave pleasure and acute pain; and then, these two being of age and free to act legally for themselves, came before me, hand in hand (my hair being now quite white), and entreated me that I would unite them together. "And indeed, dear Tutor," said Adelina, "it is but consistent in you that you should do this thing for us, seeing that we should never have spoken together that first time but for you, and that but for you we could never have met so often afterwards." The whole of which was literally true, for I had availed myself of my many business attendances on, and conferences with, my Lady, to take Mr. Granville to the house, and leave him in the outer room with Adelina.
I knew that my Lady would object to such a marriage for her daughter, or to any marriage that was other than an exchange of her for stipulated lands, goods, and moneys. But, looking on the two, and seeing with full eyes that they were both young and beautiful; and knowing that they were alike in the tastes and acquirements that will outlive youth and beauty; and considering that Adelina had a fortune now, in her own keeping; and considering further that Mr. Granville, though for the present poor, was of a good family that had never lived in a cellar in Preston; and believing that their love would endure, neither having any great discrepancy to find out in the other,—I told them of my readiness to do this thing which Adelina asked of her dear Tutor, and to send them forth, Husband and Wife, into the shining world with golden gates that awaited them.
It was on a summer morning that I rose before the sun, to compose myself for the crowning of my work with this end. And my dwelling being near to the sea, I walked down to the rocks on the shore, in order that I might behold the sun rise in his majesty.
The tranquillity upon the Deep and on the firmament, the orderly withdrawal of the stars, the calm promise of coming day, the rosy suffusion of the sky and waters, the ineffable splendor that then burst forth, attuned my mind afresh after the discords of the night. Methought that all I looked on said to me, and that all I heard in the sea and in the air said to me, "Be comforted, mortal, that thy life is so short. Our preparation for what is to follow has endured, and shall endure, for unimaginable ages."
I married them. I knew that my hand was cold when I placed it on their hands clasped together; but the words with which I had to accompany the action I could say without faltering, and I was at peace.
They being well away from my house and from the place, after our simple breakfast, the time was come when I must do what I had pledged myself to them that I would do,— break the intelligence to my Lady.
I went up to the house, and found my Lady in her ordinary business-room. She happened to have an unusual amount of commissions to intrust to me that day, and she had filled my hands with papers before I could originate a word.
"My Lady,"—I then began, as I stood beside her table.
"Why, what is the matter?" she said, quickly, looking up.
"Not much, I would fain hope, after you shall have prepared yourself, and considered a little."
"Prepared myself! And considered a little! You appear to have prepared yourself but indifferently, anyhow, Mr. Silverman." This, mighty scornfully, as I experienced my usual embarrassment under her stare.
Said I, in self-extenuation, once for all: "Lady Fareway, I have but to say for myself that I have tried to do my duty."
"For yourself?" repeated my Lady. "Then there are others concerned, I see. Who are they?"
I was about to answer, when she made towards the bell with a dart that stopped me, and said, "Why, where is Adelina?"
"Forbear. Be calm, my Lady. I married her this morning to Mr. Granville Wharton."
She set her lips, looked more intently at me than ever, raised her right hand and smote me hard upon the cheek.
"Give me back those papers, give me back those papers!" She tore them out of my hands and tossed them on her table. Then seating herself defiantly in her great chair, and folding her arms, she stabbed me to the heart with the unlooked-for reproach: "You worldly wretch!"
"Worldly?" I cried. "Worldly!"
"This, if you please," she went on with supreme scorn, pointing me out as if there were some one there to see,—"this, if you please, is the disinterested scholar, with not a design beyond his books! This, if you please, is the simple creature whom any one could overreach in a bargain! This, if you please, is Mr. Silverman! Not of this world, not he! He has too much simplicity for this world's cunning. He has too much singleness of purpose to be a match for this world's double-dealing. What did he give you for it?"
"For what? And who?"
"How much," she asked, bending forward in her great chair, and insultingly tapping the fingers of her right hand on the palm of her left,—"how much does Mr. Granville Wharton pay you for getting him Adelina's money? What is the amount of your percentage upon Adelina's fortune? What were the terms of the agreement that you proposed to this boy when you, the Reverend George Silverman, licensed to marry, engaged to put him in possession of this girl? You made good terms for yourself, whatever they were. He would stand a poor chance against your keenness."
Bewildered, horrified, stunned by this cruel perversion, I could not speak. But I trust that I looked innocent, being so.
"Listen to me, shrewd hypocrite," said my Lady, whose anger increased as she gave it utterance. "Attend to my words, you cunning schemer who have carried this plot through with such a practised double face that I have never suspected you. I had my projects for my daughter; projects for family connection; projects for fortune. You have thwarted them, and overreached me; but I am not one to be thwarted and overreached without retaliation. Do you mean to hold this Living another month?"
"Do you deem it possible, Lady Fareway, that I can hold it another hour, under your injurious words?"
"Is it resigned,then?"
"It was mentally resigned, my Lady, some minutes ago."
"Don't equivocate, sir. Is it resigned?"
"Unconditionally and entirely. And I would that I had never, never come near it!"
"A cordial response from me to that wish, Mr. Silverman! But take this with you, sir. If you had not resigned it, I would have had you deprived of it. And though you have resigned it, you will not get quit of me as easily as you think for. I will pursue you with this story. I will make this nefarious conspiracy of yours, for money, known. You have made money by it, but you have at the same time made an enemy by it. You will take good care that the money sticks to you; I will take good care that the enemy sticks to you."
Then said I, finally: "Lady Fareway, I think my heart is broken. Until I came into this room just now, the possibility of such mean wickedness as you have imputed to me never dawned upon my thoughts. Your suspicions—"
"Suspicions! Pah!" said she, indignantly. "Certainties."
"Your certainties, my Lady, as you call them, your suspicions, as I call them, are cruel, unjust, wholly devoid of foundation in fact. I can declare no more, except that I have not acted for my own profit or my own pleasure. I have not in this proceeding considered myself. Once again, I think my heart is broken. If I have unwittingly done any wrong with a righteous motive, that is some penalty to pay."
She received this with another and a more indignant "Pah!" and I made my way out of her room (I think I felt my way out with my hands, although my eyes were open), almost suspecting that my voice had a repulsive sound, and that I was a repulsive object.
There was a great stir made, the Bishop was appealed to, I received a severe reprimand, and narrowly escaped suspension. For years a cloud hung over me, and my name was tarnished. But my heart did not break, if a broken heart involves death; for I lived through it.
They stood by me, Adelina and her husband, through it all. Those who had known me at College, and even most of those who had only known me there by reputation, stood by me too. Little by little, the belief widened that I was not capable of what was laid to my charge. At length I was presented to a College-Living in a sequestered place, and there I now pen my Explanation. I pen it at my open window in the summer-time; before me, lying the churchyard, equal resting-place for sound hearts, wounded hearts, and broken hearts. I pen it for the relief of my own mind, not foreseeing whether or no it will ever have a reader.