Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 11

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Another time Theobald actually took Mrs Cowey into his confidence, and the reader may guess what account of Christina he got from her.  Mrs Cowey tried the jealousy manoeuvre and hinted at a possible rival.  Theobald was, or pretended to be, very much alarmed; a little rudimentary pang of jealousy shot across his bosom and he began to believe with pride that he was not only in love, but desperately in love or he would never feel so jealous.  Nevertheless, day after day still went by and he did not propose.

The Allabys behaved with great judgement.  They humoured him till his retreat was practically cut off, though he still flattered himself that it was open.  One day about six months after Theobald had become an almost daily visitor at the Rectory the conversation happened to turn upon long engagements.  “I don’t like long engagements, Mr Allaby, do you?” said Theobald imprudently.  “No,” said Mr Allaby in a pointed tone, “nor long courtships,” and he gave Theobald a look which he could not pretend to misunderstand.  He went back to Cambridge as fast as he could go, and in dread of the conversation with Mr Allaby which he felt to be impending, composed the following letter which he despatched that same afternoon by a private messenger to Crampsford.  The letter was as follows:—

“Dearest Miss Christina,—I do not know whether you have guessed the feelings that I have long entertained for you—feelings which I have concealed as much as I could through fear of drawing you into an engagement which, if you enter into it, must be prolonged for a considerable time, but, however this may be, it is out of my power to conceal them longer; I love you, ardently, devotedly, and send these few lines asking you to be my wife, because I dare not trust my tongue to give adequate expression to the magnitude of my affection for you.

“I cannot pretend to offer you a heart which has never known either love or disappointment.  I have loved already, and my heart was years in recovering from the grief I felt at seeing her become another’s.  That, however, is over, and having seen yourself I rejoice over a disappointment which I thought at one time would have been fatal to me.  It has left me a less ardent lover than I should perhaps otherwise have been, but it has increased tenfold my power of appreciating your many charms and my desire that you should become my wife.  Please let me have a few lines of answer by the bearer to let me know whether or not my suit is accepted.  If you accept me I will at once come and talk the matter over with Mr and Mrs Allaby, whom I shall hope one day to be allowed to call father and mother.

“I ought to warn you that in the event of your consenting to be my wife it may be years before our union can be consummated, for I cannot marry till a college living is offered me.  If, therefore, you see fit to reject me, I shall be grieved rather than surprised.—Ever most devotedly yours,


And this was all that his public school and University education had been able to do for Theobald!  Nevertheless for his own part he thought his letter rather a good one, and congratulated himself in particular upon his cleverness in inventing the story of a previous attachment, behind which he intended to shelter himself if Christina should complain of any lack of fervour in his behaviour to her.

I need not give Christina’s answer, which of course was to accept.  Much as Theobald feared old Mr Allaby I do not think he would have wrought up his courage to the point of actually proposing but for the fact of the engagement being necessarily a long one, during which a dozen things might turn up to break it off.  However much he may have disapproved of long engagements for other people, I doubt whether he had any particular objection to them in his own case.  A pair of lovers are like sunset and sunrise: there are such things every day but we very seldom see them.  Theobald posed as the most ardent lover imaginable, but, to use the vulgarism for the moment in fashion, it was all “side.”  Christina was in love, as indeed she had been twenty times already.  But then Christina was impressionable and could not even hear the name “Missolonghi” mentioned without bursting into tears.  When Theobald accidentally left his sermon case behind him one Sunday, she slept with it in her bosom and was forlorn when she had as it were to disgorge it on the following Sunday; but I do not think Theobald ever took so much as an old toothbrush of Christina’s to bed with him.  Why, I knew a young man once who got hold of his mistress’s skates and slept with them for a fortnight and cried when he had to give them up.