“Oh—I have heard of him,” said her companion, now awake. “A very earnest clergyman, is he not?”
“Yes—that he is—the earnestest man in all Wessex, they say—the last of the old Low Church sort, they tell me—for all about here be what they call High. All his sons, except our Mr Clare, be made pa’sons too.”
Tess had not at this hour the curiosity to ask why the present Mr Clare was not made a parson like his brethren, and gradually fell asleep again, the words of her informant coming to her along with the smell of the cheeses in the adjoining cheeseloft, and the measured dripping of the whey from the wrings downstairs.
Angel Clare rises out of the past not altogether as a distinct figure, but as an appreciative voice, a long regard of fixed, abstracted eyes, and a mobility of mouth somewhat too small and delicately lined for a man’s, though with an unexpectedly firm close of the lower lip now and then; enough to do away with any inference of indecision. Nevertheless, something nebulous, preoccupied, vague, in his bearing and regard, marked him as one who probably had no very definite aim or concern about his material future. Yet as a lad people had said of him that he was one who might do anything if he tried.
He was the youngest son of his father, a poor parson at the other end of the county, and had arrived at Talbothays Dairy as a six months’ pupil, after going the round of some other farms, his object being to acquire a practical skill in the various processes of farming, with a view either to the Colonies or the tenure of a home-farm, as circumstances might decide.
His entry into the ranks of the agriculturists and breeders was a step in the young man’s career which had been anticipated neither by himself nor by others.
Mr Clare the elder, whose first wife had died and left him a daughter, married a second late in life. This lady had somewhat unexpectedly brought him three sons, so that between Angel, the youngest, and his father the Vicar there seemed to be almost a missing generation. Of these boys the aforesaid Angel, the child of his old age, was the only son who had not taken a University degree, though he was the single one of them whose early promise might have done full justice to an academical training.
Some two or three years before Angel’s appearance at the Marlott dance, on a day when he had left school and was pursuing his studies at home, a parcel came to the Vicarage from the local bookseller’s, directed to the Reverend James Clare. The Vicar having opened it and found it to contain a book, read a few pages; whereupon he jumped up from his seat and went straight to the shop with the book under his arm.
“Why has this been sent to my house?” he asked peremptorily, holding up the volume.
“It was ordered, sir.”
“Not by me, or any one belonging to me, I am happy to say.”