This was inspired by the 2007 BBC series Cranford, which was adapted from Cranford, Mr. Harrison's Confessions, and My Lady Ludlow, all by Elizabeth Gaskell. I have no connection whatsoever to either the BBC or Mrs. Gaskell.
Elizabeth Gaskell's description of Reverend Hutton in Mr. Harrison's Confessions:
"He was very quiet and reserved, almost absent at times; his personal appearance was not striking; but he was altogether a man you would talk to with your hat off whenever you met him."
When the Good Lord Has His Way
Reverend Hutton looked up from his desk and saw his eldest daughter standing in the doorway of the study.
"Are you at this hour still composing the sermon that Frank and I must hear? I do hope that you will not be too severe with us."
At that her father's smile revealed precisely how severe he might prove on the morrow. "No, Sophy, I am not engaged in anything so important as that. Indeed what I am doing may wait. Do come in, my dear."
"I should like to sit with you a while," said Sophy, stepping into the room.
"By all means," said, her father, rising from his desk. She waited for him to take his place in his accustomed armchair before settling into the seat opposite him.
The rector smiled at her again. "Did you have some matter you wished to discuss, Sophy? Or perhaps you thought to receive my final words of advice before the wedding?"
Sophy looked thoughtful. "It is not so much that, Papa, as the wish to have the leisure of talking with you as we are doing now, as we have done so often before."
And as we shall never do again, he thought.
"Of course," he said aloud. "And I am glad of that."
And yet the both of them, sitting thus, seemed all at once at a loss for conversation until Reverend Hutton said, "Is the thought of sleep difficult, my dear? You would not be the first bride to remain wakeful and restless."
"It is curious, Papa, but I do not feel in the least restless," said Sophy.
How well that expression becomes her, thought Reverend Hutton. It is at once grave and yet serene.
"Indeed I feel tremendous comfort tonight," she continued, "as though things were proceeding exactly as they ought."
"As of course they are, Sophy, under the hand of God," replied her father, with a knowing look.
"Do you believe so, Papa? Surely you do not believe that God Himself ordained that I should marry Frank Harrison," said Sophy teasingly.
"I confess, my dear, that I had not thought of it precisely in those terms, though now that you speak of it, Frank did arrive on our doorstep, as if bidden."
"That was Dr. Morgan's doing, Papa."
The rector chuckled. "Indeed it was. And yet I think Dr. Morgan might take pleasure in the notion that he had served as the instrument of God Himself!" he said, with a mischievous smile.
"Well, whoever is responsible for it, Papa, I believe that even when I am a very old woman, I shall remember still the moment when Frank and I first saw each other. Walter was having his lessons, and he was nestled in my arms, and Frank opened the door and saw us both sitting on the floor -- oh, Papa, whatever is wrong?"
The rector averted his eyes, shook his head. He would not shed tears tonight, not if he could stop himself. They would have to wait for tomorrow evening, when Sophy had gone --
"Papa." His daughter knelt by his chair. "Forgive me. In recounting one happy memory, I conjured up a host of other, more sorrowful thoughts. I did not mean to do so."
"No, Sophy," said the rector, at last mastering his voice, his expression. "You should never fear to speak frankly with me." He forced himself to smile, to look right into his daughter's eyes.
"Then I confess I fear to speak of Walter at times," said Sophy in a low voice.
"You need not, my dear. It is natural that you speak of him."
"But I do not do so out of disregard for your feelings, Papa -- "
"No!" said her father, startled. He gently touched his daughter's face. "Of course you do not. And I do not believe you loved Walter any less dearly than I did. No one who observed you with him could doubt your devotion. You were so often together --"
"So much so that I could not meet my future husband without Walter at my side, or indeed in my lap," said Sophy, now struggling against tears herself.
" -- and you were both mother and sister to him," continued her father, stroking Sophy's hair. For a moment they remained enveloped in a silence that was only broken when Reverend Hutton spoke, hesitantly and as though addressing a subject he had longed to avoid.
"My dear, I confess I have been very selfish."
"Papa!" said Sophy, looking up in astonishment. "When have you ever been selfish?"
"Let me explain. I ought to have sought to marry again. Yes, truly. Then you, Helen, and Lizzie might have been just elder sisters to Walter, and would not have had to fulfill the duties that rightly go to a mother. Sophy, I really ought to have spared you such burdens when you were but a girl yourself."
"Papa, I do not regret a moment I spent looking after Walter," said Sophy firmly. "Indeed it comforts me to recall that I was so much with him, since he was taken away from us so soon."
"I admire your spirit, my dear, and your grateful acceptance of God's gifts, and indeed His will."
"Yes. Where Walter is concerned."
"I do not believe, Papa, that God gives little children the croup, or that He takes away the life of a mother when her baby has only just seen the light. I believe He is as grieved as any one of us at those things, and that He extends comfort, somehow."
"And I do take comfort, knowing that Walter is safe with Him," said Reverend Hutton, as if attempting to convince himself.
He continued, "Still, while he was entrusted to my care, I ought to have seen to it that Walter had a mother. And as capable as you are, as steady as you are, you too must have felt the need of someone to guide and assist you. You were growing into a woman, and I was quite inadequate to provide all that a mother might have offered. Surely you must admit that, Sophy."
"I admit no such thing," she said gently. "Oh, I have always missed Mama, and longed to talk with her. But I am certain she would have found no fault in you." She smiled to herself. "You always displayed remarkable patience!"
The rector smiled in his turn. "I think we both must confess that there were many times when I lost patience, though you surely gave me little enough reason to do so. Indeed you were always wise beyond your years --"
"But I learned so much from you, Papa --"
"Well," he said playfully, "I had an apt pupil!"
"And I had a kind teacher." At that Reverend Hutton snorted, but Sophy was not dissuaded. "No, truly, Papa, I have always been secure and happy at home, and you must own that that was your doing."
This time her father's smile was notably sly. "And the vexation and tedium, Sophy? You must confess there was no lack of either!"
Sophy laughed. "I admit to the vexation, but not to the boredom. There was always something to engage me. Perhaps it is because I have seen so little of the world that home has proved a refuge, and not a cage. Indeed Frank must think me quite the country mouse."
At that her father smiled again. "Do not judge yourself too harshly, my dear. Yes, Frank has been to London, has studied medicine, and has seen something of the world, but I suspect he will learn as much from you as you do from him, Sophy. He is not so much the elder, and besides, I am certain he knows what a remarkable young woman he has found.
"But marriage does bring change, Sophy -- make no mistake -- as well as duties, and challenges, though I think I need not tell you that. And of course there will be joys as well. I pray that may be many, so many, for you and Frank." All at once his face contorted with pain, and his eyes filled with tears; indeed there was no resisting them now.
"Papa?" She laid a hand on his. "Whatever is wrong?" she said softly.
"I was just thinking, Sophy," he said hoarsely, "of how much you have had to endure, of the losses you have suffered, young though you are -- first your mother, then Walter."
"We bore those losses together, Papa, you and Helen and Lizzie and I."
"My girls. My brave girls."
"Perhaps it is a bit much to term us 'brave,'" said Sophy.
"But brave you are, and spirited. I do not know what I should have done without you." With that he again seemed to be struggling with his tears. "Sophy -- Sophy, if you had not come through your illness, I should not have been able to bear it."
"Papa," she whispered, squeezing his hand gently. "I am here with you now."
"Yes, thank God."
"And Helen and Lizzie still remain at home with you."
"Yes, for a time."
"No, for a long while yet. And with that prospect before you, Papa, you cannot fear that you will be bored!"
"No, two young girls in the house do not make for an especially quiet life," said Reverend Hutton, chuckling as he wiped his eyes.
"I think not, Papa. And Lizzie is becoming quite romantic these days, though perhaps when she sees me and Frank set up housekeeping, she will come to understand that marriage savors more of puddings and washdays than of roses and poetry!"
Reverend Hutton smiled. "My dear, for one so young, you possess an astonishing perspicacity, to say nothing of frankness. But somehow I do not think it wrong that a young girl should dream of a few sonnets and posies."
"No, Papa, and I am glad to hear you say that, especially when I have indeed done so much dreaming myself! Still, Lizzie is very young, and you need not think of weddings again for some years."
"Do not be so sanguine, my dear. Lizzie is indeed too young to marry but not too young to think of suitors, though she will have to content herself with thinking, of course," he added with a smile of mock sternness. "And then there's Helen – oh, had I but one dark hair left to turn grey before Helen reaches Lizzie's age!"
Sophy giggled. "Do not worry, Papa. For all that I will be married, I will watch over the girls too, and I think Frank may prove a most useful ally in that regard as well. Just imagine how pale with fear any suitor will turn when he faces the scrutiny of both the rector and the local physician! He must despair at such a prospect."
At that Reverend Hutton chuckled once more. "And yet somehow I do not think I can assume the appropriately fierce expression, though I did attempt it when Frank and I had our initial discussion."
"Poor Frank!" observed Sophy, with another giggle.
"Oh, do not worry. I of course dropped the ruse, and we were soon talking in a decidedly friendly manner – not a trace of combativeness, though my heart rebelled at the notion of anyone coming to take you away."
"Papa, no one's taking me away from you. No one can ever take me away from you, not completely. Besides, in Frank you have a son – oh, forgive me. Perhaps I should not have phrased it so, not so soon after --"
"Do not apologize, Sophy. Of course Frank will be my son. But with your wedding everything changes, just as it should, and you do leave me. And I feel just a bit older," he added, with a trace of a smile.
"Perhaps you will in time discover that there is a lady who would suit you very well indeed."
"Oh, no, my dear. That time is long past."
"Indeed not, Papa. After all, I thought I would never marry --"
Reverend Hutton smiled. "Did you, my dear?"
"Oh, yes, Papa," said Sophy earnestly. "I thought I should have no opportunity for me to meet a young man, let alone think of anything interesting to say to him! And yet tomorrow is my wedding day. So you see that we must have faith."
"If there is one area, Sophy," said her father, "where my faith has never been lacking, it is that someday a young man would wholly lose his heart to you, and come to take you away."
"As I said before, Frank is not taking me away, Papa," whispered Sophy. "I will always be near to you, and to Helen and Lizzie.
"But you have neatly escaped my theme," she added, with mock severity. "I was talking of your marrying again."
"My dear, it is tomorrow's very real wedding we must concern ourselves with, not an imaginary one!"
"Imaginary! Papa, where is your faith?"
"Sophy, do not tease me about such things."
"No, I am in earnest. I very much believe that you might marry again. And it is not failure to honor Mama's memory that compels me to say that. She cared very much for your happiness, Papa, and would have been grieved that you were lonely."
"I am not lonely, Sophy. I have you, and Lizzie, and Helen, and my dear friends, and the people I serve. I have my duties. I have my books."
"Forgive me, Papa, but that affords you only so much comfort, and I say it not out of humility but acknowledgment that you deserve a good deal more."
"And your Mama, Sophy, was a saint. I shall not find her like again."
"Papa, I quite agree that you will never find Mama's equal. But I will not believe there can be no suitable lady to share your life. And forgive me for saying so, Papa, but Mama, whom I loved as I shall love no one else in this life, was but flesh and blood –"
"-- yes, and spirit, but she was a woman, and not an unapproachable saint. Again I must ask your pardon, for perhaps you understand the term 'saint' differently. But I loved Mama all the more dearly for her quirks, her imperfections."
"And she loved you dearly as well, and would have been so proud of you -- would be so proud of you tomorrow."
Sophy smiled. "I often feel as if she were at my side, watching over me, and there are times when I do wish I could turn to her and ask her what she thinks."
"Do you?" Reverend Hutton was smiling, but the tears were in his eyes once again. "Hm. Strange. I was going to say that --"
He stopped, perhaps unable to continue.
He composed himself with visible effort and said quietly, "I think that she is beyond earthly things now, and no sorrow can touch her."
"Do you? I like to think she shares in our joys." Sophy had once again taken her father's hand. "I would like to think she will be present tomorrow, in her way."
"Yes." That was the only reply Reverend Hutton could manage.
"And I would like to think," she continued, "that Mama would have liked Frank very well indeed."
At that her father was able to chuckle once more. "My dear, I think there can be no doubt of that! And I believe very much that he would have liked her."
He got to his feet. "Well," he said briskly. "It wouldn't do for the bride or the rector to yawn incessantly in church tomorrow. Do you not think, Sophy, that it is time you tried to sleep? I know it is difficult," he added, with an impish grin, "but do try."
"It might indeed prove difficult, for there is so much to think about. Perhaps I shall lie awake for some time. And yet I will obey you, on this night of all nights, and make my best attempt. Good night, Papa."
"Good night, Sophy." Godspeed.