Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 99

The Right Honourable Job Thornberry and Mrs. Thornberry had received an invitation to the Montfort ball. Job took up the card, and turned it over more than once, and looked at it as if it were some strange animal, with an air of pleased and yet cynical perplexity; then he shrugged his shoulders and murmured to himself, “No, I don’t think that will do. Besides, I must be at Hurstley by that time.”

Going to Hurstley now was not so formidable an affair as it was in Endymion’s boyhood. Then the journey occupied a whole and wearisome day. Little Hurstley had become a busy station of the great Slap–Bang railway, and a despatch train landed you at the bustling and flourishing hostelry, our old and humble friend, the Horse Shoe, within the two hours. It was a rate that satisfied even Thornberry, and almost reconciled him to the too frequent presence of his wife and family at Hurstley, a place to which Mrs. Thornberry had, it would seem, become passionately attached.

“There is a charm about the place, I must say,” said Job to himself, as he reached his picturesque home on a rich summer evening; “and yet I hated it as a boy. To be sure, I was then discontented and unhappy, and now I have every reason to be much the reverse. Our feelings affect even scenery. It certainly is a pretty place; I really think one of the prettiest places in England.”

Job was cordially welcomed. His wife embraced him, and the younger children clung to him with an affection which was not diminished by the remembrance that their father never visited them with empty hands. His eldest son, a good-looking and well-grown stripling, just home for the holidays, stood apart, determined to show he was a man of the world, and superior to the weakness of domestic sensibility. When the hubbub was a little over, he advanced and shook hands with his father with a certain dignity.

“And when did you arrive, my boy? I was looking up your train in Bradshaw as I came along. I made out you should get the branch at Culvers Gate.”

“I drove over,” replied the son; “I and a friend of mine drove tandem, and I’ll bet we got here sooner than we should have done by the branch.”

“Hem!” said Job Thornberry.

“Job,” said Mrs. Thornberry, “I have made two engagements for you this evening. First, we will go and see your father, and then we are to drink tea at the rectory.”

“Hem!” said Job Thornberry; “well, I would rather the first evening should have been a quiet one; but let it be so.”

The visit to the father was kind, dutiful, and wearisome. There was not a single subject on which the father and son had thoughts in common. The conversation of the father took various forms of expressing his wonder that his son had become what he was, and the son could only smile, and turn the subject, by asking after the produce of some particular field that had been prolific or obstinate in the old days. Mrs. Thornberry looked absent, and was thinking of the rectory; the grandson who had accompanied them was silent and supercilious; and everybody felt relieved when Mrs. Thornberry, veiling her impatience by her fear of keeping her father-in-law up late, made a determined move and concluded the domestic ceremony.

The rectory afforded a lively contrast to the late scene. Mr. and Mrs. Penruddock were full of intelligence and animation. Their welcome of Mr. Thornberry was exactly what it ought to have been; respectful, even somewhat differential, but cordial and unaffected. They conversed on all subjects, public and private, and on both seemed equally well informed, for they not only read more than one newspaper, but Mrs. Penruddock had an extensive correspondence, the conduct of which was one of the chief pleasures and excitements of her life. Their tea-equipage, too, was a picture of abundance and refinement. Such pretty china, and such various and delicious cakes! White bread, and brown bread, and plum cakes, and seed cakes, and no end of cracknels, and toasts, dry or buttered. Mrs. Thornberry seemed enchanted and gushing with affection — everybody was dear or dearest. Even the face of John Hampden beamed with condescending delight as he devoured a pyramid of dainties.

Just before the tea-equipage was introduced Mrs. Penruddock rose from her seat and whispered something to Mrs. Thornberry, who seemed pleased and agitated and a little blushing, and then their hostess addressed Job and said, “I was mentioning to your wife that the archbishop was here, and that I hope you would not dislike meeting him.”

And very shortly after this, the archbishop, who had been taking a village walk, entered the room. It was evident that he was intimate with the occupiers of Hurstley Hall. He addressed Mrs. Thornberry with the ease of habitual acquaintance, while John Hampden seemed almost to rush into his arms. Job himself had seen his Grace in London, though he had never had the opportunity of speaking to him, but yielded to his cordiality, when the archbishop, on his being named, said, “It is a pleasure to meet an old friend, and in times past a kind one.”

It was a most agreeable evening. The archbishop talked to every one, but never seemed to engross the conversation. He talked to the ladies of gardens, and cottages, and a little of books, seemed deeply interested in the studies and progress of the grandson Thornberry, who evidently idolised him; and in due course his Grace was engaged in economical speculations with Job himself, who was quite pleased to find a priest as liberal and enlightened as he was able and thoroughly informed. An hour before midnight they separated, though the archbishop attended them to the hall.

Mrs. Thornberry’s birthday was near at hand, which Job always commemorated with a gift. It had commenced with some severe offering, like “Paradise Lost,” then it fell into the gentler form of Tennyson, and, of late, unconsciously under the influence of his wife, it had taken the shape of a bracelet or a shawl.

This evening, as he was rather feeling his way as to what might please her most, Mrs. Thornberry embracing him, and hiding her face on his breast, murmured, “Do not give me any jewel, dear Job. What I should like would be that you should restore the chapel here.”

“Restore the chapel here! oh, oh!” said Job Thornberry.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19