Endymion, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter 90

The archbishop called at Hurstley House the next day. It was a visit to Mr. Thornberry, but all the family were soon present, and clustered round the visitor. Then they walked together in the gardens, which had become radiant under the taste and unlimited expenditure of Mrs. Thornberry; beds glowing with colour or rivalling mosaics, choice conifers with their green or purple fruit, and rare roses with their fanciful and beauteous names; one, by the by, named “Mrs. Penruddock,” and a very gorgeous one, “The Archbishop.”

As they swept along the terraces, restored to their pristine comeliness, and down the green avenues bounded by copper beeches and ancient yews, where men were sweeping away every leaf and twig that had fallen in the night and marred the consummate order, it must have been difficult for the Archbishop of Tyre not to recall the days gone by, when this brilliant and finished scene, then desolate and neglected, the abode of beauty and genius, yet almost of penury, had been to him a world of deep and familiar interest. Yes, he was walking in the same glade where he had once pleaded his own cause with an eloquence which none of his most celebrated sermons had excelled. Did he think of this? If he did, it was only to wrench the thought from his memory. Archbishops who are yet young, who are resolved to be cardinals, and who may be popes, are superior to all human weakness.

“I should like to look at your chapel,” said his Grace to Mr. Thornberry; “I remember it a lumber room, and used to mourn over its desecration.”

“I never was in it,” said Job, “and cannot understand why my wife is so anxious about it as she seems to be. When we first went to London, she always sate under the Reverend Socinus Frost, and seemed very satisfied. I have heard him; a sensible man — but sermons are not much in my way, and I do not belong to his sect, or indeed any other.”

However, they went to the chapel all the same, for Mrs. Thornberry was resolved on the visit. It was a small chamber but beautifully proportioned, like the mansion itself — of a blended Italian and Gothic style. The roof was flat, but had been richly gilt and painted, and was sustained by corbels of angels, divinely carved. There had been some pews in the building; some had fallen to pieces, and some remained, but these were not in the original design. The sacred table had disappeared, but two saintly statues, sculptured in black oak, seemed still to guard the spot which it had consecrated.

“I wonder what became of the communion table?” said Job.

“Oh! my dear father, do not call it a communion table,” exclaimed John Hampden pettishly.

“Why, what should I call it, my boy?”

“The altar.”

“Why, what does it signify what we call it? The thing is the same.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the young gentleman, in a tone of contemptuous enthusiasm, “it is all the difference in the world. There should be a stone altar and a reredos. We have put up a reredos in our chapel at Bradley. All the fellows subscribed; I gave a sovereign.”

“Well, I must say,” said the archbishop, who had been standing in advance with Mrs. Thornberry and the children, while this brief and becoming conversation was taking place between father and son, “I think you could hardly do a better thing than restore this chapel, Mr. Thornberry, but there must be no mistake about it. It must be restored to the letter, and it is a style that is not commonly understood. I have a friend, however, who is a master of it, the most rising man in his profession, as far as church architecture is concerned, and I will get him just to run down and look at this, and if, as I hope, you resolve to restore it, rest assured he will do you justice, and you will be proud of your place of worship.”

“I do not care how much we spend on our gardens,” said Job, “for they are transitory pleasures, and we enjoy what we produce; but why I should restore a chapel in a house which does not belong to myself is not so clear to me.”

“But it should belong to yourself,” rejoined the archbishop. “Hurstley is not in the market, but it is to be purchased. Take it altogether, I have always thought it one of the most enviable possessions in the world. The house, when put in order, would be one of the ornaments of the kingdom. The acreage, though considerable, is not overwhelming, and there is a range of wild country of endless charm. I wandered about it in my childhood and my youth, and I have never known anything equal to it. Then as to the soil and all that, you know it. You are a son of the soil. You left it for great objects, and you have attained those objects. They have given you fame as well as fortune. There would be something wonderfully dignified and graceful in returning to the land after you have taken the principal part in solving the difficulties which pertained to it, and emancipating it from many perils.”

“I am sure it would be the happiest day of my life, if Job would purchase Hurstley,” said Mrs. Thornberry.

“I should like to go to Oxford, and my father purchase Hurstley,” said the young gentleman. “If we have not landed property, I would sooner have none. If we have not land, I should like to go into the Church, and if I may not go to Oxford, I would go to Cuddesdon at once. I know it can be done, for I know a fellow who has done it.”

Poor Job Thornberry! He had ruled multitudes, and had conquered and commanded senates. His Sovereign had made him one of her privy councillors, and half a million of people had returned him their representative to parliament. And here he stood silent, and a little confused; sapped by his wife, bullied by his son, and after having passed a great part of his life in denouncing sacerdotalism, finding his whole future career chalked out, without himself being consulted, by a priest who was so polite, sensible, and so truly friendly, that his manner seemed to deprive its victims of every faculty of retort or repartee. Still he was going to say something when the door opened, and Mrs. Penruddock appeared, exclaiming in a cheerful voice, “I thought I should find you here. I would not have troubled your Grace, but this letter marked ‘private, immediate, and to be forwarded,’ has been wandering about for some time, and I thought it was better to bring it to you at once.”

The Archbishop of Tyre took the letter, and seemed to start as he read the direction. Then he stood aside, opened it, and read its contents. The letter was from Lady Roehampton, desiring to see him as soon as possible on a matter of the utmost gravity, and entreating him not to delay his departure, wherever he might be.

“I am sorry to quit you all,” said his Grace; “but I must go up to town immediately. The business is urgent.”

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