Janet's Repentance, by George Eliot

Chapter 3

It was quite as warm on the following Thursday evening, when Mr. Dempster and his colleagues were to return from their mission to Elmstoke Rectory; but it was much pleasanter in Mrs. Linnet’s parlour than in the bar of the Red Lion. Through the open window came the scent of mignonette and honeysuckle; the grass-plot in front of the house was shaded by a little plantation of Gueldres roses, syringas, and laburnums; the noise of looms and carts and unmelodious voices reached the ear simply as an agreeable murmur, for Mrs. Linnet’s house was situated quite on the outskirts of Paddiford Common; and the only sound likely to disturb the serenity of the feminine party assembled there, was the occasional buzz of intrusive wasps, apparently mistaking each lady’s head for a sugar-basin. No sugar-basin was visible in Mrs. Linnet’s parlour, for the time of tea was not yet, and the round table was littered with books which the ladies were covering with black canvass as a reinforcement of the new Paddiford Lending Library. Miss Linnet, whose manuscript was the neatest type of zigzag, was seated at a small table apart, writing on green paper tickets, which were to be pasted on the covers. Miss Linnet had other accomplishments besides that of a neat manuscript, and an index to some of them might be found in the ornaments of the room. She had always combined a love of serious and poetical reading with her skill in fancy-work, and the neatly-bound copies of Dryden’s ‘Virgil,’ Hannah More’s ‘Sacred Dramas,’ Falconer’s ‘Shipwreck,’ Mason ‘On Self-Knowledge,’ ‘Rasselas,’ and Burke ‘On the Sublime and Beautiful,’ which were the chief ornaments of the bookcase, were all inscribed with her name, and had been bought with her pocket-money when she was in her teens. It must have been at least fifteen years since the latest of those purchases, but Miss Linnet’s skill in fancy-work appeared to have gone through more numerous phases than her literary taste; for the japanned boxes, the alum and sealing-wax baskets, the fan-dolls, the ‘transferred’ landscapes on the fire-screens, and the recent bouquets of wax-flowers, showed a disparity in freshness which made them referable to widely different periods. Wax-flowers presuppose delicate fingers and robust patience, but there are still many points of mind and person which they leave vague and problematic; so I must tell you that Miss Linnet had dark ringlets, a sallow complexion, and an amiable disposition. As to her features, there was not much to criticize in them, for she had little nose, less lip, and no eyebrow; and as to her intellect, her friend Mrs. Pettifer often said: ‘She didn’t know a more sensible person to talk to than Mary Linnet. There was no one she liked better to come and take a quiet cup of tea with her, and read a little of Klopstock’s ‘Messiah.’ Mary Linnet had often told her a great deal of her mind when they were sitting together: she said there were many things to bear in every condition of life, and nothing should induce her to marry without a prospect of happiness. Once, when Mrs. Pettifer admired her wax-flowers, she said, “Ah, Mrs. Pettifer, think of the beauties of nature!” She always spoke very prettily, did Mary Linnet; very different, indeed, from Rebecca.’

Miss Rebecca Linnet, indeed, was not a general favourite. While most people thought it a pity that a sensible woman like Mary had not found a good husband — and even her female friends said nothing more ill-natured of her, than that her face was like a piece of putty with two Scotch pebbles stuck in it — Rebecca was always spoken of sarcastically, and it was a customary kind of banter with young ladies to recommend her as a wife to any gentleman they happened to be flirting with — her fat, her finery, and her thick ankles sufficing to give piquancy to the joke, notwithstanding the absence of novelty. Miss Rebecca, however, possessed the accomplishment of music, and her singing of ‘Oh no, we never mention her’, and ‘The Soldier’s Tear’, was so desirable an accession to the pleasures of a tea-party that no one cared to offend her, especially as Rebecca had a high spirit of her own, and in spite of her expansively rounded contour, had a particularly sharp tongue. Her reading had been more extensive than her sister’s, embracing most of the fiction in Mr. Procter’s circulating library, and nothing but an acquaintance with the course of her studies could afford a clue to the rapid transitions in her dress, which were suggested by the style of beauty, whether sentimental, sprightly, or severe, possessed by the heroine of the three volumes actually in perusal. A piece of lace, which drooped round the edge of her white bonnet one week, had been rejected by the next; and her cheeks, which, on Whitsunday, loomed through a Turnerian haze of network, were, on Trinity Sunday, seen reposing in distinct red outline on her shelving bust, like the sun on a fog-bank. The black velvet, meeting with a crystal clasp, which one evening encircled her head, had on another descended to her neck, and on a third to her waist, suggesting to an active imagination either a magical contraction of the ornament, or a fearful ratio of expansion in Miss Rebecca’s person. With this constant application of art to dress, she could have had little time for fancy-work, even if she had not been destitute of her sister’s taste for that delightful and truly feminine occupation. And here, at least, you perceive the justice of the Milby opinion as to the relative suitability of the two Miss Linnets for matrimony. When a man is happy enough to win the affections of a sweet girl, who can soothe his cares with crochet, and respond to all his most cherished ideas with beaded urn-rugs and chair-covers in German wool, he has, at least, a guarantee of domestic comfort, whatever trials may await him out of doors. What a resource it is under fatigue and irritation to have your drawing-room well supplied with small mats, which would always be ready if you ever wanted to set anything on them! And what styptic for a bleeding heart can equal copious squares of crochet, which are useful for slipping down the moment you touch them? How our fathers managed without crochet is the wonder; but I believe some small and feeble substitute existed in their time under the name of ‘tatting’. Rebecca Linnet, however, had neglected tatting as well as other forms of fancy-work. At school, to be sure, she had spent a great deal of time in acquiring flower-painting, according to the ingenious method then fashionable, of applying the shapes of leaves and flowers cut out in cardboard, and scrubbing a brush over the surface thus conveniently marked out; but even the spill-cases and hand-screens which were her last half-year’s performances in that way were not considered eminently successful, and had long been consigned to the retirement of the best bedroom. Thus there was a good deal of family unlikeness between Rebecca and her sister, and I am afraid there was also a little family dislike; but Mary’s disapproval had usually been kept imprisoned behind her thin lips, for Rebecca was not only of a headstrong disposition, but was her mother’s pet; the old lady being herself stout, and preferring a more showy style of cap than she could prevail on her daughter Mary to make up for her.

But I have been describing Miss Rebecca as she was in former days only, for her appearance this evening, as she sits pasting on the green tickets, is in striking contrast with what it was three or four months ago. Her plain grey gingham dress and plain white collar could never have belonged to her ward-robe before that date; and though she is not reduced in size, and her brown hair will do nothing but hang in crisp ringlets down her large cheeks, there is a change in her air and expression which seems to shed a softened light over her person, and make her look like a peony in the shade, instead of the same flower flaunting in a parterre in the hot sunlight.

No one could deny that Evangelicalism had wrought a change for the better in Rebecca Linnet’s person — not even Miss Pratt, the thin stiff lady in spectacles, seated opposite to her, who always had a peculiar repulsion for ‘females with a gross habit of body’. Miss Pratt was an old maid; but that is a no more definite description than if I had said she was in the autumn of life. Was it autumn when the orchards are fragrant with apples, or autumn when the oaks are brown, or autumn when the last yellow leaves are fluttering in the chill breeze? The young ladies in Milby would have told you that the Miss Linnets were old maids; but the Miss Linnets were to Miss Pratt what the apple-scented September is to the bare, nipping days of late November. The Miss Linnets were in that temperate zone of old-maidism, when a woman will not say but that if a man of suitable years and character were to offer himself, she might be induced to tread the remainder of life’s vale in company with him; Miss Pratt was in that arctic region where a woman is confident that at no time of life would she have consented to give up her liberty, and that she has never seen the man whom she would engage to honour and obey. If the Miss Linnets were old maids, they were old maids with natural ringlets and embonpoint, not to say obesity; Miss Pratt was an old maid with a cap, a braided ‘front’, a backbone and appendages. Miss Pratt was the one blue-stocking of Milby, possessing, she said, no less than five hundred volumes, competent, as her brother the doctor often observed, to conduct a conversation on any topic whatever, and occasionally dabbling a little in authorship, though it was understood that she had never put forth the full powers of her mind in print. Her ‘Letters to a Young Man on his Entrance into Life’, and ‘De Courcy, or the Rash Promise, a Tale for Youth’, were mere trifles which she had been induced to publish because they were calculated for popular utility, but they were nothing to what she had for years had by her in manuscript. Her latest production had been Six Stanzas, addressed to the Rev. Edgar Tryan, printed on glazed paper with a neat border, and beginning, ‘Forward, young wrestler for the truth!’

Miss Pratt having kept her brother’s house during his long widowhood, his daughter, Miss Eliza, had had the advantage of being educated by her aunt, and thus of imbibing a very strong antipathy to all that remarkable woman’s tastes and opinions. The silent handsome girl of two-and-twenty, who is covering the ‘Memoirs of Felix Neff,’ is Miss Eliza Pratt; and the small elderly lady in dowdy clothing, who is also working diligently, is Mrs. Pettifer, a superior-minded widow, much valued in Milby, being such a very respectable person to have in the house in case of illness, and of quite too good a family to receive any money-payment — you could always send her garden-stuff that would make her ample amends. Miss Pratt has enough to do in commenting on the heap of volumes before her, feeling it a responsibility entailed on her by her great powers of mind to leave nothing without the advantage of her opinion. Whatever was good must be sprinkled with the chrism of her approval; whatever was evil must be blighted by her condemnation.

‘Upon my word,’ she said, in a deliberate high voice, as if she were dictating to an amanuensis, ‘it is a most admirable selection of works for popular reading, this that our excellent Mr. Tryan has made. I do not know whether, if the task had been confided to me, I could have made a selection, combining in a higher degree religious instruction and edification with a due admixture of the purer species of amusement. This story of ‘Father Clement’ is a library in itself on the errors of Romanism. I have ever considered fiction a suitable form for conveying moral and religious instruction, as I have shown in my little work ‘De Courcy,’ which, as a very clever writer in the Crompton ‘Argus’ said at the time of its appearance, is the light vehicle of a weighty moral.’

‘One ‘ud think,’ said Mrs. Linnet, who also had her spectacles on, but chiefly for the purpose of seeing what the others were doing, ‘there didn’t want much to drive people away from a religion as makes ’em walk barefoot over stone floors, like that girl in Father Clement — sending the blood up to the head frightful. Anybody might see that was an unnat’ral creed.’

‘Yes,’ said Miss Pratt, ‘but asceticism is not the root of the error, as Mr. Tryan was telling us the other evening — it is the denial of the great doctrine of justification by faith. Much as I had reflected on all subjects in the course of my life, I am indebted to Mr. Tryan for opening my eyes to the full importance of that cardinal doctrine of the Reformation. From a child I had a deep sense of religion, but in my early days the Gospel light was obscured in the English Church, notwithstanding the possession of our incomparable Liturgy, than which I know no human composition more faultless and sublime. As I tell Eliza I was not blest as she is at the age of two-and-twenty, in knowing a clergyman who unites all that is great and admirable in intellect with the highest spiritual gifts. I am no contemptible judge of a man’s acquirements, and I assure you I have tested Mr. Tryan’s by questions which are a pretty severe touchstone. It is true, I sometimes carry him a little beyond the depth of the other listeners. Profound learning,’ continued Miss Pratt, shutting her spectacles, and tapping them on the book before her, ‘has not many to estimate it in Milby.’

‘Miss Pratt,’ said Rebecca, ‘will you please give me Scott’s “Force of Truth?” There — that small book lying against the “Life of Legh Richmond.”’

‘That’s a book I’m very fond of — the “Life of Legh Richmond,”’ said Mrs. Linnet. ‘He found out all about that woman at Tutbury as pretended to live without eating. Stuff and nonsense!’

Mrs. Linnet had become a reader of religious books since Mr. Tryan’s advent, and as she was in the habit of confining her perusal to the purely secular portions, which bore a very small proportion to the whole, she could make rapid progress through a large number of volumes. On taking up the biography of a celebrated preacher, she immediately turned to the end to see what disease he died of; and if his legs swelled, as her own occasionally did, she felt a stronger interest in ascertaining any earlier facts in the history of the dropsical divine — whether he had ever fallen off a stage coach, whether he had married more than one wife, and, in general, any adventures or repartees recorded of him previous to the epoch of his conversion. She then glanced over the letters and diary, and wherever there was a predominance of Zion, the River of Life, and notes of exclamation, she turned over to the next page; but any passage in which she saw such promising nouns as ‘small-pox’, ‘pony’, or ‘boots and shoes’, at once arrested her.

‘It is half-past six now,’ said Miss Linnet, looking at her watch as the servant appeared with the tea-tray. ‘I suppose the delegates are come back by this time. If Mr. Tryan had not so kindly promised to call and let us know, I should hardly rest without walking to Milby myself to know what answer they have brought back. It is a great privilege for us, Mr. Tryan living at Mrs. Wagstaff’s, for he is often able to take us on his way backwards and forwards into the town.’

‘I wonder if there’s another man in the world who has been brought up as Mr. Tryan has, that would choose to live in those small close rooms on the common, among heaps of dirty cottages, for the sake of being near the poor people,’ said Mrs. Pettifer. ‘I’m afraid he hurts his health by it; he looks to me far from strong.’

‘Ah,’ said Miss Pratt, ‘I understand he is of a highly respectable family indeed, in Huntingdonshire. I heard him myself speak of his father’s carriage — quite incidentally, you know — and Eliza tells me what very fine cambric handkerchiefs he uses. My eyes are not good enough to see such things, but I know what breeding is as well as most people, and it is easy to see that Mr. Tryan is quite comme il faw, to use a French expression.’

‘I should like to tell him better nor use fine cambric i’ this place, where there’s such washing, it’s a shame to be seen,’ said Mrs. Linnet; ‘he’ll get ’em tore to pieces. Good lawn ‘ud be far better. I saw what a colour his linen looked at the sacrament last Sunday. Mary’s making him a black silk case to hold his bands, but I told her she’d more need wash ’em for him.’

‘O mother!’ said Rebecca, with solemn severity, ‘pray don’t think of pocket-handkerchiefs and linen, when we are talking of such a man. And at this moment, too, when he is perhaps having to bear a heavy blow. We have more need to help him by prayer, as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses. We don’t know but wickedness may have triumphed, and Mr. Prendergast may have consented to forbid the lecture. There have been dispensations quite as mysterious, and Satan is evidently putting forth all his strength to resist the entrance of the Gospel into Milby Church.’

‘You niver spoke a truer word than that, my dear,’ said Mrs. Linnet, who accepted all religious phrases, but was extremely rationalistic in her interpretation; ‘for if iver Old Harry appeared in a human form, it’s that Dempster. It was all through him as we got cheated out o’ Pye’s Croft, making out as the title wasn’t good. Such lawyer’s villany! As if paying good money wasn’t title enough to anything. If your father as is dead and gone had been worthy to know it! But he’ll have a fall some day, Dempster will. Mark my words.’

‘Ah, out of his carriage, you mean,’ said Miss Pratt, who, in the movement occasioned by the clearing of the table, had lost the first part of Mrs. Linnet’s speech. ‘It certainly is alarming to see him driving home from Rotherby, flogging his galloping horse like a madman. My brother has often said he expected every Thursday evening to be called in to set some of Dempster’s bones; but I suppose he may drop that expectation now, for we are given to understand from good authority that he has forbidden his wife to call my brother in again either to herself or her mother. He swears no Tryanite doctor shall attend his family. I have reason to believe that Pilgrim was called in to Mrs. Dempster’s mother the other day.’

‘Poor Mrs. Raynor! she’s glad to do anything for the sake of peace and quietness,’ said Mrs. Pettifer; ‘but it’s no trifle at her time of life to part with a doctor who knows her constitution.’

‘What trouble that poor woman has to bear in her old age!’ said Mary Linnet, ‘to see her daughter leading such a life! — an only daughter, too, that she doats on.’

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Miss Pratt. ‘We, of course, know more about it than most people, my brother having attended the family so many years. For my part, I never thought well of the marriage; and I endeavoured to dissuade my brother when Mrs. Raynor asked him to give Janet away at the wedding. ‘If you will take my advice, Richard,’ I said, ‘you will have nothing to do with that marriage.’ And he has seen the justice of my opinion since. Mrs. Raynor herself was against the connection at first; but she always spoiled Janet, and I fear, too, she was won over by a foolish pride in having her daughter marry a professional man. I fear it was so. No one but myself, I think, foresaw the extent of the evil.’

‘Well,’ said Mrs. Pettifer, ‘Janet had nothing to look forward to but being a governess; and it was hard for Mrs. Raynor to have to work at millinering — a woman well brought up, and her husband a man who held his head as high as any man in Thurston. And it isn’t everybody that sees everything fifteen years beforehand. Robert Dempster was the cleverest man in Milby; and there weren’t many young men fit to talk to Janet.’

‘It is a thousand pities,’ said Miss Pratt, choosing to ignore Mrs. Pettifer’s slight sarcasm, ‘for I certainly did consider Janet Raynor the most promising young woman of my acquaintance; — a little too much lifted up, perhaps, by her superior education, and too much given to satire, but able to express herself very well indeed about any book I recommended to her perusal. There is no young woman in Milby now who can be compared with what Janet was when she was married, either in mind or person. I consider Miss Landor far, far below her. Indeed, I cannot say much for the mental superiority of the young ladies in our first families. They are superficial — very superficial.’

‘She made the handsomest bride that ever came out of Milby church, too,’ said Mrs. Pettifer. ‘Such a very fine figure! And it showed off her white poplin so well. And what a pretty smile Janet always had! Poor thing, she keeps that now for all her old friends. I never see her but she has something pretty to say to me — living in the same street, you know, I can’t help seeing her often, though I’ve never been to the house since Dempster broke out on me in one of his drunken fits. She comes to me sometimes, poor thing, looking so strange, anybody passing her in the street may see plain enough what’s the matter; but she’s always got some little good-natured plan in her head for all that. Only last night I met her, I saw five yards off she wasn’t fit to be out; but she had a basin in her hand, full of something she was carrying to Sally Martin, the deformed girl that’s in a consumption.’

‘But she is just as bitter against Mr. Tryan as her husband is, I understand,’ said Rebecca. ‘Her heart is very much set against the truth, for I understand she bought Mr. Tryan’s sermons on purpose to ridicule them to Mrs. Crewe.

‘Well, poor thing,’ said Mrs. Pettifer, ‘you know she stands up for everything her husband says and does. She never will admit to anybody that he is not a good husband.’

‘That is her pride,’ said Miss Pratt. ‘She married him in opposition to the advice of her best friends, and now she is not willing to admit that she was wrong. Why, even to my brother — and a medical attendant, you know, can hardly fail to be acquainted with family secrets — she has always pretended to have the highest respect for her husband’s qualities. Poor Mrs. Raynor, however, is very well aware that every one knows the real state of things. Latterly, she has not even avoided the subject with me. The very last time I called on her she said, “Have you been to see my poor daughter?” and burst into tears.’

‘Pride or no pride,’ said Mrs. Pettifer, ‘I shall always stand up for Janet Dempster. She sat up with me night after night when I had that attack of rheumatic fever six years ago. There’s great excuses for her. When a woman can’t think of her husband coming home without trembling, it’s enough to make her drink something to blunt her feelings — and no children either, to keep her from it. You and me might do the same, if we were in her place.’

‘Speak for yourself, Mrs. Pettifer,’ said Miss Pratt. ‘Under no circumstances can I imagine myself resorting to a practice so degrading. A woman should find support in her own strength of mind.’

‘I think,’ said Rebecca, who considered Miss Pratt still very blind in spiritual things, notwithstanding her assumption of enlightenment, ‘she will find poor support if she trusts only to her own strength. She must seek aid elsewhere than in herself.’

Happily the removal of the tea-things just then created a little confusion, which aided Miss Pratt to repress her resentment at Rebecca’s presumption in correcting her — a person like Rebecca Linnet! who six months ago was as flighty and vain a woman as Miss Pratt had ever known — so very unconscious of her unfortunate person!

The ladies had scarcely been seated at their work another hour, when the sun was sinking, and the clouds that flecked the sky to the very zenith were every moment taking on a brighter gold. The gate of the little garden opened, and Miss Linnet, seated at her small table near the window, saw Mr. Tryan enter.

‘There is Mr. Tryan,’ she said, and her pale cheek was lighted up with a little blush that would have made her look more attractive to almost any one except Miss Eliza Pratt, whose fine grey eyes allowed few things to escape her silent observation. ‘Mary Linnet gets more and more in love with Mr. Tryan,’ thought Miss Eliza; ‘it is really pitiable to see such feelings in a woman of her age, with those old-maidish little ringlets. I daresay she flatters herself Mr. Tryan may fall in love with her, because he makes her useful among the poor.’ At the same time, Miss Eliza, as she bent her handsome head and large cannon curls with apparent calmness over her work, felt a considerable internal flutter when she heard the knock at the door. Rebecca had less self-command. She felt too much agitated to go on with her pasting, and clutched the leg of the table to counteract the trembling in her hands.

Poor women’s hearts! Heaven forbid that I should laugh at you, and make cheap jests on your susceptibility towards the clerical sex, as if it had nothing deeper or more lovely in it than the mere vulgar angling for a husband. Even in these enlightened days, many a curate who, considered abstractedly, is nothing more than a sleek bimanous animal in a white neck-cloth, with views more or less Anglican, and furtively addicted to the flute, is adored by a girl who has coarse brothers, or by a solitary woman who would like to be a helpmate in good works beyond her own means, simply because he seems to them the model of refinement and of public usefulness. What wonder, then, that in Milby society, such as I have told you it was a very long while ago, a zealous evangelical clergyman, aged thirty-three, called forth all the little agitations that belong to the divine necessity of loving, implanted in the Miss Linnets, with their seven or eight lustrums and their unfashionable ringlets, no less than in Miss Eliza Pratt, with her youthful bloom and her ample cannon curls.

But Mr. Tryan has entered the room, and the strange light from the golden sky falling on his light-brown hair, which is brushed high up round his head, makes it look almost like an aureole. His grey eyes, too, shine with unwonted brilliancy this evening. They were not remarkable eyes, but they accorded completely in their changing light with the changing expression of his person, which indicated the paradoxical character often observable in a large-limbed sanguine blond; at once mild and irritable, gentle and overbearing, indolent and resolute, self-conscious and dreamy. Except that the well-filled lips had something of the artificially compressed look which is often the sign of a struggle to keep the dragon undermost, and that the complexion was rather pallid, giving the idea of imperfect health, Mr. Tryan’s face in repose was that of an ordinary whiskerless blond, and it seemed difficult to refer a certain air of distinction about him to anything in particular, unless it were his delicate hands and well-shapen feet.

It was a great anomaly to the Milby mind that a canting evangelical parson, who would take tea with tradespeople, and make friends of vulgar women like the Linnets, should have so much the air of a gentleman, and be so little like the splay-footed Mr. Stickney of Salem, to whom he approximated so closely in doctrine. And this want of correspondence between the physique and the creed had excited no less surprise in the larger town of Laxeter, where Mr. Tryan had formerly held a curacy; for of the two other Low Church clergymen in the neighbourhood, one was a Welshman of globose figure and unctuous complexion, and the other a man of atrabiliar aspect, with lank black hair, and a redundance of limp cravat — in fact, the sort of thing you might expect in men who distributed the publications of the Religious Tract Society, and introduced Dissenting hymns into the Church.

Mr. Tryan shook hands with Mrs. Linnet, bowed with rather a preoccupied air to the other ladies, and seated himself in the large horse-hair easy-chair which had been drawn forward for him, while the ladies ceased from their work, and fixed their eyes on him, awaiting the news he had to tell them.

‘It seems,’ he began, in a low and silvery tone, ‘I need a lesson of patience; there has been something wrong in my thought or action about this evening lecture. I have been too much bent on doing good to Milby after my own plan — too reliant on my own wisdom.’

Mr. Tryan paused. He was struggling against inward irritation.

‘The delegates are come back, then?’ ‘Has Mr. Prendergast given way?’ ‘Has Dempster succeeded?’— were the eager questions of three ladies at once.

‘Yes; the town is in an uproar. As we were sitting in Mr. Landor’s drawing-room we heard a loud cheering, and presently Mr. Thrupp, the clerk at the bank, who had been waiting at the Red Lion to hear the result, came to let us know. He said Dempster had been making a speech to the mob out the window. They were distributing drink to the people, and hoisting placards in great letters — “Down with the Tryanites!” “Down with cant!” They had a hideous caricature of me being tripped-up and pitched head-foremost out of the pulpit. Good old Mr. Landor would insist on sending me round in the carriage; he thought I should not be safe from the mob; but I got down at the Crossways. The row was evidently preconcerted by Dempster before he set out. He made sure of succeeding.’

Mr. Tryan’s utterance had been getting rather louder and more rapid in the course of this speech, and he now added, in the energetic chest-voice, which, both in and out of the pulpit, alternated continually with his more silvery notes — ‘But his triumph will be a short one. If he thinks he can intimidate me by obloquy or threats, he has mistaken the man he has to deal with. Mr. Dempster and his colleagues will find themselves checkmated after all. Mr. Prendergast has been false to his own conscience in this business. He knows as well as I do that he is throwing away the souls of the people by leaving things as they are in the parish. But I shall appeal to the Bishop — I am confident of his sympathy.’

‘The Bishop will be coming shortly, I suppose,’ said Miss Pratt, ‘to hold a confirmation?’

‘Yes; but I shall write to him at once, and lay the case before him. Indeed, I must hurry away now, for I have many matters to attend to. You, ladies, have been kindly helping me with your labours, I see,’ continued Mr. Tryan, politely, glancing at the canvass-covered books as he rose from his seat. Then, turning to Mary Linnet: ‘Our library is really getting on, I think. You and your sister have quite a heavy task of distribution now.’

Poor Rebecca felt it very hard to bear that Mr. Tryan did not turn towards her too. If he knew how much she entered into his feelings about the lecture, and the interest she took in the library. Well! perhaps it was her lot to be overlooked — and it might be a token of mercy. Even a good man might not always know the heart that was most with him. But the next moment poor Mary had a pang, when Mr. Tryan turned to Miss Eliza Pratt, and the preoccupied expression of his face melted into that beaming timidity with which a man almost always addresses a pretty woman.

‘I have to thank you, too, Miss Eliza, for seconding me so well in your visits to Joseph Mercer. The old man tells me how precious he finds your reading to him, now he is no longer able to go to church.’

Miss Eliza only answered by a blush, which made her look all the handsomer, but her aunt said — ‘Yes, Mr. Tryan, I have ever inculcated on my dear Eliza the importance of spending her leisure in being useful to her fellow-creatures. Your example and instruction have been quite in the spirit of the system which I have always pursued, though we are indebted to you for a clearer view of the motives that should actuate us in our pursuit of good works. Not that I can accuse myself of having ever had a self-righteous spirit, but my humility was rather instinctive than based on a firm ground of doctrinal knowledge, such as you so admirably impart to us.’

Mrs. Linnet’s usual entreaty that Mr. Tryan would ‘have something — some wine and water and a biscuit’, was just here a welcome relief from the necessity of answering Miss Pratt’s oration.

‘Not anything, my dear Mrs. Linnet, thank you. You forget what a Rechabite I am. By the by, when I went this morning to see a poor girl in Butcher’s Lane, whom I had heard of as being in a consumption, I found Mrs. Dempster there. I had often met her in the street, but did not know it was Mrs. Dempster. It seems she goes among the poor a good deal. She is really an interesting-looking woman. I was quite surprised, for I have heard the worst account of her habits — that she is almost as bad as her husband. She went out hastily as soon as I entered. But’ (apologetically) ‘I am keeping you all standing, and I must really hurry away. Mrs. Pettifer, I have not had the pleasure of calling on you for some time; I shall take an early opportunity of going your way. Good evening, good evening.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/eliot/george/e42j/chapter3.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:42