Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

CHAPTER XXI

St. Ewold’s Parsonage

When Mr. Harding and Mrs. Bold reached the rectory on the following morning, the archdeacon and his friend were at St. Ewold’s. They had gone over that the new vicar might inspect his church and be introduced to the squire, and were not expected back before dinner. Mr. Harding rambled out by himself and strolled, as was his wont at Plumstead, about the lawn and round the church; and as he did so, the two sisters naturally fell into conversation about Barchester.

There was not much sisterly confidence between them. Mrs. Grantly was ten years older than Eleanor, and had been married while Eleanor was yet a child. They had never, therefore, poured into each other’s ears their hopes and loves, and now that one was a wife and the other a widow, it was not probable that they would begin to do so. They lived too much asunder to be able to fall into that kind of intercourse which makes confidence between sisters almost a necessity; moreover, that which is so easy at eighteen is often very difficult at twenty-eight. Mrs. Grantly knew this and did not, therefore, expect confidence from her sister; yet she longed to ask her whether in real truth Mr. Slope was agreeable to her.

It was by no means difficult to turn the conversation to Mr. Slope. That gentleman had become so famous at Barchester, had so much to do with all clergymen connected with the city, and was so specially concerned in the affairs of Mr. Harding, that it would have been odd if Mr. Harding’s daughters had not talked about him. Mrs. Grantly was soon abusing him, which she did with her whole heart, and Mrs. Bold was nearly as eager to defend him. She positively disliked the man, would have been delighted to learn that he had taken himself off so that she should never see him again, had indeed almost a fear of him, and yet she constantly found herself taking his part. The abuse of other people and abuse of a nature that she felt to be unjust imposed this necessity on her and at last made Mr. Slope’s defence an habitual course of argument with her.

From Mr. Slope the conversation turned to the Stanhopes, and Mrs. Grantly was listening with some interest to Eleanor’s account of the family when it dropped out that Mr. Slope made one of the party.

“What!” said the lady of the rectory. “Was Mr. Slope there too?”

Eleanor merely replied that such had been the case.

“Why, Eleanor, he must be very fond of you, I think; he seems to follow you everywhere.”

Even this did not open Eleanor’s eyes. She merely laughed, and said that she imagined Mr. Slope found other attraction at Dr. Stanhope’s. And so they parted. Mrs. Grantly felt quite convinced that the odious match would take place, and Mrs. Bold as convinced that that unfortunate chaplain, disagreeable as he must be allowed to be, was more sinned against than sinning.

The archdeacon of course heard before dinner that Eleanor had remained the day before in Barchester with the view of meeting Mr. Slope and that she had so met him. He remembered how she had positively stated that there were to be no guests at the Stanhopes, and he did not hesitate to accuse her of deceit. Moreover, the fact, or rather presumed fact, of her being deceitful on such a matter spoke but too plainly in evidence against her as to her imputed crime of receiving Mr. Slope as a lover.

“I am afraid that anything we can do will be too late,” said the archdeacon. “I own I am fairly surprised. I never liked your sister’s taste with regard to men, but still I did not give her credit for — ugh!”

“And so soon, too,” said Mrs. Grantly, who thought more, perhaps, of her sister’s indecorum in having a lover before she had put off her weeds than her bad taste in having such a lover as Mr. Slope.

“Well, my dear, I shall he sorry to be harsh, or to do anything that can hurt your father; but, positively, neither that man nor his wife shall come within my doors.”

Mrs. Grantly sighed, and then attempted to console herself and her lord by remarking that, after all, the thing was not accomplished yet. Now that Eleanor was at Plumstead, much might be done to wean her from her fatal passion. Poor Eleanor!

The evening passed off without anything to make it remarkable. Mr. Arabin discussed the parish of St. Ewold with the archdeacon, and Mrs. Grantly and Mr. Harding, who knew the personages of the parish, joined in. Eleanor also knew them, but she said little. Mr. Arabin did not apparently take much notice of her, and she was not in a humour to receive at that time with any special grace any special favourite of her brother-inlaw. Her first idea on reaching her bedroom was that a much pleasanter family party might be met at Dr. Stanhope’s than at the rectory. She began to think that she was getting tired of clergymen and their respectable, humdrum, wearisome mode of living, and that after all, people in the outer world, who had lived in Italy, London, or elsewhere, need not necessarily be regarded as atrocious and abominable. The Stanhopes, she had thought, were a giddy, thoughtless, extravagant set of people, but she had seen nothing wrong about them and had, on the other hand, found that they thoroughly knew how to make their house agreeable. It was a thousand pities, she thought, that the archdeacon should not have a little of the same savoir vivre. Mr. Arabin, as we have said, did not apparently take much notice of her, but yet he did not go to bed without feeling that he had been in company with a very pretty woman; and as is the case with most bachelors, and some married men, regarded the prospect of his month’s visit at Plumstead in a pleasanter light when he learnt that a very pretty woman was to share it with him.

Before they all retired it was settled that the whole party should drive over on the following day to inspect the parsonage at St. Ewold. The three clergymen were to discuss dilapidations, and the two ladies were to lend their assistance in suggesting such changes as might be necessary for a bachelor’s abode.

Accordingly, soon after breakfast the carriage was at the door. There was only room for four inside, and the archdeacon got upon the box. Eleanor found herself opposite to Mr. Arabin, and was, therefore, in a manner forced into conversation with him. They were soon on comfortable terms together, and had she thought about it, she would have thought that, in spite of his black cloth, Mr. Arabin would not have been a bad addition to the Stanhope family party.

Now that the archdeacon was away they could all trifle. Mr. Harding began by telling them in the most innocent manner imaginable an old legend about Mr. Arabin’s new parish. There was, he said, in days of yore an illustrious priestess of St. Ewold, famed through the whole country for curing all manner of diseases. She had a well, as all priestesses have ever had, which well was extant to this day and shared in the minds of many of the people the sanctity which belonged to the consecrated ground of the parish church. Mr. Arabin declared that he should look on such tenets on the part of his parishioners as anything but orthodox. And Mrs. Grantly replied that she so entirely disagreed with him as to think that no parish was in a proper state that had not its priestess as well as its priest. “The duties are never well done,” said she, “unless they are so divided.”

“I suppose, Papa,” said Eleanor, “that in the olden times the priestess bore all the sway herself. Mr. Arabin, perhaps, thinks that such might be too much the case now if a sacred lady were admitted within the parish.”

“I think, at any rate,” said he, “that it is safer to run no such risk. No priestly pride has ever exceeded that of sacerdotal females. A very lowly curate I might, perhaps, essay to rule, but a curatess would be sure to get the better of me.”

“There are certainly examples of such accidents happening,” said Mrs. Grantly. “They do say that there is a priestess at Barchester who is very imperious in all things touching the altar. Perhaps the fear of such a fate as that is before your eyes.”

When they were joined by the archdeacon on the gravel before the vicarage, they descended again to grave dullness. Not that Archdeacon Grantly was a dull man, but his frolic humours were of a cumbrous kind, and his wit, when he was witty, did not generally extend itself to his auditors. On the present occasion he was soon making speeches about wounded roofs and walls, which he declared to be in want of some surgeon’s art. There was not a partition that he did not tap, nor a block of chimneys that he did not narrowly examine; all water-pipes, flues, cisterns, and sewers underwent an investigation; he even descended, in the care of his friend, so far as to bore sundry boards in the floors with a bradawl.

Mr. Arabin accompanied him through the rooms, trying to look wise in such domestic matters, and the other three also followed. Mrs. Grantly showed that she had not herself been priestess of a parish twenty years for nothing and examined the bells and window-panes in a very knowing way.

“You will, at any rate, have a beautiful prospect out of your own window, if this is to be your private sanctum,” said Eleanor. She was standing at the lattice of a little room upstairs, from which the view certainly was very lovely. It was from the back of the vicarage, and there was nothing to interrupt the eye between the house and the glorious gray pile of the cathedral. The intermediate ground, however, was beautifully studded with timber. In the immediate foreground ran the little river which afterwards skirted the city, and, just to the right of the cathedral, the pointed gables and chimneys of Hiram’s Hospital peeped out of the elms which encompass it.

“Yes,” said he, joining her. “I shall have a beautifully complete view of my adversaries. I shall sit down before the hostile town and fire away at them at a very pleasant distance. I shall just be able to lodge a shot in the hospital, should the enemy ever get possession of it, and as for the palace, I have it within full range.”

“I never saw anything like you clergymen,” said Eleanor; “You are always thinking of fighting each other.”

“Either that,” said he, “or else supporting each other. The pity is that we cannot do the one without the other. But are we not here to fight? Is not ours a church militant? What is all our work but fighting, and hard fighting, if it be well done?”

“But not with each other.”

“That’s as it may be. The same complaint which you make of me for battling with another clergyman of our own church the Mohammedan would make against me for battling with the error of a priest of Rome. Yet, surely, you would not be inclined to say that I should be wrong to do battle with such as him. A pagan, too, with his multiplicity of gods, would think it equally odd that the Christian and the Mohammedan should disagree.”

“Ah! But you wage your wars about trifles so bitterly.”

“Wars about trifles,” said he, “are always bitter, especially among neighbours. When the differences are great, and the parties comparative strangers, men quarrel with courtesy. What combatants are ever so eager as two brothers?”

“But do not such contentions bring scandal on the church?”

“More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. We have but one way to avoid them — by that of acknowledging a common head of our church, whose word on all points of doctrine shall be authoritative. Such a termination of our difficulties is alluring enough. It has charms which are irresistible to many, and all but irresistible, I own, to me.”

“You speak now of the Church of Rome?” said Eleanor.

“No,” said he, “not necessarily of the Church of Rome; but of a church with a head. Had it pleased God to vouchsafe to us such a church our path would have been easy. But easy paths have not been thought good for us.” He paused and stood silent for awhile, thinking of the time when he had so nearly sacrificed all he had, his powers of mind, his free agency, the fresh running waters of his mind’s fountain, his very inner self, for an easy path in which no fighting would be needed; and then he continued: “What you say is partly true: our contentions do bring on us some scandal. The outer world, though it constantly reviles us for our human infirmities and throws in our teeth the fact that being clergymen we are still no more than men, demands of us that we should do our work with godlike perfection. There is nothing god-like about us: we differ from each other with the acerbity common to man; we triumph over each other with human frailty; we allow differences on subjects of divine origin to produce among us antipathies and enmities which are anything but divine. This is all true. But what would you have in place of it? There is no infallible head for a church on earth. This dream of believing man has been tried, and we see in Italy and in Spain what has come of it. Grant that there are and have been no bickerings within the pale of the Pope’s Church. Such an assumption would be utterly untrue, but let us grant it, and then let us say which church has incurred the heavier scandals.”

There was a quiet earnestness about Mr. Arabin, as he half-acknowledged and half-defended himself from the charge brought against him, which surprised Eleanor. She had been used all her life to listen to clerical discussion, but the points at issue between the disputants had so seldom been of more than temporal significance as to have left on her mind no feeling of reverence for such subjects. There had always been a hard worldly leaven of the love either of income or of power in the strains she had heard; there had been no panting for the truth; no aspirations after religious purity. It had always been taken for granted by those around her that they were indubitably right; that there was no ground for doubt; that the hard uphill work of ascertaining what the duty of a clergyman should be had been already accomplished in full; and that what remained for an active militant parson to do was to hold his own against all comers. Her father, it is true, was an exception to this, but then he was so essentially anti-militant in all things that she classed him in her own mind apart from all others. She had never argued the matter within herself, or considered whether this common tone was or was not faulty, but she was sick of it without knowing that she was so. And now she found to her surprise, and not without a certain pleasurable excitement, that this new-comer among them spoke in a manner very different from that to which she was accustomed.

“It is so easy to condemn,” said he, continuing the thread of his thoughts. “I know no life that must be so delicious as that of a writer for newspapers, or a leading member of the opposition — to thunder forth accusations against men in power; to show up the worst side of everything that is produced; to pick holes in every coat; to be indignant, sarcastic, jocose, moral, or supercilious; to damn with faint praise, or crush with open calumny! What can be so easy as this when the critic has to be responsible for nothing? You condemn what I do, but put yourself in my position and do the reverse, and then see if I cannot condemn you.”

“Oh, Mr. Arabin, I do not condemn you.”

“Pardon me, you do, Mrs. Bold — you as one of the world; you are now the opposition member; you are now composing your leading article, and well and bitterly you do it. ‘Let dogs delight to bark and bite’— you fitly begin with an elegant quotation —‘but if we are to have a church at all, in heaven’s name let the pastors who preside over it keep their hands from each other’s throats. Lawyers can live without befouling each other’s names; doctors do not fight duels. Why is it that clergymen alone should indulge themselves in such unrestrained liberty of abuse against each other?’ and so you go on reviling us for our ungodly quarrels, our sectarian propensities, and scandalous differences. It will, however, give you no trouble to write another article next week in which we, or some of us, shall be twitted with an unseemly apathy in matters of our vocation. It will not fall on you to reconcile the discrepancy; your readers will never ask you how the poor parson is to be urgent in season and out of season and yet never come in contact with men who think widely differently from him. You, when you condemn this foreign treaty, or that official arrangement, will have to incur no blame for the graver faults of any different measure. It is so easy to condemn — and so pleasant too, for eulogy charms no listeners as detraction does.”

Eleanor only half-followed him in his raillery, but she caught his meaning. “I know I ought to apologize for presuming to criticize you,” she said, “but I was thinking with sorrow of the ill-will that has lately come among us at Barchester, and I spoke more freely than I should have done.”

“Peace on earth and goodwill among men, are, like heaven, promises for the future;” said he, following rather his own thoughts than hers. “When that prophecy is accomplished, there will no longer be any need for clergymen.”

Here they were interrupted by the archdeacon, whose voice was heard from the cellar shouting to the vicar.

“Arabin, Arabin,”— and then, turning to his wife, who was apparently at his elbow —“where has he gone to? This cellar is perfectly abominable. It would be murder to put a bottle of wine into it till it has been roofed, walled, and floored. How on earth old Goodenough ever got on with it I cannot guess. But then Goodenough never had a glass of wine that any man could drink.”

“What is it, Archdeacon?” said the vicar, running downstairs and leaving Eleanor above to her meditations.

“This cellar must be roofed, walled, and floored,” repeated the archdeacon. “Now mind what I say, and don’t let the architect persuade you that it will do; half of these fellows know nothing about wine. This place as it is now would be damp and cold in winter and hot and muggy in summer. I wouldn’t give a straw for the best wine that ever was vinted, after it had lain here a couple of years.”

Mr. Arabin assented and promised that the cellar should be reconstructed according to the archdeacon’s receipt.

“And, Arabin, look here, was such an attempt at a kitchen grate ever seen?”

“The grate is really very bad,” said Mrs. Grantly. “1 am sure the priestess won’t approve of it, when she is brought home to the scene of her future duties. Really, Mr. Arabin, no priestess accustomed to such an excellent well as that above could put up with such a grate as this.”

“If there must be a priestess at St. Ewold’s at all, Mrs. Grantly, I think we will leave her to her well and not call down her divine wrath on any of the imperfections rising from our human poverty. However, I own I am amenable to the attractions of a well-cooked dinner, and the grate shall certainly be changed.”

By this time the archdeacon had again ascended, and was now in the dining-room. “Arabin,” said he, speaking in his usual loud, clear voice and with that tone of dictation which was so common to him, “you must positively alter this dining-room — that is, remodel it altogether. Look here, it is just sixteen feet by fifteen; did any man ever hear of a dining-room of such proportions!” The archdeacon stepped the room long-ways and cross-ways with ponderous steps, as though a certain amount of ecclesiastical dignity could be imparted even to such an occupation as that by the manner of doing it. “Barely sixteen; you may call it a square.”

“It would do very well for a round table,” suggested the ex-warden.

Now there was something peculiarly unorthodox, in the archdeacon’s estimation, in the idea of a round table. He had always been accustomed to a goodly board of decent length, comfortably elongating itself according to the number of the guests, nearly black with perpetual rubbing, and as bright as a mirror. Now round dinner-tables are generally of oak, or else of such new construction as not to have acquired the peculiar hue which was so pleasing to him. He connected them with what he called the nasty newfangled method of leaving a cloth on the table, as though to warn people that they were not to sit long. In his eyes there was something democratic and parvenu in a round table. He imagined that dissenters and calico-printers chiefly used them, and perhaps a few literary lions more conspicuous for their wit than their gentility. He was a little flurried at the idea of such an article being introduced into the diocese by a protégé of his own and at the instigation of his father-inlaw.

“A round dinner-table,” said he with some heat, “is the most abominable article of furniture that ever was invented. I hope that Arabin has more taste than to allow such a thing in his house.”

Poor Mr. Harding felt himself completely snubbed and of course said nothing further, but Mr. Arabin, who had yielded submissively in the small matters of the cellar and kitchen grate, found himself obliged to oppose reforms which might be of a nature too expensive for his pocket

“But it seems to me, Archdeacon, that I can’t very well lengthen the room without pulling down the wall, and if I pull down the wall, I must build it up again; then if I throw out a bow on this side, I must do the same on the other, and if I do it for the ground floor, I must carry it up to the floor above. That will be putting a new front to the house and will cost, I suppose, a couple of hundred pounds. The ecclesiastical commissioners will hardly assist me when they hear that my grievance consists in having a dining-room only sixteen feet long.”

The archdeacon proceeded to explain that nothing would be easier than adding six feet to the front of the dining-room without touching any other room in the house. Such irregularities of construction in small country-houses were, he said, rather graceful than otherwise, and he offered to pay for the whole thing out of his own pocket if it cost more than forty pounds. Mr. Arabin, however, was firm, and, although the archdeacon fussed and fumed about it, would not give way. Forty pounds, he said, was a matter of serious moment to him, and his friends, if under such circumstances they would be good-natured enough to come to him at all, must put up with the misery of a square room. He was willing to compromise matters by disclaiming any intention of having a round table.

“But,” said Mrs. Grantly, “what if the priestess insists on having both the rooms enlarged?”

“The priestess in that case must do it for herself, Mrs. Grantly.”

“I have no doubt she will be well able to do so,” replied the lady; “to do that and many more wonderful things. I am quite sure that the priestess of St. Ewold, when she does come, won’t come empty-handed.”

Mr. Arabin, however, did not appear well inclined to enter into speculative expenses on such a chance as this, and therefore any material alterations in the house the cost of which could not fairly be made to lie at the door either of the ecclesiastical commissioners or of the estate of the late incumbent were tabooed. With this essential exception, the archdeacon ordered, suggested, and carried all points before him in a manner very much to his own satisfaction. A close observer, had there been one there, might have seen that his wife had been quite as useful in the matter as himself. No one knew better than Mrs. Grantly the appurtenances necessary to a comfortable house. She did not, however, think it necessary to lay claim to any of the glory which her lord and master was so ready to appropriate as his own.

Having gone through their work effectually and systematically, the party returned to Plumstead well satisfied with their expedition.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43