Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

CHAPTER XXIII

Mr. Arabin Reads Himself in at St. Ewold’s

On the Sunday morning the archdeacon with his sister-inlaw and Mr. Arabin drove over to Ullathorne, as had been arranged. On their way thither the new vicar declared himself to be considerably disturbed in his mind at the idea of thus facing his parishioners for the first time. He had, he said, been always subject to mauvaise honte and an annoying degree of bashfulness, which often unfitted him for any work of a novel description, and now he felt this so strongly that he feared he should acquit himself badly in St. Ewold’s reading-desk. He knew, he said, that those sharp little eyes of Miss Thorne would be on him and that they would not approve. All this the archdeacon greatly ridiculed. He himself knew not, and had never known, what it was to be shy. He could not conceive that Miss Thorne, surrounded as she would be by the peasants of Ullathorne and a few of the poorer inhabitants of the suburbs of Barchester, could in any way affect the composure of a man well accustomed to address the learned congregation of St. Mary’s at Oxford, and he laughed accordingly at the idea of Mr. Arabin’s modesty.

Thereupon Mr. Arabin commenced to subtilize. The change, he said, from St. Mary’s to St. Ewold’s was quite as powerful on the spirits as would be that from St. Ewold’s to St. Mary’s. Would not a peer who, by chance of fortune, might suddenly be driven to herd among navvies be as afraid of the jeers of his companions as would any navvy suddenly exalted to a seat among the peers? Whereupon the archdeacon declared with a loud laugh that he would tell Miss Thorne that her new minister had likened her to a navvy. Eleanor, however, pronounced such a conclusion to be unfair; a comparison might be very just in its proportions which did not at all assimilate the things compared. But Mr. Arabin went on subtilizing, regarding neither the archdeacon’s raillery nor Eleanor’s defence. A young lady, he said, would execute with most perfect self-possession a difficult piece of music in a room crowded with strangers, who would not be able to express herself in intelligible language, even on any ordinary subject and among her most intimate friends, if she were required to do so standing on a box somewhat elevated among them. It was all an affair of education, and he at forty found it difficult to educate himself anew.

Eleanor dissented on the matter of the box and averred she could speak very well about dresses, or babies, or legs of mutton from any box, provided it were big enough for her to stand upon without fear, even though all her friends were listening to her. The archdeacon was sure she would not be able to say a word, but this proved nothing in favour of Mr. Arabin. Mr. Arabin said that he would try the question out with Mrs. Bold and get her on a box some day when the rectory might be full of visitors. To this Eleanor assented, making condition that the visitors should be of their own set, and the archdeacon cogitated in his mind whether by such a condition it was intended that Mr. Slope should be included, resolving also that, if so, the trial would certainly never take place in the rectory drawing-room at Plumstead.

And so arguing, they drove up to the iron gates of Ullathorne Court.

Mr. and Miss Thorne were standing ready dressed for church in the hall and greeted their clerical visitors with cordiality. The archdeacon was an old favourite. He was a clergyman of the old school, and this recommended him to the lady. He had always been an opponent of free trade as long as free trade was an open question, and now that it was no longer so, he, being a clergyman, had not been obliged, like most of his lay Tory companions, to read his recantation. He could therefore be regarded as a supporter of the immaculate fifty-three, and was on this account a favourite with Mr. Thorne. The little bell was tinkling, and the rural population of the parish were standing about the lane, leaning on the church-stile and against the walls of the old court, anxious to get a look at their new minister as he passed from the house to the rectory. The archdeacon’s servant had already preceded them thither with the vestments.

They all went forth together, and when the ladies passed into the church, the three gentlemen tarried a moment in the lane, that Mr. Thorne might name to the vicar with some kind of one-sided introduction the most leading among his parishioners.

“Here are our churchwardens, Mr. Arabin — Farmer Greenacre and Mr. Stiles. Mr. Stiles has the mill as you go into Barchester; and very good churchwardens they are.”

“Not very severe, I hope,” said Mr. Arabin. The two ecclesiastical officers touched their hats and each made a leg in the approved rural fashion, assuring the vicar that they were very glad to have the honour of seeing him and adding that the weather was very good for the harvest. Mr. Stiles, being a man somewhat versed in town life, had an impression of his own dignity and did not quite like leaving his pastor under the erroneous idea that he being a churchwarden kept the children in order during church time. ’Twas thus he understood Mr. Arabin’s allusion to his severity and hastened to put matters right by observing that “Sexton Clodheve looked to the younguns, and perhaps sometimes there may be a thought too much stick going on during sermon.” Mr. Arabin’s bright eye twinkled as he caught that of the archdeacon, and he smiled to himself as he observed how ignorant his officers were of the nature of their authority and of the surveillance which it was their duty to keep even over himself.

Mr. Arabin read the lessons and preached. It was enough to put a man a little out, let him have been ever so used to pulpit reading, to see the knowing way in which the farmers cocked their ears and set about a mental criticism as to whether their new minister did or did not fall short of the excellence of him who had lately departed from them. A mental and silent criticism it was for the existing moment, but soon to be made public among the elders of St. Ewold’s over the green graves of their children and forefathers. The excellence, however, of poor old Mr. Goodenough had not been wonderful, and there were few there who did not deem that Mr. Arabin did his work sufficiently well, in spite of the slightly nervous affliction which at first impeded him and which nearly drove the archdeacon beside himself.

But the sermon was the thing to try the man. It often surprises us that very young men can muster courage to preach for the first time to a strange congregation. Men who are as yet but little more than boys, who have but just left what indeed we may not call a school, but a seminary intended for their tuition as scholars, whose thoughts have been mostly of boating, cricketing, and wine-parties, ascend a rostrum high above the heads of the submissive crowd, not that they may read God’s word to those below, but that they may preach their own word for the edification of their hearers. It seems strange to us that they are not stricken dumb by the new and awful solemnity of their position. How am I, just turned twenty-three, who have never yet passed ten thoughtful days since the power of thought first came to me, how am I to instruct these greybeards who, with the weary thinking of so many years, have approached so near the grave? Can I teach them their duty? Can I explain to them that which I so imperfectly understand, that which years of study may have made so plain to them? Has my newly acquired privilege as one of God’s ministers imparted to me as yet any fitness for the wonderful work of a preacher?

It must be supposed that such ideas do occur to young clergymen, and yet they overcome, apparently with ease, this difficulty which to us appears to be all but insurmountable. We have never been subjected in the way of ordination to the power of a bishop’s hands. It may be that there is in them something that sustains the spirit and banishes the natural modesty of youth. But for ourselves we must own that the deep affection which Dominie Sampson felt for his young pupils has not more endeared him to us than the bashful spirit which sent him mute and inglorious from the pulpit when he rose there with the futile attempt to preach God’s gospel.

There is a rule in our church which forbids the younger order of our clergymen to perform a certain portion of the service. The absolution must be read by a minister in priest’s orders. If there be no such minister present, the congregation can have the benefit of no absolution but that which each may succeed in administering to himself. The rule may be a good one, though the necessity for it hardly comes home to the general understanding. But this forbearance on the part of youth would be much more appreciated if it were extended likewise to sermons. The only danger would be that congregations would be too anxious to prevent their young clergymen from advancing themselves in the ranks of the ministry. Clergymen who could not preach would be such blessings that they would be bribed to adhere to their incompetence.

Mr. Arabin, however, had not the modesty of youth to impede him, and he succeeded with his sermon even better than with the lessons. He took for his text two verses out of the second epistle of St. John, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed.” He told them that the house of theirs to which he alluded was this their church, in which he now addressed them for the first time; that their most welcome and proper manner of bidding him God-speed would be their patient obedience to his teaching of the gospel; but that he could put forward no claim to such conduct on their part unless he taught them the great Christian doctrine of works and faith combined. On this he enlarged, but not very amply, and after twenty minutes succeeded in sending his new friends home to their baked mutton and pudding well pleased with their new minister.

Then came the lunch at Ullathorne. As soon as they were in the hall Miss Thorne took Mr. Arabin’s hand and assured him that she received him into her house, into the temple, she said, in which she worshipped, and bade him God-speed with all her heart. Mr. Arabin was touched and squeezed the spinster’s hand without uttering a word in reply. Then Mr. Thorne expressed a hope that Mr. Arabin found the church well adapted for articulation, and Mr. Arabin having replied that he had no doubt he should as soon as he had learnt to pitch his voice to the building, they all sat down to the good things before them.

Miss Thorne took special care of Mrs. Bold. Eleanor still wore her widow’s weeds and therefore had about her that air of grave and sad maternity which is the lot of recent widows. This opened the soft heart of Miss Thorne and made her look on her young guest as though too much could not be done for her. She heaped chicken and ham upon her plate and poured out for her a full bumper of port wine. When Eleanor, who was not sorry to get it, had drunk a little of it, Miss Thorne at once essayed to fill it again. To this Eleanor objected, but in vain. Miss Thorne winked and nodded and whispered, saying that it was the proper thing and must be done, and that she knew all about it; and so she desired Mrs. Bold to drink it up and not mind anybody.

“It is your duty, you know, to support yourself,” she said into the ear of the young mother; “there’s more than yourself depending on it;” and thus she coshered up Eleanor with cold fowl and port wine. How it is that poor men’s wives, who have no cold fowl and port wine on which to be coshered up, nurse their children without difficulty, whereas the wives of rich men, who eat and drink everything that is good, cannot do so, we will for the present leave to the doctors and the mothers to settle between them.

And then Miss Thorne was great about teeth. Little Johnny Bold had been troubled for the last few days with his first incipient masticator, and with that freemasonry which exists among ladies, Miss Thorne became aware of the fact before Eleanor had half-finished her wing. The old lady prescribed at once a receipt which had been much in vogue in the young days of her grandmother and warned Eleanor with solemn voice against the fallacies of modern medicine.

“Take his coral, my dear,” said she, “and rub it well with carrot-juice; rub it till the juice dries on it, and then give it him to play with-”

“But he hasn’t got a coral,” said Eleanor.

“Not got a coral!” said Miss Thorne with almost angry vehemence. “Not got a coral — how can you expect that he should cut his teeth? Have you got Daffy’s Elixir?”

Eleanor explained that she had not. It had not been ordered by Mr. Rerechild, the Barchester doctor whom she employed; and then the young mother mentioned some shockingly modern succedaneum which Mr. Rerechild’s new lights had taught him to recommend.

Miss Thorne looked awfully severe. “Take care, my dear,” said she, “that the man knows what he’s about; take care he doesn’t destroy your little boy. But”— and she softened into sorrow, as she said it, and spoke more in pity than in anger —“but I don’t know who there is in Barchester now that you can trust. Poor dear old Doctor Bumpwell, indeed —”

“Why, Miss Thorne, he died when I was a little girl.”

“Yes, my dear, he did, and an unfortunate day it was for Barchester. As to those young men that have come up since”— Mr. Rerechild, by the by, was quite as old as Miss Thorne herself —“one doesn’t know where they came from or who they are, or whether they know anything about their business or not.”

“I think there are very clever men in Barchester,” said Eleanor.

“Perhaps there may be; only I don’t know them: and it’s admitted on all sides that medical men aren’t now what they used to be. They used to be talented, observing, educated men. But now any whipper-snapper out of an apothecary’s shop can call himself a doctor. I believe no kind of education is now thought necessary.”

Eleanor was herself the widow of a medical man and felt a little inclined to resent all these hard sayings. But Miss Thorne was so essentially good-natured that it was impossible to resent anything she said. She therefore sipped her wine and finished her chicken.

“At any rate, my dear, don’t forget the carrot-juice, and by all means get him a coral at once. My grandmother Thorne had the best teeth in the county and carried them to the grave with her at eighty. I have heard her say it was all the carrot-juice. She couldn’t bear the Barchester doctors. Even poor old Dr. Bumpwell didn’t please her.” It clearly never occurred to Miss Thorne that some fifty years ago Dr. Bumpwell was only a rising man and therefore as much in need of character in the eyes of the then ladies of Ullathorne as the present doctors were in her own.

The archdeacon made a very good lunch and talked to his host about turnip-drillers and new machines for reaping, while the host, thinking it only polite to attend to a stranger, and fearing that perhaps he might not care about turnip crops on a Sunday, mooted all manner of ecclesiastical subjects.

“I never saw a heavier lot of wheat, Thorne, than you’ve got there in that field beyond the copse. I suppose that’s guano,” said the archdeacon.

“Yes, guano. I get it from Bristol myself. You’ll find you often have a tolerable congregation of Barchester people out here, Mr. Arabin. They are very fond of St. Ewold’s, particularly of an afternoon when the weather is not too hot for the walk.”

“I am under an obligation to them for staying away today, at any rate,” said the vicar. “The congregation can never be too small for a maiden sermon.”

“I got a ton and a half at Bradley’s in High Street,” said the archdeacon, “and it was a complete take in. I don’t believe there was five hundredweight of guano in it.”

“That Bradley never has anything good,” said Miss Thorne, who had just caught the name during her whisperings with Eleanor. “And such a nice shop as there used to be in that very house before he came. Wilfred, don’t you remember what good things old Ambleoff used to have?”

“There have been three men since Ambleoff’s time,” said the archdeacon, “and each as bad as the other. But who gets it for you at Bristol, Thorne?”

“I ran up myself this year and bought it out of the ship. I am afraid as the evenings get shorter, Mr. Arabin, you’ll find the reading-desk too dark. I must send a fellow with an axe and make him lop off some of those branches.”

Mr. Arabin declared that the morning light at any rate was perfect and deprecated any interference with the lime-trees. And then they took a stroll out among the trim parterres, and Mr. Arabin explained to Mrs. Bold the difference between a naiad and a dryad and dilated on vases and the shapes of urns. Miss Thorne busied herself among her pansies, and her brother, finding it quite impracticable to give anything of a peculiarly Sunday tone to the conversation, abandoned the attempt and had it out with the archdeacon about the Bristol guano.

At three o’clock they again went into church, and now Mr. Arabin read the service and the archdeacon preached. Nearly the same congregation was present, with some adventurous pedestrians from the city, who had not thought the heat of the midday August sun too great to deter them. The archdeacon took his text from the epistle to Philemon. “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” From such a text it may be imagined the kind of sermon which Dr. Grantly preached, and on the whole it was neither dull, nor bad, nor out of place.

He told them that it had become his duty to look about for a pastor for them, to supply the place of one who had been long among them, and that in this manner he regarded as a son him whom he had selected, as St. Paul had regarded the young disciple whom he sent forth. Then he took a little merit to himself for having studiously provided the best man he could without reference to patronage or favour; but he did not say that the best man according to his views was he who was best able to subdue Mr. Slope and make that gentleman’s situation in Barchester too hot to be comfortable. As to the bonds, they had consisted in the exceeding struggle which he had made to get a good clergyman for them. He deprecated any comparison between himself and St. Paul but said that he was entitled to beseech them for their goodwill towards Mr. Arabin, in the same manner that the apostle had besought Philemon and his household with regard to Onesimus.

The archdeacon’s sermon — text, blessing, and all — was concluded within the half-hour. Then they shook hands with their Ullathorne friends and returned to Plumstead. ’Twas thus that Mr. Arabin read himself in at St. Ewold’s.

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