Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLV

Palace Blessings

And now, at this period, terrible rumours found their way into Barchester, and flew about the cathedral towers and round the cathedral door; aye, and into the canons’ houses and the humbler sitting-rooms of the vicars choral. Whether they made their way thence up to the bishop’s palace, or whether they descended from the palace to the close, I will not pretend to say. But they were shocking, unnatural, and no doubt grievous to all those excellent ecclesiastical hearts which cluster so thickly in those quarters. The first of these had reference to the new prebendary, and to the disgrace which he had brought on the chapter; a disgrace, as some of them boasted, which Barchester had never known before. This, however, like most other boasts, was hardly true; for within but a very few years there had been an execution in the house of a late prebendary, old Dr Stanhope; and on that occasion the doctor himself had been forced to fly away to Italy, starting in the night, lest he also should fall into the hands of the Philistines, as well as his chairs and tables. ‘It is a scandalous shame,’ said Mrs Proudie, speaking not of the old doctor, but of the new offender; ‘a scandalous shame: and it would only serve him right if the gown were stripped from his back.’

‘I suppose his living will be sequestered,’ said a young minor canon who attended much to the ecclesiastical injunctions of the lady of the diocese, and was deservedly held in high favour. If Framley were sequestered, why should not he, as well as another, undertake the duty — with such stipend as the bishop might award?

‘I am told that he is over his head and ears in debt,’ said the future Mrs Tickler, ‘and chiefly for horses which he has bought and not paid for.’

‘I see him riding very splendid animals when he comes over for the cathedral duties,’ said a minor canon.

‘The sheriff’s officers are in the house at present, I am told,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘And is he not in jail?’ said Mrs Tickler.

‘If not, he ought to be,’ said Mrs Tickler’s mother.

‘And no doubt soon will be,’ said the minor canon; ‘for I hear that he is linked up with the most discreditable gang of persons.’

This was what was said in the palace on that heading; and though, no doubt, more spirit and poetry was displayed there than in the houses of the less gifted clergy, this shows the manner in which the misfortune of Mr Robarts was generally discussed. Nor, indeed, had he deserved any better treatment at their hands. But his name did not run the gauntlet for the usual nine days; nor, indeed, did his fame endure at its height for more than two. This sudden fall was occasioned by other tidings of a still more depressing nature; by a rumour which so affected Mrs Proudie that it caused, as she said, her blood to creep. And she was very careful that the blood of others should creep also, if the blood of others was equally sensitive. It was said that Lord Dumbello had jilted Miss Grantly. From what adverse spot in the world these cruel tidings fell upon Barchester I have never been able to discover. We know how quickly rumour flies, making herself common through all the cities. That Mrs Proudie should have known more of the facts connected with the Hartletop family than any one else in Barchester was not surprising, seeing that she was so much more conversant with the great world in which such people lived. She knew, and was therefore correct enough in declaring, that Lord Dumbello had already jilted one other young lady — the Lady Julia Mac Mull, to whom he had been engaged three seasons back, and that therefore his character in such matters was not to be trusted. That Lady Julia had been a terrible flirt and greatly given to waltzing with a certain German count, with whom she had since gone off — that, I suppose, Mrs Proudie did not know, much as she was conversant with the great world — seeing that she said nothing about it to any of her ecclesiastical listeners on the present occasion.

‘It will be a terrible warning, Mrs Quiverful, to us all; a most useful warning to us — not to trust to the things of this world. I fear they made no inquiry about this young nobleman before they agreed that his name should be linked with that of their daughter.’ This she said to the wife of the present warden of Hiram’s Hospital, a lady who had received favours from her, and was therefore bound to listen attentively to her voice.

‘But I hope it may not be true,’ said Mrs Quiverful, who, in spite of the allegiance due by her to Mrs Proudie, had reasons of her own for wishing well to the Grantly family.

‘I hope so, indeed,’ said Mrs Proudie, with a slight tinge of anger in her voice; ‘but I fear that there is no doubt. And I must confess that it is no more than we had a right to expect. I hope that it may be taken by all of us as a lesson, and an ensample, and a teaching of the Lord’s mercy. And I wish you would request your husband — from me, Mrs Quiverful — to dwell on this subject in morning and evening lecture at the hospital on Sabbath next, showing how false is the trust which we put in the good things of this world;’ which behest, to a certain extent, Mr Quiverful did obey, feeling that a quiet life at Barchester was of great value to him; but he did not go so far as to caution his hearers, who consisted of the aged bedesmen of the hospital, against matrimonial projects of an ambitious nature. In this case, as in all others of the kind, the report was known to all the chapter before it had been heard by the archdeacon or his wife. The dean heard it, and disregarded it; as did also the dean’s wife — at first; and those who generally sided with the Grantlys in the diocesan battles pooh-poohed the tidings, saying to each other that both the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly were very well able to take care of their own affairs. But dripping water hollows a stone; and at last it was admitted on all sides that there was ground for fear — on all sides, except at Plumstead.

‘I am sure there is nothing in it; I really am sure of it,’ said Mrs Arabin, whispering to her sister; ‘but after turning it over in my mind, I thought it right to tell you. And yet I don’t know now but I am wrong.’

‘Quite right, dearest Eleanor,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘And I am much obliged to you. But we understand it, you know. It comes, of course, like all other Christian blessings, from the palace.’ And then there was nothing more said on it between Mrs Grantly and her sister. But on the following morning there arrived a letter by post, addressed to Mrs Grantly, bearing the postmark of Littlebath. The letter ran:-

‘MADAM, ‘It is known to the writer that Lord Dumbello has arranged with certain friends how he may escape from his present engagement. I think, therefore, that it is my duty as a Christian to warn you of this. ‘Yours truly, ‘A WELLWISHER’

Now it had happened that the embryo Mrs Tickler’s most intimate bosom friend and confidante was known at Plumstead to live at Littlebath, and it had also happened — most unfortunately — that the embryo Mrs Tickler, in the warmth of her neighbourly regard, had written a friendly line to her friend Griselda Grantly, congratulating her with all the female sincerity on her splendid nuptials with the Lord Dumbello.

‘It is not her natural hand,’ said Mrs Grantly, talking the matter over with her husband, ‘but you may be sure it has come from her. It is part of the new Christianity which we learn day by day from the palace teaching.’ But these things had some effect on the archdeacon’s mind. He had learned lately the story of Lady Julia Mac Mull, and was not sure that his son-inlaw — as ought to be about to be — had been entirely blameless in that matter. And then in these days Lord Dumbello made no great sign. Immediately on Griselda’s return he had sent her a magnificent present of emeralds, which, however, had come to her direct from the jewellers, and might have been — and probably was — ordered by his man of business. Since that he had neither come, nor sent, nor written. Griselda did not seem to be in any way annoyed by this absence of the usual sign of love, and went on steadily with her great duties. Nothing, as she told her mother, had been said about writing, and, therefore, she did not expect it. But the archdeacon was not quite at his ease. ‘Keep Dumbello up to his p’s and q’s, you know,’ a friend of his had whispered to him at his club. By heavens, yes. The archdeacon was not a man to bear with indifference a wrong in such a quarter. In spite of his clerical profession, few men were more inclined to fight against personal wrongs — and few men more able.

‘Can there by anything wrong, I wonder?’ said he to his wife. ‘Is it worth while that I should go up to London?’ But Mrs Grantly attributed it all to the palace doctrine. What could be more natural, looking at all the circumstances of the Tickler engagement? She therefore gave her voice against any steps being taken by the archdeacon. A day or two after that Mrs Proudie met Mrs Arabin in the close and condoled with her openly on the termination of the marriage treaty; — quite openly, for Mrs Tickler — as she was to be — was with her mother, and Mrs Arabin was accompanied by her sister-inlaw, Mary Bold.

‘It must be very grievous to Mrs Grantly, very grievous indeed,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘and I sincerely feel for her. But, Mrs Arabin, all these lessons are sent to us for our eternal welfare.’

‘Of course,’ said Mrs Arabin. ‘But as to this special lesson, I am inclined to doubt that it —’

‘Ah-h! I fear it is too true. I fear that there is no room for doubt. Of course you are aware that Lord Dumbello is off for the Continent.’ Mrs Arabin was not aware of it and she was obliged to admit as much.

‘He started four days ago, by way of Boulogne,’ said Mrs Tickler, who seemed to be very well up in the whole affair. ‘I am so sorry for poor dear Griselda. I am told she has got all her things. It is such a pity, you know.’

‘But why should not Lord Dumbello come back from the Continent?’ said Miss Bold, very quietly.

‘Why not, indeed? I’m sure I hope he may,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘And no doubt he will some day. But if he be such a man as they say he is, it is really well for Griselda that she should be relieved from such a marriage. For, after all, Mrs Arabin, what are the things of this world? — dust beneath our feet, ashes between our teeth, grass cut for the oven, vanity, vexation, and nothing more!’— well pleased with which variety of Christian metaphors, Mrs Proudie walked on, still muttering, however, something about worms and grubs, by which she intended to signify her own species and the Dumbello and Grantly sects of it in particular. This now had gone so far that Mrs Arabin conceived herself bound in duty to see her sister, and it was then settled in consultation at Plumstead that the archdeacon should call officially at the palace and beg that the rumour might be contradicted. This he did early on the next morning, and was shown into the bishop’s study, in which he found both his lordship and Mrs Proudie. The bishop rose to greet him with special civility, smiling his very sweetest smile on him, as though of all his clergy the archdeacon were the favourite; but Mrs Proudie wore something of a gloomy aspect, as though she knew that such a visit at such an hour must have reference to some special business. The morning calls made by the archdeacon at the palace in the way of ordinary civility were not numerous. On the present occasion he dashed at once into his subject. ‘I have called this morning, Mrs Proudie,’ said he, ‘because I wish to ask a favour from you.’ Whereupon Mrs Proudie bowed.

‘Mrs Proudie will be most happy, I am sure,’ said the bishop.

‘I find that some foolish people have been talking in Barchester about my daughter,’ said the archdeacon; ‘and I wish to ask Mrs Proudie —’

Most women under such circumstances would have felt the awkwardness of their situation, and would have prepared to eat their past words with wry faces. But not so Mrs Proudie. Mrs Grantly had the imprudence to throw Mr Slope in her face — there, in her own drawing-room, and she was resolved to be revenged. Mrs Grantly, too, had ridiculed the Tickler match, and no too great niceness should now prevent Mrs Proudie from speaking her mind about the Dumbello match.

‘A great many people are talking about her, I am sorry to say,’ said Mrs Proudie; ‘but, poor dear, it is not her fault. It might have happened to any girl; only, perhaps a little more care —; you’ll excuse me, Dr Grantly.’

‘I have come here to allude to a report which has been spread about in Barchester, that the match between Lord Dumbello and my daughter has been broken off and —’

‘Everybody in Barchester knows it, I believe,’ said Mrs Proudie.

—‘and,’ continued the archdeacon, ‘to request that that report may be contradicted.’

‘Contradicted! Why, he has gone right away — out of the country!’

‘Never mind where he has gone to, Mrs Proudie; I beg that that report may be contradicted.’

‘You’ll have to go round to every house in Barchester then,’ said she.

‘By no means,’ replied the archdeacon. ‘And, perhaps, it may be right that I should explain to the bishop that I came here because —’

‘The bishop knows nothing about it,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Nothing in the world,’ said his lordship. ‘And I am sure I hope that the young lady may not be disappointed.’

—‘because the matter was so distinctly mentioned to Mrs Arabin by yourself yesterday.’

‘Distinctly mentioned! Of course it was distinctly mentioned. There are some things which can’t be kept under a bushel, Dr Grantly; and this seems to be one of them. Your going about in this way won’t make Lord Dumbello marry the young lady.’ That was true; nor would it make Mrs Proudie hold her tongue. Perhaps the archdeacon was wrong in his present errand, and so now he began to bethink himself. ‘At any rate,’ said he, ‘when I tell you that there is no ground whatever for such a report you will do me the kindness to say that, as far as you are concerned, it shall go no further. I think, my lord, I am not asking too much in asking that.’

‘The bishop knows nothing about it,’ said Mrs Proudie again.

‘Nothing at all,’ said the bishop.

‘And as I must protest that I believe the information which has reached me on this head,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘I do not see how it is possible that I should contradict it. I can understand your feelings, Dr Grantly. Considering your daughter’s position the match, as regards earthly wealth, is a very great one. I do not wonder that you should be grieved at its being broken off; but I trust that this sorrow may eventuate in a blessing to you and to Miss Griselda. These worldly disappointments are precious balms, and I trust you know how to accept them as such.’ The fact was that Dr Grantly had done altogether wrong in coming to the palace. His wife might have some chance with Mrs Proudie, but he had none. Since she had come to Barchester he had had only two or three encounters with her, and in all of these cases he had gone to the wall. His visits to the palace have always resulted in his leaving the presence of the inhabitants in a frame of mind by no means desirable, and he now found that he had to do it once again. He could not compel Mrs Proudie to say that the report was untrue; nor could he condescend to make counter hits at her about her own daughter, as his wife would have done. And thus having utterly failed, he got up and took his leave. But the worst of the matter was, that, in going home, he could not divest his mind of the idea that there might be some truth in the report. What if Lord Dumbello had gone to the Continent resolved to send back from thence some reason why it was impossible that he should make Miss Grantly his wife? Such things had been done before now by men in his rank. Whether or no Mrs Tickler had been the letter-writing wellwisher from Littlebath, or had induced her friend to do so, it did seem manifest to him, Dr Grantly, that Mrs Proudie absolutely believed the report which she promulgated so diligently. The wish might be father to the thought, no doubt; but that the thought was truly there, Dr Grantly could not induce himself to disbelieve. His wife was less credulous, and to a certain degree comforted him; but that evening he received a letter which greatly confirmed the suspicions set on foot by Mrs Proudie, and even shook his wife’s faith in Lord Dumbello. It was from a mere acquaintance, who in the ordinary course of things would not have written to him. And the bulk of the letter referred to ordinary things, as to which the gentleman in question would hardly have thought of giving himself the trouble of writing a letter. But at the end of the note he said — ‘Of course you are aware that Dumbello is off to Paris; I have not heard whether the exact day of his return is fixed.’

‘It is true, then,’ said the archdeacon, striking the library table with his hand, and becoming absolutely white about the mouth and jaws.

‘It cannot be,’ said Mrs Grantly; but even she was now trembling.

‘If it be so, I’ll drag him back to England by the collar of his coat, and disgrace him before the steps of his father’s hall.’ And the archdeacon as he uttered the threat looked his character as an irate British father much better than he did his other character as a clergyman of the Church of England. The archdeacon had been greatly worsted by Mrs Proudie, but he was a man who knew how to fight his battles among men — sometimes without too close a regard to his cloth.

‘Had Lord Dumbello intended any such thing he would have written or got some friend to write by this time,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘It is quite possible that he might wish to be off, but he would be too chary of his name not to endeavour to do so with decency.’

Thus the matter was discussed, and it appeared to them both to be so serious that the archdeacon resolved to go at once to London. That Lord Dumbello had gone to France he did not doubt; but he would find some one in town acquainted with the young man’s intentions, and he would, no doubt, be able to hear when his return was expected. If there were real reason for apprehension he would follow the runagate to the Continent, but he would not do this without absolute knowledge. According to Lord Dumbello’s present engagements he was bound to present himself in August next at Plumstead Episcopi, with the view then and there taking Griselda Grantly in marriage; but if he kept his word in this respect no one had a right to quarrel with him for going to Paris in the meantime. Most expectant bridegrooms would, no doubt, under such circumstances, have declared their intelligence to future brides; but if Lord Dumbello were different from others, who had a right on that account to be indignant with him? He was unlike other men in other things; and especially unlike other men in being the eldest son of the Marquess of Hartletop. It would be all very well for Tickler to proclaim his whereabouts from week to week; but the eldest son of a marquess might find it inconvenient to be precise! Nevertheless the archdeacon thought it only prudent to go up to London. ‘Susan,’ said the archdeacon to his wife, just as he was starting; — at this moment neither of them were in the happiest of spirits —‘I think I would say a word of caution to Griselda.’

‘Do you feel so much doubt about it as that?’ said Mrs Grantly. But even she did not dare to put a direct negative to this proposal, so much had she been moved by what she had heard!

‘I think I would do so, not frightening her more than I could help. It will lessen the blow if it be that the blow is to fall.’

‘It will kill me,’ said Mrs Grantly; ‘but I think that she will be able to bear it.’ On the next morning Mrs Grantly, with much cunning preparation, went about the task that her husband had left her to perform. It took her long to do, for she was very cunning in the doing of it; but at last it dropped form in words that there was a possibility — a bare possibility — that some disappointment might even yet be in store for them.

‘Do you mean, mamma, that the marriage will be put off?’

‘I don’t mean to say that I think it will; God forbid! but it is just possible. I dare say that I am very wrong to tell you this, but I know you have sense enough to bear it. Papa has gone to London, and we shall hear from him soon.’

‘Then, mamma, I had better give them orders not to go on with the marking.’

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