Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IX

The Vicar’s Return

The next morning Mr Robarts took leave of all his grand friends with a heavy heart. He had lain awake half the night thinking of what he had done and trying to reconcile himself to his position. He had not well left Mr Sowerby’s room before he felt certain that at the end of three months he would again be troubled about that 400L. As he went along the passage, all the man’s known antecedents crowded upon him much quicker than he could remember them when seated in that arm-chair with the bill stamp before him, and the pen and ink ready to his hand. He remembered what Lord Lufton had told him — how he had complained of having been left in the lurch; he thought of all the stories current throughout the entire country as to the impossibility of getting money from Chaldicotes; he brought to mind the known character of the man, and then he knew that he must prepare himself to make good a portion at least of that heavy payment. Why had he come to this horrid place? Had he not everything at home at Framley at which the heart of man could desire? No; the heart of man can desire deaneries — the heart, that is, of the man vicar; and the heart of the man dean can desire bishoprics; and before the eyes of the man bishop does there not loom the transcendental glory of Lambeth? He had owned to himself that he was ambitious; but he had to own to himself now that he had hitherto taken but a sorry path towards the object of his ambition. On the next morning at breakfast-time, before his horse and gig arrived for him, no one was so bright as his friend Sowerby. ‘So you are off, are you?’ said he.

‘Yes, I shall go this morning.’

‘Say everything that’s kind from me to Lufton. I may possibly see him hunting; otherwise we shan’t meet till the spring. As to my going to Framley, that’s out of the question. Her ladyship would look for my tail, and swear that she smelt brimstone. By-bye, old fellow!’

The German student when he first made his bargain with the devil felt an indescribable attraction to his new friend; and such was the case now with Robarts. He shook Sowerby’s hand very warmly, said that he hoped he should meet him soon somewhere, and professed himself specially anxious to hear how that affair with the lady came off. As he had made his bargain — as he had undertaken to pay nearly half a year’s income for his dear friend — ought he not to have as much value as possible for his money? If the dear friendship of this flash member of Parliament did not represent that value, what else did so? But then he felt, or fancied that he felt, that Mr Sowerby did not care for him so much this morning as he had done on the previous evening. ‘By-bye,’ said Mr Sowerby, but he spoke no word as to such future meetings, nor did he even promise to write. Mr Sowerby probably had many things on his mind; and it might be that it behoved him, having finished one piece of business, immediately to look for another.

The sum for which Robarts had made himself responsible — which he so much feared that he would be called upon to pay — was very nearly half a year’s income; and as yet he had not put by one shilling since he had been married. When he found himself settled in his parsonage, he found also that all the world regarded him as a rich man. He had taken the dictum of all the world as true, and had set himself to work to live comfortably. He had no absolute need of a curate; but he could afford the 70L— as Lady Lufton had said rather injudiciously; and by keeping Jones in the parish he would be acting charitably to a brother clergyman, and would also place himself in a more independent position. Lady Lufton had wished to see her pet clergyman well-to-do and comfortable; but now, as matters had turned out, she much regretted this affair of the curate. Mr Jones, she said to herself more than once, must be made to depart from Framley. He had given his wife a pony-carriage, and for himself he had a saddle-horse, and a second horse for his gig. A man in his position, well-to-do, as he was, required as much as that. He had a footman also, and a gardener and a groom. The two latter were absolutely necessary, but about the former there had been a question. His wife had been decidedly hostile to the footman; but in all such matters as that, to doubt is to be lost. When the footman had been discussed for a week it became quite clear to the master he also was a necessity.

As he drove home that morning he pronounced to himself the doom of that footman, and the doom also of that saddle-horse. They at any rate should go. And then he would spend no more money in trips to Scotland; and above all, he would keep out of the bedrooms of impoverished members of Parliament at the witching hour of midnight. Such resolves did he make to himself wearily how that 400L might be made to be forthcoming. As to any assistance in the matter from Sowerby — of that he gave himself no promise. But he almost felt himself happy again as his wife came out into the porch to meet him with a silk shawl over her head, and pretending to shiver as she watched him descending from his gig. ‘My dear old man,’ she said, as she led him into the warm drawing-room with all his wrappings still around him, ‘you must be starved.’ But Mark during the whole drive had been thinking too much of that transaction in Mr Sowerby’s bedroom to remember that he was cold. Now he had his arms round his own dear Fanny’s waist; but was he to tell her of that transaction? At any rate he would not do it now, while his two boys were in his arms, rubbing the moisture from his whiskers with his kisses. After all, what is there equal to coming home?

‘And so Lufton is here. I say, Frank, gently, old boy,’— Frank was his eldest son —‘you’ll have baby into the fender.’

‘Let me take baby; it’s impossible to hold the two of them, they are so strong,’ said the proud mother. ‘Oh, yes, he came home early yesterday.’

‘Have you seen him?’

‘He was here yesterday, with her ladyship; and I lunched there today. The letter came, you know, in time to stop the Merediths. They don’t go till tomorrow, so you will meet them after all. Sir George is wild about it, but Lady Lufton would have her way. You never saw her in such a state as she is.’

‘Good spirit, eh!’

‘I should think so. All Lord Lufton’s horses are coming, and he’s to be there till March.’

‘Till March!’

‘So her ladyship whispered to me. She could not conceal her triumph at his coming. He’s going to give up Leicestershire this year altogether. I wonder what has brought it all about?’ Mark knew very well what had brought it about; he had been made acquainted, as the reader has also, with the price which Lady Lufton had purchased her son’s visit. But no one had told Mrs Robarts that the mother had made her son a present of five thousand pounds.

‘She’s in a good humour about everything now,’ continued Fanny; ‘so you need say nothing at all about Gatherum Castle.’

‘But she was very angry when she first heard it; was she not?’

‘Well, Mark, to tell the truth, she was; and we had quite a scene there up in her own room upstairs — Justinia and I. She had heard something else that she did not like at the same time; and then — but you know her way. She blazed up quite a lot.’

‘And said all manner of things about me.’

‘About the duke she did. You know she never did like the duke; and for the matter of that, neither do I. I tell you that fairly, Master Mark.’

‘The duke is not so bad as he’s painted.’

‘Ah, that’s what you say about another great person. However, he won’t come here to trouble us, I suppose. And then I left her, not in the best temper in the world; for I blazed up too, you must know.’

‘I am sure you did,’ said Mark, pressing his arm round her waist.

‘And then we were going to have a dreadful war, I thought; and I came home and wrote such a doleful letter to you. But what should happen when I had just closed it, but in came her ladyship — all alone, and — But I can’t tell you what she did or said, only she behaved beautifully; just like herself too; so full of love and truth and honesty. There’s nobody like her, Mark; and she’s better than all the dukes that ever wore — whatever dukes do wear.’

‘Horns and hoofs; that’s their usual apparel, according to you and Lady Lufton,’ said he, remembering what Mr Sowerby had said of himself.

‘You may say what you like about me, Mark, but you shan’t abuse Lady Lufton. And if horns and hoofs mean wickedness and dissipation, I believe it’s not far wrong. But get off your big coat and make yourself comfortable.’ And that was all the scolding that Mark Robarts got from his wife on the occasion of his great iniquity.

‘I will certainly tell her about this bill transaction,’ he said to himself; ‘but not today; not till after I have seen Lufton.’ That evening they dined at Framley Court, and there they met the young lord; they found also Lady Lufton still in high good-humour. Lord Lufton himself was a fine, bright-looking young man; not as tall as Mark Robarts, and with perhaps less intelligence marked on his face; but his features were finer, and there was in his countenance a thorough appearance of good-humour and sweet temper. It was indeed a pleasant face to look upon, and dearly Lady Lufton loved to gaze at it.

‘Well, Mark, so you have been among the Philistines?’ that was his lordship’s first remark. Robarts laughed as he took his friend’s hands, and bethought himself how truly that was the case; that he was, in very truth, already ‘himself in bonds under Philistian yoke’. Alas, alas, it is very hard to break asunder the bonds of the latter-day Philistines. When a Samson does now and then pull a temple down about their ears, is he not sure to be engulfed in the ruin with them? There is not horse-leech that sticks so fast as your latter-day Philistine.

‘So you have caught Sir George, after all,’ said Lady Lufton; and that was nearly all she said in allusion to his absence. There was afterwards some conversation about the lecture, and from her ladyship’s remarks it certainly was apparent that she did not like the people among whom the vicar had been lately staying; but she said no word that was personal to him himself, or that could be taken as a reproach. The little episode of Mrs Proudie’s address in the lecture-room had already reached Framley, and it was only to be expected that Lady Lufton should enjoy the joke. She would affect to believe that the body of the lecture had been given by the bishop’s wife; and afterwards, when Mark described her costume at that Sunday morning breakfast table, Lady Lufton would assume that such had been the dress in which she had addressed her faculties in public.

‘I would have given a five-pound note to have heard it,’ said Sir George.

‘So would not I,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘When one hears of such things described as graphically as Mr Robarts now tells it, one can hardly help laughing. But it would me great pain to see the wife of one of our bishops place herself in such a situation. For he is a bishop after all.’

‘Well, upon my word, my lady, I agree with Meredith,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘It must have been good fun. As it did happen, you know — as the Church was doomed to disgrace — I should like to have heard it.’

‘I know you would have been shocked, Ludovic.’

‘I should have got over it in time, mother. It would have been like a bull-fight, I suppose — horrible to see, no doubt, but extremely interesting. And Harold Smith, Mark; what did he do all the while?’

‘It didn’t take so very long, you know,’ said Robarts.

‘And the poor bishop,’ said Lady Meredith; ‘how did he look? I really do pity him.’

‘Well, he was asleep, I think.’

‘What, slept through it all?’ said Sir George.

‘It awakened him; and then he jumped up and said something.’

‘What, out loud, too?’

‘Only one word or so.’

‘What a disgraceful scene,’ said Lady Lufton. ‘To those who remember the good old man who was in the diocese before him, it is perfectly shocking. He confirmed you, Ludovic, and you ought to remember him. It was over at Barchester, and you went and lunched with him afterwards.’

‘I do remember; and especially this, that I never ate such tarts in my life, before or since. The old man particularly called my attention to them, and seemed remarkably pleased that I concurred in his sentiments. There are no such tarts as those going to the palace now, I’ll be bound.’

‘Mrs Proudie will be very happy to do her best for you if you will go and try,’ said Sir George.

‘I beg that he will do no such thing,’ said Lady Lufton; and that was the only severe word she said about any of Mark’s visitings. As Sir George Meredith was there, Robarts could say nothing then to Lord Lufton about Mr Sowerby and Mr Sowerby’s money affairs; but he did make an appointment for a tete-a-tete on the next morning.

‘You must come down and see my nags, Mark; they came today. The Merediths will be off at twelve, and then we can have an hour together.’ Mark said he would, and then went home with his wife under his arm.

‘Well now, is not she kind?’ said Fanny, as soon as they were out on the gravel together.

‘She is kind; kinder than I can tell you at present. But did you ever know anything so bitter as she is to the poor bishop? And really the bishop is not so bad.’

‘Yes; and I know something more bitter; and that is what she thinks of the bishop’s wife. And you know, Mark, it was so unladylike, her getting up in that way. What must the people at Barchester think of her?’

‘As far as I could see, the people of Barchester liked it.’

‘Nonsense, Mark; they could not. But never mind that now. I want you to own that she is good.’ And then Mrs Robarts went on with another long eulogy on the dowager. Since that affair of the pardon-begging at the parsonage, Mrs Robarts hardly knew how to think well enough of her friend. And the evening had been so pleasant after that dreadful storm and threatenings of hurricanes; her husband had been so well received after his lapse of judgement; the wounds that had looked so sore had been so thoroughly healed, and everything was so pleasant. How all of this would have been changed had she known of that little bill! At twelve the next morning the lord and the vicar were walking through the Framley stables together. Quite a commotion had been made there, for the larger portion of those buildings had been of late years seldom been used. But now all was crowding and activity. Seven or eight precious animals had followed Lord Lufton from Leicestershire, and all of them required dimensions that were thought to be rather excessive by the Framley old-fashioned groom. My lord, however, had a head man of his own who took the matter quite into his own hands. Mark, priest as he was, was quite worldly enough to be fond of a good horse; and for some little time allowed Lord Lufton to decant on the merit of this four-year-old filly, and that magnificent Rattlebones colt, out of a Mousetrap mare; but he had other things that lay heavy on his mind, and after bestowing half an hour on the stud, he contrived to get his friend away to the shrubbery walks.

‘So you have settled with old Sowerby,’ Robarts began by saying.

‘Settled with him; yes, but do you know the price?’

‘I believe that you have paid five thousand pounds.’

‘Yes, and about three before; and that is a matter in which I did not really owe one shilling. Whatever I do in future, I’ll keep out of Sowerby’s grip.’

But you don’t think he was unfair to you.’

‘Mark, to tell you the truth, I have banished the affair from my mind, and don’t wish to take it up again. My mother has paid the money to save the property, and of course I must pay her back. But I think I may promise that I will not have any more money dealings with Sowerby. I will not say that he is dishonest, but at any rate he is sharp.’

‘Well, Lufton; what will you say when I tell you that I have put my name to a bill for him, for four hundred pounds?’

‘Say; why I should say —; but you’re joking; a man in your position would never do such a thing.’

‘But I have done it.’ Lord Lufton gave a long low whistle.

‘He asked me the last night that I was there, making a great favour of it, and declaring that no bill of his had ever been dishonoured.’

Lord Lufton whistled again. ‘No bill of his dishonoured! Why, the pocket-books of the Jews are stuffed full of his dishonoured papers! And you have really given him your name for four hundred pounds?’

‘I have certainly.’

‘At what date?’

‘Three months.’

‘And have you thought where you are to get the money?’

‘I know very well that I can’t get it, not at least by that time. The bankers must renew it for me, and I must pay it be degrees. That is, if Sowerby really does not take it up.’

‘It is just as likely he will take up the National Debt.’ Robarts then told him about the projected marriage with Miss Dunstable, giving it as his opinion that the lady would probably accept the gentleman.

‘Not at all improbable,’ said his lordship, ‘for Sowerby is an agreeable fellow; and if it be so, he will have all that he wants for life. But his creditors will gain nothing. The duke, who has his title-deeds, will doubtless get his money, and the estate will in fact belong to the wife. But the small fry, such as you, will not get a shilling.’ Poor Mark! He had an inkling of this before; but it had hardly presented itself to him in such certain terms. It was then, a positive fact, that in punishment for his weakness in having signed the bill he would have to pay, not only four hundred pounds, but four hundred pounds with interest, and expenses of renewal, and commission and bill stamps. Yes; he had certainly got among the Philistines during his visit to the duke. It began to appear to him pretty clearly that it would have been better for him to have relinquished altogether the glories of Chaldicotes and Gatherum Castle.

And now, how was he to tell his wife?

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