Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XV

Courcy

When Frank Gresham expressed to his father an opinion that Courcy Castle was dull, the squire, as may be remembered, did not pretend to differ from him. To men such as the squire, and such as the squire’s son, Courcy Castle was dull. To what class of men it would not be dull the author is not prepared to say; but it may be presumed that the De Courcys found it to their liking, or they would have made it other than it was.

The castle itself was a huge brick pile, built in the days of William III, which, though they were grand for days of the construction of the Constitution, were not very grand for architecture of a more material description. It had, no doubt, a perfect right to be called a castle, as it was entered by a castle-gate which led into a court the porter’s lodge for which was built as it were into the wall; there were attached to it also two round, stumpy adjuncts, which were, perhaps properly, called towers, though they did not do much in the way of towering; and, moreover, along one side of the house, over what would otherwise have been the cornice, there ran a castellated parapet, through the assistance of which, the imagination no doubt was intended to supply the muzzles of defiant artillery. But any artillery which would have so presented its muzzle must have been very small, and it may be doubted whether even a bowman could have obtained shelter there.

The grounds about the castle were not very inviting, nor, as grounds, very extensive; though, no doubt, the entire domain was such as suited the importance of so puissant a nobleman as Earl de Courcy. What, indeed, should have been the park was divided out into various large paddocks. The surface was flat and unbroken; and though there were magnificent elm-trees standing in straight lines, like hedgerows, the timber had not that beautiful, wild, scattered look which generally gives the great charm to English scenery.

The town of Courcy — for the place claimed to rank as a town — was in many particulars like the castle. It was built of dingy-red brick — almost more brown than red — and was solid, dull-looking, ugly and comfortable. It consisted of four streets, which were formed by two roads crossing each other, making at the point of junction a centre for the town. Here stood the Red Lion; had it been called the brown lion, the nomenclature would have been more strictly correct; and here, in the old days of coaching, some life had been wont to stir itself at those house in the day and night when the Freetraders, Tallyhoes, and Royal Mails changed their horses. But now there was a railway station a mile and a half distant, and the moving life of the town of Courcy was confined to the Red Lion omnibus, which seemed to pass its entire time in going up and down between the town and the station, quite unembarrassed by any great weight of passengers.

There were, so said the Courcyites when away from Courcy, excellent shops in the place; but they were not the less accustomed, when at home among themselves, to complain to each other of the vile extortion with which they were treated by their neighbours. The ironmonger, therefore, though he loudly asserted that he could beat Bristol in the quality of his wares in one direction, and undersell Gloucester in another, bought his tea and sugar on the sly in one of those larger towns; and the grocer, on the other hand equally distrusted the pots and pans of home production. Trade, therefore, at Courcy, had not thriven since the railway opened: and, indeed, had any patient inquirer stood at the cross through one entire day, counting customers who entered the neighbouring shops, he might well have wondered that any shops in Courcy could be kept open.

And how changed has been the bustle of that once noisy inn to the present death-like silence of its green courtyard! There, a lame ostler crawls about with the hands thrust into the capacious pockets of his jacket, feeding on memory. That weary pair of omnibus jades, and three sorry posters are all that now grace those stables where horses used to be stalled in close contiguity by the dozen; where twenty grains apiece, abstracted from every feed of oats consumed during the day, would have afforded a daily quart to the lucky pilferer.

Come, my friend, and discourse with me. Let us know what are thy ideas of the inestimable benefits which science has conferred on us in these, our latter days. How dost thou, among others, appreciate railways and the power of steam, telegraphs, telegrams, and our new expresses? But indifferently, you say. ‘Time was I’ve zeed vifteen pair o’ ‘osses go out of this ’ere yard in vour-and-twenty hour; and now there be’ant vifteen, no, not ten, in vour-and-twenty days! There was the duik-not this ’un; he be’ant no gude; but this ’un’s vather-why, when he’d come down the road, the cattle did be a-going, vour days an eend. Here’d be the tooter and the young gen’lmen, and the governess and the young leddies, and then the servants-they’d be al’ays the grandest folk of all — and then the duik and doochess — Lord love ‘ee, zur; the money did fly in them days! But now —’ and the feeling of scorn and contempt which the lame ostler was enabled by his native talent to throw into the word ‘now’, was quite as eloquent against the power of steam as anything that has been spoken at dinners, or written in pamphlets by the keenest admirers of latter-day lights.

‘Why, luke at this ’ere town,’ continued he of the sieve, ‘the grass be a-growing in the very streets; — that can’t be no gude. Why, luke ‘ee here, zur; I do be a-standing at this ’ere gateway, just this way, hour arter hour, and my heyes is hopen mostly; — I zees who’s a-coming and who’s a-going. Nobody’s a-coming and nobody’s a-going; that can’t be no gude. Luke at that there homnibus; why, darn me —’ and now, in his eloquence at this peculiar point, my friend became more loud and powerful than ever —‘why, darn me, if maister harns enough with that there bus to put hiron on them osses’ feet, I’ll-be-blowed!’ And as he uttered this hypothetical denunciation on himself he spoke very slowly, bringing out every word as it were separately, and lowering himself at his knees at every sound, moving at the same time his right hand up and down. When he had finished, he fixed his eyes upon the ground, pointing downwards, as if there was to be the site of his doom if the curse that he had called down upon himself should ever come to pass; and then, waiting no further converse, he hobbled away, melancholy, to his deserted stables.

Oh, my friend! my poor lame friend! it will avail nothing to tell thee of Liverpool and Manchester; of the glories of Glasgow, with her flourishing banks; of London, with its third millions of inhabitants; of the great things which commerce is doing for this nation of thine! What is commerce to thee, unless it be commerce in posting on that worn-out, all but useless great western turnpike-road? There is nothing left for thee but to be carted away as rubbish — for thee and for many of us in these now prosperous days; oh, my melancholy, care-ridden friend!

Courcy Castle was certainly a dull place to look at, and Frank, in his former visits, had found that the appearance did not belie the reality. He had been but little there when the earl had been at Courcy; and as he had always felt from his childhood a peculiar taste to the governance of his aunt the countess, this perhaps may have added to his feeling of dislike. Now, however, the castle was to be fuller than he had ever before known it; the earl was to be at home; there was some talk of the Duke of Omnium coming for a day or two, though that seemed doubtful; there was some faint doubt of Lord Porlock; Mr Moffat, intent on the coming election — and also, let us hope, on his coming bliss — was to be one of the guests; and there was also to be the great Miss Dunstable.

Frank, however, found that those grandees were not expected quite immediately. ‘I might go back to Greshamsbury for three or four days as she is not to be here,’ he said naively to his aunt, expressing, with tolerable perspicuity, his feeling, that he regarded his visit to Courcy Castle quite as a matter of business. But the countess would hear of no such arrangement. Now that she had got him, she was not going to let him fall back into the perils of Miss Thorne’s intrigues, or even of Miss Thorne’s propriety. ‘It is quite essential,’ she said, ‘that you should be here a few days before her, so that she may see that you are at home.’ Frank did not understand the reasoning; but he felt himself unable to rebel, and he therefore, remained there, comforting himself, as best he might, with the eloquence of the Honourable George, and the sporting humours of the Honourable John.

Mr Moffat was the earliest arrival of any importance. Frank had not hitherto made the acquaintance of his future brother-inlaw, and there was, therefore, some little interest in the first interview. Mr Moffat was shown into the drawing-room before the ladies had gone up to dress, and it so happened that Frank was there also. As no one else was in the room but his sister and two of his cousins, he had expected to see the lovers rush into each other’s arms. But Mr Moffat restrained his ardour, and Miss Gresham seemed contented that he should do so.

He was a nice, dapper man, rather above the middle height, and good-looking enough had he had a little more expression in his face. He had dark hair, very nicely brushed, small black whiskers, and a small black moustache. His boots were excellently well made, and his hands were very white. He simpered gently as he took hold of Augusta’s fingers, and expressed a hope that she had been quite will since last he had the pleasure of seeing her. Then he touched the hands of the Lady Rosina and the Lady Margaretta.

‘Mr Moffat, allow me to introduce you to my brother?’

‘Most happy, I’m sure,’ said Mr Moffat, again putting out his hand, and allowing it to slip through Frank’s grasp, as he spoke in a pretty, mincing voice: ‘Lady Arabella quite well? — and your father, and sisters? Very warm isn’t it? — quite hot in town, I do assure you.’

‘I hope Augusta likes him,’ said Frank to himself, arguing on the subject exactly as his father had done; ‘but for an engaged lover he seems to me to have a very queer way with him.’ Frank, poor fellow! who was of a coarser mould, would, under such circumstances, have been all for kissing — sometimes, indeed, even under other circumstances.

Mr Moffat did not do much towards improving the conviviality of the castle. He was, of course, a good deal intent upon his coming election, and spent much of his time with Mr Nearthewinde, the celebrated parliamentary agent. It behoved him to be a good deal at Barchester, canvassing the electors and undermining, by Mr Nearthewinde’s aid, the mines for blowing him out of his seat, which were daily being contrived by Mr Closerstil, on behalf of Sir Roger. The battle was to be fought on the internecine principle, no quarter being given or taken on either side; and of course this gave Mr Moffat as much as he knew how to do.

Mr Closerstil was well known to be the sharpest man at his business in all England, unless the palm should be given to his great rival Mr Nearthewinde; and in this instance he was to be assisted in the battle by a very clever young barrister, Mr Romer, who was an admirer of Sir Roger’s career in life. Some people in Barchester, when they saw Sir Roger, Closerstil and Mr Romer saunter down the High Street, arm in arm, declared that it was all up with poor Moffat; but others, in whose head the bump of veneration was strongly pronounced, whispered to each other that great shibboleth — the name of the Duke of Omnium — and mildly asserted it to be impossible that the duke’s nominee should be thrown out.

Our poor friend the squire did not take much interest in the matter except in so far that he liked his son-inlaw to be in Parliament. Both the candidates were in his eye equally wrong in their opinions. He had long since recanted those errors of his early youth, which had cost him his seat for the county, and had abjured the De Courcy politics. He was staunch enough as a Tory now that his being so would no longer be of the slightest use to him; but the Duke of Omnium, and Lord de Courcy, and Mr Moffat were all Whigs; Whigs, however, differing altogether in politics from Sir Roger, who belonged to the Manchester school, and whose pretensions, through some of those inscrutable twists in modern politics which are quite unintelligible to the minds of ordinary men outside the circle, were on this occasion secretly favoured by the high Conservative party.

How Mr Moffat, who had been brought into the political world by Lord de Courcy, obtained the weight of the duke’s interest I never could exactly learn. For the duke and the earl did not generally act as twin-brothers on such occasions.

There is a great difference in Whigs. Lord de Courcy was a Court Whig, following the fortunes, and enjoying, when he could get it, the sunshine of the throne. He was a sojourner at Windsor, and a visitor at Balmoral. He delighted in gold sticks, and was never so happy as when holding some cap of maintenance or spur of precedence with due dignity and acknowledged grace in the presence of all the Court. His means had been somewhat embarrassed by early extravagance; and, therefore, as it was to his taste to shine, it suited him to shine at the cost of the Court rather than at his own.

The Duke of Omnium was a Whig of a very different calibre. He rarely went near the presence of majesty, and when he did so, he did it merely as a disagreeable duty incident to his position. He was very willing that the Queen should be queen so long as he was allowed to be Duke of Omnium. Nor had he begrudged Prince Albert any of his honours till he was called Prince Consort. Then, indeed, he had, to his own intimate friends, made some remark in three words not flattering to the discretion of the Prime Minister. The Queen might be queen so long as he was Duke of Omnium. Their revenues were about the same, with the exception, that the duke’s were his own, and he could do what he liked with them. This remembrance did not unfrequently present itself to the duke’s mind. In person, he was a plain, thin man, tall, but undistinguished in appearance, except that there was a gleam of pride in his eye which seemed every moment to be saying, ‘I am the Duke of Omnium’. He was unmarried, and, if report said true, a great debauchee; but if so he had always kept his debaucheries decently away from the eyes of the world, and was not, therefore, open to that loud condemnation which should fall like a hailstorm round the ears of some more open sinners.

Why these two mighty nobles put their heads together in order that the tailor’s son should represent Barchester in Parliament, I cannot explain. Mr Moffat, was, as has been said, Lord de Courcy’s friend; and it may be that Lord de Courcy was able to repay the duke for his kindness, as touching Barchester, with some little assistance in the county representation.

The next arrival was that of the Bishop of Barchester. A meek, good, worthy man, much attached to his wife, and somewhat addicted to his ease. She, apparently, was made in a different mould, and by her energy and diligence atoned for any want of those qualities which might be observed in the bishop himself. When asked his opinion, his lordship would generally reply by saying —‘Mrs Proudie and I think so and so.’ But before that opinion was given, Mrs Proudie would take up the tale, and she, in her more concise manner, was not wont to quote the bishop as having at all assisted in the consideration of the subject. It was well known in Barsetshire that no married pair consorted more closely or more tenderly together; and the example of such conjugal affection among persons in the upper classes is worth mentioning, as it is believed by those below them, and too often with truth, that the sweet bliss of connubial reciprocity is not so common as it should be among the magnates of the earth.

But the arrival even of the bishop and his wife did not make the place cheerful to Frank Gresham, and he began to long for Miss Dunstable, in order that he might have something to do. He could not get on at all with Mr Moffat. He had expected that the man would at once have called him Frank, and that he would have called the man Gustavus; but they did not even get beyond Mr Moffat and Mr Gresham. ‘Very hot in Barchester, today, very,’ was the nearest approach to conversation which Frank could attain with him; and as far as he, Frank, could see, Augusta never got much beyond it. There might be tete-a-tete meetings between them, but, if so, Frank could not detect when they took place; and so, opening his heart at last to the Honourable George, for the want of a better confidant, he expressed his opinion that his future brother-inlaw was a muff.

‘A muff — I believe you too. What do you think now? I have been with him and Nearthewinde in Barchester these three days past, looking up the electors’ wives and daughters, and that kind of thing.’

‘I say, if there is any fun in it you might as well take me with you.’

‘Oh, there is not much fun; they are mostly so slobbered and dirty. A sharp fellow in Nearthewinde, and knows what he is about well.’

‘Does he look up the wives and daughters too?’

‘Oh, he goes on every tack just as it’s wanted. But there was Moffat, yesterday, in a room behind the milliner’s shop near Cuthbert’s Gate; I was with him. The woman’s husband is one of the choristers and an elector, you know, and Moffat went to look for his vote. Now, there was no one there when we got there but the three young women, the wife, that is, and her two girls — very pretty women they are too.’

‘I say, George, I’ll go and get the chorister’s vote for Moffat; I ought to do it as he’s to be my brother-inlaw.’

‘But what do you think Moffat said to the women?’

‘Can’t guess — he didn’t kiss them, did he?’

‘Kiss any of them? No; but he begged to give them his positive assurance as a gentleman that if he was returned to Parliament he would vote for an extension of the franchise, and the admission of the Jews into the Parliament.’

‘Well, he is a muff,’ said Frank.

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