The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVI

The Bishop and the Priest

The afternoon on which Lady Carbury arrived at her cousin’s house had been very stormy. Roger Carbury had been severe, and Lady Carbury had suffered under his severity — or had at least so well pretended to suffer as to leave on Roger’s mind a strong impression that he had been cruel to her. She had then talked of going back at once to London, and when consenting to remain, had remained with a very bad feminine headache. She had altogether carried her point, but had done so in a storm. The next morning was very calm. That question of meeting the Melmottes had been settled, and there was no need for speaking of them again. Roger went out by himself about the farm, immediately after breakfast, having told the ladies that they could have the waggonette when they pleased. ‘I’m afraid you’ll find it tiresome driving about our lanes,’ he said. Lady Carbury assured him that she was never dull when left alone with books. Just as he was starting he went into the garden and plucked a rose which he brought to Henrietta. He only smiled as he gave it her, and then went his way. He had resolved that he would say nothing to her of his suit till Monday. If he could prevail with her then he would ask her to remain with him when her mother and brother would be going out to dine at Caversham. She looked up into his face as she took the rose and thanked him in a whisper. She fully appreciated the truth, and honour, and honesty of his character, and could have loved him so dearly as her cousin if he would have contented himself with such cousinly love! She was beginning, within her heart, to take his side against her mother and brother, and to feel that he was the safest guide that she could have. But how could she be guided by a lover whom she did not love?

‘I am afraid, my dear, we shall have a bad time of it here,’ said Lady Carbury.

‘Why so, mamma?’

‘It will be so dull. Your cousin is the best friend in all the world, and would make as good a husband as could be picked out of all the gentlemen of England; but in his present mood with me he is not a comfortable host. What nonsense he did talk about the Melmottes!’

‘I don’t suppose, mamma, that Mr and Mrs Melmotte can be nice people.’

‘Why shouldn’t they be as nice as anybody else? Pray, Henrietta, don’t let us have any of that nonsense from you. When it comes from the superhuman virtue of poor dear Roger it has to be borne, but I beg that you will not copy him.’

‘Mamma, I think that is unkind.’

‘And I shall think it very unkind if you take upon yourself to abuse people who are able and willing to set poor Felix on his legs. A word from you might undo all that we are doing.’

‘What word?’

‘What word? Any word! If you have any influence with your brother you should use it in inducing him to hurry this on. I am sure the girl is willing enough. She did refer him to her father.’

‘Then why does he not go to Mr Melmotte?’

‘I suppose he is delicate about it on the score of money. If Roger could only let it be understood that Felix is the heir to this place, and that some day he will be Sir Felix Carbury of Carbury, I don’t think there would be any difficulty even with old Melmotte.’

‘How could he do that, mamma?’

‘If your cousin were to die as he is now, it would be so. Your brother would be his heir.’

‘You should not think of such a thing, mamma.’

‘Why do you dare to tell me what I am to think? Am I not to think of my own son? Is he not to be dearer to me than any one? And what I say, is so. If Roger were to die to-morrow he would be Sir Felix Carbury of Carbury.’

‘But, mamma, he will live and have a family. Why should he not?’

‘You say he is so old that you will not look at him.’

‘I never said so. When we were joking, I said he was old. You know I did not mean that he was too old to get married. Men a great deal older get married every day.’

‘If you don’t accept him he will never marry. He is a man of that kind, — so stiff and stubborn and old-fashioned that nothing will change him. He will go on boodying over it, till he will become an old misanthrope. If you would take him I would be quite contented. You are my child as well as Felix. But if you mean to be obstinate I do wish that the Melmottes should be made to understand that the property and title and name of the place will all go together. It will be so, and why should not Felix have the advantage?’

‘Who is to say it?’

‘Ah — that’s where it is. Roger is so violent and prejudiced that one cannot get him to speak rationally.’

‘Oh, mamma — you wouldn’t suggest it to him; — that this place is to go to — Felix, when he — is dead!’

‘It would not kill him a day sooner.’

‘You would not dare to do it, mamma.’

‘I would dare to do anything for my children. But you need not look like that, Henrietta. I am not going to say anything to him of the kind. He is not quick enough to understand of what infinite service he might be to us without in any way hurting himself.’ Henrietta would fain have answered that their cousin was quick enough for anything, but was by far too honest to take part in such a scheme as that proposed. She refrained, however, and was silent. There was no sympathy on the matter between her and her mother. She was beginning to understand the tortuous mazes of manoeuvres in which her mother’s mind had learned to work, and to dislike and almost to despise them. But she felt it to be her duty to abstain from rebukes.

In the afternoon Lady Carbury, alone, had herself driven into Beccles that she might telegraph to her son. ‘You are to dine at Caversham on Monday. Come on Saturday if you can. She is there.’ Lady Carbury had many doubts as to the wording of this message. The female in the office might too probably understand who was the ‘she’ who was spoken of as being at Caversham, and might understand also the project, and speak of it publicly. But then it was essential that Felix should know how great and certain was the opportunity afforded to him. He had promised to come on Saturday and return on Monday — and, unless warned, would too probably stick to his plan and throw over the Longestaffes and their dinner-party. Again if he were told to come simply for the Monday, he would throw over the chance of wooing her on the Sunday. It was Lady Carbury’s desire to get him down for as long a period as was possible, and nothing surely would so tend to bring him and to keep him, as a knowledge that the heiress was already in the neighbourhood. Then she returned, and shut herself up in her bedroom, and worked for an hour or two at a paper which she was writing for the ‘Breakfast Table.’ Nobody should ever accuse her justly of idleness. And afterwards, as she walked by herself round and round the garden, she revolved in her mind the scheme of a new book. Whatever might happen she would persevere. If the Carburys were unfortunate their misfortunes should come from no fault of hers. Henrietta passed the whole day alone. She did not see her cousin from breakfast till he appeared in the drawing-room before dinner. But she was thinking of him during every minute of the day — how good he was, how honest, how thoroughly entitled to demand at any rate kindness at her hand! Her mother had spoken of him as of one who might be regarded as all but dead and buried, simply because of his love for her. Could it be true that his constancy was such that he would never marry unless she would take his hand? She came to think of him with more tenderness than she had ever felt before, but, yet, she would not tell herself she loved him. It might, perhaps, be her duty to give herself to him without loving him — because he was so good; but she was sure that she did not love him.

In the evening the bishop came, and his wife, Mrs Yeld, and the Hepworths of Eardly, and Father John Barham, the Beccles priest. The party consisted of eight, which is, perhaps, the best number for a mixed gathering of men and women at a dinner-table — especially if there be no mistress whose prerogative and duty it is to sit opposite to the master. In this case Mr Hepworth faced the giver of the feast, the bishop and the priest were opposite to each other, and the ladies graced the four corners. Roger, though he spoke of such things to no one, turned them over much in his mind, believing it to be the duty of a host to administer in all things to the comfort of his guests. In the drawing-room he had been especially courteous to the young priest, introducing him first to the bishop and his wife, and then to his cousins. Henrietta watched him through the whole evening, and told herself that he was a very mirror of courtesy in his own house. She had seen it all before, no doubt; but she had never watched him as she now watched him since her mother had told her that he would die wifeless and childless because she would not be his wife and the mother of his children.

The bishop was a man sixty years of age, very healthy and handsome, with hair just becoming grey, clear eyes, a kindly mouth, and something of a double chin. He was all but six feet high, with a broad chest, large hands, and legs which seemed to have been made for clerical breeches and clerical stockings. He was a man of fortune outside his bishopric; and, as he never went up to London, and had no children on whom to spend his money, he was able to live as a nobleman in the country. He did live as a nobleman, and was very popular. Among the poor around him he was idolized, and by such clergy of his diocese as were not enthusiastic in their theology either on the one side or on the other, he was regarded as a model bishop. By the very high and the very low — by those rather who regarded ritualism as being either heavenly or devilish — he was looked upon as a timeserver, because he would not put to sea in either of those boats. He was an unselfish man, who loved his neighbour as himself, and forgave all trespasses, and thanked God for his daily bread from his heart, and prayed heartily to be delivered from temptation. But I doubt whether he was competent to teach a creed — or even to hold one, if it be necessary that a man should understand and define his creed before he can hold it. Whether he was free from, or whether he was scared by, any inward misgivings, who shall say? If there were such he never whispered a word of them even to the wife of his bosom. From the tone of his voice and the look of his eye, you would say that he was unscathed by that agony which doubt on such a matter would surely bring to a man so placed. And yet it was observed of him that he never spoke of his faith, or entered into arguments with men as to the reasons on which he had based it. He was diligent in preaching — moral sermons that were short, pithy, and useful. He was never weary in furthering the welfare of his clergymen. His house was open to them and to their wives. The edifice of every church in his diocese was a care to him. He laboured at schools, and was zealous in improving the social comforts of the poor; but he was never known to declare to man or woman that the human soul must live or die for ever according to its faith. Perhaps there was no bishop in England more loved or more useful in his diocese than the Bishop of Elmham.

A man more antagonistic to the bishop than Father John Barham, the lately appointed Roman Catholic priest at Beccles, it would be impossible to conceive; — and yet they were both eminently good men. Father John was not above five feet nine in height, but so thin, so meagre, so wasted in appearance, that, unless when he stooped, he was taken to be tall. He had thick dark brown hair, which was cut short in accordance with the usage of his Church; but which he so constantly ruffled by the action of his hands, that, though short, it seemed to be wild and uncombed. In his younger days, when long locks straggled over his forehead, he had acquired a habit, while talking energetically, of rubbing them back with his finger, which he had not since dropped. In discussions he would constantly push back his hair, and then sit with his hand fixed on the top of his head. He had a high, broad forehead, enormous blue eyes, a thin, long nose, cheeks very thin and hollow, a handsome large mouth, and a strong square chin. He was utterly without worldly means, except those which came to him from the ministry of his church, and which did not suffice to find him food and raiment; but no man ever lived more indifferent to such matters than Father John Barham. He had been the younger son of an English country gentleman of small fortune, had been sent to Oxford that he might hold a family living, and on the eve of his ordination had declared himself a Roman Catholic. His family had resented this bitterly, but had not quarrelled with him till he had drawn a sister with him. When banished from the house he had still striven to achieve the conversion of other sisters by his letters, and was now absolutely an alien from his father’s heart and care. But of this he never complained. It was a part of the plan of his life that he should suffer for his faith. Had he been able to change his creed without incurring persecution, worldly degradation, and poverty, his own conversion would not have been to him comfortable and satisfactory as it was. He considered that his father, as a Protestant — and in his mind Protestant and heathen were all the same — had been right to quarrel with him. But he loved his father, and was endless in prayer, wearying his saints with supplications, that his father might see the truth and be as he was.

To him it was everything that a man should believe and obey — that he should abandon his own reason to the care of another or of others, and allow himself to be guided in all things by authority. Faith being sufficient and of itself all in all, moral conduct could be nothing to a man, except as a testimony of faith; for to him, whose belief was true enough to produce obedience, moral conduct would certainly be added. The dogmas of his Church were to Father Barham a real religion, and he would teach them in season and out of season, always ready to commit himself to the task of proving their truth, afraid of no enemy, not even fearing the hostility which his perseverance would create. He had but one duty before him — to do his part towards bringing over the world to his faith. It might be that with the toil of his whole life he should convert but one; that he should but half convert one; that he should do no more than disturb the thoughts of one so that future conversion might be possible. But even that would be work done. He would sow the seed if it might be so; but if it were not given to him to do that, he would at any rate plough the ground.

He had come to Beccles lately, and Roger Carbury had found out that he was a gentleman by birth and education. Roger had found out also that he was very poor, and had consequently taken him by the hand. The young priest had not hesitated to accept his neighbour’s hospitality, having on one occasion laughingly protested that he should be delighted to dine at Carbury, as he was much in want of a dinner. He had accepted presents from the garden and the poultry yard, declaring that he was too poor to refuse anything. The apparent frankness of the man about himself had charmed Roger, and the charm had not been seriously disturbed when Father Barham, on one winter evening in the parlour at Carbury, had tried his hand at converting his host. ‘I have the most thorough respect for your religion,’ Roger had said; ‘but it would not suit me.’ The priest had gone on with his logic; if he could not sow the seed he might plough the ground. This had been repeated two or three times, and Roger had begun to feel it to be disagreeable. But the man was in earnest, and such earnestness commanded respect. And Roger was quite sure that though he might be bored, he could not be injured by such teaching. Then it occurred to him one day that he had known the Bishop of Elmham intimately for a dozen years, and had never heard from the bishop’s mouth — except when in the pulpit — a single word of religious teaching; whereas this man, who was a stranger to him, divided from him by the very fact of his creed, was always talking to him about his faith. Roger Carbury was not a man given to much deep thinking, but he felt that the bishop’s manner was the pleasanter of the two.

Lady Carbury at dinner was all smiles and pleasantness. No one looking at her, or listening to her, could think that her heart was sore with many troubles. She sat between the bishop and her cousin, and was skilful enough to talk to each without neglecting the other. She had known the bishop before, and had on one occasion spoken to him of her soul. The first tone of the good man’s reply had convinced her of her error, and she never repeated it. To Mr Alf she commonly talked of her mind; to Mr Broune, of her heart; to Mr Booker of her body — and its wants. She was quite ready to talk of her soul on a proper occasion, but she was much too wise to thrust the subject even on a bishop. Now she was full of the charms of Carbury and its neighbourhood. ‘Yes, indeed,’ said the bishop, ‘I think Suffolk is a very nice county; and as we are only a mile or two from Norfolk, I’ll say as much for Norfolk too. “It’s an ill bird that fouls its own, nest.”’.

‘I like a county in which there is something left of county feeling,’ said Lady Carbury. ‘Staffordshire and Warwickshire, Cheshire and Lancashire have become great towns, and have lost all local distinctions.’

‘We still keep our name and reputation,’ said the bishop; ‘silly Suffolk!’

‘But that was never deserved.’

‘As much, perhaps, as other general epithets. I think we are a sleepy people. We’ve got no coal, you see, and no iron. We have no beautiful scenery, like the lake country — no rivers great for fishing, like Scotland — no hunting grounds, like the shires.’

‘Partridges!’ pleaded Lady Carbury, with pretty energy.

‘Yes; we have partridges, fine churches, and the herring fishery. We shall do very well if too much is not expected of us. We can’t increase and multiply as they do in the great cities.’

‘I like this part of England so much the best for that very reason. What is the use of a crowded population?’

‘The earth has to be peopled, Lady Carbury.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said her ladyship, with some little reverence added to her voice, feeling that the bishop was probably adverting to a divine arrangement. ‘The world must be peopled; but for myself I like the country better than the town.’

‘So do I,’ said Roger; ‘and I like Suffolk. The people are hearty, and radicalism is not quite so rampant as it is elsewhere. The poor people touch their hats, and the rich people think of the poor. There is something left among us of old English habits.’

‘That is so nice,’ said Lady Carbury.

‘Something left of old English ignorance,’ said the bishop. ‘All the same I dare say we’re improving, like the rest of the world. What beautiful flowers you have here, Mr Carbury! At any rate, we can grow flowers in Suffolk.’

Mrs Yeld, the bishop’s wife, was sitting next to the priest, and was in truth somewhat afraid of her neighbour. She was, perhaps, a little stauncher than her husband in Protestantism; and though she was willing to admit that Mr Barham might not have ceased to be a gentleman when he became a Roman Catholic priest, she was not quite sure that it was expedient for her or her husband to have much to do with him. Mr Carbury had not taken them unawares. Notice had been given that the priest was to be there, and the bishop had declared that he would be very happy to meet the priest. But Mrs Yeld had had her misgivings. She never ventured to insist on her opinion after the bishop had expressed his; but she had an idea that right was right, and wrong wrong — and that Roman Catholics were wrong, and therefore ought to be put down. And she thought also that if there were no priests there would be no Roman Catholics. Mr Barham was, no doubt, a man of good family, which did make a difference.

Mr Barham always made his approaches very gradually. The taciturn humility with which he commenced his operations was in exact proportion to the enthusiastic volubility of his advanced intimacy. Mrs Yeld thought that it became her to address to him a few civil words, and he replied to her with a shame-faced modesty that almost overcame her dislike to his profession. She spoke of the poor of Beccles, being very careful to allude only to their material position. There was too much beer drunk, no doubt, and the young women would have finery. Where did they get the money to buy those wonderful bonnets which appeared every Sunday? Mr Barham was very meek, and agreed to everything that was said. No doubt he had a plan ready formed for inducing Mrs Yeld to have mass said regularly within her husband’s palace, but he did not even begin to bring it about on this occasion. It was not till he made some apparently chance allusion to the superior church-attending qualities of ‘our people,’ that Mrs Yeld drew herself up and changed the conversation by observing that there had been a great deal of rain lately.

When the ladies were gone the bishop at once put himself in the way of conversation with the priest, and asked questions as to the morality of Beccles. It was evidently Mr Barham’s opinion that ‘his people’ were more moral than other people, though very much poorer. ‘But the Irish always drink,’ said Mr Hepworth.

‘Not so much as the English, I think,’ said the priest. ‘And you are not to suppose that we are all Irish. Of my flock the greater proportion are English.’

‘It is astonishing how little we know of our neighbours,’ said the bishop. ‘Of course I am aware that there are a certain number of persons of your persuasion round about us. Indeed, I could give the exact number in this diocese. But in my own immediate neighbourhood I could not put my hand upon any families which I know to be Roman Catholic.’

‘It is not, my lord, because there are none.’

‘Of course not. It is because, as I say, I do not know my neighbours.’

‘I think, here in Suffolk, they must be chiefly the poor,’ said Mr Hepworth.

‘They were chiefly the poor who at first put their faith in our Saviour,’ said the priest.

‘I think the analogy is hardly correctly drawn,’ said the bishop, with a curious smile. ‘We were speaking of those who are still attached to an old creed. Our Saviour was the teacher of a new religion. That the poor in the simplicity of their hearts should be the first to acknowledge the truth of a new religion is in accordance with our idea of human nature. But that an old faith should remain with the poor after it has been abandoned by the rich is not so easily intelligible.’

‘The Roman population still believed,’ said Carbury, ‘when the patricians had learned to regard their gods as simply useful bugbears.’

‘The patricians had not ostensibly abandoned their religion. The people clung to it thinking that their masters and rulers clung to it also.’

‘The poor have ever been the salt of the earth, my lord,’ said the priest.

‘That begs the whole question,’ said the bishop, turning to his host, and, beginning to talk about a breed of pigs which had lately been imported into the palace sties. Father Barham turned to Mr Hepworth and went on with his argument, or rather began another. It was a mistake to suppose that the Catholics in the county were all poor. There were the A s and the B s, and the C s and the D s. He knew all their names and was proud of their fidelity. To him these faithful ones were really the salt of the earth, who would some day be enabled by their fidelity to restore England to her pristine condition. The bishop had truly said that of many of his neighbours he did not know to what Church they belonged; but Father Barham, though he had not as yet been twelve months in the county, knew the name of nearly every Roman Catholic within its borders.

‘Your priest is a very zealous man,’ said the bishop afterwards to Roger Carbury, ‘and I do not doubt but that he is an excellent gentleman; but he is perhaps a little indiscreet.’

‘I like him because he is doing the best he can according to his lights; without any reference to his own worldly welfare.’

‘That is all very grand, and I am perfectly willing to respect him. But I do not know that I should care to talk very freely in his company.’

‘I am sure he would repeat nothing.’

‘Perhaps not; but he would always be thinking that he was going to get the best of me.’

‘I don’t think it answers,’ said Mrs Yeld to her husband as they went home. ‘Of course I don’t want to be prejudiced; but Protestants are Protestants, and Roman Catholics are Roman Catholics.’

‘You may say the same of Liberals and Conservatives, but you wouldn’t have them decline to meet each other.’

‘It isn’t quite the same, my dear. After all religion is religion.’

‘It ought to be,’ said the bishop.

‘Of course I don’t mean to put myself up against you, my dear; but I don’t know that I want to meet Mr Barham again.’

‘I don’t know that I do, either,’ said the bishop; ‘but if he comes in my way I hope I shall treat him civilly.’

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