For the first four weeks that the Vicar lay paralyzed, the neighbouring clergymen had done his duty; but now arose a new difficulty at Drumston. Who was to do the duty while the poor Vicar lay there on his back speechless?
“How,” asked Miss Thornton of Tom Troubridge, “are we to make head against the dissenters now? Let the duty lapse but one single week, my dear friend, and you will see the chapels overflowing once more. My brother has always had a hard fight to keep them to church, for they have a natural tendency to dissent here. And a great number don’t care what the denominations are, so long as there is noise enough.”
“If that is the case,” answered Tom, “old Mark Hook’s place of worship should pay best. I’d back them against Bedlam any day.”
“They certainly make the loudest noise at a Revival,” said Miss Thornton. “But what are we to do?”
“That I am sure I don’t know, my dearest auntie,” said Troubridge, “but I am here, and my horse too, ready to go any amount of errands.”
“I see no way,” said Miss Thornton, “but to write to the Bishop.”
“And I see no way else,” said Tom, “unless you like to dress me up as a parson, and see if I would do.”
Miss Thornton wrote to the Bishop, with whom she had some acquaintance, and told him how her brother had been struck down with paralysis, and that the parish was unprovided for; that if he would send any gentleman he approved of, she would gladly receive him at Drumston.
Armed with this letter, Tom found himself, for the first time in his life, in an episcopal palace. A sleek servant in black opened the door with cat-like tread, and admitted him into a dark, warm hall; and on Tom’s saying, in a hoarse whisper, as if he was in church, that he had brought a note of importance, and would wait for an answer, the man glided away, and disappeared through a spring-door, which swung to behind him. Tom thought it would have banged, but it didn’t. Bishops’ doors never bang.
Tom had a great awe for your peers spiritual. He could get on well enough with a peer temporal, particularly if that proud aristocrat happened to be in want of a horse; but a bishop was quite another matter.
So he sat rather uncomfortable in the dark, warm hall, listening to such dull sounds as could be heard in the gloomy mansion. A broad oak staircase led up from the hall into lighter regions, and there stood, on a landing above, a lean, wheezy old clock, all over brass knobs, which, as he looked on it, choked, and sneezed four.
But now there was a new sound in the house. An indecent, secular sound. A door near the top of the house was burst violently open, and there was a scuffle. A loud voice shouted twice unmistakeably and distinctly, “So — o, good bitch!” And then the astounded Tom heard the worrying of a terrier, and the squeak of a dying rat. There was no mistake about it; he heard the bones crack. Then he made out that a dog was induced to go into a room on false pretences, and deftly shut up there, and then he heard a heavy step descending the stairs towards him.
But, before there was time for the perpetrator of these sacrileges to come in sight, a side door opened, and the Bishop himself came forth with a letter in his hand (a mild, clever, gentlemanly-looking man he was too, Tom remarked) and said —
“Pray is there not a messenger from Drumston here?”
Tom replied that he had brought a letter from his cousin the Vicar. He had rather expected to hear it demanded, “Where is the audacious man who has dared to penetrate these sacred shades?” and was agreeably relieved to find that the Bishop wasn’t angry with him.
“Dear me,” said the Bishop; “I beg a thousand pardons for keeping you in the hall; pray walk into my study.”
So in he went and sat down. The Bishop resumed —
“You are Mr. Thornton’s cousin, sir?”
Tom bowed. “I am about the nearest relation he has besides his sister, my lord.”
“Indeed,” said the Bishop. “I have written to Miss Thornton to say that there is a gentleman, a relation of my own, now living in the house with me, who will undertake Mr. Thornton’s duties, and I dare say, also, without remuneration. He has nothing to do at present. — Oh, here is the gentleman I spoke of!”
Here was the gentleman he spoke of, holding a dead rat by the tail, and crying out —
“Look here, uncle; what did I tell you? I might have been devoured alive, had it not been for my faithful Fly, your enemy.”
He was about six feet or nearly so in height, with a highly intellectual though not a handsome face. His brown hair, carelessly brushed, fell over a forehead both broad and lofty, beneath which shone a pair of bold, clear grey eyes. The moment Troubridge saw him he set him down in his own mind as a “goer,” by which he meant a man who had go, or energy, in him. A man, he thought, who is thrown away as a parson.
The Bishop, ringing the bell, began again, “This is my nephew, Mr. Frank Maberly.”
The sleek servant entered.
“My dear Frank, pray give that rat to Sanders, and let him take it away. I don’t like such things in the study.”
“I only brought it to convince you, uncle,” said the other. “Here you are, Sanders!”
But Sanders would have as soon shaken hands with the Pope. He rather thought the rat was alive; and, taking the tongs, he received the beast at a safe distance, while Tom saw a smile of contempt pass over the young curate’s features.
“You’d make a good missionary, Sanders,” said he; and, turning to Troubridge, continued, “Pray excuse this interlude, sir. You don’t look as if you would refuse to shake me by my ratty hand.”
Tom thought he would sooner shake hands with him than fight him, and was so won by Maberly’s manner, that he was just going to say so, when he recollected the presence he was in, and blushed scarlet.
“My dear Frank,” resumed his uncle, “Mr. Thornton of Drumston is taken suddenly ill, and I want you to go over and do his duties for him till he is better.”
“Most certainly, my dear lord; and when shall I go?”
“Say tomorrow; will that suit your household, sir?” said the Bishop.
Tom replied, “Yes, certainly,” and took his leave. Then the Bishop, turning to Frank, said —
“The living of Drumston, nephew, is in my gift; and if Mr. Thornton does not recover, as is very possible, I shall give it to you. I wish you, therefore, to go to Drumston, and become acquainted with your future parishioners. You will find Miss Thornton a most charming old lady.”
Frank Maberly was the second son of a country gentleman of good property, and was a very remarkable character. His uncle had always said of him, that whatever he chose to take up he would be first in; and his uncle was right. At Eton he was not only the best cricketer and runner, but decidedly the best scholar of his time. At Cambridge, for the first year, he was probably the noisiest man in his college, though he never lived what is called “hard;” but in the second year he took up his books once more, and came forth third wrangler and first class, and the second day after the class-list came out, made a very long score in the match with Oxford. Few men were more popular, though the fast men used to call him crotchety; and on some subjects, indeed, he was very impatient of contradiction. And most of his friends were a little disappointed when they heard of his intention of going into the Church. His father went so far as to say —
“My dear Frank, I always thought you would have been a lawyer.”
“I’d sooner be a — well, never mind what.”
“But you might have gone into the army, Frank,” said his father.
“I am going into the army, sir,” he said; “into the army of Christ.”
Old Mr. Maberly was at first shocked by this last expression from a son who rarely or never talked on religious matters, and told his wife so that night.
“But,” he added, “since I’ve been thinking of it, I’m sure Frank meant neither BLAGUE nor irreverence. He is in earnest. I never knew him tell a lie; and since he was six years old he has known how to call a spade a spade.”
“He’ll make a good parson,” said the mother.
“He’ll be first in that, as he is in everything else,” said the father.
“But he’ll never be a bishop,” said Mrs. Maberly.
“Why not?” said the husband, indignantly.
“Because, as you say yourself, husband, he will call a spade a spade.”
“Bah! you are a radical,” said the father. “Go to sleep.”
At the time of John Thornton’s illness, he had been ordained about a year and a-half. He had got a title for orders, as a curate, in a remote part of Devon, but had left it in consequence of a violent disagreement with his rector, in which he had been most fully borne out by his uncle, who, by the bye, was not the sort of man who would have supported his own brother, had he been in the wrong. Since then Frank Maberly had been staying with his uncle, and, as he expressed it, “working the slums” at Exeter.
Miss Thornton sat in the drawing-room at Drumston the day after Tom’s visit to the Bishop, waiting dinner for the new Curate. Tom and she had been wondering how he would come. Miss Thornton said, probably in the Bishop’s carriage; but Tom was inclined to think he would ride over. The dinner time was past some ten minutes, when they saw a man in black put his hand on the garden-gate, vault over, and run breathless up to the hall-door. Tom had recognised him and dashed out to receive him, but ere he had time to say “good day” even, the new comer pulled out his watch, and, having looked at it, said in a tone of vexation:—
“Twenty-one minutes, as near as possible; nay, a little over. By Jove! how pursy a fellow gets mewed up in town! How far do you call it, now, from the Buller Arms?”
“It is close upon four miles,” said Tom, highly amused.
“So they told me,” replied Frank Maberly. “I left my portmanteau there, and the landlord-fellow had the audacity to say in conversation that I couldn’t run the four miles in twenty minutes. It’s lucky a parson can’t bet, or I should have lost my money. But the last mile is very much up-hill, as you must allow.”
“I’ll tell you what, sir,” said Tom; “there isn’t a man in this parish would go that four mile under twenty minutes. If any man could, I ought to know of it.”
Miss Thornton had listened to this conversation with wonder not unmixed with amusement. At first she had concluded that the Bishop’s carriage was upset, and that Frank was the breathless messenger sent forward to chronicle the mishap. But her tact soon showed the sort of person she had to deal with, for she was not unacquainted with the performances of public schoolboys. She laughed when she called to mind the BOULEVERSEMENT that used to take place when Lord Charles and Lord Frederick came home from Harrow, and invaded her quiet school-room. So she advanced into the passage to meet the new-comer with one of her pleasantest smiles.
“I must claim an old woman’s privilege of introducing myself, Mr. Maberly,” she said. “Your uncle was tutor to the B——s, when I was governess to the D——s; so we are old acquaintances.”
“Can you forgive me, Miss Thornton?” he said, “for running up to the house in this lunatic sort of way? I am still half a school-boy, you know. What an old jewel she is!” he added to himself.
Tom said: “May I show you your room, Mr. Maberly?”
“If you please, do,” said Frank; and added, “Get out, Fly; what are you doing here?”
But Miss Thornton interceded for the dog, a beautiful little black and tan terrier, whose points Tom was examining with profound admiration.
“That’s a brave little thing, Mr. Maberly,” said he, as he showed him to his room. “I should like to put in my name for a pup.”
They stood face to face in the bed-room as he said this, and Frank, not answering him, said abruptly:—
“By Jove! what a splendid man you are! What do you weigh, now?”
“Close upon eighteen stone, just now, I should think;” said Tom.
“Ah, but you are carrying a little flesh,” said Frank.
“Why, yes;” said Tom. “I’ve been to London for a fortnight.”
“That accounts for it,” said Frank. “Many dissenters in this parish?”
“A sight of all sorts,” said Tom. “They want attracting to church here; they don’t go naturally, as they do in some parts.”
“I see,” said Frank; “I suppose they’ll come next Sunday though, to see the new parson; my best plan will be to give them a stinger, so that they’ll come again.”
“Why, you see,” said Tom, “it’s got about that there’ll be no service next Sunday, so they’ll make an excuse for going to Meeting. Our best plan will be, for you and I to go about and let them know that there’s a new minister. Then you’ll get them together, and after that I leave it to you to keep them. Shall we go down to dinner?”
They came together going out of the door, and Frank turned and said:—
“Will you shake hands with me? I think we shall suit one another.”
“Aye! that we shall,” said Tom heartily; “you’re a man’s parson; that’s about what you are. But,” he added, seriously; “you wouldn’t do among the old women, you know.”
At dinner, Miss Thornton said, “I hope, Mr. Maberly, you are none the worse after your run? Are you not afraid of such violent exercise bringing on palpitation of the heart?”
“Not I, my dear madam,” he said. “Let me make my defence for what, otherwise, you might consider mere boyish folly. I am passionately fond of athletic sports of all kinds, and indulge in them as a pleasure. No real man is without some sort of pleasure, more or less harmless. Nay, even your fanatic is a man who makes a pleasure and an excitement of religion. My pleasures are very harmless; what can be more harmless than keeping this shell of ours in the highest state of capacity for noble deeds? I know,” he said, turning to Tom, “what the great temptation is that such men as you or I have to contend against. It is ‘the pride of life;’ but if we know that and fight against it, how can it prevail against us? It is easier conquered than the lust of the flesh, or the lust of the eye, though some will tell you that I can’t construe my Greek Testament, and that the ‘pride of life’ means something very different. I hold my opinion however, in spite of them. Then, again, although I have taken a good degree (not so good as I might, though), I consider that I have only just begun to study. Consequently, I read hard still, and shall continue to do so the next twenty years, please God. I find my head the clearer, and my intellect more powerful in consequence of the good digestion produced by exercise; so I mean to use it till I get too fat, which will be a long while first.”
“Ain’t you afraid,” said Tom, laughing, “of offending some of your weaker brothers’ consciences, by running four miles, because a publican said you couldn’t?”
“Disputing with a publican might be an error of judgment,” said Frank. “Bah! MIGHT be-it WAS; but with regard to running four miles — no. It is natural and right that a man at five-and-twenty should be both able and willing to run four miles, a parson above all others, as a protest against effeminacy. With regard to consciences, those very tender conscienced men oughtn’t to want a parson at all.”
Miss Thornton had barely left the room, to go up to the Vicar, leaving Tom and Frank Maberly over their wine, when the hall-door was thrown open, and the well-known voice of the Doctor was heard exclaiming in angry tones:—
“If! sir, if! always at if’s. If Blucher had destroyed the bridge, say you, as if he ever meant to be such a Vandal. And if he had meant to do it, do you think that fifty Wellesleys in one would have stayed him? No, sir; and if he had destroyed every bridge on the Seine, sir, he would have done better than to be overruled by the counsels of Wellington (glory go with him, however! He was a good man). And why, forsooth? — because the English bore the brunt at Waterloo, in consequence of the Prussians being delayed by muddy roads.”
“And Ligny,” said the laughing voice of Major Buckley. “Oh, Doctor, dear! I like to make you angry, because then your logic is so very outrageous. You are like the man who pleaded not guilty of murder: first, because he hadn’t done it; secondly, that he was drunk when he did it; and thirdly, that it was a case of mistaken identity.”
“Ha, ha!” laughed the Doctor, merrily, recovering his good humour in a moment. “That’s an Irish story for a thousand pounds. There’s nothing English about that. Ha! ha!”
They were presented to Frank as the new curate. The Doctor, after a courteous salutation, put on his spectacles, and examined him carefully. Frank looked at him all the time with a quiet smile, and in the end the Doctor said —
“Allow me the privilege of shaking hands with you, sir.” “Shall I be considered rude if I say that I seldom or never saw a finer head than yours on a man’s shoulders? And, judging by the face, it is well lined.”
“Like a buck-basket,” said Frank, “full of dirty linen. Plenty of it, and of some quality, but not in a state fit for use yet. I will have it washed up, and wear such of it as is worth soon.”
The Doctor saw he had found a man after his own heart, and it was not long before Frank and he were in the seventh heaven of discussion. Meanwhile, the Major had drawn up alongside of Tom, and said —
“Any news of the poor little dove that has left the nest, old friend?”
“Yes,” said Tom, eagerly; “we have got a letter. Good news, too.”
“Thank God for that,” said the Major. “And where are they?”
“They are now at Brighton.”
“What’s that?” said the Doctor, turning round. “Any news?”
They told him, and then it became necessary to tell Frank Maberly what he had not known before, that the Vicar had a daughter who had “gone off.”
“One of the prettiest, sweetest creatures, Mr. Maberly,” said the Major, “that you ever saw in your life. None of us, I believe, knew how well we loved her till she was gone.”
“And a very remarkable character, besides,” said the Doctor. “Such a force of will as you see in few women of her age. Obscured by passion and girlish folly, it seemed more like obstinacy to us. But she has a noble heart, and, when she has outlived her youthful fancies, I should not be surprised if she turned out a very remarkable woman.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10