At that time, just as Lady Lufton was about to leave Framley for London, Mark Robarts received a pressing letter, inviting him also to go up to the metropolis for a day or two — not for pleasure, but on business. The letter was from his indefatigable friend Sowerby. ‘My dear Robarts,’ the letter ran:—‘I have just heard that poor little Burslem, the Barsetshire prebendary, is dead. We must all die some day, you know — as you have told your parishioners from the Framley pulpit more than once, no doubt. The stall must be filled up, and why should not you have it as well as another? It is six hundred a year and a house. Little Burslem had nine, but the good old times are gone. Whether the house is lettable or not under the present ecclesiastical regime, I do not know. It used to be so, for I remember Mrs Wiggins, the tallow-chandler’s widow, living in old Stanhope’s house.
‘Harold Smith has just joined the Government as Lord Petty Bag, and could, I think, at the present moment, get this for asking. He cannot well refuse me, and, if you will say the word, I will speak to him. You had better come up yourself; but say the word “Yes” or “No” by the wires.
‘If you say “Yes”, as of course you will, do not fail to come up. You will find me at the “Travellers”, or at the House. The stall will just suit you — will give you no trouble, improve your position, and give some little assistance towards bed and board, and rack and manger. — Yours ever faithfully, N. SOWERBY,
‘Singularly enough, I hear your brother is private secretary to the new Lord Petty Bag. I am told that his chief duty will consist in desiring the servants to call my sister’s carriage. I have only seen Harold once since he accepted office; but my Lady Petty Bag says that he has certainly grown an inch since that occurrence.’
This was certainly very good-natured on the part of Mr Sowerby, and showed that he had a feeling within his bosom that he owed something to his friend the parson for the injury he had done him. And such was in truth the case. A more reckless being than the member for West Barsetshire could not exist. He was reckless for himself, and reckless for all others with whom he might be concerned. He could ruin his friends with as little remorse he had ruined himself. All was fair game that came in the way of his net. But, nevertheless, he was good-natured, and willing to move heaven and earth to do a friend a good turn, if it came in his way to do so. He did really love Mark Robarts as much as it was given to him to love any among his acquaintance. He knew that he had already done him an almost irreparable injury, and might very probably injure him still deeper before he had done with him. That he would undoubtedly do so, if it came in his way, was very certain. But then, if it also came in his way to repay his friend by any side blow he would also undoubtedly do that. Such an occasion had now come, and he had desired his sister to give the new Lord Petty Bag no rest till he should have promised to use all his influence in getting the vacant prebend for Mark Robarts.
This letter of Sowerby’s Mark immediately showed to his wife. How lucky, thought he to himself, that not a word was said in it about those accursed money transactions! Had he understood Sowerby better he would have known that that gentleman never said anything about money transactions until it became absolutely necessary. ‘I know you don’t like Mr Sowerby,’ he said; ‘but you must own that this is very good natured.’
‘It is the character I hear of him that I don’t like,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘But what shall I do now, Fanny? As he says, why should not I have the stall as well as another?’
‘I suppose it would not interfere with your parish?’
‘Not in the least, at the distance we are. I did think of giving up old Jones; but if I take this, of course I must keep the curate.’ His wife could not find it in her heart to dissuade him from accepting promotion when it came in his way — what vicar’s wife would have so persuaded her husband? But yet she did not altogether like it. She feared that Greek from Chaldicotes, even when he came with the present of a prebendal stall in his hands. And then what would Lady Lufton say?
‘And do you think that you must go up to London, Mark?’
‘Oh, certainly; that is, if I intend to accept Harold Smith’s kind offices in the matter.’
‘I suppose it will be better to accept them,’ said Fanny, feeling perhaps that it would be useless in her to hope that they should not be accepted.
‘Prebendal stalls, Fanny, don’t generally go begging long among clergymen. How could I reconcile it to the duty I owe my children to refuse such an increase to my income?’ And so it was settled that he should at once drive to Silverbridge and send off a message by telegraph, and that he should himself proceed to London on the following day. ‘But you must see Lady Lufton first, of course,’ said Fanny, as soon as all this was settled. Mark would have avoided this if he could have decently done so, but he felt that it would be impolite, as well as indecent. And why should he be afraid to tell Lady Lufton that he hoped to receive this piece of promotion from the present Government? There was nothing disgraceful in a clergyman becoming a prebendary of Barchester. Lady Lufton herself had always been very civil to the prebendaries, and especially to little Dr Burslem, the meagre little man who had just now paid the debt of nature. She had always been very fond of the chapter, and her original dislike to Bishop Proudie had been chiefly on his interference, or on that of his wife or chaplain. Considering these things Mark Robarts tried to make himself believe that Lady Lufton would be delighted at his good fortune. But yet he did not believe it. She at any rate would revolt from the gift of the Greek of Chaldicotes. ‘Oh, indeed,’ she said, when the vicar had with some difficulty explained to her all the circumstances of the case. ‘Well, I congratulate you, Mr Robarts, on your powerful new patron.’
‘You will probably feel with me, Lady Lufton, that the benefice is one which I can hold without any detriment to me in my position here at Framley,’ said he, prudently resolving to let the slur upon his friends pass by unheeded.
‘Well, I hope so. Of course, you are a very young man, Mr Robarts, and these things have generally been given to clergymen more advanced in life.’
‘But you do not mean to say that you think I ought to refuse it?’
‘What my advice to you might be if you really came to me for advice, I am hardly prepared to say at so very short a notice. You seem to have made up your mind, and therefore I need not consider it. As it is, I wish you joy, and hope that it may turn out to your advantage in every way.’
‘You understand, Lady Lufton, that I have by no means got it yet.’
‘Oh, I thought it had been offered to you: I thought you spoke of this new minister as having all that in his own hand.’
‘Oh dear no. What may be the amount of his influence in that respect I do not at all know. But my correspondent assures me —’
‘Mr Sowerby, you mean. Why don’t you call him by his name?’
‘Mr Sowerby assures me that Mr Smith will ask for it; and thinks it most probable that his request will be successful.’
‘Oh, of course. Mr Sowerby and Mr Harold Smith together would no doubt be successful in anything. They are the sort of men who are successful nowadays. Well, Mr Robarts, I wish you joy.’ And she gave him her hand in token of her sincerity. Mark took her hand, resolving to say nothing further on that occasion. That Lady Lufton was not now cordial with him, as she used to be, he was well aware; and sooner or later he was determined to have the matter out with her. He would ask her why she so constantly met with him in a taunt, and so seldom greeted him with that kind old affectionate smile which he knew and appreciated so well. That she was honest and true he was quite sure. If he asked her the question plainly, she would answer him openly. And if he could induce her to say that she would return to her old ways, return to them she would in a hearty manner. But he could not do this just at present. It was but a day or two since Mr Crawley had been with him; and was it not probable that Mr Crawley had been sent hither by Lady Lufton? His own hands were not clean enough for a remonstrance at the present moment. He would cleanse them, and then he would remonstrate. ‘Would you like to live part of the year in Barchester?’ he said to his wife and sister that evening.
‘I think that the two houses are only a trouble,’ said his wife. ‘And we have been happy here.’
‘I have always liked a cathedral town,’ said Lucy; ‘and I am particularly fond of the close.’
‘And Barchester Close is the closest of all closes,’ said Mark. ‘There is not a single house within the gateways that does not belong to the chapter.’
‘But if we are to keep up two houses, the additional income will soon be wasted,’ said Fanny, prudently.
‘The thing would be to let the house furnished every summer,’ said Lucy.
‘But I must take my residence as the terms come,’ said the vicar; ‘and I certainly should not like to be away from Framley all the winter; I should never see anything of Lufton.’ And perhaps he thought of his hunting and then thought again of the cleansing of his hands.
‘I should not a bit mind being away during winter,’ said Lucy, thinking of what the last winter had done for her.
‘But where on earth should we find money to furnish one of those large, old-fashioned houses? Pray, Mark, do not do anything rash.’ And the wife laid her hand affectionately on her husband’s arm. In this manner the question of the prebend was discussed between them on the evening before he started for London. Success had at last crowned the earnest effort with which Harold Smith had carried on the political battle of his life for the last ten years. The late Lord Petty Bag had resigned in disgust, having been unable to digest the Prime Minister’s ideas on Indian Reform, and Mr Harold Smith, after sundry hitches in the business, was installed in his place. It was said that Harold Smith was not exactly the man whom the Premier would himself have chosen for that high office; but the Premier’s hands were a good deal tied by circumstances. The last great appointment he had made had been terribly unpopular — so much so as to subject him, popular as he undoubtedly was himself, to a screech from the whole nation. The Jupiter, with withering scorn, had asked whether vice of every kind was to be considered, in these days of Queen Victoria, as a passport to the Cabinet. Adverse members of both Houses had arrayed themselves in a pure panoply of morality, and thundered forth their sarcasms with the indignant virtue and keen discontent of political Juvenals; and even his own friends had held up their hands in dismay. Under these circumstances he had thought himself obliged in the present instance to select a man who would not be especially objectionable to any party. Now Harold Smith lived with his wife, and his circumstances were not more than ordinarily embarrassed. He kept no racehorses; and, as Lord Brock now heard for the first time, gave lectures in provincial towns on popular subjects. He had a seat which was tolerably secure, and could talk to the House by the yard if required to do so. Moreover, Lord Brock had a great idea that the whole machinery of his own ministry would break to pieces very speedily. His own reputation was not bad, but it was insufficient for himself and lately for that selected friend of his. Under all the circumstances combined, he chose Harold Smith to fill the vacant office of Lord Petty Bag; and very proud the Lord Petty Bag was. For the last three or four months, he and Mr Supplehouse had been agreeing to consign the ministry to speedy perdition. ‘This sort of dictatorship will never do,’ Harold Smith had himself said, justifying that future vote of his as to want of confidence in the Queen’s Government. And Mr Supplehouse in this matter had fully agreed with him. He was a Juno whose form that wicked old Paris had utterly despised, and he, too, had quite made up his mind as to the lobby in which he would be found when that day of vengeance should arrive. But now things were much altered in Harold Smith’s views. The Premier had shown his wisdom in seeking for new strength where strength ought to be sought, and introducing new blood into the body of his ministry. The people would now feel fresh confidence, and probably the House also. As to Mr Supplehouse — he would use all his influence on Supplehouse. But after all, Mr Supplehouse was not everything.
On the morning after the vicar’s arrival in London he attended at the Petty Bag Office. It was situated in the close neighbourhood of Downing Street and the higher governmental gods; and though the building itself was not much, seeing that it was shored up on one side, that it bulged out on the front, was foul with smoke, dingy with dirt, and was devoid of any single architectural grace or modern scientific improvement, nevertheless its position gave it a status in the world which made the clerks in the Lord Petty Bag’s office quite respectable in their walk of life. Mark had seen his friend Sowerby on the previous evening, and had then made an appointment with him for the following morning, at the new minister’s office. And now he was there a little before his time, in order that he might have a few moments’ chat with his brother. When Mark found himself in the private secretary’s room he was quite astonished to see the change in his brother’s appearance which the change in his official rank had produced. Jack Robarts had been a well-built, straight-legged, lissom young fellow, pleasant to the eye because of his natural advantages, but rather given to a harum-scarum style of gait, and occasionally careless, not to say slovenly, of dress. But now he was the very pink of perfection. His jaunty frock-coat fitted him to perfection; not a hair of his head was out of place; his waistcoat and trousers were glossy and new, and his umbrella, which stood in the umbrella-stand in the corner, was tight and neat, and small and natty. ‘Well, John, you’ve become quite a great man,’ said his brother.
‘I don’t know much about that,’ said John; ‘but I find that I have an enormous deal of fagging to go through.’
‘Do you mean work? I thought you had about the easiest berth in the whole Civil Service.’
‘Ah! that’s just the mistake people make. Because we don’t cover whole reams of foolscap paper at the rate of fifteen lines to a page, and five words to a line, people think that we private secretaries have got nothing to do. Look here,’ and he tossed over scornfully a dozen or so of little notes. ‘I tell you what, Mark; it is no easy matter to manage the patronage of a Cabinet minister. Now I am bound to write to every one of these fellows a letter that will please him; and yet I shall refuse to every one of them the request which he asks.’
‘That must be difficult.’
‘Difficult is no word for it. But, after all, it consists chiefly in the knack of the thing. One must have the wit “from such a sharp and waspish word as No to pluck the sting”. I do it every day, and I really think that the people like it.’
‘Perhaps your refusals are better than people’s acquiescences.’
‘I don’t mean that at all. We private secretaries have all to do the same thing. Now, would you believe it? I have used up three lifts of notepaper already in telling people that there is no vacancy for a lobby messenger in the Petty Bag Office. Seven peeresses have asked for it for their favourite footmen. But there — there’s the Lord Petty Bag!’ A bell rang and the private secretary, jumping up from his notepaper, tripped away quickly to the great man’s room. ‘He’ll see you at once,’ said he, returning. ‘Buggins, show the Reverend Mr Robarts to the Lord Petty Bag.’ Buggins was the messenger for whose vacant place all the peeresses were striving with so much animation. And then Mark, following Buggins for two steps, was ushered into the next room.
If a man be altered by becoming a private secretary, he is much more altered by being made a Cabinet minister. Robarts, as he entered the room, could hardly believe that this was the same Harold Smith whom Mrs Proudie bothered so cruelly in the lecture-room at Barchester. Then he was cross, and touchy, and uneasy, and insignificant. Now, as he stood smiling on the hearth-rug of his official fire-place, it was quite pleasant to see the kind, patronizing smile which lighted up his features. He delighted to stand there, with his hands in his trousers’ pocket, the great man of the place, conscious of his lordship, and feeling himself every inch a minister. Sowerby had come with him, and was standing a little in the background, from which position he winked occasionally at the parson over the minister’s shoulder. ‘Ah, Robarts, delighted to see you. How odd, by the by, that your brother should be my private secretary!’ Mark said that it was a singular coincidence.
‘A very smart young fellow, and, if he minds himself, he’ll do well.’
‘I’m quite sure he’ll do well,’ said Mark.
‘Ah! well, yes; I think he will. And now, what can I do for you, Robarts?’ Hereupon Mr Sowerby struck in, making it apparent by his explanation that Mr Robarts himself by no means intended to ask for anything; but that, as his friends had thought that this stall at Barchester might be put into his hands with more fitness than in those of any other clergyman of the day, he was willing to accept a piece of preferment from a man whom he respected so much as he did the new Lord Petty Bag. The minister did not quite like this, as it restricted him from much of his condescension, and robbed him of the incense of a petition which he had expected Mark Robarts would make to him. But, nevertheless, he was very gracious. ‘He could not take it upon himself to declare,’ he said, ‘what might be Lord Brock’s pleasure with reference to the preferment at Barchester which was vacant. He had certainly already spoken to his lordship on the subject, and had perhaps some reason to believe that his own wishes would be consulted. No distinct promise had been made, but he might perhaps go so far as to say that he expected such result. If so, it would give him the greatest pleasure in the world to congratulate Mr Robarts on the possession of the stall — a stall which he was sure Mr Robarts would fill with dignity, piety, and brotherly love.’ And then, when he had finished, Mr Sowerby gave a final wink, and said that he regarded the matter as settled.
‘No, not settled, Nathaniel,’ said the cautious minister.
‘It’s the same thing,’ rejoined Sowerby. ‘We all know what all that flummery means. Men in office, Mark, never do make a distinct promise — not even to themselves of the leg of mutton which is roasting before their kitchen fires. It is so necessary in these days to be safe; is it not, Harold?’
‘Most expedient,’ said Harold Smith, shaking his head wisely. ‘Well, Robarts, who is it now?’ This he had said to his private secretary, who came to notice the arrival of some bigwig. ‘Well, yes. I will say good morning, with your leave, for I am a little hurried. And remember, Mr Robarts, I will do what I can for you; but you must distinctly understand that there is no promise.’
‘Oh, no promise at all,’ said Sowerby —‘of course not.’ And then, as he sauntered up Whitehall towards Charing Cross, with Robarts on his arm, he again pressed upon him the sale of that invaluable hunter, who was eating his head off his shoulders in the stable at Chaldicotes.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14