It will be necessary that I should say a word or two of some of the people named in the few preceding pages, and also of the localities in which they lived. Of Lady Lufton herself enough, perhaps, has been written to introduce her to my readers. The Framley property belonged to her son; but as Lufton Park — an ancient ramshackle place in another county — had heretofore been the family residence of the Lufton family, Framley Court had been apportioned to her for her residence for life. Lord Lufton himself was still unmarried; and as he had no establishment at Lufton Park — which indeed had not been inhabited since his grandfather died — he lived with his mother when it suited him to live anywhere in that neighbourhood. The widow would fain have seen more of him than he allowed her to do. He had a shooting lodge in Scotland, and apartments in London, and a string of horses in Leicestershire — much to the disgust of the country gentry around him, who held that their own hunting was as good as any that England could afford. His lordship, however, paid his subscription to the East Barsetshire park, and then thought himself at liberty to follow his own pleasure as to his own amusement.
Framley itself was a pleasant country place, having about it nothing of seigneurial dignity or grandeur, but possessing everything necessary for the comfort of country life. The house was a low building of two stories, built at different periods, and devoid of all pretensions to any style of architecture; but the rooms, though not lofty, were warm and comfortable, and the gardens were trim and neat beyond all others in the county. Indeed, it was for its gardens only that Framley Court was celebrated. Village there was none, properly speaking. The high road went winding about through the Framley paddocks, shrubberies, and wood-skirted home fields, for a mile and a half, not two hundred yards of which ran in a straight line; and there was a cross-road which passed down through the domain, whereby there came to be a locality called Framley Cross. Here stood the ‘Lufton Arms’, and here at Framley Cross, the hounds occasionally would meet; for the Framley woods were drawn in spite of the young lord’s truant disposition; and then, at the Cross also, lived the shoemaker, who kept the post-office.
Framley church was distant from this just a quarter of a mile, and stood immediately opposite to the chief entrance to Framley Court. It was but a mean, ugly building, having been erected about a hundred years since, when all churches then built were made to be mean and ugly; nor was it large enough for the congregation, some of whom were thus driven to the dissenting chapels, the Sions and Ebenezers, which had got themselves established on each side of the parish, in putting down which Lady Lufton thought that her parson was hardly as energetic as he might be. It was, therefore, a matter near to Lady Lufton’s heart to see a new church built, and she was urgent in her eloquence both with her son and with the vicar, to have this good work commenced.
Beyond the church, but close to it, were the boy’s school and girl’s school, two distinct buildings, which owed their erection to Lady Lufton’s energy; then came a neat little grocer’s shop, the neat grocer being the clerk and the sexton, and the neat grocer’s wife the pew-opener in the church. Podgens was their name, and they were great favourites with her ladyship, both having been servants up at the house. And here the road took a sudden turn to the left, turning, as it were, away from Framley Court; and just beyond the turn was the vicarage, so that there was a little garden path running from the back of the vicarage grounds into the churchyard, cutting the Podgens into an isolated corner of their own; — from whence, to tell the truth, the vicar would have been glad to banish them and their cabbages, could he have had the power to do so. For has not the small vineyard of Naboth been always an eyesore to neighbouring potentates?
The potentate in this case had as little excuse as Ahab, for nothing in the parsonage way could be more perfect than his parsonage. It had all the details requisite for the house of a moderate gentleman with moderate means, and none of those expensive superfluities which immoderate gentlemen demand, or which themselves demand immoderate means. And then the gardens and paddocks were exactly suited to it; and everything was in good order; — not exactly new, so as to be raw and uncovered, and redolent of workmen; but just at that era of their existence in which newness gives way to comfortable homeliness.
Other village at Framley there was none. At the back of the Court, up one of those cross-roads, there was another small shop or two, and there was a very neat cottage residence, in which lived the widow of a former curate, another protege of Lady Lufton’s; and there was a big, staring, brick house, in which the present curate lived; but this was a full mile distant from the church, and farther from Framley Court, standing on that cross-road which runs from Framley Cross in a direction away from the mansion. This gentleman, the Rev Evan Jones, might from his age, have been the vicar’s father; but he had been for many years curate at Framley; and though he was personally disliked by Lady Lufton, as being Low Church in his principles, and unsightly in his appearance, nevertheless, she would not urge his removal. He had two or three pupils in that large brick house, and, if turned out from these and from his curacy, might find it difficult to establish himself elsewhere. On this account mercy was extended to the Rev E Jones, and, in spite of his red face and awkward big feet, he was invited to dine at Framley Court, with his plain daughter, once in every three months.
Over and above these, there was hardly a house in the parish of Framley, outside the bounds of Framley Court, except those of farmers and farm labourers; and yet the parish was of large extent.
Framley is in the eastern division of the county of Barsetshire, which, as all the world knows, is, politically speaking, as true blue a county as any in England. There have been backslidings even here, it is true; but then, in what county have there not been such backslidings? Where, in these pinchbeck days, can we hope to find the old agricultural virtue in all its purity? But among these backsliders, I regret to say, that men now reckon Lord Lufton. Not that he is a violent Whig, or perhaps that is a Whig at all. But he jeers and sneers at the old county doings; declares, when solicited on the subject, that, as far as he is concerned, Mr Bright may sit for the county, if he pleases; and alleges, that being unfortunately a peer, he has no right ever to interest himself in the question. All this is deeply regretted, for, in the old days, there was no portion of the county more decidedly true blue than the Framley district; and, indeed, up to the present day, the dowager is able to give an occasional helping hand.
Chaldicotes is the seat of Nathaniel Sowerby, Esq, who, at the moment supposed to be now present, is one of the members for the Western Division of Barsetshire. But this Western Division can boast none of the fine political attributes which grace its twin brother. It is decidedly Whig, and is almost governed in its politics by one or two great Whig families. It has been said that Mark Robarts was about to pay a visit to Chaldicotes, and it has been hinted that his wife would have been as well pleased had this not been the case. Such was certainly the fact; for she, dear, prudent, excellent wife as she was, knew that Mr Sowerby was not the most eligible friend in the world for a young clergyman, and knew, also, that there was but one other house in the whole county the name of which was so distasteful to Lady Lufton. The reasons for this were, I may say, manifold. In the first place, Mr Sowerby was a Whig, and was seated in Parliament mainly by that great Whig autocrat the Duke of Omnium, whose residence was more dangerous even than that of Mr Sowerby, and whom Lady Lufton regarded as an impersonation of Lucifer upon earth. Mr Sowerby, too, was unmarried — as indeed, also, was Lord Lufton, much to his mother’s grief. Mr Sowerby, it is true, was fifty, whereas the young lord was as yet only twenty-five, but, nevertheless, her ladyship was becoming anxious on the subject. In her mind every man was bound to marry as soon as he could maintain a wife; and she held an idea — a quite private tenet, of which she was herself but imperfectly conscious — that men in general were inclined to neglect this duty for their own selfish gratifications, that the wicked ones encouraged the more innocent in this neglect, and that many would not marry at all, were not unseen exercised against them by the other sex. The Duke of Omnium was the head of all such sinners, and Lady Lufton greatly feared that her son might be made subject to the baneful Omnium influence, by means of Mr Sowerby and Chaldicotes. And then Mr Sowerby was known to be a very poor man, with a very large estate. He had wasted, men said, much on electioneering, and more on gambling. A considerable portion of his property had gone into the hands of the duke, who, as a rule, bought up everything around him that was to be purchased. Indeed, it was said of him by his enemies, that so covetous was he of Barsetshire property, that he would lead a young neighbour on to his ruin, that he might get his land. What — oh! what if he should come to be possessed in this way of any of the fair acres of Framley Court? What if he should become possessed of them all? It can hardly be wondered at that Lady Lufton should not like Chaldicotes.
The Chaldicotes set, as Lady Lufton called them, were in every way opposed to what a set should be according to her ideas. She liked cheerful, quiet, well-to-do peaple, who loved their Church, their country, and their Queen, and who were not too anxious to make noise in the world. She desired that all the farmers round her should be able to pay their rents without trouble, that all the old women should have warm flannel petticoats, that the working men should be saved from rheumatism by healthy food and dry houses, that they should all be obedient to their pastors and masters — temporal as well as spiritual. That was her idea of loving her country. She desired also that the copses should be full of pheasants, the stubble-field of partridges, and the gorse covers of foxes; in that way, also, she loved her country. She had ardently longed, during the Crimean War, that the Russians might be beaten — but not by the French, to the exclusion of the English, as had seemed to her to be too much the case; and hardly by the English under the dictatorship of Lord Palmerston. Indeed, she had had but little faith in that war after Lord Aberdeen had been expelled. If, indeed, Lord Derby could have come in! But now as to this Chaldicotes set. After all, there was nothing so very dangerous about them; for it was in London, not in the country, that Mr Sowerby indulged, if he did so indulge, his bachelor malpractices. Speaking of them as a set, the chief offender was Mr Harold Smith, or perhaps his wife. He also was a member of Parliament, and, as many thought, a rising man. His father had been for many years a debater in the House, and had held high office. Harold, in early life, had intended himself for the Cabinet; and if working hard at his trade could ensure success, he ought to obtain it sooner or later. He had already filled more than one subordinate station, had been at the Treasury, and for a month or two, at the Admiralty, astonishing official mankind by his diligence. Those last-named few months had been under Lord Aberdeen, with whom he had been forced to retire. He was a younger son, and not possessed of any large fortune. Politics, as a profession, was, therefore, of importance to him. He had in early life married a sister of Mr Sowerby; and as the lady was some six or seven years older than himself, and had brought with her but a scanty dowry, people thought that in this matter Mr Harold Smith had not been perspicacious. Mr Harold Smith was not personally a popular man with any party, though some judged him to be eminently useful. He was laborious, well-informed, and, on the whole, honest; but he was conceited, long-winded, and pompous.
Mrs Harold Smith was the very opposite of her lord. She was a clever, bright woman, good-looking for her time of life — and she was now over forty — with a keen sense of all the world’s pleasures. She was neither laborious, nor well-informed, nor perhaps altogether honest — what woman ever understood the necessity or recognised the advantage of political honesty? But then she was neither dull nor pompous, and if she was conceited, she did not show it. She was a disappointed woman, as regards her husband; seeing that she had married him on the speculation that he would at once become politically important; and as yet Mr Smith had not quite fulfilled the prophecies of his early life.
And Lady Lufton, when she spoke of the Chaldicotes set, distinctly included, in her own mind, the Bishop of Barchester, and his wife and daughter. Seeing that Bishop Proudie was, of course, much a man addicted to religion and to religious thinking, and that Mr Sowerby himself had no particular religious sentiments whatever, there would not at first sight appear to be ground for much intercourse, and perhaps there was not much of such intercourse; but Mrs Proudie and Mrs Harold Smith were firm friends of four or five years standing — ever since the Proudies came into the diocese for the bishop was usually taken to Chaldicotes whenever Mrs Smith paid her brother a visit. Now Bishop Proudie was by no means a High Church dignitary, and Lady Lufton had never forgiven him for coming into that diocese. She had, instinctively, a high respect for the episcopal office; but of Bishop Proudie himself she hardly thought better than she did of Mr Sowerby, or of that fabricator of evil, the Duke of Omnium. Whenever Mr Robarts would plead that in going anywhere he would have the benefit of meeting the bishop, Lady Lufton would slightly curl her upper lip. She could not say in words that Bishop Proudie — bishop as he certainly must be called — was no better than he ought to be; but by that curl of her lip she did explain to those who knew her that such was the feeling of her heart.
And then it was understood — Mark Robarts, at least, had so heard, and the information soon reached Framley Court — that Mr Supplehouse was to make one of the Chaldicotes party. Now Mr Supplehouse was a worse companion for a gentleman, young, High Church, conservative county parson than even Harold Smith. He also was in Parliament, and had been extolled during the early days of the Russian War by some portion of the metropolitan daily press, as the only man who could save the country. Let him be in the ministry, the Jupiter had said, and there would be some hope of reform, some chance that England’s ancient glory would not be allowed in these perilous times to go headlong into oblivion. And upon this the ministry, not anticipating much salvation from Mr Supplehouse, but willing as they usually are, to have the Jupiter at their back, did send for that gentleman, and gave him some footing among them. But how can a man to save a nation, and to lead a people, be content to fill the chair of an under-secretary? Supplehouse was not content, and soon gave it to be understood that his place was much higher than any yet tendered to him. The seals of high office, or war to the knife, was the alternative which he offered to a much-belaboured Head of Affairs — nothing doubting that the Head of Affairs would recognize the claimant’s value, and would have before his eyes a wholesome fear of the Jupiter. But the Head of Affairs, much belaboured as he was, knew that he might swing his tomahawk. Since that time he had been swinging his tomahawk, but not with so much effect as had been anticipated. He also was very intimate with Mr Sowerby, and was decidedly one of the Chaldecotes set. And there were many others included in the stigma whose sins were political or religious than moral. But they were gall and wormwood to Lady Lufton, who regarded them as children of the Lost One, and grieved with a mother’s grief when she knew that her son was among them, and felt all a patron’s anger when she heard that her clerical protege was about to seek such society. Mrs Robarts might well say that Lady Lufton would be annoyed.
‘You won’t call at the house before you go, will you?’ the wife asked on the following morning. He was to start after lunch on that day, driving himself in his own gig, so as to reach Chaldicotes, some twenty-four miles distant, before dinner.
‘No, I think not. What good should it do?’
‘Well, I can’t explain; but I think I should call; partly, perhaps, to show her that, as I had determined to go, I was not afraid of telling her so.’
‘Afraid! That’s nonsense, Fanny. I’m not afraid of her. But I don’t see why I should bring down upon myself the disagreeable things she will say. Besides, I have not time. I must walk up and see Jones about his duties; and then, what with getting ready, I shall have enough to do to get off in time.’
He paid his visit to Mr Jones, the curate, feeling no qualms of conscience there, as he rather boasted of all the members of Parliament he was going to meet, and of the bishop who would be with them. Mr Evan Jones was only his curate, and in speaking to him on the matter he could talk as though it were quite the proper thing for a vicar to meet his bishop at the house of a county member. And one would be inclined to say it was proper: only why could he not talk of it in the same tone to Lady Lufton? And then, having kissed his wife and children, he drove off, well pleased with his prospect for the coming ten days, but already anticipating some discomfort on his return.
On the three following days, Mrs Robarts did not meet her ladyship. She did not exactly take any steps to avoid such a meeting, but she did not purposely go up to the big house. She went to her school as usual, and made one or two calls among the farmers’ wives, but put no foot within the Framley Court grounds. She was braver than her husband, but even she did not wish to anticipate the evil day. On the Saturday, just before it began to get dusk, she was thinking of preparing for the fatal plunge, her friend, Lady Meredith, came to her.
‘So, Fanny, we shall again be so unfortunate to miss Mr Robarts,’ said her ladyship.
‘Yes. Did you ever know anything so unlucky? But he had promised Mr Sowerby before he heard you were coming. Pray do not think that he would have gone away had he known it.’
‘We should have been sorry to keep him from so much more amusing party.’
‘Now, Justinia, you are unfair. You intend to imply that he has gone to Chaldicotes, because he likes it better than Framley Court; but that is not the case. I hope Lady Lufton does not think that it is.’
Lady Meredith laughed as she put her arm round her friend’s waist. ‘Don’t lose your eloquence in defending him to me,’ she said. ‘You’ll want all that for my mother.’
‘But is your mother angry?’ asked Mrs Robarts, showing by her countenance how eager she was for true tidings on the subject.
‘Well, Fanny, you know her ladyship as well as I do. She thinks so very highly of the vicar of Framley, that she does begrudge him to those politicians at Chaldicotes.’
‘But, Justinia, the bishop will be there, you know.’
‘I don’t think that that consideration will reconcile my mother to the gentleman’s absence. He ought to be very proud, I know, to find that he is so much thought of. But come, Fanny, I want you to walk back with me, and you can dress at the house. And now we’ll go and look at the children.’
After that, as they walked together to Framley Court, Mrs Robarts made her friend promise that she would stand by her if any serious attack were made on the absent clergyman.
‘Are you going up to your room to dress?’ said the vicar’s wife, as soon as they were inside the porch leading into the hall. Lady Meredith immediately knew what her friend meant, and decided that the evil day should not be postponed. ‘We had better go in and have it over,’ she said, ‘and then we shall be comfortable for the evening.’
So the drawing-room door was opened, and there was Lady Lufton alone on the sofa.
‘Now, mamma,’ said the daughter, ‘you mustn’t scold Fanny much about Mr Robarts. He has gone to preach a charity sermon before the bishop, and under those circumstances, perhaps, he could not refuse.’ This was a stretch on the part of Lady Meredith — put in with much good-nature, no doubt; but still a stretch; for no one had supposed that the bishop would remain at Chaldicotes for the Sunday.
‘How do you do, Fanny?’ said Lady Lufton, getting up. ‘I am not going to scold her; and I don’t know how you can talk nonsense, Justinia. Of course we are very sorry not to have Mr Robarts; more especially as he was not here the last Sunday that Sir George was with us. I do like to see Mr Robarts in his own church, certainly; and I don’t like any other clergyman there as well. If Fanny takes that for scolding, why —’
‘Oh! no, Lady Lufton; and it’s so kind of you to say so. But Mr Robarts was so sorry that he had accepted this invitation to Chaldicotes, before he heard that Sir George was coming, and —’
‘Oh, I know that Chaldicotes has great attractions which we cannot offer,’ said Lady Lufton.
‘Indeed, it was not that. But he was asked to preach, you, know; and Mr Harold Smith —’ Poor Fanny was only making it worse. Had she been worldly wise, she would have accepted the little compliment implied in Lady Lufton’s first rebuke, and then have held her peace.
‘Oh, yes! The Harold Smiths! They are irresistible, I know. How could any man refuse to join a party, graced both by Mrs Harold Smith and Mrs Proudie — even though his duty should require him to stay away?’
‘Now, mamma —’
‘Well, my dear, what am I to say? You would not wish me to tell a fib. I don’t like Mrs Harold Smith — at least, what I know of her; for it has not been my fortune to meet her since her marriage. It may be conceited; but to own the truth, I think that Mr Robarts would be better off with us at Framley than with the Harold Smiths at Chaldicotes — even though Mrs Proudie be thrown into the bargain.’
It was nearly dark, and therefore the rising colour in the face of Mrs Robarts could not be seen. She, however, was too good a wife to hear these things said without some anger within her bosom. She could blame her husband in her own mind; but it was intolerable to her that others should blame him in her hearing.
‘He would undoubtedly be better off,’ she said; ‘but then, Lady Lufton, people can’t always go exactly where they will be best off. Gentlemen sometimes think —’
‘Well — well, my dear, that will do. He has not taken you, at any rate; and so we will forgive him.’ And Lady Lufton kissed her. ‘As it is,’ and she affected a low whisper between the two young wives ‘as it is, we must e’en put up with poor Evan Jones. He is to be here to-night, and we must go and dress to receive him.’
And so they went off. Lady Lufton was quite enough at heart to like Mrs Robarts all the better for standing up for her absent lord.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55