Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter IV

A Matter of Conscience

It is no doubt very wrong to long after a naughty thing. But nevertheless we all do so. One may say that hankering after naughty things is the very essence of the evil into which we have been precipitated by Adam’s fall. When we confess that we are all sinners, we confess that we all long after naughty things. And ambition is a great vice — as Mark Antony told us a long time ago — a reference to his own advancement, and not to the advancement of others. But then, how many of us are there who are not ambitious in this vicious manner? And there is nothing viler than the desire to know great people — people of great rank, I should say; nothing worse than the hunting of titles and worshipping of wealth. We all know this, and say it every day of our lives. But presuming that a way into the society of Park Lane was open to us, and a way also into that of Bedford Row, how many of us are there who would prefer Bedford Row, because it is so vile to worship wealth and title?

I am led into these rather trite remarks by the necessity of putting forward some sort of excuse for that frame of mind in which the Rev Mark Robarts awoke on the morning after his arrival at Chaldicotes. And I trust that the fact of his being a clergyman will not be allowed to press against him unfairly. Clergymen are subject to the same passions as other men; and, as far as I can see, give way to them, in one line or another, almost as frequently. Every clergyman should, by canonical rule, feel a personal disinclination to a bishopric; but yet we do not believe that such personal disinclination is generally very strong. Mark’s first thoughts when he woke on that morning flew back to Mr Fothergill’s invitation. The duke had sent a special message to say how peculiarly glad he, the duke, would be to make acquaintance with him, the parson! How much of this message had been of Mr Fothergill’s own manufacture, that Mark Robarts did not consider. He had obtained a living at an age when other young clergymen are beginning to think of a curacy, and he had obtained such a living as middle-aged parsons in their dreams regard as a possible Paradise for their old years. Of course he thought that all these good things had been the results of his own peculiar merits. Of course he felt that he was different from other parsons — more fitted by nature for intimacy with great persons, more urbane, more polished, and more richly endowed with modern clerical well-to-do aptitudes. He was grateful to Lady Lufton for what she had done for him; but perhaps not so grateful as he should have been.

At any rate he was not Lady Lufton’s servant, nor even her dependant. So much he had repeated to himself on many occasions, and had gone so far as to hint the same idea to his wife. In his career as parish priest he must in most things be the judge of his own actions — and in many also it was his duty to be the judge of those of his patroness. The fact of Lady Lufton having placed him in the living, could by no means make her the proper judge of his actions. This he often said to himself; and he said as often that Lady Lufton certainly had a hankering after such a judgement-seat.

Of whom generally did prime ministers and official bigwigs think it expedient to make bishops and deans? Was it not, as a rule, of those clergymen who had shown themselves able to perform their clerical duties efficiently, and able also to take their place with ease in society? He was very well off certainly at Framley; but he could never hope for anything beyond Framley, if he allowed himself to regard Lady Lufton as a bugbear. Putting Lady Lufton and her prejudices out of the question, was there any reason why he ought not to accept the duke’s invitation? He could not see that there was any such reason. If any one could be a better judge on such a subject than himself, it must be his bishop. And it was clear that the bishop wished him to go to Gatherum Castle.

The matter was still left open to him. Mr Fothergill had especially explained that; and therefore his ultimate decision was as yet within his own power. Such a visit would cost him some money, for he knew that a man does not stay at great houses without expense; and then, in spite of his good income, he was not very flush of money. He had been down this year with Lord Lufton in Scotland. Perhaps it might be more prudent for him to return home. But then an idea came to him that it behoved him as priest to break through that Framley thralldom under which he felt that he did to a certain extent exist. Was it not the fact that he was about to decline this invitation from fear of Lady Lufton? and if so, was that a motive by which he ought to be actuated? It was incumbent on him to rid himself of that feeling. And in this spirit he got up and dressed.

There was hunting again on that day; and as the hounds were to meet near Chaldicotes, and to draw some converts lying on the verge of the chase, the ladies were to go in carriages through the drives of the forest, and Mr Robarts was to escort them on horseback. Indeed it was one of those hunting days got up rather for the ladies than for the sport. Great nuisances they are to steady, middle-aged hunting men; but the young fellows like them because they have thereby an opportunity of showing all their sporting finery, and of doing a little flirtation on horseback. The bishop, also, had been minded to be of the party; so, at least, he had said on the previous evening; and a place in one of the carriages had been set apart for him; but since that, he and Mrs Proudie had discussed the matter in private, and at breakfast his lordship declared that he had changed his mind.

Mr Sowerby was one of those men who are known to be very poor — as poor as debt can make a man — but who, nevertheless, enjoy all the luxuries which money can give. It was believed that he could not live in England out of jail but for his protection as a member of Parliament; and yet it seemed that there was no end to his horses and carriages, his servants and retinue. He had been at this work for a great many years, and practice, they say, makes perfect. Such companions are very dangerous. There is no cholera, no yellow-fever, no small-pox, more contagious than debt. If one lives habitually among embarrassed men, one catches it to a certainty. No one had injured the community in this way more fatally than Mr Sowerby. But still he carried on the game himself; and now, on this morning, carriages and horses thronged at his gate, as though he were as substantially rich as his friend the Duke of Omnium.

‘Robarts, my dear fellow,’ said Mr Sowerby, when they were well under way down one of the glades of the forest — for the place where the hounds met was some four or five miles from the house of Chaldicotes — ‘ride on with me a moment. I want to speak to you. And if I stay behind we shall never get to the hounds.’ So Mark, who had come expressly to escort the ladies, rode on alongside Mr Sowerby in his pink coat.

‘My dear fellow, Fothergill tells me that you have some hesitation about going to Gatherum Castle.’

‘Well, I did decline, certainly. You know I am not a man of pleasure as you are. I have some duties to attend to.’

‘Gammon!’ said Mr Sowerby; and as he said it, he looked with a kind of derisive smile into the clergyman’s face.

‘It is easy enough to say that, Sowerby; and perhaps I have no right to expect that you should understand me.’

‘Ah, but I do understand you; and I say that it is gammon. I would be the last man in the world to ridicule your scruples about duty, if this hesitation on your part arose from any such scruple. But answer me honestly, do you not know that such is not the case?’

‘I know nothing of the kind.’

‘Ah, but I think you do. If you persist in refusing this invitation will it not be because you are afraid of making Lady Lufton angry? I do not know what there can be in that woman that she is able to hold both you and Lufton in leading-strings.’ Robarts, of course denied the charge, and protested that he was not to be taken back to his parsonage by any fear of Lady Lufton. But though he made such protest with warmth, he knew that he did so ineffectually. Sowerby only smiled, and said that the proof of the pudding was in the eating.

‘What is the good of a man keeping a curate if it be not to save him from that sort of drudgery?’ he asked.

‘Drudgery! If I were a drudge how could I be here today?’

‘Well, Robarts, look here. I am speaking now, perhaps, with more of the energy of an old friend than circumstances fully warrant; but I am an older man than you, and as I have a regard for you I do not like to see you throw up a good game when it is in your hands.’

‘Oh, as far as that goes, Sowerby, I need hardly tell you that I appreciate your kindness.’

‘If you are constant,’ continued the man of the world, ‘to live at Framley all your life, and to warm yourself in the sunshine of the dowager there, why, in such case, it may perhaps be useless for you to extend the circle of your friends; but if you have higher ideas than those, you will be very wrong to omit the present opportunity of going to the duke’s. I never knew the duke go so much out of his way to be civil to a clergyman as he has done in this instance.’

‘I am sure I am very much obliged to him.’

‘The fact is, that you may, if you please, make yourself popular in the county; but you cannot do it by obeying Lady Lufton’s behest. She is a dear old woman, I am sure.’

‘She is, Sowerby; and you would say so, if you knew her.’

‘I don’t doubt it; but it would not do for you or me to live exactly according to her ideas. Now, here, in this case, the bishop of the diocese is to be one of the party, and he has, I believe, expressed a wish that you should be another.’

‘He asked me if I were going.’

‘Exactly; and Archdeacon Grantly will also be there.’

‘Will he?’ asked Mark. Now, that would be a great point gained, for Archdeacon Grantly was a close friend of Lady Lufton.

‘So I understand from Fothergill. Indeed, it will be very wrong of you not to go, and I tell you plainly; and what is more, when you talk about your duty — you having a curate as you do have — why, it is gammon.’ These last words he spoke looking back over his shoulder as he stood up in his stirrups, for he had caught the eye of the huntsman, who was surrounded by his hounds, and was now trotting on to join him. During a great portion of the day, Mark found himself riding by the side of Mrs Proudie, as that lady leaned back in her carriage. And Mrs Proudie smiled on him graciously, though her daughter would not do so. Mrs Proudie was fond of having an attendant clergyman; and as it was evident that Mr Robarts lived among nice people — titled dowagers, members of Parliament, and people of that sort — she was quite willing to install him as a sort of honorary chaplain pro tem.

‘I’ll tell you what we have settled, Mrs Harold Smith and I,’ said Mrs Proudie to him. ‘This lecture at Barchester will be so late on Saturday evening, that you had all better come and dine with us.’ Mark bowed and thanked her, and declared that he should be very happy to make one of such a party. Even Lady Lufton could not object to this, although she was not especially fond of Mrs Proudie.

‘And then they are to sleep at the hotel. It will really be too late for ladies to think of going back so far at this time of the year. I told Mrs Harold Smith, and Miss Dunstable, too, that we could manage to make room at any rate for them. But they will not leave the other ladies; so they go to the hotel for the night. But, Mr Robarts, the bishop will never allow you to stay at the inn, so of course you will take a bed at the palace.’

It immediately occurred to Mark that as the lecture was to be given on Saturday evening, the next morning would be Sunday; and, on that Sunday, he would have to preach at Chaldicotes. ‘I thought they were all going to return the same night,’ said he.

‘Well, they did intend it; but you see Mrs Smith is afraid.’

‘I should have to be back here on the Sunday morning, Mrs Proudie.’

‘Ah, yes, that is bad — very bad indeed. No one dislikes any interference with the Sabbath any more than I do. Indeed, if I am particular about anything it is about that. But some works are works of necessity, Mr Robarts; are they not? Now you must necessarily be back at Chaldicotes on Sunday morning!’ And so the matter was settled. Mrs Proudie was very firm in general in the matter of Sabbath-day observances; but when she had to deal with such persons as Mrs Harold Smith, it was expedient that she should give way a little. ‘You can start at noon as it’s daylight, you know, if you like it, Mr Robarts,’ she said.

There was not much to boast of as to the hunting, but it was a very pleasant day for the ladies. The men rode up and down the grass roads through the chase, sometimes in the greatest possible hurry as though they never could go quick enough; and then the coachmen would drive very fast also, though they did not know why, for a fast pace of movement is another of those contagious diseases. And then again the sportsmen would move at an undertaker’s pace, when the fox had traversed and the hounds would be at a loss to know which was the hunt and which was the heel; and then the carriages would go slowly, and the ladies would stand up and talk. And then the time for lunch came; and altogether the day went pleasantly enough.

‘And so that’s hunting, is it?’ said Miss Dunstable.

‘Yes, that’s hunting,’ said Mr Sowerby.

‘I did not see any gentlemen do anything that I could not do myself, except there was one young man slipped off into the mud; and I shouldn’t like that.’

‘But there was no breaking of bones, was there, my dear?’ said Mrs Harold Smith.

‘And nobody caught any foxes,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘The fact is, Mrs Smith, that I don’t think much more of their sport than I do of their business. I shall take to hunting a pack of hounds myself after this.’

‘Do, my dear, and I’ll be your whipper-in. I wonder whether Mrs Proudie would join us.’

‘I shall be writing to the duke to-night,’ said Mr Fothergill to Mark, as they were all riding up to the stable-yard together. ‘You will let me tell his grace that you will accept his invitation — will you not?’

‘Upon my word, the duke is very kind,’ said Mark.

‘He is very anxious to know you, I can assure you,’ said Fothergill. What could a young flattered fool of a parson do, but say that he would go? Mark did say that he would go; and in the course of the evening his friend Mr Sowerby congratulated him, and the bishop joked with him and said that he knew that he would not give up good company so soon; and Miss Dunstable said she would make him her chaplain as soon as Parliament would allow quack doctors to have such articles — an allusion which Mark did not understand, till he learned that Miss Dunstable was herself the proprietress of the celebrated Oil of Lebanon, invented by her late respected father, and patented by him with such wonderful results in the way of accumulated fortune; and Mrs Proudie made him quite one of their party, talking to him about all manner of Church subjects; and then at last, even Miss Proudie smiled on him, when she learned that he had been thought worthy of a bed at the duke’s castle. And all the world seemed to be open to him.

But he could not make himself happy that evening. On the next morning he must write to his wife; and he could already see the look of painful sorrow which would fall upon Fanny’s brow when she learned that her husband was going to be a guest at the Duke of Omnium’s. And he must tell her to send him money, and money was scarce. And then, as to Lady Lufton, should he send her some message, or should he not? In either case he must declare war against her. And then did he not owe everything to Lady Lufton? And thus in spite of all his triumphs he could not get himself to bed in a happy frame of mind.

On the next day, which was Friday, he postponed the disagreeable task of writing. Saturday would do well; and on Saturday morning, before they all started for Barchester, he did write. And his letter ran as follows:-

‘Chaldicotes, November, 185-‘DEAREST LOVE,

‘You will be astonished when I tell you how gay we all
are here, and what further dissipations are in store for
me. The Arabins, as you supposed, are not of our party;
but the Proudies are — as you supposed also. Your
suppositions are always right. And what will you think
when I tell you that I am to sleep at the palace on
Saturday? You know that there is to be a lecture in
Barchester on that day. Well; we must all go, of course,
as Harold Smith, one of our set here, is to give it. And
now it turns out that we cannot get back to the house the
same night because there is no moon; and Mrs Bishop would
not allow that my cloth should be contaminated by an
hotel; — very kind and conscientious, is it not?

‘But I have a more astounding piece of news for you than this. There is to be a very great party at Gatherum Castle next week, and they have talked me over into accepting an invitation which the duke sent expressly to me. I refused at first; but everybody here said that my doing so would be so strange; and then they all wanted to know my reason. When I came to render it, I did not know what reason I had to give. The bishop is going, and he thought it very odd that I should not go also, seeing that I was asked. I know that my own darling will think, and I know that she will not be pleased, and I must put off my defence till I return to her from this ogre-land — if ever I get back alive. But joking apart, Fanny, I think that I should have been wrong to stand out, when so much was said about it. I should have been seeming to take upon myself to sit in judgement upon the duke. I doubt if there be a single clergyman in the diocese, under fifty years of age, who would have refused the invitation under such circumstances — unless it be Crawley, who is so mad on the subject that he thinks it almost wrong to take a walk out of his own parish. I must stay at Gatherum Castle over Sunday week — indeed, we only go there on Friday. I have written to Jones about his duties. I can make it up to him, as I know he wishes to go to Wales at Christmas. My wanderings will all be over then, and he may go for a couple of months if he pleases. I suppose you will take my classes in the school on Sunday, as well as your own; but pray make them have a good fire. If this be too much for you, make Mrs Podgens take the boys. Indeed I think that will be better.

‘Of course you will tell her ladyship of my whereabouts. Tell her from me, that as regards the bishop, as well as regarding another great personage, the colour has been laid on perhaps a little too thickly. Not that Lady Lufton would ever like him. Make her understand that my going to the duke’s house has almost become a matter of conscience with me. I have not known how to make it appear that it would be right for me to refuse, without absolutely making a party matter of it. I saw that it would be said, that I, coming from Lady Lufton’s parish, could not go to the Duke of Omnium’s. This I did not choose.

‘I find that I shall want a little money before I leave here, five or ten pounds — say ten pounds. If you cannot spare it, get it from Davis. He owes me more than that, a good deal. And now, God bless and preserve you, my love. Kiss my darling bairns for papa, and give them my blessing. ‘Always and ever your own, ‘M.R.’

And then there was written, on an outside scrap, which was folded round the full-written sheet of paper. ‘Make it as smooth at Framley Court as possible.’ However strong, and reasonable, and unanswerable the body of Mark’s letter may have been, all his hesitation, weakness, doubt, and fear, were expressed in that short postscript.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01