It was, perhaps, quite as well on the whole for Mark Robarts, that he did not go to that supper party. It was eleven o’clock before they sat down and nearly two before the gentlemen were in bed. It must be remembered that he had to preach, on the Sunday morning, a charity sermon on behalf of a mission to Mr Harold Smith’s islanders; and, to tell the truth, it was a task for which he had now very little inclination. When first invited to do this, he had regarded the task seriously enough, as he always did regard such work, and he completed his sermon for the occasion before he left Framley; but, since that, an air of ridicule had been thrown over the whole affair, in which he had joined without much thinking of his own sermon, and this made him now heartily wish that he could choose a discourse upon any other subject. He knew well that the very points on which he had most insisted, were those which had drawn most mirth from Miss Dunstable and Mrs Smith, and had oftenest provoked his own laughter; and how was he now to preach on those matters in a fitting mood, knowing, as he would know, that these two ladies would be looking at him, would endeavour to catch his eye, and would turn him into ridicule as they had already turned the lecturer? In this he did injustice to one of those ladies unconsciously. Miss Dunstable, with all her aptitude for mirth, and we may almost fairly say for frolic, was in no way inclined to ridicule religion or say anything which she thought appertained to it. It may be presumed that among such things she did not include Mrs Proudie, as she was willing enough to laugh at that lady; but Mark, had he known her better, might have been sure that she would have sat out his sermon with perfect propriety.
As it was, however, he did feel considerable uneasiness; and in the morning, he got up early, with the view of seeing what might be done in the way of emendation. He cut out those parts which referred most specially to the islands — he rejected altogether those names over which they had all laughed together so heartily — and he inserted a string of genial remarks, very useful, no doubt, which he flattered himself would rob his sermon of all similarity to Harold Smith’s lecture. He had, perhaps, hoped, when writing it, to create some little sensation; but now he would be quite satisfied if it passed without remark. It had been arranged that the party at the hotel should breakfast at eight and start at half-past eight punctually, so as to enable them to reach Chaldicotes in ample time to arrange their dresses before they went to church. The church stood on the grounds, close to that long formal avenue of lime-trees, but within the front gate. Their walk, therefore, after reaching Mr Sowerby’s house, would not be long.
Mrs Proudie, who was herself an early body, would not hear of her guest — and he a clergyman — going out to the inn for his breakfast on a Sunday morning. As regarded that Sabbath-day journey to Chaldicotes, to that she had given her assent, no doubt with much uneasiness of mind; but let them have as little desecration as possible. It was therefore an understood thing that he was to return with his friends; but he should not go without the advantage of family prayers and family breakfast. And so Mrs Proudie on retiring to rest gave the necessary orders, to the great annoyance of her household.
To the great annoyance, at least, of her servants! The bishop himself did not make his appearance till a much later hour. He in all things now supported his wife’s rule; in all things now, I say; for there had been a moment, when in the first flush and pride of his episcopacy, other ideas had filled his mind. Now, however, he gave no opposition to that good woman with whom Providence had blessed him; and in return to his little personal comforts. With what surprise did the bishop now look back upon that unholy war which he had once been tempted to wage against the wife of his bosom? Nor did any of the Miss Proudies show themselves at that early hour. They, perhaps, were absent on a different ground. With them Mrs Proudie had not been so successful as with the bishop. They had wills of their own which became stronger and stronger every day. Of the three with whom Mrs Proudie was blessed one was already in a position to exercise that will in a legitimate way over a very excellent young clergyman in the diocese, the Rev. Optimus Grey; but the other two, having as yet no such opening for their powers of command, were perhaps a little too much inclined to keep themselves in practice at home. But at half-past seven punctually Mrs Proudie was there, and so was the domestic chaplain; so was Mr Robarts, and so were the household servants — all excepting one lazy recreant. ‘Where is Thomas?’ said she of the Argus eyes, standing up with her book of family prayers in her hand. ‘So please you, ma’am, Tummas be bad with the tooth-ache.’ ‘Tooth-ache!’ exclaimed Mrs Proudie; but her eyes said more terrible things than that. ‘Let Thomas come to me before church.’ And then they proceeded to prayers. These were read by the chaplain, as it was proper and decent that they should be; but I cannot but think that Mrs Proudie a little exceeded her office in taking upon herself to pronounce the blessing when the prayers were over. She did it, however, in a clear, sonorous voice, and perhaps with more personal dignity than was within the chaplain’s compass.
Mrs Proudie was rather stern at breakfast, and the vicar of Framley felt an unaccountable desire to get out of the house. In the first place she was not dressed with her usual punctilious attention to the proprieties of her high situation. It was evident that there was to be a further toilet before she sailed up the middle of the cathedral choir. She had on a large loose cap with no other strings than those which were wanted of tying it beneath her chin, a cap with which the household and the chaplain were well acquainted, but which seemed ungracious in the eyes of Mr Robarts, after all the well-dressed holiday doings of the last week. She wore also a large, loose, dark-coloured wrapper, which came well up round her neck, and which was not buoyed out, as were her dresses in general, with an under mechanism of petticoats. It clung to her closely, and added to the inflexibility of her general appearance. And then she had encased her feet in large carpet slippers, which no doubt were comfortable, but which struck her visitor as being strange and unsightly. ‘Do you find difficulty in getting your people together for early morning prayers?’ she said, as she commenced her operations with the teapot.
‘I can’t say that I do,’ said Mark. ‘But then we are seldom so early as this.’
‘Parish clergymen should be early, I think,’ said she. ‘It sets a good example in the village.’
‘I am thinking of having morning prayers in the church,’ said Mr Robarts.
‘That’s nonsense,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘and usually means worse than nonsense. I know what that comes to. If you have three services on a Sunday and domestic prayers at home, you do very well.’ And so saying she handed him his cup.
‘But I have not three services on Sunday, Mrs Proudie.’
‘Then I think you should have. Where can the poor people be so well off on Sundays as in church? The bishop intends to express a very strong opinion on this subject in his next charge; and then I am sure you will attend to his wishes.’ To this Mark made no answer, but devoted himself to his egg.
‘I suppose you have not a very large establishment at Framley?’ asked Mrs Proudie.
‘What, at the parsonage?’
‘Yes; you live at the parsonage, don’t you?’
‘Certainly — well; not very large, Mrs Proudie; just enough to do the work, make things comfortable, and look after the children.’
‘It is a very fine living,’ said she; ‘very fine. I don’t remember that we have anything so good ourselves — except at Plumstead, the archdeacon’s place. He has managed to butter his bread very well.’
‘His father was bishop of Barchester.’
‘Oh, yes, I know all about him. Only for that he would barely have risen to archdeacon, I suspect. Let me see; yours is 800 pounds, is it not, Mr Robarts? And you such a young man! I suppose you have insured your life highly.’
‘Pretty well, Mrs Proudie.’
‘And then, too, your wife had some little fortune, had she not? We cannot all fall on our feet like that; can we, Mr White?’ and Mrs Proudie was an imperious woman; but then so also was Lady Lufton; and it may therefore be said that Mr Robarts ought to have been accustomed to feminine domination; but as he sat there munching his toast he could not but make a comparison between the two. Lady Lufton in her little attempts sometimes angered him; but he certainly thought, comparing that lady and the clerical together, that the rule of the former was the lighter and the pleasanter. But then Lady Lufton had given him a living and a wife, and Mrs Proudie had given him nothing. Immediately after breakfast Mr Robarts escaped to the Dragon of Wantly, partly because he had had enough of the matutinal Mrs Proudie, and partly also in order that he might hurry his friends there. He was already becoming fidgety about the time, as Harold Smith had been on the preceding evening; and he did to give Mrs Smith credit for much punctuality. When he arrived at the inn he asked if they had done breakfast, and was immediately told that not one of them was yet down. It was already half-past eight, and they ought to be now under weigh on the road. He immediately went to Mr Sowerby’s room, and found that gentleman shaving himself. ‘Don’t be a bit uneasy,’ said Mr Sowerby. ‘You and Smith shall have my phaeton, and those horses will take you there in an hour. Not, however, but what we shall all be in time. We’ll send round to the whole party and ferret them out.’ And then Mr Sowerby, having evoked manifold aid with various peals of the bell, sent messengers, male and female, flying to all the different rooms.
‘I think I’ll hire a gig and go over at once,’ said Mark. ‘It would not do for me to be late, you know.’
‘It won’t do for any of us to be late; and it’s all nonsense about hiring a gig. It would be just throwing a sovereign away, and we should pass you on the road. Go down and see that the tea is made, and all that; and make them have the bill ready; and, Robarts, you may pay it too, if you like it. But, I believe we may as well leave that to Baron Borneo — eh?’ And then Mark did go down and make the tea, and he did order the bill; and then he walked about the room, looking at his watch, and nervously waiting for the footsteps of his friends. And as he was so employed, he bethought himself whether it was fit that he should be so doing on a Sunday morning; whether it was good that he should be waiting there, in painful anxiety, to gallop over a dozen miles in order that he might not be too late with his sermon; whether his own snug room at home, with Fanny opposite to him, and his bairns crawling on the floor, with his own preparations for his own quiet service, and the warm pressure of Lady Lufton’s hand when that service should be over, was not better than all this. He could not afford not to know Harold Smith, and Mr Sowerby, and the Duke of Omnium, he had said to himself. He had to look to rise in the world, as other men did. But what pleasure had come to him as yet from these intimacies? How much had he hitherto done towards his rising? To speak the truth he was not over well pleased with himself, as he made Mrs Harold Smith’s tea and ordered Mr Sowerby’s mutton-chops on that Sunday morning.
At a little after nine they all assembled; but even then he could not make the ladies understand that there was any cause for hurry; at least Mrs Smith, who was the leader of the party, would not understand it. When Mark again talked of hiring a gig, Miss Dunstable indeed said that she would join him; and seemed to be so far earnest in the matter that Mr Sowerby hurried through his second egg in order to prevent such a catastrophe. And then Mark absolutely did order the gig; whereupon Mrs Smith remarked that in such case she need not hurry herself; but the waiter brought up word that all the horses of the hotel were out, excepting one pair, neither of which could go in single harness. Indeed, half of their stable establishment was already secured by Mr Sowerby’s own party. ‘Then let me have the pair,’ said Mark, almost frantic with delay.
‘Nonsense, Robarts; we are ready now. He won’t want them, James. Come, Supplehouse, have you done?’
‘Then I am to hurry myself, am I?’ said Mrs Harold Smith. ‘What changeable creatures you are! May I be allowed half a cup of tea, Mr Robarts?’ Mark, who was now really angry, turned away to the window. There was no charity in these people, he said to himself. They knew the nature of his distress, and yet they only laughed at him. He did not, perhaps, reflect that he had assisted in the joke against Mr Harold Smith on the previous evening. ‘James,’ said he turning to the waiter, ‘let me have that pair of horses immediately, if you please.’
‘Yes, sir, round in fifteen minutes, sir: only Ned, sir, the post-boy, sir; I fear he’s at his breakfast, sir; but we’ll have him here in less than no time, sir!’ But before Ned and the pair were there, Mrs Smith had absolutely got her bonnet on, and at ten they started. Mark did share the phaeton with Harold Smith, but the phaeton did not go any faster than the other carriages. They led the way, indeed, but that was all; and when the vicar’s watch told him that it was eleven, they were still a mile from Chaldicotes gate, although the horses were in lather of steam; and they had just only entered the village when the church bell ceased to be heard.
‘Come, you are in time, after all,’ said Harold Smith. ‘Better time than I was last night.’ Robarts could not explain to him that the entry of a clergyman into church, of a clergyman who is going to assist in the service, should not be made at the last minute, that it should be staid and decorous, and not done in scrambling haste, with running feet and scant breath.
‘I suppose we’ll stop here, sir,’ said the postillion, as he pulled up his horses short of the church-door, in the midst of the people who were congregating together ready for the service. But Mark had not anticipated being so late, and said at first that it was necessary that he should go on to the house; then, when the horses had again begun to move, he remembered that he could send for his gown, and as he got out of the carriage he gave his orders accordingly. And now the other two carriages were there, and so there was a noise and confusion at the door — very unseemly, as Mark felt it; and the gentlemen spoke in loud voices, and Mrs Harold Smith declared that she had no Prayer-Book, and was much too tired to go in at present; she would go home and rest herself, she said. And two other ladies of the party did so also, leaving Miss Dunstable to go alone; — for which, however, she did not care one button. And then one of the party, who had a nasty habit of swearing, cursed at something as he walked in close to Mark’s elbow; and so they made their way up the church as the Absolution was being read, and Mark Robarts felt thoroughly ashamed of himself. If his rising in the world brought him in contact with such things as these, would it not be better for him that he should do without rising? His sermon went off without any special notice. Mrs Harold Smith was not there, much to his satisfaction; and the others who were did not seem to pay any special attention to it. The subject had lost its novelty; except with the ordinary church congregation, the farmers and labourers of the parish; and the ‘quality’ in the squire’s great pew were content to show their sympathy by a moderate subscription. Miss Dunstable, however, gave a ten-pound note, which swelled up the sum total to a respectable amount — for such a place as Chaldicotes.
‘And now I hope I may never hear another word about New Guinea,’ said Mr Sowerby, as they clustered round the drawing-room fire after church. ‘That subject may be regarded as killed, eh, Harold?’
‘Certainly murdered last night,’ said Mrs Harold, ‘by that awful woman, Mrs Proudie.’
‘I wonder you did not make a dash at her and pull her out of the arm-chair,’ said Miss Dunstable. ‘I was expecting it, and thought that I should come to grief in the scrimmage.’
‘I never knew such a brazen-faced thing before,’ said Miss Kerrigy, a travelling friend of Miss Dunstable’s.
‘Nor I— never; in a public place, too,’ said Dr Easyman, a medical gentleman, who also often accompanied her.
‘As for brass,’ said Mr Supplehouse, ‘she would never stop at anything for want of that. It is well that she has enough, for the poor bishop is but badly provided.’
‘I hardly heard what it was she did say,’ said Harold Smith; ‘so I could not answer her, you know. Something about Sundays, I believe.’
‘She hoped you would not put the South Sea Islanders up to Sabbath travelling,’ said Mr Sowerby.
‘And specially begged that you would establish Lord’s-day schools,’ said Mrs Smith; and then they all went to work, and picked Mrs Proudie to pieces from the top ribbons of her cap down to the sole of her slipper.
‘And then she expects the poor parsons to fall in love with her daughters. That’s the hardest thing of all,’ said Miss Dunstable. But, on the whole, when our vicar went to bed, he did not feel that he had spent a profitable Sunday.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55