After this, little occurred at Greshamsbury, or among Greshamsbury people, which it will be necessary for us to record. Some notice was, of course, taking of Frank’s prolonged absence from his college; and tidings, perhaps exaggerated tidings, of what had happened at Pall Mall were not slow to reach the High Street of Cambridge. But that affair was gradually hushed up; and Frank went on with his studies.
He went back to his studies: it then being an understood arrangement between him and his father that he should not return to Greshamsbury till the summer vacation. On this occasion, the squire and Lady Arabella had, strange to say, been of the same mind. They both wished to keep their son away from Miss Thorne; and both calculated, that at his age and with his disposition, it was not probable that any passion would last out a six month absence. ‘And when that summer comes it will be an excellent opportunity for us to go abroad,’ said Lady Arabella. ‘Poor Augusta will require some change to renovate her spirits.’
To this last proposition the squire did not assent. It was, however, allowed to pass over; and this much was fixed, that Frank was not to return till midsummer.
It will be remembered that Sir Roger Scatcherd had been elected as sitting member for the city of Barchester; but it will also be remembered that a petition against his return was threatened. Had the petition depended solely on Mr Moffat, Sir Roger’s seat no doubt would have been saved by Frank Gresham’s cutting whip. But such was not the case. Mr Moffat had been put forward by the De Courcy interest; and that noble family with its dependants was not to go to the wall because Mr Moffat had had a thrashing. No; the petition was to go on; and Mr Nearthewinde declared, that no petition in his hands had half so good a chance of success. ‘Chance, no, but certainty,’ said Mr Nearthewinde; for Mr Nearthewinde had learnt something with reference to that honest publican and the payment of his little bill.
The petition was presented and duly backed; the recognisances were signed, and all the proper formalities formally executed; and Sir Roger found that his seat was in jeopardy. His return had been a great triumph to him; and, unfortunately, he had celebrated that triumph as he had been in the habit of celebrating most of the very triumphant occasions of his life. Though he was than hardly yet recovered from the effects of his last attack, he indulged in another violent drinking bout; and, strange to say, did so without any immediate visible bad effects.
In February he took his seat amidst the warm congratulations of all men of his own class, and early in the month of April his case came on for trial. Every kind of electioneering sin known to the electioneering world was brought to his charge; he was accused of falseness, dishonesty, and bribery of every sort: he had, it was said in the paper of indictment, bought votes, obtained them by treating, carried them off by violence, conquered them by strong drink, polled them twice over, counted those of dead men, stolen them, forged them, and created them by every possible, fictitious contrivance: there was no description of wickedness appertaining to the task of procuring votes of which Sir Roger had not been guilty, either by himself or by his agents. He was quite horror-struck at the list of his own enormities. But he was somewhat comforted when Mr Closerstil told him that the meaning of it all was that Mr Romer, the barrister, had paid a former bill due to Mr Reddypalm, the publican.
‘I fear he was indiscreet, Sir Roger; I really fear he was. Those young mean always are. Being energetic, they work like horses; but what’s the use of energy without discretion, Sir Roger?’
‘But, Mr Closerstil, I knew nothing of it from first to last.’
‘The agency can be proved, Sir Roger,’ said Mr Closerstil, shaking his head. And then there was nothing further to be said on the matter.
In these days of snow-white purity all political delinquency is abominable in the eyes of British politicians; but no delinquency is so abominable than the venality at elections. The sin of bribery is damnable. It is the one sin for which, in the House of Commons, there can be no forgiveness. When discovered, it should render the culprit liable to political death, without hope of pardon. It is treason against a higher throne than that on which the Queen sits. It is a heresy which requires an auto-da-fe. It is a pollution to the whole House, which can only be cleansed by a great sacrifice. Anathema maranatha! out with it from amongst us, even though half of our heart’s blood be poured from the conflict! Out with it, and for ever!
Such is the language of patriotic members with regard to bribery; and doubtless, if sincere, they are in the right. It is a bad thing, certainly, that a rich man should buy votes; bad also that a poor man should sell them. By all means let us repudiate such a system with heartfelt disgust.
With heartfelt disgust, if we can do so, by all means; but not with disgust pretended only and not felt in the heart at all. The laws against bribery at elections are now so stringent that an unfortunate candidate may easily become guilty, even though actuated by the purest intentions. But not the less on that account does any gentleman, ambitious of the honour of serving his country in Parliament, think it necessary as a preliminary measure to provide a round sum of money at his banker’s. A candidate must pay for no treating, no refreshments, no band of music; he must give neither ribbons to the girls nor ale to the men. If a huzza be uttered in his favour, it is at his peril; it may be necessary for him to prove before a committee that it was the spontaneous result of British feeling in his favour, and not the purchased result of British beer. He cannot safely ask any one to share his hotel dinner. Bribery hides itself now in the most impalpable shapes, and may be effected by the offer of a glass of sherry. But not the less on this account does a poor man find that he is quite unable to overcome the difficulties of a contested election.
We strain at our gnats with a vengeance, but we swallow our camels with ease. For what purpose is it that we employ those peculiarly safe men of business—Messrs Nearthewinde and Closerstil—when we wish to win our path through all obstacles into that sacred recess? Alas! the money is still necessary, is still prepared, or at any rate, expended. The poor candidate of course knows nothing of the matter till the attorney’s bill is laid before him, when all danger of petitions has passed away. He little dreamed till then, not he, that there had been banquetings and junketings, secret doings and deep drinkings at his expense. Poor candidate! Poor member! Who was so ignorant as he! ’Tis true he has paid bills before; but ’tis equally true that he specially begged his managing friend Mr Nearthewinde, to be very careful that all was done according to law! He pays the bill, however, and on the next election will again employ Mr Nearthewinde.
Now and again, at rare intervals, some glimpse into the inner sanctuary does reach the eyes of ordinary mortal men without; some slight accidental peep into those mysteries from when all corruption has been so thoroughly expelled; and then, how delightfully refreshing is the sight, when, perhaps, some ex-member, hurled from his paradise like a fallen peri, reveals the secret of that pure heaven, and, in the agony of his despair, tells us all that it cost him to sit for—through those few halcyon years!
But Mr Nearthewinde is a safe man, and easy to be employed with but little danger. All these stringent bribery laws only enhance the value of such very safe men as Mr Nearthewinde. To him, stringent laws against bribery are the strongest assurance of valuable employment. Were these laws of a nature to be evaded with ease, any indifferent attorney might manage a candidate’s affairs and enable him to take his seat with security.
It would have been well for Sir Roger if he had trusted solely to Mr Closerstil; well also for Mr Romer had he never fished in those troubled waters. In due process of time the hearing of the petition came on, and then who so happy, sitting at his ease in the London inn, blowing his cloud from a long pipe, with measureless content, as Mr Reddypalm? Mr Reddypalm was the one great man of the contest. All depended on Mr Reddypalm; and well he did his duty.
The result of the petition was declared by the committee to be read as follows:— that Sir Roger’s election was null and void—that Sir Roger had, by his agent, been guilty of bribery in obtaining a vote, by the payment of a bill alleged to have been previously refused payment—this is always a matter of course;—but that Sir Roger’s agent, Mr Romer, had been willingly guilty of bribery with reference to the transaction above declared. Poor Sir Roger! Poor Mr Romer.
Poor Mr Romer indeed! His fate was perhaps as sad as well might be, and as foul a blot to the purism of these very pure times in which we live. Not long after those days, it so happening that some considerable amount of youthful energy and quidnunc ability were required to set litigation afloat at Hong Kong, Mr Romer was sent thither as the fittest man for such work, with rich assurance of future guerdon. Who are so happy then as Mr Romer! But even among the pure there is room for envy and detraction. Mr Romer had not yet ceased to wonder at new worlds, as he skimmed among the islands of that southern ocean, before the edict had gone forth for his return. There were men sitting in that huge court of Parliament on whose breasts it lay as an intolerable burden, that England should be represented among the antipodes by one who had tampered with the purity of the franchise. For them there was no rest till this great disgrace should be wiped out and atoned for. Men they were of that calibre, that the slightest reflection on them of such a stigma seemed to themselves to blacken their own character. They could not break bread with satisfaction till Mr Romer was recalled. He was recalled, and of course ruined—and the minds of those just men were then at peace.
To any honourable gentleman who really felt his brow suffused with a patriotic blush, as he thought of his country dishonoured by Mr Romer’s presence at Hong Kong—to any such gentleman, if any such there were, let all honour be given, even though the intensity of his purity may create amazement to our less finely organized souls. But if no such blush suffused the brow of any honourable gentleman; if Mr Romer was recalled from quite other feelings—what then in lieu of honour shall we allot to those honourable gentlemen who were most concerned?
Sir Roger, however, lost his seat, and, after three months of the joys of legislation, found himself reduced by a terrible blow to the low level of private life.
And the blow to him was very heavy. Men but seldom tell the truth of what is in them, even to their dearest friends; they are ashamed of having feelings, or rather of showing that they are troubled by any intensity of feeling. It is the practice of the time to treat all pursuits as though they were only half important to us, as though in what we desire we were only half in earnest. To be visibly eager seems childish, and is always bad policy; and men, therefore, nowadays, though they strive as hard as ever in the service of ambition—harder than ever in that of mammon—usually do so with a pleasant smile on, as though after all they were but amusing themselves with the little matter in hand.
Perhaps it had been so with Sir Roger in those electioneering days when he was looking for votes. At any rate, he had spoken of his seat in Parliament as but a doubtful good. ‘He was willing, indeed, to stand, having been asked; but the thing would interfere wonderfully with his business; and then, what did he know about Parliament? Nothing on earth: it was the maddest scheme, but nevertheless, he was not going to hang back when called upon—he had always been rough and ready when wanted—and there he was now ready as ever, and rough enough too, God knows.’
’Twas thus that he had spoken of his coming parliamentary honours; and men had generally taken him at his word. He had been returned, and this success had been hailed as a great thing for the cause and class to which he belonged. But men did not know that his inner heart was swelling with triumph, and that his bosom could hardly contain his pride as he reflected that the poor Barchester stone-mason was now the representative of his native city. And so, when his seat was attacked, he still laughed and joked. ‘They were welcome to it for him,’ he said; ‘he could keep it or want it; and of the two, perhaps, the want of it would come most convenient to him. He did not exactly think that he had bribed any one; but if the bigwigs chose to say so, it was all one to him. He was rough and ready, now as ever,’ &c &c.
But when the struggle came, it was to him a fearful one; not the less fearful because there was no one, no, not one friend in all the world, to whom he could open his mind and speak out honestly what was in his heart. To Dr Thorne he might perhaps have done so had his intercourse with the doctor been sufficiently frequent; but it was only now and then when he was ill, or when the squire wanted to borrow money, that he saw Dr Thorne. He had plenty of friends, heaps of friends in the parliamentary sense; friends who talked about him, and lauded him at public meetings; who shook hands with him on platforms and drank his health at dinners; but he had no friends who could sit with him over his own hearth, in true friendship, and listen to, and sympathize with, and moderate the sighings of the inner man. For him there was no sympathy; no tenderness of love; no retreat, save into himself, from the loud brass band of the outer world.
The blow hit him terribly hard. It did not come altogether unexpectedly, and yet, when it did come, it was all but unendurable. He had made so much of the power of walking into that august chamber, and sitting shoulder to shoulder in legislative equality with the sons of dukes and the curled darlings of the nation. Money had given him nothing, nothing but the mere feeling of brute power: with his three hundred thousand pounds he had felt himself to be no more palpably near to the goal of his ambition than when he had chipped stones for three shillings and sixpence a day. But when he was led up and introduced at that table, when he shook the old premier’s hand on the floor of the House of Commons, when he heard the honourable member for Barchester alluded to in grave debate as the greatest living authority on railway matters, then, indeed, he felt that he had achieved something.
And now this cup was ravished from his lips, almost before it was tasted. When he was first told as a certainty that the decision of the committee was against him, he bore up against the misfortune like a man. He laughed heartily, and declared himself well rid of a very profitless profession; cut some little joke about Mr Moffat and his thrashing, and left on those around him an impression that he was a man so constituted, so strong in his own resolves, so steadily pursuant of his own work, that no little contentions of this kind could affect him. Men admired his easy laughter, as, shuffling his half-crowns with both his hands in his trouser-pockets, he declared that Messrs Romer and Reddypalm were the best friends he had known for many a day.
But not the less did he walk out from the room in which he was standing a broken-hearted man. Hope could not buoy him up as she may do other ex-members in similarly disagreeable circumstances. He could not afford to look forward to what further favours parliamentary future have in store for him after a lapse of five or six years. Five or six years! Why, his life was not worth four years’ purchase; of that he was perfectly aware: he could not now live without the stimulus of brandy; and yet, while he took it, he knew he was killing himself. Death he did not fear; but he would fain have wished, after his life of labour, to have lived, while yet he could live, in the blaze of that high world to which for a moment he had attained.
He laughed loud and cheerily as he left his parliamentary friends, and, putting himself into the train, went down to Boxall Hill. He laughed loud and cheerily; but he never laughed again. It had not been his habit to laugh much at Boxall Hill. It was there he kept his wife, and Mr Winterbones, and the brandy bottle behind his pillow. He had not often there found it necessary to assume that loud and cheery laugh.
On this occasion he was apparently well in health when he got home; but both Lady Scatcherd and Mr Winterbones found him more than ordinarily cross. He made an affectation at sitting very hard to business, and even talked of going abroad to look at some of his foreign contracts. But even Winterbones found that his patron did not work as he had been wont to do; and at last, with some misgivings, he told Lady Scatcherd that he feared that everything was not right.
‘He’s always at it, my lady, always,’ said Mr Winterbones.
‘Is he?’ said Lady Scatcherd, well understanding what Mr Winterbones’s allusion meant.
‘Always, my lady. I never saw nothing like it. Now, there’s me—I can always go my half-hour when I’ve had my drop; but he, why, he don’t go ten minutes, not now.’
This was not cheerful to Lady Scatcherd; but what was the poor woman to do? When she spoke to him on any subject he only snarled at her; and now that the heavy fit was on him, she did not dare even to mention the subject of his drinking. She had never known him so savage in his humour as he was now, so bearish in his habits, so little inclined to humanity, so determined to rush headlong down, with his head between his legs, into the bottomless abyss.
She thought of sending for Dr Thorne; but she did not know under what guise to send for him—whether as doctor or as friend: under neither would he now be welcome; and she well knew that Sir Roger was not the man to accept in good part either a doctor or a friend who might be unwelcome. She knew that this husband of hers, this man, who, with all his faults, was the best of her friends whom she loved best—she knew that he was killing himself, and yet she could do nothing. Sir Roger was his own master, and if kill himself he would, kill himself he must.
And kill himself he did. Not indeed by one sudden blow. He did not take one huge dose of his consuming poison, and then fall dead upon the floor. It would perhaps have been better for himself, and better for those around him, had he done so. No; the doctors had time to congregate round his bed; Lady Scatcherd was allowed a period of nurse-tending; the sick man was able to say his last few words and bid his adieu to his portion of the lower world with dying decency. As these last words will have some lasting effect upon the surviving personages of our story, the reader must be content to stand for a short while by the side of Sir Roger’s sick-bed, and help us bid him God-speed on the journey which lies before him.
Last updated Sunday, June 12, 2016 at 20:41