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- Framley Parsonage - 4/111 -


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


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