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- Framley Parsonage - 40/111 -
'We are driving to-day, and we thought it rather cold,' said Griselda.
'Deuced cold,' said Lord Dumbello, and then he adjusted his white cravat and touched up his whiskers. Having got so far, he did not proceed to any immediate conversational efforts; nor did Griselda. But he grouped himself again as became a marquis, and gave very intense satisfaction to Mrs Proudie.
'This is so kind of you, Lord Dumbello,' said that lady, coming up to him and shaking his hand warmly; 'so very kind of you to come to my poor little tea-party.'
'Uncommonly pleasant, I call it,' said his lordship. 'I like this sort of thing--no trouble, you know.'
'No; that is the charm of it; isn't it? no trouble, or fuss, or parade. That's what I always say. According to my ideas, society consists in giving people facility for an interchange of thoughts--what we call conversation.'
'Aw, yes, exactly.'
'Not in eating and drinking together--eh, Lord Dumbello? And yet the practice of our lives would seem to show that the indulgence of this animal propensities can alone suffice to bring people together. The world in this has surely made a great mistake.'
'I like a good dinner all the same,' said Lord Dumbello.
'Oh, yes, of course--of course. I am by no means one of those who would pretend to preach that our tastes have not been given to us for our enjoyment. Why should things be nice if we are not to like them?'
'A man who can really give a good dinner has learned a great deal,' said Lord Dumbello, with unusual animation.
'An immense deal. It is quite an art in itself: and one which I, at any rate, by no means despise. But we cannot always be eating--can we?'
'No,' said Lord Dumbello, 'not always.' And he looked as though he lamented that his powers should be so circumscribed. And then Mrs Proudie passed on to Mrs Grantly. The two ladies were quite friendly in London; though down in their own neighbourhood they waged a war so internecine in its nature. But nevertheless Mrs Proudie's manner might have showed to a very close observer that she knew the difference between a bishop and an archdeacon. 'I am delighted to see you,' said she. 'No, don't mind moving; I won't sit down just at present. But why didn't the archdeacon come?'
'It was quite impossible; it was indeed,' said Mrs Grantly. 'The archdeacon never has a moment in London that he can call his own.'
'You don't stay up very long, I believe.'
'A good deal longer than either of us like, I can assure you. London life is a perfect nuisance to me.'
'But people in a certain position must go through with it, you know,' said Mrs Proudie. 'The bishop, for instance, must attend the House.'
'Must he?' asked Mrs Grantly, as though she were not at all well informed with reference to this branch of a bishop's business. 'I am very glad that archdeacons are under no such liability.'
'Oh, no; there's nothing of that sort,' said Mrs Proudie, very seriously. 'But how uncommonly well Miss Grantly is looking! I do hear that she has quite been admired.' This phrase certainly was a little hard for the mother to bear. All the world had acknowledged, so Mrs Grantly had taught herself to believe, that Griselda was undoubtedly the beauty of the season. Marquises and lords were already contending for her smiles, and paragraphs had been written in newspapers as to her profile. It was too hard to be told, after that, that her daughter had been 'quite admired.' Such a phrase might suit a pretty little red-cheeked milkmaid of a girl.
'She cannot, of course, come near your girls in that respect,' said Mrs Grantly, very quietly. Now the Miss Proudies had not elicited from the fashionable world any very loud encomiums on their beauty. Their mother felt the taunt in its fullest force, but she would not essay to do battle on the present arena. She jotted down the item in her mind, and kept it over for Barchester and the chapter. Such debts as those she usually paid on some day, if the means of doing so were at all within her power. 'But there is Miss Dunstable, I declare,' she said, seeing that that lady had entered the room; and away went Mrs Proudie to welcome her distinguished guest.
'And so this is a conversazione, is it,' said that lady, speaking, as usual, not in a suppressed voice. 'Well, I declare, it's very nice. It means conversation, don't it, Mrs Proudie?'
'Ha, ha, ha! Miss Dunstable, there is nobody like you, I declare.'
'Well, but don't it? and tea and cake? and then, when we're tired of talking, we go away, isn't that it?'
'But you must not be tired for these three hours yet.'
'Oh, I am never tired of talking; all the world knows that. How do, bishop? A very nice sort of thing this conversazione, isn't it now?' The bishop rubbed his hands together and smiled, and said that he thought it was rather nice.
'Mrs Proudie is so fortunate in all her little arrangements,' said Miss Dunstable.
'Yes, yes,' said the bishop. 'I think she is happy in these matters. I do flatter myself that she is so. Of course, Miss Dunstable, you are accustomed to things on a much grander scale.'
'I! Lord bless you, no! Nobody hates grandeur so much as I do. Of course I must do as I am told. I must live in a big house, and have three footmen six feet high. I must have a coachman with a top-heavy wig, and horses so big that they frighten me. If I did not, I should be made out a lunatic and declared unable to manage my own affairs. But as for grandeur, I hate it. I certainly think that I shall have some of these conversaziones. I wonder whether Mrs Proudie will come and put me up to a wrinkle or two.' The bishop again rubbed his hands, and said that he was sure she would. He never felt quite at his ease with Miss Dunstable, as he rarely could ascertain whether or no she was earnest in what she was saying. So he trotted off, muttering some excuse as he went, and Miss Dunstable chuckled with an inward chuckle at his too evident bewilderment. Miss Dunstable was by nature kind, generous, and open-hearted; but she was living now very much with people who, kindness, generosity, and open-heartedness were thrown away. She was clever also, and could be sarcastic; and she found that those qualities told better in the world around her than generosity and an open heart. And so she went on from month to month, and year to year, not progressing in a good spirit as she might have done, but still carrying within her bosom a warm affection for those she could really love. And she knew that she was hardly living as she should live,--that the wealth which she affected to despise was eating into the soundness of her character, not by its splendour, but by the style of life which it had seemed to produce as a necessity. She knew that she was gradually becoming irreverent, scornful, and prone to ridicule; but yet, knowing this, and hating it, she hardly knew how to break from it. She had seen so much of the blacker side of human nature that blackness no longer startled her as it should do. She had been the prize at which so many ruined spendthrifts had aimed; so many pirates had endeavoured to run her down while sailing in the open waters of life, that she had ceased to regard such attempts on her money-bags as unmanly or over-covetous. She was content to fight her own battle with her own weapons, feeling secure in her own strength of purpose and strength of wit.
Some few friends she had whom she really loved,--among whom her inner self could come out and speak boldly what it had to say with its own true voice. And the woman who thus so spoke was very different from that Miss Dunstable whom Mrs Proudie courted, and the Duke of Omnium feted, and Mrs Harold Smith claimed as her bosom friend. If only she could find among such one special companion on whom her heart might rest, who would help her to bear the heavy burdens of her world! But where was she to find such a friend?---she with her keen wit, her untold money, and loud laughing voice. Everything about her was calculated to attract those whom she could not value, and to scare from her the sort of friend to whom she would fain have linked her lot. And then she met Mrs Harold Smith, who had taken Mrs Proudie's noble suite of rooms in her tour of the evening, and was devoting to them a period of twenty minutes. 'And so I may congratulate you,' Miss Dunstable said eagerly to her friend.
'No, in mercy's name, do no such thing, or you may too probably have to uncongratulate me again; and that will be so unpleasant.'
'But they told me that Lord Brock had sent for him yesterday.' Now at this period Lord Brock was Prime Minister.
'So he did, and Harold was with him backwards and forwards all the day. But he can't shut his eyes and open his mouth, and see what God will send him, as a wise and prudent man should do. He is always for bargaining, and no Prime Minister likes that.'
'I would not be in his shoes if, after all, he has to come home and say that the bargain is off.'
'Ha, ha, ha! Well I should not take it very quietly. But what can we poor women do, you know? When it is settled, my dear, I'll send you a line at once.' And then Mrs Harold Smith finished her course round the rooms, and regained her carriage within the twenty minutes.
'Beautiful profile, has she not?' said Miss Dunstable, somewhat later in the evening, to Mrs Proudie. Of course, the profile spoken of belonged to Miss Grantly.
'Yes, it is beautiful, certainly,' said Mrs Proudie. 'The pity is that it means nothing.'
'The gentlemen seem to think that it means a good deal.'
'I am not sure of that. She has no conversation, you see; not a
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