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- Framley Parsonage - 6/111 -

Omnium, he, comparatively speaking, was a new man. And then he was a member of Parliament, a friend of some men in power, and of others who might be there; a man who could talk about the world as one knowing the matter of which he talked. And moreover, whatever might be his ways of life at other times, when in the presence of a clergyman he rarely made himself offensive to clerical tastes. He neither swore, nor brought his vices on the carpet, nor sneered at the faith of the Church. If he was no Churchman himself, he at least knew how to live with those who were.

How was it possible that such a one as our vicar should not relish the intimacy of Mr Sowerby? It might be very well, he would say to himself, for a woman like Lady Lufton to turn up her nose at him--for Lady Lufton, who spent ten months of the year at Framley Court, and who during those ten months, and for the matter of that, during the two months also which she spent in London, saw no one out of her own set. Women did not understand such things, the vicar said to himself; even his own wife--good, and nice, and sensible, and intelligent as she was--even she did not understand that a man in the world must meet all sorts of men; and that in these days it did not do for a clergyman to be a hermit. 'Twas thus that Mark Robarts argued when he found himself called upon to defend himself before the bar of his own conscience for going to Chaldicotes and increasing his intimacy with Mr Sowerby. He did know that Mr Sowerby was a dangerous man; he was aware that he was over head and ears in debt; and that he had already entangled young Lord Lufton in some pecuniary embarrassment; his conscience did tell him that it would be well for him, as one of Christ's soldiers, to look out for companions of a different stamp. But, nevertheless, he went to Chaldicotes, not satisfied with himself indeed, but repeating to himself a great many arguments why he should be so satisfied.

He was shown into the drawing-room at once, and there he found Mrs Harold Smith, with Mrs and Miss Proudie, and a lady whom he had never before seen, and whose name he did not at first hear mentioned.

'Is that Mr Robarts?' said Mrs Harold Smith, getting up to greet him, and screening her pretended ignorance under the veil of darkness. 'And have you really driven over four-and-twenty miles of Barsetshire roads on such a day as this to assist us in our little difficulties? Well, we can promise you gratitude at any rate.' And then the vicar shook hands with Mrs Proudie, in that deferential manner which is due from a vicar to his bishop's wife; and Mrs Proudie returned the greeting with all that smiling condescension which a bishop's wife should show to a vicar. Miss Proudie was not quite so civil. Had Mr Robarts been still unmarried, she also would have smiled sweetly; but she had been exercising her smiles on clergymen too long to waste them now on a married parish parson.

'And what are the difficulties, Mrs Smith, in which I am to assist you?'

'We have six or seven gentlemen here, Mr Robarts, and they always go hunting before breakfast, and they never come back--I was going to say--till after dinner. I wish it were so, for then we should not have to wait for them.'

'Excepting Mr Supplehouse, you know,' said the unknown lady, in a loud voice.

'And he is generally shut up in the library, writing articles.'

'He'd be better employed if he were trying to break his neck like the others,' said the unknown lady.

'Only he would never succeed,' says Mrs Harold Smith. 'But perhaps, Mr Robarts, you are as bad as the rest; perhaps you too, will be hunting to-morrow.'

'My dear Mrs Smith!' said Mrs Proudie, in a tone denoting slight reproach, and modified horror.

'Oh! I forgot. No, of course, you won't be hunting, Mr Robarts; you'll only be wishing that you could.'

'Why can't he?' said the lady with a loud voice.

'My dear Miss Dunstable! A clergyman hunt, while he is staying in the same house with the bishop? Think of the proprieties!'

'Oh--ah! The bishop wouldn't like it--wouldn't he? Now, do tell me, sir, what would the bishop do to you if you did hunt?'

'It would depend on his mood at the time, madam,' said Mr Robarts. 'If that were very stern, he might perhaps have me beheaded before the palace gates.'

Mrs Proudie drew herself up in her chair, showing that she did not like the tone of the conversation; and Miss Proudie fixed her eyes vehemently on her book, showing that Miss Dunstable and her conversation were both beneath her notice.

'If these gentlemen do not mean to break their necks to-night,' said Mrs Harold Smith, 'I wish they'd let us know it. It's half-past six already.' And then Mr Robarts gave them to understand that no such catastrophe would be looked for that day, as Mr Sowerby and the other sportsmen were within the stable-yard when he entered the door.

'Then, ladies, we may as well dress,' said Mrs Harold Smith. But as she moved towards the door, it opened, and a short gentleman, with a slow, quiet step, entered the room; but was not yet to be distinguished through the dusk by the eyes of Mr Robarts. 'Oh! bishop, is that you?' said Mrs Smith. 'Here is one of the luminaries of your diocese.' And then the bishop, feeling through the dark, made his way up to the vicar and shook him cordially by the hand. He was delighted to meet Mr Robarts at Chaldicotes, he said, quite delighted. Was he not going to preach on behalf of the Papuan Mission next Sunday? Ah! so he was, the bishop had heard. It was a good work, an excellent work!' And then Dr Proudie expressed himself as much grieved that he should not remain at Chaldicotes, and hear the sermon. It was plain that the bishop thought no ill of him on account of his intimacy with Mr Sowerby. But then he felt in his own heart that he did not much regard the bishop's opinion.

'Ah, Robarts, I'm delighted to see you,' said Mr Sowerby, when they met on the drawing-room rug before dinner. 'You know Harold Smith? Yes, of course you do. Well, who else is there? Oh! Supplehouse. Mr Supplehouse, allow me to introduce to you my friend Mr Robarts. It is he who will extract the five-pound note out of your pocket next Sunday for these poor Papuans whom we are going to Christianize. That is, if Harold Smith does not finish the work out of hand at his Sunday lecture. And, Robarts, you have seen the bishop, of course:' this he said in a whisper. 'A fine thing to be a bishop, isn't it? I wish I had half your chance. But, my dear fellow, I've made such a mistake. I haven't got a bachelor parson for Miss Proudie. You must help me out, and take her into dinner.' And then the great gong sounded, and off they went in pairs.

At dinner Mark found himself seated between Miss Proudie and the lady whom he had heard named as Miss Dunstable. Of the former he was not very fond, and, in spite of his host's petition, was not inclined to play bachelor parson for her benefit. With the other lady he would willingly have chatted during the dinner, only that everybody else at table seemed to be intent on doing the same thing. She was neither young, nor beautiful, nor peculiarly ladylike; yet she seemed to enjoy a popularity which must have excited the envy of Mr Supplehouse, and which certainly was not altogether to the taste of Mrs Proudie--who, however, feted her as much as did the others. So that our clergyman found himself unable to obtain more than an inconsiderable share of the lady's attention.

'Bishop,' said she, speaking across the table, 'we have missed you all day! we have had no one on earth to say a word to us.'

'My dear Miss Dunstable, had I known that--But I really was engaged on business of some importance.'

'I don't believe in business of importance; do you, Mrs Smith?'

'Do I not?' said Mrs Smith. 'If you were married to Mr Harold Smith for one week, you'd believe in it.'

'Should I, now? What a pity I can't have that chance of improving my faith! But you are a man of business also, Mr Supplehouse; do they tell me.' And she turned to her neighbour on her right hand.

'I cannot compare myself to Mr Harold Smith,' said he. 'But perhaps I may equal the bishop.'

'What does a man do, now, when he sits himself down to business? How does he set about it? What are his tools? A quire of blotting paper, I suppose, to begin with?'

'That depends, I should say, on his trade. A shoemaker begins by waxing his thread.'

'And Mr Harold Smith--?'

'By counting up his yesterday's figures, generally, I should say; or else by unrolling a ball of red tape. Well-docketed papers and statistical facts are his forte.'

'And what does a bishop do? Can you tell me that?'

'He sends forth to his clergy either blessings or blowings-up, according to the state of his digestive organs. But Mrs Proudie can explain all that to you with the greatest accuracy.'

'Can she now? I understand what you mean, but I don't believe a word of it. The bishop manages his own affairs himself, quite as much as you do, or Mr Harold Smith.'

'I, Miss Dunstable?'

'Yes, you.'

'But I, unluckily, have not a wife to manage them for me.'

'Then you should not laugh at those who have, for you don't know what you may come to yourself, when you're married.'

Mr Supplehouse began to make a pretty speech, saying that he would be delighted to incur any danger in that respect to which he might

Framley Parsonage - 6/111

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