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- The Pillars of the House, V1 - 100/124 -
'I shouldn't think they were rich,' said Felix. 'I fancy they used to be very fond of my mother, and made her promise that the next girl should be named for one of them. There was Miss Bridget, and Miss Martha, and something else as bad, and Robina was the least objectionable of the lot. I think they used to write to my mother; but it is late in the day for calling.'
'Here comes Miss Bridget,' said the clerk, as there appeared in sight a tall, rigid, angular figure, with a big brown hat and long straight cloak, and a decidedly charity-looking basket in her hand.
Felix stepped forward with his hand to his hat. 'Miss Hepburn, I believe. I must introduce myself--Felix Underwood'
The lady's first move had been a startled shy drawing herself up and into herself, at being addressed by a stranger. Then she looked up with an amazed 'Felix Underwood! Little Felix!' and as he smiled and bowed, she rumbled and put out a hesitating hand.
'Yes. Tripp did tell us something--something of your being at Ewmouth, but we were not sure.'
'We had not been able to come over before,' said Felix, thinking she meant to imply that he ought to have called. 'We came for health and have not been equal to the walk.'
'Oh, indeed. Nothing infectious, I hope?'
'Oh no,' he said, explaining in a few words the total want of connection between his case and Lance's.
'I am glad. I'll--I'll tell my sisters. I'm glad to have seen you.'
There was something faltering and ill-assured in her manner, and in a moment she turned back with 'Mr. Underwood, where are you stopping?'
He answered; and with 'I'll tell my sisters,' she parted with them again.
'That's Miss Bridget,' commented old Tripp. 'She's the one as allys says, "I'll tell my sisters." They do say as Miss Isabella, she be the master on 'em all.'
Felix and Lance smiled to one another the assurance that every family had it's Wilmet; but while the younger brother shrugged his shoulders, the elder felt a certain chill in the contrast with those days of old, when the sugar-plums and picture-books of the whole sisterhood were all at his service, and bethought him that times were changed.
They entered the churchyard by a little side-gate. The church was a grand pile of every style of architecture that had prevailed since the Cistercians had settled in Vale Leston, and of every defacement that the alternate neglect and good-will of the Underwoods could perpetrate. The grand tower at the west end was, however, past their power to spoil, and they had not done much damage to the exterior, except in a window or buttress here and there. But within! The brothers, used to the heavy correctness of the St. Oswald's restoration, stood aghast when Abednego admitted them by the door of excommunication, straight into the chancel, magnificently deep, but with the meanest of rails, a reredos where Moses and Aaron kept guard over the Commandments in black and gold, and walls bristling with genii and angels of all descriptions, weeping over Underwoods of different generations. Lance stood open-mouthed before a namesake of his own, whose huge monumental slab was upborne by the exertions of a kind of Tartarean cherub, solely consisting of a skull and a pair of bats' wings!
'My stars! where did that brute come from?' muttered Lance under his breath. 'He's got no trifle of a piece of work!'
However, Felix had taken in that the chancel had respectable poppy- headed benches, though the lower part of the church was completely 'emparoked in pues,' such as surprised Lance out of all bounds when he withdrew his eyes from the white marble death's head.
'My stars!' again he said, 'this is what I've heard of, but never saw.'
'Ay, Sir,' said Mr. Tripp, 'every one that come here do be crying out upon the pews; and to be sure, I see the folk sleepin' in them as is shameful!'
'Well he might, for his place was the lowest in a lofty three-decker, against one pier of the chancel arch, surmounted by a golden angel blowing a trumpet, and with lettering round the sounding-board, recording it to have been the gift of the Reverend Lancelot Underwood, Rector and Vicar of this parish--the owner of the mural slab before mentioned. That angel recalled to Felix that the sight of it had been his great pleasure in going to church, only marred by the fact that he was out of sight of it in the chancel.
'Why, you weren't in the choir then?' said Lance.
'Choir! no, Sir,' said the clerk. 'They sits in the gallery. The chancel is for Mr. Underwood's family--the Rector, Sir. They seats was just put up instead of the red baize pew before old Mr. Underwood as was then died, and your poor papa went away. And that there font was put, as 'tis there, just when the twin young ladies was christened.'
'Where was I christened, then?'
'In the bowl as we used to have on the Communion, Sir.'
It was plain how far Edward Underwood had dared to work at renovation, and that nothing had since been done. The Lady-chapel, with a wonderful ceiling of Tudor fans and pendants, was full of benches and ragged leaves of books for such Sunday schooling as took place there, the national school having been built half a mile off, that the children might not be obnoxious to the Rectory. The church was a good way behind the ordinary churches of 1861, and struck the two brothers the more from the system in which they had been brought up.
'What a state Clem would be in!' uttered Lance, as they came out.
'It is of no use to think about it,' said Felix. 'Let us enjoy the beautiful exterior.'
'Ay, Sir,' said old Tripp, 'parties do be saying as how it is a mortial pity to see such a church go to wrack; and I do believe the Squire wouldn't be so hard to move if it warn't for the Passon-- that's young Mr. Fulbert, the vicar.'
'I don't understand all these rectors and vicars,' said Lance. 'I thought they never hung out together.'
'Why, you see, Master Lancelot, as how this is what they calls a lay rectory, as goes like a landed estate from father to son, without there being any call for 'em to be clergy; and the Vicar, he is just put in to do Passon's work, only he gets his situation for life, like I do, not like them curates.'
'I see,' said Felix; 'and the rectors have generally taken Holy Orders, and presented themselves to the vicarage.'
'Yes, Sir, that's how it ought to be; only this here Squire--not being no Passon, though Rector he be--he puts in a gentleman to keep it warm till his son, young Mr. Fulbert, our Vicar as is, was growed up, and hard work they say it was to get him to bend his mind to it; nor he'd not have done it at last, but for his father's paying of his bills, and giving consent to his marrying Miss Shaw. And since that, bless you, Sir, the curates have done nothing but change, change, change, till 'tis enough to ruin a good clerk. You knows what that is, Master Felix, you that be one of the cloth.' (For Felix allowed himself no unprofessional coats.)
'It is only the cloth, Mr. Tripp; don't you see I sport a blue tie! I am a bookseller.'
'A bookseller!' The old man recoiled. 'You'll not be passing your jokes on me, Sir. A book-writer--I understands.'
'No, a bookseller in earnest. I have a share in a very good business at Bexley; I've been at it ever since I was sixteen.'
The old clerk was quite overcome; he leant upon a headstone and stared at Felix without speaking, and then it was a sort of soliloquy. 'To think of poor dear Master Eddard's son being come to that! and he looking a dozen times more like a clergyman and a gentleman than ever this young Mr. Fulbert will!
'Never mind, Mr. Tripp,' said Felix; 'there's one of us on the way to be a clergyman--Edward Clement, you know, that I wrote to you about; and maybe this fellow too. Don't look so angry with me. I was obliged to do the best I could to bring in something for the thirteen of us. '
'And we're as proud of him as can be!' added Lance, affectionately and indignantly.
'Ah, well,' said the old aristocrat, 'that may be, for you never knew them he came of. There was my old Lady Geraldine, as was his great- grandmother, who gave a new coat or new gown to every poor body in the parish at Christmas, and as much roast beef as they could eat; and wore a shawl as come from the Injies and cost two hundred pounds! She was a lady! Bless me, what would she have said to see the day--'
'That she was glad to have a great-grandson good for something,' stoutly answered Lance. 'I declare, Mr. Tripp, you'd have liked him better if he had come a begging!'
'So I do,' said Felix; 'and what's more, Mr. Tripp is going to refuse me because he is too fine to sit down to tea with a tradesman!'
'No, no, sir,' said old Tripp, with tears in his eyes. 'You'll not go for to say that. If it was the last morsel I had, I'd be proud to share it with one of Master Eddard's sons; but I can't but think as how we rung the bells and drunk your health when you was born, just as we did for the Prince of Wales, and how proud poor Master Eddard looked. No doubt he was spared the knowing of it.'
'No,' said Felix, 'it was settled with his full consent.'
Abednego seemed more distressed than ever. 'Poor Master Eddard! he must have been brought very low. Such a gentleman as he was! Never spoke a proud or rude word, Sir, but used to hold up his head like the first lord in the land, and fire and colour up and start like one of young Mr. Fulbert's thoroughbreds if any one said an impudent
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