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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 1. Bullhampton
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 1. Bullhampton Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2257

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 1. Bullhampton

CHAPTER I. BULLHAMPTON

I am disposed to believe that no novel reader in England has seen the little town of Bullhampton, in Wiltshire, except such novel readers as live there, and those others, very few in number, who visit it perhaps four times a year for the purposes of trade, and who are known as commercial gentlemen. Bullhampton is seventeen miles from Salisbury, eleven from Marlborough, nine from Westbury, seven from Haylesbury, and five from the nearest railroad station, which is called Bullhampton Road, and lies on the line from Salisbury to Ycovil. It is not quite on Salisbury Plain, but probably was so once, when Salisbury Plain was wider than it is now. Whether it should be called a small town or a large village I cannot say. It has no mayor, and no market, but it has a fair. There rages a feud in Bullhampton touching this want of a market, as there are certain Bullhamptonites who aver that the charter giving all rights of a market to Bullhampton does exist; and that at one period in its history the market existed also,--for a year or two; but the three bakers and two butchers are opposed to change; and the patriots of the place, though they declaim on the matter over their evening pipes and gin-and-water, have not enough of matutinal zeal to carry out their purpose. Bullhampton is situated on a little river, which meanders through the chalky ground, and has a quiet, slow, dreamy prettiness of its own. A mile above the town,--for we will call it a town,--the stream divides itself into many streamlets, and there is a district called the Water Meads, in which bridges are more frequent than trustworthy, in which there are hundreds of little sluice-gates for regulating the irrigation, and a growth of grass which is a source of much anxiety and considerable trouble to the farmers. There is a water-mill here, too, very low, with ever a floury, mealy look, with a pasty look often, as the flour becomes damp with the spray of the water as it is thrown by the mill-wheel. It seems to be a tattered, shattered, ramshackle concern, but it has been in the same family for many years; and as the family has not hitherto been in distress, it may be supposed that the mill still affords a fair means of livelihood. The Brattles,--for Jacob Brattle is the miller's name,--have ever been known as men who paid their way, and were able to hold up their heads. But nevertheless Jacob Brattle is ever at war with his landlord in regard to repairs wanted for his mill, and Mr. Gilmore, the landlord in question, declares that he wishes that the Avon would some night run so high as to carry off the mill altogether. Bullhampton is very quiet. There is no special trade in the place. Its interests are altogether agricultural. It has no newspaper. Its tendencies are altogether conservative. It is a good deal given to religion; and the Primitive Methodists have a very strong holding there, although in all Wiltshire there is not a clergyman more popular in his own parish than the Rev. Frank Fenwick. He himself, in his inner heart, rather likes his rival, Mr. Puddleham, the dissenting minister; because Mr. Puddleham is an earnest man, who, in spite of the intensity of his ignorance, is efficacious among the poor. But Mr. Fenwick is bound to keep up the fight; and Mr. Puddleham considers it to be his duty to put down Mr. Fenwick and the Church Establishment altogether.

The men of Bullhampton, and the women also, are aware that the glory has departed from them, in that Bullhampton was once a borough, and returned two members to Parliament. No borough more close, or shall we say more rotten, ever existed. It was not that the Marquis of Trowbridge had, what has often delicately been called, an interest in it; but he held it absolutely in his breeches pocket, to do with it as he liked; and it had been the liking of the late Marquis to sell one of the seats at every election to the highest bidder on his side in politics. Nevertheless, the people of Bullhampton had gloried in being a borough, and the shame, or at least the regret of their downfall, had not yet altogether passed away when the tidings of a new Reform Bill came upon them. The people of Bullhampton are notoriously slow to learn, and slow to forget. It was told of a farmer of Bullhampton, in old days, that he asked what had become of Charles I., when told that Charles II. had been restored. Cromwell had come and gone, and had not disturbed him at Bullhampton.

At Bullhampton there is no public building, except the church, which indeed is a very handsome edifice with a magnificent tower, a thing to go to see, and almost as worthy of a visit as its neighbour the cathedral at Salisbury. The body of the church is somewhat low, but its yellow-gray colour is perfect, and there is, moreover, a Norman door, and there are Early English windows in the aisle, and a perfection of perpendicular architecture in the chancel, all of which should bring many visitors to Bullhampton; and there are brasses in the nave, very curious, and one or two tombs of the Gilmore family, very rare in their construction, and the churchyard is large and green, and bowery, with the Avon flowing close under it, and nooks in it which would make a man wish to die that he might be buried there. The church and churchyard of Bullhampton are indeed perfect, and yet but few people go to see it. It has not as yet had its own bard to sing its praises. Properly it is called Bullhampton Monachorum, the living having belonged to the friars of Chiltern. The great tithes now go to the Earl of Todmorden, who has no other interest in the place whatever, and who never saw it. The benefice belongs to St. John's, Oxford, and as the vicarage is not worth more than L400 a year, it happens that a clergyman generally accepts it before he has lived for twenty or thirty years in the common room of his college. Mr. Fenwick took it on his marriage, when he was about twenty-seven, and Bullhampton has been lucky.

The bulk of the parish belongs to the Marquis of Trowbridge, who, however, has no residence within ten miles of it. The squire of the parish is Squire Gilmore,--Harry Gilmore,--and he possesses every acre in it that is not owned by the Marquis. With the village, or town as it may be, Mr. Gilmore has no concern; but he owns a large tract of the water meads, and again has a farm or two up on the downs as you go towards Chiltern. But they lie out of the parish of Bullhampton. Altogether he is a man of about fifteen hundred a year, and as he is not as yet married, many a Wiltshire mother's eye is turned towards Hampton Privets, as Mr. Gilmore's house is, somewhat fantastically, named.

Mr. Gilmore's character must be made to develope itself in these pages,--if such developing may be accomplished. He is to be our hero,--or at least one of two. The author will not, in these early words, declare that the squire will be his favourite hero, as he will wish that his readers should form their own opinions on that matter. At this period he was a man somewhat over thirty,--perhaps thirty-three years of age, who had done fairly well at Harrow and at Oxford, but had never done enough to make his friends regard him as a swan. He still read a good deal; but he shot and fished more than he read, and had become, since his residence at the Privets, very fond of the outside of his books. Nevertheless, he went on buying books, and was rather proud of his library. He had travelled a good deal, and was a politician,--somewhat scandalising his own tenants and other Bullhamptonites by voting for the liberal candidates for his division of the county. The Marquis of Trowbridge did not know him, but regarded him as an objectionable person, who did not understand the nature of the duties which devolved upon him as a country gentleman; and the Marquis himself was always spoken of by Mr. Gilmore as--an idiot. On these various grounds the squire has hitherto regarded himself as being a little in advance of other squires, and has, perhaps, given himself more credit than he has deserved for intellectuality. But he is a man with a good heart, and a pure mind, generous, desirous of being just, somewhat sparing of that which is his own, never desirous of that which is another's. He is good-looking, though, perhaps, somewhat ordinary in appearance; tall, strong, with dark-brown hair, and dark-brown whiskers, with small, quick grey eyes, and teeth which are almost too white and too perfect for a man. Perhaps it is his greatest fault that he thinks that as a liberal politician and as an English country gentleman he has combined in his own position all that is most desirable upon earth. To have the acres without the acre-laden brains, is, he thinks, everything.

And now it may be as well told at once that Mr. Gilmore is over head and ears in love with a young lady to whom he has offered his hand and all that can be made to appertain to the future mistress of Hampton Privets. And the lady is one who has nothing to give in return but her hand, and her heart, and herself. The neighbours all round the country have been saying for the last five years that Harry Gilmore was looking out for an heiress; for it has always been told of Harry, especially among those who have opposed him in politics, that he had a keen eye for the main chance. But Mary Lowther has not, and never can have, a penny with which to make up for any deficiency in her own personal attributes. But Mary is a lady, and Harry Gilmore thinks her the sweetest woman on whom his eye ever rested. Whatever resolutions as to fortune-hunting he may have made,--though probably none were ever made,--they have all now gone to the winds. He is so absolutely in love that nothing in the world is, to him, at present worth thinking about except Mary Lowther. I do not doubt that he would vote for a conservative candidate if Mary Lowther so ordered him; or consent to go and live in New York if Mary Lowther would accept him on no other condition. All Bullhampton parish is nothing to him at the present moment, except as far as it is connected with Mary Lowther. Hampton Privets is dear to him only as far as it can be made to look attractive in the eyes of Mary Lowther. The mill is to be repaired, though he knows he will never get any interest on the outlay, because Mary Lowther has said that Bullhampton water-meads would be destroyed if the mill were to tumble down. He has drawn for himself mental pictures of Mary Lowther till he has invested her with every charm and grace and virtue that can adorn a woman. In very truth he believes her to be perfect. He is actually and absolutely in love. Mary Lowther has hitherto neither accepted nor rejected him. In a very few lines further on we will tell how the matter stands between them.

It has already been told that the Rev. Frank Fenwick is Vicar of Bullhampton. Perhaps he was somewhat guided in his taking of the living by the fact that Harry Gilmore, the squire of the parish, had been his very intimate friend at Oxford. Fenwick, at the period with which we are about to begin our story, had been six years at Bullhampton, and had been married about five and a half. Of him something has already been said, and perhaps it may be only necessary further to state that he is a tall, fair-haired man, already becoming somewhat bald on the top of his head, with bright eyes, and the slightest possible amount of whiskers, and a look about his nose and mouth which seems to imply that he could be severe if he were not so thoroughly good-humoured. He has more of breeding in his appearance than his friend,--a show of higher blood; though whence comes such show, and how one discerns that appearance, few of us can tell. He was a man who read more and thought more than Harry Gilmore, though given much to athletics and very fond of field sports. It shall only further be said of Frank Fenwick that he esteemed both his churchwardens and his bishop, and was afraid of neither.

His wife had been a Miss Balfour, from Loring, in Gloucestershire, and had had some considerable fortune. She was now the mother of four children, and, as Fenwick used to say, might have fourteen for anything he knew. But as he also had possessed some small means of his own, there was no poverty, or prospect of poverty at the vicarage, and the babies were made welcome as they came. Mrs. Fenwick is as good a specimen of an English country parson's wife as you shall meet in a county,--gay, good-looking, fond of the society around her, with a little dash of fun, knowing in blankets and corduroys and coals and tea; knowing also as to beer and gin and tobacco; acquainted with every man and woman in the parish; thinking her husband to be quite as good as the squire in regard to position, and to be infinitely superior to the squire, or any other man in the world, in regard to his personal self;--a handsome, pleasant, well-dressed lady, who has no nonsense about her. Such a one was, and is, Mrs. Fenwick.

Now the Balfours were considerable people at Loring, though their property was not county property; and it was always considered that Janet Balfour might have done better than she did, in a worldly point of view. Of that, however, little had been said at Loring, because it soon became known there that she and her husband stood rather well in the country round about Bullhampton; and when she asked Mary Lowther to come and stay with her for six months, Mary Lowther's aunt, Miss Marrable, had nothing to say against the arrangement, although she herself was a most particular old lady, and always remembered that Mary Lowther was third or fourth cousin to some earl in Scotland. Nothing more shall be said of Miss Marrable at present, as it is expedient, for the sake of the story, that the reader should fix his attention on Bullhampton till he find himself quite at home there. I would wish him to know his way among the water meads, to be quite alive to the fact that the lodge of Hampton Privets is a mile and a quarter to the north of Bullhampton church, and half a mile across the fields west from Brattle's mill; that Mr. Fenwick's parsonage adjoins the churchyard, being thus a little farther from Hampton Privets than the church; and that there commences Bullhampton street, with its inn,--the Trowbridge Arms, its four public-houses, its three bakers, and its two butchers. The bounds of the parsonage run down to the river, so that the Vicar can catch his trout from his own bank,--though he much prefers to catch them at distances which admit of the appurtenances of sport.

Now there must be one word of Mary Lowther, and then the story shall be commenced. She had come to the vicarage in May, intending to stay a month, and it was now August, and she had been already three months with her friend. Everybody said that she was staying because she intended to become the mistress of Hampton Privets. It was a month since Harry Gilmore had formally made his offer, and as she had not refused him, and as she still stayed on, the folk of Bullhampton were justified in their conclusions. She was a tall girl, with dark brown hair, which she wore fastened in a knot at the back of her head, after the simplest fashion. Her eyes were large and grey, and full of lustre; but they were not eyes which would make you say that Mary Lowther was especially a bright-eyed girl. They were eyes, however, which could make you think, when they looked at you, that if Mary Lowther would only like you, how happy your lot would be,--that if she would love you, the world would have nothing higher or better to offer. If you judged her face by any rules of beauty, you would say that it was too thin; but feeling its influence with sympathy, you could never wish it to be changed. Her nose and mouth were perfect. How many little noses there are on young women's faces which of themselves cannot be said to be things of beauty, or joys for ever, although they do very well in their places! There is the softness and colour of youth, and perhaps a dash of fun, and the eyes above are bright, and the lips below alluring. In the midst of such sweet charms, what does it matter that the nose be puggish,--or even a nose of putty, such as you think you might improve in the original material by a squeeze of your thumb and forefinger? But with Mary Lowther her nose itself was a feature of exquisite beauty, a feature that could be eloquent with pity, reverence, or scorn. The curves of the nostrils, with their almost transparent membranes, told of the working of the mind within, as every portion of human face should tell--in some degree. And the mouth was equally expressive, though the lips were thin. It was a mouth to watch, and listen to, and read with curious interest, rather than a mouth to kiss. Not but that the desire to kiss would come, when there might be a hope to kiss with favour;--but they were lips which no man would think to ravage in boisterous play. It might have been said that there was a want of capability for passion in her face, had it not been for the well-marked dimple in her little chin,--that soft couch in which one may be always sure, when one sees it, that some little imp of Love lies hidden.

It has already been said that Mary Lowther was tall,--taller than common. Her back was as lovely a form of womanhood as man's eye ever measured and appreciated. Her movements, which were never naturally quick, had a grace about them which touched men and women alike. It was the very poetry of motion; but its chief beauty consisted in this, that it was what it was by no effort of her own. We have all seen those efforts, and it may be that many of us have liked them when they have been made on our own behalf. But no man as yet could ever have felt himself to be so far flattered by Miss Lowther. Her dress was very plain; as it became her that it should be, for she was living on the kindness of an aunt who was herself not a rich woman. But it may be doubted whether dress could have added much to her charms.

She was now turned one-and-twenty, and though, doubtless, there were young men at Loring who had sighed for her smiles, no young man had sighed with any efficacy. It must be acknowledged, indeed, that she was not a girl for whom the most susceptible of young men would sigh. Young men given to sigh are generally attracted by some outward and visible sign of softness which may be taken as an indication that sighing will produce some result, however small. At Loring it was said that Mary Lowther was cold and repellent, and, on that account, one who might very probably descend to the shades as an old maid in spite of the beauty of which she was the acknowledged possessor. No enemy, no friend, had ever accused her of being a flirt.

Such as she was, Harry Gilmore's passion for her much astonished his friends. Those who knew him best had thought that, as regarded his fate matrimonial,--or non-matrimonial,--there were three chances before him: he might carry out their presumed intention of marrying money; or he might become the sudden spoil of the bow and spear of some red-cheeked lass; or he might walk on as an old bachelor, too cautious to be caught at all. But none believed that he would become the victim of a grand passion for a poor, reticent, high-bred, high-minded specimen of womanhood. Such, however, was now his condition.

He had an uncle, a clergyman, living at Salisbury, a prebendary there, who was a man of the world, and in whom Harry trusted more than in any other member of his own family. His mother had been the sister of the Rev. Henry Fitzackerly Chamberlaine; and as Mr. Chamberlaine had never married, much of his solicitude was bestowed upon his nephew.

"Don't, my dear fellow," had been the prebendary's advice when he was taken over to see Miss Lowther. "She is a lady, no doubt; but you would never be your own master, and you would be a poor man till you died. An easy temper and a little money are almost as common in our rank of life as destitution and obstinacy." On the day after this advice was given, Harry Gilmore made his formal offer.

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