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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 70. The Fate Of The Puddlehamites
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 70. The Fate Of The Puddlehamites Post by :Ahmad Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2024

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 70. The Fate Of The Puddlehamites

CHAPTER LXX. THE FATE OF THE PUDDLEHAMITES

Fenwick and Gilmore breakfasted together on the morning that the former left London for Bullhampton; and by that time the Vicar had assured himself that it would be quite impossible to induce his friend to go back to his home. "I shall turn up after some years if I live," said the Squire; "and I suppose I shan't think so much about it then; but for the present I will not go to the place."

He authorised Fenwick to do what he pleased about the house and the gardens, and promised to give instructions as to the sale of his horses. If the whole place were not let, the bailiff might, he suggested, carry on the farm himself. When he was urged as to his duty, he again answered by his illustration of the man without a leg. "It may be all very true," he said, "that a man ought to walk, but if you cut off his leg he can't walk." Fenwick at last found that there was nothing more to be said, and he was constrained to take his leave.

"May I tell her that you forgive her?" the Vicar asked, as they were walking together up and down the station in the Waterloo Road.

"She will not care a brass farthing for my forgiveness," said Gilmore.

"You wrong her there. I am sure that nothing would give her so much comfort as such a message."

Gilmore walked half the length of the platform before he replied. "What is the good of telling a lie about it?"--he said, at last.

"I certainly would not tell a lie."

"Then I can't say that I forgive her. How is a man to forgive such treatment? If I said that I did, you wouldn't believe me. I will keep out of her way, and that will be better for her than forgiving her."

"Some of your wrath, I fear, falls to my lot?" said the Vicar.

"No, Frank. You and your wife have done the best for me all through,--as far as you thought was best."

"We have meant to do so."

"And if she has been false to me as no woman was ever false before, that is not your fault. As for the jewels, tell your wife to lock them up,--or to throw them away if she likes that better. My brother's wife will have them some day, I suppose." Now his brother was in India, and his brother's wife he had never seen. Then there was a pledge given that Gilmore would inform his friend by letter of his future destination, and so they parted.

This was on the Tuesday, and Fenwick had desired that his gig might meet him at the Bullhampton Road station. He had learned by this time of the condemnation of one man for the murder, and the acquittal of the other, and was full of the subject when his groom was seated beside him. Had the Brattles come back to the mill? And what of Sam? And what did the people say about Acorn's escape? These, and many other questions he asked, but he found that his servant was so burdened with a matter of separate and of infinitely greater interest, that he could not be got to give his mind to the late trial. He believed the Brattles were back; he had seen nothing of Sam; he didn't know anything about Acorn; but the new chapel was going to be pulled down.

"What!" exclaimed the Vicar;--"not at once?"

"So they was saying, sir, when I come away. And the men was at it,--that is, standing all about. And there is to be no more preaching, sir. And missus was out in the front looking at 'em as I drove out of the yard."

Fenwick asked twenty questions, but could obtain no other information than was given in the first announcement of these astounding news. And as he entered the vicarage he was still asking questions, and the man was still endeavouring to express his own conviction that that horrible, damnable, and most heart-breaking red brick building would be demolished, and carted clean away before the end of the week. For the servants and dependents of the vicarage were staunch to the interests of the church establishment, with a degree of fervour of which the Vicar himself knew nothing. They hated Puddleham and dissent. This groom would have liked nothing better than a commission to punch the head of Mr. Puddleham's eldest son, a young man who had been employed in a banker's office at Warminster, but had lately come home because he had been found to have a taste for late hours and public-house parlours; and had made himself busy on the question of the chapel. The maid servants at the vicarage looked down as from a mighty great height on the young women of Bullhampton who attended the chapel, and the vicarage gardener, since he had found out that the chapel stood on glebe land, and ought therefore, to be placed under his hands, had hardly been able to keep himself off the ground. His proposed cure for the evil that had been done,--as an immediate remedy before erection and demolition could be carried out, was to form the vicarage manure pit close against the chapel door,--"and then let anybody touch our property who dares!" He had, however, been too cautious to carry out any such strategy as this, without direct authority from the Commander-in-Chief. "Master thinks a deal too much on 'em," he had said to the groom, almost in disgust at the Vicar's pusillanimity.

When Fenwick reached his own gate there was a crowd of men loitering around the chapel, and he got out from his gig and joined them. His eye first fell upon Mr. Puddleham, who was standing directly in front of the door, with his back to the building, wearing on his face an expression of infinite displeasure. The Vicar was desirous of assuring the minister that no steps need be taken, at any rate, for the present, towards removing the chapel from its present situation. But before he could speak to Mr. Puddleham he perceived the builder from Salisbury, who appeared to be very busy,--Grimes, the Bullhampton tradesman, so lately discomfited, but now triumphant,--Bolt, the elder, close at Mr. Puddleham's elbow,--his own churchwarden, with one or two other farmers,--and lastly, Lord St. George himself, walking in company with Mr. Packer, the agent. Many others from the village were there, so that there was quite a public meeting on the bit of ground which had been appropriated to Mr. Puddleham's preachings. Fenwick, as soon as he saw Lord St. George, accosted him before he spoke to the others.

"My friend Mr. Puddleham," said he, "seems to have the benefit of a distinguished congregation this morning."

"The last, I fear, he will ever have on this spot," said the lord, as he shook hands with the Vicar.

"I am very sorry to hear you say so, my lord. Of course, I don't know what you are doing, and I can't make Mr. Puddleham preach here, if he be not willing."

Mr. Puddleham had now joined them. "I am ready and willing," said he, "to do my duty in that sphere of life to which it has pleased God to call me." And it was evident that he thought that the sphere to which he had been called was that special chapel opposite to the vicarage entrance.

"As I was saying," continued the Vicar, "I have neither the wish nor the power to control my neighbour; but, as far as I am concerned, no step need be taken to displace him. I did not like this site for the chapel at first; but I have got quit of all that feeling, and Mr. Puddleham may preach to his heart's content,--as he will, no doubt, to his hearers' welfare, and will not annoy me in the least." On hearing this, Mr. Puddleham pushed his hat off his forehead and looked up and frowned, as though the levity of expression in which his rival indulged, was altogether unbecoming the solemnity of the occasion.

"Mr. Fenwick," said the lord, "we have taken advice, and we find the thing ought to be done,--and to be done instantly. The leading men of the congregation are quite of that view."

"They are of course unwilling to oppose your noble father, my lord," said the minister.

"And to tell you the truth, Mr. Fenwick," continued Lord St. George, "you might be put, most unjustly, into a peck of troubles if we did not do this. You have no right to let the glebe on a building lease, even if you were willing, and high ecclesiastical authority would call upon you at once to have the nuisance removed."

"Nuisance, my lord!" said Mr. Puddleham, who had seen with half an eye that the son was by no means worthy of the father.

"Well, yes,--placed in the middle of the Vicar's ground! What would you say if Mr. Fenwick demanded leave to use your parlour for his vestry room, and to lock up his surplice in your cupboard?"

"I'm sure he'd try it on before he'd had it a day," said the Vicar, "and very well he'd look in it," whereupon the minister again raised his hat, and again frowned.

"The long and the short of it is," continued the lord, "that we've, among us, made a most absurd mistake, and the sooner we put it right the better. My father, feeling that our mistake has led to all the others, and that we have caused all this confusion, thinks it to be his duty to pull the chapel down and build it up on the site before proposed near the cross roads. We'll begin at once, and hope to get it done by Christmas. In the mean time, Mr. Puddleham has consented to go back to the old chapel."

"Why not let him stay here till the other is finished?" asked the Vicar.

"My dear sir," replied the lord, "we are going to transfer the chapel body and bones. If we were Yankees we should know how to do it without pulling it in pieces. As it is, we've got to do it piecemeal. So now, Mr. Hickbody," he continued, turning round to the builder from Salisbury, "you may go to work at once. The Marquis will be much obliged to you if you will press it on."

"Certainly, my lord," said Mr. Hickbody, taking off his hat. "We'll put on quite a body of men, my lord, and his lordship's commands shall be obeyed."

After which Lord St. George and Mr. Fenwick withdrew together from the chapel and walked into the vicarage.

"If all that be absolutely necessary--" began the Vicar.

"It is, Mr. Fenwick; we've made a mistake." Lord St. George always spoke of his father as "we," when there came upon him the necessity of retrieving his father's errors. "And our only way out of it is to take the bull by the horns at once and put the thing right. It will cost us about L700, and then there is the bore of having to own ourselves to be wrong. But that is much better than a fight."

"I should not have fought."

"You would have been driven to fight. And then there is the one absolute fact;--the chapel ought not to be there. And now I've one other word to say. Don't you think this quarrelling between clergyman and landlord is bad for the parish?"

"Very bad indeed, Lord St. George."

"Now I'm not going to measure out censure, or to say that we have been wrong, or that you have been wrong."

"If you do I shall defend myself," said the Vicar.

"Exactly so. But if bygones can be bygones there need be neither offence nor defence."

"What can a clergyman think, Lord St. George, when the landlord of his parish writes letters against him to his bishop, maligning his private character, and spreading reports for which there is not the slightest foundation?"

"Mr. Fenwick, is that the way in which you let bygones be bygones?"

"It is very hard to say that I can forget such an injury."

"My father, at any rate, is willing to forget,--and, as he hopes, to forgive. In all disputes each party of course thinks that he has been right. If you, for the sake of the parish, and for the sake of Christian charity and goodwill, are ready to meet him half way, all this ill-will may be buried in the ground."

What could the Vicar do? He felt that he was being cunningly cheated out of his grievance. He would have had not a minute's hesitation as to forgiving the Marquis, had the Marquis owned himself to be wrong. But he was now invited to bury the hatchet on even terms, and he knew that the terms should not be even. And he resented all this the more in his heart because he understood very well how clever and cunning was the son of his enemy. He did not like to be cheated out of his forgiveness. But after all, what did it matter? Would it not be enough for him to know, himself, that he had been right? Was it not much to feel himself free from all pricks of conscience in the matter?

"If Lord Trowbridge is willing to let it all pass," said he, "so am I."

"I am delighted," said Lord St. George, with spirit; "I will not come in now, because I have already overstayed my time, but I hope you may hear from my father before long in a spirit of kindness."

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