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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 9. Miss Marrable
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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 9. Miss Marrable Post by :deano Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :3238

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The Vicar Of Bullhampton - Chapter 9. Miss Marrable

CHAPTER IX. MISS MARRABLE

Whatever may be the fact as to the rank and proper calling of Bullhampton, there can be no doubt that Loring is a town. There is a market-place, and a High Street, and a Board of Health, and a Paragon Crescent, and a Town Hall, and two different parish churches, one called St. Peter Lowtown, and the other St. Botolph's Uphill, and there are Uphill Street, and Lowtown Street, and various other streets. I never heard of a mayor of Loring, but, nevertheless, there is no doubt as to its being a town. Nor did it ever return members to Parliament; but there was once, in one of the numerous bills that have been proposed, an idea of grouping it with Cirencester and Lechlade. All the world of course knows that this was never done; but the transient rumour of it gave the Loringites an improved position, and justified that little joke about a live dog being better than a dead lion, with which the parson at Bullhampton regaled Miss Lowther at the time.

All the fashion of Loring dwelt, as a matter of course, at Uphill. Lowtown was vulgar, dirty, devoted to commercial and manufacturing purposes, and hardly owned a single genteel private house. There was the parsonage, indeed, which stood apart from its neighbours, inside great tall slate-coloured gates, and which had a garden of its own. But except the clergyman, who had no choice in the matter, nobody who was anybody lived at Lowtown. There were three or four factories there,--in and out of which troops of girls would be seen passing twice a day, in their ragged, soiled, dirty mill dresses, all of whom would come out on Sunday dressed with a magnificence that would lead one to suppose that trade at Loring was doing very well. Whether trade did well or ill, whether wages were high or low, whether provisions were cheap in price, whether there were peace or war between capital and labour, still there was the Sunday magnificence. What a blessed thing it is for women,--and for men too certainly,--that there should be a positive happiness to the female sex in the possession, and in exhibiting the possession, of bright clothing! It is almost as good for the softening of manners, and the not permitting of them to be ferocious, as is the faithful study of the polite arts. At Loring the manners of the mill hands, as they were called, were upon the whole good,--which I believe was in a great degree to be attributed to their Sunday magnificence.

The real West-end of Loring was understood by all men to lie in Paragon Crescent, at the back of St. Botolph's Church. The whole of this Crescent was built, now some twenty years ago, by Mrs. Fenwick's father, who had been clever enough to see that as mills were made to grow in the low town, houses for wealthy people to live in ought to be made to grow in the high town. He therefore built the Paragon, and a certain small row of very pretty houses near the end of the Paragon, called Balfour Place,--and had done very well, and had made money; and now lay asleep in the vaults below St. Botolph's Church. No inconsiderable proportion of the comfort of Bullhampton parsonage is due to Mr. Balfour's success in that achievement of Paragon Crescent. There were none of the family left at Loring. The widow had gone away to live at Torquay with a sister, and the only other child, another daughter, was married to that distinguished barrister on the Oxford circuit, Mr. Quickenham. Mr. Quickenham and our friend the parson were very good friends; but they did not see a great deal of each other, Mr. Fenwick not going up very often to London, and Mr. Quickenham being unable to use the Vicarage of Bullhampton when on his own circuit. As for the two sisters, they had very strong ideas about their husbands' professions; Sophia Quickenham never hesitating to declare that one was life, and the other stagnation; and Janet Fenwick protesting that the difference to her seemed to be almost that between good and evil. They wrote to each other perhaps once a quarter. But the Balfour family was in truth broken up.

Miss Marrable, Mary Lowther's aunt, lived, of course, at Uphill; but not in the Crescent, nor yet in Balfour Place. She was an old lady with very modest means, whose brother had been rector down at St. Peter's, and she had passed the greatest part of her life within those slate-coloured gates. When he died, and when she, almost exactly at the same time, found that it would be expedient that she should take charge of her niece, Mary, she removed herself up to a small house in Botolph Lane, in which she could live decently on her L300 a year. It must not be surmised that Botolph Lane was a squalid place, vile, or dirty, or even unfashionable. It was narrow and old, having been inhabited by decent people long before the Crescent, or even Mr. Balfour himself, had been in existence; but it was narrow and old, and the rents were cheap, and here Miss Marrable was able to live, and occasionally to give tea-parties, and to provide a comfortable home for her niece, within the limits of her income. Miss Marrable was herself a lady of very good family, the late Sir Gregory Marrable having been her uncle; but her only sister had married a Captain Lowther, whose mother had been first cousin to the Earl of Periwinkle; and therefore on her own account, as well as on that of her niece, Miss Marrable thought a good deal about blood. She was one of those ladies,--now few in number,--who within their heart of hearts conceive that money gives no title to social distinction, let the amount of money be ever so great, and its source ever so stainless. Rank to her was a thing quite assured and ascertained, and she had no more doubt as to her own right to pass out of a room before the wife of a millionaire than she had of the right of a millionaire to spend his own guineas. She always addressed an attorney by letter as Mister, raising up her eyebrows when appealed to on the matter, and explaining that an attorney is not an esquire. She had an idea that the son of a gentleman, if he intended to maintain his rank as a gentleman, should earn his income as a clergyman, or as a barrister, or as a soldier, or as a sailor. Those were the professions intended for gentlemen. She would not absolutely say that a physician was not a gentleman, or even a surgeon; but she would never allow to physic the same absolute privileges which, in her eyes, belonged to law and the church. There might also possibly be a doubt about the Civil Service and Civil Engineering; but she had no doubt whatever that when a man touched trade or commerce in any way he was doing that which was not the work of a gentleman. He might be very respectable, and it might be very necessary that he should do it; but brewers, bankers, and merchants, were not gentlemen, and the world, according to Miss Marrable's theory, was going astray, because people were forgetting their landmarks.

As to Miss Marrable herself nobody could doubt that she was a lady; she looked it in every inch. There were not, indeed, many inches of her, for she was one of the smallest, daintiest, little old women that ever were seen. But now, at seventy, she was very pretty, quite a woman to look at with pleasure. Her feet and hands were exquisitely made, and she was very proud of them. She wore her own grey hair of which she showed very little, but that little was always exquisitely nice. Her caps were the perfection of caps. Her green eyes were bright and sharp, and seemed to say that she knew very well how to take care of herself. Her mouth, and nose, and chin, were all well-formed, small, shapely, and concise, not straggling about her face as do the mouths, noses, and chins of some old ladies--ay, and of some young ladies also. Had it not been that she had lost her teeth, she would hardly have looked to be an old woman. Her health was perfect. She herself would say that she had never yet known a day's illness. She dressed with the greatest care, always wearing silk at and after luncheon. She dressed three times a day, and in the morning would come down in what she called a merino gown. But then, with her, clothes never seemed to wear out. Her motions were so slight and delicate, that the gloss of her dresses would remain on them when the gowns of other women would almost have been worn to rags. She was never seen of an afternoon or evening without gloves, and her gloves were always clean and apparently new. She went to church once on Sundays in winter, and twice in summer, and she had a certain very short period of each day devoted to Bible reading; but at Loring she was not reckoned to be among the religious people. Indeed, there were those who said that she was very worldly-minded, and that at her time of life she ought to devote herself to other books than those which were daily in her hands. Pope, Dryden, Swift, Cowley, Fielding, Richardson, and Goldsmith, were her authors. She read the new novels as they came out, but always with critical comparisons that were hostile to them. Fielding, she said, described life as it was; whereas Dickens had manufactured a kind of life that never had existed, and never could exist. The pathos of Esmond was very well, but Lady Castlemaine was nothing to Clarissa Harlowe. As for poetry, Tennyson, she said, was all sugar-candy; he had neither the common sense, nor the wit, nor, as she declared, to her ear the melody of Pope. All the poets of the present century, she declared, if put together, could not have written the Rape of the Lock. Pretty as she was, and small, and nice, and lady-like, I think she liked her literature rather strong. It is certain that she had Smollett's novels in a cupboard up-stairs, and it was said that she had been found reading one of Wycherley's plays.

The strongest point in her character was her contempt of money. Not that she had any objection to it, or would at all have turned up her nose at another hundred a year had anybody left to her such an accession of income; but that in real truth she never measured herself by what she possessed, or others by what they possessed. She was as grand a lady to herself, eating her little bit of cold mutton, or dining off a tiny sole, as though she sat at the finest banquet that could be spread. She had no fear of economies, either before her two handmaids or anybody else in the world. She was fond of her tea, and in summer could have cream for twopence; but when cream became dear, she saved money and had a pen'north of milk. She drank two glasses of Marsala every day, and let it be clearly understood that she couldn't afford sherry. But when she gave a tea-party, as she did, perhaps, six or seven times a year, sherry was always handed round with cake before the people went away. There were matters in which she was extravagant. When she went out herself she never took one of the common street flies, but paid eighteen pence extra to get a brougham from the Dragon. And when Mary Lowther,--who had only fifty pounds a year of her own, with which she clothed herself and provided herself with pocket-money,--was going to Bullhampton, Miss Marrable actually proposed to her to take one of the maids with her. Mary, of course, would not hear of it, and said that she should just as soon think of taking the house; but Miss Marrable had thought that it would, perhaps, not be well for a girl so well-born as Miss Lowther to go out visiting without a maid. She herself very rarely left Loring, because she could not afford it; but when, two summers back, she did go to Weston-super-Mare for a fortnight, she took one of the girls with her.

Miss Marrable had heard a great deal about Mr. Gilmore. Mary, indeed, was not inclined to keep secrets from her aunt, and her very long absence,--so much longer than had at first been intended,--could hardly have been sanctioned unless some reason had been given. There had been many letters on the subject, not only between Mary and her aunt, but between Mrs. Fenwick and her very old friend Miss Marrable. Of course these latter letters had spoken loudly the praises of Mr. Gilmore, and Miss Marrable had become quite one of the Gilmore faction. She desired that her niece should marry; but that she should marry a gentleman. She would have infinitely preferred to see Mary an old maid, than to hear that she was going to give herself to any suitor contaminated by trade. Now Mr. Gilmore's position was exactly that which Miss Marrable regarded as being the best in England. He was a country gentleman, living on his own acres, a justice of the peace, whose father and grandfather and great-grandfather had occupied exactly the same position. Such a marriage for Mary would be quite safe; and in those days one did hear so often of girls making, she would not say improper marriages, but marriages which in her eyes were not fitting! Mr. Gilmore, she thought, exactly filled that position which entitled a gentleman to propose marriage to such a lady as Mary Lowther.

"Yes, my dear, I am glad to have you back again. Of course I have been a little lonely, but I bear that kind of thing better than most people. Thank God, my eyes are good."

"You are looking so well, Aunt Sarah!"

"I am well. I don't know how other women get so much amiss; but God has been very good to me."

"And so pretty," said Mary, kissing her.

"My dear, it's a pity you're not a young gentleman."

"You are so fresh and nice, aunt. I wish I could always look as you do."

"What would Mr. Gilmore say?"

"Oh, Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Gilmore, Mr. Gilmore! I am so weary of Mr. Gilmore."

"Weary of him, Mary?"

"Weary of myself because of him--that is what I mean. He has behaved always well, and I am not at all sure that I have. And he is a perfect gentleman. But I shall never be Mrs. Gilmore, Aunt Sarah."

"Janet says that she thinks you will."

"Janet is mistaken. But, dear aunt, don't let us talk about it at once. Of course you shall hear everything in time, but I have had so much of it. Let us see what new books there are. Cast Iron! You don't mean to say you have come to that?"

"I shan't read it."

"But I will, aunt. So it must not go back for a day or two. I do love the Fenwicks, dearly, dearly, both of them. They are almost, if not quite, perfect. And yet I am glad to be at home."

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