Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Inspiring Novel > Scenes of Clerical Life > MR. GILFIL’S LOVE STORY Chapter 1
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 When old Mr. Gilfil died, thirty years ago, there was general sorrow in Shepperton; and if black cloth had not been hung round the pulpit and reading-desk, by order of his nephew and principal legatee, the parishioners would certainly have subscribed1 the necessary sum out of their own pockets, rather than allow such a tribute of respect to be wanting. All the farmers’ wives brought out their black bombasines; and Mrs. Jennings, at the Wharf2, by appearing the first Sunday after Mr. Gilfil’s death in her salmon-coloured ribbons and green shawl, excited the severest remark. To be sure, Mrs. Jennings was a new-comer, and town-bred, so that she could hardly be expected to have very clear notions of what was proper; but, as Mrs. Higgins observed in an undertone to Mrs. Parrot when they were coming out of church, ‘Her husband, who’d been born i’ the parish, might ha’ told her better.’ An unreadiness to put on black on all available occasions, or too great an alacrity3 in putting it off, argued, in Mrs. Higgins’s opinion, a dangerous levity4 of character, and an unnatural5 insensibility to the essential fitness of things.  
‘Some folks can’t a-bear to put off their colours,’ she remarked; ‘but that was never the way i’ my family. Why, Mrs. Parrot, from the time I was married, till Mr. Higgins died, nine years ago come Candlemas, I niver was out o’ black two year together!’
‘Ah,’ said Mrs. Parrot, who was conscious of inferiority in this respect, ‘there isn’t many families as have had so many deaths as yours, Mrs. Higgins.’
Mrs. Higgins, who was an elderly widow, ‘well left’, reflected with complacency that Mrs. Parrot’s observation was no more than just, and that Mrs. Jennings very likely belonged to a family which had had no funerals to speak of.
Even dirty Dame6 Fripp, who was a very rare church-goer, had been to Mrs. Hackit to beg a bit of old crape, and with this sign of grief pinned on her little coal-scuttle bonnet7, was seen dropping her curtsy opposite the reading-desk. This manifestation8 of respect towards Mr. Gilfil’s memory on the part of Dame Fripp had no theological bearing whatever. It was due to an event which had occurred some years back, and which, I am sorry to say, had left that grimy old lady as indifferent to the means of grace as ever. Dame Fripp kept leeches9, and was understood to have such remarkable10 influence over those wilful11 animals in inducing them to bite under the most unpromising circumstances, that though her own leeches were usually rejected, from a suspicion that they had lost their appetite, she herself was constantly called in to apply the more lively individuals furnished from Mr. Pilgrim’s surgery, when, as was very often the case, one of that clever man’s paying patients was attacked with inflammation. Thus Dame Fripp, in addition to ‘property’ supposed to yield her no less than half-a-crown a-week, was in the receipt of professional fees, the gross amount of which was vaguely12 estimated by her neighbours as ‘pouns an’ pouns’. Moreover, she drove a brisk trade in lollipop13 with epicurean urchins14, who recklessly purchased that luxury at the rate of two hundred per cent. Nevertheless, with all these notorious sources of income, the shameless old woman constantly pleaded poverty, and begged for scraps15 at Mrs. Hackit’s, who, though she always said Mrs. Fripp was ‘as false as two folks’, and no better than a miser16 and a heathen, had yet a leaning towards her as an old neighbour.
‘There’s that case-hardened old Judy a-coming after the tea-leaves again,’ Mrs. Hackit would say; ‘an’ I’m fool enough to give ’em her, though Sally wants ’em all the while to sweep the floors with!’
Such was Dame Fripp, whom Mr. Gilfil, riding leisurely17 in top-boots and spurs from doing duty at Knebley one warm Sunday afternoon, observed sitting in the dry ditch near her cottage, and by her side a large pig, who, with that ease and confidence belonging to perfect friendship, was lying with his head in her lap, and making no effort to play the agreeable beyond an occasional grunt18.
‘Why, Mrs. Fripp,’ said the Vicar, ‘I didn’t know you had such a fine pig. You’ll have some rare flitches at Christmas!’
‘Eh, God forbid! My son gev him me two ’ear ago, an’ he’s been company to me iver sin’. I couldn’t find i’ my heart to part wi’m, if I niver knowed the taste o’ bacon-fat again.’
‘Why, he’ll eat his head off, and yours too. How can you go on keeping a pig, and making nothing by him?’
‘O, he picks a bit hisself wi’ rootin’, and I dooant mind doing wi’out to gi’ him summat. A bit o’ company’s meat an’ drink too, an’ he follers me about, and grunts19 when I spake to’m, just like a Christian20.’
Mr. Gilfil laughed, and I am obliged to admit that he said good-bye to Dame Fripp without asking her why she had not been to church, or making the slightest effort for her spiritual edification. But the next day he ordered his man David to take her a great piece of bacon, with a message, saying, the parson wanted to make sure that Mrs. Fripp would know the taste of bacon-fat again. So, when Mr. Gilfil died, Dame Fripp manifested her gratitude21 and reverence22 in the simply dingy24 fashion I have mentioned.
You already suspect that the Vicar did not shine in the more spiritual functions of his office; and indeed, the utmost I can say for him in this respect is, that he performed those functions with undeviating attention to brevity and despatch25. He had a large heap of short sermons, rather yellow and worn at the edges, from which he took two every Sunday, securing perfect impartiality26 in the selection by taking them as they came, without reference to topics; and having preached one of these sermons at Shepperton in the morning, he mounted his horse and rode hastily with the other in his pocket to Knebley, where he officiated in a wonderful little church, with a checkered27 pavement which had once rung to the iron tread of military monks28, with coats of arms in clusters on the lofty roof, marble warriors29 and their wives without noses occupying a large proportion of the area, and the twelve apostles, with their heads very much on one side, holding didactic ribbons, painted in fresco30 on the walls. Here, in an absence of mind to which he was prone31, Mr. Gilfil would sometimes forget to take off his spurs before putting on his surplice, and only become aware of the omission32 by feeling something mysteriously tugging33 at the skirts of that garment as he stepped into the reading-desk. But the Knebley farmers would as soon have thought of criticizing the moon as their pastor34. He belonged to the course of nature, like markets and toll-gates and dirty bank-notes; and being a vicar, his claim on their veneration35 had never been counteracted36 by an exasperating37 claim on their pockets. Some of them, who did not indulge in the superfluity of a covered cart without springs, had dined half an hour earlier than usual—that is to say, at twelve o’clock—in order to have time for their long walk through miry lanes, and present themselves duly in their places at two o’clock, when Mr. Oldinport and Lady Felicia, to whom Knebley Church was a sort of family temple, made their way among the bows and curtsies of their dependants38 to a carved and canopied39 pew in the chancel, diffusing40 as they went a delicate odour of Indian roses on the unsusceptible nostrils41 of the congregation.
The farmers’ wives and children sat on the dark oaken benches, but the husbands usually chose the distinctive42 dignity of a stall under one of the twelve apostles, where, when the alternation of prayers and responses had given place to the agreeable monotony of the sermon, Paterfamilias might be seen or heard sinking into a pleasant doze43, from which he infallibly woke up at the sound of the concluding doxology. And then they made their way back again through the miry lanes, perhaps almost as much the better for this simple weekly tribute to what they knew of good and right, as many a more wakeful and critical congregation of the present day.
Mr. Gilfil, too, used to make his way home in the later years of his life, for he had given up the habit of dining at Knebley Abbey on a Sunday, having, I am sorry to say, had a very bitter quarrel with Mr. Oldinport, the cousin and predecessor44 of the Mr. Oldinport who flourished in the Rev23. Amos Barton’s time. That quarrel was a sad pity, for the two had had many a good day’s hunting together when they were younger, and in those friendly times not a few members of the hunt envied Mr. Oldinport the excellent terms he was on with his vicar; for, as Sir Jasper Sitwell observed, ‘next to a man’s wife, there’s nobody can be such an infernal plague to you as a parson, always under your nose on your own estate.’
I fancy the original difference which led to the rupture45 was very slight; but Mr. Gilfil was of an extremely caustic46 turn, his satire47 having a flavour of originality48 which was quite wanting in his sermons; and as Mr. Oldinport’s armour49 of conscious virtue50 presented some considerable and conspicuous51 gaps, the Vicar’s keen-edged retorts probably made a few incisions52 too deep to be forgiven. Such, at least, was the view of the case presented by Mr. Hackit, who knew as much of the matter as any third person. For, the very week after the quarrel, when presiding at the annual dinner of the Association for the Prosecution53 of Felons54, held at the Oldinport Arms, he contributed an additional zest55 to the conviviality56 on that occasion by informing the company that ‘the parson had given the squire57 a lick with the rough side of his tongue.’ The detection of the person or persons who had driven off Mr. Parrot’s heifer, could hardly have been more welcome news to the Shepperton tenantry, with whom Mr. Oldinport was in the worst odour as a landlord, having kept up his rents in spite of falling prices, and not being in the least stung to emulation59 by paragraphs in the provincial60 newspapers, stating that the Honourable61 Augustus Purwell, or Viscount Blethers, had made a return of ten per cent on their last rent-day. The fact was, Mr. Oldinport had not the slightest intention of standing62 for Parliament, whereas he had the strongest intention of adding to his unentailed estate. Hence, to the Shepperton farmers it was as good as lemon with their grog to know that the Vicar had thrown out sarcasms63 against the Squire’s charities, as little better than those of the man who stole a goose, and gave away the giblets in alms. For Shepperton, you observe, was in a state of Attic64 culture compared with Knebley; it had turnpike roads and a public opinion, whereas, in the Bœotian Knebley, men’s minds and waggons65 alike moved in the deepest of ruts, and the landlord was only grumbled66 at as a necessary and unalterable evil, like the weather, the weevils, and the turnip-fly.
Thus in Shepperton this breach67 with Mr. Oldinport tended only to heighten that good understanding which the Vicar had always enjoyed with the rest of his parishioners, from the generation whose children he had christened a quarter of a century before, down to that hopeful generation represented by little Tommy Bond, who had recently quitted frocks and trousers for the severe simplicity68 of a tight suit of corduroys, relieved by numerous brass69 buttons. Tommy was a saucy70 boy, impervious71 to all impressions of reverence, and excessively addicted72 to humming-tops and marbles, with which recreative resources he was in the habit of immoderately distending73 the pockets of his corduroys. One day, spinning his top on the garden-walk, and seeing the Vicar advance directly towards it, at that exciting moment when it was beginning to ‘sleep’ magnificently, he shouted out with all the force of his lungs—‘Stop! don’t knock my top down, now!’ From that day ‘little Corduroys’ had been an especial favourite with Mr. Gilfil, who delighted to provoke his ready scorn and wonder by putting questions which gave Tommy the meanest opinion of his intellect.
‘Well, little Corduroys, have they milked the geese to-day?’
‘Milked the geese! why, they don’t milk the geese, you silly!’
‘No! dear heart! why, how do the goslings live, then?’
The nutriment of goslings rather transcending74 Tommy’s observations in natural history, he feigned75 to understand this question in an exclamatory rather than an interrogatory sense, and became absorbed in winding76 up his top.
‘Ah, I see you don’t know how the goslings live! But did you notice how it rained sugar-plums yesterday?’ (Here Tommy became attentive77.) ‘Why, they fell into my pocket as I rode along. You look in my pocket and see if they didn’t.’ Tommy, without waiting to discuss the alleged78 antecedent, lost no time in ascertaining79 the presence of the agreeable consequent, for he had a well-founded belief in the advantages of diving into the Vicar’s pocket. Mr. Gilfil called it his wonderful pocket, because, as he delighted to tell the ‘young shavers’ and ‘two-shoes’—so he called all little boys and girls—whenever he put pennies into it, they turned into sugar-plums or gingerbread, or some other nice thing. Indeed, little Bessie Parrot, a flaxen-headed ‘two-shoes’, very white and fat as to her neck, always had the admirable directness and sincerity80 to salute81 him with the question—‘What zoo dot in zoo pottet?’
You can imagine, then, that the christening dinners were none the less merry for the presence of the parson. The farmers relished82 his society particularly, for he could not only smoke his pipe, and season the details of parish affairs with abundance of caustic jokes and proverbs, but, as Mr. Bond often said, no man knew more than the Vicar about the breed of cows and horses. He had grazing-land of his own about five miles off, which a bailiff, ostensibly a tenant58, farmed under his direction; and to ride backwards83 and forwards, and look after the buying and selling of stock, was the old gentleman’s chief relaxation84, now his hunting days were over. To hear him discussing the respective merits of the Devonshire breed and the short-horns, or the last foolish decision of the magistrates85 about a pauper86, a superficial observer might have seen little difference, beyond his superior shrewdness, between the Vicar and his bucolic87 parishioners; for it was his habit to approximate his accent and mode of speech to theirs, doubtless because he thought it a mere88 frustration89 of the purposes of language to talk of ‘shear-hogs’ and ‘ewes’ to men who habitually90 said ‘sharrags’ and ‘yowes’. Nevertheless the farmers themselves were perfectly91 aware of the distinction between them and the parson, and had not at all the less belief in him as a gentleman and a clergyman for his easy speech and familiar manners. Mrs. Parrot smoothed her
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved