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Chapter 42

Mr. Mainwaring's little Dinner

The company at the rector's house consisted of the Senator, the two Mortons, Mr. Surtees the curate, and old Doctor Nupper. Mrs. Mainwaring was not well enough to appear, and the rector therefore was able to indulge himself in what he called a bachelor party. As a rule he disliked clergymen, but at the last had been driven to invite his curate because he thought six a better number than five for joviality. He began by asking questions as to the Trefoils which were not very fortunate. Of course he had heard that Morton was to marry Arabella Trefoil, and though he made no direct allusion to the fact, as Reginald had done, he spoke in that bland eulogistic tone which clearly showed his purpose. "They went with you to Lord Rufford's, I was told."

"Yes;--they did."

"And now they have left the neighbourhood. A very clever young lady, Miss Trefoil;--and so is her mother, a very clever woman." The Senator, to whom a sort of appeal was made, nodded his assent. "Lord Augustus, I believe, is a brother of the Duke of Mayfair?"

"Yes, he is," said Morton. "I am afraid we are going to have frost again." Then Reginald Morton was sure that the marriage would never take place.

"The Trefoils are a very distinguished family," continued the rector. "I remember the present Duke's father when he was in the cabinet, and knew this man almost intimately when we were at Christchurch together. I don't think this Duke ever took a prominent part in politics."

"I don't know that he ever did," said Morton.

"Dear, dear, how tipsy he was once driving back to Oxford with me in a gig. But he has the reputation of being one of the best landlords in the country now."

"I wonder what it is that gives a man the reputation of being a good landlord. Is it foxes?" asked the Senator. The rector acknowledged with a smile that foxes helped. "Or does it mean that he lets his land below the value? If so, he certainly does more harm than good, though he may like the popularity which he is rich enough to buy."

"It means that he does not exact more than his due," said the rector indiscreetly.

"When I hear a man so highly praised for common honesty I am of course led to suppose that dishonesty in his particular trade is the common rule. The body of English landlords must be exorbitant tyrants when one among them is so highly eulogised for taking no more than his own." Luckily at that moment dinner was announced, and the exceptional character of the Duke of Mayfair was allowed to drop.

Mr. Mainwaring's dinner was very good and his wines were excellent,--a fact of which Mr. Mainwaring himself was much better aware than any of his guests. There is a difficulty in the giving of dinners of which Mr. Mainwaring and some other hosts have become painfully aware. What service do you do to any one in pouring your best claret down his throat, when he knows no difference between that and a much more humble vintage, your best claret which you feel so sure you cannot replace? Why import canvas-back ducks for appetites which would be quite as well satisfied with those out of the next farm-yard? Your soup, which has been a care since yesterday, your fish, got down with so great trouble from Bond Street on that very day, your saddle of mutton, in selecting which you have affronted every butcher in the neighbourhood, are all plainly thrown away! And yet the hospitable hero who would fain treat his friends as he would be treated himself can hardly arrange his dinners according to the palates of his different guests; nor will he like, when strangers sit at his board, to put nothing better on his table than that cheaper wine with which needful economy induces him to solace himself when alone. I,--I who write this,--have myself seen an honoured guest deluge with the pump my, ah! so hardly earned, most scarce and most peculiar vintage! There is a pang in such usage which some will not understand, but which cut Mr. Mainwaring to the very soul. There was not one among them there who appreciated the fact that the claret on his dinner table was almost the best that its year had produced. It was impossible not to say a word on such a subject at such a moment;--though our rector was not a man who usually lauded his own viands. "I think you will find that claret what you like, Mr. Gotobed," he said. "It's a '57 Mouton, and judges say that it is good."

"Very good indeed," said the Senator. "In the States we haven't got into the way yet of using dinner clarets." It was as good as a play to see the rector wince under the ignominious word. "Your great statesman added much to your national comfort when he took the duty off the lighter kinds of French wines."

The rector could not stand it. He hated light wines. He hated cheap things in general. And he hated Gladstone in particular. "Nothing," said he, "that the statesman you speak of ever did could make such wine as that any cheaper. I am sorry, Sir, that you don't perceive the difference."

"In the matter of wine," said the Senator, "I don't think that I have happened to come across anything so good in this country as our old Madeiras. But then, sir, we have been fortunate in our climate. The English atmosphere is not one in which wine seems to reach its full perfection." The rector heaved a deep sigh as he looked up to the ceiling with his hands in his trowsers-pockets. He knew, or thought that he knew, that no one could ever get a glass of good wine in the United States. He knew, or thought that he knew, that the best wine in the world was brought to England. He knew, or thought he knew, that in no other country was wine so well understood, so diligently sought for, and so truly enjoyed as in England. And he imagined that it was less understood and less sought for and less enjoyed in the States than in any other country. He did not as yet know the Senator well enough to fight with him at his own table, and could only groan and moan and look up at the ceiling. Doctor Nupper endeavoured to take away the sting by smacking his lips, and Reginald Morton, who did not in truth care a straw what he drank, was moved to pity and declared the claret to be very fine. "I have nothing to say against it," said the Senator, who was not in the least abashed.

But when the cloth was drawn, for the rector clung so lovingly to old habits that he delighted to see his mahogany beneath the wine glasses,--a more serious subject of dispute arose suddenly, though perhaps hardly more disagreeable. "The thing in England," said the Senator, "which I find most difficult to understand, is the matter of what you call Church patronage."

"If you'll pass half an hour with Mr. Surtees to-morrow morning, he'll explain it all to you," said the rector, who did not like that any subject connected with his profession should be mooted after dinner.

"I should be delighted," said Mr. Surtees.

"Nothing would give me more pleasure," said the Senator; "but what I mean is this;--the question is, of course, one of paramount importance."

"No doubt it is," said the deluded rector.

"It is very necessary to get good doctors."

"Well, yes, rather;--considering that all men wish to live." That observation, of course, came from Doctor Nupper.

"And care is taken in employing a lawyer,--though, after my experience of yesterday, not always, I should say, so much care as is needful. The man who wants such aid looks about him and gets the best doctor he can for his money, or the best lawyer. But here in England he must take the clergyman provided for him."

"It would be very much better for him if he did," said the rector.

"A clergyman at any rate is supposed to be appointed; and that clergyman he must pay."

"Not at all," said the rector. "The clergy are paid by the wise provision of former ages."

"We will let that pass for the present," said the Senator. "There he is, however he may be paid. How does he get there?" Now it was the fact that Mr. Mainwaring's living had been bought for him with his wife's money,--a fact of which Mr. Gotobed was not aware, but which he would hardly have regarded had he known it. "How does he get there?"

"In the majority of cases the bishop puts him there," said Mr. Surtees.

"And how is the bishop governed in his choice? As far as I can learn the stipends are absurdly various, one man getting 100 pounds a year for working like a horse in a big town, and another 1000 pounds for living an idle life in a luxurious country house. But the bishop of course gives the bigger plums to the best men. How is it then that the big plums find their way so often to the sons and sons-in-law and nephews of the bishops?"

"Because the bishop has looked after their education and principles," said the rector.

"And taught them how to choose their wives," said the Senator with imperturbable gravity.

"I am not the son of a bishop, sir," exclaimed the rector.

"I wish you had been, sir, if it would have done you any good. A general can't make his son a colonel at the age of twenty-five, or an admiral his son a first lieutenant, or a judge his a Queen's Counsellor,--nor can the head of an office promote his to be a chief secretary. It is only a bishop can do this;--I suppose because a cure of souls is so much less important than the charge of a ship or the discipline of twenty or thirty clerks."

"The bishops don't do it," said the rector fiercely.

"Then the statistics which have been put into my hands belie them. But how is it with those the bishops don't appoint? There seems to me to be such a complication of absurdities as to defy explanation."

"I think I could explain them all," said Mr. Surtees mildly.

"If you can do so satisfactorily, I shall be very glad to hear it," continued the Senator, who seemed in truth to be glad to hear no one but himself. "A lad of one-and-twenty learns his lessons so well that he has to be rewarded at his college, and a part of his reward consists in his having a parish entrusted to him when he is forty years old, to which he can maintain his right whether he be in any way trained for such work or no. Is that true?"

"His collegiate education is the best training he can have," said the rector.

"I came across a young fellow the other day," continued the Senator, "in a very nice house, with 700 pounds a year, and learned that he had inherited the living because he was his father's second son. Some poor clergyman had been keeping it ready for him for the last fifteen years and had to turn out as soon as this young spark could be made a clergyman."

"It was his father's property," said the rector, "and the poor man had had great kindness shown him for those fifteen years"

"Exactly;--his father's property! And this is what you call a cure of souls! And another man had absolutely had his living bought for him by his uncle, just as he might have bought him a farm. He couldn't have bought him the command of a regiment or a small judgeship. In those matters you require capacity. It is only when you deal with the Church that you throw to the winds all ideas of fitness. `Sir,' or `Madam,' or perhaps, `my little dear, you are bound to come to your places in Church and hear me expound the Word of God because I have paid a heavy sum of money for the privilege of teaching you, at the moderate salary of 600 pounds a year!'"

Mr. Surtees sat aghast, with his mouth open, and knew not how to say a word. Doctor Nupper rubbed his red nose. Reginald Morton attempted some suggestion about the wine which fell wretchedly flat. John Morton ventured to tell his friend that he did not understand the subject. "I shall be most happy to be instructed," said the Senator.

"Understand it!" said the rector, almost rising in his chair to rebuke the insolence of his guest--"He understands nothing about it, and yet he ventures to fall foul with unmeasured terms on an establishment which has been brought to its present condition by the fostering care of perhaps the most pious set of divines that ever lived, and which has produced results with which those of no other Church can compare!"

"Have I represented anything untruly?" asked the Senator.

"A great deal, sir."

"Only put me right, and no man will recall his words more readily. Is it not the case that livings in the Church of England can be bought and sold?"

"The matter is one, Sir," said the rector, "which cannot be discussed in this manner. There are two clergymen present to whom such language is distasteful; as it is also I hope to the others who are all members of the Church of England. Perhaps you will allow me to request that the subject may be changed." After that conversation flagged and the evening was by no means joyous. The rector certainly regretted that his '57 claret should have been expended on such a man. "I don't think," said he when John Morton had taken the Senator away, "that in my whole life before I ever met such a brute as that American Senator."

Anthony Trollope