Chapter 14.

{266} ONE morning he was told that a gentleman had asked for him, and been shown into the dining-room. Descending, he saw the tall slender figure of Bateman, now a clergyman, and lately appointed curate of a neighbouring parish. Charles had not seen him for a year and a half, and shook hands with him very warmly, complimenting him on his white neckcloth, which somehow, he said, altered him more than he could have expected. Bateman's manner certainly was altered; it might be the accident of the day, but he did not seem quite at his ease; it might be that he was in a strange house, and was likely soon to be precipitated into the company of ladies, to which he had never been used. If so, the trial was on the point of beginning, for Charles said instantly that he must come and see his mother, and of course meant to dine with them; the sky was clear, and there was an excellent footpath between Boughton and Melford. Bateman could not do this, but he would have the greatest pleasure in being introduced to Mrs. Reding; so he stumbled after Charles into the drawing-room, and was soon conversing with her and the young ladies. {267}

"A charming prospect you have here, ma'am," said Bateman, "when you are once inside the house. It does not promise outside so extensive a view."

"No, it is shut in with trees," said Mrs. Reding; "and the brow of the hill changes its direction so much that at first I used to think the prospect ought to be from the opposite windows."

"What is that high hill?" said Bateman.

"It is Hart Hill," said Charles; "there's a Roman camp atop of it."

"We can see eight steeples from our windows," said Mrs. Reding;—"ring the bell for luncheon, my dear."

"Ah, our ancestors, Mrs. Reding," said Bateman, "thought more of building churches than we do; or rather than we have done, I should say, for now it is astonishing what efforts are made to add to our ecclesiastical structures."

"Our ancestors did a good deal too," said Mrs. Reding; "how many churches, my dear, were built in London in Queen Anne's time? St. Martin's was one of them."

"Fifty," said Eliza.

"Fifty were intended," said Charles.

"Yes, Mrs. Reding," said Bateman; "but by ancestors I meant the holy Bishops and other members of our Catholic Church previously to the Reformation. For, though the Reformation was a great blessing" (a glance at Charles), "yet we must not, in justice, forget what was done by English Churchmen before it."

"Ah, poor creatures," said Mrs. Reding, "they did {268} one good thing in building churches; it has saved us much trouble."

"Is there much church-restoration going on in these parts?" said Bateman, taken rather aback.

"My mother has but lately come here, like yourself," said Charles; "yes, there is some; Barton Church, you know," appealing to Mary.

"Have your walks extended so far as Barton?" said Mary to Bateman.

"Not yet, Miss Reding, not yet," answered he; "of course they are destroying the pews."

"They are to put in seats," said Charles, "and of a very good pattern."

"Pews are intolerable," said Bateman; "yet the last generation of incumbents contentedly bore them; it is wonderful!"

A not unnatural silence followed this speech. Charles broke it by asking if Bateman intended to do anything in the improvement line at Melford.

Bateman looked modest.

"Nothing of any consequence," he said; "some few things were done; but he had a rector of the old school, poor man, who was an enemy to that sort of thing."

It was with some malicious feeling, in consequence of his attack on clergymen of the past age, that Charles pressed his visitor to give an account of his own reforms.

"Why," said Bateman, "much discretion is necessary in these matters, or you do as much harm as good; you get into hot water with churchwardens and vestries, {269} as well as with old rectors, and again with the gentry of the place, and please no one. For this reason I have made no attempt to introduce the surplice into the pulpit except on the great festivals, intending to familiarise my parishioners to it by little and little. However, I wear a scarf or stole, and have taken care that it should be two inches broader than usual; and I always wear the cassock in my parish. I hope you approve of the cassock, Mrs. Reding?"

"It is a very cold dress, sir—that's my opinion—when made of silk or bombazeen; and very unbecoming too, when worn by itself."

"Particularly behind," said Charles; "it is quite unshapely."

"Oh, I have remedied that," said Bateman; "you have noticed, Miss Reding, I dare say, the Bishop's short cassock. It comes to the knees, and looks much like a continuation of a waistcoat, the straight-cut coat being worn as usual. Well, Miss Reding, I have adopted the same plan with the long cassock; I put my coat over it."

Mary had difficulty to keep from smiling; Charles laughed out. "Impossible, Bateman," he said; "you don't mean you wear your tailed French coat over your long straight cassock reaching to your ankles?"

"Certainly," said Bateman, gravely; "I thus consult for warmth and appearance too; and all my parishioners are sure to know me. I think this a great point, Miss Reding; I hear the little boys as I pass say, 'That's the parson'."

"I'll be bound they do," said Charles. {270}

"Well," said Mrs. Reding, surprised out of her propriety, "did one ever hear the like!"

Bateman looked round at her, startled and frightened.

"You were going to speak of your improvements in your church," said Mary, wishing to divert his attention from her mother.

"Ah, true, Miss Reding, true," said Bateman, "thank you for reminding me; I have digressed to improvements in my own dress. I should have liked to have pulled down the galleries and lowered the high pews; that, however, I could not do. So I have lowered the pulpit some six feet. Now, by doing so, first I give a pattern in my own person of the kind of condescension or lowliness to which I would persuade my people. But this is not all; for the consequence of lowering the pulpit is, that no one in the galleries can see or hear me preach; and this is a bonus on those who are below."

"It's a broad hint, certainly," said Charles.

"But it's a hint for those below also," continued Bateman; "for no one can see or hear me in the pews either, till the sides are lowered."

"One thing only is wanting besides," said Charles smiling and looking amible, lest he should be saying too much; "since you are full tall, you must kneel when you preach, Bateman, else you will undo your own alterations."

Bateman looked pleased. "I have anticipated you," he said; "I preach sitting. It is more conformable to antiquity and to reason to sit than to stand."

"With these precautions," said Charles, "I really {271} think you might have ventured on your surplice in the pulpit every Sunday. Are your parishioners contented?"

"Oh, not at all, far from it," cried Bateman; "but they can do nothing. The alteration is so simple."

"Nothing besides?" asked Charles.

"Nothing in the architectural way," answered he; "but one thing more in the way of observances. I have fortunately picked up a very fair copy of Jewell, black-letter; and I have placed it in church, securing it with a chain to the wall, for any poor person who wishes to read it. Our church is emphatically the 'poor man's church,' Mrs. Reding."

"Well," said Charles to himself, "I'll back the old parsons against the young ones any day, if this is to be their cut." Then aloud: "Come, you must see our garden; take up your hat, and let's have a turn in it. There's a very nice terrace-walk at the upper end."

Bateman accordingly, having been thus trotted out for the amusement of the ladies, was now led off again, and was soon in the aforesaid terrace-walk, pacing up and down in earnest conversation with Charles.

"Reding, my good fellow," said he, "what is the meaning of this report concerning you, which is everywhere about?"

"I have not heard it," said Charles abruptly.

"Why, it is this," said Bateman; "I wish to approach the subject with as great delicacy as possible: don't tell me if you don't like it, or tell me just as much as you like; yet you will excuse an old friend. {272} They say you are going to leave the Church of your baptism for the Church of Rome."

"Is it widely spread?" asked Charles coolly.

"Oh, yes; I heard it in London; have had a letter mentioning it from Oxford; and a friend of mine heard it given out as positive at a visitation dinner in Wales."

"So," thought Charles, "you are bringing your witness against me as well as the rest."

"Well but, my good Reding," said Bateman, "why are you silent? Is it true—is it true?"

"What true? that I am a Roman Catholic? Oh, certainly; don't you understand, that's why I am reading so hard for the schools?" said Charles.

"Come, be serious for a moment, Reding," said Bateman, "do be serious. Will you empower me to contradict the report, or to negative it to a certain point, or in any respect?"

"Oh, to be sure," said Charles, "contradict it, by all means, contradict it entirely."

"May I give it a plain, unqualified, unconditional, categorical, flat denial?" asked Bateman.

"Of course, of course."

Bateman could not make him out, and had not a dream how he was teasing him. "I don't know where to find you," he said. They paced down the walk in silence.

Bateman began again. "You see," he said, "it would be such a wonderful blindness, it would be so utterly inexcusable in a person like yourself, who had known what the Church of England was; not a Dissenter, {273} not an unlettered layman; but one who had been at Oxford, who had come across so many excellent men, who had seen what the Church of England could be, her grave beauty, her orderly and decent activity; who had seen churches decorated as they should be, with candlesticks, ciboriums, faldstools, lecterns, antependiums, piscinas, roodlofts, and sedilia; who, in fact, had seen the Church Service carried out, and could desiderate nothing;—tell me, my dear good Reding," taking hold of his button-hole, "what is it you want—what is it? name it."

"That you would take yourself off," Charles would have said, had he spoken his mind; he merely said, however, that really he desiderated nothing but to be believed when he said that he had no intention of leaving his own Church. Bateman was incredulous, and thought him close. "Perhaps you are not aware," he said, "how much is known of the circumstances of your being sent down. The old Principal was full of the subject."

"What! I suppose he told people right and left," said Reding.

"Oh, yes," answered Bateman; "a friend of mine knows him, and happening to call on him soon after you went down, had the whole story from him. He spoke most kindly of you, and in the highest terms; said that it was deplorable how much your mind was warped by the prevalent opinions, and that he should not be surprised if it turned out you were a Romanist even while you were at St. Saviour's; anyhow, that you would be one day a Romanist for certain, for that {274} you held that the saints reigning with Christ interceded for us in heaven. But what was stronger, when the report got about, Sheffield said that he was not surprised at it, that he always prophesied it."

"I am much obliged to him," said Charles.

"However, you warrant me," said Bateman, "to contradict it—so I understand you—to contradict it peremptorily; that's enough for me. It's a great relief; it's very satisfactory. Well, I must be going."

"I don't like to seem to drive you away," said Charles, "but really you must be going if you want to get home before nightfall. I hope you don't feel lonely or over-worked where you are. If you are so at any time, don't scruple to drop in to dinner here; nay, we can take you in for a night, if you wish it."

Bateman thanked him, and they proceeded to the hall-door together; when they were nearly parting, Bateman stopped and said, "Do you know, I should like to lend you some books to read. Let me send up to you Bramhall's Works, Thorndike, Barrow on the Unity of the Church, and Leslie's Dialogues on Romanism. I could name others, but content myself with these at present. They perfectly settle the matter; you can't help being convinced. I'll not say a word more; good-bye to you, good-bye."

Chapter 2-15

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