Dr. Wortle's School, Anthony Trollope
Anthony Trollope

Dr. Wortle's School




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"Now, I have told you everything. Not that I have doubted you; but, as you have been told so much, I have thought it well that you should have the whole story from myself. What effect it may have upon the school I do not know. The only boy of whose secession I have yet heard is young Momson. But probably there will be others. Four new boys were to have come, but I have already heard from the father of one that he has changed his mind. I think I can trace an acquaintance between him and Mother Shipton. If the body of the school should leave me I will let you know at once as you might not like to leave your boy under such circumstances.
"You may be sure of this, that here the lady remains until her husband returns. I am not going to be turned from my purpose at this time of day by anything that Mother Shipton may say or do.—Yours always,
"Jeffrey Wortle."



A Novel.



[All Rights reserved.]















Part V.

It was not to be expected that the matter should be kept out of the county newspaper, or even from those in the metropolis. There was too much of romance in the story, too good a tale to be told, for any such hope. The man's former life and the woman's, the disappearance of her husband and his reappearance after his reported death, the departure of the couple from St. Louis and the coming of Lefroy to Bowick, formed together a most attractive subject. But it could not be told without reference to Dr. Wortle's school, to Dr. Wortle's position as clergyman of the parish,—and also to the fact which was considered by his enemies to be of all the facts the most damning, that Mr. Peacocke had for a time been allowed to preach in the parish church. The 'Broughton Gazette,' a newspaper which was supposed to be altogether devoted to the interest of the diocese, was very eloquent on this subject. "We do not desire," said the 'Broughton Gazette,' "to make any remarks as to the management of Dr. Wortle's school. We leave all that between him and the parents of the boys who are educated there. We are perfectly aware that Dr. Wortle himself is a scholar, and that his school has been deservedly successful. It is advisable, no doubt, that in such an establishment none should be employed whose lives are openly immoral;—but as we have said before, it is not our purpose to insist upon this. Parents, if they feel themselves to be aggrieved, can remedy the evil by withdrawing their sons. But when we consider the great power which is placed in the hands of an incumbent of a parish, that he is endowed as it were with the freehold of his pulpit, that he may put up whom he will to preach the Gospel to his parishioners, even in a certain degree in opposition to his bishop, we think that we do no more than our duty in calling attention to such a case as this." Then the whole story was told at great length, so as to give the "we" of the 'Broughton Gazette' a happy opportunity of making its leading article not only much longer, but much more amusing, than usual. "We must say," continued the writer, as he concluded his narrative, "that this man should not have been allowed to preach in the Bowick pulpit. He is no doubt a clergyman of the Church of England, and Dr. Wortle was within his rights in asking for his assistance; but the incumbent of a parish is responsible for those he employs, and that responsibility now rests on Dr. Wortle."
There was a great deal in this that made the Doctor very angry,—so angry that he did not know how to restrain himself. The matter had been argued as though he had employed the clergyman in his church after he had known the history. "For aught I know," he said to Mrs. Wortle, "any curate coming to me might have three wives, all alive."
"That would be most improbable," said Mrs. Wortle.
"So was all this improbable,—just as improbable. Nothing could be more improbable. Do we not all feel overcome with pity for the poor woman because she encountered trouble that was so improbable? How much more improbable was it that I should come across a clergyman who had encountered such improbabilities." In answer to this Mrs. Wortle could only shake her head, not at all understanding the purport of her husband's argument.
But what was said about his school hurt him more than what was said about his church. In regard to his church he was impregnable. Not even the Bishop could touch him,—or even annoy him much. But this "penny-a-liner," as the Doctor indignantly called him, had attacked him in his tenderest point. After declaring that he did not intend to meddle with the school, he had gone on to point out that an immoral person had been employed there, and had then invited all parents to take away their sons. "He doesn't know what moral and immoral means," said the Doctor, again pleading his own case to his own wife. "As far as I know, it would be hard to find a man of a higher moral feeling than Mr. Peacocke, or a woman than his wife."
"I suppose they ought to have separated when it was found out," said Mrs. Wortle.
"No, no," he shouted; "I hold that they were right. He was right to cling to her, and she was bound to obey him. Such a fellow as that,"—and he crushed the paper up in his hand in his wrath, as though he were crushing the editor himself,—"such a fellow as that knows nothing of morality, nothing of honour, nothing of tenderness. What he did I would have done, and I'll stick to him through it all in spite of the Bishop, in spite of the newspapers, and in spite of all the rancour of all my enemies." Then he got up and walked about the room in such a fury that his wife did not dare to speak to him. Should he or should he not answer the newspaper? That was a question which for the first two days after he had read the article greatly perplexed him. He would have been very ready to advise any other man what to do in such a case. "Never notice what may be written about you in a newspaper," he would have said. Such is the advice which a man always gives to his friend. But when the case comes to himself he finds it sometimes almost impossible to follow it. "What's the use? Who cares what the 'Broughton Gazette' says? let it pass, and it will be forgotten in three days. If you stir the mud yourself, it will hang about you for months. It is just what they want you to do. They cannot go on by themselves, and so the subject dies away from them; but if you write rejoinders they have a contributor working for them for nothing, and one whose writing will be much more acceptable to their readers than any that comes from their own anonymous scribes. It is very disagreeable to be worried like a rat by a dog; but why should you go into the kennel and unnecessarily put yourself in the way of it?" The Doctor had said this more than once to clerical friends who were burning with indignation at something that had been written about them. But now he was burning himself, and could hardly keep his fingers from pen and ink.
In this emergency he went to Mr. Puddicombe, not, as he said to himself, for advice, but in order that he might hear what Mr. Puddicombe would have to say about it. He did not like Mr. Puddicombe, but he believed in him,—which was more than he quite did with the Bishop. Mr. Puddicombe would tell him his true thoughts. Mr. Puddicombe would be unpleasant very likely; but he would be sincere and friendly. So he went to Mr. Puddicombe. "It seems to me," he said, "almost necessary that I should answer such allegations as these for the sake of truth."
"You are not responsible for the truth of the 'Broughton Gazette,"' said Mr. Puddicombe.
"But I am responsible to a certain degree that false reports shall not be spread abroad as to what is done in my church."
"You can contradict nothing that the newspaper has said."
"It is implied," said the Doctor, "that I allowed Mr. Peacocke to preach in my church after I knew his marriage was informal."
"There is no such statement in the paragraph," said Mr. Puddicombe, after attentive reperusal of the article. "The writer has written in a hurry, as such writers generally do, but has made no statement such as you presume. Were you to answer him, you could only do so by an elaborate statement of the exact facts of the case. It can hardly be worth your while, in defending yourself against the 'Broughton Gazette,' to tell the whole story in public of Mr. Peacocke's life and fortunes."
"You would pass it over altogether?"
"Certainly I would."
"And so acknowledge the truth of all that the newspaper says."
"I do not know that the paper says anything untrue," said Mr. Puddicombe, not looking the Doctor in the face, with his eyes turned to the ground, but evidently with the determination to say what he thought, however unpleasant it might be. "The fact is that you have fallen into a—misfortune."
"I don't acknowledge it at all," said the Doctor.
"All your friends at any rate will think so, let the story be told as it may. It was a misfortune that this lady whom you had taken into your establishment should have proved not to be the gentleman's wife. When I am taking a walk through the fields and get one of my feet deeper than usual into the mud, I always endeavour to bear it as well as I may before the eyes of those who meet me rather than make futile efforts to get rid of the dirt and look as though nothing had happened. The dirt, when it is rubbed and smudged and scraped is more palpably dirt than the honest mud."
"I will not admit that I am dirty at all," said the Doctor.
"Nor do I, in the case which I describe. I admit nothing; but I let those who see me form their own opinion. If any one asks me about my boot I tell him that it is a matter of no consequence. I advise you to do the same. You will only make the smudges more palpable if you write to the 'Broughton Gazette."'
"Would you say nothing to the boys' parents?" asked the Doctor.
"There, perhaps, I am not a judge, as I never kept a school;—but I think not. If any father writes to you, then tell him the truth."
If the matter had gone no farther than this, the Doctor might probably have left Mr. Puddicombe's house with a sense of thankfulness for the kindness rendered to him; but he did go farther, and endeavoured to extract from his friend some sense of the injustice shown by the Bishop, the Stantiloups, the newspaper, and his enemies in general through the diocese. But here he failed signally. "I really think, Dr. Wortle, that you could not have expected it otherwise."
"Expect that people should lie?"
"I don't know about lies. If people have told lies I have not seen them or heard them. I don't think the Bishop has lied."
"I don't mean the Bishop; though I do think that he has shown a great want of what I may call liberality towards a clergyman in his diocese."
"No doubt he thinks you have been wrong. By liberality you mean sympathy. Why should you expect him to sympathise with your wrong-doing?"
"What have I done wrong?"
"You have countenanced immorality and deceit in a brother clergyman."
"I deny it," said the Doctor, rising up impetuously from his chair.
"Then I do not understand the position, Dr. Wortle. That is all I can say."
"To my thinking, Mr. Puddicombe, I never came across a better man than Mr. Peacocke in my life."
"I cannot make comparisons. As to the best man I ever met in my life I might have to acknowledge that even he had done wrong in certain circumstances. As the matter is forced upon me, I have to express my opinion that a great sin was committed both by the man and by the woman. You not only condone the sin, but declare both by your words and deeds that you sympathise with the sin as well as with the sinners. You have no right to expect that the Bishop will sympathise with you in that;—nor can it be but that in such a country as this the voices of many will be loud against you."
"And yours as loud as any," said the Doctor, angrily.
"That is unkind and unjust," said Mr. Puddicombe. "What I have said, I have said to yourself, and not to others; and what I have said, I have said in answer to questions asked by yourself." Then the Doctor apologised with what grace he could. But when he left the house his heart was still bitter against Mr. Puddicombe.
He was almost ashamed of himself as he rode back to Bowick,—first, because he had condescended to ask advice, and then because, after having asked it, he had been so thoroughly scolded. There was no one whom Mr. Puddicombe would admit to have been wrong in the matter except the Doctor himself. And yet though he had been so counselled and so scolded, he had found himself obliged to
before he left the house! And, too, he had been made to understand that he had better not rush into print. Though the 'Broughton Gazette' should come to the attack again and again, he must hold his peace. That reference to Mr.
dirty boot had convinced him. He could see the thoroughly squalid look of the boot that had been scraped in vain, and appreciate the wholesomeness of the unadulterated mud. There was more in the man than he had ever acknowledged before. There was a consistency in him, and a courage, and an honesty of purpose. But there was no softness of heart. Had there been a grain of tenderness there, he could
have spoken so often as he had done of Mrs. Peacocke without expressing some grief at the unmerited sorrows to which that poor lady had been subjected.
His own heart melted with ruth as he thought, while riding home, of the cruelty to which she had been and was subjected. She was all alone there, waiting, waiting, waiting, till the dreary days should have gone by. And if no good news should come, if Mr. Peacocke should return with tidings that her husband was alive and well, what should she do then? What would the world then have in store for her? "If it were me," said the Doctor to himself, "I'd take her to some other home and treat her as my wife in spite of all the Puddicombes in creation;—in spite of all the bishops."
The Doctor, though he was a self-asserting and somewhat violent man, was thoroughly soft-hearted. It is to be hoped that the reader has already learned as much as that;—a man with a kind, tender, affectionate nature. It would perhaps be unfair to raise a question whether he would have done as much, been so willing to sacrifice himself, for a plain woman. Had Mr. Stantiloup, or Sir Samuel Griffin if he had suddenly come again to life, been found to have prior wives also living, would the Doctor have found shelter for them in their ignominy and trouble? Mrs. Wortle, who knew her husband thoroughly, was sure that he would not have done so. Mrs. Peacocke was a very beautiful woman, and the Doctor was a man who thoroughly admired beauty. To say that Mrs. Wortle was jealous would be quite untrue. She liked to see her husband talking to a pretty woman, because he would be sure to be in a good humour and sure to make the best of himself. She loved to see him shine. But she almost wished that Mrs. Peacocke had been ugly, because there would not then have been so much danger about the school.
"I'm just going up to see her," said the Doctor, as soon as he got home,—"just to ask her what she wants."
"I don't think she wants anything," said Mrs. Wortle, weakly.
"Does she not? She must be a very odd woman if she can live there all day alone, and not want to see a human creature."
"I was with her yesterday."
"And therefore I will call to-day," said the Doctor, leaving the room with his hat on.
When he was shown up into the sitting-room he found Mrs. Peacocke with a newspaper in her hand. He could see at a glance that it was a copy of the 'Broughton Gazette,' and could see also the length and outward show of the very article which he had been discussing with Mr. Puddicombe. "Dr. Wortle," she said, "if you don't mind, I will go away from this."
"But I do mind. Why should you go away?"
"They have been writing about me in the newspapers."
"That was to be expected."
"But they have been writing about you."
"That was to have been expected also. You don't suppose they can hurt me?" This was a false boast, but in such conversations he was almost bound to boast.
"It is I, then, am hurting you?"
"You;—oh dear, no; not in the least."
"But I do. They talk of boys going away from the school."
"Boys will go and boys will come, but we run on for ever," said the Doctor, playfully.
"I can well understand that it should be so," said Mrs. Peacocke, passing over the Doctor's parody as though unnoticed; "and I perceive that I ought not to be here."
"Where ought you to be, then?" said he, intending simply to carry on his joke.
"Where indeed! There is no where. But wherever I may do least injury to innocent people,—to people who have not been driven by storms out of the common path of life. For this place I am peculiarly unfit."
"Will you find any place where you will be made more welcome?"
"I think not."
"Then let me manage the rest. You have been reading that dastardly article in the paper. It will have no effect upon me. Look here, Mrs. Peacocke;"—then he got up and held her hand as though he were going, but he remained some moments while he was still speaking to her,—still holding her hand;—"it was settled between your husband and me, when he went away, that you should remain here under my charge till his return. I am bound to him to find a home for you. I think you are as much bound to obey him,—which you can only do by remaining here."
"I would wish to obey him, certainly."
"You ought to do so,—from the peculiar circumstances more especially. Don't trouble your mind about the school, but do as he desired. There is no question but that you must do so. Good-bye. Mrs. Wortle or I will come and see you to-morrow." Then, and not till then, he dropped her hand.
On the next day Mrs. Wortle did call, though these visits were to her an intolerable nuisance. But it was certainly better that she should alternate the visits with the Doctor than that he should go every day. The Doctor had declared that charity required that one of them should see the poor woman daily. He was quite willing that they should perform the task day and day about,—but should his wife omit the duty he must go in his wife's place. What would all the world of Bowick say if the Doctor were to visit a lady, a young and a beautiful lady, every day, whereas his wife visited the lady not at all? Therefore they took it turn about, except that sometimes the Doctor accompanied his wife. The Doctor had once suggested that his wife should take the poor lady out in her carriage. But against this even Mrs. Wortle had rebelled. "Under such circumstances as hers she ought not to be seen driving about," said Mrs. Wortle. The Doctor had submitted to this, but still thought that the world of Bowick was very cruel.
Mrs. Wortle, though she made no complaint, thought that she was used cruelly in the matter. There had been an intention of going into Brittany during these summer holidays. The little tour had been almost promised. But the affairs of Mrs. Peacocke were of such a nature as not to allow the Doctor to be absent. "You and Mary can go, and Henry will go with you." Henry was a bachelor brother of Mrs. Wortle, who was always very much at the Doctor's disposal, and at hers. But certainly she was not going to quit England, not going to quit home at all, while her husband remained there, and while Mrs. Peacocke was an inmate of the school. It was not that she was jealous. The idea was absurd. But she knew very well what Mrs. Stantiloup would say.


But there arose a trouble greater than that occasioned by the 'Broughton Gazette.' There came out an article in a London weekly newspaper, called 'Everybody's Business,' which nearly drove the Doctor mad. This was on the last Saturday of the holidays. The holidays had been commenced in the middle of July, and went on till the end of August. Things had not gone well at Bowick during these weeks. The parents of all the four newly-expected boys had—changed their minds. One father had discovered that he could not afford it. Another declared that the mother could not be got to part with her darling quite so soon as he had expected. A third had found that a private tutor at home would best suit his purposes. While the fourth boldly said that he did not like to send his boy because of the "fuss" which had been made about Mr. and Mrs. Peacocke. Had this last come alone, the Doctor would probably have resented such a communication; but following the others as it did, he preferred the fourth man to any of the other three. "Miserable cowards," he said to himself, as he docketed the letters and put them away. But the greatest blow of all,—of all blows of this sort,—came to him from poor Lady Anne Clifford. She wrote a piteous letter to him, in which she implored him to allow her to take her two boys away.
"My dear Doctor Wortle," she said, "so many people have been telling so many dreadful things about this horrible affair, that I do not dare to send my darling boys back to Bowick again. Uncle Clifford and Lord Robert both say that I should be very wrong. The Marchioness has said so much about it that I dare not go against her. You know what my own feelings are about you and dear Mrs. Wortle; but I am not my own mistress. They all tell me that it is my first duty to think about the dear boys' welfare; and of course that is true. I hope you won't be very angry with me, and will write one line to say that you forgive me.—Yours most sincerely,
"Anne Clifford."

In answer to this the Doctor did write as follows;—

"My dear Lady Anne,—Of course your duty is very plain,—to do what you think best for the boys; and it is natural enough that you should follow the advice of your relatives and theirs.—Faithfully yours,
"Jeffrey Wortle."

He could not bring himself to write in a more friendly tone, or to tell her that he forgave her. His sympathies were not with her. His sympathies at the present moment were only with Mrs. Peacocke. But then Lady Anne Clifford was not a beautiful woman, as was Mrs. Peacocke.
This was a great blow. Two other boys had also been summoned away, making five in all, whose premature departure was owing altogether to the virulent tongue of that wretched old Mother Shipton. And there had been four who were to come in the place of four others, who, in the course of nature, were going to carry on their more advanced studies elsewhere. Vacancies such as these had always been pre-occupied long beforehand by ambitious parents. These very four places had been pre-occupied, but now they were all vacant. There would be nine empty beds in the school when it met again after the holidays; and the Doctor well understood that nine beds remaining empty would soon cause others to be emptied. It is success that creates success, and decay that produces decay. Gradual decay he knew that he could not endure. He must shut up his school,—give up his employment,—and retire altogether from the activity of life. He felt that if it came to this with him he must in very truth turn his face to the wall and die. Would it,—would it really come to that, that Mrs. Stantiloup should have altogether conquered him in the combat that had sprung up between them?
But yet he would not give up Mrs. Peacocke. Indeed, circumstanced as he was, he could not give her up. He had promised not only her, but her absent husband, that until his return there should be a home for her in the school-house. There would be a cowardice in going back from his word which was altogether foreign to his nature. He could not bring himself to retire from the fight, even though by doing so he might save himself from the actual final slaughter which seemed to be imminent. He thought only of making fresh attacks upon his enemy, instead of meditating flight from those which were made upon him. As a dog, when another dog has got him well by the ear, thinks not at all of his own wound, but only how he may catch his enemy by the lip, so was the Doctor in regard to Mrs. Stantiloup. When the two Clifford boys were taken away, he took some joy to himself in remembering that Mr. Stantiloup could not pay his butcher's bill.
Then, just at the end of the holidays, some good-natured friend sent to him a copy of 'Everybody's Business.' There is no duty which a man owes to himself more clearly than that of throwing into the waste-paper basket, unsearched and even unopened, all newspapers sent to him without a previously-declared purpose. The sender has either written something himself which he wishes to force you to read, or else he has been desirous of wounding you by some ill-natured criticism upon yourself. 'Everybody's Business' was a paper which, in the natural course of things, did not find its way into the Bowick Rectory; and the Doctor, though he was no doubt acquainted with the title, had never even looked at its columns. It was the purpose of the periodical to amuse its readers, as its name declared, with the private affairs of their neighbours. It went boldly about its work, excusing itself by the assertion that Jones was just as well inclined to be talked about as Smith was to hear whatever could be said about Jones. As both parties were served, what could be the objection? It was in the main good-natured, and probably did most frequently gratify the Joneses, while it afforded considerable amusement to the listless and numerous Smiths of the world. If you can't read and understand Jones's speech in Parliament, you may at any rate have mind enough to interest yourself with the fact that he never composed a word of it in his own room without a ring on his finger and a flower in his button-hole. It may also be agreeable to know that Walker the poet always takes a mutton-chop and two glasses of sherry at half-past one. 'Everybody's Business' did this for everybody to whom such excitement was agreeable. But in managing everybody's business in that fashion, let a writer be as good-natured as he may and let the principle be ever so well-founded that nobody is to be hurt, still there are dangers. It is not always easy to know what will hurt and what will not. And then sometimes there will come a temptation to be, not spiteful, but specially amusing. There must be danger, and a writer will sometimes be indiscreet. Personalities will lead to libels even when the libeller has been most innocent. It may be that after all the poor poet never drank a glass of sherry before dinner in his life,—it may be that a little toast-and-water, even with his dinner, gives him all the refreshment that he wants, and that two glasses of alcoholic mixture in the middle of the day shall seem, when imputed to him, to convey a charge of downright inebriety. But the writer has perhaps learned to regard two glasses of meridian wine as but a moderate amount of sustentation. This man is much flattered if it be given to be understood of him that he falls in love with every pretty woman that he sees;—whereas another will think that he has been made subject to a foul calumny by such insinuation.
'Everybody's Business' fell into some such mistake as this, in that very amusing article which was written for the delectation of its readers in reference to Dr. Wortle and Mrs. Peacocke. The 'Broughton Gazette' no doubt confined itself to the clerical and highly moral views of the case, and, having dealt with the subject chiefly on behalf of the Close and the admirers of the Close, had made no allusion to the fact that Mrs. Peacocke was a very pretty woman. One or two other local papers had been more scurrilous, and had, with ambiguous and timid words, alluded to the Doctor's personal admiration for the lady. These, or the rumours created by them, had reached one of the funniest and lightest-handed of the contributors to 'Everybody's Business,' and he had concocted an amusing article,—which he had not intended to be at all libellous, which he had thought to be only funny. He had not appreciated, probably, the tragedy of the lady's position, or the sanctity of that of the gentleman. There was comedy in the idea of the Doctor having sent one husband away to America to look after the other while he consoled the wife in England. "It must be admitted," said the writer, "that the Doctor has the best of it. While one gentleman is gouging the other,—as cannot but be expected,—the Doctor will be at any rate in security, enjoying the smiles of beauty under his own fig-tree at Bowick. After a hot morning with 'τυπτω' in the school, there will be 'amo' in the cool of the evening." And this was absolutely sent to him by some good-natured friend!
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