Chapter 14

BATTERSBY-ON-THE-HILL was the name of the village of which Theobald was now Rector. It contained 400 or 500 inhabitants, scattered over a rather large area, and consisting entirely of farmers and agricultural labourers. The Rectory was commodious, and placed on the brow of a hill which gave it a delightful prospect. There was a fair sprinkling of neighbours within visiting range, but with one or two exceptions they were the clergymen and clergymen's families of the surrounding villages.

By these the Pontifexes were welcomed as great acquisitions to the neighbourhood. Mr Pontifex, they said, was so clever; he had been senior classic and senior wrangler; a perfect genius in fact, and yet with so much sound practical common sense as well. As son of such a distinguished man as the great Mr Pontifex the publisher he would come into a large property by and by. Was there not an elder brother? Yes, but there would be so much that Theobald would probably get something very considerable. Of course they would give dinner parties. And Mrs Pontifex, what a charming woman she was; she was certainly not exactly pretty perhaps, but then she had such a sweet smile and her manner was so bright and winning. She was so devoted too to her husband and her husband to her; they really did come up to one's ideas of what lovers used to be in days o old; it was rare to meet with such a pair in these degenerate times; it was quite beautiful, etc., etc. Such were the comments of the neighbours on the new arrivals.

As for Theobald's own parishioners, the farmers were civil and the labourers and their wives obsequious. There was a little dissent, the legacy of a careless predecessor, but as Mrs Theobald said proudly, `I think Theobald may be trusted to deal with that.' The church was then an interesting specimen of Late Norman, with some Early English additions. It was what in these days would be called in a very bad state of repair but forty or fifty years ago few churches were in good repair. If there is one feature more characteristic of the present generation than another it is that it has been a great restorer of churches.

Horace preached church restoration in his ode:

`Delicta majorum immeritus lues,
     Romane, donec templa refeceris
       Aedesque labentes deorum et
           Foeda nigro simulacra fumo.'

Nothing went right with Rome for long together after the Augustan age, but whether it was because she did restore the temples or because she did not restore them I know not. They certainly went all wrong after Constantine's time and yet Rome is still a city of some importance.

I may say here that before Theobald had been many years at Battersby he found scope for useful work in the rebuilding of Battersby church, which he carried out at considerable cost, towards which he subscribed liberally himself. He was his own architect, and this saved expense; but architecture was not very well understood about the year 1834, when Theobald commenced operations, and the result is not as satisfactory as it would have been if he had waited a few years longer.

Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him. I may very likely be condemning myself, all the time that I am writing this book, for I know that whether I like it or no I am portraying myself more surely than I am portraving any of the characters whom I set before the reader. I am sorry that it is so, but I cannot help it - after which sop to Nemesis I will say that Battersby church in its amended form has always struck me as a better portrait of Theobald than any sculptor or painter short of a great master would be able to produce.

I remember staying with Theobald some six or seven months after he was married, and while the old church was still standing. I went to church, and felt as Naaman must have felt on certain occasions when he had to accompany his master on his return after having been cured of his leprosy. I have carried away a more vivid recollection of this and of the people, than of Theobald's sermon Even now I can see the men in blue smock-frocks reaching to their heels, and more than one old woman in a scarlet cloak; the row of stolid, dull, vacant ploughboys, ungainly in build, uncomely in face, lifeless, apathetic, a race a good deal more like the pre-revolution French peasant as described by Carlyle than is pleasant to reflect upon - a race now supplanted by a smarter, comelier and more hopeful generation, which has

  By PanEris using Melati.

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