Now, the Rev. Amos Barton was one of those men who have a decided will and opinion of their own; he held himself bolt upright, and had no self-distrust. He would march very determinedly along the road he thought best; but then it was wonderfully easy to convince him which was the best road. And so a very little unwonted reading and unwonted discussion made him see that an Episcopalian Establishment was much more than unobjectionable, and on many other points he began to feel that he held opinions a little too far-sighted and profound to be crudely and suddenly communicated to ordinary minds. He was like an onion that has been rubbed with spices; the strong original odour was blended with something new and foreign. The Low-Church onion still offended refined High Church nostrils, and the new spice was unwelcome to the palate of the genuine onion-eater.
We will not accompany him to the Clerical Meeting today, because we shall probably want to go thither some day when he will be absent. And just now I am bent on introducing you to Mr. Bridmain and the Countess Czerlaski, with whom Mr. and Mrs. Barton are invited to dine tomorrow.
Outside, the moon is shedding its cold light on the cold snow, and the white-bearded fir-trees round Camp Villa are casting a blue shadow across the white ground, while the Rev. Amos Barton, and his wife are audibly crushing the crisp snow beneath their feet, as, about seven o’clock on Friday evening, they approach the door of the above-named desirable country residence, containing dining, breakfast, and drawing rooms, etc., situated only half a mile from the market-town of Milby.
Inside, there is a bright fire in the drawing-room, casting a pleasant but uncertain light on the delicate silk dress of a lady who is reclining behind a screen in the corner of the sofa, and allowing you to discern that the hair of the gentleman who is seated in the arm-chair opposite, with a newspaper over his knees, is becoming decidedly grey. A little ‘King Charles’, with a crimson ribbon round his neck, who has been lying curled up in the very middle of the hearth-rug, has just discovered that that zone is too hot for him, and is jumping on the sofa, evidently with the intention of accommodating his person on the silk gown. On the table there are two wax-candles, which will be lighted as soon as the expected knock is heard at the door.
The knock is heard, the candles are lighted, and presently Mr. and Mrs. Barton are ushered in—Mr. Barton erect and clerical, in a faultless tie and shining cranium; Mrs. Barton graceful in a newly-turned black silk.
‘Now this is charming of you,’ said the Countess Czerlaski, advancing to meet them, and embracing Milly with careful elegance. ’I am really ashamed of my selfishness in asking my friends to come and see me in this frightful weather.’ Then, giving her hand to Amos, ’And you, Mr. Barton, whose time is so precious! But I am doing a good deed in drawing you away from your labours. I have a plot to prevent you from martyrizing yourself.’