The strong-minded Lady Southdown quite agreed in both proposals of her son-in-law, and was for converting Miss Crawley off-hand. At her own home, both at Southdown and at Trottermore Castle, this tall and awful missionary of the truth rode about the country in her barouche with outriders, launched packets of tracts among the cottagers and tenants, and would order Gaffer Jones to be converted, as she would order Goody Hicks to take a James's powder, without appeal, resistance, or benefit of clergy. My Lord Southdown, her late husband, an epileptic and simple-minded nobleman, was in the habit of approving of everything which his Matilda did and thought. So that whatever changes her own belief might undergo (and it accommodated itself to a prodigious variety of opinion, taken from all sorts of doctors among the Dissenters) she had not the least scruple in ordering all her tenants and inferiors to follow and believe after her. Thus whether she received the Reverend Saunders McNitre, the Scotch divine; or the Reverend Luke Waters, the mild Wesleyan; or the Reverend Giles Jowls, the illuminated Cobbler, who dubbed himself Reverend as Napoleon crowned himself Emperor — the household, children, tenantry of my Lady Southdown were expected to go down on their knees with her Ladyship, and say Amen to the prayers of either Doctor. During these exercises old Southdown, on account of his invalid condition, was allowed to sit in his own room, and have negus and the paper read to him. Lady Jane was the old Earl's favourite daughter, and tended him and loved him sincerely: as for Lady Emily, the authoress of the "Washerwoman of Finchley Common," her denunciations of future punishment (at this period, for her opinions modified afterwards) were so awful that they used to frighten the timid old gentleman her father, and the physicians declared his fits always occurred after one of her Ladyship's sermons.
"I will certainly call," said Lady Southdown then, in reply to the exhortation of her daughter's pretendu, Mr. Pitt Crawley — "Who is Miss Crawley's medical man?"
Mr. Crawley mentioned the name of Mr. Creamer.
"A most dangerous and ignorant practitioner, my dear Pitt. I have providentially been the means of removing him from several houses: though in one or two instances I did not arrive in time. I could not save poor dear General Glanders, who was dying under the hands of that ignorant man — dying. He rallied a little under the Podgers' pills which I administered to him; but alas! it was too late. His death was delightful, however; and his change was only for the better; Creamer, my dear Pitt, must leave your aunt."
Pitt expressed his perfect acquiescence. He, too, had been carried along by the energy of his noble kinswoman, and future mother-in- law. He had been made to accept Saunders McNitre, Luke Waters, Giles Jowls, Podgers' Pills, Rodgers' Pills, Pokey's Elixir, every one of her Ladyship's remedies spiritual or temporal. He never left her house without carrying respectfully away with him piles of her quack theology and medicine. O, my dear brethren and fellow- sojourners in Vanity Fair, which among you does not know and suffer under such benevolent despots? It is in vain you say to them, "Dear Madam, I took Podgers' specific at your orders last year, and believe in it. Why, why am I to recant and accept the Rodgers' articles now?" There is no help for it; the faithful proselytizer, if she cannot convince by argument, bursts into tears, and the refusant finds himself, at the end of the contest, taking down the bolus, and saying, "Well, well, Rodgers' be it."
"And as for her spiritual state," continued the Lady, "that of course must be looked to immediately: with Creamer about her, she may go off any day: and in what a condition, my dear Pitt, in what a dreadful condition! I will send the Reverend Mr. Irons to her instantly. Jane, write a line to the Reverend Bartholomew Irons, in the third person, and say that I desire the pleasure of his company this evening at tea at half-past six. He is an awakening man; he ought to see Miss Crawley before she rests this night. And Emily, my love, get ready a packet of books for Miss Crawley. Put up 'A Voice from the Flames,' 'A Trumpet-warning to Jericho,' and the 'Fleshpots Broken; or, the Converted Cannibal.'"
"And the 'Washerwoman of Finchley Common,' Mamma," said Lady Emily. "It is as well to begin soothingly at first."
"Stop, my dear ladies," said Pitt, the diplomatist. "With every deference to the opinion of my beloved and respected Lady Southdown, I think it would be quite unadvisable to commence so early upon serious topics with Miss Crawley. Remember her delicate condition, and how little, how very little accustomed she has hitherto been to considerations connected with her immortal welfare."
"Can we then begin too early, Pitt?" said Lady Emily, rising with six little books already in her hand.
"If you begin abruptly, you will frighten her altogether. I know my aunt's worldly nature so well as to be sure that any abrupt attempt at conversion will be the very worst means that can be employed for the welfare of that unfortunate lady. You will only frighten and annoy her. She will very likely fling the books away, and refuse all acquaintance with the givers."
"You are as worldly as Miss Crawley, Pitt," said Lady Emily, tossing out of the room, her books in her hand.
"And I need not tell you, my dear Lady Southdown," Pitt continued, in a low voice, and without heeding the interruption, "how fatal a little want of gentleness and caution may be to any hopes which we may entertain with regard to the worldly possessions of my aunt. Remember she has seventy thousand pounds; think of her age, and her highly nervous and delicate condition; I know that she has destroyed the will which was made in my brother's (Colonel Crawley's) favour: it is by soothing that wounded spirit that we must lead it into the right path, and not by frightening it; and so I think you will agree with me that — that — '
"Of course, of course," Lady Southdown remarked. "Jane, my love, you need not send that note to Mr. Irons. If her health is such that discussions fatigue her, we will wait her amendment. I will call upon Miss Crawley tomorrow."
"And if I might suggest, my sweet lady," Pitt said in a bland tone, "it would be as well not to take our precious Emily, who is too enthusiastic; but rather that you should be accompanied by our sweet and dear Lady Jane."
"Most certainly, Emily would ruin everything," Lady Southdown said; and this time agreed to forego her usual practice, which was, as we have said, before she bore down personally upon any individual whom she proposed to subjugate, to fire in a quantity of tracts upon the menaced party (as a charge of the French was always preceded by a furious cannonade). Lady Southdown, we say, for the sake of the invalid's health, or for the sake of her soul's ultimate welfare, or for the sake of her money, agreed to temporise.
The next day, the great Southdown female family carriage, with the Earl's coronet and the lozenge (upon which the three lambs trottant argent upon the field vert of the Southdowns, were quartered with sable on a bend or, three snuff-mulls gules, the cognizance of the house of Binkie), drove up in state to Miss Crawley's door, and the tall serious footman handed in to Mr. Bowls her Ladyship's cards for Miss Crawley, and one likewise for Miss Briggs. By way of compromise, Lady Emily sent in a packet in the evening for the latter lady, containing copies of the "Washerwoman," and other mild and favourite tracts for Miss B.'s own perusal; and a few for the servants' hall, viz.: "Crumbs from the Pantry," "The Frying Pan and the Fire," and "The Livery of Sin," of a much stronger kind.