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26. CHAPTER XXVI: MRS PROUDIE TAKES A FALL (continued)
'Pray be seated, Mrs Quiverful, pray keep your seat. Your husband, I say, has been most weak and most foolish. It is impossible, Mrs Quiverful, to help people who will not help themselves. I much fear that I can now do nothing for you in this matter.'
'Oh! Mrs Proudie--don't say so,' said the poor woman, again jumping up.
'Pray be seated, Mrs Quiverful. I much fear that I can do nothing further for you in this matter. Your husband has, in a most unaccountable manner, taken upon himself to resign that which I was empowered to offer him. As a matter of course, the bishop expects that his clergy shall know their own minds. What he may ultimately do--what we may finally decide on doing--I cannot say. Knowing the extent of your family--'
'Fourteen children, Mrs Proudie, fourteen of them! and hardly bread--barely bread! It's hard for the children of a clergyman, it's hard for one who has always done his duty respectably!' Not a word fell from her about herself; but the tears came running down her big coarse cheeks, on which the dust of the August road had left its traces.
Mrs Proudie has not been portrayed in these pages as an agreeable or amiable lady. There has been no intention to impress the reader much in her favour. It is ordained that all novels should have a male and female angel, and a male and female devil. If it be considered that this rule is obeyed in these pages, the latter character must be supposed to have fallen to the lot of Mrs Proudie. But she was not all devil. There was a heart inside that stiff-ribbed bodice, though not, perhaps, of large dimensions, and certainly not easily accessible. Mrs Quiverful, however, did gain access, and Mrs Proudie proved herself a woman. Whether it was the fourteen children with their probable bare bread and the possible bare backs, or the respectability of the father's work, or the mingled dust and tears on the mother's face, we will not pretend to say. But Mrs Proudie was touched.
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