Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh: Ch. 9

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Nevertheless it had got to be done, and poor Mrs Allaby never looked at a young man without an eye to his being a future son-in-law.  Papas and mammas sometimes ask young men whether their intentions are honourable towards their daughters.  I think young men might occasionally ask papas and mammas whether their intentions are honourable before they accept invitations to houses where there are still unmarried daughters.

“I can’t afford a curate, my dear,” said Mr Allaby to his wife when the pair were discussing what was next to be done.  “It will be better to get some young man to come and help me for a time upon a Sunday.  A guinea a Sunday will do this, and we can chop and change till we get someone who suits.”  So it was settled that Mr Allaby’s health was not so strong as it had been, and that he stood in need of help in the performance of his Sunday duty.

Mrs Allaby had a great friend—a certain Mrs Cowey, wife of the celebrated Professor Cowey.  She was what was called a truly spiritually minded woman, a trifle portly, with an incipient beard, and an extensive connection among undergraduates, more especially among those who were inclined to take part in the great evangelical movement which was then at its height.  She gave evening parties once a fortnight at which prayer was part of the entertainment.  She was not only spiritually minded, but, as enthusiastic Mrs Allaby used to exclaim, she was a thorough woman of the world at the same time and had such a fund of strong masculine good sense.  She too had daughters, but, as she used to say to Mrs Allaby, she had been less fortunate than Mrs Allaby herself, for one by one they had married and left her so that her old age would have been desolate indeed if her Professor had not been spared to her.

Mrs Cowey, of course, knew the run of all the bachelor clergy in the University, and was the very person to assist Mrs Allaby in finding an eligible assistant for her husband, so this last named lady drove over one morning in the November of 1825, by arrangement, to take an early dinner with Mrs Cowey and spend the afternoon.  After dinner the two ladies retired together, and the business of the day began.  How they fenced, how they saw through one another, with what loyalty they pretended not to see through one another, with what gentle dalliance they prolonged the conversation discussing the spiritual fitness of this or that deacon, and the other pros and cons connected with him after his spiritual fitness had been disposed of, all this must be left to the imagination of the reader.  Mrs Cowey had been so accustomed to scheming on her own account that she would scheme for anyone rather than not scheme at all.  Many mothers turned to her in their hour of need and, provided they were spiritually minded, Mrs Cowey never failed to do her best for them; if the marriage of a young Bachelor of Arts was not made in Heaven, it was probably made, or at any rate attempted, in Mrs Cowey’s drawing-room.  On the present occasion all the deacons of the University in whom there lurked any spark of promise were exhaustively discussed, and the upshot was that our friend Theobald was declared by Mrs Cowey to be about the best thing she could do that afternoon.

“I don’t know that he’s a particularly fascinating young man, my dear,” said Mrs Cowey, “and he’s only a second son, but then he’s got his fellowship, and even the second son of such a man as Mr Pontifex the publisher should have something very comfortable.”

“Why yes, my dear,” rejoined Mrs Allaby complacently, “that’s what one rather feels.”