The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVI

Mr Crosbie Meets an Old Clergyman on His Way to Courcy Castle

For the first mile or two of their journey Crosbie and Bernard Dale sat, for the most part, silent in their gig. Lily, as she ran down to the churchyard corner and stood there looking after them with her loving eyes, had not been seen by them. But the spirit of her devotion was still strong upon them both, and they felt that it would not be well to strike at once into any ordinary topic of conversation. And, moreover, we may presume that Crosbie did feel much at thus parting from such a girl as Lily Dale, with whom he had lived in close intercourse for the last six weeks, and whom he loved with all his heart — with all the heart that he had for such purposes. In those doubts as to his marriage which had troubled him he had never expressed to himself any disapproval of Lily. He had not taught himself to think that she was other than he would have her be, that he might thus give himself an excuse for parting from her. Not as yet, at any rate, had he had recourse to that practice, so common with men who wish to free themselves from the bonds with which they have permitted themselves to be bound. Lily had been too sweet to his eyes, to his touch, to all his senses for that. He had enjoyed too keenly the pleasure of being with her, and of hearing her tell him that she loved him, to allow of his being personally tired of her. He had not been so spoilt by his club life but that he had taken exquisite pleasure in all her nice country ways, and soft, kind-hearted, womanly humour. He was by no means tired of Lily. Better than any of his London pleasures was this pleasure of making love in the green fields to Lily Dale. It was the consequences of it that affrighted him. Babies with their belongings would come; and dull evenings, over a dull fire, or else the pining grief of a disappointed woman. He would be driven to be careful as to his clothes, because the ordering of a new coat would entail a serious expenditure. He could go no more among countesses and their daughters, because it would be out of the question that his wife should visit at their houses. All the victories that he had ever won must be given up. He was thinking of this even while the gig was going round the corner near the parsonage house, and while Lily’s eyes were still blessed with some view of his departing back; but he was thinking, also, that moment, that there might be other victory in store for him; that it might he possible for him to learn to like that fireside, even though babies should be there, and a woman opposite to him intent on baby cares. He was struggling as best he knew how; for the solemnity which Lily had imparted to him had not yet vanished from his spirit.

“I hope that, upon the whole, you feel contented with your visit?” said Bernard to him, at last.

“Contented? Of course I do.”

“That is easily said; and civility to me, perhaps, demands as much. But I know that you have, to some extent, been disappointed.”

“Well; yes. I have been disappointed as regards money. It is of no use denying it.”

“I should not mention it now, only that I want to know that you exonerate me.”

“I have never blamed you — neither you, nor anybody else; unless, indeed, it has been myself.”

“You mean that you regret what you’ve done?”

“No; I don’t mean that. I am too devotedly attached to that dear girl whom we have just left to feel any regret that I have engaged myself to her. But I do think that had I managed better with your uncle things might have been different.”

“I doubt it. Indeed I know that it is not so; and can assure you that you need not make yourself unhappy on that score. I had thought, as you well know, that he would have done something for Lily-something, though not as much as he always intended to do for Bell. But you may be sure of this; that he had made up his mind as to what he would do. Nothing that you or I could have said would have changed him.”

“Well; we won’t say anything more about it,” said Crosbie. Then they went on again in silence, and arrived at Guestwick in ample time for the train.

“Let me know as soon as you get to town,” said Crosbie. “Oh, of course. I’ll write to you before that.”

And so they parted. As Dale turned and went, Crosbie felt that he liked him less than he had done before; and Bernard, also, as he was driving him, came to the conclusion that Crosbie would not be so good a fellow as a brother-in-law as he had been as a chance friend. “He’ll give us trouble, in some way; and I’m sorry that I brought him down.” That was Dale’s inward conviction in the matter.

Crosbie’s way from Guestwick lay, by railway, to Barchester, the cathedral city lying in the next county, from whence he purposed to have himself conveyed over to Courcy. There had, in truth, been no cause for his very early departure, as he was aware that all arrivals at country houses should take place at some hour not much previous to dinner. He had been determined to be so soon upon the road by a feeling that it would be well for him to get over those last hours. Thus he found himself in Barchester at eleven o’clock, with nothing on his hands to do; and, having nothing else to do, he went to church. There was a full service at the cathedral, and as the verger marshalled him up to one of the empty stalls, a little spare old man was beginning to chant the Litany. “I did not mean to fall in for all this,” said Crosbie, to himself, as he settled himself with his arms on the cushion. But the peculiar charm of that old man’s voice soon attracted him — a voice that, though tremulous, was yet strong; and he ceased to regret the saint whose honour and glory had occasioned the length of that day’s special service.

“And who is the old gentleman who chanted the Litany?” he asked the verger afterwards, as he allowed himself to be shown round the monuments of the cathedral.

“That’s our precentor, sir, Mr Harding. You must have heard of Mr Harding.” But Crosbie, with a full apology, confessed his ignorance.

“Well, sir; he’s pretty well known too, tho’ he is so shy like. He’s father-in-law to our dean, sir; and father-in-law to Archdeacon Grantly also.”

“His daughters have all gone into the profession, then?”

“Why, yes; but Miss Eleanor — for I remember her before she was married at all — when they lived at the hospital —”

“At the hospital?” “Hiram’s hospital, sir. He was warden, you know. You should go and see the hospital, sir, if you never was there before. Well, Miss Eleanor — that was his youngest — she married Mr Bold as her first. But now she’s the dean’s lady.”

“Oh; the dean’s lady, is she?

“Yes, indeed. And what do you think, sir? Mr Harding might have been dean himself if he’d liked. They did offer it to him.”

“And he refused it?

“Indeed he did, sir.”

“Nolo decanari. I never heard of that before. What made him so modest?

“Just that, sir; because he is modest. He’s past his seventy now — ever so much; but he’s just as modest as a young girl. A deal more modest than some of them. To see him and his granddaughter together!”

“And who is his granddaughter?”

“Why Lady Dumbello, as will be the Marchioness of Hartletop.”

“I know Lady Dumbello,” said Crosbie; not meaning, however, to boast to the verger of his noble acquaintance.

“Oh, do you, sir?” said the man, unconsciously touching his hat at this sign of greatness in the stranger; though in truth he had no love for her ladyship. “Perhaps you’re going to be one of the party at Courcy Castle.”

“Well, I believe I am.”

“You’ll find her ladyship there before you. She lunched with her aunt at the deanery as she went through, yesterday; finding it too much trouble to go out to her father’s, at Plumstead. Her father is the archdeacon, you know. They do say — but her ladyship is your friend!”

“No friend at all; only a very slight acquaintance. She’s quite as much above my line as she is above her father’s.”

“Well, she is above them all. They say she would hardly as much as speak to the old gentleman.”

“What, her father?

“No, Mr Harding; he that chanted the Litany just now. There he is, sir, coming out of the deanery.”

They were now standing at the door leading out from one of the transepts, and Mr Harding passed them as they were speaking together. He was a little, withered, shambling old man, with bent shoulders, dressed in knee-breeches and long black gaiters, which hung rather loosely about his poor old legs — rubbing his hands one over the other as he went. And yet he walked quickly; not tottering as he walked, but with an uncertain, doubtful step. The verger, as Mr Harding passed, put his hand to his head, and Crosbie also raised his hat. Whereupon Mr Harding raised his, and bowed, and turned round as though he were about to speak. Crosbie felt that he had never seen a face on which traits of human kindness were more plainly written. But the old man did not speak. He turned his body half round, and then shambled back, as though ashamed of his intention, and passed on.

“He is of that sort that they make the angels of,” said the verger. “But they can’t make many if they want them all as good as he is. I’m much obliged to you, sir.” And he pocketed the half-crown which Crosbie gave him.

“So that’s Lady Dumbello’s grandfather,” said Crosbie, to himself, as he walked slowly round the close towards the hospital, by the path which the verger had shown him. He had no great love for Lady Dumbello, who had dared to snub him — even him. “They may make an angel of the old gentleman,” he continued to say; “but they’ll never succeed in that way with the granddaughter.”

He sauntered slowly on over a little bridge; and at the gate of the hospital he again came upon Mr Harding. “I was going to venture in,” said he, “to look at the place. But perhaps I shall be intruding?

“No, no; by no means,” said Mr Harding. “Pray come in. I cannot say that I am just at home here. I do not live here — not now. But I know the ways of the place well, and can make you welcome. That’s the warden’s house. Perhaps we won’t go in so early in the day, as the lady has a very large family. An excellent lady, and a dear friend of mine — as is her husband.”

“And he is warden, you say?”

“Yes, warden of the hospital. You see the house, sir. Very pretty, isn’t it? Very pretty. To my idea it’s the prettiest built house I ever saw.”

“I won’t go quite so far as that,” said Crosbie.

“But you would if you’d lived there twelve years, as I did. I lived in that house twelve years, and I don’t think there’s so sweet a spot on the earth’s surface. Did you ever see such turf as that?

“Very nice indeed,” said Crosbie, who began to make a comparison with Mrs Dale’s turf at the Small House, and to determine that the Allington turf was better than that of the hospital.

“I had that turf laid down myself. There were borders there when I first came, with hollyhocks, and those sort of things. The turf was an improvement.”

“There’s no doubt of that, I should say.”

“The turf was an improvement, certainly. And I planted those shrubs, too. There isn’t such a Portugal laurel as that in the county.”

“Were you warden here, sir?” And Crosbie, as he asked the question, remembered that, in his very young days, he had heard of some newspaper quarrel which had taken place about Hiram’s hospital at Barchester.

“Yes, sir. I was warden here for twelve years. Dear, dear, dear! If they had put any gentleman here that was not on friendly terms with me it would have made me very unhappy — very. But, as it is, I go in and out just as I like; almost as much as I did before they — But they didn’t turn me out. There were reasons which made it best that I should resign.”

“And you live at the deanery now, Mr Harding?”

“Yes; I live at the deanery now. But I am not dean, you know. My son-in-law, Dr Arabin, is the dean. I have another daughter married in the neighbourhood, and can truly say that my lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.”

Then he took Crosbie in among the old men, into all of whose rooms he went. It was an almshouse for aged men of the city, and before Crosbie had left him Mr Harding had explained all the circumstances of the hospital, and of the way in which he had left it. “I didn’t like going, you know; I thought it would break my heart. But I could not stay when they said such things as that — I couldn’t stay. And, what is more, I should have been wrong to stay. I see it all now. But when I went out under that arch, Mr Crosbie, leaning on my daughter’s arm, I thought that my heart would have broken.” And the tears even now ran down the old man’s cheeks as he spoke.

It was a long story, and it need not be repeated here. And there was no reason why it should have been told to Mr Crosbie, other than this — that Mr Harding was a fond garrulous old man, who loved to indulge his mind in reminiscences of the past. But this was remarked by Crosbie; that, in telling his story, no word was said by Mr Harding injurious to any one. And yet he had been injured — injured very deeply. “It was all for the best,” he said at last; “especially as the happiness has not been denied to me of making myself at home at the old place. I would take you into the house, which is very comfortable — very, only it is not always convenient early in the day, when there’s a large family.” In hearing which, Crosbie was again made to think of his own future home and limited income.

He had told the old clergyman who he was, and that he was on his way to Courcy. “Where, as I understand, I shall meet a granddaughter of yours.”

“Yes, yes; she is my grandchild. She and I have got into different walks of life now, so that I don’t see much of her. They tell me that she does her duty well in that sphere of life to which it has pleased God to call her.”

“That depends,” thought Crosbie, “on what the duties of a viscountess may be supposed to be.” But he wished his new friend good-bye, without saying anything further as to Lady Dumbello, and, at about six o’clock in the evening, had himself driven up under the portico of Courcy Castle.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43