Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XII

The Little Bill

Lucy, during those last fifteen minutes of her sojourn in the Framley Court drawing-room, somewhat modified the very strong opinion she had before formed as to her unfitness for such society. It was very pleasant sitting there, in that easy chair, while Lord Lufton stood at the back of it saying nice, soft, good-natured words to her. She was sure that in a little time she could feel a true friendship for him, and that she could do so without any risk of falling in love with him. But then she had a glimmering of an idea that such a friendship would be open to all manner of remarks, and would hardly be compatible with the world’s ordinary ways. At any rate it would be pleasant to be at Framley Court, if he would come and occasionally notice her. But she did not admit to herself that such a visit would be intolerable if his whole time was devoted to Griselda Grantly. She neither admitted it, nor thought it; but nevertheless, in a strange unconscious way, such a feeling did find entrance in her bosom. And then the Christmas holidays passed away. How much of this enjoyment fell to her share, and how much of this suffering she endured, we will not attempt accurately to describe. Miss Grantly remained at Framley Court up to Twelfth Night, and the Robartses also spent most of the season at the house. Lady Lufton, no doubt, had hoped that everything might have been arranged on this occasion in accordance with her wishes, but such had not been the case. Lord Lufton had evidently admired Miss Grantly very much: indeed, he had said so to his mother half a dozen times; but it may almost be questioned whether the pleasure Lady Lufton derived from this was not more than neutralized by an opinion he once put forward that Griselda Grantly wanted some of the fire of Lucy Robarts.

‘Surely, Ludovic, you would never compare the two girls’ said Lady Lufton.

‘Of course not. They are the very antipodes to each other. Miss Grantly would probably be more to my taste; but then I am wise enough to know that it is so because my taste is a bad taste.’

‘I know no man with a more accurate or refined taste in such matters,’ said Lady Lufton. Beyond this she did not dare to go. She knew very well that her strategy would be vain should her son learn that she had a strategy. To tell the truth, Lady Lufton was becoming somewhat indifferent to Lucy Robarts. She had been very kind to the little girl; but the little girl seemed hardly to appreciate the kindness as she should do — and then Lord Lufton would talk to Lucy, ‘which was so unnecessary, you know;’ and Lucy, had got into a way of talking quite freely with Lord Lufton, having completely dropped that short, spasmodic, ugly exclamation of ‘my lord’. And so the Christmas festivities were at an end, and January wore itself away. During the greater part of this month Lord Lufton did not remain at Framley, but was nevertheless in the county, hunting with the hounds of both divisions, and staying at various houses. Two or three nights he spent at Chaldicotes; and one — let it only be told in an under voice — at Gatherum Castle! Of this he said nothing to Lady Lufton. ‘Why make her unhappy?’ as he said to Mark. But Lady Lufton knew it, though she said not a word to him — knew it, and was unhappy. ‘If he would only marry Griselda, there would be an end of that danger,’ she said to herself.

And now we must go back a while to the vicar and his little bill. It will be remembered, that his first idea with reference to that trouble, after the reading of his father’s will, was to borrow the money from his brother John. John was down at Exeter at the time, and was to stay one night at the parsonage on his way to London. Mark would broach the matter to him on the journey, painful though it would be to him to tell the story of his own folly to a brother much younger than himself, and who had always looked up to him, clergyman and full-blown vicar as he was, with a deference greater than that which such difference in age required. The story was told, however; but was told in vain, as Mark found out before he reached Framley. His brother John immediately declared that he would lend him the money, of course — eight hundred, if his brother wanted it. He, John, confessed that, as regarded the remaining two, he should like to feel the pleasure of immediate possession. As for interest, he would not take any — take interest from a brother; of course not. Well, if Mark made such a fuss about it he supposed he must take it; but would rather not. Mark should have his own way, and do just what he liked.

This was all very well, and Mark had fully made up his mind that his brother should not be kept long out of his agony. But then arose the question how was that money to be reached? He, Mark, was executor, or one of the executors under his father’s will, and, therefore, no doubt, could put his hand upon it; but his brother wanted five months of being of age, and could not therefore as yet be put legally in possession of his legacy. ‘That is a bore,’ said the assistant private secretary to the Lord Petty Bag, thinking, perhaps, as much of his own immediate wish for ready cash as he did of his brother’s necessities. Mark felt that it was a bore, but there was nothing more to be done in that direction. He must now find out how far the bankers would assist him.

Some week or two after his return to Framley he went over to Barchester, and called there on a certain Mr Forrest, the manager of one of the banks, with whom he as acquainted; and with many injunctions as to secrecy told this manager the whole of his story. At first he concealed the name of his friend Sowerby, but it soon appeared that no such concealment was to any avail. ‘That Sowerby, of course,’ said Mr Forrest. ‘I know you are intimate with him; and all his friends go through that, sooner or later.’ It seemed to Mark as though Mr Forrest made very light of the whole transaction.

‘I cannot pay the bill when it is due,’ said Mark.

‘Oh, no, of course not,’ said Mr Forrest. ‘It’s never very convenient to hand out four hundred pounds at a blow. Nobody will expect you to pay it.’

‘But I suppose I shall have to do it sooner or later.’

‘Well, that’s as may be. It will depend partly on how you manage with Sowerby, and partly on the hands it goes into. As the bill has your name on it, they’ll have patience as long as the interest is paid, and the commissions on renewal.’ Mr Forrest said that he was sure that the bill was not in Barchester; Mr Sowerby would not, he thought, have brought it to a Barchester bank. The bill was probably in London, but doubtless would be sent to Barchester for collection. ‘If it comes in my way,’ said Mr Forrest, ‘I will give you plenty of time, so that you may manage about the renewal with Sowerby. I suppose he’ll pay the expense of doing that.’

Mark’s heart was somewhat lighter as he left the bank. Mr Forrest had made so little of the whole transaction that he felt himself justified in making little of it also. ‘It may be as well,’ said he to himself, as he drove home, ‘not to tell Fanny anything about it till the three months have run round. I must make some arrangement then.’ And in this way his mind was easier during the last of those three months than he had been during the two former. That feeling of over-due bills, of bills coming due, of accounts overdrawn, of tradesmen unpaid, of general money cares, is very dreadful at first; but it is astonishing how soon men get used to it. A load which would crash a man at first becomes, by habit, not only endurable, but easy and comfortable to the bearer. The habitual debtor goes along jaunty and with elastic step, almost enjoying the excitement of his embarrassments. There was Mr Sowerby himself; who ever saw a cloud on his brow? It made one almost in love with ruin to be in his company. And even now, already, Mark Robarts was thinking to himself quite comfortably about this bill; — how very pleasantly those bankers managed these things. Pay it! No; no one will be so unreasonable as to expect you to do that! And then Mr Sowerby certainly was a pleasant fellow, and gave a man something in return for his money. It was still a question with Mark whether Lord Lufton had not been too hard on Sowerby. Had that gentleman fallen across his clerical friend at the present moment, he might no doubt gotten from him an acceptance for another four hundred pounds.

One is almost inclined to believe that there is something pleasurable in the excitement of such embarrassments, as there is also in the excitement of drink. But then, at last, the time does come when the excitement is over, and when nothing but the misery is left. If there be an existence of wretchedness on earth it must be that of the elderly, worn-out roue, who has run this race of debt and bills of accommodation and acceptances — of what, if we were not in these days somewhat afraid of good broad English, we might call lying and swindling, falsehood and fraud — and who, having ruined all whom he should have loved, having burnt up every one who would trust him much, and scorched all who would trust him a little, is at last left to finish his life with such bread and water as these men get, without one honest thought to strengthen his sinking heart, or one honest friend to hold his shivering hand! If a man could only think of that, as he puts his name to the first little bill, as to which he is so good-naturedly assured that it can easily be renewed.

When the three months had nearly run out, it so happened that Robarts met his friend Sowerby. Mark had once to twice ridden with Lord Lufton as far as the meet of the hounds, and may, perhaps, have gone a field or two farther on some occasions. The reader must not think that he had taken to hunting, as some parsons do; and it is singular enough that whatever they do so they always show a special aptitude for the pursuit, as though hunting were an employment peculiarly congenial with the care of souls in the country. Such a thought would do our vicar justice. But when Lord Lufton would ask him what on earth could be the harm of riding along the roads to look at the hounds, he hardly knew what sensible answer to give his lordship. It would be absurd to say that his time would be better employed at home in clerical matters, for it was notorious that he had not clerical pursuits for the employment of half his time. In this way, therefore, he had got into the habit of looking at the hounds, and keeping up his acquaintance in the county, meeting Lord Dumbello, Mr Green Walker, Harold Smith, and other such like sinners; and on one such occasion, as the three months were nearly closing, he did meet Mr Sowerby. ‘Look here, Sowerby, I want to speak to you for half a moment. What are you doing about that bill?’

‘Bill — bill? what bill? —-which bill? The whole bill, and nothing but the bill. That seems to be the conversation nowadays of all men, noon and night?’

‘Don’t you know the bill I signed for you for four hundred pounds?’

‘Did you though? Was not that rather green of you?’ This did seem strange to Mark. Could it really be the fact that Mr Sowerby had so many bills flying about that he had absolutely forgotten that occurrence in the Gatherum Castle bedroom? And then to be called green by by the very man whom he had obliged!

‘Perhaps I was,’ said Mark, in a tone that showed that he was somewhat piqued. ‘But all the same I should be glad to know how it will be taken up?’

‘Oh, Mark, what a ruffian you are to spoil my day’s sport in this way. Any man but a parson would be too good a Christian for such intense cruelty. But let me see — four hundred pounds? Oh, yes — Tozer has it.’

‘And what will Tozer do with it?’

‘Make money of it; whatever way he may go to work he will do that.’

‘But will Tozer bring it to me on the 20th?’

‘Oh, Lord, no! Upon my work, Mark, you are deliciously green. A cat would as soon think of killing a mouse directly she got it into her claws. But, joking apart, you need not trouble yourself. Maybe you will hear no more about it; or, perhaps, which no doubt is more probable, I may have to send it to you to be renewed. But you need do nothing till you hear from me or somebody else.’

‘Only do not let any one come down upon me for the money.’

‘There is not the slightest fear of that. Tally-ho, old fellow! He’s away. Tally-ho, right over by Gossetts’ barn. Come along, and never mind Tozer —“Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.”’ And away they both went together, parson and member of Parliament. And then again on that occasion Mark went home with a sort of feeling that the bill did not matter. Tozer would manage it somehow; and it was quite clear that it would not do to tell his wife of it just at present.

On the 21st of that month of February, however, he did receive a reminder that the bill and all concerning it had not merely been a farce. This was a letter from Mr Sowerby, dated from Chaldicotes, though not bearing the Barchester post-mark, in which that gentleman suggested a renewal — not exactly of the old bill, but of a new one. It seemed to Mark that the letter had been posted in London. If I give it entire, I shall, perhaps, most quickly explain its import:

‘Chaldicotes — 20th February, 185-. ‘MY DEAR MARK, ‘“Lend not thy name to money dealers, for the same is the destruction and a snare.” If that be not in the Proverbs, it ought to be. Tozer has given me certain signs of his being alive and strong this cold weather. As we can neither of us take up that bill for 400L at the moment, we must renew it, and pay him his commission and interest, with all the rest of his perquisites, and pickings, and stealings — from all which, I can assure you, Tozer does not keep his hands as he should do. To cover this and some other little outstanding trifles, I have filled in the new bill for 500L, making it due 23rd May next. Before that time, a certain accident will, I trust, have occurred to your improvident friend. By the by, I never told you how she went off from Gatherum Castle, the morning after you left us, with the Greshams. Cart-ropes would not hold her, even though the duke held them; which he did, with all the strength of his ducal hands. She would go meet some doctor of theirs, and so I was put off for that time; but I think that the matter stands in a good train.

‘Do not lose a post in sending back the bill accepted, as Tozer can annoy you — nay, undoubtedly will, if the matter be not in his hand, duly signed by both of us, the day after tomorrow. He is an ungrateful brute; he has lived on me for these eight years and would not let me off a single squeeze now to save my life. But I am specially anxious to save you from the annoyance and cost of lawyers’ letters; and if delayed, it might get to the papers. Put it under cover to me, at No 7, Duke Street, St James’s. I shall be in town by that time.

‘Good-bye, old fellow. That was a decent brush we had the other day from Cobbold’s Ashes. I wish I could get that brown horse from you. I would not mind going to a hundred and thirty. Yours ever, ‘N. SOWERBY’

When Mark had read it through he looked down on his table to see whether the old bill had fallen from the letter; but no, there was no enclosure, and had been no enclosure but the new bill. And then he read the letter through again, and found that there was no word about the old bill — not a syllable, at least, as to its whereabouts. Sowerby did not even say that it would remain in his own hands. Mark did not in truth know much about such things. It might be that the very fact of his signing this second document would render that first document null and void; and from Sowerby’s silence on the subject, it might be argued that this was so well known to be the case, that he had not thought of explaining it. But yet Mark could not see how this could be so. But what was he to do? That threat of cost and lawyers, and specially of the newspapers, did have its effect on him — as no doubt it was intended to do. And then he was utterly dumbfounded by Sowerby’s impudence ind drawing on him for 500L instead of 400L, ‘covering,’ as Sowerby so good-humouredly said, ‘sundry little outstanding trifles’.

But, at last, he did sign the bill, and sent it off, as Sowerby had directed. What else was he to do? Fool that he was. A man always can do right, even though he has done wrong before. But that previous wrong adds so much difficulty to the path — a difficulty which increases in tremendous ratio, till a man at last is choked in his struggling, and is drowned beneath the waters. And then he put away Sowerby’s letter carefully, locking it up from his wife’s sight. It was a letter that no parish clergyman should have received. So much he acknowledged to himself. But nevertheless it was necessary that he should keep it. And now again for a few hours this affair made him very miserable.

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