The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIII

The Bishop’s Angel

It was nearly nine before Mr Crawley got back to his house, and found his wife and daughter waiting breakfast for him. ‘I should not wonder if Grace were over here today,’ said Mrs Crawley. ‘She’d better remain where she is,’ said he. After this the meal passed almost without a word. When it was over, Jane, at a sign from her mother, went up to her father and asked him whether she should read with him. ‘Not now,’ he said, ‘not just now. I must rest my brain before it will be fit for any work.’ Then he got into the chair over the fire, and his wife began to fear that he would remain there all day.

But the day was not far advanced, when there came a visitor who disturbed him, and by disturbing him did him a real service. Just at ten there arrived at the little gate before the house a man on a pony, whom Jane espied, standing there by the pony’s head and looking about for someone to relieve him of the charge of the steed. This was Mr Thumble, who had ridden over to Hogglestock on a poor spavined brute belonging to the bishop’s stable, and which had once been the bishop’s cob. Now it was the vehicle by which Mrs Proudie’s episcopal messages were sent backwards and forwards through a twelve-miles ride round Barchester; and so many were the lady’s requirements, that the poor animal by no means ate the hay of idleness. Mr Thumble had suggested to Mrs Proudie, after their interview with the bishop and the giving up of the letter to the clerical messenger’s charge, that before hiring a gig from the Dragon of Wantley, he should be glad to know — looking as he always did to ‘Mary Anne and the children’— whence the price of the gig was to be returned to him. Mrs Proudie had frowned at him — not with all the austerity of frowning which she could use when really angered, but simply with a frown which gave her some little time for thought, and would enable her to continue to rebuke if, after thinking, she should find that rebuke was needed. But mature consideration showed her that Mr Thumble’s caution was not without reason. Were the bishop energetic — or even the bishop’s managing chaplain as energetic as he should be, Mr Crawley might, as Mrs Proudie felt assured, be made in some way to pay for a conveyance for Mr Thumble. But the energy was lacking, and the price of the gig, if the gig were ordered, would certainly fall ultimately on the bishop’s shoulders. This was very sad. Mrs Proudie had often grieved over the necessary expenditure of episcopal surveillance, and had been heard to declare her opinion that a liberal allowance for secret service should be made in every diocese. What better could the Ecclesiastical Commission do with all those rich revenues which they had stolen from the bishops? But there was no such liberal allowance at present, and therefore, Mrs Proudie, after having frowned at Mr Thumble for some seconds, desired him to take the grey cob. Now, Mr Thumble had ridden the grey cob before, and would have much preferred a gig. But even the grey cob was better than a gig at his own cost.

‘Mamma, there’s a man at the gate waiting to come in,’ said Jane. ‘I think he’s a clergyman.’

Mr Crawley immediately raised his head, though he did not at once leave his chair. Mrs Crawley went to the window, and recognised the reverend visitor. ‘My dear, it is that Mr Thumble, who is so much with the bishop.’

‘What does Mr Thumble want with me.’

‘Nay, my dear; he will tell you that himself.’ But Mrs Crawley, though she answered him with a voice intended to be cheerful, greatly feared the coming messenger from the palace. She perceived at once that the bishop was about to interfere with her husband in consequence of that which the magistrates had done yesterday.

‘Mamma, he doesn’t know what to do with his pony,’ said Jane.

‘Tell him to tie it to the rail,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘If he has expected to find menials here, as he has them at the palace, he will be wrong. If he wants to come in here, let him tie the beast to the rail.’ So Jane went out and sent a message to Mr Thumble by the girl, and Mr Thumble did tie the pony to the rail, and followed the girl into the house. Jane in the meantime had retired out by the back door to the school but Mrs Crawley kept her ground. She kept her ground although she believed that her husband would have preferred to have the field to himself. As Mr Thumble did not at once enter the room, Mr Crawley stalked to the door, and stood with it open in his hand. Though he knew Mr Thumble’s person, he was not acquainted with him, and therefore simply bowed to the visitor, bowing more than once or twice with a cold courtesy, which did not put Mr Thumble altogether at his ease. ‘My name is Mr Thumble,’ said the visitor —‘the Reverend Caleb Thumble,’ and he held the bishop’s letter in his hand. Mr Crawley seemed to take no notice of the letter, but motioned Mr Thumble with his hand into the room.

‘I suppose you have come from Barchester this morning?’ said Mrs Crawley.

‘Yes, madam — from the palace.’ Mr Thumble, though a humble man in positions in which he felt humility would become him — a humble man to his betters, as he himself would have expressed it — had still about him something of that pride which naturally belonged to those clergymen who were closely attached to the palace at Barchester. Had he been sent on a message to Plumstead — could any such message from Barchester palace have been possible — he would have been properly humble in his demeanour to the archdeacon, or to Mrs Grantly had he been admitted to the august presence of that lady; but he was aware that humility would not become him on this present mission; he had been expressly ordered to be firm by Mrs Proudie, and firm he meant to be; and therefore, in communicating to Mrs Crawley the fact that he had come from the palace, he did load the tone of his voice with something of the dignity which Mr Crawley might perhaps be excused for regarding as arrogance.

‘And what does the “palace” want with me?’ said Mr Crawley. Mrs Crawley knew at once there was to be a battle. Nay, the battle had begun. Nor was she altogether sorry; for though she could not trust her husband to sit alone all day in his arm-chair over the fire, she could trust him to carry on a disputation with any other clergyman on any subject whatever. ‘What does the palace want with me?’ And as Mr Crawley asked the question he stood erect, and looked Mr Thumble full in the face. Mr Thumble called to mind the fact, that Mr Crawley was a very poor man indeed — so poor that he owed money all round the country to butchers and bakers, and the other fact that he, Mr Thumble himself, did not owe any money to anyone, his wife luckily having a little income of her own; and, strengthened by these remembrances, he endeavoured to bear Mr Crawley’s attack with gallantry.

‘Of course, Mr Crawley, you are aware that this unfortunate affair at Silverbridge —’

‘I am not prepared to discuss the unfortunate affair at Silverbridge with a stranger. If you are the bearer of any message to me from the Bishop of Barchester, perhaps you will deliver it.’

‘I have brought a letter,’ said Mr Thumble. Then Mr Crawley stretched out his hand without a word, and taking the letter with him to the window, read it very slowly. When he had made himself master of its contents, he refolded the letter, placed it again in the envelope, and returned to the spot where Mr Thumble was standing. ‘I will answer the bishop’s letter,’ he said; ‘I will answer it of course, as it is fitting that I should do so. Shall I ask you to wait for my reply, or shall I send it by course of post?’

‘I think, Mr Crawley, as the bishop wishes me to undertake the duty —’

‘You will not undertake the duty, Mr Thumble. You need not trouble yourself, for I shall not surrender my pulpit to you.’

‘But the bishop —’

‘I care nothing for the bishop in this matter.’ So much he spoke in anger, and then he corrected himself. ‘I crave the bishop’s pardon, and yours as his messenger, if in the heat occasioned by my strong feelings I have said aught which may savour of irreverence towards his lordship’s office. I respect his lordship’s high position as bishop of this diocese, and I bow to his commands in all things lawful. But I must not bow to him in things unlawful, nor must I abandon my duty before God at his bidding, unless his bidding be given in accordance with the canons of the Church and the laws of the land. It will be my duty, on the coming Sunday, to lead the prayers of my people in the church of my parish, and to preach to them from my pulpit; and that my duty, with God’s assistance, I will perform. Nor will I allow any clergyman to interfere with me in the performance of those sacred offices — no, not though the bishop himself should be present with the object of enforcing his illegal command.’ Mr Crawley spoke these words without hesitation, even with eloquence, standing upright, and with something of a noble anger gleaming over his poor wan face; and, I think, that while speaking them, he was happier than he had been for many a long day.

Mr Thumble listened to him patiently, standing with one foot a little in advance of the other, with one hand folded over the other, with his head rather on one side, and with his eyes fixed on the corner where the wall and ceiling joined each other. He had been told to be firm, and he was considering how he might best display firmness. He thought that he remembered some story of two parsons fighting for one pulpit, and he thought also that he should not himself like to incur the scandal of such a proceeding in the diocese. As to the law in the matter he knew nothing himself; but he presumed that a bishop would probably know the letter better than a perpetual curate. That Mrs Proudie was intemperate and imperious, he was aware. Had the message come from her alone, he might have felt that even for her sake he had better give way. But as the despotic arrogance of the lady in this case had been backed by the timid presence and hesitating words of her lord, Mr Thumble thought that he must have the law on his side. ‘I think you will find, Mr Crawley,’ said he, ‘that the bishop’s inhibition is strictly legal.’ He had picked up the powerful word from Mrs Proudie and flattered himself that it might be of use to him in carrying his purpose.

‘It is illegal,’ said Mr Crawley, speaking somewhat louder than before, ‘and will be absolutely futile. As you pleaded to me that you yourself and your personal convenience were concerned in this matter, I have made known my intentions to you, which otherwise I should have made known only to the bishop. If you please, we will discuss the matter no further.’

‘Am I to understand, Mr Crawley, that you refuse to obey the bishop?’

‘The bishop has written to me, sire, and I will make known my intention to the bishop by a written answer. As you have been the bearer of the bishop’s letter to me, I am bound to ask whether I shall be indebted to you for carrying back my reply, or whether I shall send it by course of post?’ Mr Thumble considered for a moment, and then made up his mind that he had better wait, and carry back the epistle. This was Friday, and the letter could not be delivered by post till the Saturday morning. Mrs Proudie might be angry with him if he should be the cause of loss of time. He did not, however, at all like waiting, having perceived that Mr Crawley, though with language courteously worded, had spoken of him as a mere messenger.

‘I think,’ he said, ‘that I may, perhaps, best further the object which we must all have in view, that namely of providing properly for the Sunday services in the church of Hogglestock, by taking your reply personally to the bishop.’

‘That provision is my care and need trouble no one else,’ said Mr Crawley, in a loud voice. Then, before seating himself at his old desk, he stood awhile, pondering with his back turned to his visitor. ‘I have to ask your pardon, sir,’ said he, looking round for a moment, ‘because by the reason of the extreme poverty of this house, my wife is unable to offer you any hospitality which is especially due from one clergyman to another.’

‘Oh, don’t mention it,’ said Mr Thumble.

‘If you will allow me, sir, I would prefer that it should be mentioned.’ Then he seated himself, and commenced his letter.

Mr Thumble felt himself to be awkwardly placed. Had there been no third person in the room he could have sat down in Mr Crawley’s arm-chair, and waited patiently till the letter should be finished. But Mrs Crawley was there, and of course he was bound to speak to her. In what strain should he do so? Even he, as little as he was given to indulge in sentiment, had been touched by the man’s appeal to his own poverty, and he felt, moreover, that Mrs Crawley must have been deeply moved by her husband’s position with reference to the bishop’s order. It was quite out of the question that he should speak of that, as Mr Crawley would, he was well aware, would immediately turn upon him. At last he thought of a subject, and spoke with a voice intended to be pleasant. ‘That was the school-house I passed, probably, as I came here?’ Mrs Crawley told him that it was the school-house. ‘Ah, yes, I thought so. Have you a certified teacher there?’ Mrs Crawley explained that no Government aid had ever reached Hogglestock. Besides themselves, they had only a young woman whom they themselves had instructed.

‘Ah, that is a pity,’ said Mr Thumble.

‘I— I am the certified teacher,’ said Mr Crawley, turning round upon him from his chair.

‘Oh, ah, yes,’ said Mr Thumble; and after that Mr Thumble asked no more questions about the Hogglestock school. Soon afterwards Mrs Crawley left the room, seeing the difficulty under which Mr Thumble was labouring, and feeling sure that her presence would not now be necessary. Mr Crawley’s letter was written quickly, though every now and then he would sit for a moment with his pen poised in the air, searching his memory for a word. But the words came to him easily, and before an hour was over he had handed his letter to Mr Thumble. The letter was as follows:—

‘THE PARSONAGE, HOGGLESTOCK, December, 186-

‘RIGHT REVEREND LORD,

‘I have received the letter of yesterday’s date which your lordship has done me the honour of sending by the hands of the Reverend Mr Thumble, and I avail myself of that gentleman’s kindness to return to you an answer by the same means, moved this to use his patience chiefly by the consideration that in this way my reply to your lordship’s injunctions may be in your hands with less delay than would attend the course of the mail-post.

‘It is with deep regret that I feel myself constrained to inform your lordship that I cannot obey the command which you have laid upon me with reference to the services of my church in this parish. I cannot permit Mr Thumble, or any other delegate from your lordship, to usurp my place in the pulpit. I would not have you think, if I can possibly dispel such thoughts from your mind, that I disregard your high office, or that I am deficient in that respectful obedience to the bishop set over me, which is due to the authority of the Crown as the head of the church in these realms; but in this, as in all questions of obedience, he who is required to obey must examine the extent of the authority exercised by him who demands obedience. Your lordship might possibly call upon me, using your voice as bishop of the diocese, to abandon altogether the freehold rights which are now mine in this perpetual curacy. The judge of assize, before whom I shall soon stand for my trial, might command me to retire to prison without a verdict given by a jury. The magistrates who committed me so lately as yesterday, upon whose decision in that respect your lordship has taken action against me so quickly, might have equally strained their authority. But in no case, in this land, is he that is subject bound to obey, further than where the law gives authority and exacts obedience. It is not in the power of the Crown itself to inhibit me from the performance of my ordinary duties in this parish by any such missive as that sent to me by your lordship. If your lordship think right to stop my mouth as a clergyman in your diocese, you must proceed to do so in an ecclesiastical court in accordance with the laws, and will succeed in your object, or fail, in accordance with the evidences as to the ministerial fitness or unfitness, which may be produced respecting me before the proper tribunal.

‘I will allow that much attention is due from a clergyman to pastoral advice given to him by his bishop. On that head I must first express to your lordship my full understanding that your letter has not been intended to convey advice, but an order; — an inhibition, as your messenger, the Reverend Mr Thumble, has expressed it. There might be a case certainly in which I should submit myself to counsel, though I should resist command. No counsel, however, has been given — except indeed that I should receive your messenger in a proper spirit, which I hope I have done. No other advice has been given me, and therefore there is now no such case as that I have imagined. But in this matter, my lord, I could not have accepted advice from a living man, no, not though the hands of the apostles themselves had made him bishop who tendered it to me, and had set him over me for my guidance. I am in a terrible strait. Trouble, and sorrow, and danger are upon me and mine. It may well be, as your lordship says, that the bitter waters of the present hour may pass over my head and destroy me. I thank your lordship for telling me whither I am to look for assistance. Truly I know not whether there is any to be found for me on earth. But the deeper my troubles, the greater my sorrow, the more pressing any danger, the stronger is my need that I should carry myself in these days with that outward respect of self which will teach those around me to know that, let who will condemn me, I have not condemned myself. Were I to abandon my pulpit, unless forced to do so by legal means, I should in doing so be putting a plea of guilty against myself upon the record. This, my lord, I will not do.

‘I have the honour to be, my lord,

‘Your lordship’s most obedient servant, ‘JOSIAH CRAWLEY’

When he had finished writing his letter he read it over slowly, and then handed it to Mr Thumble. The act of writing, and the current of the thoughts through his brain, and the feeling that in every word written he was getting the better of the bishop — all this joined to a certain manly delight in warfare against authority, lighted up the man’s face and gave to his eyes an expression which had been long wanting to them. His wife at that moment came into the room and he looked at her with an air of triumph as he handed the letter to Mr Thumble. ‘If you will give that to his lordship with an assurance of my duty to his lordship in all things proper, I will thank you kindly, craving your pardon for the great delay to which you have been subjected.’

‘As to the delay, it is nothing,’ said Mr Thumble.

‘It has been much; but you as a clergyman will feel that it has been incumbent upon me to speak my mind fully.’

‘Oh, yes; of course.’ Mr Crawley was standing up, as also was Mrs Crawley. It was evident to Mr Thumble that they both expected that he should go. But he had been especially enjoined to be firm, and he doubted whether hitherto he had been firm enough. As far as this morning’s work had as yet gone, it seemed to him that Mr Crawley had had the play to himself, and that he, Mr Thumble, had not had his innings. He, from the palace, had been, as it were, cowed by this man, who had been forced to plead his own poverty. It was certainly incumbent upon him, before he went, to speak up, not only for the bishop, but for himself also. ‘Mr Crawley,’ he said, ‘hitherto I have listened to you patiently.’

‘Nay,’ said Mr Crawley, smiling, ‘you have indeed been patient, and I thank you; but my words have been written, not spoken.’

‘You have told me that you intend to disobey the bishop’s inhibition.’

‘I have told the bishop so, certainly.’

‘May I ask you now to listen to me for a few minutes?’

Mr Crawley, still smiling, still having in his eyes the unwonted triumph which had lighted them up, paused a moment, and then answered him. ‘Reverend sir, you must excuse me if I say no — not on this subject.’

‘You will not let me speak?’

‘No; not on this matter, which is very private to me. What should you think if I went into your house and inquired of you as to those things which were particularly near to you?’

‘But the bishop sent me.’

‘Though ten bishops sent me — a council of archbishops if you will!’ Mr Thumble started back, appalled by the energy of the words used to him. ‘Shall a man have nothing of his own; — no sorrow in his heart, no care in his family, no thought in his breast so private and special to him, but that, if he happen to be a clergyman, the bishop may touch it with his thumb?’

‘I am not the bishop’s thumb,’ said Mr Thumble, drawing himself up.

‘I intended not to hint anything personally objectionable to yourself. I will regard you as one of the angels of the church.’ Mr Thumble, when he heard this, began to be sure that Mr Crawley was mad; he knew of no angels that could ride about the Barsetshire lanes on grey ponies. ‘And as much as I respect you; but I cannot discuss with you the matter of the bishop’s message.’

‘Oh, very well. I will tell his lordship.’

‘I will pray you to do so.’

‘And his lordship, should he so decide, will arm me with such power on my next coming as will enable me to carry out his lordship’s wishes.’

‘His lordship will abide by the law, as will you also.’ In speaking these last words he stood with the door in his hand, and Mr Thumble, not knowing how to increase or even maintain his firmness, thought it best to pass out, and mount his grey pony and ride away.

‘The poor man thought that you were laughing at him when you called him an angel of the church,’ said Mrs Crawley, coming up to him and smiling on him.

‘Had I told him he was simply a messenger, he would have taken it worse; — poor fool! When they have rid themselves of me they may put him here, in my church; but not yet — not yet. Where is Jane? Tell her that I am ready to commence the Seven against Thebes with her.’ Then Jane was immediately sent for out of the school, and the Seven against Thebes was commenced with great energy. Often during the next hour and a half Mrs Crawley from the kitchen would hear him reading out, or rather saying by rote, with sonorous rolling voice, great passages from some chorus, and she was very thankful to the bishop, who had sent over to them a message and messenger which had been so salutary in their effect upon her husband. ‘In truth an angel of the church,’ she said to herself as she chopped up the onions for the mutton-broth; and ever afterwards she regarded Mr Thumble as an ‘angel’.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/last/chapter13.html

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