The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XVIII

The Bishop of Barchester is Crushed

Who inquires why it is that a little greased flour rubbed in among the hair on a footman’s head — just one dab here and another there — gives such a tone of high life to the family? And seeing that the thing is so easily done, why do not more people attempt it? The tax on hair powder is but thirteen shillings a year. It may, indeed, be that the slightest dab in the world justifies the wearer in demanding hot meat three times a day, and wine at any rate on Sundays. I think, however, that a bishop’s wife may enjoy the privilege without such heavy attendant expense; otherwise the man who opened the bishop’s door to Mr Crawley would hardly have been so ornamental.

The man asked for a card. ‘My name is Mr Crawley,’ said our friend. ‘The bishop desired me to come to him at this hour. Will you be pleased to tell him that I am here.’ The man again asked for a card. ‘I am not bound to carry with me my name printed on a ticket,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘If you cannot remember it, give me a pencil and paper, and I will write it.’ The servant, somewhat awed by the stranger’s manner, brought pen and paper, and Mr Crawley wrote his name:—

‘THE REV JOSHUA CRAWLEY, M.A., Perpetual Curate of Hogglestock’

He was then ushered into a waiting-room, but, to his disappointment, was not kept there waiting long. Within three minutes he was ushered into the bishop’s study, and into the presence of the two great luminaries of the diocese. He was at first somewhat disconcerted by finding Mrs Proudie in the room. In the imaginary conversation with the bishop which he had been preparing on the road, he had conceived that the bishop would be attended by a chaplain, and he had suited his words to the joint discomfiture of the bishop and of the lower clergyman; — but now the line of his battle must be altered. This was no doubt an injury, but he trusted to his courage and readiness to enable him to surmount it. He had left his hat behind him in the waiting room, but he kept his old short cloak still upon his shoulders; and when he entered the bishop’s room his hands and arms were hid beneath it. There was something lowly in this constrained gait. It showed at least that he had no idea of being asked to shake hands with the august persons he might meet. And his head was somewhat bowed, though his great, bald, broad forehead showed itself so prominent, that neither the bishop nor Mrs Proudie could drop it from their sight during the whole interview. He was a man who when seen could hardly be forgotten. The deep angry remonstrant eyes, the shaggy eyebrows, telling tales of frequent anger — of anger frequent but generally silent — the repressed indignation of the habitual frown, the long nose and large powerful mouth, the deep furrows on the cheek, and the general look of thought and suffering, all combined to make the appearance of the man remarkable, and to describe to the beholders at once his true character. No one ever on seeing Mr Crawley took him to be a happy man, or a weak man, or an ignorant man, or a wise man.

‘You are very punctual, Mr Crawley,’ said the bishop. Mr Crawley simply bowed his head, still keeping his hands beneath his cloak. ‘Will you not take a chair nearer to the fire?’ Mr Crawley had not seated himself, but had placed himself in front of a chair at the extreme end of the room — resolved that he would not use it unless he were duly asked.

‘Thank you, my lord,’ he said. ‘I am warm with walking, and if you please, will avoid the fire.’

‘You have not walked, Mr Crawley?’

‘Yes, my lord; I have been walking.’

‘Not from Hogglestock!’

Now this was a matter which Mr Crawley certainly did not mean to discuss with the bishop. It might be well for the bishop to demand his presence in the palace, but it could be no part of the bishop’s duty to inquire how he got there. ‘That, my lord, is a matter of no moment,’ said he. ‘I am glad at any rate that I have been enable to obey your lordship’s order in coming hither on this morning.’

Hitherto Mrs Proudie had not said a word. She stood back in the room, near the fire — more backward a good deal than she was accustomed to do when clergymen made their ordinary visits. On such occasions she would come forward and shake hands with them graciously — graciously, even if proudly; but she had felt that she must do nothing of that kind now; there must be no shaking hands with a man who had stolen a cheque for twenty pounds! It might probably be necessary to keep Mr Crawley at a distance, and therefore she had remained in the background. But Mr Crawley seemed disposed to keep himself in the background, and therefore she could speak. ‘I hope your wife and children are well, Mr Crawley’ she said.

‘Thank you, madam, my children are quite well, and Mrs Crawley suffers no special ailment at present.’

‘That is much to be thankful for, Mr Crawley.’ Whether he were or were not thankful for such mercies as these was no business of the bishop or of the bishop’s wife. That was between him and his God. So he would not even bow to this civility, but sat with his head erect, and with a great frown on his heavy brow.

Then the bishop rose from his chair to speak, intending to take up a position on the rug. But as he did so Mr Crawley, who had also seated himself on an intimation that he was expected to sit down, rose also, and the bishop found that he would thus lose his expected vantage. ‘Will you not be seated, Mr Crawley?’ said the bishop. Mr Crawley smiled, but stood his ground. Then the bishop returned to his arm-chair, and Mr Crawley also sat down again. ‘Mr Crawley,’ began the bishop, ‘this matter which the other day came before the magistrates at Silverbridge has been a most unfortunate affair. It has given me, I can assure you, the most sincere pain.’

Mr Crawley had made up his mind how far the bishop should be allowed to go without a rebuke. He had told himself that it would only be natural, and would not be unbecoming, that the bishop should allude to a meeting of the magistrates and to the alleged theft, and that therefore such allusions should be endured with patient humility. And, moreover, the more rope he gave the bishop, the more likely the bishop would be to entangle himself. It certainly was Mr Crawley’s wish that the bishop should entangle himself. He, therefore, replied, very meekly. ‘It has been most unfortunate, my lord.’

‘I have felt for Mrs Crawley very deeply,’ said Mrs Proudie. Mr Crawley now made up his mind that as long as it was possible he would ignore the presence of Mrs Proudie altogether; and, therefore, he made no sign that he had heard the latter remark.

‘It has been most unfortunate,’ continued the bishop. ‘I have never before had a clergyman in my diocese placed in so distressing a position.’

‘That is a matter of opinion, my lord,’ said Mr Crawley, who at that moment thought of a crisis that had come in the life of another clergyman in the diocese of Barchester, and the circumstances of which he had by chance become acquainted.

‘Exactly,’ said the bishop. ‘And I am expressing my opinion.’ Mr Crawley, who understood fighting, did not think the time had yet come for striking a blow, so he simply bowed again. ‘A most unfortunate position, Mr Crawley,’ continued the bishop. ‘Far be it from me to express an opinion on the matter, which will have to come before a jury of your countrymen. It is enough for me to know that the magistrates assembled at Silverbridge, gentlemen to whom no doubt you must be known, as most of them live in your neighbourhood, have heard evidence upon the subject —’

‘Most convincing evidence,’ said Mrs Proudie, interrupting her husband. Mr Crawley’s black brow became a little blacker as he heard the word, but he still ignored the woman. He not only did not speak, but did not turn his eyes upon her.

‘They have heard the evidence on the subject,’ continued the bishop, ‘and they have thought it proper to refer the decision as to your innocence or your guilt to a jury of your countrymen.’

‘And they were right,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘Very possibly. I don’t deny it. Probably,’ said the bishop, whose eloquence was somewhat disturbed by Mr Crawley’s ready acquiescence.

‘Of course they were right,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘At any rate it is so,’ said the bishop. ‘You are in a position of a man amenable to the criminal laws of the land.’

‘There are no criminal laws, my lord,’ said Mr Crawley; ‘but to such laws as there are we are all amenable — your lordship and I alike.’

‘But you are so in a very particular way. I do not wish to remind you what might be your condition now, but for the interposition of private friends.’

‘I should be in the condition of a man not guilty before the law; — guiltless as far as the law goes — but kept in durance, nor for the faults of his own, but because otherwise, by reason of laches in the police, his presence at the assizes might not be ensured. In such a position a man’s reputation is made to hang for a while on the trust which some friends or neighbours may have in it. I do not say the test is a good one.’

‘You would have been put in prison, Mr Crawley, because the magistrates were of the opinion that you had taken Mr Soames’s cheque,’ said Mrs Proudie. On this occasion he did look at her. He turned one glance upon her from under his eyebrows, but he did not speak.

‘With all that I have nothing to do,’ said the bishop.

‘Nothing whatever, my lord,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘But, bishop, I think you have,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘The judgment formed by the magistrates as to the conduct of one of your clergymen makes it imperative upon you to act in the matter.’

‘Yes, my dear, yes; I am coming to that. What Mrs Proudie says is perfectly true. I have been constrained most unwillingly to take action in the matter. It is undoubtedly the fact that you must at the next assizes surrender yourself at the court-house yonder, to be tried for this offence against the laws.’

‘That is true. If I be alive, and have strength sufficient, I shall be there.’

‘You must be there,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘The police will look to that, Mr Crawley.’ She was becoming very angry in that the man would not answer her a word. On this occasion he did not even look at her.

‘Yes; you will be there,’ said the bishop. ‘Now that is, to say the least of it, an unseemly position for a beneficed clergyman.’

‘You said before, my lord, that it was an unfortunate position, and the word, methinks, was better chosen.’

‘It is very unseemly, very unseemly indeed,’ said Mrs Proudie; ‘nothing could possibly be more unseemly. The bishop might very properly have used a much stronger word.’

‘Under these circumstances,’ continued the bishop, ‘looking to the welfare of your parish, to the welfare of the diocese, and allow me to say, Mr Crawley, to the welfare of yourself also —’

‘And especially the souls of the people,’ said Mrs Proudie.

The bishop shook his head. It is hard to be impressively eloquent when one is interrupted at every best turning period, even by a supporting voice. ‘Yes; — and looking of course to the religious interests of your people, Mr Crawley, I came to the conclusion that it would be expedient that you should cease your ministrations for a while.’ The bishop paused, and Mr Crawley bowed his head. ‘I, therefore, sent over to you a gentleman with whom I am well acquainted, Mr Thumble, with a letter from myself, in which I endeavoured to impress upon you, without the use of any severe language, what my convictions were.’

‘Severe words are often the best mercy,’ said Mrs Proudie. Mr Crawley had raised his hand, with his finger out, preparatory to answering the bishop. But as Mrs Proudie had spoken he dropped his finger and was silent.

‘Mr Thumble brought me back your written reply,’ continued the bishop, ‘by which I was grieved to find that you were not willing to submit yourself to my counsel in the matter.’

‘I was most unwilling, my lord. Submission to authority is at times a duty; — and at times opposition to authority is a duty also.’

‘Opposition to just authority cannot be a duty, Mr Crawley.’

‘Opposition to usurped authority is an imperative duty,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘And who is to be the judge?’ demanded Mrs Proudie. Then there was silence for a while; when, as Mr Crawley made no reply, the lady repeated her question. ‘Will you be pleased to answer my question, sir? Who, in such case, is to be the judge?’ But Mr Crawley did not please to answer the question. ‘The man is obstinate,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘I had better proceed,’ said the bishop. ‘Mr Thumble brought me back your reply, which grieved me greatly.’

‘It was contumacious and indecent,’ said Mrs Proudie.

The bishop again shook his head and looked so utterly miserable that a smile came across Mr Crawley’s face. After all, others beside himself had their troubles and trials. Mrs Proudie saw and understood the smile, and became more angry than ever. She drew her chair close to the table, and began to fidget with her fingers among the papers. She had never before encountered a clergyman so contumacious, so indecent, so unreverend — so upsetting. She had had to deal with men difficult to manage — the archdeacon for instance; but the archdeacon had never been so impertinent to her as this man. She had quarrelled once openly with a chaplain of her husband’s, a clergyman whom she herself had introduced to her husband, and who had treated her very badly; — but not so badly, not with such unscrupulous violence, as she was now encountering from this ill-clothed beggarly man, this perpetual curate, with his dirty broken boots, this already half-convicted thief! Such was her idea of Mr Crawley’s conduct to her, while she was fingering the papers — simply because Mr Crawley would not speak to her.

‘I forget where I was,’ said the bishop. ‘Oh, Mr Thumble came back, and I received your letter; — of course I received it. And I was surprised to learn from that, that in spite of what had occurred at Silverbridge, you were still anxious to continue the usual Sunday ministrations in your church.’

‘I was determined that I would do my duty at Hogglestock, as long as I might be left there to do it,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘Duty!’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Just a moment, my dear,’ said the bishop. ‘When Sunday came, I had no alternative but to send Mr Thumble over again to Hogglestock. It occurred to us — to me and to Mrs Proudie —’

‘I will tell Mr Crawley just now what has occurred to me,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Yes; — just so. And I am sure that he will take it in good part. It occurred to me, Mr Crawley, that your first letter might have been written in haste.’

‘It was written in haste, my lord; your messenger was waiting.’

‘Yes; — just so. Well; so I sent him again, hoping that he might be accepted as a messenger of peace. It was a most disagreeable mission for any gentleman, Mr Crawley.’

‘Most disagreeable, my lord.’

‘And you refused him permission to obey the instructions which I had given him. You would not let him read from your desk, or preach from your pulpit.’

‘Had I been Mr Thumble,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘I would have read from that desk and I would have preached from that pulpit.’

Mr Crawley waited for a moment, thinking that the bishop might perhaps speak again; but as he did not, but sat expectant as though he had finished his discourse, and now expected a reply, Mr Crawley got up from his seat and drew near the table. ‘My lord,’ he began, ‘it has all been just as you said. I did answer your first letter in haste.’

‘The more shame for you,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘And therefore, for aught I know, my letter to your lordship may be so worded as to need some apology.’

‘Of course it needs an apology,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘But of the matter of it, my lord, no apology can be made, nor is any needed. I did refuse your messenger permission to perform the services of my church, and if you send twenty more, I shall refuse them all — till the time may come when it will be your lordship’s duty, in accordance with the laws of the Church — as borne out and backed by the laws of the land, to provide during my contstrained absence for the spiritual wants of those poor people at Hogglestock.’

‘Poor people, indeed,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘Poor wretches!’

‘And, my lord, it may well be, that it shall soon be your lordship’s duty to take due and legal steps for depriving me of my benefice at Hogglestock; — nay, probably, for silencing me altogether as to the exercise of my sacred profession!’

‘Of course it will, sir. Your gown will be taken from you,’ said Mrs Proudie. The bishop was looking with all his eyes on the great forehead and great eyebrows of the man, and was so fascinated by the power that was exercised over him by the other man’s strength that he hardly now noticed his wife.

‘It may well be so, continued Mr Crawley. ‘The circumstances are strong against me; and, though your lordship may have altogether misunderstood the nature of the duty performed by the magistrates in sending my case for trial — although, as it seems to me, you have come to conclusions in this matter in ignorance of the very theory of our laws —’

‘Sir!’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Yet I can foresee the probability that a jury will may discover me to have been guilty of theft.’

‘Of course the jury will do,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Should such a verdict be given, then, my lord, your interference will be legal, proper, and necessary. And you will find that, even if it be within my power to oppose obstacles to your lordship’s authority, I will oppose no such obstacle. There is, I believe, no appeal in criminal cases.’

‘None at all,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘There is no appeal against your bishop. You should have learned that before.’

‘But till that time shall come, my lord, I shall hold my own at Hogglestock as you hold your own here at Barchester. Nor have you any more power to turn me out of my pulpit by your mere voice, than I have to turn you out of your throne by mine. If you doubt me, my lord, your lordship’s ecclesiastical court is open to you. Try it there.’

‘You defy us, then?’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘My lord, I grant your authority as bishop is great, but even a bishop can only act as the laws allows him.’

‘God forbid that I should do more,’ said the bishop.

‘Sir, you will find that your wicked threats will fall back upon your own head,’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘Peace, woman,’ Mr Crawley said, addressing her at last. The bishop jumped out of his chair at hearing the wife of his bosom called a woman. But he jumped rather in admiration than in anger. He had already begun to perceive that Mr Crawley was a man who had better be left to take care of the souls at Hogglestock, at any rate till the trial should come on.

‘Woman!’ said Mrs Proudie, rising to her feet as though she really intended some personal encounter.

‘Madam,’ said Mr Crawley, ‘you should not interfere in these matters. You simply debase you husband’s high office. The distaff is more fitted for you. My lord, good morning.’ And before either of them could speak again, he was out of the room, and through the hall, and beyond the gate, and standing beneath the towers of the cathedral. Yes, he had, he thought, in truth crushed the bishop. He had succeeded in crumpling the bishop up within the clutch of his fist.

He started in spirit of triumph to walk back on his road towards Hogglestock. He did not think of the long distance before him for the first hour of his journey. He had had his victory, and the remembrance of that braced his nerves and gave elasticity to his sinews, and he went stalking along to road with rapid strides, muttering to himself from time to time as he went along some word about Mrs Proudie and her distaff. Mr Thumble would not, he thought, come to him again — not, at any rate, till the assizes were drawing near. And he had resolved what he would do then. When the day of his trial was near, he would himself write to the bishop, and beg that provision might be made for his church, in the event of the verdict going against him. His friend, Dean Arabin, was to be home before that time, and the idea had occurred to him of asking the dean to see to this; but now the other would be the more independent course, and the better. And there was a matter as to which he was not altogether well pleased with the dean, although he was so conscious of his own peculiarities as to know that he could hardly trust himself for a judgment. But, at any rate, he would apply to the bishop — to the bishop whom he had just left prostrate in his palace — when the time of his trial should be close at hand.

Full of such thoughts as these he went along almost gaily, nor felt the fatigue of the road till he had covered the first five miles out of Barchester. It was nearly four o’clock, and the thick gloom of the winter evening was making itself felt. And then he began to be fatigued. He had not as yet eaten since he had left his home in the morning, and he now pulled a crust out of his pocket and leaned against a gate as he crunched it. There were still ten miles before him, and he knew that such an addition to the work he had already done would task him very severely. Farmer Mangle had told him that he would not leave Framley Mill by that time. But he had said that he would not return to Framley Mill, and he remembered his suspicion that his wife and the farmer between them had cozened him. No; he would persevere and walk — walk though he should drop upon the road. He was now nearer fifty then forty years of age, and hardships as well as time had told upon him. He knew that the last four miles in the dark would be very sad with him. But still he persevered, endeavouring, as he went, to cherish himself with the remembrance of his triumph.

He passed the turning going down to Framley with courage, but when he came to the further turning, by which the cart would return from Framley to the Hogglestock road, he looked wistfully down the road for farmer Mangle. But farmer Mangle was still at the Mill, waiting in expectation that Mr Crawley might come to him. But the poor traveller paused here barely for a minute, and then went on, stumbling through the mud, striking his ill-covered feet against the rough stones in the dark, sweating in his weakness, almost tottering at times, and calculating whether his remaining strength would serve to carry him home. He had almost forgotten the bishop and his wife before at last he grasped the wicket gate leading to his own door.

‘Oh, mamma, here is papa!’

‘But where is the cart? I did not hear the wheels,’ said Mrs Crawley.

‘Oh, mamma, I think papa is ill.’ Then the wife took her drooping husband by both arms and strove to look him in the face. ‘He has walked all the way, and he is ill,’ said Jane.

‘No, my dear, I am very tired, but not ill. Let me sit down, and give me some bread and tea, and I shall recover myself.’ Then Mrs Crawley, from some secret hoard, got him a small modicum of spirits, and gave him meat and tea, and he was docile; and, obeying her behests, allowed himself to be taken to his bed.

‘I do not think the bishop will send for me again,’ he said, as she tucked the clothes around him.

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