The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XIX

Where Did it Come from?

When Christmas morning came no emissary from the bishop appeared at Hogglestock to interfere with the ordinary performance of the day’s services. ‘I think we need fear no further disturbance,’ Mr Crawley said to his wife — and there was no further disturbance.

On the day after his walk from Framley to Barchester, and from Barchester back to Hogglestock, Mr Crawley had risen not much the worse for his labour, and had gradually given to his wife a full account of what had taken place. ‘A poor weak man,’ he said, speaking of the bishop. ‘A poor weak creature, and much to be pitied.’

‘I have always heard that she is a violent woman.’

‘Very violent, and very ignorant; and most intrusive withal.’

‘And you did not answer her a word?’

‘At last my forbearance with her broke down, and I bade her mind her distaff.’

‘What; — really? Did you say those words to her?’

‘Nay; as for the exact words I cannot remember them. I was thinking more of the word which it might be fitting that I should answer the bishop. But I certainly told her that she had better mind her distaff.’

‘And how did she behave then?’

‘I did not wait to see. The bishop had spoken, and I had replied; and why should I tarry to behold the woman’s violence? I had told him that he was wrong in law, and that I at least would not submit to usurped authority. There was nothing to keep me longer, and so I went without much ceremony of leave-taking. There had been little ceremony of greeting on their part, and there was less in the making of adieux on mine. They had told me that I was a thief —’

‘No, Josiah — surely not so? They did not use that very word?’

‘I say they did; — they did use that very word. But stop. I am wrong. I wrong his lordship, and I crave pardon for having done so. If my memory serve me, no expression so harsh escaped from the bishop’s mouth. He gave me, indeed, to understand more than once that the action taken by the magistrates was tantamount to a conviction, and that I must be guilty because they had decided that there was evidence sufficient to justify a trial. But all that arose from my lord’s ignorance of the administration of the laws of his country. He was very ignorant — puzzle-pated, as you may call it — led by the nose by his wife, weak as water, timid and vacillating. But he did not wish, I think, to be insolent. It was Mrs Proudie who told me to my face that I was a — thief.’

‘May she be punished for the cruel word!’ said Mrs Crawley. ‘May the remembrance that she has spoken it come, some day, heavily upon her heart.’

‘“Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” saith the Lord,’ answered Mr Crawley. ‘We may safely leave all that alone, and rid our minds of such wishes, if it be possible. It is well, I think, that violent offences, when committed, should be met by instant rebuke. To turn the other cheek instantly to the smiter can hardly be suitable in these days, when the hands of so many are raised to strike. But the return blow should be given only while the smart remains. She hurt me then; but what is to me now, that she called me a thief to my face? Do I not know that, all the country round, men and woman are calling me the same behind my back?’

‘No, Josiah, you do not know that. They say the thing is very strange — so strange that it requires a trial; but no one thinks you have taken that which was not your own.’

‘I think I did. I myself think I took that which was not my own. My poor head suffers so; — so many grievous thoughts distract me, that I am like a child, and know not what I do.’ As he spoke thus he put both hands up to his head, leaning forward as though in anxious thought — as though he were striving to bring his mind to bear with accuracy on past events. ‘It could not have been mine, and yet —’ Then he sat silent, and made no effort to continue his speech.

‘And yet?’— said his wife, encouraging him to proceed. If she could only learn the real truth, she thought that she might perhaps yet save him, with assistance from their friends.

‘When I said that I had gotten it from that man I must have been mad.’

‘From which man, love?’

‘From the man Soames — he who accuses me. And yet, as the Lord hears me, I thought so then. The truth is, that there are times when I am not — sane. I am not a thief — not before God; but I am — mad at times.’ These last words were spoken very slowly, in a whisper — without any excitement — indeed with a composure which was horrible to witness. And what he said was the more terrible because she was so well convinced of the truth of his words. Of course he was no thief. She wanted no one to tell her that. As he himself had expressed it, he was no thief before God, however the money might have come into his possession. That there were times when his reason, once so fine and clear, could not act, could not be trusted to guide him right, as she had gradually come to know with fear and trembling. But he himself had never before hinted his own consciousness of this calamity. Indeed he had been so unwilling to speak of himself and his own state, that she had been unable even to ask him a question about the money — lest he should suspect that she suspected him. Now he was speaking — but speaking with such heartrending sadness that she could hardly urge him to go on.

‘You have sometimes been ill, Josiah, as any of us may be,’ she said, ‘and that has been the cause.’

‘There are different kinds of sickness. There is sickness of the body, and sickness of the heart, and sickness of the spirit; — and then there is sickness of the mind, the worst of all.’

‘With you, Josiah, it has chiefly been the first.’

‘With me, Mary, it has been all of them — every one! My spirit is broken, my mind has not been able to keep its even tenor amidst the ruins. But I will strive. I will strive. I will strive still. And if God helps me, I will prevail.’ Then he took up his hat and cloak, and went forth among the lanes; and on this occasion his wife was glad that he should go alone.

This occurred a day or two before Christmas, and Mrs Crawley during those days said nothing more to her husband on the subject which he had so unexpectedly discussed. She asked him no questions about the money, or as to the possibility of his exercising his memory, nor did she counsel him to plead that the false excuses given by him for the possession of the cheque had been occasioned by the sad slip to which sorrow had in those days subjected his memory and his intellect. But the matter had always been on her mind. Might it not be her paramount duty to do something of this at the present moment? Might it not be that his acquittal or conviction would depend on what she might now learn from him? It was clear to her that he was brighter in spirit since his encounter with the Proudies than he had ever been since the accusation had been first made against him. And she knew well that his present mood would not be of long continuance. He would fall again into his moody silent ways, and then the chance of learning aught from him would be past, and perhaps, for ever.

He performed the Christmas services with nothing of special despondency in his tone or manner, and his wife thought that she had never heard him give the sacrament with more impressive dignity. After the service he stood awhile at the churchyard gate, and exchanged a word of courtesy as to the season with such of the families of the farmers as had stayed for the Lord’s Supper.

‘I waited at Framley for your reverence till arter six — so I did,’ said farmer Mangle.

‘I kept the road, and walked the whole way,’ said Mr Crawley, ‘I think I told you that I should not return to the mill. But I am not the less obliged by your great kindness.’

‘Say nowt o’ that,’ said the farmer. ‘No doubt I had business at the mill — lots to do at the mill.’ Nor did he think the fib he was telling was at all incompatible with the Holy Sacrament in which he had just taken part.

The Christmas dinner at the parsonage was not a repast that did much honour to the season, but it was a better dinner than the inhabitants of that house usually had on the board before them. There was roast pork and mince-pies, and a bottle of wine. As Mrs Crawley with her own hand put the meat upon the table, and then, as was her custom in their house, proceeded to cut it up, she looked at husband’s face to see whether he was scrutinising the food with painful eye. It was better that she should tell the truth at once than that she should be made to tell it, in answer to a question. Everything on the table, except the bread and potatoes, had come in a basket from Framley Court. Pork had been sent instead of beef, because people in the country, when they kill their pigs, do sometimes give each other pork — but do not exchange joints of beef, when they slay their oxen. All this was understood by Mrs Crawley, but she almost wished that beef had been sent, because beef would have attracted less attention. He said, however, nothing to the meat; but when his wife proposed to him that he should eat a mince-pie he resented it. ‘The bare food,’ said he, ‘is bitter enough, coming as it does; but that would choke me.’ She did not press it, but ate one herself, as otherwise her girl would have been forced also to refuse the dainty.

That evening, as soon as Jane was in bed, she resolved to ask him some further questions. ‘You will have a lawyer, Josiah — will you not?’

‘Why should I have a lawyer?’

‘Because he will know what questions to ask, and how questions on the other side should be answered.’

‘I have no questions to ask, and there is only one way in which questions should be answered. I have no money to pay a lawyer.’

‘But, Josiah, in such a case as this, where your honour, and our very life depend upon it —’

‘Depend on what?’

‘On your acquittal.’

‘I shall not be acquitted. It is as well to look it in the face at once. Lawyer or no lawyer, they will say that I took the money. Were I upon the jury, trying the case myself, knowing all that I know now,’— and as he said this he struck forth with his hands into the air —‘I think that I should say so myself. A lawyer will do no good. It is here. It is here.’ And again he put his hands up to his head.

So far she had been successful. At this moment it had in truth been her object to induce him to speak of his own memory, and not of the aid that a lawyer might give. The proposition of the lawyer had been brought in to introduce the subject.

‘But, Josiah —’

‘Well?’

It was very hard for her to speak. She could not bear to torment him by any allusion to his own deficiencies. She could not endure to make him think that she suspected him of any frailty either in intellect or thought. Wifelike, she desired to worship him, and that he should know that she worshipped him. But if a word might save him! ‘Josiah, where did it come from?’

‘Yes,’ said he; ‘yes; that is the question. Where did it come from?’— and he turned sharp upon her, looking at her with all the power of his eyes. ‘It is because I cannot tell you where it came from that I ought to be — either in Bedlam, as a madman, or in the county gaol as a thief.’ The words were so dreadful to her that she could not utter at the moment another syllable. ‘How is a man — to think himself — fit — for a man’s work, when he cannot answer his wife such a plain question as that?’ Then he paused again. ‘They should take me to Bedlam at once — at once — at once. That would not disgrace the children as the gaol will do.’

Mrs Crawley could ask no further questions on that evening.

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