The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter II

By Heavens, he had Better Not!

I must ask the reader to make acquaintance with Major Grantly of Cosby Lodge, before he is introduced to the family of Mr Crawley, at their parsonage at Hogglestock. It has been said that Major Grantly had thrown a favourable eye on Grace Crawley — by which report occasion was given to all men and women in those parts to hint that the Crawleys, with all their piety and humility, were very cunning, and that one of the Grantlys was — to say the least of it — very soft, admitted as it was throughout the county of Barsetshire, that there was no family therein more widely awake to the affairs generally of this world and the next combined, than the family of which Archdeacon Grantly was the respected head and patriarch. Mrs Walker, the most good-natured woman in Silverbridge, had acknowledged to her daughter that she could not understand it — that she could not see anything at all in Grace Crawley. Mr Walker had shrugged his shoulders and expressed a confident belief that Major Grantly had not a shilling of his own beyond his half-pay and his late wife’s fortune, which was only six thousand pounds. Others, who were ill-natured, had declared that Grace Crawley was little better than a beggar, and that she could not possibly have acquired the manners of a gentlewoman. Fletcher the butcher had wondered whether the major would pay his future father-in-law’s debts; and Dr Tempest, the old Rector of Silverbridge, whose four daughters were all as yet unmarried, had turned up his old nose, and had hinted that half-pay majors did not get caught in marriage so easily as that.

Such and such like had been the expressions of the opinions of men and women in Silverbridge. But the matter had been discussed further afield than at Silverbridge, and had been allowed to intrude itself as a most unwelcome subject into the family conclave of the archdeacon’s rectory. To those who have not as yet learned the fact from the public character and well-appreciated reputation of the man, let it be known that Archdeacon Grantly was at this time, as he had been for many years previously, Archdeacon of Barchester and Rector of Plumstead Episcopi. A rich and prosperous man he had even been — though he also had had his sore troubles, as we all have — his having arisen chiefly from want of that higher ecclesiastical promotion which his soul had coveted, and for which the whole tenor of his life had especially fitted him. Now, in his green old age, he had ceased to covet, but had not ceased to repine. He had ceased to covet aught for himself, but still coveted much for his children; and for him such a marriage as this which was now suggested for his son, was encompassed almost with the bitterness of death. ‘I think it would kill me,’ he said to his wife; ‘by heavens, I think it would be my death!’

A daughter of the archdeacon had made a splendid matrimonial alliance — so splendid that its history was at the time known to all the aristocracy of the county, and had not been altogether forgotten by any of those who keep themselves well instructed in the details of the peerage. Griselda Grantly had married Lord Dumbello, the eldest don of the Marquis of Hartletop — than whom no English nobleman was more puissant, if broad acres, many castles, high title, and stars and ribbons are any sign of puissance — and she was now, herself, Marchioness of Hartletop, with a little Lord Dumbello of her own. The daughter’s visits to the parsonage of her father were of necessity rare, such necessity having come from her own altered sphere of life. A Marchioness of Hartletop has special duties which will hardly permit her to devote herself frequently to the humdrum society of a clerical mother and father. That it would be so, father and mother had understood when they sent the fortunate girl forth to a higher world. But, now and again, since her august marriage, she had laid her coroneted head upon one of the old rectory pillows for a night or so, and, on such occasions all the Plumsteadians had been loud in praise of her condescension. Now it happened that when this second and more aggravated blast of the evil wind reached the rectory — the renewed waft as to Major Grantly’s infatuation regarding Miss Grace Crawley, which, on its renewal, seemed to bring with it something of a confirmation — it chanced, I say, that at that moment Griselda, Marchioness of Hartletop, was gracing the paternal mansion.

I am not quite sure that the mother would have been equally quick to ask her daughter’s advice, had she been left in the matter entirely to her own propensities. Mrs Grantly had ever loved her daughter dearly, and had been very proud of that great success in life which Griselda had achieved; but in late years, the child had become, as a woman, separate from the mother, and there had arisen not unnaturally, a break of that close confidence which in early years had existed between them. Griselda, Marchioness of Hartletop, was more than ever the daughter of the archdeacon, even though he might never see her. Nothing could rob him of the honour of such a progeny — nothing, even though there had been an actual estrangement between them. But it was not so with Mrs Grantly. Griselda had done very well, and Mrs Grantly had rejoiced; but she had lost her child. Now the major, who had done well also, though in a much lesser degree, was still her child, moving in the same sphere of life with her, still dependent in a great degree upon his father’s bounty, a neighbour in the county, a frequent visitor at the parsonage, and a visitor who could be received without any of that trouble that attended the unfrequent comings of Griselda, the Marchioness, to the home of her youth. And for this reason Mrs Grantly, terribly put out as she was at the idea of a marriage between her son and one standing so poorly in the world’s esteem as Grace Crawley, would not have brought forward the matter before her daughter, had she been left to her own desires. A marchioness in one’s family is a tower of strength, no doubt; but there are counsellors so strong that we do not wish to trust them, lest in the trusting we ourselves be overwhelmed by their strength. Now Mrs Grantly was by no means willing to throw her influence into the hands of her titled daughter.

But the titled daughter was consulted and gave her advice. On the occasion of the present visit to Plumstead she had consented to lay her head for two nights on the parsonage pillows, and on the second evening her brother the major was to come over from Cosby Lodge to meet her. Before his coming the affair of Grace Crawley was discussed.

‘It would break my heart, Griselda,‘said the archdeacon, piteously —‘and your mother’s.’

‘There is nothing against the girl’s character,’ said Mrs Grantly, ‘and the father and mother are gentlefolk by birth; but such a marriage for Henry would be unseemly.’

‘To make it worse, there is a terrible story about him,’ said the archdeacon.

‘I don’t suppose there is much in that,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘I can’t say. There is no knowing. They told me today in Barchester that Soames is pressing a case against him.’

‘Who is Soames, papa?’ asked the marchioness.

‘He is Lord Lufton’s man of business, my dear.’

‘Oh, Lord Lufton’s man of business!’ There was something of a sneer in the tone of the lady’s voice as she mentioned Lord Lufton’s name.

‘I am told,’ continued the archdeacon, ‘that Soames declares the cheque was taken from a pocket-book which he left by accident in Crawley’s house.’

‘You don’t mean to say, archdeacon, that you think that Mr Crawley — a clergyman — stole it!’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘I don’t say anything of the kind, my dear. But supposing Mr Crawley to be as honest as the sun, you wouldn’t wish Henry to marry his daughter.’

‘Certainly not,’ said the mother. ‘It would be an unfitting marriage. The poor girl has no advantages.’

‘He is not able to pay the baker’s bill. I always though Arabin was very wrong to place such a man in such a parish as Hogglestock. Of course the family could not live there.’ The Arabin here spoken of was Dr Arabin, dean of Barchester. The dean and archdeacon had married sisters, and there was much intimacy between the families.

‘After all it is only rumour, as yet,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘Fothergill told me only yesterday, that he sees her almost every day,’ said the father. ‘What are we to do, Griselda? You know how headstrong Henry is.’ The marchioness sat quite still; looking at the fire, and made no immediate answer to this address.

‘There is nothing for it but that you should tell him what you think,’ said the mother.

‘If his sister were to speak to him, it might do much,’ said the archdeacon. To this Mrs Grantly said nothing; but Mrs Grantly’s daughter understood very well that her mother’s confidence in her was not equal to her father’s. Lady Hartletop said nothing, but still sat, with impassive face, and eyes fixed upon the fire. ‘I think that if you were to speak to him, Griselda, and tell him that he would disgrace his family, he would be ashamed to go on with such a marriage,’ said the father. ‘He would feel, connected as he is with Lord Hartletop —’

‘I don’t think he would feel anything about that,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘I daresay not,’ said Lady Hartletop.

‘I am sure he ought to feel it,’ said the father. They were all silent, and sat looking at the fire.

‘I suppose, papa, you allow Henry an income,’ said Lady Hartletop, after a while.

‘Indeed I do — eight hundred a year.’

‘Then I think I should tell him that that must depend upon his conduct. Mamma, if you won’t mind ringing the bell, I will send for Cecile, and go upstairs and dress.’ Then the marchioness went upstairs to dress, and in about an hour the major arrived in his dogcart. He was also allowed to go upstairs to dress before anything was said to him about his great offence.

‘Griselda is right,’ said the archdeacon, speaking to his wife out of his dressing-room. ‘She is always right. I never knew a young woman with more sense than Griselda.’

‘But you do not mean to say that in any event you would stop Henry’s income?’ Mrs Grantly was also dressing and made reply out of her bedroom.

‘Upon my word, I don’t know. As a father I would do anything to prevent such a marriage as that.’

‘But if he did marry her in spite of the threat? And he would if he had once said so.’

‘Is a father’s word, then, to go for nothing; and a father who allows his son eight hundred a year? If he told the girl that he would be ruined she couldn’t hold him to it.’

‘My dear, they’d know as well as I do, that you would give way after three months.’

‘But why should I give way? Good heavens —’

‘Of course you’d give way, and of course we should have the young woman here, and of course we should make the best of it.’

The idea of having Grace Crawley as a daughter at the Plumstead Rectory was too much for the archdeacon, and he resented it by additional vehemence to the tone of his voice, and a nearer personal approach to the wife of his bosom. All unaccoutred as he was, he stood in the doorway between the two rooms, and thence fulminated at his wife his assurances that he would never allow himself to be immersed in such a depth of humility as that she had suggested. ‘I can tell you this, then, that if ever she comes here, I shall take care to be away. I will never receive her here. You can do as you please.’

‘That is just what I cannot do. If I could do as I pleased, I would put a stop to it at once.’

‘It seems to me that you want to encourage him. A child about sixteen years of age!’

‘I am told she is nineteen.’

‘What does it matter if she’s fifty-nine? Think of what her bringing up has been. Think what it would be to have all the Crawleys in our house for ever, and all their debts, and all their disgrace!’

‘I do not know that they have ever been disgraced.’

‘You’ll see. The whole county has heard of the affair of this twenty pounds. Look at that dear girl upstairs, who has been such a comfort to us. Do you think it would be fit that she and her husband should meet such a one as Grace Crawley at our table?’

‘I don’t think it would do them a bit of harm,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘But there would be no chance of that, seeing that Griselda’s husband never comes to us.’

‘He was here the year before last.’

‘And I never was so tired of a man in my life.’

‘Then you prefer the Crawleys, I suppose. This is what you get from Eleanor’s teaching.’ Eleanor was the dean’s wife, and Mrs Grantly’s younger sister. ‘It has always been a sorrow to me that I ever brought Arabin into the diocese.’

‘I never asked you to bring him, archdeacon. But nobody was so glad as you when he proposed to Eleanor.’

‘Well, the long and the short of it is this, I shall tell Henry tonight that if he makes a fool of himself with this girl, he must not look to me any longer for an income. He has about six thousand a year of his own, and if he chooses to throw himself away, he had better go and live in the south of France, or in Canada, or where he pleases. He shan’t come here.’

‘I hope he won’t marry the girl, with all my heart,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘He had better not. By heavens, he had better not!’

‘But if he does, you’ll be the first to forgive him.’

On hearing this the archdeacon slammed the door, and retired to his own washing apparatus. At the present moment he was very angry with his wife, but then he was so accustomed to such anger, and was so well aware that it in truth meant nothing, that it did not make him unhappy. The archdeacon and Mrs Grantly had now been man and wife for more than quarter of a century and had never in truth quarrelled. He had the most profound respect for her judgment, and the most implicit reliance on her conduct. She had never yet offended him, or caused him to repent the hour in which he had made her Mrs Grantly. But she had come to understand that she might use a woman’s privilege with her tongue; and she used it — not altogether to his comfort. On the present occasion he was the more annoyed because he felt that she might be right. ‘It would be a positive disgrace, and I never would see him again,’ he said to himself. And yet as he said it, he knew that he would not have the strength of character to carry him through a prolonged quarrel with his son. ‘I never would see her — never, never!’ he said to himself. ‘And then such an opening as he might have in his sister’s house!’

Major Grantly had been a successful man in life — with the one exception of having lost the mother of his child within a twelve-month of his marriage and within a few hours of that child’s birth. He had served in India as a very young man, and had been decorated with the Victoria Cross. Then he had married a lady with some money, and had left the active service of the army, with the concurring advice of his own family and that of his wife. He had taken a small place in his father’s county, but the wife for whose comfort he had taken it had died before she was permitted to see it. Nevertheless he had gone to reside there, hunting a good deal and farming a little, making himself popular in the district, and keeping up the good name of Grantly in a successful way, till — alas! — it had seemed good to him to throw those favouring eyes on poor Grace Crawley. His wife had now been dead just two years, and he was still under thirty, no one could deny it would be right that he should marry again. No one did deny it. His father had hinted that he ought to do so, and had generously whispered that if some little increase to the major’s present income were needed, he might possibly be able to do something. ‘What is the good of keeping it?’ the archdeacon had said in a liberal after-dinner warmth; ‘I only want it for your brother and yourself.’ The brother was a clergyman.

And the major’s mother had strongly advised him to marry again without loss of time. ‘My dear Henry,’ she had said, ‘you’ll never be younger, and youth does go for something. As for dear little Edith, being a girl, she is almost no impediment. Do you know those two girls at Chaldicotes?’

‘What, Mrs Thorne’s nieces?’

‘No; they are not her nieces but her cousins. Emily Dunstable is very handsome; — and as for money —!’

‘But what about birth, mother?’

‘One can’t have everything, my dear.’

‘As far as I am concerned, I should like to have everything or nothing,’ the major said, laughing. Now for him to think of Grace Crawley after that — of Grace Crawley who had no money, and no particular birth, and not even beauty herself — so at least Mrs Grantly said — who had not even enjoyed the ordinary education of a lady, was too bad. Nothing had been wanting to Emily Dunstable’s education, and it was calculated that she would have at least twenty thousand pounds on the day of her marriage.

The disappointment of the mother would be the more sore because she had gone to work upon her little scheme with reference to Miss Emily Dunstable, and had at first, as she thought, seen her way to success — to success in spite of the disparaging words her son had spoken to her. Mrs Thorne’s house at Chaldicotes — or Dr Thorne’s house as it should, perhaps, be more commonly called, for Dr Thorne was the husband of Mrs Thorne — was in these days the pleasantest house in Barsetshire. No one saw so much company as the Thornes, or spent so much money in so pleasant a way. The great county families, the Pallisers and the De Courcys, the Luftons and the Greshams, were no doubt grander, and some of them were perhaps richer than the Chaldicote Thornes — as they were called to distinguish them from the Thornes of Ullathorne; but none of these people were so pleasant in their ways, so free in their hospitality, or so easy in their modes of living, as the doctor and his wife. When first Chaldicotes, a very old country seat, had by the chances of war fallen into their hands and been newly furnished, and newly decorated, and newly gardened, and newly greenhoused and hot-watered by them, many of the county people had turned up their noses at them. Dear old Lady Lufton had done so, and had been greatly grieved — saying nothing, however, of her grief, when her son and daughter-in-law had broken away from her, and submitted themselves to the blandishments of the doctor’s wife. And the Grantlys had stood aloof, partly influenced, no doubt, by their dear and intimate old friend Miss Monica Thorne of Ullathorne, a lady of the very old school, who, though good as gold and kind as charity, could not endure that an interloping Mrs Thorne, who never had a grandfather, should come to honour and glory in the county, simply because of her riches. Miss Monica Thorne stood out, but Mrs Grantly gave way, and having once found that Dr Thorne, and Mrs Thorne, and Emily Dunstable, and Chaldicote House together, were very charming. And the major had been once there with her, and had made himself very pleasant, and there certainly had been some little passage of incipient love between him and Miss Dunstable, as to which Mrs Thorne, who managed everything, seemed to be well pleased. This had been after the first mention made by Mrs Grantly to her son of Emily Dunstable’s name, but before she had heard any faintest whispers of his fancy for Grace Crawley; and she had therefore been justified in hoping — almost in expecting, that Emily Dunstable would be her daughter-in-law, and was therefore the more aggrieved when this terrible Crawley peril first opened itself before her eyes.

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