The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XX

What Mr Walker Thought About it

It had been suggested to Mr Robarts, that parson at Framley, that he should endeavour to induce his old acquaintance, Mr Crawley, to employ a lawyer to defend him at his trial, and Mr Robarts had not forgotten the commission which he had undertaken. But there were difficulties in the matter of which he was well aware. In the first place Mr Crawley was a man whom it had not at any time been easy to advise on matters private to himself; and in the next place, this was a matter on which it was very hard to speak to the man implicated, let him be who he would. Mr Robarts had come round to the generally accepted idea that Mr Crawley had obtained possession of the cheque illegally — acquitting his friend in his own mind of theft, simply by supposing that he was wool-gathering when the cheque came in his way. But in speaking to Mr Crawley, it would be necessary — so he thought — to pretend a conviction that Mr Crawley was as innocent in fact as in intention.

He had almost made up his mind to dash at the subject when he met Mr Crawley walking through Framley to Barchester, but he had abstained chiefly because Mr Crawley had been too quick for him, and had got away. After that he resolved that it would be almost useless for him to go to work unless he should be provided with a lawyer ready and willing to undertake the task; and as he was not so provided at present, he made up his mind that he would go into Silverbridge, and see Mr Walker, the attorney there. Mr Walker always advised everybody in those parts about everything, and would be sure to know what would be the proper thing to be done in this case. So Mr Robarts got into his gig, and drove himself into Silverbridge, passing very close to Mr Crawley’s house on his road. He drove at once to Mr Walker’s office, and on arriving there found that the attorney was not at that moment within. But Mr Winthrop was within. Would Mr Robarts see Mr Winthrop? Now, seeing Mr Winthrop was a very different thing from seeing Mr Walker, although the two gentlemen were partners. But still Mr Robarts said that he would see Mr Winthrop. Perhaps Mr Walker might return while he was there.

‘Is there anything I can do for you, Mr Robarts?’ asked Mr Winthrop. Mr Robarts said that he had wished to see Mr Walker about that poor fellow Crawley. ‘Ah, yes; very said case! So much sadder being a clergyman, Mr Robarts. We are really quite sorry for him; — we are indeed. We wouldn’t have touched the case ourselves if we could have helped ourselves. We wouldn’t indeed. But we are obliged to take all that business here. At any rate he’ll get nothing but fair usage from us.’

‘I am sure of that. You don’t know whether he has employed any lawyer as yet to defend him?’

‘I can’t say. We don’t know, you know. I should say he had — probably some Barchester attorney. Borleys and Bonstock in Barchester are very good people — very good people indeed; — for that sort of business I mean, Mr Robarts. I don’t suppose they have much county property in their hands.’

Mr Robarts knew that Mr Winthrop was a fool, and that he could get no useful advice from him. So he suggested that he would take his gig down to the inn, and call back again before long. ‘You’ll find that Mr Walker knows no more than I do about it,’ said Mr Winthrop, ‘but of course he’ll be glad to see you if he happens to come in.’ So Mr Robarts went to the inn, put up his horse, and then, as he sauntered back up the street, met Mr Walker coming out of the private door of his house.

‘I’ve been at home all the morning,’ he said; ‘but I’ve had a stiff job of work on hand, and told them to say in the office that I was not in. Seen Winthrop, have you? I don’t suppose he did know that I was here. The clerks often know more than the partners. About Mr Crawley, is it? Come into my dining-room, Mr Robarts, where we shall be alone. Yes; — it is a bad case; a very bad case. The pity is that anybody should have said anything about it. Lord bless me, if I’d been Soames I’d have let him have the twenty pounds. Lord Lufton would never have allowed Soames to lose it.’

‘But Soames wanted to find out the truth.’

‘Yes; — that was just it. Soames couldn’t bear to think that he should be left in the dark, and then, when the poor man said that Soames had paid the cheque to him in the way of business — it was not odd that Soames’s back should have been up, was it? But, Mr Robarts, I should have thought a deal about it before I should have brought such a man as Mr Crawley before a bench of magistrates on that charge.’

‘But between me and you, Mr Walker, did he steal the money?’

‘Well, Mr Robarts, you know how I’m placed.’

‘Mr Crawley is my friend, and of course I want to assist him. I was under a great obligation to Mr Crawley once, and I wish to befriend him, whether he took the money or not. But I could act so much better if I felt sure one way or the other.’

‘If you ask me, I think he did take it.’

‘What! — he stole it?’

‘I think he knew it was not his own when he took it. You see I don’t think he meant to use it when he took it. He perhaps had some queer idea that Soames had been hard on him, or his lordship, and that the money was fairly his due. Then he kept the cheque by him till he was absolutely badgered out of his life by the butcher up the street there. That was about the long and the short of it, Mr Robarts.’

‘I suppose so. And now what had we better do?’

‘Well; if you ask me — He is in very bad health, isn’t he?’

‘No; I should say not. He walked to Barchester and back the other day.’

‘Did he? But he’s very queer, isn’t he?’

‘Very odd-mannered indeed.’

‘And does and says all manner of odd things?’

‘I think you’d find the bishop would say so after that interview.’

‘Well; if it would do any good, you might have the bishop examined.’

‘Examined for what, Mr Walker?’

‘If you could show, you know, that Crawley has got a bee in his bonnet; that the mens sana is not there, in short; — I think you might manage to have the trial postponed.’

‘But then somebody must take charge of his living.’

‘You parsons could manage that among you; — you and the dean and the archdeacon. The archdeacon has always got half-a-dozen curates about somewhere. And then — after the assizes, Mr Crawley might come to his senses; and I think — mind you it’s only an idea — but I think the committal might be quashed. It would have been temporary insanity, and, though mind I don’t give my word for it, I think he might go on and keep his living. I think so, Mr Robarts.’

‘That has never occurred to me.’

‘No; — I daresay not. You see the difficulty is this. He’s so stiff-necked — will do nothing himself. Well, that will do for one proof of temporary insanity. The real truth is, Mr Robarts, he is as mad as a hatter.’

‘Upon my word I’ve often thought so.’

‘And you wouldn’t mind saying so in evidence — would you? Well, you see, there is no helping such a man in any other way. He won’t even employ a lawyer to defend him.’

‘That was what I had come to you about.’

‘I’m told he won’t. Now a man must be mad who won’t employ a lawyer when he wants one. You see, the point we should gain would be this — if we tried to get him through as being a little touched in the upper storey — whatever we could do for him, we could do against his own will. The more he opposed us the stronger our case would be. He would swear he was not mad at all, and we should say that that was the greatest sign of his madness. But when I say we, of course I mean you. I must not appear in it.’

‘I wish you could, Mr Walker.’

‘Of course I can’t; but that won’t make any difference.’

‘I suppose he must see a lawyer?’

‘Yes, he must have a lawyer; — or rather, his friends must.’

‘And who would employ him, ostensibly?’

‘Ah; — there’s the difficulty. His wife wouldn’t do it, I suppose? She couldn’t do him a better turn.’

‘He would never forgive her. And she would never consent against him.’

‘Could you interfere?’

‘If necessary, I will; — but I hardly know him well enough.’

‘Has he no father or mother, or uncles or aunts? He must have somebody belonging to him,’ said Mr Walker.

Then it occurred to Mr Robarts that Dean Arabin would be the proper person to interfere. Dean Arabin and Mr Crawley had been intimate friends in early life, and Dean Arabin knew more of him than did any man, at least in these parts. All this Mr Robarts explained to Mr Walker, and Mr Walker agreed with him that the services of Dean Arabin should if possible be obtained. Mr Robarts would at once write to Dean Arabin and explain at length all the circumstances of the case. ‘The worst of it is, he will hardly be home in time,’ said Mr Walker. ‘Perhaps he would come a little sooner if you were to press it?’

‘But we could act in his name in his absence, I suppose? — of course with his authority?’

‘I wish he could be here a month before the assizes, Mr Robarts. It would be better.’

‘And in the meantime shall I say anything to Mr Crawley, myself, about employing a lawyer?’

‘I think I would. If he turns upon you, as like he may, and abuses you, that will help us in one way. If he should consent, and perhaps he may, that would help us in the other way. I’m told he’s been over and upset the whole coach of the palace.’

‘I shouldn’t think the bishop got much of him,’ said the parson.

‘I don’t like Crawley the less for speaking his mind free to the bishop,’ said the lawyer, laughing. ‘And he’ll speak it free to you too, Mr Robarts.’

‘He won’t break any of my bones. Tell me, Mr Walker, what lawyer shall I name to him?’

‘You can’t have a better man than Mr Mason, up the street there.’

‘Winthrop proposed Borleys at Barchester.’

‘No, no, no. Borleys and Bonstock are capital people to push a fellow through on a charge of horse-stealing, or to squeeze a man for a little money; but they are not the people for Mr Crawley in such a case as this. Mason is the better man; and then Mason and I know each other.’ In saying which Mr Walker winked.

There was then a discussion between them whether Mr Robarts should go at once to Mr Mason; but it was decided at last that he should see Mr Crawley and also write to the dean before his did so. The dean might wish to employ his own lawyer, and if so the double expense should be avoided. ‘Always remember, Mr Robarts, that when you go into an attorney’s office door, you will have to pay for it, first or last. In here, you see, the dingy old mahogany, bare as it is, makes you safe. Or else it’s the salt-cellar, which will not allow itself to be polluted by six-and-eightpenny considerations. But there is the other kind of tax to be paid. You must go up and see Mrs Walker, or you won’t get her help in the matter.’

Mr Walker returned to his work, either to some private den within his house, or to his office, and Mr Robarts was taken upstairs to the drawing-room. There he found Mrs Walker and her daughter, and Miss Anne Prettyman, who had just looked in, full of the story of Mr Crawley’s walk to Barchester. Mr Thumble had seen one of Dr Tempest’s curates, and had told the whole story — he, Mr Thumble, having heard Mrs Proudie’s version of what had occurred, and having, of course, drawn his own deductions from her premises. And it seemed that Mr Crawley had been watched as he passed through the close out of Barchester. A minor canon had seen him, and had declared that he was going at the rate of a hunt, swinging his arms on high and speaking very loud, though — as the minor canon said with regret — the words were hardly audible. But there had been no doubt as to the man. Mr Crawley’s old hat, and short rusty cloak, and dirty boots, had been duly observed and chronicled by the minor canon; and Mr Thumble had been enabled to put together a not altogether false picture of what had occurred. As soon as the greetings between Mr Robarts and the ladies had been made, Miss Anne Prettyman broke out again, just where she had left off when Mr Robarts came in. ‘They say that Mrs Proudie declared that she will have him sent to Botany Bay!’

‘Luckily Mrs Proudie won’t have much to do in the matter,’ said Miss Walker, who ranged herself, as to church matters, in the ranks altogether opposed to those commanded by Mrs Proudie.

‘She will have nothing to do with it, my dear,’ said Mrs Walker; ‘and I daresay Mrs Proudie was not foolish enough to say anything of the kind.’

‘Mamma, she would be foolish enough to say anything. Would she not Mr Robarts?’

‘You forget, Miss Walker, that Mrs Proudie is in authority over me.’

‘So she is, for the matter of that,’ said the young lady; ‘but I know very well what you all think of her, and say of her too, at Framley. Your friend, Lady Lufton, loves her dearly. I wish I could have been behind a curtain in the palace, to hear what Mr Crawley said to her.’

‘Mr Smilie declares,’ said Miss Prettyman, ‘that the bishop has been ill ever since. Mr Smilie went over to his mother’s at Barchester for Christmas, and took part of the cathedral duty, and we had Mr Spooner over here in his place. So Mr Smilie of course heard all about it. Only fancy, poor Mr Crawley walking all the way from Hogglestock to Barchester and back; — and I am told he hardly had a shoe to his foot! Is it not a shame, Mr Robarts?’

‘I don’t think it was quite as bad as you say, Miss Prettyman; but, upon the whole, I do think it is a shame. But what can we do?’

‘I suppose there are tithes at Hogglestock? Why are they not given up to the church, as they ought to be?’

‘My dear, Miss Prettyman, that is a very long subject, and I am afraid it cannot be settled in time to relieve our poor friend from his distress.’ Then Mr Robarts escaped from the ladies in Mr Walker’s house, who, as it seemed to him, were touching upon dangerous ground, and went back to the yard of the George Inn for his gig — the George and Vulture it was properly called, and was the house in which the magistrates had sat when they committed Mr Crawley for trial.

‘Footed it every inch of the way, blowed if he didn’t,’ the ostler was saying to a gentleman’s groom, whom Mr Robarts recognised to be the servant of his friend Major Grantly; and Mr Robarts knew that they also were talking about Mr Crawley. Everybody in the county was talking about Mr Crawley. At home, at Framley, there was no other subject of discourse. Lady Lufton, the dowager, was full of it, being firmly convinced that Mr Crawley was innocent, because the bishop was supposed to regard him as guilty. There had been a family conclave held at Framley Court over that basket of provisions which had been sent for the Christmas cheer of the Hogglestock parsonage, each of the three ladies, the two Lady Luftons and Mrs Robarts, having special views of their own. How the pork had been substituted for the beef by old Lady Lufton, young Lady Lufton thinking that after all the beef might be dangerous, and how a small turkey had been rashly suggested by Mrs Robarts, and how certain small articles had been inserted in the bottom of the basket which Mrs Crawley had never shown to her husband, need not here be told at length. But Mr Robarts, as he heard the two grooms talking about Mr Crawley, began to feel that Mr Crawley had achieved at least celebrity.

The groom touched his hat as Mr Robarts walked up. ‘Has the major returned home yet?’ Mr Robarts asked. The groom said that his master was still at Plumstead, and that he was to go over to fetch the major and Miss Edith in a day or two. Then Mr Robarts got into his gig, and as he drove out of the yard he heard the words of the men as they returned to the same subject. ‘Footed it all the way,’ said one. ‘And yet he’s a gen’leman, too,’ said the other. Mr Robarts thought of this as he drove on, intending to call at Hogglestock on that very day on his way home. It was undoubtedly the fact that Mr Crawley was recognised to be a gentleman by all who knew him, high or low, rich or poor, by those who thought well of him and by those who thought ill. These grooms, who had been telling each other that this parson, who was to be tried as a thief, had been constrained to walk from Hogglestock to Barchester and back, because he could not afford to travel any other way, and that his boots were cracked and his clothes ragged, had still known him to be a gentleman! Nobody doubted it; not even they who thought he had stolen the money. Mr Robarts himself was certain of it, and told himself that he knew it by the evidences which his own education made clear to him. But how was it that the grooms knew it? For my part I think that there are no better judges of the article than the grooms.

Thinking of all which he had heard, Mr Robarts found himself at Mr Crawley’s gate at Hogglestock.

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