The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XXI

Mr Robarts on His Embassy

Mr Robarts was not altogether easy in his mind as he approached Mr Crawley’s house. He was aware that the task before him was a very difficult one, and he had not confidence in himself — that he was exactly the man fitted for the performance of such a task. He was a little afraid of Mr Crawley, acknowledging tacitly to himself that the man had a power of ascendancy with which he would hardly be able to cope successfully. In old days he had once been rebuked by Mr Crawley, and had been cowed by the rebuke; and though there was no touch of rancour in his heart on this account, no slightest remaining venom — but rather increased respect and friendship — still he was unable to overcome his remembrance of the scene in which the perpetual curate of Hogglestock had undoubtedly the mastery of him. So, when two dogs have fought and one has conquered, the conquered dog will always show an unconscious submission to the conqueror.

He hailed a boy on the road as he drew near to the house, knowing that he would find no one at the parsonage to hold his horse for him, and was thus able without delay to walk through the garden and knock at the door. ‘Papa was not at home,’ Jane said. ‘Papa was at the school. But papa could certainly be summoned.’ She herself would run across to the school if Mr Robarts would come in. So Mr Robarts entered, and found Mrs Crawley in the sitting-room. Mr Crawley would be in directly, she said. And then, hurrying on to the subject with confused haste, in order that a word or two might be spoken before her husband came back, she expressed her thanks and his for the good things which had been sent to them at Christmas-tide.

‘It’s old Lady Lufton’s doings,’ said Mr Robarts, trying to laugh the matter over.

‘I knew that it came from Framley, Mr Robarts, and I know how good you all are there. I have not written to thank Lady Lufton. I thought it better not to write. Your sister will understand why, if no one else does. But you will tell them from me, I am sure, that it was, as they intended, a comfort to us. Your sister knows too much of us for me to suppose that our great poverty can be a secret from her. And, as far as I am concerned, I do not much care who knows it.’

‘There is no disgrace in not being rich,’ said Mr Robarts.

‘No; and the feeling of disgrace which does attach itself to being so poor as we are is deadened by the actual suffering which such poverty brings with it. At least it has become so with me. I am not ashamed to say that I am very grateful for what you all have done for us at Framley. But you must not say anything to him about it.’

‘Of course I will not, Mrs Crawley.’

‘His spirit is higher than mine, I think, and he suffers more from the natural disinclination which we all have from receiving alms. Are you going to speak to him about the affair — the cheque, Mr Robarts?’

‘I am going to ask him to put his case into some lawyer’s hands.’

‘Oh! I wish he would!’

‘And will he not?’

‘It is very kind of you, your coming to ask him, but —’

‘Has he so strong an objection?’

‘He will tell you that he has no money to pay a lawyer.’

‘But, surely, if he were convinced that it was absolutely necessary for the vindication of his innocence, he would submit to charge himself with an expense so necessary, not only for himself, but for his family?’

‘He will say it ought not to be necessary. You know, Mr Robarts, that in some respects he is not like other men. You will not let what I say of him set you against him?’

‘Indeed, no.’

‘It is most kind of you to make the attempt. He will be here directly, and when he comes I will leave you together.’

While she was yet speaking his step was heard along the gravel-path, and he hurried into the room with quick steps. ‘I crave your pardon, Mr Robarts,’ he said, ‘that I should keep you waiting.’ now Mr Robarts had not been there ten minutes, and any such asking of pardon was hardly necessary. And, even in his own house, Mr Crawley affected a mock humility, as though, either through his own debasement, or because of the superior station of the other clergyman, he were not entitled to put himself on an equal footing with his visitor. He would not have shaken hands with Mr Robarts — intending to indicate that he did not presume to do so while the present accusation was hanging over him — had not the action been forced upon him. And then there was something of a protest in his manner, as though remonstrating against a thing that was unbecoming to him. Mr Robarts, without analysing it, understood it all, and knew that behind the humility there was a crushing pride — a pride which, in all probability, would rise up and crush him before he could get himself out of the room again. It was, perhaps, after all, a question whether the man was not served rightly by the extremities to which he was reduced. There was something radically wrong within him, which had put him into antagonism with all the world, and which produced these never-dying grievances. There were many clergymen in the country with incomes as small as that which had fallen to the lot of Mr Crawley, but they managed to get on without displaying their sores as Mr Crawley displayed his. They did not wear their old rusty cloaks with all that ostentatious bitterness of poverty which seemed to belong to that garment when displayed on Mr Crawley’s shoulders. Such, for a moment, were Mr Robarts’ thoughts, and he almost repented himself of his present mission. But then he thought of Mrs Crawley, and remembering that her sufferings were at any rate undeserved, determined that he would persevere.

Mrs Crawley disappeared almost as soon as her husband appeared, and Mr Robarts found himself standing in front of his friend, who remained fixed to the spot, with his hands folded over each other and his neck bent slightly forward, in token also of humility. ‘I regret,’ he said, ‘that your horse should be left there, exposed to the inclemency of the weather; but —’

‘The horse won’t mind it a bit,’ said Mr Robarts. ‘A parson’s horse is like a butcher’s, and knows he mustn’t be particular about waiting in the cold.’

‘I never have had one myself,’ said Mr Crawley. Now Mr Robarts had had more horses than one before now, and had been thought by some to have incurred greater expense than was befitting in his stable comforts. The subject, therefore, was a sore one, and he was worried a little. ‘I just wanted to say a few words to you, Crawley,’ he said, ‘and if I am not occupying too much of your time —’

‘My time is altogether at your disposal. Will you be seated?’

Then Mr Robarts sat down, and, swinging his hat between his legs, bethought himself how he should begin his work. ‘We had the archdeacon over at Framley the other day,’ he said. ‘Of course you know the archdeacon?’

‘I never had the advantage of any acquaintance with Dr Grantly. Of course I know him well by name, and also personally — that is, by sight.’

‘And by character?’

‘Nay; I can hardly so much as that. But I am aware that his name stands high with many of his order.’

‘Exactly; that is what I mean. You know that his judgment is thought more of in clerical matters than that of any other clergyman in the county.’

‘By a certain party, Mr Robarts.’

‘Well, yes. They don’t think much of him, I suppose, in the palace. But that won’t lower him in your estimation.’

‘I by no means derogate from Dr Grantly’s high position in his own archdeaconry — to which, as you are aware, I am not attached — nor to criticise his conduct in any respect. It would therefore be unbecoming in me to do so. But I cannot accept it as a point in a clergyman’s favour, that he should be opposed to his bishop.’

Now this was too much for Mr Robarts. After all that he had heard of the visit paid by Mr Crawley to the palace — of the venom displayed by Mrs Proudie on that occasion, and of the absolute want of subordination to episcopal authority which Mr Crawley himself was supposed to have shown — Mr Robarts did feel it hard that his friend the archdeacon should be snubbed in this way because he was deficient in reverence for his bishop! ‘I thought, Crawley,’ he said, ‘that you yourself were inclined to dispute orders coming to you from the palace. That world at least says as much concerning you.’

‘What the world says of me I have learned to disregard very much, Mr Robarts. But I hope that I shall never disobey the authority of the Church when properly and legally exercised.’

‘I hope with all my heart you never will; not I either. And the archdeacon, who knows, to the breadth of a hair, what a bishop ought to do and what he ought not, and what he may do and what he may not, will, I should say, be the last man in England to sin in that way.’

‘Very probably. I am far from contradicting you there. Pray understand, Mr Robarts, that I bring no accusation against the archdeacon. Why should I?’

‘I didn’t mean to discuss him at all.’

‘Nor did I, Mr Robarts.’

‘I only mentioned his name, because, as I said, he was over with us the other day at Framley, and we were all talking about your affair.’

‘My affair!’ said Mr Crawley. And then came a frown upon his brow, and a gleam of fire into his eyes, which effectually banished that look of humility which he had assumed. ‘And may I ask why the archdeacon was discussing — my affair?’

‘Simply from the kindness which he bears to you.’

‘I am grateful for the archdeacon’s kindness, as a man is bound to be for any kindness, whether displayed wisely or unwisely. But it seems to me that my affair, as you call it, Mr Robarts, is of that nature that they who wish well to me will better further their wishes by silence than by any discussion.’

‘Then I cannot agree with you.’ Mr Crawley shrugged his shoulders, opened his hands a little and then closed them, and bowed his head. He could not have declared more clearly by any words that he differed altogether from Mr Robarts, and that as the subject was one so peculiarly his own he had a right to expect that his opinion should be allowed to prevail against that of any other person. ‘If you come to that, you know, how is anybody’s tongue to be stopped?’

‘That vain tongues cannot be stopped, I am well aware. I do not expect that people’s tongues should be stopped. I am not saying what men will do, but what good wishes should dictate.’

‘Well, perhaps you’ll hear me out for a minute.’ Mr Crawley again bowed his head. ‘Whether we were wise or unwise, we were discussing this affair.’

‘Whether I stole Mr Soames’s money?’

‘No; nobody supposed for a moment you had stolen it.’

‘I cannot understand how they can suppose anything else, knowing, as they do, that the magistrates have committed me for the theft. This took place at Framley, you say, and probably in Lord Lufton’s presence.’

‘Exactly.’

‘And Lord Lufton was chairman at the sitting of the magistrates at which I was committed. How can it be that he should think otherwise?’

‘I am sure that he has not an idea that you were guilty. Nor yet has Dr Thorne, who was also one of the magistrates. I don’t suppose one of them then thought so.’

‘Then their action, to say the least of it, was very strange.’

‘It was all because you had nobody to manage it for you. I thoroughly believe that if you had placed the matter in the hands of a good lawyer, you would never have heard a word more about it. That seems to be the opinion of everybody I speak to on the subject.’

‘Then in this country a man is to be punished or not, according to ability to fee a lawyer!’

‘I am not talking about punishment.’

‘And presuming an innocent man to have the ability and not the will to do so, he is to be punished, to be ruined root and branch, self and family, character and pocket, simply because, knowing his own innocence, he does not choose to depend on the mercenary skill of a man whose trade he abhors for the establishment of that which should be clear as sun at noonday! You say I am innocent, and yet you tell me I am to be condemned as a guilty man, have my gown taken from me, be torn from my wife and children, be disgraced before the eyes of all men, and made a byword and a thing horrible to be mentioned, because I will not fee an attorney to fee another man to come and lie on my behalf, to browbeat witnesses, to make false appeals, and perhaps shed false tears in defending me. You have come to me asking me to do this, if I understand you, telling me that the archdeacon would so advise me.’

‘That is my object.’ Mr Crawley, as he had spoken, had in his vehemence, risen from his seat, and Mr Robarts was also standing.

‘Then tell the archdeacon,’ said Mr Crawley, ‘that I will have none of his advice. I will have no one there paid by me to obstruct the course of justice or to hoodwink a jury. I have been in the courts of law, and know what is the work for which these gentlemen are hired. I will have none of it, and I will thank you to tell the archdeacon so, with my respectful acknowledgements of his consideration and condescension. I say nothing as to my own innocence, or my own guilt. But I do say that if I am dragged before that tribunal, an innocent man, and am falsely declared to be guilty, because I lack money to bribe a lawyer to speak for me, then the laws of this country deserve but little of that reverence which we are accustomed to pay them. And if I be guilty —’

‘Nobody supposes you to be guilty.’

‘And if I be guilty,’ continued Mr Crawley, altogether ignoring the interruption, except by the repetition of his words, and a slight raising of his voice, ‘I will not add to my guilt by hiring anyone to prove a falsehood or to disprove a truth.’

‘I’m sorry that you should say so, Mr Crawley.’

‘I speak according to what light I have, Mr Robarts; and if I have been over-warm with you — and I am conscious that I have been at fault in that direction — I must pray you to remember that I am somewhat hardly tried. My sorrows and troubles are so great that they rise against me and disturb me, and drive me on — whither I would not be driven.’

‘But, my friend, is not that just the reason why you should trust in this matter to someone who can be more calm than yourself?’

‘I cannot trust to anyone — in a matter of conscience. To do as you would have me is to me wrong. Shall I do wrong because I am unhappy?’

‘You should cease to think it wrong when so advised by persons you can trust.’

‘I can trust no one with my own conscience; — not even the archdeacon, great as he is.’

‘The archdeacon has meant only well by you.’

‘I will presume so. I will believe so. I do think so. Tell the archdeacon from me that I humbly thank him; — that in a matter of church question, I might probably submit my judgment to his; even though he might have no authority over me, knowing as I do that in such matters his experience has been great. Tell him also, that though I would fain that this unfortunate affair might burden the tongue of none of my neighbours — at least till I shall have stood before the judge to receive the verdict of the jury, and, if needful, his lordship’s sentence — still I am convinced that in what he has spoken, as also in what he has done, he has not yielded to the idleness of gossip, but has exercised his judgment with intended kindness.’

‘He has certainly intended to do you a service; and as for its not being talked about, that is out of the question.’

‘And for yourself, Mr Robarts, whom I have ever regarded as a friend since circumstances brought me into your neighbourhood — for you, whose sister I love tenderly in memory of past kindness, though now she is removed so far above my sphere, as to make it unfit I should call her my friend —’

‘She does not think so at all.’

‘For yourself, as I was saying, pray believe me that though from the roughness of my manner, being now unused to social intercourse, I seem to be ungracious and forbidding, I am grateful and mindful, and that in the tablets of my heart I have written you down as one in whom I could trust — were it given to me to trust in men and women.’ Then he turned round with his face to the wall and his back to his visitor, and so remained till Mr Robarts had left him. ‘At any rate, I wish you well through your trouble,’ said Robarts; and as he spoke he found that his own words were nearly choked by a sob that was rising in this throat.

He went away without another word, and got out to his gig without seeing Mrs Crawley. During one period of the interview he had been very angry with the man — so angry as to make him almost declare to himself that he would take no more trouble on his behalf. Then he had been brought to acknowledge that Mr Walker was right, and that Crawley was certainly mad. He was so mad, so far removed from the dominion of sound sense, that no jury could say that he was guilty and that he ought to be punished for his guilt. And, as he so resolved, he could not but ask himself the question, whether the charge of the parish ought to be left in the hands of such a man? But, at last, just before he went, these feelings and these convictions gave way to pity, and he remembered simply the troubles which seemed to have been heaped on the head of this poor victim to misfortune. As he drove home he resolved that there was nothing left for him to do, but to write to the dean. It was known by all who knew them both, that the dean and Mr Crawley had lived together on the closest intimacy at college, and that the friendship had been maintained through life; — though, from the peculiarity of Mr Crawley’s character, the two had not been much together of late years. Seeing how things were going now, and hearing how pitiful was the plight in which Mr Crawley was placed, the dean would, no doubt, feel it to be his duty to hasten his return to England. He was believed to be at this moment in Jerusalem, and it would be long before a letter could reach him; but there still wanted three months to the assizes, and his return might be probably effected before the end of February.

‘I was never so distressed in my life,’ Mark Robarts said to his wife.

‘And you think you have done no good?’

‘Only this, that I have convinced myself that the poor man is to responsible for what he does, and that for her sake as well as for his own, some person should be enabled to interfere for his protection.’ Then he told Mrs Robarts what Mr Walker had said; also the message which Mr Crawley had sent to the archdeacon. But they both agreed that that message need not be sent any further.

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