The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XLI

Grace Crawley at Home

On the morning after his return from London, Mr Crawley showed symptoms of great fatigue, and his wife implored him to remain in bed. But this he would not do. He would get up, and go out down to the brickfields. He has specially bound himself, he said, to see that the duties of the parish should not suffer by being left in his hands. The bishop had endeavoured to place them in other hands, but he had persisted in retaining them. As had done so he could allow no weariness of his own to interfere — and especially no weariness induced by labours undertaken on his own behalf. The day in the week had come round on which it was his wont to visit the brickmakers, and he would visit them. So he dragged himself out of his bed and went forth amidst the cold storm of a harsh wet March morning. His wife well knew when she heard his first word on that morning that one of those terrible moods had come upon him which made her doubt whether she ought to allow him to go anywhere alone. Latterly there had been some improvement in his mental health. Since the day of his encounter with the bishop and Mrs Proudie, though he had been as stubborn as ever, he had been less apparently unhappy, less depressed in spirits. And the journey to London had done him good. His wife had congratulated herself on finding him able to set about his work like another man, and he himself had experienced a renewal, if not of hope, at any rate, of courage, which had given him a comfort which he had recognised. His common-sense had not been very striking in his interview with Mr Toogood, but yet he had talked more rationally then and had given a better account of the matter in hand than could have been expected from him for some weeks previously. But now the labour was over, a reaction had come upon him, and he went away from his house having hardly spoken a word to his wife after the speech which he made about his duty to his parish.

I think that at this time nobody saw clearly the working of his mind — not even his wife, who studied it very closely, who gave him credit for all his high qualities, and who had gradually learned to acknowledge to herself that she must distrust his judgment in many things. She knew that he was good, and yet weak, that he was afflicted by false pride and supported by true pride, that his intellect was still very bright, yet so dismally obscured on many sides as almost to justify people in saying that he was mad. She knew that he was almost a saint, and yet almost a castaway through vanity and hatred of those above him. But she did not know that he knew all this of himself also. She did not comprehend that he should be hourly telling himself that people were calling him mad and were so calling him with truth. It did not occur to her that he could see her insight into him. She doubted as to the way in which he had got the cheque — never imagining, however, that he had wilfully stolen it — thinking that his mind had been so much astray as to admit of his finding it and using it without wilful guilt — thinking also, alas, that a man who could so act was hardly fit for such duties as those which were entrusted to him. But she did not dream that this was precisely his own idea of his own state and of his own position; — that he was always inquiring of himself whether he was not mad; whether, if mad, he was not bound to lay down his office; that he was ever taxing himself with improper hostility to the bishop — never forgetting for a moment his wrath against the bishop and the bishop’s wife, still comforting himself to go to the palace and there humbly to relinquish his clerical authority. Such a course of action he was proposing to himself, but not with any realised idea that he would so act. He was as a man who walks along a river’s bank thinking of suicide, calculating now best he might kill himself — whether the river does not offer an opportunity too good to be neglected, telling himself that the water is pleasant and cool, and that his ears would soon be deaf to the harsh noises of the world — but yet knowing, or thinking that he knows, that he never will kill himself. So it was with Mr Crawley. Though his imagination pictured to himself the whole scene — how he would humble himself to the ground as he acknowledged his unfitness, how he would endure the small-voiced triumph of the little bishop, how, from the abjectness of his own humility, even from the ground on which he would be crouching, he would rebuke the loud-mouthed triumph of the bishop’s wife; though there was no touch wanting to the picture which he thus drew — he did not really propose to himself to commit this professional suicide. His wife, too, had considered whether it might be in truth becoming that he should give up his clerical duties, at any rate for a while; but she had never thought that the idea was present to his mind also.

Mr Toogood had told him that people would say that he was mad; and Mr Toogood had looked at him, when he declared for the second time that he had no knowledge whence the cheque had come to him, as though his words were to be regarded as the words of some sick child; ‘Mad!’ he said to himself, as he walked home from the station that night. ‘Well; yes; and what if I am mad? When I think of all that I have endured my wonder is that I should not have been mad sooner.’ And then he prayed — yes, prayed, that in his madness the Devil might not be too strong for him, and that he might be preserved from some terrible sin of murder or violence. What, if the idea should come to him in his madness that it would be well for him to slay his wife and his children? Only that was wanting to make him of all men the most unfortunate.

He went down among the brickmakers on the following morning, leaving the house almost without a morsel of food, and he remained at Hoggle End for the greater part of the day. There were sick persons there with whom he prayed, and then he sat talking with rough men while they ate their dinners, and he read passages from the Bible to women while they washed their husband’s clothes. And for a while he sat with a little girl in his lap teaching the child her alphabet. If it were possible for him he would do his duty. He would spare himself in nothing, though he might suffer even to fainting. And on this occasion he did suffer — almost to fainting, for as he returned home in the afternoon he was forced to lean from time to time against the banks on the road-side, while the cold sweat of weakness trickled down his face, in order that he might recover strength to go on a few yards. But he would persevere. If God would but leave to him mind enough for his work, he would go on. No personal suffering should deter him. He told himself that there had been men in the world whose sufferings were sharper even than his own. Of what sort had been the life of the man who had stood for years at the top of a pillar? But then the man on the pillar had been honoured by all around him. And thus, though he had thought of the man on the pillar to encourage himself be remembering how lamentable had been that man’s sufferings, he came to reflect that after all his own sufferings were perhaps keener than those of the man on the pillar.

When he reached home, he was very ill. There was no doubt about it then. He staggered to his arm-chair, and stared at his wife first, and then smiled at her with his ghastly smile. He trembled all over, and when food was brought to him he could not eat it. Early on the next morning the doctor was by his bedside, and before that evening came he was delirious. He had been at intervals in this state for nearly two days, when Mrs Crawley wrote to Grace, and though she had restrained herself telling everything, she had written with sufficient strength to bring Grace at once to her father’s bedside.

He was not so ill when Grace arrived home but that he knew her, and he seemed to received some comfort from her coming. Before she had been in the house an hour she was reading Greek to him, and there was no wandering in his mind as to the due emphasis to be given to the plaints of the injured heroines, or as to the proper meaning of the choruses. And as he lay with his head half buried in the pillows, he shouted out long passages, lines from tragic plays by the score, and for a while seemed to have all the enjoyment of a dear old pleasure placed newly within his reach. But he tired of this after a while, and then, having looked round to see that his wife was not in the room, he began to talk of himself.

‘So you have been to Allington, my dear?’

‘Yes, papa.’

‘Is it a pretty place?’

‘Yes, papa; — very pretty.’

‘And they were good to you?’

‘Yes, papa; — very good.’

‘Had they heard anything there about — me; of this trial that is to come on?’

‘Yes, papa; they had heard of it.’

‘And what did they say? You need not think that you will shock me by telling me. They cannot say worse there than people have said here or think worse.’

‘They don’t think at all badly of you at Allington, papa.’

‘But they must think badly of me if the magistrates are right.’

‘They suppose that there has been a mistake; — as we all think.’

‘They do not try men at the assizes for mistakes.’

‘That you have been mistaken, I mean; — and the magistrates mistaken.’

‘But cannot have been mistaken, Grace.’

‘I don’t know how to explain myself, papa; but we all know that it is very sad, and are quite sure that you have never meant for one moment to do anything that is wrong.’

‘But people when they are — you know what I mean, Grace; when they are not themselves — do things that are wrong without meaning it.’ Then he paused, while she remained standing by him with her hand on the back of his. She was looking at his face, which had been turned towards her while they were reading together, but which now was so far moved that she knew that his eyes could not be fixed upon hers. ‘Of course if the bishop orders it, it shall be so,’ he said. ‘It is quite enough for me that he is a bishop.’

‘What has the bishop ordered, papa?’

‘Nothing at all. It is she who does it. He has given me no opinion about it. Of course not. He has none to give. It is the woman. You go and tell her from me that in such a matter I will not obey the word of any woman living. Go at once, when I tell you.’

Then she knew that her father’s mind was wandering, and she knelt down by the bedside, still holding his hand.

‘Grace,’ he said.

‘Yes, papa, I am here.’

‘Why do you not do what I tell you?’ And he sat upright in his bed. ‘I suppose you are afraid of the woman.’

‘I should be afraid of her, dear papa.’

‘I was not afraid of her. When she spoke to me, I would have nothing to say to her; — not a word; — not a word.’ As he said this, he waved his hands about. ‘But as for him — if it must be, it must. I know I am not fit for it. Of course I am not. Who is? But what has he ever done that he should be dean? I beat him at everything; almost at everything. He got the Newdigate, and that was about all. Upon my word I think that was all.’

‘But Dr Arabin loves you truly, dear papa.’

‘Love me! psha! Does he ever come here to tea, as he used to do? No! I remember buttering toast for him down on my knees before the fire, because he liked it — and keeping all the cream for him. He should have my heart’s blood if he wanted it. But now; — look at his books, Grace. It’s the outside of them he cares for. They are all gilt, but I doubt if he ever reads. As for her — I will not allow any woman to tell me my duty. No; — but my Maker; not even your mother, who is the best of women. And as for her, with her little husband dangling at her apron- strings, as a call-whistle to be blown into when she pleases — that she should dare to teach me my duty! No! The men in the jury-box may decide how they will. If they can believe a plain story, let them! If not — let them do as they please. I am ready to bear it all.’

‘Dear papa, you are tired. Will you not try to sleep?’

‘Tell Mrs Proudie what I say; and as for Arabin’s money, I took it. I know I took it. What would you have me do? Shall I— see them — all starve?’ Then he fell back upon his bed and did sleep.

The next day he was better, and insisted upon getting out of bed, and on sitting in his old arm-chair over the fire. And the Greek books were again had out; and Grace, not at all unwillingly, was put through her facings. ‘If you don’t take care, my dear,’ he said, ‘Jane will beat you yet. She understands the force of the verbs better than you do.’

‘I am very glad that she is doing so well, papa. I am sure I shall not begrudge her her superiority.’

‘Ah, but you should begrudge it her!’ Jane was sitting by at the time, and the two sisters were holding each other by the hand. ‘Always to be the best; — always to be in advance of others. That should be your motto.’

‘But we can’t both be best, papa,’ said Jane.

‘You can both strive to be best. But Grace has the better voice. I remember when I knew the whole of the “Antigone” by heart. You girls should see which can learn it first.’

‘It would take such a long time,’ said Jane.

‘You are wrong, and what can you do better with your leisure hours? Fie, Jane! I did not expect it from you. When I was learning it I had eight or nine pupils, and read an hour a day with each of them. But I think that nobody works now as they used to work then. Where is your mamma? Tell her I think I could get out as far as Mrs Cox’s, if she would help me dress.’ Soon after this he was in bed again, and his head was wandering; but still they knew that he was better than he had been.

‘You are more of a comfort to your papa than I can be,’ said Mrs Crawley to her eldest daughter that night as they sat together, when everybody else was in bed.

‘Do not say that, mamma. Papa does not think so.’

‘I cannot read Greek plays to him as you can do. I can only nurse him in his illness and endeavour to do my duty. Do you know, Grace, that it I am beginning to fear that he half doubts me?’

‘Oh, mamma!’

‘That he half doubts me, and is half afraid of me. He does not think as he used to do, that I am altogether, heart and soul, on his side. I can see it in his eyes as he watches me. He thinks that I am tired of him — tired of his sufferings, tired of his poverty, tired of the evil which men say of him. I am not sure but what he thinks that I suspect him.’

‘Of what, mamma?’

‘Of general unfitness for the work he has to do. The feeling is not strong as yet, but I fear that he will teach himself to think that he has an enemy at his hearth — not a friend. It will be the saddest mistake he ever made.’

‘He told me today that you were the best of women. Those were his very words.’

‘Were they, my dear? I am glad at least that he should say so to you. He has been better since you came; — a great deal better. For one day I was frightened; but I am very sorry now that I sent for you.’

‘I am so glad, mamma; so very glad.’

‘You were happy there — and comfortable. And if they were glad to have you, why should I have brought you away?’

‘But I was not happy; — even though they were very good to me. How could I be happy there when I was thinking of you and papa and Jane here at home? Whatever there is here, I would sooner share it with you than be anywhere else — while this trouble lasts.’

‘My darling! — it is a great comfort to see you again.’

‘Only that I knew that one less in the house would be a saving to you I should not have gone. When there is unhappiness, people should stay together; — shouldn’t they, mamma?’ They were sitting quite close to each other, on an old sofa in a small upstairs room, from which a door opened into the larger chamber in which Mr Crawley was lying. It had been arranged between them that on this night Mrs Crawley should remain with her husband, and that Grace should go to bed. It was now past one o’clock, but she was still there, clinging to her mother’s side, with her mother’s arm drawn round her. ‘Mamma,’ she said, when they had both been silent for some ten minutes. ‘I have got something to tell you.’

‘Tonight?’

‘Yes, mamma; tonight, if you will let me.’

‘But you promised that you would go to bed. You were up all last night.’

‘I am not sleepy, mamma.’

‘Of course you shall tell me what you please, dearest. Is it a secret? Is it something I am not to repeat?’

‘You must say how that ought to be, mamma. I shall not tell it to anyone else.’

‘Well, dear?’

‘Sit comfortably, mamma; — there; like that, and let me have your hand. It’s a terrible story to have to tell.’

‘A terrible story, Grace?’

‘I mean that you must not draw away from me. I shall want to feel that you are quite close to me. Mamma, while I was at Allington, Major Grantly came there?’

‘Did he, my dear?’

‘Yes, mamma.’

‘Did he know them before?’

‘No, mamma; not at the Small House. But he came there — to see me. He asked me — to be his wife. Don’t move, mamma.’

‘My darling child! I won’t move, dearest. Well; and what did you say to him? God bless him, at any rate. May God bless him, because he has seen with a true eye, and felt with a noble instinct. It is something, Grace, to have been wooed by such a man at such a time.’

‘Mamma, it did make me feel proud; it did.’

‘You had known him well before — of course? I knew that you and he were friends, Grace.’

‘Yes, we were friends. I always liked him. I used not to know what to think about him. Miss Anne Prettyman told me that it would be so; and once before I had thought so myself.’

‘And had you made up your mind what to say to him?’

‘Yes, I did then. But I did not say it.’

‘Did not say what you had made up your mind to say?’

‘That was before all this happened to papa.’

‘I understand you, dearest.’

‘When Miss Anne Prettyman told me that I should be ready with my answer, and when I saw that Miss Prettyman herself used to let him come to the house and seemed to wish that I should see him when he came, and when he once was — so very gentle and kind, and when he said that he wanted me to love Edith — Oh, mamma!’

‘Yes, darling, I know. Of course you loved him.’

‘Yes, mamma. And I do love him. How could one not love him?’

‘I love him — for loving you.’

‘But, mamma, one is bound not to do a harm to anyone that one loves. So when he came to Allington I told him that I could not be his wife.’

‘Did you, my dear?’

‘Yes; I did. Was I not right? Ought I to go to him to bring a disgrace upon all the family, just because he is so good that he asks me? Shall I injure him because he wants to do me a service?’

‘If he loves you, Grace, the service he will require will be your love in return.’

‘That is all very well, mamma — in books; but I do not believe it in reality. Being in love is very nice, and in poetry they make it out to be everything. But I do not think I should make Major Grantly happy if when I became his wife his own father and mother would not see him. I know I should be so wretched, myself, that I could not live.’

‘But would it be so?’

‘Yes; — I think it would. And the archdeacon is very rich, and can leave all his money away from Major Grantly if he pleases. Think what I should feel if I were the cause of Edith losing her fortune!’

‘But why do you suppose these terrible things?’

‘I have a reason for supposing them. This must be a secret. Miss Anne Prettyman wrote to me.’

‘I wish Miss Anne Prettyman’s hand had been in the fire.’

‘No, mamma; no, she was right. Would not I have wished, do you think, to have learned all the truth about the matter before I answered him? Besides, it made no difference. I could have made no other answer while papa is under such a terrible ban. It is no time for us to think of being in love. We have got to love each other. Isn’t it so, mamma?’ The mother did not answer in words, but slipping down on her knees before her child threw her arms found her girl’s body in a close embrace. ‘Dear mamma; dearest mamma; this is what I wanted; — that you should love me.’

‘Love you, my angel!’

‘And trust me; — and that we should understand each other, and stand close by each other. We can do so much to comfort one another; — but we cannot comfort other people.’

‘He must know that best himself, Grace; — but what did he say more to you?’

‘I don’t think he said anything more.’

‘He just left you then?’

‘He said one thing more.’

‘And what was that?’

‘He said — but he had no right to say it.’

‘What was it, dear?’

‘That he knew that I loved him, and that therefore — But, mamma, do not think of that. I will never be his wife — never, in opposition to his family.’

‘But he did not take your answer?’

‘He must take it, mamma. He shall take it. If he can be stubborn, so can I. If he knows how to think of me more than himself, I can think of him and Edith more than of myself. That is not quite all, mamma. Then he wrote to me. There is his letter.’

Mrs Crawley read the letter. ‘I suppose you answered it?’

‘Yes, I answered it. It was very bad, my letter. I should think after all that he will never want to have anything more to say to me. I tried for two days, but I could not write a nice letter.’

‘But what did you say?’

‘I don’t in the least remember. It does not in the least signify now, but it was such a bad letter.’

‘I daresay it was very nice.’

‘It was terribly stiff, and all about a gentleman.’

‘All about a gentleman! What do you mean, my dear?’

‘Gentleman is such a frightful word to have to use to a gentleman; but I did not know what else to say. Mamma, if you please, we won’t talk about it; — not about the letter, I mean. As for him, I’ll talk about him for ever if you like it. I don’t mean to be a bit broken-hearted.’

‘It seems to me that he is a gentleman.’

‘Yes, mamma, that he is; and it is that which makes me so proud. When I think of it, I can hardly hold myself. But now I’ve told you everything, and I’ll go away, and go to bed.’

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