The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter V

What the World Thought of it

Opinion at Silverbridge, at Barchester, and throughout the county, was very much divided as to the guilt or innocence of Mr Crawley. Up to the time of Mrs Crawley’s visit to Silverbridge, the affair had not been much discussed. To give Mr Soames his due he had be no means been anxious to press the matter against the clergyman; but he had been forced to go on with it. While the first cheque was missing, Lord Lufton had sent him a second cheque for the money, and the loss had thus fallen upon his lordship. The cheque had of course been traced, and inquiry had of course been made as to Mr Crawley’s possession of it. When that gentleman declared that he had received it from Mr Soames, Mr Soames had been forced to contradict and to resent such assertion. When Mr Crawley had afterwards said that the money had come to him from the dean, and when the dean had shown that this was also untrue, Mr Soames, confident as he was that he had dropped the pocket-book at Mr Crawley’s house, could not but continue the investigation. He had done so with as much silence as the nature of the work admitted. But by the day of the magistrate’s meeting at Silverbridge, the subject had become common through the county, and men’s minds were much divided.

All Hogglestock believed their parson to be innocent; but then all Hogglestock believed him to be mad. At Silverbridge the tradesmen with whom he had dealt, and to whom he had owed, and still owed, money, all declared him to be innocent. They knew something of the man personally, and could not believe him to be a thief. All the ladies at Silverbridge, too, were sure of his innocence. It was to them impossible that such a man should have stolen twenty pounds. ‘My dear,’ said the eldest Miss Prettyman to poor Grace Crawley, ‘in England, where the laws are good, no gentleman is ever made out to be guilty when he is innocent; and your papa, of course, is innocent. Therefore you should not trouble yourself.’ ‘It will break papa’s heart,’ Grace had said, and she did trouble herself. But the gentlemen in Silverbridge were made of sterner stuff, and believed the man to be guilty, clergyman and gentleman though he was. Mr Walker, who among the lights in Silverbridge was the leading light, would not speak a word upon the subject to anybody; and then everybody, who was anybody, knew that Mr Walker was convinced of the man’s guilt. Had Mr Walker believed him to be innocent, his tongue would have been ready enough. John Walker, who was in the habit of laughing at his father’s good nature, had no doubt upon the subject. Mr Winthrop, Mr Walker’s partner, shook his head. People did not think much of Mr Winthrop, excepting certain unmarried ladies; for Mr Winthrop was a bachelor, and had plenty of money. People did not think much of Mr Winthrop; but still on this subject he might know something, and when he shook his head he manifestly intended to indicate guilt. And Dr Tempest, the rector of Silverbridge, did not hesitate to declare his belief in the guilt of the incumbent of Hogglestock. No man reverences a clergyman, as a clergyman, so slightly as a brother clergyman. To Dr Tempest it appeared to be neither very strange nor very terrible that Mr Crawley should have stolen twenty pounds. ‘What is a man to do,’ he said, ‘when he sees his children starving? He should not have married on such a preferment as that.’ Mr Crawley had married, however, long before he got the living at Hogglestock.

There were two Lady Luftons — mother-in-law and daughter-in-law — who at this time were living together at Framley Hall, Lord Lufton’s seat in the county of Barset, and there were both thoroughly convinced of Mr Crawley’s innocence. The elder lady had lived much among clergymen, and could hardly, I think, by any means have been brought to believe in the guilt of any man who had taken upon himself the orders of the Church of England. She had also known Mr Crawley personally for some years, and was one of those who could not admit to herself that anyone was vile who had been near to herself. She believed intensely in the wickedness of the outside world, of the world which was far away from herself, and of which she never saw anything; but they who were near to her, and who had even become dear to her, or who even had been respected by her, were made, as it were, saints in her imagination. They were brought into the inner circle, and could hardly be expelled. She was an old woman who thought all evil of those she did not know, and all good of those whom she did know; and as she did know Mr Crawley, she was quite sure that he had not stolen Mr Soames’s twenty pounds. She did know Mr Soames also; and thus there was a mystery for the unravelling of which she was very anxious. And the young Lady Lufton was equally sure, and perhaps with better reason for such certainty.

She had, in truth, known more of Mr Crawley personally, than anyone in the county, unless it was the dean. The younger Lady Lufton, the present Lord Lufton’s wife, had sojourned at one time in Mr Crawley’s house, amidst the Crawley poverty, living as they lived, and nursing Mrs Crawley through an illness which had wellnigh been fatal to her; and the younger Lady Lufton believed in Mr Crawley — as Mr Crawley believed in her.

‘It is quite impossible, my dear,’ the old woman said to her daughter-in-law.

‘Quite impossible, my lady.’ The dowager was always called ‘my lady’, both by her daughter and her son’s wife, except when in the presence of their children, when she was addressed as ‘grandmamma’. ‘Think how well I knew him. It’s no use talking of evidence. No evidence would make me believe it.’

‘Nor me; and I think it a great shame that such a report should be spread about.’

‘I suppose Mr Soames could not help himself?’ said the younger lady, who was not herself very fond of Mr Soames.

‘Ludovic says that he has only done what he was obliged to do.’ The Ludovic spoken of was Lord Lufton.

This took place in the morning, but in the evening the affair was again discussed at Framley Hall. Indeed, for some days, there was hardly any other subject held to be worthy of discussion in the county. Mr Robarts, the clergyman of the parish and the brother of the younger Lady Lufton, was dining at the hall with his wife, and the three ladies had together expressed their perfect conviction of the falseness of the accusation. But when Lord Lufton and Mr Robarts were together after the ladies had left them, there was much less certainty of this expressed. ‘By Jove,’ said Lord Lufton,’ ‘I don’t know what to think of it. I wish with all my heart that Soames had said nothing about it, and that the cheque had passed without remark.’

‘That was impossible. When the banker sent to Soames, he was obliged to take the matter up.’

‘Of course he was. But I’m sorry that it was so. For the life of me, I can’t conceive how the cheque got into Crawley’s hands.’

‘I imagine it had been lying in the house, and that Crawley had come to think that it was his own.’

‘But, my dear Mark,’ said Lord Lufton, ‘excuse me if I say that that’s nonsense. What do we do when a poor man has come to think that another man’s property is his own? We send him to prison for making the mistake.’

‘I hope they won’t sent Crawley to prison.’

‘I hope so too; but what is a jury to do?’

‘You think it will go to a jury, then?’

‘I do,’ said Lord Lufton. ‘I don’t see how the magistrates can save themselves from committing him. It is one of those cases in which everyone concerned would wish to drop it if it were only possible. But it is not possible. On the evidence, as one sees it at present, one is bound to say that it is a case for the jury.’

‘I believe that he is mad,’ said the brother parson.

‘He always was, as far as I could learn,’ said the lord. ‘I never knew him myself. You do, I think?’

‘Oh yes, I know him.’ and the vicar of Framley became silent and thoughtful as the memory of a certain interview between himself and Mr Crawley came back into his mind. At that time the waters had nearly closed over his head and Mr Crawley had given him some assistance. When the gentlemen had again found the ladies, they kept their own doubts to themselves; for at Framley Hall, as at present tenanted, female voices and female influences predominated over those which came from the other sex.

At Barchester, the cathedral city of the county in which the Crawleys lived, opinion was violently against Mr Crawley. In the city Mrs Proudie, the wife of the bishop, was the leader of opinion in general, and she was very strong in her belief of the man’s guilt. She had known much of clergymen all her life, as it behoved a bishop’s wife to do, and she had none of that mingled weakness and ignorance which taught so many ladies in Barchester to suppose that an ordained clergyman could not become a thief. She hated old Lady Lufton with all her heart, and old Lady Lufton hated her as warmly. Mrs Proudie would say frequently that Lady Lufton was a conceited old idiot, and Lady Lufton would declare as frequently that Mrs Proudie was a vulgar virago. It was known at the palace in Barchester that kindness had been shown to the Crawleys by the family at Framley Hall, and this alone would have been sufficient to make Mrs Proudie believe that Mr Crawley could be guilty of any crime. And as Mrs Proudie believed, so did the bishop believe. ‘It is a terrible disgrace to the diocese,’ said the bishop, shaking his head, and patting his apron as he sat by his study fire.

‘Fiddlestick!’ said Mrs Proudie.

‘But, my dear — a beneficed clergyman.’

‘You must get rid of him; that’s all. You must be firm whether he be acquitted or convicted.’

‘But if he’s acquitted, I cannot get rid of him, my dear.’

‘Yes, you can, if you are firm. And you must be firm. Is it not true that he has been disgracefully involved in debt ever since he has been there; that you have been pestered by letters from unfortunate tradesmen who cannot get their money from him?’

‘That is true, my dear, certainly.’

‘And is that kind of thing to go on? He cannot come to the palace as all clergymen should do, because he has got no clothes to come in. I saw him once about the lanes, and I never set my eyes on such an object in all my life! I would not believe that the man was a clergyman till John told me. He is a disgrace to the diocese, and he must be got rid of. I feel sure of his guilt, and I hope he will be convicted. One is bound to hope that a guilty man should be convicted. But if he escapes conviction, you must sequestrate the living because of the debts. The income is enough to get an excellent curate. It would just do for Thumble.’ To all of which the bishop made no reply, but simply nodded his head and patted his apron. He knew that he could not do exactly what his wife required of him; but if it should so turn out that poor Crawley was found to be guilty, then the matter would be comparatively easy.

‘It should be an example to us, that we should look to our own steps, my dear,’ said the bishop.

‘That’s all very well,’ said Mrs Proudie, ‘but it has become your duty, and mine too, to look upon the steps of other people; and that duty we must do.’

‘Of course, my dear, of course.’ That was the tone in which the question of Mr Crawley’s alleged guilt was discussed at the palace.

We have already heard what was said on the subject at the house of Archdeacon Grantly. As the days passed by, and as other tidings came in, confirmatory of those which had before reached him, the archdeacon felt himself unable not to believe in the man’s guilt. And the fear which he entertained as to his son’s intended marriage with Grace Crawley, tended to increase the strength of that belief. Dr Grantly had been a very successful man in the world, and on all ordinary occasions had been able to show that bold front with which success endows a man. But he still had his moments of weakness, and feared greatly lest anything of misfortune should touch him and mar the comely roundness of his prosperity. He was very wealthy. The wife of his bosom had been to him all that a wife should be. His reputation in the clerical world stood very high. His two sons had hitherto done well in the world, not only as regarded their happiness, but as to marriage also, and as to social standing. But how great would be the fall if his son should at last marry the daughter of a convicted thief! How would the Proudies rejoice over him — the Proudies who had been crushed to the ground by the success of the Hartletop alliance; and how would the low-church curates, who swarmed in Barsetshire, gather together and scream in delight over his dismay! ‘But why should we say that he is guilty?’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘It hardly matters as far as we are concerned, whether they find him guilty or not,’ said the archdeacon; ‘if Henry marries that girl my heart will be broken.’

But perhaps to no one except the Crawleys themselves had the matter caused so much terrible anxiety as to the archdeacon’s son. He had told his father that he had made an offer of marriage to Grace Crawley, and he had told the truth. But there are perhaps few men who make such offers in direct terms without having already said and done that which makes such offers simply necessary as the final closing of an accepted bargain. It was so at any rate between Major Grantly and Miss Crawley, and Major Grantly acknowledged to himself that it was so. He acknowledged also to himself that as regarded Grace herself he had no wish to go back from his implied intentions. Nothing that either his father or mother might say would shake him in that. But could it be his duty to bind himself to the family of a convicted thief? Could it be right that he should disgrace his father and his mother and his sister and his one child by such a connexion? He had a man’s heart, and the poverty of the Crawleys caused him no solicitude. But he shrank from the contamination of a prison.

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