The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LIV

The Clerical Commission

It was at last arranged that the five clergymen selected should meet at Dr Tempest’s house at Silverbridge to make inquiry and report to the bishop whether the circumstances connected with the cheque for twenty pounds were of such a nature as to make it incumbent on him to institute proceedings against Mr Crawley in the Court of Arches. Dr Tempest had acted upon the letter which he had received from the bishop, exactly as though there had been no meeting at the palace, no quarrel to the death between him and Mrs Proudie. He was a prudent man, gifted with the great power of holding his tongue, and had not spoken a word, even to his wife, of what had occurred. After such a victory our old friend the archdeacon would have blown his own trumpet loudly among his friends. Plumstead would have heard of it instantly, and the paean would have been sung out in the neighbouring parishes of Eiderdown, Stogpingum, and St Ewolds. The High Street of Barchester would have known of it, and the very bedesmen in Hiram’s Hospital would have told among themselves the terrible discomfiture of the bishop and his lady. But Dr Tempest spoke no word of it to anybody. He wrote letters to the two clergymen named by the bishop, and himself selected two others out of his own rural deanery, and suggested to them all a day at which a preliminary meeting should be held at his own house. The two who were invited by him were Mr Oriel, the rector of Greshamsbury, and Mr Robarts, the vicar of Framley. They all assented to the proposition, and on the day named assembled themselves at Silverbridge.

It was now April, and the judges were to come into Barchester before the end of the month. What then could be the use of this ecclesiastical inquiry exactly at the same time? Men and women declared that it was a double prosecution, and that a double prosecution for the same offence was a course of action opposed to the feelings and the traditions of the country. Miss Anne Prettyman went so far as to say that it was unconstitutional, and Mary Walker declared that no human being except Mrs Proudie would ever have been guilty of such cruelty. ‘Don’t tell me about the bishop, John,’ she said, ‘the bishop is a cypher.’ ‘You may be sure Dr Tempest would not have a hand in it if it were not right,’ said John Walker. ‘My dear Mr John,’ said Miss Anne Prettyman, ‘Dr Tempest is as hard as a bar of iron, and always was. But I am surprised that Mr Robarts should take a part in it.’

In the meantime, at the palace, Mrs Proudie had been reduced to learn what was going on from Mr Thumble. The bishop had never spoke a word to her respecting Mr Crawley since that terrible day on which Dr Tempest had witnessed his imbecility — having absolutely declined to answer when his wife had mentioned the subject. ‘You won’t speak to me about it, my dear?’ she had said to him, when he had thus declined, remonstrating more in sorrow than in anger. ‘No; I won’t,’ the bishop had replied; ‘there has been a great deal too much talking about it. It has broken my heart already, I know.’ These were very bad days in the palace. Mrs Proudie affected to be satisfied with what was being done. She talked to Mr Thumble about Mr Crawley and the cheque, as though everything were arranged quite to her satisfaction — as though everything, indeed, had been arranged by herself. But everybody about the house could see that the manner of the woman was altogether altered. She was milder than usual with the servants and was almost too gentle in her usage of her husband. It seemed as though something had happened to frighten her and break her spirit, and it was whispered about through the palace that she was afraid that the bishop was dying. As for him, he hardly left his own sitting-room in these days, except when he joined the family at breakfast and at dinner. And in his study he did little or nothing. He would smile when his chaplain went to him, and give some trifling verbal directions; but for days he scarcely ever took a pen in his hands, and though he took up many books he read hardly a page. How often he told his wife in those days that he was broken-hearted, no one but his wife ever knew.

‘What has happened that you should speak like that?’ she said to him once. ‘What has broken your heart?’

‘You,’ he replied. ‘You; you have done it.’

‘Oh, Tom,’ she said, going back into the memory of very far distant days in her nomenclature, ‘how can you speak to me so cruelly as that! That it should come to that between you and me after all!’

‘Why did you not go away and leave me that day when I told you?’

‘Did you ever know a woman who liked to be turned out of a room in her own house?’ said Mrs Proudie. When Mrs Proudie had condescended so far as this, it must be admitted that in those days there was a great deal of trouble in the palace.

Mr Thumble, on the day before he went to Silverbridge, asked for an audience with the bishop in order that he might receive instructions. He had been strictly desired to do this by Mrs Proudie, and had not dared to disobey her injunctions — thinking, however, himself, that his doing so was inexpedient. ‘I have got nothing to say to you about it; not a word,’ said the bishop crossly. ‘I thought that perhaps you might like to see me before I started,’ pleaded Mr Thumble very humbly. ‘I don’t want to see you at all,’ said the bishop; ‘you are going there to exercise your own judgment — if you have got any; and you ought not to come to me.’ After that Mr Thumble began to think that Mrs Proudie was right, and that the bishop was near dissolution.

Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful went over to Silverbridge together in a gig, hired from the Dragon of Wantly — as to the cost of which there arose among them a not unnatural apprehension which amounted to dismay. ‘I don’t mind it so much for once,’ said Mr Quiverful, ‘but if many such meetings are necessary, I for one can’t afford it, and I won’t do it. A man with my family can’t allow himself to be money out of pocket in that way.’ ‘It is hard,’ said Mr Thumble. ‘She ought to pay it herself, out of her own pocket,’ said Mr Quiverful. He had had many concerns with the palace when Mrs Proudie was in the full swing of her dominion, and had not as yet begun to suspect that there might possibly be change.

Mr Oriel and Mr Robarts were already sitting with Dr Tempest when the other two clergymen were shown into the room. When the first greetings were over luncheon was announced, and while they were eating not a word was said about Mr Crawley. The ladies of the family were not present, and the five clergymen sat round the table alone. It would have been difficult to have got together five gentlemen less likely to act with one mind and spirit; — and perhaps it was all the better for Mr Crawley that it should be so. Dr Tempest himself was a man peculiarly capable of exercising the function of a judge in the matter, had he sat alone as a judge; but he was one who would be almost sure to differ from others who sat as equal assessors with him. Mr Oriel was a gentleman at all points; but he was very shy, very reticent, and altogether uninstructed in the ordinary daily intercourse of man with man. Anyone knowing him might have predicted of him that he would be sure on such an occasion as this to be found floundering in a sea of doubts. Mr Quiverful was the father of a large family, whose life had been devoted to fighting a cruel world on behalf of his wife and children. That fight he had fought bravely; but it had left him no energy for any other business. Mr Thumble was a poor creature — so poor a creature that, in spite of a small restless ambition to be doing something, he was almost cowed by the hard lines of Dr Tempest’s brow. The Rev. Mr Robarts was a man of the world, and a clever fellow, and did not stand in awe of anybody — unless it might be, in a very moderate degree, of his patrons the Luftons, whom he was bound to respect; but his cleverness was not of the cleverness needed by a judge. He was essentially a partisan, and would be sure to vote against the bishop in such a matter as this now before him. There was a palace faction in the diocese, and an anti-palace faction. Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful belonged to one, and Mr Oriel and Mr Robarts to the other. Mr Thumble was too weak to stick to his faction against the strength of such a man as Dr Tempest. Mr Quiverful would be too indifferent to do so — unless his interest was concerned. Mr Oriel would be too conscientious to regard his own side on such an occasion as this. But Mark Robarts would be sure to support his friends and oppose his enemies, let the case be what it might. ‘Now, gentlemen, if you please, we will go into the other room,’ said Dr Tempest. They went into the other room, and there they found five chairs arranged for them round the table. Not a word had as yet been said about Mr Crawley, and no one of the four strangers knew whether Mr Crawley was to appear before them on that day or not.

‘Gentlemen,’ said Dr Tempest, seating himself at once in an armchair placed at the middle of the table, ‘I think it will be well to explain to you at first what, as I regard the matter, is the extent of the work which we are called upon to perform. It is of its nature very disagreeable. It cannot but be so, be it ever so limited. Here is a brother clergyman and a gentleman, living among us, and doing his duty, as we are told, in a most exemplary manner; and suddenly we hear that he is accused of theft. The matter is brought before the magistrates, of whom I myself was one, and he was committed for trial. There is therefore prima facie evidence of his guilt. But I do not think that we need to go into the question of his guilt at all.’ When he said this, the other four all looked up at him in astonishment. ‘I thought that we had been summoned here for that purpose,’ said Mr Robarts. ‘Not at all, as I take it,’ said the doctor. ‘Were we to commence any such inquiry, the jury would have given their verdict before we could come to any conclusion; and it would be impossible for us to oppose that verdict whether it declares this unfortunate gentleman to be innocent or to be guilty. If the jury shall say that he is innocent, there is an end of the matter altogether. He would go back to his parish amidst the sympathy and congratulations of his friends. That is what we all should wish.’

‘Of course it is,’ said Mr Robarts. They all declared that was their desire, as a matter of course; and Mr Thumble said it louder than anyone else.

‘But if he is found guilty, then will come that difficulty to the bishop, in which we are bound to give him any assistance within our power.’

‘Of course we are,’ said Mr Thumble, who, having heard his own voice once, and having liked the sound, thought that he might creep into a little importance by using it on any occasion that opened itself for him.

‘If you will allow me, sir, I will venture to state my views shortly as I can,’ said Dr Tempest. ‘That may perhaps be the most expedient course for us all in the end.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Mr Thumble. ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt.’

‘In the case of his being found guilty,’ continued the doctor, ‘there will arise the question whether the punishment awarded to him by the judge should suffice for ecclesiastical purposes. Suppose, for instance, that he should be imprisoned for two months, should he be allowed to return to his living at the expiration of that term?’

‘I think he ought,’ said Mr Robarts:—‘considering all things.’

‘I don’t see why he shouldn’t,’ said Mr Quiverful.

Mr Oriel sat listening patiently, and Mr Thumble looked up to the doctor, expecting to hear some opinion expressed by him with which he might coincide.

‘There certainly are reasons why he should not,’ said Dr Tempest; ‘though I by no means say that those reasons are conclusive in the present case. In the first place, a man who has stolen money can hardly be a fitting person to teach others not to steal.’

‘You must look to the circumstances,’ said Robarts.

‘Yes, that is true; but just bear with me for a moment. It cannot, at any rate, be thought that a clergyman should come out of prison and go to his living without any notice from his bishop, simply because he has already been punished by the common law. If this were so, a clergyman might be fined ten days running for being drunk in the street — five shillings each time — and at the end of that time might set his bishop at defiance. When a clergyman has shown himself to be utterly unfit for clerical duties, he must not be held to be protected from ecclesiastical censure or from deprivation by the action of the common law.’

‘But Mr Crawley has not shown himself to be unfit,’ said Robarts.

‘That is begging the question, Robarts,’ said the doctor.

‘Just so,’ said Mr Thumble. Then Mr Robarts gave a look at Mr Thumble, and Mr Thumble retired into his shoes.

‘That is the question as to which we are called upon to advise the bishop,’ continued Dr Tempest. ‘And I must say that I think the bishop is right. If he were to allow the matter to pass by without notice — that is to say, in the event of Mr Crawley being pronounced guilty by a jury — he would, I think, neglect in his duty. Now I have been informed that the bishop has recommended Mr Crawley to desist from his duties till the trial be over, and that Mr Crawley has declined to take the bishop’s advice.’

‘That is true,’ said Mr Thumble. ‘He altogether disregarded the bishop.’

‘I think he was quite right,’ said Mr Robarts.

‘A bishop in almost all cases is entitled to the obedience of his clergy,’ said Mr Oriel.

‘I must say I agree with you, sir,’ said Mr Thumble.

‘Be that as it may,’ continued the doctor, ‘the bishop feels that it may be his duty to oppose the return of Mr Crawley to his pulpit, and that he can oppose it in no other way than by proceeding against Mr Crawley under the Clerical Offences Act. I propose, therefore, that we should invite Mr Crawley to attend here —’

‘Mr Crawley is not coming here today, then?’ said Mr Robarts.

‘I thought it useless to ask for his attendance until we had settled on our own course of action,’ said Dr Tempest. ‘If we are all agreed, I will beg him to come here on this day week, when we will meet again. And we will then ask him whether he will submit himself to the bishop’s decision, in the event of the jury finding him guilty. If he should decline to do so, we can only then form our opinion as to what will be the bishop’s duty by reference to the facts as they are elicited at the trial. If Mr Crawley should choose to make to us any statement as to his own case, of course we shall be willing to receive it. That is my idea of what had better be done; and now, if any gentleman has any other proposition to make, of course we shall be pleased to hear him.’ Dr Tempest, as he said this, looked round upon his companions, as though his pleasure, under the circumstances suggested by himself, would be very doubtful.

‘I don’t suppose we can do anything better,’ said Mr Robarts. ‘I think it a pity, however, that any steps should have been taken by the bishop before the trial.’

‘The bishop has been placed in a very delicate position,’ said Mr Thumble, pleading for his patron.

‘I don’t know the meaning of the word “delicate”,’ said Robarts. ‘I think his duty was very clear, to avoid interference whilst the matter is, so to say, before the judge.’

‘Nobody has anything else to propose?’ said Dr Tempest. ‘Then I will write to Mr Crawley and you, gentlemen, will perhaps do me the honour of meeting me here at one o’clock this day week.’ Then the meeting was over, and the four clergymen having shaken hands with Dr Tempest in the hall, all promised that they would return on that day week. So far, Dr Tempest had carried his point exactly as he might have done had the four gentlemen been represented by the chairs on which they sat.

‘I shan’t come again all the same, unless I know where I’m to get my expenses,’ said Mr Quiverful, as he got into the gig.

‘I shall come,’ said Mr Thumble, ‘because I think it a duty. Of course it is a hardship.’ Mr Thumble liked the idea of being joined with such men as Dr Tempest, and Mr Oriel, and Mr Robarts, and would any day have paid the expense of a gig from Barchester to Silverbridge out of his own pocket, for the sake of sitting with such benchfellows on any clerical inquiry.

‘One’s first duty is to one’s own wife and family,’ said Mr Quiverful.

‘Well, yes; in a way, of course, that is quite true, Mr Quiverful; and when we know how very inadequate are the incomes of the working clergy, we cannot but feel ourselves to be, if I may so say, put upon, when we have to defray the expenses incidental to special duties out of our own pockets. I think, you know — I don’t mind saying this to you — that the palace should have provided us with a chaise and pair.’ This was ungrateful on the part of Mr Thumble, who had been permitted to ride miles upon miles to various outlying clerical duties upon the bishop’s worn-out cob. ‘You see,’ continued Mr Thumble, ‘you and I go specially to represent the palace, and the palace ought to remember that. I think there ought to have been a chaise and pair; I do indeed.’

‘I don’t care much what the conveyance is,’ said Mr Quiverful; ‘but I certainly shall pay nothing more out of my own pocket; — certainly I shall not.’

‘The result will be that the palace will be thrown over if they don’t take care,’ said Mr Thumble. ‘Tempest, however, seems to be pretty steady. Tempest, I think, is steady. You see he is getting tired of parish work, and would like to go into the close. That’s what he is looking out for. Did you ever see such a fellow as that Robarts — just look at him; — quite indecent, wasn’t he? He thinks he can have his own way in everything just because his sister is married to a lord. I do hate to see all that meanness.’

Mark Robarts and Caleb Oriel left Silverbridge in another gig by the same road, and soon passed their brethren, as Mr Robarts was in the habit of driving a large, quick-stepping horse. The last remarks were being made as the dust from the vicar of Framley’s wheels saluted the faces of the two slower clergymen. Mr Oriel had promised to dine and sleep at Framley, and therefore returned in Mr Robarts’s gig.

‘Quite unnecessary, all this fuss; don’t you think so?’ said Mr Robarts.

‘I am not quite sure,’ said Mr Oriel. ‘I can understand that the bishop may have found a difficulty.’

‘The bishop indeed! The bishop doesn’t care two straws about it. It’s Mrs Proudie! She has put her finger on the poor man’s neck because he has not put his neck beneath her feet; and now she thinks she can crush him — as she would crush you or me, if it were in her power. That’s about the long and the short of the bishop’s solicitude.’

‘You are very hard on him,’ said Mr Oriel.

‘I know him; — and am not all hard on him. She is hard upon him if you like. Tempest is fair. He is very fair, and as long as no one meddles with him he won’t do amiss. I can’t hold my tongue always, but I often know that it is better that I should.’

Dr Tempest said not a word to anyone on the subject, not even in his own defence. And yet he was sorely tempted. On the very day of the meeting he dined at Mr Walker’s in Silverbridge, and there submitted to be talked to by all the ladies and most of the gentlemen present, without saying a word in his own defence. And yet a word or two would have been so easy and so conclusive.

‘Oh, Dr Tempest,’ said Mary Walker, ‘I am so sorry that you have joined the bishop.’

‘Are you, my dear?’ said he. ‘It is generally thought well that a parish clergyman should agree with his bishop.’

‘But you know, Mr Tempest, that you don’t agree with your bishop generally.’

‘Then it is the more fortunate that I shall be able to agree with him on this occasion.’

Major Grantly was present at the dinner, and ventured to ask the doctor in the course of the evening what he thought would be done. ‘I should not venture to ask such a question, Dr Tempest,’ he said, ‘unless I had the strongest possible reason to justify my anxiety.’

‘I don’t know that I can tell you anything, Major Grantly,’ said the doctor. ‘We did not even see Mr Crawley today. But the real truth is that he must stand or fall as the jury shall find him guilty or not guilty. It would be the same in any profession. Could a captain in the army hold up his head in his regiment after he had been tried and found guilty of stealing twenty pounds?’

‘I don’t think he could,’ said the major.

‘Neither can a clergyman,’ said the doctor. ‘The bishop can neither make him nor mar him. It is the jury that must do it.’

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