The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LVII

A Double Pledge

The archdeacon, as he walked across from the Court to the parsonage, was very thoughtful and his steps were very slow. The idea of seeing Miss Crawley herself had been suggested to him suddenly, and he had to determine how he could bear himself towards her, and what he would say to her. Lady Lufton had beseeched him to be gentle with her. Was the mission one in which gentleness would be possible? Must it not be his object to make this young lady understand that she could not be right in desiring to come into his family and share in all his good things when she had no good things of her own — nothing but evil things to bring with her? And how could this be properly explained to the young lady in gentle terms? Must he not be round with her, and give her to understand in plain words — the plainest which he could use — that she would not get his good things, though she would most certainly impose the burden of all her evil things on the man whom she was proposing to herself as a husband. He remembered very well as he went, that he had been told that Miss Crawley had herself refused the offer, feeling herself to be unfit for the honour tendered to her; but he suspected the sincerity of such a refusal. Calculating in his own mind the unreasonably great advantages which would be conferred on such a young lady as Miss Crawley by a marriage with his son, he declared to himself that any girl must be very wicked indeed who should expect, or even accept, so much more than was her due; — but nevertheless he could not bring himself to believe that any girl, when so tempted, would, in sincerity, decline to commit this great wickedness. If he was to do any good by seeing Miss Crawley, must it not consist in a proper explanation to her of the selfishness, abomination, and altogether damnable blackness of such wickedness as this on the part of a young woman in her circumstances? ‘Heaven and earth!’ he must say, ‘here are you, without a penny in your pocket, with hardly decent raiment on your back, with a thief for your father, and you think that you are to come and share all the wealth that the Grantlys have amassed, that you are to have a husband with broad acres, a big house, and game preserves, and become one of a family whose name has never been touched by a single accusation — no, not a suspicion? No; — injustice such as that shall never be done betwixt you and me. You may wring my heart, and you may ruin my son; but the broad acres and the big house, and the game preserves, and the rest of it, shall never be your reward for doing do.’ How was all that to be told effectively to a young woman in gentle words? And then how was a man in the archdeacon’s position to be desirous of gentle words — gentle words which would not be efficient — when he knew well in his heart of hearts that he had nothing but threats on which to depend. He had no more power of disinheriting his own son for such an offence as that contemplated than he had of blowing out his own brains, and he knew that it was so. He was a man incapable of such persistency of wrath against one whom he loved. He was neither cruel enough nor strong enough to do such a thing. He could only threaten to do it, and make what best use he might have of threats, whilst threats might be of avail. In spite of all that he had said to his wife, to Lady Lufton, and to himself, he knew very well that if his son did sin in this way he, the father, would forgive the sin of the son.

In going across from the front gate of the Court to the parsonage there was a place where three roads met, and on this spot there stood a finger-post. Round this finger-post there was now pasted a placard, which at once arrested the archdeacon’s eye:—‘Cosby Lodge — Sale of furniture — Growing crops to be sold on the grounds. Three hunters. A brown gelding warranted for saddle or harness!’— The archdeacon himself had given the brown gelding to his son, as a great treasure. —‘Three Alderney cows, two cow-calves, a low phaeton, a gig, two ricks of hay.’ In this fashion were proclaimed in odious details all those comfortable additions to a gentleman’s house in the country, with which the archdeacon was so well acquainted. Only last November he had recommended his son to buy a certain clod-crusher, and the clod-crusher had of course been bought. The bright blue paint upon it had as yet not given way to the stains of ordinary farmyard muck and mire; — and here was the clod-crusher advertised for sale! The archdeacon did not want his son to leave Cosby Lodge. He knew well enough that his son need not leave Cosby Lodge. Why had the foolish fellow been in such a hurry with his hideous ill-conditioned advertisements? Gentle! How was he in such circumstances to be gentle? He raised his umbrella and poked angrily at the disgusting notice. The iron ferrule caught the paper at a chink in the post, and tore it from the top to the bottom. But what was the use? A horrid ugly bill lying torn in such a spot would attract only more attention than one fixed to a post. He could not condescend, however, to give it further attention, but passed on to the parsonage. Gentle indeed!

Nevertheless Archdeacon Grantly was a gentleman, and never yet had dealt more harshly with any woman than we have sometimes seen him to do with his wife — when he would say to her an angry word or two with a good deal of marital authority. His wife, who knew well what his angry words were worth, never even suggested to herself that she had the cause for complaint on that head. Had she known that the archdeacon was about to undertake such a mission as this which he had now in hand, she would not have warned him to be gentle. She, indeed, would have strongly advised him not to undertake the mission, cautioning him that the young lady would probably get the better of him.

‘Grace, my dear,’ said Mrs Robarts, coming up into the nursery in which Miss Crawley was sitting with the children, ‘come out here a moment, will you?’ Then Grace left the children and went out into the passage. ‘My dear, there is a gentleman in the drawing-room who asks to see you.’

‘A gentleman, Mrs Robarts! What gentleman?’ But Grace, though she asked the questions, conceived that the gentleman must be Henry Grantly. Her mind did not suggest to her the possibility of any other gentleman coming to see her.

‘You must not be surprised, or allow yourself to be frightened.’

‘Oh, Mrs Robarts, who is it?’

‘It is Major Grantly’s father.’

‘The archdeacon?’

‘Yes, dear; Archdeacon Grantly. He is in the drawing-room.’

‘Must I see him, Mrs Robarts?’

‘Well, Grace — I think you must. I hardly know how you can refuse. He is an intimate friend of everybody here at Framley.’

‘What will he say to me?’

‘Nay; that I cannot tell. I suppose you know —’

‘He has come, no doubt, to bid me having nothing to say to his son. He need not have troubled himself. But he may say what he likes. I am no coward, and I will go to him.’

‘Stop a moment, Grace. Come into my room for an instant. The children have pulled your hair about.’ But Grace, though she followed Mrs Robarts into the bedroom, would have nothing done to her hair. She was too proud for that — and we may say, also, too little confident in any good which such resources might effect on her behalf. ‘Never mind about that,’ she said. ‘What am I to say to him?’ Mrs Robarts paused before she replied, feeling that the matter was one which required some deliberation. ‘Tell me what I must say to him?’ said Grace, repeating her question.

‘I hardly know what your own feelings are, my dear.’

‘Yes, you do. You do know. If I had all the world to give, I would give it all to Major Grantly.’

‘Tell him that, then.’

‘No, I will not tell him that. Never mind about my frock, Mrs Robarts. I do not care for that. I will tell him that I love his son and his granddaughter too well to injure them. I will tell him nothing else. I might as well go now.’ Mrs Robarts, as she looked at Grace, was astonished at the serenity of her face. And yet when her hand was in the drawing-room door Grace hesitated, looked back, and trembled. Mrs Robarts blew a kiss to her from the stairs; and then the door was opened, and the girl found herself in the presence of the archdeacon. He was standing on the rug, with his back to the fire, and his heavy ecclesiastical hat was placed on the middle of the round table. The hat caught Grace’s eyes at the moment of her entrance, and she felt that all the thunders of the Church were contained within it. And then the archdeacon himself was so big and so clerical, and so imposing. Her father’s aspect was severe, but the severity of her father’s face was essentially different from that expressed by the archdeacon. Whatever impression came from her father came from the man himself. There was no outward adornment there; there was, so to say, no wig about Mr Crawley. Now the archdeacon was not exactly adorned; but he was so thoroughly imbued with high clerical belongings and sacerdotal fitnesses as to appear always as a walking, sitting, or standing impersonation of parsondom. To poor Grace, as she entered the room, he appeared to be a personation of parsondom in its severest aspect.

‘Miss Crawley, I believe?’ said he.

‘Yes, sir,’ said she, curtseying ever so slightly, as she stood before him at some considerable distance.

His first idea was that his son must be indeed a fool if he was going to give up Cosby Lodge and all Barsetshire, and retire to Pau, for so slight and unattractive a creature as he now saw before him. But this idea stayed with him only for a moment. As he continued to gaze at her during the interview he came to perceive that there was very much more than he had perceived at the first glance, and that his son, after all, had had eyes to see, though perhaps not a heart to understand.

‘Will you take a chair?’ he said. Then Grace sat down, still at a distance from the archdeacon, and he kept his place upon the rug. He felt that there would be a difficulty in making her feel the full force of his eloquence all across the room; and yet he did not know how to bring himself nearer to her. She became suddenly very important in his eyes, and he was to some extent afraid of her. She was so slight, so meek, so young; and yet there was about her something so beautifully feminine — and, withal, so like a lady — that he felt instinctively that he could not attack her with harsh words. Had her lips been full, and her colour high, and had her eyes rolled, had she put forth against him any of that ordinary artillery with which youthful feminine batteries are charged, he would have been ready to rush to combat. But this girl, about whom his son had gone mad, sat there as passively as though she were conscious of the possession of no artillery. There was not a single gun fired from beneath her eyelids. He knew not why, but he respected his son now more than he had respected him for the last two months; — more, perhaps, than he had ever respected him before. He was an eager as ever against the marriage; — but in thinking of his son in what he said and did after these few moments of the interview, he ceased to think of him with contempt. The creature before him was a woman who grew in his opinion till he began to feel that she was in truth fit to be the wife of his son — if only she were not a pauper, and the daughter of a mad curate, and alas! too probably, of a thief. Though his feeling towards the girl had changed, his duty to himself, his family, and his son, was the same as ever, and therefore he began his task.

‘Perhaps you had not expected to see me?’ he said.

‘No, indeed, sir.’

‘Nor had I intended when I came over her to call on my old friend, Lady Lufton, to come up to this house. But as I knew that you were here, Miss Crawley, I thought that upon the whole it would be better that I should see you.’ Then he paused as though he expected that Grace would say something; but Grace had nothing to say. ‘Of course you must understand, Miss Crawley, that I should not venture to speak to you on this subject unless I myself were very closely interested in it.’ He had not yet said what was the subject, and it was not probable that Grace should give him any assistance by affecting to understand this without direct explanation from him. She sat quite motionless, and did not even aid him by showing by her altered colour that she understood his purpose. ‘My son has told me,’ said he, ‘that he has professed an attachment for you, Miss Crawley.’

Then there was another pause, and Grace felt that she was compelled to say something. ‘Major Grantly has been very good to me,’ she said, and then she hated herself for having uttered words which were so tame and unwomanly in their spirit. Of course her lover’s father would despise her for having so spoken. After all it did not much signify. If he would only despise her and go away, it would perhaps be for the best.

‘I do not know about being good,’ said the archdeacon. ‘I think he is good. I think he means to be good.’

‘I am sure he is good,’ said Grace warmly.

‘You know he has a daughter, Miss Crawley?’

‘Oh, yes; I know Edith well.’

‘Of course his first duty is to her. Is it not? and he owes much to his family. Do you not feel that?’

‘Of course I feel it, sir.’ The poor girl had always heard Dr Grantly spoken of as the archdeacon, but she did not in the least know what she ought to call him.

‘Now, Miss Crawley, pray listen to me; I will speak to you very openly. I must speak to you openly, because it is my duty on my son’s behalf — but I will endeavour to speak to you kindly also. Of yourself I have heard nothing but what is favourable, and there is no reason as yet why I should not respect and esteem you.’ Grace told herself that she would do nothing which ought to forfeit his respect and esteem, but that she did not care two straws whether his respect and esteem were bestowed on her or not. She was striving after something very different from that. ‘If my son were to marry you, he would greatly injure himself, and would very greatly injure his child.’ Again he paused. He had told her to listen, and she was resolved that she would listen — unless he would say something which might make a word from her necessary at the moment. ‘I do not know whether there does at present exist any engagement between you.’

‘There is no engagement, sir.’

‘I am glad of that — very glad of it. I do not know whether you are aware that my son is dependent upon me for the greater part of his income. It is so, and as I am so circumstanced with my son, of course, I feel the closest possible concern in his future prospects.’ The archdeacon did not know how to explain clearly why the fact of his making his son an annual allowance should give him a warmer interest in his son’s affairs than he might have had had the major been altogether independent of him; but he trusted that Grace would understand this by her own natural lights. ‘Now, Miss Crawley, of course I cannot wish to say a word that will hurt your feelings. But there are reasons —’

‘I know,’ said she, interrupting him. ‘Papa is accused of stealing money. He did not steal it, but people think he did. And then we are so very poor.’

‘You do understand me then — and I feel grateful; I do indeed.’

‘I don’t think our being poor ought to signify a bit,’ said Grace. ‘Papa is a gentleman, and a clergyman, and mamma is a lady.’

‘But, my dear —’

‘I know I ought not to be your son’s wife as long as people think that papa stole the money. If he had stolen it, I ought never to be Major Grantly’s wife — or anybody else’s. I know that very well. And as for Edith — I would sooner die than do anything that would be bad to her.’

The archdeacon had now left the rug, and advanced till he was almost close to the chair on which Grace was sitting. ‘My dear,’ he said,’ what you say does you very much honour — very much honour indeed.’ Now that he was close to her, he could look into her eyes, and he could see the exact form of her features, and could understand — could not help understanding — the character of her countenance. It was a noble face, having in it nothing that was poor, nothing that was mean, nothing that was shapeless. It was a face that promised infinite beauty, with a promise that was on the very verge of fulfilment. There was a play about her mouth as she spoke and a curl in her nostrils as the eager words came from her, which almost made the selfish father give way. Why had they not told him that she was such a one as this? Why had not Henry himself spoken of the speciality of her beauty? No man in England knew better than the archdeacon the difference between beauty of one kind and beauty of another kind in a woman’s face — the one beauty, which comes from health and youth and animal spirits, and which belongs to the miller’s daughter, and the other beauty, which shows itself in fine lines and a noble spirit — the beauty which comes from breeding. ‘What you say does you very much honour indeed,’ said the archdeacon.

‘I should not mind at all about being poor,’ said Grace.

‘No; no; no,’ said the archdeacon.

‘Poor as we are — and no clergyman, I think, was ever so poor — I should have done as your son asked me at once, if it had been only that — because I love him.’

‘If you love him you will not wish to injure him.’

‘I will not injure him. Sir, there is my promise.’ And now as she spoke she rose from her chair, and standing close to the archdeacon, laid her hand very lightly on the sleeve of his coat. ‘There is my promise. As long as people say that papa stole the money, I will never marry your son. There.’

The archdeacon was still looking down at her, and feeling the slight touch of her fingers, raised his arm a little as though to welcome the pressure. He looked into her eyes, which were turned eagerly towards his, and when doing so was quite sure that the promise would be kept. It would have been a sacrilege — he felt that it would have been a sacrilege — to doubt such a promise. He almost relented. His soft heart, which was never very well under his own control, gave way so far that he was nearly moved to tell her that, on his son’s behalf, he acquitted her of the promise. What could any man’s son do better than have such a woman for his wife? It would have been of no avail had he made her such offer. The pledge she had given had not been wrung from her by his influence, nor could his influence have availed aught with her towards the alteration of her purpose. It was not the archdeacon who had taught her that it would not be her duty to take disgrace into the house of the man she loved. As he looked down upon her face two tears formed themselves in his eyes, and gradually trickled down his old nose. ‘My dear,’ he said, ‘if this cloud passes away from you, you shall come to us and be our daughter.’ And thus he also pledged himself. There was a dash of generosity about the man, in spite of his selfishness, which always made him desirous of giving largely to those who gave largely to him. He would fain that his gifts should be bigger, if it were possible. He longed at this moment to tell her that the dirty cheque should go for nothing. He would have done it, I think, but that it was impossible for him to speak in her presence of that which moved her so greatly.

He had contrived that her hand should fall from his arm into his grasp, and now for a moment he held it. ‘You are a good girl,’ he said —‘a dear, dear, good girl. When this cloud has passed away, you shall come to us and be our daughter.’

‘But it will never pass away,’ said Grace.

‘Let us hope that it may. Let us hope that it may.’ Then he stooped over and kissed her, and leaving the room, got out into the hall and thence into the garden, and so away, without saying a word of adieu to Mrs Robarts.

As he walked across to the Court, whither he was obliged to go, because of his chaise, he was lost in surprise at what had occurred. He had gone to the parsonage hating the girl, and despising his son. Now, as he retraced his steps, his feelings were altogether changed. He admired the girl — and as for his son, even his anger was for the moment altogether gone. He would write to his son at once and implore him to stop the sale. He would tell his son all that had occurred, or rather would make Mrs Grantly do so. In respect to his son he was quite safe. He thought at that moment that he was safe. There would be no use in hurling further threats at him. If Crawley was found guilty of stealing the money, there was the girl’s promise. If he were acquitted there was his own pledge. He remembered perfectly well that the girl had said more than this — that she had not confined her assurance to the verdict of the jury, that she had protested that she would not accept Major Grantly’s hand as long as people thought that her father had stolen the cheque; but the archdeacon felt that it would be ignoble to hold her closely to her words. The event, according to his ideas of the compact, was to depend on the verdict of the jury. If the jury should find Mr Crawley not guilty, all objection on his part to the marriage was to be withdrawn. And he would keep his word! In such case it should be withdrawn.

When he came to the rags of the auctioneer’s bill, which he had before torn down with his umbrella, he stopped a moment to consider he would act at once. In the first place he would tell his son that his threats were withdrawn, and would ask him to remain at Cosby Lodge. He would write the letter as he passed through Barchester, on his way home, so that his son might receive it on the following morning; and he would refer the major to his mother for a full explanation of the circumstances. Those odious bills must be removed from every barn-door and wall in the county. At the present moment his anger against his son was chiefly directed against his ill-judged haste in having put up those ill-omened bills. Then he paused to consider what must be his wish as to the verdict of the jury. He had pledged himself to abide by the verdict, and he could not but have a wish on the subject. Could he desire in his heart that Mr Crawley should be found guilty? He stood still for a moment thinking of this, and then he walked on, shaking his head. If it might be possible he would have no wish on the subject whatsoever.

‘Well!’ said Lady Lufton, stopping him in the passage —‘have you seen her?’

‘Yes; I have seen her.’

‘Well?’

‘She is a good girl — a very good girl. I am in a great hurry, and hardly know how to tell you more now.’

‘You say that she is a good girl.’

‘I say that she is a very good girl. An angel could not have behaved better. I will tell you some day, Lady Lufton, but I can hardly tell you now.’

When the archdeacon was gone old Lady Lufton confided to young Lady Lufton her very strong opinion that many months would not be gone before Grace Crawley would be the mistress of Cosby Lodge. ‘It will be a great promotion,’ said the old lady, with a little toss of her head. When Grace was interrogated afterwards by Mrs Robarts as to what had passed between her and the archdeacon she had very little to say as to the interview. ‘No he did not scold me,’ she replied to an inquiry from her friend. ‘There is no engagement,’ said Grace. ‘But I suppose you acknowledged, my dear, that a future engagement is quite possible?’ ‘I told him, Mrs Robarts,’ Grace answered, after hesitating for a moment, ‘that I would never marry his son as long as papa was suspected by any one in the world of being a thief. And I will keep my word.’ but she said nothing to Mrs Robarts of the pledge which the archdeacon had made to her.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/trollope/anthony/last/chapter57.html

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