The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXVIII

The Obstinacy of Mr Crawley

Dr Tempest, when he heard the news, sent immediately to Mr Robarts, begging him to come over to Silverbridge. But this message was not occasioned solely by the death of Mrs Proudie. Dr Tempest had also heard that Mr Crawley had submitted himself to the bishop, that instant advantage — and, as Dr Tempest thought — unfair advantage — had been taken of Mr Crawley’s submission, and that the pernicious Mr Thumble had been at once sent over to Hogglestock. Had these palace doings with reference to Mr Crawley been unaccompanied by the catastrophe which had happened, the doctor, much as he might have regretted them, would probably have felt that there was nothing to be done. He could not in such case have prevented Mr Thumble’s journey to Hogglestock on the next Sunday, and certainly he could not have softened the heart of the presiding genius at the palace. But things were very different now. The presiding genius was gone. Everybody at the palace would be for a while weak and vacillating. Thumble would be then thoroughly cowed; and it might at any rate be possible to make some movement in Mr Crawley’s favour. Dr Tempest, therefore, sent for Mr Robarts.

‘I’m giving you a great deal of trouble, Robarts,’ said the doctor; ‘but then you are so much younger than I am, and I’ve an idea that you would do more for this poor man than anyone else in the diocese.’ Mr Robarts of course declared that he did not begrudge his trouble, and that he would do anything in his power for the poor man. ‘I think that you should see him again, and that you should then see Thumble also. I don’t know whether you can condescend to be civil to Thumble. I could not.’

‘I am not quite sure that incivility would not be more efficacious.’

‘Very likely. There are men who are deaf as adders to courtesy, but who are compelled to obedience at once by ill-usage. Very likely Thumble is one of them; but of that you will be the best judge yourself. I would see Crawley first, and get his consent.’

‘That’s the difficulty.’

‘Then I should go without his consent, and I would see Thumble and the bishop’s chaplain Snapper. I think you might manage just at this moment, when they will all be abashed and perplexed by this woman’s death, to arrange that simply nothing shall be done. The great thing will be that Crawley should go on with the duty till the assizes. If it should happen that he goes into Barchester and is acquitted, and comes back again, the whole thing will be over, and there will be no further interference in the parish. If I were you, I think I would try it.’ Mr Robarts said that he would try it. ‘I daresay Mr Crawley will be a little stiff-necked with you.’

‘He will be very stiff-necked with me,’ said Mr Robarts.

‘But I can hardly think that he will throw away the only means he has of supporting his wife and children, when he finds that there can be no occasion for his doing so. I do not suppose that any person wishes him to throw up his work now that the poor woman has gone.’

Mr Crawley had been almost in good spirits since the last visit which Mr Thumble had made him. It seemed as though the loss of everything in the world was in some way satisfactory to him. He had now given up his living by his own doing, and had after a fashion acknowledged his guilt by this act. He had proclaimed to all around him that he did not think himself to be any longer fit to perform the sacred functions of his office. He spoke of his trial as though a verdict against him must be the result. He knew that in going into prison he would leave his wife and children dependent on the charity of their friends — on charity which they must condescend to accept, though he could not condescend to ask it. And yet he was able to carry himself now with a greater show of fortitude than had been within his power when the extent of his calamity was more doubtful. I must not ask the reader to suppose that he was cheerful. To have been cheerful under such circumstances would have been inhuman. But he carried his head on high, and walked firmly, and gave his orders with a clear voice. His wife, who was necessarily more despondent than ever, wondered at him — but wondered in silence. It certainly seemed as though the very extremity of ill-fortune was good for him. And he was very diligent with his school, passing the greater part of the morning with his children. Mr Thumble had told him that he would come on Sunday, and that he would then take charge of the parish. Up to the coming of Mr Thumble he would do everything in the parish that could be done by a clergyman with a clear spirit and a free heart. Mr Thumble should not find that spiritual weeds had grown rank in the parish because of his misfortunes.

Mrs Proudie had died on the Tuesday — that having been the day of Mr Thumble’s visit to Hogglestock — and Mr Robarts had gone over to Silverbridge, in answer to Dr Tempest’s invitation, on the Thursday. He had not, therefore, the command of much time, it being the express object to prevent the appearance of Mr Thumble at Hogglestock on the next Sunday. He had gone to Silverbridge by railway, and had, therefore, been obliged to postpone his visit to Mr Crawley till the next day; but early on the Friday morning he rode over to Hogglestock. That he did not arrive there with a broken-kneed horse, the reader may be quite sure. In all matters of that sort, Mr Robarts was ever above reproach. He rode a good horse, and drove a neat gig, and was always well-dressed. On this account Mr Crawley, though he really liked Mr Robarts, and was thankful to him for many kindnesses, could never bear his presence with perfect equanimity. Robarts was no scholar, was not a great preacher, had obtained no celebrity as a churchman — had, in fact, done nothing to merit great reward; and yet everything had been given to him with an abundant hand. Within the last twelvemonth his wife had inherited Mr Crawley did not care to know how many thousand pounds. And yet Mr Robarts had won all that he possessed by being a clergyman. Was it possible that Mr Crawley should regard such a man with equanimity? Robarts rode over with a groom behind him — really taking the groom because he knew that Mr Crawley would have no one to hold his horse for him — and the groom was the source of great offence. He come upon Mr Crawley standing at the school door, and stopping at once, jumped off his nag. There was something in the way in which he sprang out of the saddle and threw the reins to the man, which was not clerical to Mr Crawley’s eyes. No man could be so quick in the matter of a horse who spent as many hours with the poor and with the children as should be spent by a parish clergyman. It might be probable that Mr Robarts had never stolen twenty pounds — might never be accused of so disgraceful a crime — but, nevertheless, Mr Crawley had his own ideas, and made his own comparisons.

‘Crawley’ said Robarts, ‘I am so glad to find you at home.’

‘I am generally to be found in the parish,’ said the perpetual curate of Hogglestock.

‘I know you are,’ said Robarts, who knew the man well, and cared nothing for his friend’s peculiarities when he felt his own withers to be unwrung. ‘But you might have been down at Hoggle End with the brickmakers, and then, I would have had to go after you.’

‘I should have grieved —’ began Crawley; but Robarts interrupted him at once.

‘Let us go for a walk, and I’ll leave the man with the horses. I’ve something special to say to you, and I can say it better out here than in the house. Grace is quite well, and sends her love. She is growing to look so beautiful!’

‘I hope she may grow in grace with God,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘She is as good a girl as ever I knew. By-the-bye, you had Henry Grantly over here the other day?’

‘Major Grantly, whom I cannot name without expressing my esteem for him, did do us the honour of calling upon us not very long since. If it be with reference to him that you have taken this trouble —’

‘No, no; not at all. I’ll allow him and the ladies to fight out that battle. I’ve not the least doubt in the world how that will go. When I’m told that she made a complete conquest of the archdeacon, there cannot be any doubt about that.’

‘A conquest of the archdeacon!’

But Mr Robarts did not wish to have to explain anything further about the archdeacon. ‘Were you not terribly shocked, Crawley,’ he asked, ‘when you heard of the death of Mrs Proudie?’

‘It was sudden and very awful,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘Such deaths are always shocking. Not more so, perhaps, as regards the wife of a bishop., than with any other woman.’

‘Only we happen to know her.’

‘No doubt the finite and meagre nature of our feelings does prevent us from extending our sympathies to those whom we have not seen in the flesh. It should not be so, and would not with one who had nurtured his heart with the proper care. And we are prone to permit an evil worse than that to canker our regards and to foster and to mar our solicitudes. Those who are in high station strike us more by their joys and sorrows than do the poor and lowly. Were some young duke’s wife, wedded but the other day, to die, all England would put on a show of mourning — nay, would feel some true gleam of pity; but nobody cares for the widowed brickmaker seated with his starving infant on his cold hearth.’

‘Of course we hear more of the big people,’ said Robarts.

‘Ay; and think more of them. But do not suppose, sir, that I complain of this man or that woman because his sympathies, or hers, runs out of that course which my reason tells me they should hold. The man with whom it would not be so would simply be a god among men. It is in his perfection as a man that we recognise the divinity of Christ. It is in the imperfection of men that we recognise our necessity for a Christ. Yes, sir, the death of the poor lady at Barchester was very sudden. I hope that my lord bears with becoming fortitude the heavy misfortune. They say that he was a man much beholden to his wife — prone to lean upon her in his goings out and comings in. For such a man such a loss is more dreadful than for another.’

‘They say she led him a terrible life, you know.’

‘I am not prone, sir, to believe much of what I hear about the domesticities of other men, knowing how little any other man can know of my own. And I have, methinks, observed a proneness in the world to ridicule that dependence on a woman which every married man should acknowledge in regard to the wife of his bosom, if he cant trust her as well as love her. When I hear jocose proverbs spoken as to men such as that in this house the grey mare is the better horse, or that in that house the wife wears that garment which is supposed to denote virile command, knowing that the joke is easy, and that meekness in a man is more truly noble than the habit of stern authority, I do not allow them to go far with me in influencing my judgment.’

So spoke Mr Crawley, who never permitted the slightest interference with his own word in his own family, and who had himself been a witness of one of those scenes between the bishop and his wife in which the poor bishop had been so cruelly misused. But to Mr Crawley the thing which he himself had seen under such circumstances was as sacred as though it had come to him under the seal of confession. In speaking of the bishop and Mrs Proudie — nay, as far as was possible in thinking of them — he was bound to speak and to think as though he had not witnessed that scene in the palace study.

‘I don’t suppose that there is much doubt as to her real character,’ said Robarts. ‘But you and I need not discuss that.’

‘By no means. Such discussion would be both useless and unseemly.’

‘And just at present there is something else that I specially want to say to you. Indeed, I went to Silverbridge on the same subject yesterday, and have come here expressly to have a little conversation with you.’

‘If it be about affairs of mine, Mr Robarts, I am indeed troubled in spirit that so great labour should have fallen upon you.’

‘Never mind my labour. Indeed your saying that is a nuisance to me, because I hoped that by this time you would have understood that I regard you as a friend, and that I think nothing any trouble that I do for a friend. You position just now is so peculiar that it requires a great deal of care.’

‘No care can be of any avail to me.’

‘There I disagree with you. You must excuse me, but I do; and so does Dr Tempest. We think that you have been a little too much in a hurry since he communicated to you the result of our first meeting.’

‘As how, sir?’

‘It is, perhaps, hardly worth while for us to go into the whole question; but that man, Thumble, must not come here on next Sunday.’

‘I cannot say, Mr Robarts, that the Reverend Mr Thumble has recommended himself to me strongly either by his outward symbols of manhood or by such manifestation of inward mental gifts as I have succeeded in obtaining. But my knowledge of him has been so slight, and has been acquired in a manner so likely to bias me prejudicially against him, that I am inclined to think my opinion should go for nothing. It is, however, the fact that the bishop has nominated him to do this duty; and that, as I have myself simply notified my decision to be relieved from the care of the parish, on account of certain unfitness of my own, I am the last man who should interfere with the bishop in the choice of my temporary successor.

‘It was her choice, not his.’

‘Excuse me, Mr Robarts, but I cannot allow that assertion to pass unquestioned. I must say that I have adequate cause for believing that he came here by his lordship’s authority.’

‘No doubt he did. Will you just listen to me for a moment? Ever since this unfortunate affair of the cheque became known, Mrs Proudie has been anxious to get you out of the parish. She was a violent woman, and chose to take this matter up violently. Pray hear me out before you interrupt me. There would have been no commission at all but for her.’

‘The commission is right and proper and just,’ said Mr Crawley, who could not keep himself silent.

‘Very well. Let it be so. But Mr Thumble’s coming over here is not proper or right; and you may be sure the bishop does not wish it.’

‘Let him send any other clergyman whom he may think more fitting,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘But we do not want him to send anybody.’

‘Somebody must be sent, Mr Robarts.’

‘No, not so. Let me go over and see Thumble and Snapper — Snapper, you know, is the domestic chaplain; and all that you need do is to go on with your services on Sunday. If necessary, I will see the bishop. I think you may be sure that I can manage it. If not, I will come back to you.’ Mr Robarts paused for an answer, but it seemed for a while that all Mr Crawley’s impatient desire to speak was over. He walked on silently along the lane by his visitor’s side, and when, after some five or six minutes, Robarts stood still in the road, Mr Crawley even then said nothing. ‘It cannot be but that you should be anxious to keep the income of the parish for your wife and children,’ said Mark Robarts.

‘Of course, I am anxious for my wife and children,’ Crawley answered.

‘Then let me do as I say. Why should you throw away a chance, even if it be a bad one? But here the chance is all in your favour. Let me manage it for you at Barchester.’

‘Of course I am anxious for my wife and children,’ said Crawley, repeating his words; ‘how anxious, I fancy no man can conceive who has not been hear enough to absolute want to know how terrible is its approach when it threatens those who are weak and who are very dear! But, Mr Robarts, you spoke just now of the chance of the thing — the chance of your arranging on my behalf that I should for a while longer be left in the enjoyment of the freehold of my parish. It seemeth to me that there should be no chance on such a subject; that in the adjustment of so momentous a matter there should be a consideration of right and wrong, and no consideration of aught beside. I have been growing to feel, for some weeks past, that circumstances — whether through my fault or not is an outside question as to which I will not further delay you by offering even an opinion — that unfortunate circumstances have made me unfit to remain here as guardian of the souls of the people of this parish. Then there came to me the letter from Dr Tempest — for which I am greatly beholden to him — strengthening me altogether in this view. What could I do then, Mr Robarts? Could I allow myself to think of my wife and my children when such a question as that was before me for self- discussion?’

‘I would — certainly,’ said Robarts.

‘No sir! Excuse the bluntness of my contradiction, but I feel assured that in such emergency you would look solely to duty — as by God’s help I will endeavour to do. Mr Robarts, there are many of us who in many things are much worse than we believe ourselves to be. But in other matters, and perhaps of larger moment, we can rise to ideas of duty as the need for such ideas comes to us. I say not this at all as praising myself. I speak of men as I believe that they will be found to be; — of yourself, of myself, and of others who strive to live with clean hands and a clear conscience. I do not for a moment think that you would retain your benefice at Framley if there had come upon you, after much thought, an assured conviction that you could not retain it without grievous injury to the souls of others and grievous sin to your own. Wife and children, dear as they are to you and to me — as dear to me as to you — fade from the sight when the time comes for judgment on such a matter as that!’ They were standing quite still now, facing each other, and Crawley, as he spoke with a low voice, looked straight into his friend’s eyes, and kept his hand firmly fixed on his friend’s arm.

‘I cannot interfere further,’ said Robarts.

‘No — you cannot interfere further.’ Robarts, when he told the story of the interview to his wife that evening, declared that he had never heard a voice so plaintively touching as was the voice of Mr Crawley when he uttered those last words.

They turned back to the servant and the house almost without a word, and Robarts mounted without offering to see Mrs Crawley. Nor did Mr Crawley ask him to do so. It was better now that Robarts should go. ‘May God send you through all your troubles,’ said Mr Robarts.

‘Mr Robarts, I thank you warmly for your friendship,’ said Mr Crawley. And then they parted. In about half an hour Mr Crawley returned to the house. ‘Now for Pindar, Jane,’ he said, seating himself at his old desk.

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