The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXIX

Mr Crawley’s Last Appearance in His Own Pulpit

No word or message from Mr Crawley reached Barchester throughout the week, and on the Sunday morning Mr Thumble was under a positive engagement to go out to Hogglestock, and to perform the services of the church. Dr Tempest had been quite right in saying that Mr Thumble would be awed by the death of his patroness. Such was altogether the case, and he was very anxious to escape from the task he had undertaken at her instance, if it were possible. In the first place, he had never been a favourite with the bishop himself, and had now, therefore, nothing to expect in the diocese. The crusts and bits of loaves and the morsels of broken fishes which had come his way had all come from the bounty of Mrs Proudie. And then, as regarded this special Hogglestock job, how was he to get paid for it? Whence, indeed, was he to seek repayment for the actual money which he would be out of pocket in finding his way to Hogglestock and back again? But he could not get to speak to the bishop, nor could he induce anyone who had access to his lordship to touch upon the subject. Mr Snapper avoided him as much as possible; and Mr Snapper, when he was caught and interrogated, declared that he regarded the matter as settled. Nothing could be in worse taste, Mr Snapper thought, than to undo, immediately after the poor lady’s death, work in the diocese which had been arranged and done by her. Mr Snapper expressed his opinion that Mr Thumble was bound to go to Hogglestock; and, when Mr Thumble declared petulantly the he would not stir a step out of Barchester, Mr Snapper protested that Mr Thumble would have to answer for it in this world and in the next if there was no services at Hogglestock on that Sunday. On the Saturday evening Mr Thumble made a desperate attempt to see the bishop, but was told by Mrs Draper that the bishop had positively declined to see him. The bishop himself probably felt unwilling to interfere with his wife’s doings so soon after her death! So Mr Thumble, with a heavy heart, went across to the ‘Dragon of Wantly’, and ordered a gig, resolving that the bill should be sent to the palace. He was not going to trust himself again on the bishop’s cob!

Up to Saturday evening Mr Crawley did the work of the parish, and on the Saturday evening he made an address to his parishioners from his pulpit. He had given notice among the brickmakers and labourers that he wished to say a few words to them in the schoolroom; but the farmers also heard of this and came with their wives and daughters, and all the brickmakers came and most of the labourers were there, so that there was no room for them in the schoolhouse. The congregation was much larger than was customary even in the church. ‘They will come,’ he said to his wife, ‘to hear a ruined man declare his own ruin, but they will not come to hear the word of God.’ When it was found that the persons assembled were too many for the school-room, the meeting was adjourned to the church, and Mr Crawley was forced to get into his pulpit. He said a short prayer, and then he began his story.

His story as he told it then shall not be repeated now, as the same story has been told too often already in these pages. Surely it was a singular story for a parish clergyman to tell himself in so solemn a manner. That he had applied the cheque to his own purposes, and was unable to account for its possession of it, was certain. He did not know when or how he had got it. Speaking to them then in God’s house he told them that. He was to be tried by a jury, and all he could do was to tell the jury the same. He would not expect the jury to believe him. The jury would, of course, believe only that which was proved to them. But he did expect his old friends at Hogglestock, who had known him so long, to take his word as true. That there was no sufficient excuse for his conduct, even in his own sight, this, his voluntary resignation of his parish, was, he said, sufficient evidence. Then he explained to them, as clearly as he was able, what the bishop had done, what the commission had done, and what he had done himself. That he spoke no word of Mrs Proudie to that audience need hardly be mentioned here. ‘And now, dearest friends, I leave you,’ he said, with that weighty solemnity which was so peculiar to the man, and which he was able to make singularly impressive even on such a congregation as that of Hogglestock, ‘and I trust that the heavy burden but pleasing burden of the charge which I have had over you may fall into hands better fitted than mine have been for such work. I have always known my own unfitness, by reason of the worldly cares with which I have been laden. Poverty makes the spirit poor, and the hands weak, and the heart sore — and too often makes the conscience dull. May the latter never be the case with any of you.’ Then he uttered another short prayer, and, stepping down from the pulpit, walked out of the church, with his weeping wife hanging on his arm, and his daughter following them, almost dissolved in tears. He never again entered that church as the pastor of the congregation.

There was an old lame man from Hoggle End leaning on his stick near the door as Mr Crawley went out, and with him was his old lame wife. ‘He’ll pull through yet,’ said the old man to his wife; ‘you’ll see else. He’ll pull through because he’s so dogged. It’s dogged as does it.’

On that night the position of the members of Mr Crawley’s household seemed to have changed. There was something almost of elation in his mode of speaking, and he said soft loving words, striving to comfort his wife. She, on the other hand, could say nothing to comfort him. She had been averse to the step he was taking, but had been unable to press her objection in opposition to his great argument as to duty. Since he had spoken to her in that strain which he had used with Robarts, she also had felt that she must be silent. But she could not even feign to feel the pride which comes from the performance of a duty. ‘What will he do when he comes out?’ she said to her daughter. The coming out spoken of her was the coming out of prison. It was natural enough that she should feel no elation.

The breakfast on Sunday morning was to her, perhaps, the saddest scene of her life. They sat down, the three together, at the usual hour — nine o’clock — but the morning had not been passed as was customary on Sundays. It had been Mr Crawley’s practice to go into the school from eight to nine; but on this Sunday he felt, as he told his wife, that his presence would be an intrusion there. But he requested Jane to go and perform her usual task. ‘If Mr Thumble should come,’ he said to her, ‘be submissive to him in all things.’ Then he stood at his door, watching to see at what hour Mr Thumble would reach the school. But Mr Thumble did not attend the school on that morning. ‘And yet he was very express to me in his desire that I would not meddle with the duties,’ said Mr Crawley to his wife as he stood at the door —‘unnecessarily urgent, as I may say I thought at the time.’ If Mrs Crawley could have spoken out her thoughts about Mr Thumble at that moment, her words would, I think have surprised her husband.

At breakfast there was hardly a word spoken. Mr Crawley took his crust and ate it mournfully — almost ostentatiously. Jane tried and failed, and tried to hide her failure, failing in that also. Mrs Crawley made no attempt. She sat behind her teapot, with her hands clasped and her eyes fixed. It was as though some last day had come upon her — this, the first Sunday of her husband’s degradation.

‘Mary,’ he said to her, ‘why do you not eat?’

‘I cannot,’ she replied, speaking not in a whisper, but in words which would hardly get themselves articulated. ‘I cannot. Do not ask me.’

‘For the honour of the lord, you will want the strength which bread can give you,’ he said, intimating to her that he wished her to attend the service.

‘Do not ask me to be there, Josiah. I cannot. It is too much for me.’

‘Nay, I will not press it,’ he said. ‘I can go alone.’ He uttered no word expressive of a wish that his daughter should attend the church; but when the moment came, Jane accompanied him. ‘What shall I do, mamma?’ she said, ‘if I find that I cannot bear it?’ ‘Try to bear it,’ the mother said. ‘Try for his sake. You are stronger than I am.’

The tinkle of the church bell was heard at the usual time, and Mr Crawley, hat in hand, stood ready to go forth. He had heard nothing of Mr Thumble, but had made up his mind that Mr Thumble would not trouble him. He had taken the precaution to request his churchwarden to be early at the church, so that Mr Thumble might encounter no difficulty. The church was very near to the house, and any vehicle arriving might have been heard had Mr Crawley watched closely. But no one had cared to watch Mr Thumble’s arrival at the church. He did not doubt that Mr Thumble would be at the church. With reference to the school, he had had some doubt.

But just as he was about to start he heard the clatter of a gig. Up came Mr Thumble to the door of the parsonage, and having come down from his gig was about to enter the house as though it were his own. Mr Crawley greeted him in the pathway, raising his hat from his head, and expressing a wish that Mr Thumble might not feel himself fatigued with his drive. ‘I will not ask you into my poor house,’ he said, standing in the middle of the pathway; ‘for that my wife is ill.’

‘Nothing catching, I hope?’ said Mr Thumble.

‘Her malady is of the spirit rather than of the flesh,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘Shall we go to the church?’

‘Certainly — by all means. How about the surplice?’

‘You will find, I trust, that the churchwarden has everything in readiness. I have notified him expressly your coming, with the purport that it may be so.’

‘You’ll take part in the service, I suppose?’ said Mr Thumble.

‘No part — no part whatever,’ said Mr Crawley, standing still for a moment as he spoke, and showing plainly by the tone of his voice how dismayed he was, how indignant he had been made, by so indecent a proposition. Was he giving up his pulpit to a stranger for any reason less cogent than one which made it absolutely imperative of him to be silent in that church which had so long been his own?

‘Just as you please,’ said Mr Thumble. ‘Only it’s rather hard lines to have to do it all myself after coming all the way from Barchester this morning.’ To this Mr Crawley condescended to make no reply whatever.

In the porch of the church, which was the only entrance, Mr Crawley introduced Mr Thumble to the churchwarden, simply by a wave of the hand, and then passed on with his daughter to a seat which opened upon the aisle. Jane was going on to that which she had hitherto always occupied with her mother in the little chancel; but Mr Crawley would not allow this. Neither to him nor to any of his family was there attached any longer the privilege of using the chancel of the church of Hogglestock.

Mr Thumble scrambled into the reading-desk some ten minutes after the proper time, and went through the morning service under, what must be admitted to be, serious difficulties. There were the eyes of Mr Crawley fixed upon him throughout the work, and a feeling pervaded him that everybody there regarded him as an intruder. At first this was so strong upon him that Mr Crawley pitied him, and would have encouraged him had it been possible. But as the work progressed, and as custom and the sound of his own voice emboldened him, there came to the man some touches of the arrogance which so generally accompanies cowardice, and Mr Crawley’s acute ear detected the moment when it was so. An observer might have seen that the motion of his hands was altered as they were lifted in prayer. Though he was praying, even in prayer he could not forget the man who was occupying the desk.

Then came the sermon, preached very often before, lasting exactly half-an-hour, and then Mr Thumble’s work was done. Itinerant clergymen, who preach now here and now there, as it had been the lot of Mr Thumble to do, have at any rate this relief — that they can preach their sermons often. From the communion-table Mr Thumble had stated that, in the present peculiar circumstances of the parish, there would be no second service at Hogglestock for the present; and this was all he said or did peculiar to the occasion. The moment of the service was over and he got into his gig, and was driven back to Barchester.

‘Mamma,’ said Jane, as they sat at dinner, ‘such a sermon I am sure was never heard in Hogglestock before. Indeed, you can hardly call it a sermon. It was downright nonsense.’

‘My dear,’ said Mr Crawley energetically, ‘keep your criticisms for matters that are profane; then, though they be childish and silly, they may at least be innocent. Be critical of Eurypides, if you must be critical.’ But when Jane kissed her father after dinner, she, knowing his humour well, felt assured that her remarks had not been taken altogether in ill part.

Mr Thumble was neither seen nor heard of again in the parish during the entire week.

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