The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter VII

Miss Prettyman’s Private Room

Major Grantly, when threatened by his father with pecuniary punishment, should he demean himself by such a marriage as that he had proposed to himself, had declared that he would offer his hand to Miss Crawley on the next morning. This, however, he had not done. He had not done it, partly because he did not quite believe his father’s threat, and partly because he felt that that threat was almost justified — for the present moment — by the circumstances in which Grace Crawley’s father had placed himself.

Henry Grantly acknowledged, as he drove himself home on the morning after his dinner at the rectory, that in this matter of his marriage he did owe much to his family. Should he marry at all, he owed it to them to marry a lady. And Grace Crawley — so he told himself — was a lady. And he owed it to them to bring among them as his wife a woman who should not disgrace him or them by her education, manners, or even by her personal appearance. In all these respects Grace Crawley was, in his judgment, quite as good as they had a right to expect her to be, and in some respects a great deal superior to that type of womanhood with which they had been most generally conversant. ‘If everybody had her due, my sister isn’t fit to hold a candle to her,’ he said to himself. It must be acknowledged, therefore, that he was really in love with Grace Crawley; and he declared to himself over and over again, that his family had no right to demand that he should marry a woman with money. The archdeacon’s son by no means despised money. How could he, having come forth as a bird fledged from such a nest as the rectory at Plumstead Episcopi? Before he had been brought by his better nature and true judgment to see that Grace Crawley was the greater woman of the two, he had nearly submitted himself to the twenty thousand pounds of Miss Emily Dunstable — to that, and her good-humour and rosy freshness combined. But he regarded himself as the well-to-do son of a very rich father. His only child was amply provided for; and he felt that, as regarded money, he had a right to do as he pleased. He felt this with double strength after his father’s threat.

But he had no right to make a marriage by which his family would be disgraced. Whether he was right or wrong in supposing that he would disgrace his family were he to marry the daughter of a convicted thief, it is hardly necessary to discuss here. He told himself that it would be so — telling himself also that, by the stern laws of the world, the son and the daughter must pay for the offence of the father and mother. Even among the poor, who would willingly marry the child of a man who had been hanged? But he carried the argument beyond this, thinking much of the matter, and endeavouring to think of it not only justly but generously. If the accusation against Crawley were false — if the man were being injured by an unjust charge — even if he, Grantly, could make himself think that the girl’s father had not stolen the money, then he would dare everything and go on. I do not know that his argument was good, or that his mind was logical on the matter. He ought to have felt that his own judgment as to the man’s guilt was less likely to be correct than that of those whose duty it was and would be to form and to express a judgment on the matter; and as to Grace herself, she was equally innocent whether her father were guilty or not guilty. If he were to be debarred from asking for her hand by his feelings for her father and mother, he should hardly have trusted to his own skill in ascertaining the real truth as to the alleged theft. But he was not logical, and thus, meaning to be generous, he became unjust.

He found that among those in Silverbridge whom he presumed to be best informed on such matters, there was a growing opinion that Mr Crawley had stolen the money. He was intimate with all the Walkers, and was able to find out that Mrs Walker knew that her husband believed in the clergyman’s guilt. He was by no means alone in his willingness to accept Mr Walker’s opinion as the true opinion. Silverbridge, generally, was endeavouring to dress itself in Mr Walker’s glass, and to believe as Mr Walker believed. The ladies of Silverbridge, including the Miss Prettymans, were aware that Mr Walker had been very kind both to Mr and Mrs Crawley, and argued from this that Mr Walker must think the man innocent. But Henry Grantly, who did not dare to ask a direct question of the solicitor, went cunningly to work, and closeted himself with Mrs Walker — with Mrs Walker, who knew well of the good fortune that was hovering over Grace’s head and was so nearly settling itself on her shoulders. She would have given a finger to be able to whitewash Mr Crawley in the major’s estimation. Nor must it be supposed that she told the major in plain words that her husband had convinced himself of the man’s guilt. In plain words no question was asked between them, and in plain words no opinion was expressed. But there was the look of sorrow in the woman’s eye, there was the absence of reference to her husband’s assurance that the man was innocent, there was the air of settled grief which told of her own conviction; and the major left her, convinced that Mrs Walker believed Mr Crawley to be guilty.

Then he went to Barchester; not open-mouthed with inquiry, but rather with open ears, and it seemed to him that all men in Barchester were of one mind. There was a county-club in Barchester, and at this county-club nine men out of ten were talking about Mr Crawley. It was by no means necessary that a man should ask questions on the subject. Opinion was expressed so freely that no such asking was required; and opinion in Barchester — at any rate in the county-club — seemed now to be all of one mind. There had been every disposition at first to believe Mr Crawley to be innocent. He had been believed to be innocent even after he had said wrongly that the cheque had been paid to him by Mr Soames; but he had since stated that he had received it from Dean Arabin, and that statement was also shown to be false. A man who has a cheque changed on his own behalf is bound at least to show where he got the cheque. Mr Crawley had not only failed to do this, but had given two false excuses. Henry Grantly, as he drove home to Silverbridge on the Sunday afternoon, summed up all the evidence in his own mind, and brought in a verdict of Guilty against the father of the girl whom he loved.

On the following morning he walked into Silverbridge and called at Miss Prettyman’s house. As he went along his heart was warmer towards Grace than it had ever been before. He had told himself that he was now bound to abstain, for his father’s sake, from doing that which he had told his father he certainly would do. But he knew also, that he had said that which, though it did not bind him to Miss Crawley, gave her a right to expect that he would so bind himself. And Miss Prettyman could not but be aware of what his intention had been, and could not but expect that he should not be explicit. Had he been a wise man altogether, he would probably have abstained from saying anything at the present moment — a wise man, that is, in the ways and feelings of the world in such matters. But, as there are men who will allow themselves all imaginable latitude in their treatment of women, believing that the world will condone any amount of fault of that nature, so there are other men, and a class of men which on the whole is the more numerous of the two, who are tremblingly alive to the danger of censure on this head — and to the danger of censure not only from others but from themselves also. Major Grantly had done that which made him think it imperative upon him to do something further, and do that something at once.

Therefore he started off on the Monday morning after breakfast and walked into Silverbridge, and as he walked he built various castles in the air. Why should he not marry Grace — if she would have him — and take her away beyond the reach of her father’s calamity? Why should he not throw over his own people altogether, money, position, society, and all, and give himself up to love? Were he to do so, men might say that he was foolish, but no one could hint that he was dishonourable. His spirit was high enough to teach him to think that such conduct on his part would have in it something of magnificence; but, yet, such was not his purpose. In going to Miss Prettyman it was his intention to apologise for not doing this magnificent thing. His mind was quite made up. Nevertheless he built castles in the air.

It so happened that he encountered the younger Miss Prettyman in the hall. It would not at all have suited him to reveal to her the purport of his visit, or ask her to assist his suit or receive his apologies. Miss Anne Prettyman was too common a personage in the Silverbridge world to be fit for such employment. Miss Anne Prettyman was, indeed, herself submissive to him, and treated him with the courtesy which is due to a superior being. He therefore simply asked her whether he could be allowed to see her sister.

‘Surely, Major Grantly; — that is, I think so. It is a little early, but I think she can receive you.’

‘It is early, I know; but as I want to say a word or two on business —’

‘Oh, on business. I am sure she will see you on business; she will only be too proud. If you will be kind enough to step in here for two minutes.’ Then Miss Anne, having deposited the major in the little parlour, ran upstairs with her message to her sister. ‘Of course it’s about Grace Crawley’ she said to herself as she went. ‘It can’t be about anything else. I wonder what he’s going to say. If he’s going to pop, and the father in all this trouble, he’s the finest fellow that ever trod.’ Such were her thoughts as she tapped at the door and announced in the presence of Grace that there was somebody in the hall.

‘It’s Major Grantly,’ whispered Anne, as soon as Grace had shut the door behind her.

‘So I suppose by your telling her not to go into the hall. What has he come to say?’

‘How on earth can I tell you that, Annabella? But I suppose he can have only one thing to say after all that has come and gone. He can only have come with one object.’

‘He wouldn’t have come to me for that. He would have asked to see herself.’

‘She never goes out now, and he can’t see her.’

‘Or he would have gone to them over at Hogglestock,’ said Miss Prettyman. ‘But of course he must come up now he is here. Would you mind telling him? Of shall I ring the bell?’

‘I’ll tell him. We need not make more fuss than necessary, with the servants, you know. I suppose I’d better not come back with him?’

There was a tone of supplication in the younger sister’s voice as she made the last suggestion, which ought to have melted the heart of the elder; but it was unavailing. ‘As he has asked to see me, I think you had better not,’ said Annabella. Miss Anne Prettyman bore her cross meekly, offered no argument on the subject, and returning to the little parlour where she had left the major, brought him upstairs, and ushered him into her sister’s room without even entering it again, herself.

Major Grantly was as intimately acquainted with Miss Anne Prettyman as a man under thirty may well be with a lady nearer fifty than forty, who is not specially connected with him by any family tie; but of Miss Prettyman he knew personally very much less. Miss Prettyman, as has before been said, did not go out, and was therefore not common to the eyes of the Silverbridgians. She did occasionally see her friends in her own house, and Grace Crawley’s lover, as the major had come to be called, had been there on more than one occasion; but of real personal intimacy between them there had hitherto existed none. He might have spoken, perhaps a dozen words to her in his life. He had now more than a dozen to speak to her, but he hardly knew how to commence them.

She had got up and curtseyed, and had then taken his hand and asked him to sit down. ‘My sister tells me that you want to see me,’ she said in her softest, mildest voice.

‘I do, Miss Prettyman. I want to speak to you about a matter that troubles me very much — very much indeed.’

‘Anything that I can do, Major Grantly —’

‘Thank you, yes. I know that you are very good, or I should not have ventured to come and see you. Indeed I shouldn’t trouble you now, of course, if it was only about myself. I know very well what a great friend you are to Miss Crawley.’

‘Yes, I am. We love Grace dearly here.’

‘So do I,’ said the major bluntly; ‘I love her dearly, too.’ Then he paused, as though he thought that Miss Prettyman ought to take up the speech. But Miss Prettyman seemed to think quite differently, and he was obliged to go on. ‘I don’t know whether you have ever heard about it or noticed it, or — or — or —’ He felt that he was very awkward, and he blushed. Major as he was, he blushed as he sat before the woman, trying to tell his story, but not knowing how to tell it. ‘The truth is, Miss Prettyman, I have done all but ask her to be my wife, and now has come this terrible affair about her father.’

‘It is a terrible affair, Major Grantly; very terrible.’

‘By Jove, you may say that!’

‘Of course, Mr Crawley is as innocent in the matter as you or I are.’

‘You think so, Miss Prettyman?’

‘Think so! I feel sure of it. What; a clergyman of the Church of England, a pious, hard-working country gentleman, whom we have known among us by his good works for years, suddenly turn thief, and pilfer a few pounds! It is not possible, Major Grantly. And the father of such a daughter, too! It is not possible. It may do for men of business to think so, lawyers and such like, who are obliged to think in accordance with the evidence, as they call it; but to my mind the idea is monstrous. I don’t know how he got it, and I don’t care; but I’m quite sure he did not steal it. Whoever heard of anybody becoming so base as that all at once?’

The major was startled by her eloquence, and by the indignant tone of voice in which it was expressed. It seemed to tell him that she would give him no sympathy in that which he had come to say to her, and to upbraid him already in that he was not prepared to do the magnificent thing of which he had thought when he had been building his castles in the air. Why should he not do the magnificent thing? Miss Prettyman’s eloquence was so strong that it half convinced him that the Barchester Club and Mr Walker had come to a wrong conclusion after all.

‘And how does Miss Crawley bear it?’ he asked, desirous of postponing for a while any declaration of his own purpose.

‘She is very unhappy, of course. Not that she thinks evil of her father.’

‘Of course she does not think him guilty.’

‘Nobody thinks him so in this house, Major Grantly,’ said the little woman, very imperiously. ‘But Grace is, naturally enough, very sad; — very sad indeed. I do not think I can ask you to see her today.’

‘I was not thinking of it,’ said the major.

‘Poor, dear girl! It is a great trial for her. Do you wish me to give her any message, Major Grantly?’

The moment had now come in which he must say that which he had come to say. The little woman waited for an answer, and as he was there, within her power as it were, he must speak. I fear that what he said will not be approved by any strong-minded person. I fear that our lover will henceforth be considered by such a one as being a weak, wishy-washy man, who had hardly any mind of his own to speak of — that he was a man of no account, as the poor people say. ‘Miss Prettyman, what message ought I to give her?’

‘Nay, Major Grantly, how can I tell you that? How can I put words into your mouth?’

‘It isn’t the words,’ he said; ‘but the feelings.’

‘And how can I tell the feelings in your heart?’

‘Oh, as for that, I know what my feelings are. I do love her with all my heart; — I do, indeed. A fortnight ago I was only thinking whether she would accept me, and whether she would mind having Edith to take care of.’

‘She is very fond of Edith — very fond indeed.’

‘Is she?’ said the major, more distracted than ever. Why should he not do the magnificent thing after all? ‘But it is a great charge for a girl when she marries.’

‘It is a great charge — a very great charge. It is for you to think whether you should entrust so great a charge to one so young.’

‘I have no fear about that at all.’

‘Nor should I have any — as you ask me. We have known Grace well, thoroughly, and are quite sure that she will do her duty in that state of life to which it may please God to call her.’

The major was aware when this was said to him that he had not come to Miss Prettyman for a character of the girl he loved; and yet he was not angry at receiving it. He was neither angry, nor even indifferent. He accepted the character most gratefully, though he felt that he was being led away from his purpose. He consoled himself for this however, by remembering that the path which Miss Prettyman was now leading him, led to the magnificent, and to those pleasant castles in the air which he had been building as he walked into Silverbridge. ‘I am quite sure that she is all that you say,’ he replied. ‘Indeed I had made up my mind about that long ago.’

‘And what can I do for you, Major Grantly?’

‘You think that I ought not to see her?’

‘I will ask her, if you please. I have such trust in her judgment that I should leave her altogether to her own discretion.’

The magnificent thing must be done, and the major made up his mind accordingly. Something of regret came over his spirit as he thought of a father-in-law disgraced and degraded, and of his own father broken-hearted. But now there was hardly any alternative left to him. And was it not the manly thing for him to do? He had loved the girl before this trouble had come upon her, and was he not bound to accept the burden which his love had brought with it? ‘I will see her,’ he said, ‘at once, if you will let me, and ask her to be my wife. But I must see her alone.’

Then Miss Prettyman paused. Hitherto, she had undoubtedly been playing her fish cautiously, or rather her young friend’s fish — perhaps I may say cunningly. She had descended to artifice on behalf of the girl whom she loved, admired, and pitied. She had seen some way into the man’s mind, and had been partly aware of his purpose — of his infirmity of purpose, of his double purpose. She had perceived that a word from her might help Grace’s chance, and had led the man on till he had committed himself, at any rate to her. In doing this she had been actuated by friendship rather than by abstract principle. But now, when the moment had come in which she must decide upon some action, she paused. Was it right, for the sake of either of them, that an offer of marriage should be made at such a moment as this? It might be very well, in regard to some future time, that the major should have so committed himself. She saw something of the man’s spirit, and believed that, having gone so far — having so far told his love, he would return to his love hereafter, let the result of the Crawley trial be what it might. But — but, this could be no proper time for love-making. Though Grace loved the man, as Miss Prettyman knew well, though Grace loved the child, having allowed herself to long to call it her own, though such a marriage could be the making of Grace’s fortune as those who loved her could hardly have hoped that it should ever have been made, she would certainly refuse the man, if he were to propose to her now. She would refuse him, and then the man would be free; — free to change his mind if he saw fit. Considering all these things, craftily in the exercise of her friendship, too cunningly, I fear, to satisfy the claims of a high morality, she resolved that the major had better not see Miss Crawley at the present moment. Miss Prettyman paused before she replied, and, when she did speak, Major Grantly had risen from his chair and was standing with his back to the fire. ‘Major Grantly,’ she said, ‘you shall see if you please, and if she pleases; but I doubt whether her answer at such a moment as this would be that which you would wish to receive.’

‘You think she would refuse me?’

‘I do not think she would accept you now. She would feel — I am sure she would feel, that these hours of her father’s sorrow are not hours in which love should be either offered or accepted. You shall, however, see her if you please.’

The major allowed himself a moment for thought; and as he thought he sighed. Grace Crawley had become more beautiful in his eyes than ever, was endowed by these words from Miss Prettyman with new charms and brighter virtues than he had seen before. Let come what might he would ask her to be his wife on some future day; if he did not ask her now. For the present, perhaps, he had better be guided by Miss Prettyman. ‘Then I will not see her,’ he said.

‘I think that would be the wiser course.’

‘Of course you knew before this that I— loved her?’

‘I thought so, Major Grantly.’

‘And that I intended to ask her to be my wife?’

‘Well; since you put the question to me so plainly, I must confess that as Grace’s friend I should not quite have let things go on as they have gone — though I am not at all disposed to interfere with any girl whom I believe to be pure and good as I know her to be — but still I should hardly have been justified in letting things go on as they have gone, if I had not believed that such was your purpose.’

‘I wanted to set myself right with you, Miss Prettyman.’

‘You are right with me — quite right’; and she got up and gave him her hand. ‘You are a fine, noble-hearted gentleman, and I hope that our Grace may live to be your happy wife, and the mother of your darling child, and the mother of other children. I do not see how a woman could have a happier lot in life.’

‘And will you give Grace my love?’

‘I will tell her at any rate that you have been here, and that you have inquired after her with the greatest kindness. She will understand what that means without any word of love.’

‘Can I do anything for her — or her father; I mean in the way of money? I don’t mind mentioning it to you, Miss Prettyman.’

‘I will tell her that you are ready to do it, if anything can be done. For myself I feel no doubt that the mystery will be cleared up at last; and then, if you will come here, we shall be so glad to see you. — I shall at least.’

Then the major went, and Miss Prettyman herself actually descended with him into the hall, and bade him farewell most affectionately before her sister and two of the maids who came out to open the door. Miss Anne Prettyman, when she saw the great friendship with which the major was dismissed, could not contain herself, but asked most impudent questions, in a whisper indeed, but in such a whisper that any sharp-eared maid-servant could hear and understand them. ‘Is it settled,’ she asked when her sister had ascended only the first flight of stairs; —‘has he popped?’ The look with which her elder sister punished and dismayed the younger, I would not have borne for twenty pounds. She simply looked, and said nothing, but passed on. When she had regained her room she rang the bell, and desired to ask the servant to ask Miss Crawley to be good enough to step to her. Poor Miss Anne retired discomforted into the solitude of one of the lower rooms, and sat for some minutes all alone, recovering from the shock of her sister’s anger. ‘At any rate, he hasn’t popped,’ she said to herself, as she made her way back to the school.

After that Miss Prettyman and Miss Crawley were closeted together for about an hour. What passed between them need not be repeated here word for word; but it may be understood that Miss Prettyman said no more than she ought to have said, and that Grace understood all that she ought to have understood.

‘No man ever behaved with more considerate friendship, or more like a gentleman,’ said Miss Prettyman.

‘I am sure he is very good, and I am so glad he did not ask to see me,’ said Grace. Then Grace went away, and Miss Prettyman sat awhile in thought, considering what she had done, not without some stings of conscience.

Major Grantly as he walked home was not altogether satisfied with himself, though he gave himself credit for some diplomacy which I do not think he deserved. He felt that Miss Prettyman and the world in general, should the world in general ever hear anything about it, would give him credit for having behaved well; and that he had obtained this credit without committing himself to the necessity of marrying the daughter of a thief, should things turn out badly in regard to the father. But — and this but robbed him of all the pleasure which comes from real success — but he had not treated Grace Crawley with the perfect generosity which love owes, and he was in some degree ashamed of himself. He felt, however, that he might probably have Grace, should he choose to ask for her when this trouble should have passed by. ‘And I will,’ he said to himself, as he entered the gate of his own paddock, and saw his child in her perambulator before the nurse. ‘And I will ask her, sooner or later, let things go as they may.’ Then he took the perambulator under his own charge for half-an-hour, to the satisfaction of the nurse, of the child, and of himself.

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