The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXX

Mrs Arabin is Caught

One morning about the middle of April Mr Toogood received a telegram from Venice which caused him instantly to leave his business in Bedford Row and take the first train for Silverbridge. ‘It seems to me that this job will be a deal of time and very little money,’ said his partner to him, when Toogood on the spur of the moment was making arrangements for his sudden departure and uncertain period of absence. ‘That’s about it,’ said Toogood. ‘A deal of time, some expense, and no returns. It is not the kind of business a man can live upon, is it?’ The partner growled, and Toogood went. But we must go with Mr Toogood down to Silverbridge, and as we cannot make the journey in this chapter, we will just indicate his departure and then go back to John Eames, who, as will be remembered, was just starting for Florence when we last saw him.

Our dear old friend Johnny had been rather proud of himself as he started from London. He had gotten an absolute victory over Sir Raffle Buffle, and that alone was gratifying to his feelings. He liked the excitement of a journey, and especially a journey to Italy; and the importance of the cause of his journey was satisfactory to him. But above all things he was delighted at having found that Lily Dale was pleased at his going. He had seen clearly that she was much pleased, and that she had made something of a hero of him because of his alacrity in the cause of his cousin. He had partially understood — and had understood in a dim sort of way — that his want of favour in Lily’s eyes had come from some deficiency of his own in this respect. She had not found him to be a hero. She had known him first as a boy, with boyish belongings around him, and she had seen him from time to time as he became a man, almost with too much intimacy for the creation of that love with which he wished to fill her heart. His rival had come before her eyes for the first time with all the glories of Pall Mall heroism about him, and Lily in her weakness had been conquered by them. Since that she had learned how weak she had been — how silly, how childish, she would say to herself when she allowed her memory to go back to the details of her own story; but not the less on that account did she feel the want of something heroic in a man before she could teach herself to look upon him as more worthy of her regard than other men. She had still unconsciously hoped in regard to Crosbie, but now that hope had been dispelled as unconsciously, by simply by his appearance. There had been moments in which John Eames had almost risen to the necessary point — had almost made good his footing on the top of some moderate, but still sufficient mountain. But there had still be a succession of little tumbles — unfortunately slips for which he himself should not always have been held responsible; and he had never quite stood upright on his pinnacle, visible to Lily’s eyes as being really excelsior. Of all this John Eames himself had an inkling which had often made him uncomfortable. What the mischief was it she wanted of him; and what was he to do? The days for plucking glory from the nettle danger were clean gone by. He was well dressed. He knew a good many of the right sort of people. He was not in debt. He had saved an old nobleman’s life once upon a time, and had been a good deal talked about on that score. He had even thrashed the man who had ill-treated her. His constancy had been as the constancy of Jacob! What was it that she wanted of him? But in a certain way he did know what was wanted; and now, as he started for Florence, intending to stop nowhere till he reached that city, he hoped that by this chivalrous journey he might even yet achieve the thing necessary.

But on reaching Paris he heard tidings of Mrs Arabin which induced him to change his plans and make for Venice instead of for Florence. A banker at Paris, who whom he had brought a letter, told him that Mrs Arabin would now be found at Venice. This did not perplex him at all. It would have been delightful to have seen Florence — but was more delightful still to see Venice. His journey was the same as far as Turin; but from Turin he proceeded through Milan to Venice, instead of going to Bologna to Florence. He had fortunately come armed with an Austrian passport — as was necessary in those bygone days of Venice’s thraldom. He was almost proud of himself, as though he had done something great, when he tumbled in to his inn at Venice, without having been in bed since he left London.

But he was barely allowed to swim in a gondola, for on reaching Venice he found that Mrs Arabin had gone back to Florence. He had been directed to the hotel which Mrs Arabin had used, and was there told that she had started the day before. She had received some letter, from her husband as the landlord thought, and had done so. That was all the landlord knew. Johnny was vexed, but became a little prouder than before as he felt it to be his duty to go on to Florence before he went to bed. There would be another night in a railway carriage, but he would live through it. There was just time to have a tub, and a breakfast, to swim in a gondola, to look at the outside of the Doge’s palace, and to walk up and down the piazza before he started again. It was hard work, but I think he would have been pleased had he heard that Mrs Arabin had retreated from Florence to Rome. Had such been the case, he would have folded his cloak around him, and have gone on — regardless of brigands — thinking of Lily, and wondering whether anybody else had ever done so much before without going to bed. As it was, he found that Mrs Arabin was at the hotel in Florence — still in bed, as he had arrived early in the morning. So he had another tub, another breakfast, and sent up his card —‘Mr John Eames’— and across the top of it he wrote, ‘has come from England about Mr Crawley.’ Then he threw himself on a sofa in the hotel reading-room, and went fast to sleep.

John had found an opportunity of talking to a young lady in the breakfast-room, and had told her of his deeds. ‘I only left London on Tuesday night, and I have come here taking Venice on the road.’

‘Then you have travelled fast,’ said the young lady.

‘I haven’t seen a bed, of course,’ said John.

The young lady immediately afterwards told her father. ‘I suppose he must be one of the Foreign Office messengers,’ said the young lady.

‘Anything but that,’ said the gentleman. ‘People never talk about their own trades. He’s probably a clerk with a fortnight’s leave of absence, seeing how many towns he can do in the time. It’s the usual way of travelling nowadays. When I was young and there were no railways, I remember going from Paris to Vienna without sleeping.’ Luckily for his present happiness, John did not hear this.

He was still fast asleep when a servant came to him from Mrs Arabin to say that she would see him at once. ‘Yes, yes; I’m quite ready to go on,’ said Johnny, jumping up, and thinking of the journey to Rome. But there was no journey to Rome before him. Mrs Arabin was almost in the next room, and there he found her.

The reader will understand that they had never met before, and hitherto knew nothing of each other. Mrs Arabin had never heard the name of John Eames till John’s card was put into her hands, and would not have known of his business with her had he not written those few words upon it. ‘You have come about Mr Crawley?’ she said to him eagerly. ‘I have heard from my father that somebody was coming.’

‘Yes, Mrs Arabin; as hard as I could travel. I had expected to find you at Venice.’

‘Have you been to Venice?’

‘I have just arrived from Venice. They told me at Paris I should find you here. However, that does not matter, as I have found you here. I wonder whether you can help us?’

‘Do you know Mr Crawley? Are you a friend of his?’

‘I never saw him in my life; but he married my cousin.’

‘I gave him the cheque, you know,’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘What!’ exclaimed Eames, literally almost knocked backwards by the easiness of the words which contained a solution for so terrible a difficulty. The Crawley case had assumed such magnitude, and the troubles of the Crawley family had been so terrible, that it seemed to him to be almost sacrilegious that words so simply uttered should suffice to cure everything. He had hardly hoped — had at least barely hoped — that Mrs Arabin might be able to suggest something which would put them all on a track towards the discovery of the truth. But he found that she had the clue in her hand, and that the clue was one which required no further delicacy of investigation. There would be nothing more to unravel; no journey to Jerusalem would be necessary!

‘Yes,’ said Mrs Arabin, ‘I gave it to him. They have been writing to my husband about it, and never wrote to me; and till I received a letter about it from my father, and another from my sister, at Venice the day before yesterday, I knew nothing of the particulars of Mr Crawley’s trouble.’

‘Had you not heard that he had been taken before the magistrates?’

‘No; not so much even as that. I had seen in “Galignani” something about a clergyman, but I did not know what clergyman; and I heard that there was something wrong about Mr Crawley’s money, but there has always been something wrong about money with poor Mr Crawley; and as I knew that my husband had been written to also, I did not interfere, further than to ask the particulars. My letters have followed me about, and I only heard at Venice, just before I came here, what was the nature of the case.’

‘And did you do anything?’

‘I telegraphed at once to Mr Toogood, who I understand is acting as Mr Crawley’s solicitor. My sister sent me his address.’

‘He is my uncle.’

‘I telegraphed to him, telling him that I had given Mr Crawley the cheque, and then I wrote to Archdeacon Grantly giving him the whole history. I was obliged to come here before I could return home, but I intended to start this evening.’

‘And what is the whole history?’ asked John Eames.

The history of the gift of the cheque was very simple. It has been told how Mr Crawley in his dire distress had called upon his old friend at the deanery asking for pecuniary assistance. This he had done with so much reluctance that his spirit had given way while he was waiting in the dean’s library, and he had wished to depart without accepting what the dean was quite willing to bestow upon him. From this cause it had come to pass there had been no time for explanatory words, even between the dean and his wife — from whose private funds had in truth come the money which had been given to Mr Crawley. For the private wealth of the family belonged to Mrs Arabin, and not to the dean; and was left entirely in Mrs Arabin’s hands, to be disposed of as she might please. Previously to Mr Crawley’s arrival at the deanery this matter had been discussed between the dean and his wife, and it had been agreed between them that a sum of fifty pounds should be given. It should be given by Mrs Arabin, but it was thought that the gift would come with more comfort to the recipient from the hands of his old friend than from those of his wife. There had been much discussion between them as to the mode in which this might be done with the least offence to the man’s feelings — for they knew Mr Crawley and his peculiarities well. At last it was agreed that the notes should be put into an envelope, which envelope the dean should have ready with him. But when the moment came the dean did not have the envelope ready, and was obliged to leave the room to seek his wife. And Mrs Arabin explained to John Eames that even she had not had it ready, and had been forced to go to her own desk to fetch it. Then, at the last moment, with the desire of increasing the good to be done to people who were so terribly in want, she put the cheque for twenty pounds, which was in her possession as money of her own, along with the notes, and in this way the cheque had been given by the dean to Mr Crawley. ‘I shall never forgive myself for not telling the dean,’ she said. ‘Had I done that all this trouble would have been saved.’

‘But where did you get the cheque?’ Eames asked with natural curiosity.

‘Exactly,’ said Mrs Arabin. ‘I have got to show now that I did not steal it — have I not? Mr Soames will indict me now. And, indeed, I have had some trouble to refresh my memory as to all the particulars, for you see it is more than a year past.’ But Mrs Arabin’s mind was clearer on such matters than Mr Crawley’s, and she was able to explain that she had taken the cheque as part of the rent due to her from the landlord of ‘The Dragon of Wantly’, which inn was her property, having been the property of her first husband. For some years past there had been a difficulty about the rent, things not having gone at ‘The Dragon of Wantly’ as smoothly as they had used to go. At once time the money had been paid half-yearly by the landlord’s cheque on the bank of Barchester. For the last year-and-a-half this had not been done, and the money had come into Mrs Arabin’s hands at irregular periods and in irregular sums. There was at this moment rent due for twelve months, and Mrs Arabin expressed her doubt whether she would get it on her return to Barchester. On the occasion to which she was now alluding, the money had been paid into her own hands, in the deanery breakfast-parlour, by a man she knew very well — not the landlord himself, but one bearing the landlord’s name, whom she believed to the landlord’s brother, or at least his cousin. The man in question was named Daniel Stringer, and he had been employed in ‘The Dragon of Wantly’, as a sort of clerk or managing man, as long as she had known it. The rent had been paid to her by Daniel Stringer quite as often as by Daniel’s brother or cousin, John Stringer, who was, in truth, the landlord of the hotel. When questioned by John respecting the persons employed at the inn, she said that she did believe that there had been rumours of something wrong. The house had been in the hands of the Stringers for many years — before the property had been purchased by her husband’s father — and therefore had been an unwillingness to remove them; but gradually, so she said, there had come upon her and her husband a feeling that the house must be put into other hands. ‘Yes, I said a good deal about it. I asked why a cheque of Mr Soames’s was brought to me, instead of being taken to the bank for money; and Stringer explained to me that they were not very fond of going to the bank, as they owed money there, but that I could pay it into my account. Only I kept my account at the other bank.’

‘You might have paid it in there?’ said Johnny.

‘I suppose I might, but I didn’t. I gave it to poor Mr Crawley instead — like a fool, as I know now that I was. And so I have brought all this trouble on him and on her; and now I must rush home, without waiting for the dean, as fast as the trains will carry me.’

Eames offered to accompany her, and this offer was accepted. ‘It is hard upon you, though,’ she said; ‘you will see nothing of Florence. Three hours in Venice, and six in Florence, and no hours at all anywhere else, will be a hard fate to you on your first trip to Italy.’ But Johnny said ‘Exelsior’ to himself once more, and thought of Lily Dale, who was still in London, hoping that she might hear of his exertions; and he felt, perhaps, also, that it would be pleasant to return with a dean’s wife, and never hesitated. Nor would it do, he thought, for him to be absent in the excitement caused by the news of Mr Crawley’s innocence and injuries. ‘I don’t care a bit about that,’ he said. ‘Of course, I should like to see Florence, and, of course, I should like to go to bed; but I will live in hopes that I may do both some day.’ And so there grew to be a friendship between him and Mrs Arabin even before they started.

He had driven through Florence; he saw the Venus de’ Medici, and he saw the Seggolia; he looked up from the side of the Duomo to the top of the Campanile, and he walked round the back of the cathedral itself; he tried to inspect the doors of the Baptistry, and declared that the ‘David’ was very fine. Then he went back to the hotel, dined with Mrs Arabin, and started for England.

The dean was to have joined his wife at Venice, and then they were to have returned together, coming round by Florence. Mrs Arabin had not, therefore, taken her things away from Florence when she left it, and had been obliged to return to pick them up on her journey homewards. He — the dean — had been delayed in his Eastern travels. Neither Syria or Constantinople had got themselves done as quickly as he had expected, and he had, consequently, twice written to his wife, begging her to pardon the transgression of his absence for even yet a few days longer. ‘Everything, therefore,’ as Mrs Arabin said, ‘has conspired to perpetuate this mystery, which a word from me would have solved. I owe more to Mr Crawley than I can ever pay him.’

‘He will be very well paid, I think,’ said John, ‘when he hears the truth. If you could see the inside of his mind at this moment, I’m sure you’d find that he thinks he stole the cheque.’

‘He cannot think that, Mr Eames. Besides, at this moment I hope he has heard the truth.’

‘That may be, but he did think so. I do believe that he had not the slightest notion where he got it; and, which is more, not a single person in the whole county had a notion. People thought that he had picked it up, and used it in his despair. And the bishop has been so hard upon him.’

‘Oh, Mr Eames, that is the worst of all.’

‘So I am told. The bishop has a wife, I believe.’

‘Yes, he has a wife, certainly,’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘And people say that she is not very good-natured.’

‘There are some of us at Barchester who do not love her very dearly. I cannot say that she is one of my own especial friends.’

‘I believe she has been very hard on Mr Crawley,’ said John Eames.

‘I should not be in the least surprised,’ said Mrs Arabin.

Then they reached Turin, and there, taking up ‘Galignani’s Messenger’ in the reading-room of Trompetta’s Hotel, John Eames saw that Mrs Proudie was dead. ‘Look at that,’ said he, taking the paragraph to Mrs Arabin; ‘Mrs Proudie is dead!’ ‘Mrs Proudie dead!’ she exclaimed. ‘Poor woman! Then there will be peace at Barchester!’ ‘I never knew her very intimately,’ she afterwards said to her companion, ‘and I do not know that I have a right to say that she ever did me an injury. But I remember well her first coming into Barchester. My sister’s father-in-law, the late bishop, was just dead. He was a mild, kind, dear old man, whom my father loved beyond all the world, except his own children. You may suppose we were all a little sad. I was not specially connected with the cathedral then, except through my father’— and Mrs Arabin, as she told all this, remembered that in the days of which she was speaking she was a young mourning widow —‘but I think I can never forget the sort of harsh-toned paean of low-church trumpets with which that poor woman made her entry into the city. She might have been more lenient, as we had never sinned by being very high. She might, at any rate, have been more gentle with us at first. I think we had never attempted much beyond decency, good-will and comfort. Our comfort she utterly destroyed. Good-will was not to her taste. And as for decency, when I remember some things, I must say that when the comfort and good-will went, the decency went along with them. And now she is dead! I wonder how the bishop will get on without her.’

‘Like a house in fire, I should think,’ said Johnny.

‘Fie, Mr Eames; you shouldn’t speak in such a way on such a subject.’

Mrs Arabin and Johnny became fast friends as they journeyed home. There was a sweetness in his character which endeared him readily to women; though, as we have seen, there was a want of something to make one woman cling to him. He could be soft and pleasant-mannered. He was fond of making himself useful, and was a perfect master of all those little caressing modes of behaviour in which the caress is quite impalpable, and of which most women know the value and appreciate the comfort. By the time that they had reached Paris John had told the whole story of Lily Dale and Crosbie, and Mrs Arabin had promised to assist him, if any assistance might be in her power.

‘Of course I have heard of Lily Dale,’ she said, ‘because we know the De Courcys.’ Then she turned away her face, almost blushing, as she remembered the first time that she had seen that Lady Alexandrina De Courcy whom Mr Crosbie had married. It had been at Mr Thorne’s house at Ullathorne, and on that day she had done a thing which she had never since remembered without blushing. But it was an old story now, and a story of which her companion knew nothing — of which he never could know anything. That day at Ullathorne Mrs Arabin, the wife of the Dean of Barchester, than whom there was no more discreet clerical matron in the diocese, had — boxed a clergyman’s ears!

‘Yes,’ said John, speaking of Crosbie, ‘he was a wise fellow; he knew what he was about; he married an earl’s daughter.’

‘And now I remember hearing that somebody gave him a terrible beating. Perhaps it was you?’

‘It wasn’t terrible at all,’ said Johnny.

‘Then it was you?’

‘Oh, yes; it was I.’

‘Then it was you who saved poor old Lord De Guest from the bull?’

‘Go on, Mrs Arabin. There is no end to the grand things I’ve done.’

‘You’re quite a hero of romance.’

He bit his lip as he told himself that he was not enough of a hero. ‘I don’t know about that,’ said Johnny. ‘I think what a man ought to do in these days is to seem not to care what he eats and drinks, and to have his linen very well got up. Then he’ll be a hero.’ But that was hard upon Lily.

‘Is that what Miss Dale requires?’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘I was not thinking about her particularly,’ said Johnny, lying.

They slept a night at Paris, as they had done also at Turin — Mrs Arabin not finding herself able to accomplish such marvels in the way of travelling as her companion had achieved — and then arrived in London in the evening. She was taken to a certain quiet clerical hotel at the top of Suffolk Street, much patronised by bishops and deans of the better sort, expecting to find a message there from her husband. And there was the message — just arrived. The dean had reached Florence three days after her departure; and as he would do the journey home in twenty-four hours less than she had taken, he would be there, at the hotel, on the day after tomorrow. ‘I suppose I may wait for him, Mr Eames?’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘I will see Mr Toogood tonight, and I will call here tomorrow, whether I see him or not. At what hour will you be in?’

‘Don’t trouble yourself to do that. You must take care of Sir Raffle Buffle, you know.’

‘I shan’t go near Sir Raffle Buffle tomorrow, nor yet the next day. You mustn’t suppose that I am afraid of Sir Raffle Buffle.’

‘You are only afraid of Lily Dale.’ From all which it may be seen that Mrs Arabin and John Eames had become very intimate on their way home.

It was then arranged that he should call on Mr Toogood that same night or early next morning, and that he should come to the hotel at twelve o’clock on the next day. Going along one of the passages he passed two gentlemen in shovel hats, with very black new coats and knee-breeches; and Johnny could not but hear a few words which one clerical gentleman said to the other. ‘She was a woman of great energy, of wonderful spirit, but a firebrand, my lord — a complete firebrand!’ Then Johnny knew that the Dean of A was talking to the Bishop of B about the late Mrs Proudie.

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