The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXVIII

The Arabins Return to Barchester

In these days Mr Harding was keeping his bed at the deanery, and most of those who saw him declared that he would never again leave it. The archdeacon had been slow to believe so, because he had still found his father-in-law able to talk to him; not indeed with energy — but then Mr Harding had never been energetic on ordinary matters — but with the same soft cordial interest in things which had ever been customary with him. He had latterly been much interested about Mr Crawley, and would make both the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly tell him all that they had heard, and what they thought of the case. This of course had been before the all-important news had been received from Mrs Arabin. Mr Harding was very anxious. ‘Firstly,’ he said, ‘for the welfare of the poor man, of whom I cannot bring myself to think ill; and then for the honour of the cloth in Barchester.’ ‘We are as liable to have black sheep here as anywhere,’ the archdeacon had replied. ‘But, my dear, I do not think the sheep is black; and we never have had black sheep in Barchester.’ ‘Haven’t we, though?’ said the archdeacon, thinking, however, of sheep who were black of a different kind of blackness from this which was now attributed to Mr Crawley — of a blackness which was not absolute blackness to Mr Harding’s milder eyes. The archdeacon, when he heard his father-in-law talk after this fashion, expressed his opinion that he might live for years. He was just the man to linger on, living in bed — as indeed he had lingered all his life out of bed. But the doctor who attended him thought otherwise, as did also Mrs Grantly, and as did Mrs Baxter, and as also did Posy. ‘Grandpa won’t get up any more, will he?’ Posy said to Mrs Baxter. ‘I hope he will, my dear; and that very soon.’ ‘I don’t think he will,’ said Posy, ‘because he said he would never see the big fiddle again.’ ‘That comes of being a little melancholy like, my dear,’ said Mrs Baxter.

Mrs Grantly at this time went into Barchester almost every day, and the archdeacon, who was very often in the city, never went there without passing half-an-hour with the old man. These two clergymen, essentially different in their characters and in every detail of conduct, had been so much thrown together by circumstances that the life of each almost became part of the life of the other. Although the fact of Mr Harding’s residence at the deanery had of late years thrown him oftener into the society of the dean than that of his other son-in-law, yet his intimacy with the archdeacon had been so much earlier, and his memories of the archdeacon were so much clearer, that he depended almost more upon the rector of Plumstead, who was absent, than he did upon the dean, whom he customarily saw every day. It was not so with the daughters. His Nelly, as he used to call her, had ever been his favourite, and the circumstances of their joint lives had ever been such, that they had never been further separated than from one street of Barchester to another — and that only for a very short period of the married life of Mrs Arabin’s first husband. For all that was soft and tender therefore — which with Mr Harding was all in the world that was charming to him — he looked to his youngest daughter; but for authority and guidance and wisdom, and for information as to what was going on in the world, he had still turned to his son-in-law the archdeacon — as he had done for almost forty years. For so long had the archdeacon been potent as a clergyman in the diocese, and throughout the whole duration of such potency his word had been law to Mr Harding in most of the affairs of life — a law generally to be obeyed, and if sometimes broken, still a law. And now, when all was so nearly over, he would become unhappy if the archdeacon’s visits were far between. Dr Grantly, when he found that this was so, would not allow that they should be far between.

‘He puts me so much in mind of my father,’ the archdeacon said to his wife one day.

‘He is not so old as your father was when he died, by many years,’ said Mrs Grantly, ‘and I think one sees that difference.’

‘Yes; and therefore I say that he may still live for years. My father, when he took to his bed at last, was manifestly near his death. The wonder with him was that he continued to live so long. Do you not remember how the London doctor was put out because his prophecies were not fulfilled?’

‘I remember it well — as if it were yesterday.’

‘And in that way there is a great difference. My father, who was physically a much stronger man, did not succumb so easily. But the likeness is in their characters. There is the same mild sweetness, becoming milder and sweeter as they increased in age — a sweetness that never could believe much evil, but that could believe less, and still less, as the weakness of age came upon them. No amount of evidence would induce your father to think that Mr Crawley stole that money.’ This was said of course before the telegram had come from Venice.

‘As far as that goes, I agree with him,’ said Mrs Grantly, who had her own reasons for choosing to believe Mr Crawley to be innocent. ‘If your son, my dear, is to marry the man’s daughter, it will be as well that you should at least be able to say that you do not believe that man to be a thief.’

‘That is neither here nor there,’ said the archdeacon. ‘A jury must decide it.’

‘No jury in Barsetshire shall decide it for me,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘I’m sick of Mr Crawley, and I’m sorry I spoke of him,’ said the archdeacon. ‘But look at Mrs Proudie. You’ll agree that she was not the most charming woman in the world.’

‘She certainly was not,’ said Mrs Grantly, who was anxious to encourage her husband, if she could do so without admitting anything which might injure herself afterwards.

‘And she was at one time violently insolent to your father. And even the bishop thought to trample on him. Do you remember the bishop’s preaching against your father’s chanting? If I ever forget it!’ And the archdeacon slapped his closed fist against his open hand.

‘Don’t, dear, don’t. What is the good of being violent now?’

‘Paltry little fool! It will be long enough before such a chaunt as that is heard in and English cathedral again.’ Then Mrs Grantly got up and kissed her husband, but he, somewhat negligent of the kiss, went on with his speech. ‘But your father remembers nothing of it, and if there was a single human being who shed a tear in Barchester for that woman, I believe it was your father. And it was the same with mine. It came to that at last, that I could not bear to speak to him of any shortcomings as to one of his own clergymen. I might as well have pricked him with a penknife. And yet they say men become heartless and unfeeling as they grow old.’

‘Some do, I suppose.’

‘Yes; the heartless and unfeeling do. As the bodily strength fails and the power of control becomes lessened, the natural aptitude of the man pronounces itself more clearly. I take it that that is it. Had Mrs Proudie lived to be and hundred and fifty, she would have spoken spiteful lies on her deathbed.’ Then Mrs Grantly told herself that her husband, should he live to be hundred and fifty, would still be expressing his horror of Mrs Proudie — even on his deathbed.

As soon as the letter from Mrs Arabin had reached Plumstead, the archdeacon and his wife arranged that they would both go together to the deanery. There were the double tidings to be told — those of Mr Crawley’s assured innocence, and those also of Mrs Arabin’s instant return. And as they went together various ideas were passing through their minds in reference to the marriage of their son with Grace Crawley. They were both now reconciled to it. Mrs Grantly had long ceased to feel any opposition to it, even though she had not seen Grace; and the archdeacon was prepared to give way. Had he not promised that in a certain case he would give way, and had not that case come to pass? He had no wish to go back from his word. But he had a difficulty in this — that he liked to make all the affairs of his life matter for enjoyment, almost for triumph; but how was he to be triumphant over this marriage, or how even was he to enjoy it, seeing that he had opposed it so bitterly? Those posters, though they were now pulled down, had been up on a barn ends and walls patent — alas, too patent — to all the world of Barsetshire!

‘What will Mr Crawley do now, do you suppose?’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘What will he do?’

‘Yes; must he go on at Hogglestock?’

‘What else?’ said the archdeacon.

‘It is a pity something could not be done for him after all he has undergone. How on earth can he be expected to live there with a wife and family, and no private means?’ To this the archdeacon made no answer. Mrs Grantly had spoken almost immediately upon their quitting Plumstead, and the silence was continued till the carriage had entered the suburbs of the city. Then Mrs Grantly spoke again, asking a question, with some internal trepidation which, however, she managed to hide from her husband. ‘When poor papa does go, what shall you do about St Ewold’s?’ Now, St Ewold’s was a rural parish lying about two miles out of Barchester, the living of which was in the gift of the archdeacon, and to which the archdeacon had presented to his father-in-law, under certain circumstances, which need not be repeated in this last chronicle of Barsetshire. Have they not been written in other chronicles? ‘When poor papa does go, what will you do about St Ewold’s?’ said Mrs Grantly, trembling inwardly. A word too much might, as she well knew, settle the question against Mr Crawley for ever. But were she to postpone the word till too late, the question would be settled as fatally.

‘I haven’t thought about it,’ he said sharply. ‘I don’t like thinking of such things while the incumbent is still living.’ Oh, archdeacon, archdeacon! Unless that other chronicle be a false chronicle, how hast thou forgotten thyself and thy past life! ‘Particularly not, when that incumbent is your father,’ said the archdeacon. Mrs Grantly said nothing more about St Ewold’s. She would have said as much as she had intended to say if she had succeeded in making the archdeacon understand that St Ewold’s would be a very nice refuge for Mr Crawley after all the miseries which he had endured at Hogglestock.

They learned as they entered the deanery that Mrs Baxter had already heard of Mrs Arabin’s return. ‘Oh yes, ma’am. Mr Harding got a letter hisself, and I got another — separate; both from Venice, ma’am. But when master come nobody seems to know.’ Mrs Baxter knew that the dean had gone to Jerusalem, and was inclined to think that from such distant bournes there was not return to any traveller. The East is always further than the West in the estimation of the Mrs Baxters of the world. Had the dean gone to Canada, she would have thought that he might come back tomorrow. But still there was the news to be told of Mr Crawley, and there was also joy to be expressed at the sudden coming back of the much-wished-for mistress of the deanery.

‘It’s so good of you to come both together,’ said Mr Harding.

‘We thought that we should be too many for you,’ said the archdeacon.

‘Too many! Oh dear no. I like to have people by me; and as for voices and noise, and all that, the more the better. But I am weak. I’m weak in my legs. I don’t think I shall ever stand again.’

‘Yes, you will,’ said the archdeacon.

‘We have brought good news,’ said Mrs Grantly.

‘It is not good news that Nelly will be home this week? You can’t understand what a joy it is to me. I used to think sometimes, at night, that I should never see her again. That she would come back in time was all I have wished for.’ He was lying on his back, and as he spoke he pressed his withered hands together above the bed-clothes. They could not begin immediately to tell him of Mr Crawley, but as soon as his mind had turned itself away from the thoughts of his absent daughter, Mrs Grantly again reverted to the news.’

‘We have come to tell you about Mr Crawley, papa.’

‘What about him?’

‘He is quite innocent.’

‘I knew it, my dear. I always said so. Did I not always say so, archdeacon?’

‘Indeed you did. I’ll give you that credit.’

‘And is it all found out?’ asked Mr Harding.

‘As far as he is concerned, everything is found out,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘Eleanor gave him the cheque herself.’

‘Nelly gave it to him?’

‘Yes, papa. The dean meant her to give him fifty pounds. But it seems she got to be soft of heart and made it seventy. She had the cheque by her, and put it into the envelope with the notes.’

‘Some of Stringer’s people seem to have stolen the cheque from Mr Soames,’ said the archdeacon.

‘Oh dear, I hope not.’

‘Somebody must have stolen it, papa.’

‘I had hoped not, Susan,’ said Mr Harding. Both the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly knew that it was useless to argue with him on such a point, and so they let that go.

Then they came to discuss Mr Crawley’s present position, and Mr Harding ventured to ask a question or two as to Grace’s chance of marriage. He did not often interfere in the family arrangements of his son-in-law and never did so when those family arrangements were concerned with high matters. He had hardly opened his mouth in reference to the marriage of that august lady who was now the Marchioness of Hartletop. And of the Lady Anne, the wife of the Rev Charles Grantly, who was always prodigiously civil to him, speaking to him very loud, as though he were deaf because he was old, and bringing cheap presents from London of which he did not take much heed — of her he rarely said a word, or of her children, to either of his daughters. But now his grandson, Henry Grantly, was going to marry a girl of whom he felt that he might speak without impropriety. ‘I suppose it will be a match; won’t it, my dears?’

‘Not a doubt about it,’ said Mrs Grantly. Mr Harding looked at his son-in-law, but his son-in-law said nothing. The archdeacon did not even frown — but only moved a little uneasily in his chair.

‘Dear, dear! What a comfort it must be,’ said the old man.

‘I have not seen yet,’ said Mrs Grantly; ‘but the archdeacon declares that she is all the graces rolled into one.’

‘I never said anything half so absurd,’ said the archdeacon.

‘But he is really in love with her, papa,’ said Mrs Grantly. ‘He confessed to me that he gave her a kiss, and he only saw her once for five minutes.’

‘I should like to give her a kiss,’ said Mr Harding.

‘So you shall, papa, and I’ll bring her here on purpose. As soon as ever the thing is settled, we mean to ask her to Plumstead.’

‘Do you, though? How nice! How happy Henry will be.’

‘And if she comes — and of course she will — I’ll lose no time in bringing her over to you. Nelly must see her, of course.’

As they were leaving the room Mr Harding called the archdeacon back, and taking him by the hand, spoke one word to him in a whisper. ‘I don’t like to interfere,’ he said; ‘but might not Mr Crawley have St Ewold’s?’ The archdeacon took up the old man’s hand and kissed it. Then he followed his wife out of the room, without making any answer to Mr Harding’s question.

Three days after this Mrs Arabin reached the deanery, and the joy at her return was very great. ‘My dear, I have been sick for you,’ said Mr Harding.

‘Oh, papa, I ought not to have gone.’

‘Nay, my dear; do not say that. Would it make my happy that you should be a prisoner here for ever? It was only when I seemed to get so weak that I thought about it. I felt that it must be near when they bade me not to go to the cathedral any more.’

‘If I had been here, I could have gone with you, papa.’

‘It is better as it is. I know now that I was not fit for it. When your sister came to me, I never thought of remonstrating. I knew then that I had seen it for the last time.’

‘We need not say that yet, papa.’

‘I did think that when you came home we might crawl there together some warm morning. I did think of that for a time. But it will never be so, dear. I shall never see anything now that I do not see from here — and that not for long. Do not cry, Nelly. I have nothing to regret, nothing to make me unhappy. I know how poor and weak has been my life; but I know how rich and strong is that other life. Do not cry, Nelly — not till I am gone; and then not beyond measure. Why should anyone weep for those who go away full of years — and full of hope?’

On the day but one following the dean reached his home. The final arrangements of his tour, as well as those of his wife, had been made to depend on Mr Crawley’s trial; for he also had been hurried back by John Eames’s visit to Florence. ‘I should have come back at once,’ he said to his wife, ‘when they wrote to ask me whether Crawley had taken the cheque from me, had anybody told me that he was in actual trouble; but I had no idea that they were charging him with the theft.’

‘As far as I can learn, they never really suspected him until after your answer had come. They had been quite sure that your answer would be in the affirmative.’

‘What he must have endured it is impossible to conceive. I shall go out to him tomorrow.’

‘Would he not come to us?’ said Mrs Arabin.

‘I doubt it. I will ask him, of course. I will ask them all here. This about Henry and the girl may make a difference. He has resigned the living, and some of the palace people are doing the duty.’

‘But he can have it again?’

‘Oh, yes; he can have it again. For the matter of that, I need simply to give him back his letter. Only he is so odd — so unlike other people! And he has tried to live there, and has failed; and is now in debt. I wonder whether Grantly will give him St Ewold’s?’

‘I wish he would. But you must ask him. I should not dare.’

As to the matter of the cheque, the dean acknowledged to his wife at last that he had some recollection of her having told him that she had made the sum of money up to seventy pounds. ‘I don’t feel certain of it now; but I think you must have done so.’ ‘I am quite sure I could have done it without telling you,’ she replied. ‘At any rate you said nothing of the cheque,’ pleaded the dean. ‘I don’t suppose I did,’ said Mrs Arabin. ‘I thought that cheques were like any other money; but I shall know better for the future.’

On the following morning the dean rode over to Hogglestock, and as he drew near to the house of his old friend, his spirits flagged — for to tell the truth, he dreaded the meeting. Since the day on which he had brought Mr Crawley from a curacy in Cornwall into the diocese of Barchester, his friend had been a trouble to him rather than a joy. The trouble had been a trouble of spirit altogether — not all of pocket. He would willingly have picked the Crawleys out from the pecuniary mud into which they were for ever falling, time after time, had it been possible. For, though the dean was hardly to be called a rich man, his lines had fallen to him not only in pleasant places, but in easy circumstances — and Mr Crawley’s embarrassments, though overwhelming to him, were not so great as to have been heavy to the dean. But in striving to do this he had always failed, had always suffered, and had generally been rebuked. Crawley would attempt to argue with him as to the improper allotment of Church endowments — declaring that he did not do so with any reference to his own circumstances, but simply because the subject was one naturally interesting to clergymen. And this he would do, as he was waving off with his hand offers of immediate assistance which were indispensable. Then there had been scenes between the dean and Mrs Crawley — terribly painful — and which had taken place in direct disobedience to the husband’s positive injunctions. ‘Sir,’ he had once said to the dean, ‘I request that nothing may pass from your hands to the hands of my wife.’ ‘Tush, tush,’ the dean had answered. ‘I will have no tushing or pshawing on such a matter. A man’s wife is his very own, the breath of his nostril, the blood of his heart, the rib from his body. It is for me to rule my wife, and I tell you that I will not have it.’ After that the gifts had come from the hand of Mrs Arabin; and then again, after that, in the direst hour of his need, Crawley had himself come and taken money from the dean’s hands! The interview had been so painful that Arabin would hardly have been able to count the money or to know of what it had consisted, had he taken the notes and cheque out of the envelope in which his wife had put them. Since that day the two had not met each other, and since that day these new troubles had come. Arabin as yet knew but little of the manner in which they had been borne, except that Crawley had felt himself compelled to resign the living of Hogglestock. He knew nothing of Mrs Proudie’s persecution, except what he gathered from the fact of the clerical commission of which he had been informed; but he could imagine that Mrs Proudie would not lie easy in her bed while a clergyman was doing duty almost under her nose, who was guilty of the double offence of being accused of theft, and of having been put into his living by the dean. The dean, therefore, as he rode on, pictured to himself his old friend in a terrible condition. And it might be that even now that condition would hardly have been improved. He was no longer suspected of being a thief; but he could have no money in his pocket; and it might well be that his sufferings would have made him almost mad.

The dean also got down and left his horse at a farmyard, as Grantly had done with his carriage; and walked on first to the school. He had voices inside, but could not distinguish from them whether Mr Crawley was there or not. Slowly he opened the door, and looking round saw that Jane Crawley was in the ascendant. Jane did not know him at once, but told him when he had introduced himself that her father had gone down to Hoggle End. He had started two hours ago, but it was impossible to say when he might be back. ‘He sometimes stays all day long with the brickmakers,’ said Jane. Her mother was at home, and she would take the dean into the house. As she said this she told him that her father was sometimes better and sometimes worse. ‘But he has never been so very, very bad, since Henry Grantly and mamma’s cousin came and told us about the cheque.’ Those words Henry Grantly made the dean understand that there might yet be a ray of sunshine among the Crawleys.

‘There is papa,’ said Jane, as they got to the gate. Then they waited for a few minutes till Mr Crawley came up, very hot, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

‘Crawley,’ said the dean, ‘I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you, and how rejoiced I am that this accusation has fallen from you.’

‘Verily the news came in time, Arabin,’ said the other, ‘but it was a narrow pinch — a narrow pinch. Will you enter, and see my wife?’

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