The Last Chronicle of Barset, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter LXXIX

Mr Crawley Speaks of His Coat

At this time Grace had returned from Framley. As long as the terrible tragedy of the forthcoming trial was dragging itself on she had been content to stay away, at her mother’s bidding. It has not been possible in these pages to tell of all the advice that had been given to the ladies of the Crawley family in their great difficulty, and of all the assistance that had been offered. The elder Lady Lufton and the younger, and Mrs Robarts had continually been in consultation on the subject; Mrs Grantly’s opinion had been asked and given; and even the Miss Prettymans and Mrs Walker had found means of expressing themselves. The communications to Mrs Crawley had been very frequent — though they had not of course been allowed to reach the ears of Mr Crawley. What was to be done when the living should be gone and Mr Crawley should be in prison? Some said that he might be there for six weeks, and some for two years. Old Lady Lufton made anxious inquiries about Judge Medlicote, before whom it was said that the trial would be taken. Judge Medlicote was a Dissenter, and old Lady Lufton was in despair. When she was assured by some liberally-disposed friend that this would certainly make no difference, she shook her head woefully. ‘I don’t know why we are to have Dissenteres at all,’ she said, ‘to try people who belong to the Established Church.’ When she heard that Judge Medlicote would certainly be the judge, she made up her mind that two years would be the least of it. She would not have minded, she said, if he had been a Roman Catholic. And whether the punishment might be for six weeks or for two years, what should be done with the family? Where should they be housed? How should they be fed? What should be done with the poor man when he came out of prison? It was a case in which the generous, soft-hearted old Lady Lufton was almost beside herself. ‘As for Grace,’ said young Lady Lufton, ‘it will be a great deal better that we should keep her amongst us. Of course she will become Mrs Grantly, and it will be nicer for her that it should be so.’ In those days the posters had been seen, and the flitting to Pau had been talked of, and the Framley opinion was that Grace had better remain at Framley till she should be carried off to Pau. There were schemes, too, about Jane, but what was to be done for the wife? And what was to be done for Mr Crawley? Then came the news from Mrs Arabin, and all interest in Judge Medlicote was at an end.

But even now, after this great escape, what was to be done? As to Grace, she had felt the absolute necessity of being obedient to her friends — with the consent of course of her mother — during the great tribulation of her family. Things were so bad that she had not the heart to make them worse by giving any unnecessary trouble as to herself. Having resolved — and having made her mother so understand — that on one point she would guide herself by her own feelings, she was contented to go hither and thither as she was told, and to do as she was bid. Her hope was that Miss Prettyman would allow her to go back to her teaching, but it had come to be understood among them all that nothing was to be said on that subject till the trial should be over. Till that time she would be passive. But then, as I have said, had come the news from Mrs Arabin, and Grace, with all the others, understood that there would be no trial. When this was known and acknowledged, she declared her purpose of going back to Hogglestock. She would go back at once. When asked both by Lady Lufton and Mrs Robarts why she was in so great a haste, she merely said that it must be so. She was, as it were, absolved from her passive obedience to Framley authorities by the diminution of the family misfortunes.

Mrs Robarts understood the feeling by which Grace was hurried away. ‘Do you know why she is so obstinate?’ Lady Lufton asked.

‘I think I do,’ said Mrs Robarts.

‘And what is it?’

‘Should Major Grantly renew his offer to her she is under a pledge to accept him now.’

‘Of course he will renew it, and of course she will accept him.’

‘Just so. But she prefers that he should come for her to her own house — because of the poverty. If he chooses to seek her there, I don’t think she will make much difficulty.’ Lady Lufton demurred at this, not however with anger, and expressed a certain amount of mild displeasure. She did not quite see why Major Grantly should not be allowed to come and do his love-making comfortably, where there was a decent dinner for him to eat, and chairs and tables and sofas and carpets. She said that she thought that something was due to Major Grantly. She was in truth a little disappointed that she was not allowed to have her own way, and to arrange the marriage at Framley under her own eye. But, through it all, she appreciated Grace; and they who knew her well and heard what she said upon the occasion, understood that her favour was not to be withdrawn. All young women were divided by the old Lady Lufton into sheep and goats — very white sheep and very black goats — and Grace was to be a sheep. Thus it came to pass that Grace Crawley was at home when the dean visited Hogglestock. ‘Mamma,’ she said, looking out of the window, ‘there is the dean with papa at the gate.’

‘It was a narrow squeak — a very narrow squeak,’ Mr Crawley had said when his friend had congratulated him on his escape. The dean felt at the moment that not for many years had he heard the incumbent of Hogglestock speak either of himself or of anything else with so manifest an attempt at jocularity. Arabin had expected to find the man broken down by the weight of his sorrows, and lo! at the first moment of their first interview he himself began to ridicule them! Crawley having thus alluded to the narrow squeak had asked his visitor to enter the house and see his wife.

‘Of course I will,’ said Arabin, ‘but I will speak just a word to you first.’ Jane who had accompanied the dean from the school, now left them, and went into the house to her mother. ‘My wife cannot forgive herself about the cheque,’ continued he.

‘There is nothing to be forgiven,’ said Mr Crawley; ‘nothing.’

‘She feels that what she did was awkward and foolish. She ought never to have paid the cheque away in such a manner. She knows that now.’

‘It was given — not paid,’ said Crawley; and as he spoke something of the black cloud came back on his face. ‘And I am well aware hard Mrs Arabin strove to take away from the alms she bestowed the bitterness of the sting of eleemosynary aid. If you please, Arabin, we will not talk any more of that. I can never forget that I have been a beggar, but I need not make my beggary the matter of conversation. I hope the Holy Land has fulfilled your expectation?’

‘It has more than done so,’ said the dean, bewildered by the sudden change.

‘For myself, it is, of course, impossible that I should ever visit any scenes except those to which my immediate work may call me — never in this world. The new Jerusalem is still within my reach — if it be not forfeited by pride and obstinacy; but the old Jerusalem I can never behold. Methinks, because it is so, I would sooner stand with my foot on Mount Olivet, or drink a cup of water in the village of Bethany, than visit any other spot within the traveller’s compass. The sources of the Nile, of which men talk so much — I see it in the papers and reviews which the ladies at Framley are so good as to send to my wife — do not interest me much. I have no ambition to climb Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn; Rome makes my mouth water but little, nor even Athens much. I can realise without seeing all that Athens could show me, and can fancy that the existing truth would destroy more than it would build up. But to have stood on Calvary!’

‘We don’t know where Calvary was,’ said the dean.

‘I fancy that I should know — should know enough,’ said the illogical and unreasonable Mr Crawley. ‘Is it true that you can look over from the spot on which He stood as He came across the brow of the hill, and see the huge stones of the temple placed there by Solomon’s men — as He saw them — right across the brook Cedron, is it not?’

‘It’s all there, Crawley — just as your knowledge of it tells you.’

‘In the privilege of seeing those places I can almost envy a man his — money.’ The last words he uttered after a pause. He had been about to say that underneath temptation he could almost envy a man his promotion; but he bethought himself that on such an occasion as this it would be better that he should spare the dean. ‘And now, if you wish it, we will go in. I fancy that I see my wife at the window, as though she were waiting for us.’ So saying, he strode on along the little path, and the dean was fain to follow him, even though he had said so little of all that he had intended to say.

As soon as he was in with Mrs Crawley he repeated his apology about the cheque, and found himself better able to explain himself than he could do when he was alone with the husband. ‘Of course, it has been our fault,’ he said.

‘Oh, no,’ said Mrs Crawley, ‘how can you have been at fault when your only object was to do us good?’ But, nevertheless, the dean took the blame upon his own shoulders, or, rather, upon those of his wife, and declared himself to be responsible for all the trouble about the cheque.

‘Let it go,’ said Crawley, after sitting awhile in silence; ‘let it pass.’

‘You cannot wonder, Crawley,’ said the dean, ‘that I should have felt myself obliged to speak of it.’

‘For the future it will be well that it should be forgotten,’ said Crawley; ‘or, if not forgotten, treated as though forgotten. And now, dean, what must I do about the living?’

‘Just resume it, as though nothing happened.’

‘But that may hardly be done without the bishop’s authority. I speak, of course, with deference to your higher and better information on such subjects. My experience in the taking up and laying down of livings has not been extended. But it seemeth to me that though it may certainly be in your power to nominate me again to the perpetual curacy of the parish — presuming your patronage to be unlimited and not to reach you in rotation only — yet the bishop may demand to institute again, and must so demand, unless he pleases to permit that my letter to him shall be revoked and cancelled.’

‘Of course he will do anything of that kind. He must know the circumstances as well as you and I do.’

‘At present they tell me he is much afflicted by the death of his wife, and, therefore, can hardly be expected to take immediate action. There came on the last Sunday one Mr Snapper, his chaplain.’

‘We all know Snapper,’ said the dean. ‘Snapper is not a bad little fellow.’

‘I say nothing of his being bad, my friend, but merely mention the fact that on Sunday morning last he performed the service in our church. On the Sunday previous Mr Thumble was here.’

‘We all know Thumble, too,’ said the dean; ‘or, at least, we know something about him.’

‘He has been a thorn in our sides,’ said Mrs Crawley, unable to restrain the expression of her dislike when Mr Thumble’s name was mentioned.

‘Nay, my dear, nay; — do not allow yourself the use of language so strong against a brother. Our flesh at that time was somewhat prone to fester, and little thorns made us very sore.’

‘He is a horrible man,’ said Jane, almost in a whisper; but the words were distinctly audible to the dean.

‘They need not come any more,’ said Arabin.

‘That is where I fear we differ. I think they must come — or some others in their place — till the bishop shall have expressed his pleasure to the contrary. I have submitted myself to his lordship, and, having done so, I feel that I cannot again go up into my pulpit till he shall have authorised me to do so. For a time, Arabin, I combatted the bishop, believing — then as now — that he put forth his hand against me after a fashion which the law had not sanctioned. And I made bold to stand in his presence and tell him that I would not obey him, except in things legal. But afterwards, when he proceeded formally, through the action of a commission, I submitted myself. And I regard myself still as being under his submission.’

It was impossible to shake him. Arabin remained there for more than an hour, trying to pass on to another subject, but being constantly brought back by Mr Crawley himself to the fact of his own dependent position. Nor would he condescend to supplicate the bishop. It was, he surmised, the duty of Dr Tempest, together with the other four clergymen, to report to the bishop on the question of the alleged theft; and then doubtless the bishop, when he had duly considered the report, and — as Mr Crawley seemed to think was essentially necessary — had sufficiently recovered from the grief of his wife’s death, would, at his leisure, communicate his decision to Mr Crawley. Nothing could be more complete than Mr Crawley’s humility with respect to the bishop; and he never seemed to be tired of declaring that he had submitted himself!

And then the dean, finding it to be vain to expect to be left alone with Mr Crawley for a moment — in vain also to wait for a proper opening for that which he had to say — rushed violently at his other subject. ‘And now, Mrs Crawley,’ he said. ‘Mrs Arabin wishes you all to come over to the deanery for a while and stay with us.’

‘Mrs Arabin is too kind,’ said Mrs Crawley, looking across at her husband.

‘We should like of all things,’ said the dean, with perhaps more of good nature than of truth. ‘Of course you must have been knocked about a good deal.’

‘Indeed we have,’ said Mrs Crawley.

‘And till you are somewhat settled again, I think that the change of scene would be good for all of you. Come, Crawley, I’ll talk to you every evening about Jerusalem for as long as you please; and then there will perhaps come back to us something of the pleasantness of old days.’ As she heard this Mrs Crawley’s eyes became full of tears, and she could not altogether hide them. What she had endured during the last four months had almost broken her spirit. The burden had at last been too heavy for her strength. ‘You cannot fancy, Crawley, how often I have thought of the old days and wished that they might return. I have found it very hard to get an opportunity of saying so much to you; but I will say it now.’

‘It may hardly be as you say,’ said Crawley, grimly.

‘You mean that the old days can never be brought back?’

‘Assuredly they cannot. But it was not that I meant. It may not be that I and mine should transfer ourselves to your roof and sojourn there.’

‘Why should you not?’

‘The reasons are many, and on the face of things. The reason, perhaps, the most on the face of it is to be found in my wife’s gown, and in my coat.’ This Mr Crawley said very gravely, looking neither to the right nor to the left nor at the face of any of them, nor at his own garment, nor hers, but straight before him; and when he had so spoken he said not a word further — not going on to dilate on his poverty as the dean expected that he would do.

‘At such a time such reasons should stand for nothing,’ said the dean.

‘And why not now as they always do, and always must till the power of tailors shall have waned, and the daughters of Eve shall toil and spin no more? Like to like is true, and should be held to be true, of all societies and of all compacts for co-operation and mutual living. Here, where, if I may venture to say so, you and I are like to like; — for the new gloss of your coat; — the dean, as it happened, had on at the moment a very old coat, his oldest coat, selected perhaps with some view to this special visit —‘does not obtrude itself in my household, as would be the threadbare texture of mine in yours; — I can open my mouth to you and converse with you at my ease; you are now to me that Frank Arabin who has so comforted me and so often confuted me; whom I may perhaps on occasion have confuted — and perhaps have comforted. But were I sitting with you in your library in Barchester, my threadbare coat would be too much for me. I should be silent, if not sullen. I should feel the weight of all my poverty, and the greater weight of all your wealth. For my children let them go. I have come to know that they will be better from me.’

‘Papa!’ said Jane.

‘Papa does not mean it,’ said Grace, coming up to him and standing close to him.

There was silence amongst them for a few moments, and then the master of the house shook himself — literally shook himself, till he had shaken off the cloud. He had taken Grace by the hand, and thrusting out the other arm had got it round Jane’s waist. ‘When a man has girls, Arabin,’ he said, ‘as you have, but not big girls yet like Grace here, of course he knows that they will fly away.’

‘I shall not fly away,’ said Jane.

‘I don’t know what papa means,’ said Grace.

Upon the whole the dean thought it the pleasantest visit he had ever made to Hogglestock, and when he got home he told his wife that he believed that the accusation made against Mr Crawley had done him good. ‘I could not say a word in private to her,’ he said, ‘but I did promise that you would go over and see her. On the very next day, Mrs Arabin went over, and I think that the visit was a comfort to Mrs Crawley.

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