Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter XV

Lady Lufton’s Ambassador

And then, in the days which followed, that friend of Mr Crawley’s, whose name, by the by, is yet to be mentioned, received quick and great promotion. Mr Arabin by name he was then; Dr Arabin afterwards, when that quick and great promotion reached its climax. He had been simply a Fellow of Lazarus in those former years. Then he became vicar of St Ewold’s, in East Barsetshire, and had not yet got himself settled there when he married the widow Bold, a widow with belongings in land and funded money, and with but one small baby as an encumbrance. Nor had he even yet married her, had only engaged himself so to do, when they made him Dean of Barchester — all of which may be read in the diocesan and county chronicles. And now that he was wealthy, the new dean did contrive to pay the debts of his poor friend, some lawyer of Camelford assisting him. It was but a paltry schedule after all, amounting in the total to something not much above a hundred pounds. And then, in the course of eighteen months, this poor piece of preferment fell the dean’s way, this incumbency of Hogglestock with its stipend reaching one hundred and thirty pounds a year. Even that was worth double the Cornish curacy, and there was, moreover, a house attached to it. Poor Mrs Crawley, when she heard of it, thought that their struggles of poverty were now well-nigh over. What might not be done with a hundred and thirty pounds by people who had lived for ten years on seventy?

And so they moved away out of that cold, bleak country, carrying with them their humble household goods, and settled themselves in another country, cold and bleak also, but less terribly so than the former. They settled themselves, and again began their struggles against man’s hardness and the devil’s zeal. I have said that Mr Crawley was a stern, unpleasant man; and it certainly was so. The man must be made of very sterling stuff, whom continued and undeserved misfortune does not make unpleasant. This man had so far succumbed to grief, that it had left upon him its marks, palpable and not to be effaced. He cared little for society, judging men to be doing evil who did care for it. He knew as a fact, and believed with all his heart, that these sorrows had come to him from the hand of God, and that they would work for his weal in the long run; but not the less did they make him morose, silent and dogged. He had always at his heart a feeling that he and his had been ill-used, and too often solaced himself, at the devil’s bidding, with the conviction that eternity would make equal that which life in this world had made so unequal; the last bait that with which the devil angles after those who are struggling to elude his rod and line.

The Framley property did not run into the parish of Hogglestock; but nevertheless Lady Lufton did what she could in the way of kindness to these new-comers. Providence had not supplied Hogglestock with a Lady Lufton, or with any substitute in the shape of lord or lady, squire or squiress. The Hogglestock farmers, male and female, were a rude, rough set, not bordering in their social rank on the farmer gentle; and Lady Lufton, knowing this, and hearing something of these Crawleys from Mrs Arabin the dean’s wife, trimmed her lamps, so that they should shed a wider light, and pour forth some of their influence on that forlorn household. And as regards Mrs Crawley, Lady Lufton by no means found that her work was thrown away. Mrs Crawley accepted her kindness with thankfulness, and returned to some of the softness of life under her hand. As for dining at Framley Court, that was out of the question. Mr Crawley, she knew, would not hear of it, even if other things were fitting and appliances were at command. Indeed Mrs Crawley at once said that she felt herself unfit to go through such a ceremony with anything like comfort. The dean, she said, would talk of their going to stay at the deanery; but she thought it quite impossible that either of them should endure even that. But, all the same, Lady Lufton was a comfort to her; and the poor woman felt that it was well to have a lady near her in case of need.

The task was much harder with Mr Crawley, but even with him it was not altogether unsuccessful. Lady Lufton talked to him of his parish and of her own; made Mark Robarts go to him, and by degrees did something towards civilizing him. Between him and Robarts too there grew up an intimacy rather than a friendship. Robarts would submit his opinion on matters of ecclesiastical and even theological law, would listen to him with patience, would agree with him where he could, and differ with him mildly when he could not. For Robarts was a man who made himself pleasant to all men. And thus, under Lady Lufton’s wing, there grew up a connexion between Framley and Hogglestock, in which Mrs Robarts also assisted. And now that Lady Lufton was looking about her, to see how she might best bring proper clerical influence to bear upon her own recreant fox-hunting parson, it occurred to her that she might use Mr Crawley in the matter. Mr Crawley would certainly be on her side as far as opinion went, and would have no fear in expressing his opinion to his brother clergyman. So she sent for Mr Crawley. In appearance he was the very opposite of Mark Robarts. He was a lean, slim, meagre man, with shoulders slightly curved, and pale, lank locks of ragged hair; his forehead was high, but his face was narrow; his small grey eyes were deeply sunken in his head, his nose was well-formed, his lips thin, and his mouth expressive. Nobody could look at him without seeing that there was a purpose and a meaning in his countenance. He always wore, in summer and winter, a long dusky grey coat, which buttoned close up to his neck and descended almost to his heels. He was full six feet high, but being so slight in build, he looked as though he were taller. He came at once at Lady Lufton’s bidding, putting himself into the gig beside the servant, to whom he spoke no single word during the journey. And the man, looking into his face, was struck with taciturnity. Now Mark Robarts would have talked with him the whole way from Hogglestock to Framley Court; discoursing partly as to horses and land, but partly also as to higher things. And then Lady Lufton opened her mind and told her griefs to Mr Crawley, urging, however, through the whole length of her narrative, that Mr Robarts was an excellent parish clergyman — ‘just such a clergyman in his church as I would wish him to be,’ she explained, with the view of saving herself from an expression of any of Mr Crawley’s special ideas as to church teaching, and of confining him to the one subject-matter in hand; ‘but he got his living so young, Mr Crawley, that he is hardly quite as steady as I should wish him to be. It has been as much my fault as his own in placing him in such a position so early in life.’

‘I think it has,’ said Mr Crawley, who might perhaps be a little sore on the subject.

‘Quite so, quite so,’ continued her ladyship, swallowing down a certain sense of anger. ‘But that is done now, and is past cure. That Mr Robarts will become a credit to his profession, I do not doubt, for his heart is in the right place and his sentiments are good; but I fear that at present he is succumbing to temptation.’

‘I am told that he hunts two or three times a week. Everybody is talking about it.’

‘No, Mr Crawley; not two or three times a week; very seldom above once, I think. And then I do believe he does it more with the view of being with Lord Lufton than anything else.’

‘I cannot see that that would make the matter better,’ said Mr Crawley.

‘It would show that he was not strongly imbued with a taste which I cannot but regard as vicious in a clergyman.’

‘It must be vicious in all men,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘It is in itself cruel, and leads to idleness and profligacy.’ Again Lady Lufton made a gulp. She had called Mr Crawley thither to her aid, and felt that it would be inexpedient to quarrel with him. But she did not like to be told that her son’s amusement was idle and profligate. She had always regarded hunting as a proper pursuit for a country gentleman. It was, indeed, in her eyes one of the peculiar institutions of country life in England, and it may be almost said that she looked upon the Barsetshire Hunt as something sacred. She could not endure to hear that a fox was trapped, and allowed her turkeys to be purloined without a groan. Such being the case, she did not like being told that it was vicious, and had by no means wished to consult Mr Crawley on that matter. But nevertheless she swallowed her wrath.

‘It is at any rate unbecoming in a clergyman,’ she said; ‘and as I know that Mr Robarts places a high value on your opinion, perhaps you will not object to advise him to discontinue it. He might possibly feel aggrieved were I to interfere personally on such a question.’

‘I have no doubt he would,’ said Mr Crawley. ‘It is not within a woman’s province to give counsel to a clergyman on such a subject, unless she be very near and very dear to him — his wife, or mother, or sister.’

‘As living in the same parish, you know, and being, perhaps —’ the leading person in it, and the one who naturally rules the others. Those would have been the fitting words for the expression of her ladyship’s ideas; but she remembered herself, and did not use them. She had made up her mind that, great as her influence ought to be, she was not the proper person to speak to Mr Robarts as to his pernicious, unclerical habits, and she would not now depart from her resolve by attempting to prove that she was the proper person.

‘Yes,’ said Mr Crawley, ‘just so. All that would entitle him to offer you his counsel if he thought that your mode of life was such as to require it, but could by no means justify in addressing yourself to him.’ This was very hard upon Lady Lufton. She was endeavouring with all her woman’s strength to do her best, and endeavouring so to do it that the feelings of the sinner might be spared; and yet the ghostly comforter whom she had evoked to her aid, treated her as though she were arrogant and overbearing. She acknowledged the weakness of her own position with reference to her parish clergyman by calling in the aid of Mr Crawley; and, under such circumstances, he might, at any rate, have abstained from throwing her weakness in her teeth.

‘Well, sir; I hope my mode of life may not require it; but that is not exactly to the point; what I wish to know is, whether you will speak to Mr Robarts?’

‘Certainly I will’, said he.

‘Then I shall be much obliged to you. But, Mr Crawley, pray — pray, remember this: I would not on any account wish that you should be harsh with him. He is an excellent young man, and —’

‘Lady Lufton, if I do this, I can only do it in my own way, as best I may, using such words as God may give me at the time. I hope that I am harsh to no man; but it is worse than useless, in all cases, to speak anything but the truth.’

‘Of course — of course.’

‘If the ears be too delicate to hear the truth, the mind will be too perverse to profit by it.’ And then Mr Crawley got up to take his leave. But Lady Lufton insisted that he should go with her to luncheon. He hummed and ha’d and would fain have refused, but on this subject she was peremptory. It might be that she was unfit to advise a clergyman as to his duties, but in a matter of hospitality she did know what she was about. Mr Crawley should not leave the house without refreshment. As to this, she carried her point; and Mr Crawley — when the matter before him was cold roast beef and hot potatoes, instead of the relative position of a parish priest and his parishioner — became humble, submissive, and almost timid. Lady Lufton recommended Madeira instead of sherry, and Mr Crawley obeyed at once, and was, indeed, perfectly unconscious of the difference. Then there was a basket of seakale in the gig for Mrs Crawley; that he would have left behind had he dared, but he did not dare. Not a word was said to him as to the marmalade for the children which was hidden under the seakale, Lady Lufton feeling well aware that that would find its way to its proper destination without any necessity for his co-operation. And then Mr Crawley returned home in the Framley Court gig.

Three or four days after this he walked over to Framley parsonage. This he did on a Saturday, having learned that the hounds never hunted on that day; and he started early, so that he might be sure to catch Mr Robarts before he went out on his parish business. He was quite early enough to attain this object, for when he reached the parsonage door at about half-past nine, the vicar, with his wife and sister, were just sitting down to breakfast. ‘Oh, Crawley,’ said Robarts, before the other had well spoken, ‘you are a capital fellow;’ and then he got him a chair, and Mrs Robarts had poured him out tea, and Lucy had surrendered to him a knife and plate, before he knew under what guise to excuse his coming among them.

‘I hope you will excuse this intrusion,’ at last he muttered; ‘but I have a few words of business to which I will request your attention presently.’

‘Certainly,’ said Robarts, conveying a broiled kidney on to the plate before Mr Crawley; ‘but there is no preparation for business like a good breakfast. Lucy, where are the eggs?’ And then, John, in livery, brought in the fresh eggs. ‘Now, we shall do. I always eat my eggs while they’re hot, Crawley, and I advise you to do the same.’ To all this, Mr Crawley said very little, and he was not at all home under the circumstances. Perhaps a thought did pass across his brain, as to the difference between the meal which he had left on his own table, and that which he now saw before him; and as to any cause which might exist for such difference. But, if so, it was a very fleeting thought, for he had far other matter, now fully occupying his mind. And then the breakfast was over, and in a few minutes the two clergymen found themselves together in the parsonage study.’

‘Mr Robarts,’ began the senior, when he had seated himself uncomfortably on one of the ordinary chairs at the farther side of the well-stored library table, while Mark was sitting at his ease in his own arm-chair by the fire. ‘I have called upon you on an unpleasant business.’ Mark’s mind immediately flew off to Mr Sowerby’s bill, but he could not think it possible that Mr Crawley could have had anything to do with that.

‘But as a brother clergyman, and as one who esteems you much and wishes you well, I have thought myself bound to take this matter in hand.’

‘What matter is it Crawley?’

‘Mr Robarts, men say that your present mode of life is one not befitting a soldier in Christ’s army.’

‘Men say so? What men?’

‘The men around you, of your own neighbourhood; those who watch your life, and know all your doings; those who look to see you walking as a lamp to guide their feet, but find you consorting with horse-jockeys and hunters, galloping after hounds, and taking your place among the vainest of worldly pleasure-seekers. Those who have a right to expect an example of good living, and think they do not see it.’ Mr Crawley had gone at once to the root of the matter, and in doing so had certainly made his own task much the easier. There is nothing like going to the root of the matter at once when one has on hand an unpleasant piece of business.

‘And have such men deputed you to come here?’

‘No one has or could depute me. I have come to speak my own mind, not that of any other. But I refer to what those around you think and say, because it is to them that your duties are due. You owe it to those around you to live a godly, cleanly life; — as you owe it also, in a much higher way, to your Father who is in heaven. I now make bold to ask you whether you are doing your best to lead such a life as that?’ And then he remained silent, waiting for an answer. He was a singular man; so humble and meek, so unutterably inefficient and awkward in the ordinary intercourse of life, but one so bold and enterprising, almost eloquent, on the one subject which was the work of his mind! As he sat there, he looked into his companion’s face from out his sunken grey eyes with a gaze which made his victim quail. And then he repeated his words: ‘I now make bold to ask you, Mr Robarts, whether you are doing your best to lead such a life as may become a parish clergyman among his parishioners?’ And again he paused for an answer.

‘There are but few of us,’ said Mark, in a low tone, ‘who could safely answer that question in the affirmative.’

‘But are there many, think you, among us who would find the question so unanswerable as yourself? And even were there many, would you, young, enterprising, and talented as you are, be content to be numbered among them? Are you satisfied to be a castaway after you have taken upon yourself Christ’s armour? If you will say so, I am mistaken in you, and will go my way.’ There was again a pause, and then he went on. ‘Speak to me, my brother, and open your heart, if it be possible.’ And rising from his chair, he walked across the room, and laid his hand tenderly upon Mark’s shoulder. Mark had been sitting lounging in his chair, and had at first, for a moment only, thought to brazen it out. But all idea of brazening had now left him. He had raised himself from his comfortable ease, and was leaning forward with his elbow on the table; but now, when he heard these words, he allowed his head to sink upon his arms, and he buried his face between his hands.

‘It is a terrible falling off,’ continued Crawley: ‘terrible in the fall, but doubly terrible through that difficulty of returning. But it cannot be that it should content you to place yourself as one among those thoughtless sinners, for the crushing of whose sin you have been placed among them. You become a hunting parson, and ride with a happy mind among blasphemers and mocking devils — you, whose aspirations were so high, who have spoken so often and so well of the duties of a minister of Christ; you, who can argue in your pride as to the petty details of your Church, as though the broad teachings of its great and simple lessons were not enough for your energies! It cannot be that I have a hypocrite beside me in all those eager controversies!’

‘Not a hypocrite — not a hypocrite,’ said Mark, in a tone which was almost reduced to sobbing.

‘But a castaway! Is it so I must call you? No, Mr Robarts, not a castaway; neither a hypocrite, nor a castaway; but one who in walking has stumbled in the dark, and bruised his feet among the stones. Henceforth let him take a lantern in his hand, and look warily to his path, and walk cautiously among the thorns and rocks — cautiously, but yet boldly, with manly courage, but Christian meekness, as all men should walk on their pilgrimage through this vale of tears.’ And then, without giving his companion time to stop him he hurried out of the room, and from the house, and without again seeing any of the others of the family, stalked back on his road to Hogglestock, thus trampling fourteen miles through the deep mud in performance of the mission on which he had been sent.

It was some hours before Mr Robarts left his room. As soon as he found that Crawley was really gone, and that he should see him no more, he turned the lock of his door, and sat himself down to think of his present life. At about eleven his wife knocked, not knowing whether that other strange clergyman were there or no, for none had seen his departure. But Mark, answering cheerily, desired that he might be left to his studies. Let us hope that his thoughts and mental resolves were then of service to him.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01