Mr Sowerby, in his resolution to obtain this good gift for the vicar of Framley, did not depend quite alone on the influence of his near connexion with the Lord Petty Bag. He felt the occasion to be one on which he might endeavour to move even higher powers than that, and therefore he had opened the matter to the duke — not by direct application, but through Mr Fothergill. No man who understood matters ever thought of going direct to the duke in such an affair as that. If one wanted to speak about a woman or a horse or a picture the duke could, on occasions, be affable enough. But through Mr Fothergill the duke was approached. It was represented, with some cunning, that this buying over of the Framley clergyman from the Lufton side would be a praiseworthy spoiling of the Amalekites. The doing so would give the Omnium interest a hold even in the cathedral close. And then it was known to all men that Mr Robarts had considerable influence over Lord Lufton himself. So guided, the Duke of Omnium did say two words to the Prime Minister, and two words from the duke went a great way, even with Lord Brock. The upshot of all this was, that Mark Robarts did get the stall; but he did not hear the tidings of his success till some days after his return to Framley.
Mr Sowerby did not forget to tell him of the great effort — the unusual effort, as he of Chaldicotes called it — which the duke had made on the subject. ‘I don’t know when he has done such a thing before,’ said Sowerby; ‘and you may be quite sure of this, he would not have done it now, had you not gone to Gatherum Castle when he asked you: indeed, Fothergill would have known that it was vain to attempt it. And I’ll tell you what, Mark — it does not do for me to make little of my own nest, but I truly believe the duke’s word will be more efficacious than the Lord Petty Bag’s solemn adjuration.’ Mark, of course, expressed his gratitude in proper terms, and did buy the horse for a hundred and thirty pounds. ‘He’s as well worth it,’ said Sowerby, ‘as any animal that ever stood on four legs; and my only reason for pressing him on you is, that when Tozer’s day does come round, I know you will have to stand us to something about that tune.’ It did not occur to Mark to ask him why the horse should not be sold to some one else, and the money forthcoming in the regular way. But this would not have suited Mr Sowerby.
Mark knew that the beast was good, and as he walked to his lodgings was half proud of his new possession. But then, how would he justify it to his wife, or how introduce the animal into his stables without attempting any justification in the matter? And yet, looking to the absolute amount of his income, surely he might feel himself entitled to buy a new horse when it suited him. He wondered what Mr Crawley would say when he heard of the new purchase. He had lately fallen into a state of much wondering as to what his friends and neighbours would say about him. He had now been two days in town, and was to go down after breakfast on the following morning so that he might reach home by Friday afternoon. But on that evening, just as he was going to bed, he was surprised by Lord Lufton coming into the coffee room at his hotel. He walked in with a hurried step, his face was red, and it was clear that he was very angry. ‘Robarts,’ said he, walking up to his friend and taking the hand that was extended to him, ‘do you know anything about this man Tozer?’
‘Tozer — what Tozer. I have heard Sowerby speak of such a man.’
‘Of course you have. If I do not mistake you have written to me about him yourself.’
‘Very probably. I remember Sowerby mentioning the man with reference to your affairs. But why do you ask me?’
‘This man has not only written to me, but has absolutely forced his way into my rooms when I was dressing for dinner; and absolutely had the impudence to tell me that if I did not honour some bill which he holds for eight hundred pounds he would proceed against me.’
‘But you settled all that matter with Sowerby?’
‘I did settle it at very great cost to me. Sooner than have a fuss, I paid him through the nose — like a fool that I was — everything that he claimed. This is an absolute swindle, and if it goes on I will expose it as such.’ Robarts looked round the room, but luckily there was not a soul in it but themselves. ‘You do not mean that Sowerby is swindling you?’ said the clergyman.
‘It looks very like it,’ said Lord Lufton; ‘and I tell you fairly that I am not in a humour to endure any more of this sort of thing. Some years ago I made an ass of myself through that man’s fault. But four thousand pounds should have covered the whole of what I really lost. I have now paid more than three times that sum; and, by heavens! I will not pay more without exposing the whole affair.’
‘But, Lufton, I do not understand. What is this bill? — has it your name on it?’
‘Yes, it has: I’ll not deny my name, and if there be absolute need, I will pay it; but, if I do so, my lawyer will sift it, and it shall go before a jury.’
‘But I thought all those bills were paid.’
‘I left it to Sowerby to get up the old bills when they were renewed, and now one of them has in truth been already honoured is brought against me.’ Mark could not but think of the two documents which he himself had signed, and both of which were now undoubtedly in the hands of Tozer, or of some other gentleman of the same profession; — which both might be brought against him, the second as soon as he should have satisfied the first. And then he remembered that Sowerby had said something to him about an outstanding bill, for the filling up of which some trifle must be paid, and of this he reminded Lord Lufton.
‘And do you call eight hundred pounds a trifle? If so, I do not.’
‘They will probably make no such demand as that.’
‘But I tell you they do make such a demand, and have made it. The man whom I saw, and who told me that he was Tozer’s friend, but who was probably Tozer himself, positively swore to me that he would be obliged to take legal proceedings if the money were not forthcoming within a week or ten days. When I explained to him that it was an old bill that had been renewed, he declared that his friends had given full value for it.’
‘Sowerby said that you would probably have to pay ten pounds to redeem it. I should offer the man some such sum as that.’
‘My intention is to offer the man nothing, but to leave the affair in the hands of my lawyer with instructions to him to spare none; neither myself nor any one else. I am not going to allow such a man as Sowerby to squeeze me like an orange.’
‘But, Lufton, you seem as though you were angry with me.’
‘No, I am not. But I think it is as well to caution you about this man; my transactions with him lately have chiefly been through you, and therefore —’
‘But they have only been so through his and your wish: because I have been anxious to oblige you both. I hope you don’t mean to say that I am concerned in these bills.’
‘I know that you are concerned in bills with him.’
‘Why, Lufton, am I to understand then, that you are accusing me of having any interest in these transactions which you have called swindling?’
‘As far as I am concerned there has been swindling, and there is swindling going on now.’
‘But you do not answer my question. Do you bring any accusation against me? If so, I agree with you that you had better go to your lawyer.’
‘I think that is what I shall do.’
‘Very well. But, upon the whole, I never heard of a more unreasonable man, or of one whose thoughts are more unjust than yours. Solely with the view of assisting you, and solely at your request, I spoke to Sowerby about these money transactions of yours. Then, at his request, which originated out of your request, he using me as his ambassador to you, as you had used me as yours to him, I wrote and spoke to you. And now this is the upshot.’
‘I bring no accusation against you, Robarts; but I know you have dealings with this man. You have told me so yourself.’
‘Yes, at his request to accommodate him. I have put my name to a bill.’
‘Only to one?’
‘Only to one; and then to that same renewed, or not exactly the same, but to one which stands for it. The first was for four hundred pounds; the last for five hundred.’
‘All which you will have to make good, and the world will of course tell you that you have paid that price for this stall at Barchester.’ This was terrible to be borne. He had heard much lately which had frightened and scared him, but nothing so terrible as this; nothing which so stunned him, or conveyed to his mind so frightful a reality of misery and ruin. He made no immediate answer, but standing on the hearth-rug with his back to the fire, looked up the whole length of the room. Hitherto his eyes had been fixed upon Lord Lufton’s face, but now it seemed to him as though he had but little more to do with Lord Lufton. Lord Lufton and Lord Lufton’s mother were neither to be counted among those who wished him well. Upon whom indeed could he now count, except that wife of his bosom upon whom he was bringing all this wretchedness? In that moment of agony ideas ran quickly through his brain. He would immediately abandon his preferment at Barchester, of which it might be said with so much colour that he had bought it. He would go to Harold Smith, and say positively that he declined it. Then he would return home and tell his wife all that had occurred; — tell the whole also to Lady Lufton, if that might still be of service. He would make arrangement for the payment of both those bills as they might be presented, asking no questions as to the justice of the claim, making no complaint to any one, not even to Sowerby. He would put half his income, if half were necessary, into the hands of Forrest the banker, till all was paid. He would sell every horse he had. He would part with his footman and groom, and at any rate strive like a man to get again a firm footing on good ground. Then, at that moment, he loathed with his whole soul the position in which he had found himself placed, and his own folly which had placed him there. How could he reconcile it to his conscience that he was there in London with Sowerby and Harold Smith, petitioning for Church preferment to a man who should have been altogether powerless in such a matter, buying horses, and arranging about past due bills? He did not reconcile it to his conscience. Mr Crawley had been right when he told him that he was a castaway.
Lord Lufton whose anger during the whole interview had been extreme, and who had become more angry the more he talked, had now walked once or twice up and down the room; and as he so walked the idea did occur to him that he had been unjust. He had come there with the intention of exclaiming against Sowerby, and of inducing Robarts to convey to that gentleman, that if he, Lord Lufton, were made to undergo any further annoyance about this bill, the whole affair should be thrown into the lawyer’s hands; but instead of doing this, he had brought an accusation against Robarts. That Robarts had latterly become Sowerby’s friend rather than his own in all these horrid money dealings, had galled him; and now he had expressed himself in terms much stronger than he had intended to use. ‘As to you personally, Mark,’ he said, coming back to the spot on which Robarts was standing, ‘I do not wish to say anything that shall annoy you.’
‘You have said quite enough, Lufton.’
‘You cannot be surprised that I should be angry and indignant at the treatment I have received.’
‘You might, I think, have separated in your mind those who have wronged you, if there has been such wrong, from those who have only endeavoured to do your will and pleasure for you. That I, as a clergyman, have been very wrong in taking any part whatsoever in these matters, I am well aware. That as a man I have been outrageously foolish in lending my name to Mr Sowerby, I also know well enough; it is, perhaps, as well that I should be told of this somewhat rudely; but I certainly did not expect the lesson to come from you.’
‘Well, there has been mischief enough. The question is, what we had better now both do?’
‘You have said what you mean to do. You will put the affair in the hands of your lawyer.’
‘Not with any object of exposing you.’
‘Exposing me, Lord Lufton! Why, one would think that I had had the handling of your money.’
‘You will misunderstand me. I think no such thing. But do you not know yourself that if legal steps be taken in this wretched affair, your arrangements with Sowerby will be brought to light?’
‘My arrangements with Sowerby will consist in paying or having to pay, on his account, a large sum of money, for which I have never had and shall never have any consideration whatever.’
‘And what will be said about this stall at Barchester?’
‘After the charge which you brought against me just now, I shall decline to accept it.’ At this moment three or four other gentlemen entered the room, and the conversation between the two friends was stopped. They still remained standing near the fire, but for a few minutes neither of them said anything. Robarts was waiting till Lord Lufton should go away, and Lord Lufton had not yet said that which he had come to say. At last he spoke again, almost in a whisper: ‘I think it will be best to ask Sowerby to come to my rooms tomorrow, and I think also that you should meet him there.’
‘I do not see any necessity for my presence,’ said Robarts. ‘It seems probable that I shall suffer enough for meddling with your affairs, and I will do so no more.’
‘Of course, I cannot make you come; but I think it will be only just to Sowerby, and it will be a favour to me.’ Robarts again walked up and down the room for half a dozen times, trying to resolve what it would most become him to do in the present emergency. If his name were dragged before the courts; — if he should be shown up in the public papers as having been engaged in accommodation bills, that would certainly be ruinous to him. He had already learned from Lord Lufton’s innuendoes what he might expect to hear as the public version of his share in these transactions! And then his wife — how would she bear such exposure? ‘I will meet Mr Sowerby at your rooms tomorrow, on one condition,’ he at last said.
‘And what is that?’
‘That I receive you positive assurance that I am not suspected by you of having had any pecuniary interest whatever in any matters with Mr Sowerby, either as concerns your affairs of those of anybody else.’
‘I have never suspected you of any such thing. But I have thought that you were compromised with him.’
‘And so I am — I am liable for these bills. But you ought to have known, and do know, that I have never received a shilling on account of such liability. I have endeavoured to oblige a man whom I regarded first as your friend, and then as my own; and this has been the result.’ Lord Lufton did at last give him the assurance that he desired, as they sat with their heads together over one of the coffee-room tables; and then Robarts promised that he would postpone his return to Framley till the Saturday, so that he might meet Sowerby at Lord Lufton’s chambers in the Albany on the following afternoon. As soon as this was arranged, Lord Lufton took his leave and went his way.
After this poor Mark had a very uneasy night of it. It was clear enough that Lord Lufton had thought, if he did not still think, that the stall at Barchester was to be given as pecuniary recompense in return for certain money accommodation to be afforded by the nominee to the dispenser of this patronage. Nothing on earth could be worse than this. In the first place it would be simony; and then it would be simony beyond all description mean and simoniacal. The very thought of it filled Mark’s soul with horror and dismay. It might be that Lord Lufton’s suspicions were now at rest; but others would think the same thing, and their suspicions it would be impossible to allay; those others would consist of the outer world, which is always eager to gloat over the detected vice of a clergyman. And that wretched horse which he had purchased, and the purchase of which should have prohibited him from saying that nothing of value had accrued to him in these transactions with Mr Sowerby! what was he to do about that? And then of late he had been spending, and had continued to spend, more money than he could afford. This very journey of his up to London would be most imprudent, if it should become necessary for him to give up all hope of holding the prebend. As to that he had made up his mind; but then again he unmade it, as men always do in such troubles. That line of conduct which he had laid down for himself in the first moments of his indignation against Lord Lufton, by adopting which he would have to encounter poverty, and ridicule, and discomfort, the annihilation of his high hopes, and the ruin of his ambition — that, he said to himself over and over again, would now be the best for him. But it is so hard for us to give up our high hopes, and willingly encounter poverty, ridicule and discomfort!
On the following morning, however, he boldly walked down to the Petty Bag Office, determined to let Harold Smith know that he was no longer desirous of the Barchester stall. He found his brother there, still writing artistic notes to anxious peeresses on the subject of Buggins’s non-vacant situation; but the great man of the place, the Lord Petty Bag himself, was not there. He might probably look in when the House was beginning to sit, perhaps at four or a little after; but he certainly would not be at the office in the morning. The functions of the Lord Petty Bag he was no doubt performing elsewhere. Perhaps he had carried his work home with him — a practice which the world should know is not uncommon with civil servants of exceeding zeal. Mark did think of opening his heart to his brother, and of leaving a message with him. But his courage failed him, or perhaps it might be more correct to say that his prudence prevented him. It would be better for him, he thought, to tell his wife before he told anyone else. So he merely chatted with his brother for half an hour and then left him. The day was very tedious till the hour came at which he was to attend at Lord Lufton’s rooms; but at last it did come, and just as the clock struck he turned out of Piccadilly into Albany. As he was going across the court before he entered the building, he was greeted by a voice just behind him. ‘As punctual as the big clock on Barchester tower,’ said Mr Sowerby. ‘See what it is to have a summons from a great man, Mr Prebendary.’ He turned round and extended his hand mechanically to Mr Sowerby, and as he looked at him he thought he had never before seen him so pleasant in appearance, so free from care, and so joyous in demeanour.
‘You have heard from Lord Lufton,’ said Mark, in a voice that was certainly very lugubrious.
‘Heard from him! oh, yes, of course I have heard from him. I’ll tell you what it is, Mark,’ and he now spoke almost in a whisper as they walked together along the Albany passage, ‘Lufton is a child in money matters — a perfect child. The dearest finest fellow in the world, you know; but a perfect baby in money matters.’ And then they entered his lordship’s rooms. Lord Lufton’s countenance also was lugubrious enough, but this did not in the least abash Sowerby, who walked quickly up to the young lord with his gait perfectly self-possessed and his face radiant with satisfaction.
‘Well, Lufton, how are you?’ said he. ‘It seems that my worthy friend Tozer has been giving you some trouble?’ Then Lord Lufton with a face by no means radiant with satisfaction again began the story of Tozer’s fraudulent demand upon him. Sowerby did not interrupt him, but listened patiently to the end; — quite patiently, although Lord Lufton, as he made himself more and more angry by the history of his own wrongs, did not hesitate to pronounce certain threats against Mr Sowerby, as he had pronounced them before Mark Robarts. He would not, he said, pay a shilling, except through his lawyer; and he would instruct his lawyer, that before he paid anything, the whole matter should be exposed openly in court. He did not care, he said, what might be the effect on himself or on any one else. He was determined that the whole case should go to a jury. ‘To grand jury, and special jury, and common jury, and Old Jewry, if you like,’ said Sowerby. ‘The truth is, Lufton, you lost some money, and as there was some delay in paying it, you have been harassed.’
‘I have paid more that I lost three times over,’ said Lord Lufton, stamping his foot.
‘I will not go into that question now. It was settled as I thought some time ago by persons to whom you yourself referred it. But will you tell me this: why on earth should Robarts be troubled in this matter? What has he done?’
‘Well, I don’t know. He arranged the matter with you.’
‘No such thing. He was kind enough to carry a message from you to me, and to convey a return message from me to you. That has been his part in it.’
‘You don’t suppose that I want to implicate him: do you?’
‘I don’t think you want to implicate any one, but you are hot-headed and difficult to deal with, and very irrational into the bargain. And, what is worse, I must say you are a little suspicious. In all this matter I have harassed myself greatly to oblige you, and in return I have got more kicks than halfpence.’
‘Did you not give this bill to Tozer — the bill which he now holds?’
‘In the first place he does not hold it; and in the next place I did not give it to him. These things pass through scores of hands before they reach the man who makes the application for payment.’
‘And who came to me the other day?’
‘That, I take it, was Tom Tozer, a brother of our Tozer’s.’
‘Then he holds the bill, for I saw it with him.’
‘Wait a moment; that is very likely. I sent you word that you would have to pay for taking it up. Of course they don’t abandon those sort of things without some consideration.’
‘Ten pounds, you said,’ observed Mark.
‘Ten or twenty; some such sum as that. But you were hardly so soft as to suppose that the man would ask for such a sum. Of course he would demand the full payment. There is the bill, Lord Lufton,’ and Sowerby, producing a document, handed it across the table to his lordship. ‘I gave five-and-twenty pounds for it this morning.’ Lord Lufton took the paper and looked at it.
‘Yes,’ said he, ‘that’s the bill. What am I to do with it now?’
‘Put it with the family archives,’ said Sowerby — ‘or behind the fire, just which you please.’
‘And this is the last of them? Can no other be brought up?’
‘You know better than I do what paper you may have put your hand to. A know of no other. At the last renewal that was the only outstanding bill of which I was aware.’
‘And you have paid five-and-twenty pounds for it?’
‘I have. Only that you have been in such a tantrum about it, and would have made such a noise this afternoon if I had not brought it, I might have had it for fifteen or twenty. In three or four days they would have taken fifteen.’
‘The odd ten pounds does not signify, and I’ll pay you the twenty-five of course,’ said Lord Lufton, who now began to feel a little ashamed of himself.
‘You may do as you please about that.’
‘Oh! it’s my affair, as a matter of course. Any amount of that kind I don’t mind,’ and he sat down to fill in a cheque for the money.
‘Well, now, Lufton, let me say a few words to you,’ said Sowerby, standing with his back against the fireplace, and playing with a small cane which he held in his hand. ‘For heaven’s sake try and be a little more charitable to those around you. When you become fidgety about anything, you indulge in language which the world won’t stand, though men who know you as well as Robarts and I may consent to put up with it. You have accused me, since I have been here, of all manner of iniquity —’
‘Now, Sowerby —’
‘My dear fellow, let me have my say out. You have accused me, I say, and I believe that you have accused him. But it has never occurred to you, I dare say, to accuse yourself.’
‘Indeed it has.’
‘Of course you have been wrong in having to do with such men as Tozer. I have also been very wrong. It wants no great moral authority to tell us that. Pattern gentlemen don’t have dealings with Tozer, and very much the better they are for not having them. But a man should have back enough to bear the weight which he himself puts on it. Keep away from Tozer, if you can, for the future; but if you do deal with him, for heaven’s sake keep your temper.’
‘That’s all very fine, Sowerby; but you know as well as I do —’
‘I know this,’ said the devil, quoting Scripture, as he folded up the cheque for twenty-five pounds, and put it in his pocket, ‘that when a man sows tares, he won’t reap wheat, and it’s no use to expect it. I am tough in these matters, and can bear a great deal — that is, if I be not pushed too far,’ and he looked full into Lord Lufton’s face as he spoke; ‘but I think you have been very hard upon Robarts.’
‘Never mind me, Sowerby; Lord Lufton and I are very old friends.’
‘And may therefore take a liberty with each other. Very well. And now I’ve done my sermon. My dear dignitary, allow me to congratulate you. I hear from Fothergill that that little affair of yours has been definitely settled.’ Mark’s face again became clouded. ‘I rather think,’ said he, ‘that I shall decline the presentation.’
‘Decline it!’ said Sowerby, who, having used his utmost efforts to obtain it, would have been more absolutely offended by such vacillation on the vicar’s part than by any personal abuse which either he or Lord Lufton could heap upon him.
‘I think I shall,’ said Mark.
‘And why?’ Mark looked up at Lord Lufton, and then remained silent for a moment.
‘There can be no occasion for such a sacrifice under the present circumstances,’ said his lordship.
‘And under what circumstances could there be occasion for it?’ asked Sowerby. ‘The Duke of Omnium has used some little influence to get the place for you as a parish clergyman belonging to his county, and I should think it monstrous if you were to reject it.’ And then Robarts openly stated the whole reasons, explaining exactly what Lord Lufton had said with reference to the bill transactions, and to the allegation which would be made as to the stall having been given in payment for the accommodation.
‘Upon my word that’s too bad,’ said Sowerby.
‘Now, Sowerby, I won’t be lectured,’ said Lord Lufton.
‘I have done my lecture,’ said he, aware, perhaps, that it would not do for him to push his friend too far, ‘and I shall not give a second. But, Robarts, let me tell you this: as far as I know, Harold Smith has had little or nothing to do with the appointment. The duke has told the Prime Minister that he was very anxious that a parish clergyman from the county should go to the chapter, and then, at Lord Brock’s request, he named you. If under those circumstances you talk of giving it up, I shall believe you to be insane. As for the bill which you accepted for me, you need have no uneasiness about it. The money will be ready; but of course, when that time comes, you will let me have the hundred and thirty for —’ And then Mr Sowerby took his leave, having certainly made himself master of the occasion. If a man of fifty have his wits about him, and be not too prosy, he can generally make himself master of the occasion, when his companions are under thirty. Robarts did not stay at the Albany long after him, but took his leave, having received some assurances of Lord Lufton’s regret for what had passed and many promises of his friendship for the future. Indeed Lord Lufton was a little ashamed of himself. ‘And as for the prebend, after what has passed, of course you must accept it.’ Nevertheless his lordship had not omitted to notice Mr Sowerby’s hint about the horse and the hundred and thirty pounds.
Robarts, as he walked back to his hotel, thought that he certainly would accept the Barchester promotion, and was very glad that he had said nothing on the subject to his brother. On the whole his spirits were much raised. That assurance of Sowerby’s about the bill was very comforting to him; and, strange to say, he absolutely believed it. In truth, Sowerby had been completely the winning horse at the late meeting, that both Lord Lufton and Robarts were inclined to believe almost anything he said; — which was not always the case with either of them.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01