At the end of the last chapter, we left Lucy Robarts waiting for an introduction to Mrs Crawley, who was sitting with one baby in her lap while she was rocking another who lay in a cradle at her feet. Mr Crawley, in the meanwhile, had risen from his seat with his finger between the leaves of an old grammar out of which he had been teaching his two elder children. The whole Crawley family was thus before them when Mrs Robarts and Lucy entered the sitting-room. ‘This is my sister-inlaw, Lucy,’ said Mrs Robarts. ‘Pray don’t move now, Mrs Crawley; or if you do, let me take baby.’ And she put out her arms and took the infant into them, making him quite at home there; for she had work of this kind of her own, at home, which she by no means neglected, though the attendance of nurses was more plentiful with her than at Hogglestock. Mrs Crawley did get up and told Lucy that she was glad to see her, and Mr Crawley came forward, grammar in hand, looking humble and meek. Could we have looked into the innermost spirit of him and his life’s partner, we should have seen that mixed with the pride of his poverty there was some feeling of disgrace that he was poor, but that with her, regarding this matter, there was neither pride nor shame. The realities of life had become so stern to her that the outward aspects of them were as nothing. She would have liked a new gown because it would have been useful; but it would have been nothing to her if all the county knew that the one in which she went to church had been turned three times. It galled him, however, to think that he and his were so poorly dressed. ‘I am afraid you can hardly find a chair, Miss Robarts,’ said Mr Crawley.
‘Oh, yes, there is nothing here but this young gentleman’s library,’ said Lucy, moving a pile of ragged, coverless books onto the table. ‘I hope he’ll forgive me for moving them.’
‘They are not Bob’s — at least, not the most of them — but mine,’ said the girl.
‘But some of them are mine,’ said the boy; ‘ain’t they, Grace?’
‘And are you a great scholar?’ asked Lucy, drawing the child to her.
‘I don’t know,’ said Grace, with a sheepish face. ‘I am in Greek Delectus and the irregular verbs.’
‘Greek Delectus and the irregular verbs!’ And Lucy put up her hands with astonishment.
‘And she knows an ode of Horace all by heart,’ said Bob.
‘An ode of Horace!’ said Lucy, still holding the young shamefaced prodigy close to her knees.
‘It is all that I can give them,’ said Mr Crawley, apologetically. ‘A little scholarship is the only fortune that has come my way, and I endeavour to share that with my children.’
‘I believe men may say that it is the best fortune any of us can have,’ said Lucy, thinking, however, in her own mind, that Horace and the irregular Greek verbs savoured too much of precocious forcing in a young lady of nine years old. But, nevertheless, Grace was a pretty, simple-looking girl, and clung to her ally closely, and seemed to like being fondled. So that Lucy anxiously wished that Mr Crawley could be got rid of and the presents produced.
‘I hope you have left Mr Robarts quite well,’ said Mr Crawley, with a stiff, ceremonial voice, differing very much from that in which he had so energetically addressed his brother clergyman when they were alone together in the study at Framley. ‘He is quite well, thank you. I suppose you have heard of his good fortune?’
‘Yes; I have heard of it,’ said Mr Crawley, gravely. ‘I hope that his promotion may tend in every way to his advantage here and hereafter.’ It seemed, however, to be manifest from the manner in which he expressed his kind wishes that his hopes and expectation did not go hand in hand together.
‘By the by, he desired us to say that he will call here tomorrow; at about eleven, didn’t he say, Fanny?’
‘Yes; he wishes to see you about some parish business, I think,’ said Mrs Robarts, looking up for a moment from the anxious discussion in which she was already engaged with Mrs Crawley on nursery matters.
‘Pray tell him,’ said Mr Crawley, ‘that I shall be happy to see him; though, perhaps, now that new duties have been thrown upon him, it will be better that I should visit him at Framley.’
‘His new duties do not disturb him much as yet,’ said Lucy. ‘And his riding over here will be no trouble to him.’
‘Yes; there he has the advantage over me. I unfortunately have no horse.’ And then Lucy began petting the little boy, and by degrees slipped a small bag of gingerbread-nuts out of her muff into his hands. She had not the patience necessary for waiting, as had her sister-inlaw. The boy took the bag, peeped into it, and then looked up into her face.
‘What is that, Bob?’ said Mr Crawley.
‘Gingerbread,’ faltered Bobby, feeling that a sin had been committed, though, probably feeling also that he himself could hardly as yet be accounted as deeply guilty.
‘Miss Robarts,’ said the father, ‘we are very much obliged to you; but our children are hardly used to such things.’
‘I am a lady with a weak mind, Mr Crawley, and always carry things of this sort about with me when I go to visit children; so you must forgive me, and allow your little boy to accept them.’
‘Oh, certainly, Bob, my child, give the bag to your mamma, and she will let you and Grace have them, one at a time.’ And then the bag in a solemn manner was carried over to their mother, who, taking it from her son’s hands, laid it high on a bookshelf.
‘And not one now?’ said Lucy Robarts, very piteously. ‘Don’t be so hard, Mr Crawley — not upon them, but upon me. May I not learn whether they are good of their kind?’
‘I am sure they are very good; but I think their mamma will prefer their being put by for the present.’ This was very discouraging to Lucy. If one small bag of gingerbread-nuts created so great a difficulty, how was she to dispose of the pot of guava jelly and a box of bonbons, which were still in her muff; or how distribute the packet of oranges with which the pony carriage was laden? And there was jelly for the sick child, and chicken broth, which was, indeed, another jelly; and, to tell the truth openly, there was also a joint of fresh pork and a basket of eggs from the Framley parsonage farmyard, which Mrs Robarts was to introduce, should she find herself capable of doing so; but which would certainly be cast out with utter scorn by Mr Crawley, if tendered in his immediate presence. There had also been a suggestion as to adding two or three bottles of port: but the courage of the ladies had failed them on that head, and the wine was not now added to their difficulties. Lucy found it very difficult to keep up a conversation with Mr Crawley — the more so as Mrs Robarts and Mrs Crawley presently withdrew into a bedroom, taking the two younger children with them. ‘How unlucky,’ thought Lucy, ‘that she has not got my muff with her!’ But the muff lay in her lap, ponderous with its rich enclosures.
‘I suppose you will live in Barchester for a portion of the year now,’ said Mr Crawley.
‘I really do not know as yet; Mark talks of taking lodgings for his first month’s residence.’
‘But he will have the house, will he not?’
‘Oh, yes; I suppose so.’
‘I fear he will find it interfere with his own parish — with his general utility there: the schools, for instance.’
‘Mark thinks that, as he is so near, he need not be much absent from Framley, even during his residence. And then Lady Lufton is so good about the schools.’
‘Ah! yes: but Lady Lufton is not a clergyman, Miss Robarts.’ It was on Lucy’s tongue to say that her ladyship was pretty nearly as bad, but she stopped herself. At this moment Providence sent great relief to Miss Robarts in the shape of Mrs Crawley’s red-armed maid-of-all-work, who, walking up to her master, whispered into his ear that he was wanted. It was the time of day at which his attendance was always required in his parish school; and that attendance being so punctually given, those who wanted him looked for him there at this hour, and if he were absent, did not scruple to send for him. ‘Miss Robarts, I am afraid you must excuse me,’ said he, getting up and taking his hat and stick. Lucy begged that she might not be at all in the way, and already began to speculate how she might best unload her treasures. ‘Will you make my compliments to Mrs Robarts, and say that I am sorry to miss the pleasure of wishing her good-bye? But I shall probably see her as she passes the school-house.’ And then, stick in hand, he walked forth, and Lucy fancied that Bobby’s eyes immediately rested on the bag of gingerbread-nuts.
‘Bob,’ said she, almost in a whisper, ‘do you like sugar-plumbs?’
‘Very much, indeed,’ said Bob, with exceeding gravity, and with his eye upon the window to see whether his father had passed.
‘Then come here,’ said Lucy. But as she spoke the door again opened, and Mr Crawley reappeared. ‘I have left a book behind me,’ he said; and coming back through the room, he took up the well-worn Prayer Book which accompanied him in all his wanderings through the parish. Bobby, when he saw his father, had retreated a few steps back, as also did Grace, who, to confess the truth, had been attracted by the sound of sugar-plumbs, in spite of the irregular verbs. And Lucy withdrew her hand from the muff and looked guilty. Was she not deceiving the good man — nay, teaching his own children to deceive him? But there are men made of such stuff that an angel could hardly live with them without some deceit. ‘Papa’s gone now,’ whispered Bobby; ‘I saw him turn round the corner.’ He, at any rate, had learned his lesson — as it was natural that he should do. Some one else, also, had learned that papa was gone; for while Bob and Grace were still counting the big lumps of sugar-candy, each employed the while for inward solace with an inch of barley-sugar, the front-door opened, and a big basket, and a bundle done up in kitchen cloth, made surreptitious entrance into the house, and were quickly unpacked by Mrs Robarts herself on the table in Mrs Crawley’s bedroom.
‘I did venture to bring them,’ said Fanny, with a look of shame, ‘for I know how a sick child occupies the whole house.’
‘Ah! my friend,’ said Mrs Crawley, taking hold of Mrs Robarts’s arm and looking into her face, ‘that sort of shame is over with me. God has tried us with want, and for my children’s sake I am glad of such relief.’
‘But will he be angry?’
‘I will manage it. Dear Mrs Robarts, you must not be surprised at him. His lot is sometimes very hard to bear; such things are so much worse for a man than for a woman.’ Fanny was not quite prepared to admit this in her own heart, but she made no reply on that head. ‘I am sure I hope we may be able to be of use to you,’ she said, ‘if you will only look upon me as an old friend, and write to me if you want me. I hesitate to come frequently for fear that I should offend him.’ And then, by degrees, there was confidence between them, and the poverty-stricken helpmate of the perpetual curate was able to speak of the weight of her burden to the well-to-do young wife of the Barchester prebendary. It was hard, the former said, to feel herself so different from the wives of other clergymen around her — to know that they lived softly, while she, with all the work of her hands, and unceasing struggle of her energies, could hardly manage to place wholesome food before her husband and children. It was a terrible thing — a grievous thing to think of, that all the work of her mind should be given up to such subjects as these. But, nevertheless, she could bear it, she said, as long he would carry himself like a man, and face his lot boldly before the world. And then she told how he had been better there at Hogglestock than in their former residence down in Cornwall, and in warm language she expressed her thanks to the friend who had done so much for them. ‘Mrs Arabin told me that she was so anxious you should go to them,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘Ah, yes; but that, I fear, is impossible. The children, you know, Mrs Robarts.’
‘I would take care of two of them for you.’
‘Oh, no; I could not punish you for your goodness in that way. But he would not go. He could go and leave me at home. Sometimes I have thought that it might be so, and I have done all in my power to persuade him. I have told him that if he could mix once more with the world, with the clerical world, you know, that he would be better fitted for the performance of his own duties. But he answers me angrily, that it is impossible — that his coat is not fit for the dean’s table,’ and Mrs Crawley almost blushed as she spoke of such a reason.
‘What! with an old friend like Dr Arabin? Surely that must be nonsense.’
‘I know that it is. The dean would be glad to see him with any coat. But the fact is that he cannot bear to enter the house of a rich man unless his duty calls him there.’
‘But surely that is a mistake?’
‘It is a mistake. But what can I do? I fear that he regards the rich as his enemies. He is pining for the solace of some friend to whom he could talk — for some equal with a mind educated like his own, to whose thoughts he could listen, and to whom he could speak his own thoughts. But such a friend must be equal, not only in mind, but in purse; and where can he ever find such a man as that?’
‘But you may get better preferment.’
‘Ah, no; and if he did, we are hardly fit for it now. If I could think that I could educate my children; if I could only do something for my poor Grace —’ In answer to this Mrs Robarts said a word or two, but not much. She resolved, however, that if she could get her husband’s leave, something should be done for Grace. Would it not be a good work? and was it not incumbent on her to make some kindly use of all the goods with which Providence had blessed herself? And then they went back to the sitting-room, each again with a young child in her arms. Mrs Crawley having stowed away in the kitchen the chicken broth and the leg of pork and the supply of eggs. Lucy had been engaged the while with the children, and when the two married ladies entered, they found that a shop had been opened at which all manner of luxuries were being readily sold and purchased at marvellously easy prices; the guava jelly was there, and the oranges, and the sugar-plums, red and yellow and striped; and, moreover, the gingerbread had been taken down in the audacity of their commercial speculations, and the nuts were spread out upon a board, behind which Lucy stood as shop-girl, disposing of them for kisses. ‘Mamma, mamma,’ said Bobby, running up to his mother, ‘you must buy something of her,’ and he pointed with his fingers to the shop-girl. ‘You must give her two kisses for that heap of barley-sugar.’ Looking at Bobby’s mouth at the time, one would have said that his kisses might be dispensed with.
When they were again in the pony carriage behind the impatient Puck, and were well away from the door, Fanny was the first to speak. ‘How very different those two are,’ she said; ‘different in their minds, and how false is his shame!’
‘But how much higher toned is her mind than his! How weak he is in many things, and how strong she is in everything! How false is his pride, and how false his shame!’
‘But we must remember what he has to bear. It is not every one that can endure such a life as his without false pride and false shame.’
‘But she has neither,’ said Lucy.
‘Because you have one hero in a family, does that give you a right to expect another?’ said Mrs Robarts. ‘Of all my own acquaintance, Mrs Crawley, I think, comes nearest to heroism.’ And then they passed by the Hogglestock School, and Mr Crawley, when he heard the noise of the wheels, came out. ‘You have been very kind,’ said he, ‘to remain so long with my poor wife.’
‘We had a great many things to talk about, after you went.’
‘It is very kind of you, for she does not often see a friend nowadays. Will you have the goodness to tell Mr Robarts that I shall be here at the school, at eleven o’clock tomorrow?’ And then he bowed, taking off his hat to them, and they drove on.
‘If he really does care about her comfort, I shall not think so badly of him,’ said Lucy.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01