On the next day at two o’clock punctually, Mark Robarts was at the “Dragon of Wantly” walking up and down the very room in which the party had breakfasted after Harold Smith’s lecture, and waiting for the arrival of Mr Sowerby. He had been very well able to divine what was the business on which his friend wished to see him, and he had been rather glad than otherwise to receive the summons. Judging of his friend’s character by what he had hitherto had seen, he thought that Mr Sowerby would have kept out of the way, unless he had it in his power to make some provision for these terrible bills. So he walked up and down the dingy room, impatient for the expected arrival, and thought himself wickedly ill-used in that Mr Sowerby was not there when the clock struck a quarter to three. But when the clock struck three, Mr Sowerby was there, and Mark Robarts’s hopes were nearly at an end.
‘Do you mean that they will demand nine hundred pounds?’ said Robarts, standing up and glaring angrily at the member of Parliament.
‘I fear they will,’ said Sowerby. ‘I think it is best to tell you the worst, in order that we may see what can be done.’
‘I can do nothing, and will do nothing,’ said Robarts. ‘They may do what they choose — what the law allows them.’ And then he thought of Fanny and his nursery, and Lucy refusing in her pride Lord Lufton’s offer, and he turned away his face that the hard man of the world before him might not see the tear gathering in his eye.
‘But, Mark, my dear fellow —’ said Sowerby, trying to have recourse to the power of his cajoling voice. Robarts, however, would not listen.
‘Mr Sowerby,’ said he, with an attempt at calmness which betrayed itself at every syllable, ‘it seems to me that you have robbed me. That I have been a fool, and worse than a fool, I know well; but — but — but I thought that your position in the world would guarantee me from such treatment as this.’ Mr Sowerby was by no means without feeling, and the words which he now heard cut him very deeply — the more so because it was impossible that he should answer them with an attempt at indignation. He had robbed his friend, and, with all his wit, knew no words at the present moment sufficiently witty to make it seem that he had not done so. ‘Robarts,’ said he, ‘you may say what you like to me now; I shall not resent it.’
‘Who would care for your resentment?’ said the clergyman, turning on him with ferocity. ‘The resentment of a gentleman is terrible to a gentleman; and the resentment of one just man is terrible to another. Your resentment!’— and then he walked twice the length of the room, leaving Sowerby dumb in his seat. ‘I wonder whether you ever thought of my wife and children when you were plotting this ruin for me!’ And then again he walked the room.
‘I suppose you will be calm enough presently to speak of this with some attempt to make a settlement?’
‘No; I will make no such attempt. These friends of yours, you tell me, have a claim on me for nine hundred pounds, of which they demand immediate payment. You shall be asked in a court of law how much of that money I have handled. You know that I have never touched — have never wanted to touch — one shilling. I will make no attempt at any settlement. My person is here, and there is my house. Let them do their worst.’
‘But, Mark —’
‘Call me by my name, sir, and drop that affectation of regard. What an ass I have been to be so cozened by a sharper!’ Sowerby had by no means expected this. He had always known that Robarts possessed what he, Sowerby, would have called the spirit of a gentleman. He had regarded him as a bold, open, generous fellow, able to take his own part when called on to do so, and by no means disinclined to speak his own mind; but he had not expected from him such a torrent of indignation, or thought that he was capable of such a depth of anger. ‘If you use such language, Robarts, I can only leave you.’
‘You are welcome. Go. You tell me that you are the messenger of these men who intend to work nine hundred pounds out of me. You have done your part in the plot, and have now brought their message. It seems to me that you had better go back to them. As for me, I want my time to prepare my wife for the destiny before her.’
‘Robarts, you will be sorry some day for the cruelty of your words.’
‘I wonder whether you will ever be sorry for the cruelty of your doings, or whether these things are really a joke to you.’
‘I am at this moment a ruined man,’ said Sowerby. ‘Everything is going from me — my place in the world, the estate of my family, my father’s house, my seat in Parliament, the power of living among my countrymen, or, indeed, of living anywhere; — but all this does not oppress me now so much as the misery which I have brought upon you.’
And then Sowerby also turned away his face, and wiped from his eyes tears which were not artificial. Robarts was still walking up and down the room, but it was not possible for him to continue his reproaches after this. This is always the case. Let a man endure to heap contumely on his own head, and he will silence the contumely of others — for the moment. Sowerby, without meditating on the matter, had had some inkling of this, and immediately saw that there was at last an opening for conversation. ‘You are unjust to me,’ said he, ‘in supposing that I have now no wish to save you. It is solely in the hope of doing so that I have come here.’
‘And what is your hope? That I should accept another brace of bills, I suppose.’
‘Not a brace; but one renewed bill for —’
‘Look here, Mr Sowerby. On no earthly consideration that can be put before me will I again sign my name to any bill in the guise of an acceptance. I have been very weak, and am ashamed of my weakness; but so much strength as that, I hope, is left to me. I have been very wicked, and am ashamed of my wickedness; but so much right principle as that, I hope, remains. I will put my name to no other bill; not for you, not even for myself.’
‘But, Robarts, under your present circumstances that will be madness.’
‘Then I will be mad.’
‘Have you seen Forrest? If you will speak to him, I think you will find that everything can be accommodated.’
‘I already owe Mr Forrest a hundred and fifty pounds, which I obtained from him when you pressed me for the price of that horse, and I will not increase the debt. What a fool I was again there! Perhaps you do not remember that, when I agreed to buy the horse, the price was to be my contribution to the liquidation of those bills.’
‘I do remember it; but I will tell you how that was.’
‘It does not signify. It has been all of a piece.’
‘But listen to me. I think you would feel for me if you knew all that I have gone through. I pledge you my solemn word that I had no intention of asking you for the money when you took the horse; — indeed I had not. But you remember that affair of Lufton’s, when he came to you at your hotel in London and was so angry about an outstanding bill.’
‘I know that he was very unreasonable as far as I was concerned.’
‘He was so; but that makes no difference. He was resolved, in his rage, to expose the whole affair; and I saw that, if he did so, it would be most injurious to you, seeing that you had just accepted your stall at Barchester.’ Here the poor prebendary winced terribly. ‘I moved heaven and earth to get up that bill. Those vultures stuck to their prey when they found the value which I attached to it, and I was forced to raise above a hundred pounds at the moment to obtain possession of it, although every shilling absolutely due on it had not long since been paid. Never in my life did I wish to get money as I did to raise that hundred and twenty pounds: and as I hope for mercy in my last moments, I did that for your sake. Lufton could not have injured me in that matter.’
‘But you told him that you got it for twenty-five pounds.’
‘Yes, I told him so. I was obliged to tell him that, or I should have apparently condemned myself by showing how anxious I was to get it. And you know that I could not have explained all this before him and you. You would have thrown up the stall in disgust.’ Would that he had! That was Mark’s wish now — his futile wish. In what a slough of despond had he come to wallow in consequence of his folly on that night at Gatherum Castle! He had done a silly thing, and was he now to rue it by almost total ruin? He was sickened also with all those lies. His very soul was dismayed by the dirt through which he was forced to wade. He had become unconsciously connected with the lowest dregs of mankind, and would have to see his name mingled with theirs in the daily newspapers. And for what had he done this? Why had he thus filed his mind and made himself a disgrace to his cloth? In order that he might befriend such a one as Mr Sowerby!
‘Well,’ continued Sowerby, ‘I did get the money, but you would hardly believe the rigour of the pledge which was exacted from me for repayment. I got it from Harold Smith, and never in my worst straits, will I again look to him for assistance. I borrowed it only for a fortnight; and in order that I might repay it, I was obliged to ask you for the price of the horse. Mark, it was on your behalf that I did all this — indeed it was.’
‘And now I am to repay you for your kindness by the loss of all that I have in the world.’
‘If you will put the affair into the hands of Mr Forrest, nothing need be touched — not a hair of a horse’s back; no, not though you should be obliged to pay the whole amount yourself gradually out of your income. You must execute a series of bills, falling due quarterly, and then —’
‘I will execute no bill, I will put my name to no paper in the matter; as to that my mind is fully made up. They may come and do their worst.’ Mr Sowerby persevered for a long time, but he was quite unable to move the parson from his position. He would do nothing towards making what Mr Sowerby called an arrangement, but persisted that he would remain at home at Framley, and that any one who had a claim upon him might take legal steps. ‘I shall do nothing myself,’ he said; ‘but if proceedings against me be taken, I shall prove that I have never had a shilling of the money.’ And with this resolution he quitted the Dragon of Wantly. Mr Sowerby at one time said a word as to the expediency of borrowing that sum of money from John Robarts; but as to this Mark would say nothing. Mr Sowerby was not the friend with whom he now intended to hold consultation in such matters. ‘I am not at present prepared,’ he said, ‘to declare what I may do; I must first see what steps others take.’ And then he took his hat and went off; and mounting his horse in the yard of the Dragon of Wantly — that horse which he had now so many reasons to dislike — he slowly rode back home.
Many thoughts passed through his mind during that ride, but only one resolution obtained itself a fixture there. He must now tell his wife everything. He would not be so cruel as to let it remain untold until a bailiff were at the door, ready to walk him off to the county jail, or until the bed on which they slept was to be sold from under them. Yes, he would tell her everything — immediately, before his resolution could again have faded away. He got off his horse in the yard, and seeing his wife’s maid at the kitchen door, desired her to beg her mistress to come to him in the book-room. He would not allow one half-hour to pass towards the waning of his purpose. If it be ordained that a man shall drown, had he not better drown and have done with it? Mrs Robarts came to him in his room, reaching him in time to touch his arm as he entered it. ‘Mary says you want me. I have been gardening, and she caught me just as I came in.’
‘Yes, Fanny, I do want you. Sit down for a moment.’ And walking across the room, he placed his whip in its proper place.
‘Oh, Mark, is there anything the matter?’
‘Yes, dearest; yes. Sit down, Fanny: I can talk to you better if you will sit.’ But she, poor lady, did not wish to sit. He had hinted at some misfortune, and therefore she felt a longing to stand by him and cling to him.
‘Well, there; I will if I must; but, Mark, do not frighten me. Why is your face so very wretched?’
‘Fanny, I have done very wrong,’ he said. ‘I have been very foolish. I fear that I have brought upon you great sorrow and trouble.’ And then he leaned his head upon his hands and turned his face away from her.
‘Oh, Mark, dearest Mark, my own Mark! What is it?’ And then she was quickly up from her chair, and went down on her knees before him. ‘Do not turn from me. Tell me, Mark! tell me, that we may share it.’
‘Yes, Fanny, I must tell you now; but I hardly know what you will think of me when you have heard it.’
‘I will think that you are my own husband, Mark; I will think that — that chiefly, whatever it may be.’ And then she caressed his knees, and looked up in his face, and, getting hold of one of his hands, pressed it between her own. ‘Even if you have been foolish, who should forgive you if I cannot?’ And then he told her all, beginning from that evening when Mr Sowerby had got him into his bedroom, and going on gradually, now about the bills, and now about the horses, till his poor wife was utterly lost in the complexity of the accounts. She could by no means follow him in the details of his story; nor could she quite sympathize with him in his indignation against Mr Sowerby, seeing that she did not comprehend at all the nature of the renewing of a bill. The only part to her of importance in the matter was the money which her husband would be called upon to pay; that, and her strong hope, which was already a conviction, that he would never again incur such debts.
‘And how much is it, dearest, altogether?’
‘These men claim nine hundred pounds of me.’
‘Oh dear! that is a terrible sum.’
‘And then there is the hundred and fifty which I have borrowed from the bank — the price of the horse, you know; and there are some other debts — not a great deal, I think; but people will now look for every shilling that is due to them. If I have to pay it all, it will be twelve or thirteen hundred pounds.’
‘That will be as much as a year’s income, Mark; even with the stall.’ That was the only word of reproach she said — if that could be called a reproach.
‘Yes,’ he said; ‘and it is claimed by men who will have no pity in exacting it at any sacrifice, if they have the power. And to think that I should have incurred all this debt, without having received anything for it. Oh, Fanny, what will you think of me!’ But she swore to him that she would think nothing of it — that she would never bear it in her mind against him — that it could have no effect in lessening her trust in him. Was he not her husband? She was so glad she knew it, that she might comfort him. And she did comfort him, making the weight seem lighter and lighter on his shoulders as he talked of it. And such weights do thus become lighter. A burden that will crush a single pair of shoulders will, when equally divided — when shared by two, each of whom is willing to take the heavier part — become light as a feather. Is not that sharing of the mind’s burdens one of the chief purposes for which a man wants a wife? For there is no folly so great as keeping one’s sorrows hidden. And this wife cheerfully, gladly, thankfully took her share. To endure with her lord all her lord’s troubles was easy to her; it was the work to which she had pledged herself. But to have thought that her lord had troubles not communicated to her — that would have been to her the one thing not to be borne. And then they discussed their plans; what mode of escape they might have out of this terrible money difficulty. Like a true woman, Mrs Robarts proposed at once to abandon all superfluities. They would sell all their horses; they would not sell their cows, but would sell the butter that came from them; they would sell the pony-carriage, and get rid of the groom. That the footman must go was so much a matter of course, that it was hardly mentioned. But then, as to that house at Barchester, the dignified prebendal mansion in the close — might they not be allowed to leave it unoccupied for one year longer — perhaps to let it? The world of course must know of their misfortune; but if that misfortune was faced bravely, the world would be less bitter in its condemnation. And then, above all things, everything must be told to Lady Lufton.
‘You may, at any rate, believe this, Fanny,’ said he, ‘that for no consideration which can be offered to me will I ever put my name to another bill.’ The kiss with which she thanked him for this was as warm and generous as though he had brought to her that day news of the brightest; and when he sat, as he did that evening, discussing it all, not only with his wife, but with Lucy, he wondered how it was that his troubles were now so light. Whether or no a man should have his own private pleasures, I will not now say; but it never can be worth his while to keep his sorrows private.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14