It has already been told how things went on between the Tozers, Mr Curling, and Mark Robarts during that month. Mr Forrest had drifted out of the business altogether, as also had Mr Sowerby, as far as any active participation in it went. Letters came frequently from Mr Curling to the parsonage, and at last came a message by special mission to say that the evil day was at hand. As far as Mr Curling’s professional experience would enable him to anticipate or foretell the proceedings of such a man as Tom Tozer he thought that the sheriff’s officers would be at Framley parsonage on the following morning. Mr Curling’s experience did not mislead him in this respect. ‘And what will you do, Mark?’ said Fanny, speaking through her tears, after she had read the letter which her husband handed to her.
‘Nothing. What can I do? They must come.’
‘Lord Lufton came today. Will you go to him?’
‘No. If I were to do so it would be the same thing as asking him for the money.’
‘Why not borrow it of him, dearest? Surely it would not be so much for him to lend?’
‘I could not do it. Think of Lucy, and how she stands with him. Besides, I have already had words with Lufton about Sowerby and his money matters. He thinks that I am to blame, and he would tell me so; and then there would sharp things said between us. He would advance me the money if I pressed him for it, but he would do so in a way that would make it impossible that I should take it.’
There was nothing more, then, to be said. If she had had her own way, Mrs Robarts would have gone at once to Lady Lufton, but she could not induce her husband to sanction such a proceeding. The objection to seeking assistance from her ladyship was as strong as that which prevailed as to her son. There had already been some little beginning of ill-feeling, and under such circumstances it was impossible to ask for pecuniary assistance. Fanny, however, had a prophetic assurance that assistance out of these difficulties must in the end come to them from that quarter, or not at all; and she would fain, had she been allowed, make everything known at the big house. On the following morning they breakfasted at the usual hour, but in great sadness. A maid-servant whom Mrs Robarts had brought with her when she married, told that a rumour of what was to happen had reached the kitchen. Stubbs, the groom, had been in Barchester on the preceding day, and, according to his account — so said Mary — everybody in the city was talking about it. ‘Never mind, Mary,’ said Mrs Robarts, and Mary replied, ‘Oh, no, of course not, ma’am.’ In these days Mrs Robarts was ordinarily very busy, seeing that there were six children in the house, four of whom had come to her but ill supplied with infantine belongings; and now, as usual, she went about her work immediately after breakfast. But she moved about the house very slowly, and was almost unable to give her orders to the servants, and spoke sadly to the children who hung about her wondering what was the matter. Her husband at the same time took himself to his book-room, but when there did not attempt any employment. He thrust his hands into his pockets, and, leaning against the fire-place, fixed his eyes upon the table before him without looking at anything that was on it; it was impossible for him to betake himself to his work. Remember what is the ordinary labour of a clergyman in his study, and think how fit he must have been for such employment! What would have been the nature of a sermon composed at such a moment, and with what satisfaction could he have used the sacred volume in referring to it for arguments? He, in this respect, was worse off than his wife; she did employ herself, but he stood there without moving, doing nothing, with fixed eyes thinking of what men would say of him. Luckily for him, this state of suspense was not long, for within half an hour of his leaving the breakfast-table, the footman knocked at his door — that footman with whom, at the beginning of his difficulties, he had made up his mind to dispense, but who had been kept on because of the Barchester prebend.
‘If it please you reverence, there are two men outside,’ said the footman. Two men! Mark knew well enough what men they were, but he could hardly take the coming of two such men to his quiet country parsonage quite as a matter of course.
‘Who are they, John?’ said he, not wishing any answer, but because the question was forced upon him.
‘I’m afeard they’re — bailiffs, sir.’
‘Very well, John; that will do; of course they must do what they please about the place.’ And then when the servant left him, he still stood without moving, exactly as he stood before. There he remained for ten minutes, but the time went by very slowly. When about noon some circumstances told him what was the hour, he was astonished to find that the day had not nearly passed away. And then another tap was struck on the door — a sound which he well recognized — and his wife crept silently into the room. She came close up to him before she spoke, and put her arm within his.’
‘Mark,’ she said, ‘the men are here; they are in the yard.’
‘I know it,’ he answered gruffly.
‘Will it be better that you should see them, dearest?’
‘See them; no; what good can I do by seeing them? But I shall see them soon enough; they will be here, I suppose, in a few minutes.’
‘They are taking an inventory, cook says; they are in the stable now.’
‘Very well; they must do as they please; I cannot help them.’
‘Cook says that if they are allowed their meals and some beer, and if nobody takes anything away, they will be quite civil.’
‘Civil! But what does it matter! Let them eat and drink what they please, as long as the food lasts. I don’t suppose the butcher will send you more.’
‘But, Mark, there’s nothing due to the butcher — only the regular monthly bill.’
‘Very well; you’ll see.’
‘Oh, Mark, don’t look at me in that way. Do not turn away from me. What is to comfort us if we do not cling to each other now?’
‘Comfort us! God help you! I wonder, Fanny, that you can bear to stay in the room with me.’
‘Mark, dearest Mark, my own dear, dearest husband! Who is to be true to you, if I am not? You shall not turn from me. How can anything like this make a difference between you and me?’ And then she threw her arms round his neck and embraced him. It was a terrible morning to him, and one of which every incident will dwell in his memory to the last day of his life. He had been so proud in his position — had assumed to himself so prominent a standing — had contrived, by some trick which he had acquired, to carry his head so high above the heads of neighbouring parsons. It was this that had taken him among great people, had introduced him to the Duke of Omnium, had procured for him the stall at Barchester. But how was he to carry his head now? What would the Arabins and Grantlys say? How would the bishop sneer at him, and Mrs Proudie and her daughters tell of him in all their quarters? How would Crawley look at him — Crawley, who had already once had him on the hip? The stern severity of Crawley’s face loomed upon him now. Crawley, with his children half naked, and his wife a drudge, and himself half starved, had never had a bailiff in his house at Hogglestock. And then his own curate, Evans, whom he had patronized, and treated almost as a dependant — how was he to look at his curate in the face and arrange with him for the sacred duties of the next Sunday? His wife still stood by him, gazing into his face; and as he looked at her and thought of her misery, he could not control his heart with reference to the wrongs which Sowerby had heaped on him. It was Sowerby’s falsehood and Sowerby’s fraud which had brought upon him and his wife this terrible anguish.
‘If there be justice on earth he will suffer for it yet,’ he said at last, not speaking intentionally to his wife, but unable to repress his feelings.
‘Do not wish him evil, Mark; you may be sure he has his own sorrows.’
‘His own sorrows! No; he is callous to such misery as this. He has become so hardened by dishonesty that all this is mirth to him. If there be punishment in heaven for falsehood —’
‘Oh, Mark, do not curse him!’
‘How am I to keep myself from cursing when I see what he has brought upon you?’
‘“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,”’ answered the young wife, not with solemn, preaching accent, as though bent on reproof, but with the softest whisper into his ear. ‘Leave that to Him, Mark; and for us, let us pray that He may soften the hearts of us all; — of him who has caused us to suffer, and of our own.’ Mark was not called upon to reply to this, for he was again disturbed by a servant at the door. It was the cook this time herself, who had come with a message from the men of the law. And she had come, be it remembered, not from any necessity that she as cook should do this line of work; for the footman, or Mrs Robarts’s maid, might have come as well as she. But when things are out of course servants are always out of course also. As a rule, nothing will induce a butler to go into a stable, or persuade a housemaid to put her hand to a frying-pan. But now that this new excitement had come upon the household — seeing that the bailiffs were in possession, and that the chattels were being entered into a catalogue, everybody was willing to do everything — everything but his or her own work. The gardener was looking after the dear children; the nurse was doing the rooms before the bailiffs could reach them; the groom had gone into the kitchen to get their lunch ready for them; and the cook was walking about with an inkstand, obeying all the orders of the great potentates. As far as the servants were concerned, it may be a question whether the coming of the bailiffs had not hitherto been regarded as a treat.
‘If you please, ma’am,’ said Jemima cook, ‘they wishes to know in which room you’d be pleased to have the inmin-tory took fust. ‘Cause ma’am, they wouldn’t disturb you nor master more than can be avoided. For their line of life, ma’am, they is very civil — very civil indeed.’
‘I suppose they may go into the drawing-room,’ said Mrs Robarts, in a sad low voice. All nice women are proud of their drawing-rooms, and she was very proud of hers. It had been furnished when money was plenty with them, immediately after their marriage, and everything in it was pretty, good, and dear to her. O, ladies, who have drawing-rooms in which the things are pretty, good, and dear to you, think of what it would be to have two bailiffs rummaging among them with pen and ink-horn, making a catalogue preparatory to a sheriff’s auction; and all without fault or extravagance of your own! There were things there that had been given to her by Lady Lufton, by Lady Meredith, and other friends, and the idea did occur to her that it might be possible to save them from contamination; but she would not say a word, lest by so saying she might add to Mark’s misery.
‘And then the dining-room,’ said Jemima cook, in a tone almost of elation.
‘Yes; if they please.’
‘And then master’s book-room here; or perhaps the bedrooms, if you and master be still here.’
‘Any way they please, cook; it does not much signify,’ said Mrs Robarts. But for some days after that Jemima was by no means a favourite with her.
The cook was hardly out of the room before a quick footstep was heard on the gravel before the window, and the hall door was immediately opened.
‘Where is your master?’ said the well-known voice of Lord Lufton; and then in half a minute he also was in the book-room.
‘Mark, my dear fellow, what’s all this?’ said he, in a cheery tone and with a pleasant face. ‘Did you not know that I was here? I came down yesterday; landed from Hamburg only yesterday morning. How do you do, Mrs Robarts? This is a terrible bore, isn’t it?’ Robarts, at the first moment, hardly knew how to speak to his old friend. He was struck dumb by the disgrace of his position; the more so as his misfortune was one which it was partly in the power of Lord Lufton to remedy. He had never yet borrowed money since he had filled a man’s position, but he had had words about money with the young peer, in which he knew that his friend had wronged him; and for this double reason he was now speechless.
‘Mr Sowerby has betrayed him,’ said Mrs Robarts, wiping the tears from her eyes. Hitherto she had said no word against Sowerby, but now it was necessary to defend her husband.
‘No doubt about it. I believe he has always betrayed every one who has ever trusted him. I told you what he was some time since; did I not? But, Mark, why on earth have you let it go so far as this? Would not Forrest help you?’
‘Mr Forrest wanted him to sign more bills, and he would not do that,’ said Mrs Robarts, sobbing.
‘Bills are like dram-drinking,’ said the discreet young lord: ‘when one once begins, it is very hard to leave off. Is it true that the men are here now, Mark?’
‘Yes, they are in the next room.’
‘What, in the drawing-room?’
‘They are making out a list of the things,’ said Mrs Robarts.
‘We must stop that at any rate,’ said his lordship, walking off towards the scene of operations; and as he left the room Mrs Robarts followed him, leaving her husband by himself.
‘Why did you not send down to my mother?’ said he, speaking hardly above a whisper, as they stood together in the hall.
‘He would not let me.’
‘But why not go yourself? or why not have written to me — considering how intimate we are!’ Mrs Robarts could not explain to him that the peculiar intimacy between him and Lucy must have hindered her from doing so, even if otherwise it might have been possible; but she felt that such was the case.
‘Well, my men, this is bad work you’re doing here,’ said he, walking into the drawing-room. Whereupon the cook curtsied low, and the bailiffs, knowing his lordship, stopped from their business and put their hands to their foreheads. ‘You must stop this, if you please — at once. Come let’s go out into the kitchen, or some place outside. I don’t like to see you here with your big boots and the pen and ink among the furniture.’
‘We ain’t a-done no harm, my lord, so please your lordship,’ said Jemima cook.
‘And we is only a-doing our bounden dooties,’ said one of the bailiffs.
‘As we is sworn to do, so please your lordship,’ said the other.
‘And is wery sorry to be unconwenient, my lord, to any gen’leman or lady as is a gen’leman or lady. But accidents will happen, and then what can the likes of us do?’ said the first.
‘Because we is sworn, my lord,’ said the second. But, nevertheless, in spite of their oaths, and in spite also of the stern necessity which they pleaded, they ceased their operations at the instance of the peer. For the name of a lord is still great in England.
‘And now leave this, and let Mrs Robarts go into her drawing-room.’
‘And, please your lordship, what is we to do? Who is we to look to?’ In satisfying them absolutely on this point Lord Lufton had to use more than his influence as a peer. It was necessary that he should have pen and paper. But with pen and paper he did satisfy them; — satisfy them so far that they agreed to return to Stubbs’s room, the former hospital, due stipulation having been made for the meals and beer, and there await the order to evacuate the premises which would no doubt, under his lordship’s influence, reach them on the following day. The meaning of all which was that Lord Lufton had undertaken to bear upon his own shoulder the whole debt due by Mr Robarts. And then he returned to the book-room where Mark was still standing almost on the spot in which he had placed himself immediately after breakfast. Mrs Robarts did not return, but went up among the children to counter-order such directions as she had given for the preparation of the nursery for the Philistines. ‘Mark,’ he said, ‘do not trouble yourself about this more than you can help. The men have ceased doing anything, and they shall leave the place tomorrow morning.’
‘And how will the money — be paid?’ said the poor clergyman.
‘Do not bother yourself about that at present. It shall be so managed that the burden shall fall ultimately on yourself — not on any one else. But I am sure it must be a comfort to you to know that your wife need not be driven out of her drawing-room.’
‘But, Lufton, I cannot allow you — after what has passed — and at the present moment —’
‘My dear fellow, I know all about it, and I am coming to that just now. You have employed Curling, and he shall settle it; and upon my word, Mark, you shall pay the bill. But, for the present emergency, the money is at my banker’s.’
‘But, Lufton —’
‘And to deal honestly, about Curling’s bill I mean, it ought to be as much my affair as your own. It was I that brought you into this mess with Sowerby, and I know now how unjust about it I was to you up in London. But the truth is that Sowerby’s treachery has nearly driven me wild. It has done the same to you since, no doubt.’
‘He has ruined me,’ said Robarts.
‘No, he has not done that. No thanks to him though; he would not have scrupled to do it had it come in his way. The fact is, Mark, that you and I cannot conceive the depth of fraud in such a man as that. He is always looking for money; I believe that in all his hours of most friendly intercourse — when he is sitting with you over your wine, and riding beside you in the field — he is still thinking how he can make use of you to tide him over some difficulty. He has lived in that way till he has a pleasure in cheating, and has become so clever in his line of life that if you or I were with him again tomorrow he would again get the better of us. He is a man that must be absolutely avoided; I, at any rate, have learned to know so much.’ In the expression of which opinion Lord Lufton was too hard upon poor Sowerby; as indeed we are all apt to be too hard in forming an opinion upon the rogues of the world. That Mr Sowerby had been a rogue, I cannot deny. It is roguish to lie, and he had been a great liar. It is roguish to make promises which the promiser know he cannot perform, and such had been Mr Sowerby’s daily practice. It is roguish to live on other men’s money, and Mr Sowerby had long been doing do. It is roguish, at least, so I would hold it, to deal willingly with rogues; and Mr Sowerby had been constant in such dealings. I do not know whether he had not at times fallen even into more palpable roguery than is proved by such practices as those enumerated. Though I have for him some tender feeling, knowing that there was still a touch of gentle bearing round his heart, an abiding taste for better things within him, I cannot acquit him from the great accusation. But, for all that, in spite of his acknowledged roguery, Lord Lufton was too hard upon him in his judgement. There was yet within him the means of repentance, could a locus penitentiae have been supplied to him. He grieved bitterly over his own ill-doings, and knew well what changes gentlehood would have demanded from him. Whether or no he had gone too far for all changes — whether the locus penitentiae was for him still a possibility — that was between him and the higher power.
‘I have no one to blame but myself,’ said Mark, still speaking in the same heart-broken tone and with his face averted from his friend.
The debt would now be paid, and the bailiffs would be expelled; but that would not set him right before the world. It would be known to all men — to all clergymen in the diocese, that the sheriff’s officers had been in charge of Framley parsonage, and he could never again hold up his head in the close of Barchester. ‘My dear fellow, if we were all to make ourselves miserable for such a trifle as this — ’ said Lord Lufton, putting his arm affectionately on his friend’s shoulder.
‘But we are not all clergymen,’ said Mark, and as he spoke he turned away to the window and Lord Lufton knew that the tears were on his cheek.
Nothing was then said between them for some moments, after which Lord Lufton again spoke —
‘Mark, my dear fellow!’
‘Well,’ said Mark, with his face still turned towards the window.
‘You must remember one thing; in helping you over this trifle, which will really be a matter of no inconvenience to me. I have a better right than that even of an old friend; I look upon you as my brother-inlaw.’ Mark turned slowly round, plainly showing the tears upon his face.
‘Do you mean,’ said he, ‘that anything more has taken place?’
‘I mean to make your sister my wife; she sent me word by you to say that she loved me, and I am not going to stand upon any nonsense after that. If she and I are both willing no one alive has a right to stand between us, and, by heavens, no one shall. I will do nothing secretly, so I tell you that, exactly as I have told her ladyship.’
‘But what does she say?’
‘She says nothing; but it cannot go on like that. My mother and I cannot live here together if she opposes me in this way. I do not want to frighten your sister by going over to her at Hogglestock, but I expect you to tell her so much as I now tell you, as coming from me; otherwise she will think I have forgotten her.’
‘She will not think that.’
‘She need not; good-bye, old fellow. I’ll make it all right between you and her ladyship about this affair of Sowerby’s.’ And then he took his leave and walked off to settle about the payment of the money.
‘Mother,’ said he to Lady Lufton that evening, ‘you must not bring this affair of the bailiffs up against Robarts. It has been more my fault than his.’
Hitherto not a word had been spoken between Lady Lufton and her son on the subject. She had heard with terrible dismay of what had happened, and had heard also that Lord Lufton had immediately gone to the parsonage. It was impossible, therefore, that she should now interfere. That the necessary money would be forthcoming she was aware, but that would not wipe out the terrible disgrace attached to an execution in a clergyman’s house. And then, too, he was her clergyman — her own clergyman, selected and appointed, and brought to Framley by herself, endowed with a wife of her own choosing, filled with good things by her own hand! It was a terrible misadventure, and she had begun to repent that she had ever heard of the name of Robarts. She would not, however, have been slow to put forth the hand to lessen the evil by giving her own money, had this been either necessary or possible. But how could she interfere between Robarts and her son, especially when she remembered the proposed connexion between Lucy and Lord Lufton?
‘Your fault, Ludovic?’
‘Yes, mother. It was I who introduced him to Mr Sowerby; and, to tell the truth, I do not think he would ever have been intimate with Sowerby if I had not given him some sort of commission with reference to money matters then pending between Mr Sowerby and me. They are all over now — thanks to you, indeed.’
‘Mr Robarts’s character as a clergyman should have kept him from such troubles, if no other feeling did so.’
‘At any rate, mother, oblige me by letting it pass by.’
‘Oh, I shall say nothing to him.’
‘You had better say something to her, or otherwise it will be strange; and even to him I would say a word of two — a word in kindness, as you so well know how. It will be easier for him in that way, than if you were altogether silent.’
No further conversation took place between them at the time, but later in the evening she brushed her hand across her son’s forehead, sweeping the long silken hairs into their place, as she was wont to do when moved by any special feeling of love. ‘Ludovic,’ she said, ‘no one, I think, has so good a heart as you. I will do exactly as you would have me about this affair of Mr Robarts and the money.’ And then there was nothing more said about it.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14