The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XIV.


Grace Crawley passed through Silverbridge on her way to Allington on the Monday, and on the Tuesday morning Major Grantly received a very short note from Miss Prettyman, telling him that she had done so. “Dear Sir,—I think you will be glad to learn that our friend Miss Crawley went from us yesterday on a visit to her friend, Miss Dale, at Allington.—Yours truly, Annabella Prettyman.” The note said no more than that. Major Grantly was glad to get it, obtaining from it that satisfaction which a man always feels when he is presumed to be concerned in the affairs of the lady with whom he is in love. And he regarded Miss Prettyman with favourable eyes,—as a discreet and friendly woman. Nevertheless, he was not altogether happy. The very fact that Miss Prettyman should write to him on such a subject made him feel that he was bound to Grace Crawley. He knew enough of himself to be sure that he could not give her up without making himself miserable. And yet, as regarded her father, things were going from bad to worse. Everybody now said that the evidence was so strong against Mr. Crawley as to leave hardly a doubt of his guilt. Even the ladies in Silverbridge were beginning to give up his cause, acknowledging that the money could not have come rightfully into his hands, and excusing him on the plea of partial insanity. “He has picked it up and put it by for months, and then thought that it was his own.” The ladies of Silverbridge could find nothing better to say for him than that; and when young Mr. Walker remarked that such little mistakes were the customary causes of men being taken to prison, the ladies of Silverbridge did not know how to answer him. It had come to be their opinion that Mr. Crawley was affected with a partial lunacy, which ought to be forgiven in one to whom the world had been so cruel; and when young Mr. Walker endeavoured to explain to them that a man must be sane altogether or mad altogether, and that Mr. Crawley must, if sane, be locked up as a thief, and if mad, locked up as a madman, they sighed, and were convinced that until the world should have been improved by a new infusion of romance, and a stronger feeling of poetic justice, Mr. John Walker was right.

And the result of this general opinion made its way out to Major Grantly, and made its way, also, to the archdeacon at Plumstead. As to the major, in giving him his due, it must be explained that the more certain he became of the father’s guilt, the more certain also he became of the daughter’s merits. It was very hard. The whole thing was cruelly hard. It was cruelly hard upon him that he should be brought into this trouble, and be forced to take upon himself the armour of a knight-errant for the redress of the wrong on the part of the young lady. But when alone in his house, or with his child, he declared to himself that he would do so. It might well be that he could not live in Barsetshire after he had married Mr. Crawley’s daughter. He had inherited from his father enough of that longing for ascendancy among those around him to make him feel that in such circumstances he would be wretched. But he would be made more wretched by the self-knowledge that he had behaved badly to the girl he loved; and the world beyond Barsetshire was open to him. He would take her with him to Canada, to New Zealand, or to some other far-away country, and there begin his life again. Should his father choose to punish him for so doing by disinheriting him, they would be poor enough; but, in his present frame of mind, the major was able to regard such poverty as honourable and not altogether disagreeable.

He had been out shooting all day at Chaldicotes, with Dr. Thorne and a party who were staying in the house there, and had been talking about Mr. Crawley, first with one man and then with another. Lord Lufton had been there, and young Gresham from Greshamsbury, and Mr. Robarts the clergyman, and news had come among them of the attempt made by the bishop to stop Mr. Crawley from preaching. Mr. Robarts had been of opinion that Mr. Crawley should have given way; and Lord Lufton, who shared his mother’s intense dislike of everything that came from the palace, had sworn that he was right to resist. The sympathy of the whole party had been with Mr. Crawley; but they had all agreed that he had stolen the money.

“I fear he’ll have to give way to the bishop at last,” Lord Lufton had said.

“And what on earth will become of his children?” said the doctor. “Think of the fate of that pretty girl; for she is a very pretty girl. It will be ruin to her. No man will allow himself to fall in love with her when her father shall have been found guilty of stealing a cheque for twenty pounds.”

“We must do something for the whole family,” said the lord. “I say, Thorne, you haven’t half the game here that there used to be in poor old Sowerby’s time.”

“Haven’t I?” said the doctor. “You see Sowerby had been at it all his days, and never did anything else. I only began late in life.”

The major had intended to stay and dine at Chaldicotes, but when he heard what was said about Grace, his heart became sad, and he made some excuse as to his child, and returned home. Dr. Thorne had declared that no man could allow himself to fall in love with her. But what if a man had fallen in love with her beforehand? What if a man had not only fallen in love, but spoken of his love? Had he been alone with the doctor, he would, I think, have told him the whole of his trouble; for in all the county there was no man whom he would sooner have trusted with his secret. This Dr. Thorne was known far and wide for his soft heart, his open hand, and his well-sustained indifference to the world’s opinions on most of those social matters with which the world meddles; and therefore the words which he had spoken had more weight with Major Grantly than they would have had from other lips. As he drove home he almost made up his mind that he would consult Dr. Thorne upon the matter. There were many younger men with whom he was very intimate,—Frank Gresham, for instance, and Lord Lufton himself; but this was an affair which he hardly knew how to discuss with a young man. To Dr. Thorne he thought that he could bring himself to tell the whole story.

In the evening there came to him a messenger from Plumstead, with a letter from his father and some present for the child. He knew at once that the present had been thus sent as an excuse for the letter. His father might have written by the post, of course; but that would have given to his letter a certain air and tone which he had not wished it to bear. After some message from the major’s mother, and some allusion to Edith, the archdeacon struck off upon the matter that was near his heart.

“I fear it is all up with that unfortunate man at Hogglestock,” he said. “From what I hear of the evidence which came out before the magistrates, there can, I think, be no doubt as to his guilt. Have you heard that the bishop sent over on the following day to stop him from preaching? He did so, and sent again on the Sunday. But Crawley would not give way, and so far I respect the man; for, as a matter of course, whatever the bishop did, or attempted to do, he would do with an extreme of bad taste, probably with gross ignorance as to his own duty and as to the duty of the man under him. I am told that on the first day Crawley turned out of his house the messenger sent to him,—some stray clergyman whom Mrs. Proudie keeps about the house; and that on the Sunday the stairs to the reading-desk and pulpit were occupied by a lot of brickmakers, among whom the parson from Barchester did not venture to attempt to make his way, although he was fortified by the presence of one of the cathedral vergers and by one of the palace footmen. I can hardly believe about the verger and the footman. As for the rest, I have no doubt it is all true. I pity Crawley from my heart. Poor, unfortunate man! The general opinion seems to be that he is not in truth responsible for what he has done. As for his victory over the bishop, nothing on earth could be better.

“Your mother particularly wishes you to come over to us before the end of the week, and to bring Edith. Your grandfather will be here, and he is becoming so infirm that he will never come to us for another Christmas. Of course you will stay over the new year.”

Though the letter was full of Mr. Crawley and his affairs there was not a word in it about Grace. This, however, was quite natural. Major Grantly perfectly well understood his father’s anxiety to carry his point without seeming to allude to the disagreeable subject. “My father is very clever,” he said to himself, “very clever. But he isn’t so clever but one can see how clever he is.”

On the next day he went into Silverbridge, intending to call on Miss Prettyman. He had not quite made up his mind what he would say to Miss Prettyman; nor was he called upon to do so, as he never got as far as that lady’s house. While walking up the High Street he saw Mrs. Thorne in her carriage, and, as a matter of course, he stopped to speak to her. He knew Mrs. Thorne quite as intimately as he did her husband, and liked her quite as well. “Major Grantly,” she said, speaking out loud to him, half across the street; “I was very angry with you yesterday. Why did you not come up to dinner? We had a room ready for you and everything.”

“I was not quite well, Mrs. Thorne.”

“Fiddlestick. Don’t tell me of not being well. There was Emily breaking her heart about you.”

“I’m sure Miss Dunstable—”

“To tell you the truth, I think she’ll get over it. It won’t be mortal with her. But do tell me, Major Grantly, what are we to think about this poor Mr. Crawley? It was so good of you to be one of his bailsmen.”

“He would have found twenty in Silverbridge, if he had wanted them.”

“And do you hear that he has defied the bishop? I do so like him for that. Not but what poor Mrs. Proudie is the dearest friend I have in the world, and I’m always fighting a battle with old Lady Lufton on her behalf. But one likes to see one’s friends worsted sometimes, you know.”

“I don’t quite understand what did happen at Hogglestock on Sunday,” said the major.

“Some say he had the bishop’s chaplain put under the pump. I don’t believe that; but there is no doubt that when the poor fellow tried to get into the pulpit, they took him and carried him neck and heels out of the church. But, tell me, Major Grantly, what is to become of the family?”

“Heaven knows!”

“Is it not sad? And that eldest girl is so nice! They tell me that she is perfect,—not only in beauty, but in manners and accomplishments. Everybody says that she talks Greek just as well as she does English, and that she understands philosophy from the top to the bottom.”

“At any rate, she is so good and so lovely that one cannot but pity her now,” said the major.

“You know her, then, Major Grantly? By-the-by, of course you do, as you were staying with her at Framley.”

“Yes, I know her.”

“What is to become of her? I’m going your way. You might as well get into the carriage, and I’ll drive you home. If he is sent to prison,—and they say he must be sent to prison,—what is to become of them?” Then Major Grantly did get into the carriage, and, before he got out again, he had told Mrs. Thorne the whole story of his love.

She listened to him with the closest attention; only interrupting him now and then with little words, intended to signify her approval. He, as he told his tale, did not look her in the face, but sat with his eyes fixed upon her muff. “And now,” he said, glancing up at her almost for the first time as he finished his speech, “and now, Mrs. Thorne, what am I to do?”

“Marry her, of course,” said she, raising her hand aloft and bringing it down heavily upon his knee as she gave her decisive reply.

“H—sh—h,” he exclaimed, looking back in dismay towards the servants.

“Oh, they never hear anything up there. They’re thinking about the last pot of porter they had, or the next they’re to get. Deary me, I am so glad! Of course you’ll marry her.”

“You forget my father.”

“No, I don’t. What has a father to do with it? You’re old enough to please yourself without asking your father. Besides, Lord bless me, the archdeacon isn’t the man to bear malice. He’ll storm and threaten and stop the supplies for a month or so. Then he’ll double them, and take your wife to his bosom, and kiss her and bless her, and all that kind of thing. We all know what parental wrath means in such cases as that.”

“But my sister—”

“As for your sister, don’t talk to me about her. I don’t care two straws about your sister. You must excuse me, Major Grantly, but Lady Hartletop is really too big for my powers of vision.”

“And Edith,—of course, Mrs. Thorne, I can’t be blind to the fact that in many ways such a marriage would be injurious to her. No man wishes to be connected with a convicted thief.”

“No, Major Grantly; but a man does wish to marry the girl that he loves. At least, I suppose so. And what man ever was able to give a more touching proof of his affection than you can do now? If I were you, I’d be at Allington before twelve o’clock to-morrow,—I would indeed. What does it matter about the trumpery cheque? Everybody knows it was a mistake, if he did take it. And surely you would not punish her for that.”

“No,—no; but I don’t suppose she’d think it a punishment.”

“You go and ask her, then. And I’ll tell you what. If she hasn’t a house of her own to be married from, she shall be married from Chaldicotes. We’ll have such a breakfast! And I’ll make as much of her as if she were the daughter of my old friend, the bishop himself,—I will indeed.”

This was Mrs. Thorne’s advice. Before it was completed, Major Grantly had been carried half-way to Chaldicotes. When he left his impetuous friend he was too prudent to make any promise, but he declared that what she had said should have much weight with him.

“You won’t mention it to anybody?” said the major.

“Certainly not, without your leave,” said Mrs. Thorne. “Don’t you know that I’m the soul of honour?”