The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XVI.


It was Christmas-time down at Allington, and at three o’clock on Christmas Eve, just as the darkness of the early winter evening was coming on, Lily Dale and Grace Crawley were seated together, one above the other, on the steps leading up to the pulpit in Allington Church. They had been working all day at the decorations of the church, and they were now looking round them at the result of their handiwork. To an eye unused to the gloom the place would have been nearly dark; but they could see every corner turned by the ivy sprigs, and every line on which the holly-leaves were shining. And the greeneries of the winter had not been stuck up in the old-fashioned, idle way, a bough just fastened up here and a twig inserted there; but everything had been done with some meaning, with some thought towards the original architecture of the building. The Gothic lines had been followed, and all the lower arches which it had been possible to reach with an ordinary ladder had been turned as truly with the laurel cuttings as they had been turned originally with the stone.

“I wouldn’t tie another twig,” said the elder girl, “for all the Christmas pudding that was ever boiled.”

“It’s lucky then that there isn’t another twig to tie.”

“I don’t know about that. I see a score of places where the work has been scamped. This is the sixth time I have done the church, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. When we first began it, Bell and I, you know,—before Bell was married,—Mrs. Boyce, and the Boycian establishment generally, used to come and help. Or rather we used to help her. Now she hardly ever looks after it at all.”

“She is older, I suppose.”

“She’s a little older, and a deal idler. How idle people do get! Look at him. Since he has had a curate he hardly ever stirs round the parish. And he is getting so fat that— H—sh! Here she is herself,—come to give her judgment upon us.” Then a stout lady, the wife of the vicar, walked slowly up the aisle. “Well, girls,” she said, “you have worked hard, and I am sure Mr. Boyce will be very much obliged to you.”

“Mr. Boyce, indeed!” said Lily Dale. “We shall expect the whole parish to rise from their seats and thank us. Why didn’t Jane and Bessy come and help us?”

“They were so tired when they came in from the coal club. Besides, they don’t care for this kind of thing,—not as you do.”

“Jane is utilitarian to the backbone, I know,” said Lily, “and Bessy doesn’t like getting up ladders.”

“As for ladders,” said Mrs. Boyce, defending her daughter, “I am not quite sure that Bessy isn’t right. You don’t mean to say that you did all those in the capitals yourself?”

“Every twig, with Hopkins to hold the ladder and cut the sticks; and as Hopkins is just a hundred and one years old, we could have done it pretty nearly as well alone.”

“I do not think that,” said Grace.

“He has been grumbling all the time,” said Lily, “and swears he never will have the laurels so robbed again. Five or six years ago he used to declare that death would certainly save him from the pain of such another desecration before the next Christmas; but he has given up that foolish notion now, and talks as though he meant to protect the Allington shrubs at any rate to the end of this century.”

“I am sure we gave our share from the parsonage,” said Mrs. Boyce, who never understood a joke.

“All the best came from the parsonage, as of course they ought,” said Lily. “But Hopkins had to make up the deficiency. And as my uncle told him to take the haycart for them instead of the hand-barrow, he is broken-hearted.”

“I am sure he was very good-natured,” said Grace.

“Nevertheless he is broken-hearted; and I am very good-natured too, and I am broken-backed. Who is going to preach to-morrow morning, Mrs. Boyce?”

“Mr. Swanton will preach in the morning.”

“Tell him not to be long, because of the children’s pudding. Tell Mr. Boyce if he is long, we won’t any of us come next Sunday.”

“My dear, how can you say such wicked things! I shall not tell him anything of the kind.”

“That’s not wicked, Mrs. Boyce. If I were to say I had eaten so much lunch that I didn’t want any dinner, you’d understand that. If Mr. Swanton will preach for three-quarters of an hour—”

“He only preached for three-quarters of an hour once, Lily.”

“He has been over the half-hour every Sunday since he has been here. His average is over forty minutes, and I say it’s a shame.”

“It is not a shame at all, Lily,” said Mrs. Boyce, becoming very serious.

“Look at my uncle; he doesn’t like to go to sleep, and he has to suffer a purgatory in keeping himself awake.”

“If your uncle is heavy, how can Mr. Swanton help it? If Mr. Dale’s mind were on the subject he would not sleep.”

“Come, Mrs. Boyce; there’s somebody else sleeps sometimes besides my uncle. When Mr. Boyce puts up his finger and just touches his nose, I know as well as possible why he does it.”

“Lily Dale, you have no business to say so. It is not true. I don’t know how you can bring yourself to talk in that way of your own clergyman. If I were to tell your mamma she would be shocked.”

“You won’t be so ill-natured, Mrs. Boyce,—after all that I’ve done for the church.”

“If you’d think more about the clergyman, Lily, and less about the church,” said Mrs. Boyce very sententiously, “more about the matter and less about the manner, more of the reality and less of the form, I think you’d find that your religion would go further with you. Miss Crawley is the daughter of a clergyman, and I’m sure she’ll agree with me.”

“If she agrees with anybody in scolding me I’ll quarrel with her.”

“I didn’t mean to scold you, Lily.”

“I don’t mind it from you, Mrs. Boyce. Indeed, I rather like it. It is a sort of pastoral visitation; and as Mr. Boyce never scolds me himself, of course I take it as coming from him by attorney.” Then there was silence for a minute or two, during which Mrs. Boyce was endeavouring to discover whether Miss Dale was laughing at her or not. As she was not quite certain, she thought at last that she would let the suspected fault pass unobserved. “Don’t wait for us, Mrs. Boyce,” said Lily. “We must remain till Hopkins has sent Gregory to sweep the church out and take away the rubbish. We’ll see that the key is left at Mrs. Giles’s.”

“Thank you, my dear. Then I may as well go. I thought I’d come in and see that it was all right. I’m sure Mr. Boyce will be very much obliged to you and Miss Crawley. Good-night, my dear.”

“Good-night, Mrs. Boyce; and be sure you don’t let Mr. Swanton be long to-morrow.” To this parting shot Mrs. Boyce made no rejoinder; but she hurried out of the church somewhat the quicker for it, and closed the door after her with something of a slam.

Of all persons clergymen are the most irreverent in the handling of things supposed to be sacred, and next to them clergymen’s wives, and after them those other ladies, old or young, who take upon themselves semi-clerical duties. And it is natural that it should be so; for is it not said that familiarity does breed contempt? When a parson takes his lay friend over his church on a week day, how much less of the spirit of genuflexion and head-uncovering the clergyman will display than the layman! The parson pulls about the woodwork and knocks about the stonework, as though it were mere wood and stone; and talks aloud in the aisle, and treats even the reading-desk as a common thing; whereas the visitor whispers gently, and carries himself as though even in looking at a church he was bound to regard himself as performing some service that was half divine. Now Lily Dale and Grace Crawley were both accustomed to churches, and had been so long at work in this church for the last two days, that the building had lost to them much of its sacredness, and they were almost as irreverent as though they were two curates.

“I am so glad she has gone,” said Lily. “We shall have to stop here for the next hour, as Gregory won’t know what to take away and what to leave. I was so afraid she was going to stop and see us off the premises.”

“I don’t know why you should dislike her.”

“I don’t dislike her. I like her very well,” said Lily Dale. “But don’t you feel that there are people whom one knows very intimately, who are really friends,—for whom if they were dying one would grieve, whom if they were in misfortune one would go far to help, but with whom for all that one can have no sympathy. And yet they are so near to one that they know all the events of one’s life, and are justified by unquestioned friendship in talking about things which should never be mentioned except where sympathy exists.”

“Yes; I understand that.”

“Everybody understands it who has been unhappy. That woman sometimes says things to me that make me wish,—wish that they’d make him bishop of Patagonia. And yet she does it all in friendship, and mamma says that she is quite right.”

“I liked her for standing up for her husband.”

“But he does go to sleep,—and then he scratches his nose to show that he’s awake. I shouldn’t have said it, only she is always hinting at uncle Christopher. Uncle Christopher certainly does go to sleep when Mr. Boyce preaches, and he hasn’t studied any scientific little movements during his slumbers to make the people believe that he’s all alive. I gave him a hint one day, and he got so angry with me!”

“I shouldn’t have thought he could have been angry with you. It seems to me from what you say that you may do whatever you please with him.”

“He is very good to me. If you knew it all,—if you could understand how good he has been! I’ll try and tell you some day. It is not what he has done that makes me love him so,—but what he has thoroughly understood, and what, so understanding, he has not done, and what he has not said. It is a case of sympathy. If ever there was a gentleman uncle Christopher is one. And I used to dislike him so, at one time!”

“And why?”

“Chiefly because he would make me wear brown frocks when I wanted to have them pink or green. And he kept me for six months from having them long, and up to this day he scolds me if there is half an inch on the ground for him to tread upon.”

“I shouldn’t mind that if I were you.”

“I don’t,—not now. But it used to be serious when I was a young girl. And we thought, Bell and I, that he was cross to mamma. He and mamma didn’t agree at first, you know, as they do now. It is quite true that he did dislike mamma when we first came here.”

“I can’t think how anybody could ever dislike Mrs. Dale.”

“But he did. And then he wanted to make up a marriage between Bell and my cousin Bernard. But neither of them cared a bit for the other, and then he used to scold them,—and then,—and then,—and then—Oh, he was so good to me! Here’s Gregory at last. Gregory, we’ve been waiting this hour and a half.”

“It ain’t ten minutes since Hopkins let me come with the barrows, miss.”

“Then Hopkins is a traitor. Never mind. You’d better begin now,—up there at the steps. It’ll be quite dark in a few minutes. Here’s Mrs. Giles with her broom. Come, Mrs. Giles; we shall have to pass the night here if you don’t make haste. Are you cold, Grace?”

“No; I’m not cold. I’m thinking what they are doing now in the church at Hogglestock.”

“The Hogglestock church is not pretty;—like this?”

“Oh, no. It is a very plain brick building, with something like a pigeon-house for a belfry. And the pulpit is over the reading-desk, and the reading-desk over the clerk, so that papa, when he preaches, is nearly up to the ceiling. And the whole place is divided into pews, in which the farmers hide themselves when they come to church.”

“So that nobody can see whether they go to sleep or no. Oh, Mrs. Giles, you mustn’t pull that down. That’s what we have been putting up all day.”

“But it be in the way, miss; so that the minister can’t budge in or out o’ the door.”

“Never mind. Then he must stay one side or the other. That would be too much after all our trouble!” And Miss Dale hurried across the chancel to save some prettily arching boughs, which, in the judgment of Mrs. Giles, encroached too much on the vestry door. “As if it signified which side he was,” she said in a whisper to Grace.

“I don’t suppose they’ll have anything in the church at home,” said Grace.

“Somebody will stick up a wreath or two, I daresay.”

“Nobody will. There never is anybody at Hogglestock to stick up wreaths, or to do anything for the prettinesses of life. And now there will be less done than ever. How can mamma look after holly-leaves in her present state? And yet she will miss them, too. Poor mamma sees very little that is pretty; but she has not forgotten how pleasant pretty things are.”

“I wish I knew your mother, Grace.”

“I think it would be impossible for any one to know mamma now,—for any one who had not known her before. She never makes even a new acquaintance. She seems to think that there is nothing left for her in the world but to try and keep papa out of misery. And she does not succeed in that. Poor papa!”

“Is he very unhappy about this wicked accusation?”

“Yes; he is very unhappy. But, Lily, I don’t know about its being wicked.”

“But you know that it is untrue.”

“Of course I know that papa did not mean to take anything that was not his own. But, you see, nobody knows where it came from; and nobody except mamma and Jane and I understand how very absent papa can be. I’m sure he doesn’t know the least in the world how he came by it himself, or he would tell mamma. Do you know, Lily, I think I have been wrong to come away.”

“Don’t say that, dear. Remember how anxious Mrs. Crawley was that you should come.”

“But I cannot bear to be comfortable here while they are so wretched at home. It seems such a mockery. Every time I find myself smiling at what you say to me, I think I must be the most heartless creature in the world.”

“Is it so very bad with them, Grace?”

“Indeed it is bad. I don’t think you can imagine what mamma has to go through. She has to cook all that is eaten in the house, and then, very often, there is no money in the house to buy anything. If you were to see the clothes she wears, even that would make your heart bleed. I who have been used to being poor all my life,—even I, when I am at home, am dismayed by what she has to endure.”

“What can we do for her, Grace?”

“You can do nothing, Lily. But when things are like that at home you can understand what I feel in being here.”

Mrs. Giles and Gregory had now completed their task, or had so nearly done so as to make Miss Dale think that she might safely leave the church. “We will go in now,” she said; “for it is dark and cold, and what I call creepy. Do you ever fancy that perhaps you will see a ghost some day?”

“I don’t think I shall ever see a ghost; but all the same I should be half afraid to be here alone in the dark.”

“I am often here alone in the dark, but I am beginning to think I shall never see a ghost now. I am losing all my romance, and getting to be an old woman. Do you know, Grace, I do so hate myself for being such an old maid.”

“But who says you’re an old maid, Lily?”

“I see it in people’s eyes, and hear it in their voices. And they all talk to me as if I were very steady, and altogether removed from anything like fun and frolic. It seems to be admitted that if a girl does not want to fall in love, she ought not to care for any other fun in the world. If anybody made out a list of the old ladies in these parts, they’d put down Lady Julia, and mamma, and Mrs. Boyce, and me, and old Mrs. Hearne. The very children have an awful respect for me, and give over playing directly they see me. Well, mamma, we’ve done at last, and I have had such a scolding from Mrs. Boyce.”

“I daresay you deserved it, my dear.”

“No, I did not, mamma. Ask Grace if I did.”

“Was she not saucy to Mrs. Boyce, Miss Crawley?”

“She said that Mr. Boyce scratches his nose in church,” said Grace.

“So he does; and goes to sleep, too.”

“If you told Mrs. Boyce that, Lily, I think she was quite right to scold you.”

Such was Miss Lily Dale, with whom Grace Crawley was staying;—Lily Dale with whom Mr. John Eames, of the Income-tax Office, had been so long and so steadily in love, that he was regarded among his fellow-clerks as a miracle of constancy,—who had, herself, in former days been so unfortunate in love as to have been regarded among her friends in the country as the most ill-used of women. As John Eames had been able to be comfortable in life,—that is to say, not utterly a wretch,—in spite of his love, so had she managed to hold up her head, and live as other young women live, in spite of her misfortune. But as it may be said also that his constancy was true constancy, although he knew how to enjoy the good things of the world, so also had her misfortune been a true misfortune, although she had been able to bear it without much outer show of shipwreck. For a few days,—for a week or two, when the blow first struck her, she had been knocked down, and the friends who were nearest to her had thought that she would never again stand erect upon her feet. But she had been very strong, stout at heart, of a fixed purpose, and capable of resistance against oppression. Even her own mother had been astonished, and sometimes almost dismayed, by the strength of her will. Her mother knew well how it was with her now; but they who saw her frequently, and who did not know her as her mother knew her,—the Mrs. Boyces of her acquaintance,—whispered among themselves that Lily Dale was not so soft of heart as people used to think.

On the next day, Christmas Day, as the reader will remember, Grace Crawley was taken up to dine at the big house with the old squire. Mrs. Dale’s eldest daughter, with her husband, Dr. Crofts, was to be there; and also Lily’s old friend, who was also especially the old friend of Johnny Eames, Lady Julia De Guest. Grace had endeavoured to be excused from the party, pleading many pleas. But the upshot of all her pleas was this,—that while her father’s position was so painful she ought not to go out anywhere. In answer to this, Lily Dale, corroborated by her mother, assured her that for her father’s sake she ought not to exhibit any such feeling; that in doing so, she would seem to express a doubt as to her father’s innocence. Then she allowed herself to be persuaded, telling her friend, however, that she knew the day would be very miserable to her. “It will be very humdrum, if you please,” said Lily. “Nothing can be more humdrum than Christmas at the Great House. Nevertheless, you must go.”

Coming out of church, Grace was introduced to the old squire. He was a thin, old man, with grey hair, and the smallest possible grey whiskers, with a dry, solemn face; not carrying in his outward gait much of the customary jollity of Christmas. He took his hat off to Grace, and said some word to her as to hoping to have the pleasure of seeing her at dinner. It sounded very cold to her, and she became at once afraid of him. “I wish I was not going,” she said to Lily, again. “I know he thinks I ought not to go. I shall be so thankful if you will but let me stay.”

Grace Crawley is introduced to Squire Dale.

“Don’t be foolish, Grace. It all comes from your not knowing him, or understanding him. And how should you understand him? I give you my word that I would tell you if I did not know that he wishes you to go.”

She had to go. “Of course I haven’t a dress fit. How should I?” she said to Lily. “How wrong it is of me to put myself up to such a thing as this.”

“Your dress is beautiful, child. We are none of us going in evening dresses. Pray believe that I will not make you do wrong. If you won’t trust me, can’t you trust mamma?”

Of course she went. When the three ladies entered the drawing-room of the Great House they found that Lady Julia had arrived just before them. Lady Julia immediately took hold of Lily, and led her apart, having a word or two to say about the clerk in the Income-tax Office. I am not sure but what the dear old woman sometimes said a few more words than were expedient, with a view to the object which she had so closely at heart. “John is to be with us the first week in February,” she said. “I suppose you’ll see him before that, as he’ll probably be with his mother a few days before he comes to me.”

“I daresay we shall see him quite in time, Lady Julia,” said Lily.

“Now, Lily, don’t be ill-natured.”

“I’m the most good-natured young woman alive, Lady Julia, and as for Johnny, he is always made as welcome at the Small House as violets in March. Mamma purrs about him when he comes, asking all manner of flattering questions as though he were a cabinet minister at least, and I always admire some little knicknack that he has got, a new ring, or a stud, or a button. There isn’t another man in all the world whose buttons I’d look at.”

“It isn’t his buttons, Lily.”

“Ah, that’s just it. I can go as far as his buttons. But come, Lady Julia, this is Christmas-time, and Christmas should be a holiday.”

In the meantime Mrs. Dale was occupied with her married daughter and her son-in-law, and the squire had attached himself to poor Grace. “You have never been in this part of the country before, Miss Crawley,” he said.

“No, sir.”

“It is rather pretty just about here, and Guestwick Manor is a fine place in its way, but we have not so much natural beauty as you have in Barsetshire. Chaldicote Chase is, I think, as pretty as anything in England.”

“I never saw Chaldicote Chase, sir. It isn’t pretty at all at Hogglestock, where we live.”

“Ah, I forgot. No; it is not very pretty at Hogglestock. That’s where the bricks come from.”

“Papa is clergyman at Hogglestock.”

“Yes, yes; I remember. Your father is a great scholar. I have often heard of him. I am so sorry he should be distressed by this charge they have made. But it will all come right at the assizes. They always get at the truth there. I used to be intimate with a clergyman in Barsetshire of the name of Grantly;”—Grace felt that her ears were tingling, and that her face was red;—”Archdeacon Grantly. His father was bishop of the diocese.”

“Yes, sir. Archdeacon Grantly lives at Plumstead.”

“I was staying once with an old friend of mine, Mr. Thorne of Ullathorne, who lives close to Plumstead, and saw a good deal of them. I remember thinking Henry Grantly was a very nice lad. He married afterwards.”

“Yes, sir; but his wife is dead now, and he has got a little girl,—Edith Grantly.”

“Is there no other child?”

“No, sir; only Edith.”

“You know him, then?”

“Yes, sir; I know Major Grantly,—and Edith. I never saw Archdeacon Grantly.”

“Then, my dear, you never saw a very famous pillar of the church. I remember when people used to talk a great deal about Archdeacon Grantly; but when his time came to be made a bishop, he was not sufficiently new-fangled; and so he got passed by. He is much better off as he is, I should say. Bishops have to work very hard, my dear.”

“Do they, sir?”

“So they tell me. And the archdeacon is a wealthy man. So Henry Grantly has got an only daughter? I hope she is a nice child, for I remember liking him well.”

“She is a very nice child, indeed, Mr. Dale. She could not be nicer. And she is so lovely.” Then Mr. Dale looked into his young companion’s face, struck by the sudden animation of her words, and perceived for the first time that she was very pretty.

After this Grace became accustomed to the strangeness of the faces round her, and managed to eat her dinner without much perturbation of spirit. When after dinner the squire proposed to her that they should drink the health of her papa and mamma, she was almost reduced to tears, and yet she liked him for doing it. It was terrible to her to have them mentioned, knowing as she did that every one who mentioned them must be aware of their misery,—for the misfortune of her father had become notorious in the country; but it was almost more terrible to her that no allusion should be made to them; for then she would be driven to think that her father was regarded as a man whom the world could not afford to mention. “Papa and mamma,” she just murmured, raising her glass to her lips. “Grace, dear,” said Lily from across the table, “here’s papa and mamma, and the young man at Marlborough who is carrying everything before him.” “Yes; we won’t forget the young man at Marlborough,” said the squire. Grace felt this to be good-natured, because her brother at Marlborough was the one bright spot in her family,—and she was comforted.

“And we will drink the health of my friend, John Eames,” said Lady Julia.

“John Eames’ health,” said the squire, in a low voice.

“Johnny’s health,” said Mrs. Dale; but Mrs. Dale’s voice was not very brisk.

“John’s health,” said Dr. Crofts and Mrs. Crofts in a breath.

“Here’s the health of Johnny Eames,” said Lily; and her voice was the clearest and the boldest of them all. But she made up her mind that if Lady Julia could not be induced to spare her for the future, she and Lady Julia must quarrel. “No one can understand,” she said to her mother that evening, “how dreadful it is,—this being constantly told before one’s family and friends that one ought to marry a certain young man.”

“She didn’t say that, my dear.”

“I should much prefer that she should, for then I could get up on my legs and answer her off the reel.” Of course everybody there understood what she meant,—including old John Bates, who stood at the sideboard and coolly drank the toast himself.

“He always does that to all the family toasts on Christmas Day. Your uncle likes it.”

“That wasn’t a family toast, and John Bates had no right to drink it.”

After dinner they all played cards,—a round game,—and the squire put in the stakes. “Now, Grace,” said Lily, “you are the visitor and you must win, or else uncle Christopher won’t be happy. He always likes a young lady visitor to win.”

“But I never played a game of cards in my life.”

“Go and sit next to him and he’ll teach you. Uncle Christopher, won’t you teach Grace Crawley? She never saw a Pope Joan board in her life before.”

“Come here, my dear, and sit next to me. Dear, dear, dear; fancy Henry Grantly having a little girl. What a handsome lad he was. And it seems only yesterday.” If it was so that Lily had said a word to her uncle about Grace and the major, the old squire had become on a sudden very sly. Be that as it may, Grace Crawley thought that he was a pleasant old man; and though, while talking to him about Edith, she persisted in not learning to play Pope Joan, so that he could not contrive that she should win, nevertheless the squire took to her very kindly, and told her to come up with Lily and see him sometimes while she was staying at the Small House. The squire in speaking of his sister-in-law’s cottage always called it the Small House.

“Only think of my winning,” said Lady Julia, drawing together her wealth. “Well, I’m sure I want it bad enough, for I don’t at all know whether I’ve got any income of my own. It’s all John Eames’ fault, my dear, for he won’t go and make those people settle it in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.” Poor Lily, who was standing on the hearth-rug, touched her mother’s arm. She knew that Johnny’s name was lugged in with reference to Lady Julia’s money altogether for her benefit. “I wonder whether she ever had a Johnny of her own,” she said to her mother, “and, if so, whether she liked it when her friends sent the town-crier round to talk about him.”

“She means to be good-natured,” said Mrs. Dale.

“Of course she does. But it is such a pity when people won’t understand.”

“My uncle didn’t bite you after all, Grace,” said Lily to her friend as they were going home at night, by the pathway which led from the garden of one house to the garden of the other.

“I like Mr. Dale very much,” said Grace. “He was very kind to me.”

“There is some queer-looking animal of whom they say that he is better than he looks, and I always think of that saying when I think of my uncle.”

“For shame, Lily,” said her mother. “Your uncle, for his age, is as good a looking man as I know. And he always looks like just what he is,—an English gentleman.”

“I didn’t mean to say a word against his dear old face and figure, mamma; but his heart, and mind, and general disposition, as they come out in experience and days of trial, are so much better than the samples of them which he puts out on the counter for men and women to judge by. He wears well, and he washes well,—if you know what I mean, Grace.”

“Yes; I think I know what you mean.”

“The Apollos of the world,—I don’t mean in outward looks, mamma,—but the Apollos in heart, the men,—and the women too,—who are so full of feeling, so soft-natured, so kind, who never say a cross word, who never get out of bed on the wrong side in the morning,—it so often turns out that they won’t wash.”

Such was the expression of Miss Lily Dale’s experience.