The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XVII.


Illustration he scene which occurred in Hogglestock church on the Sunday after Mr. Thumble’s first visit to that parish had not been described with absolute accuracy either by the archdeacon in his letter to his son, or by Mrs. Thorne. There had been no footman from the palace in attendance on Mr. Thumble, nor had there been a battle with the brickmakers; neither had Mr. Thumble been put under the pump. But Mr. Thumble had gone over, taking his gown and surplice with him, on the Sunday morning, and had intimated to Mr. Crawley his intention of performing the service. Mr. Crawley, in answer to this, had assured Mr. Thumble that he would not be allowed to open his mouth in the church; and Mr. Thumble, not seeing his way to any further successful action, had contented himself with attending the services in his surplice, making thereby a silent protest that he, and not Mr. Crawley, ought to have been in the reading-desk and the pulpit.

When Mr. Thumble reported himself and his failure at the palace, he strove hard to avoid seeing Mrs. Proudie, but not successfully. He knew something of the palace habits, and did manage to reach the bishop alone on the Sunday evening, justifying himself to his lordship for such an interview by the remarkable circumstances of the case and the importance of his late mission. Mrs. Proudie always went to church on Sunday evenings, making a point of hearing three services and three sermons every Sunday of her life. On week-days she seldom heard any, having an idea that week-day services were an invention of the High Church enemy, and that they should therefore be vehemently discouraged. Services on saints’ days she regarded as rank papacy, and had been known to accuse a clergyman’s wife, to her face, of idolatry, because the poor lady had dated a letter, St. John’s Eve. Mr. Thumble, on this Sunday evening, was successful in finding the bishop at home, and alone, but he was not lucky enough to get away before Mrs. Proudie returned. The bishop, perhaps, thought that the story of the failure had better reach his wife’s ears from Mr. Thumble’s lips than from his own.

“Well, Mr. Thumble?” said Mrs. Proudie, walking into the study, armed in her full Sunday-evening winter panoply, in which she had just descended from her carriage. The church which Mrs. Proudie attended in the evening was nearly half a mile from the palace, and the coachman and groom never got a holiday on Sunday night. She was gorgeous in a dark brown silk dress of awful stiffness and terrible dimensions; and on her shoulders she wore a short cloak of velvet and fur, very handsome withal, but so swelling in its proportions on all sides as necessarily to create more of dismay than of admiration in the mind of any ordinary man. And her bonnet was a monstrous helmet with the beaver up, displaying the awful face of the warrior, always ready for combat, and careless to guard itself from attack. The large contorted bows which she bore were as a grisly crest upon her casque, beautiful, doubtless, but majestic and fear-compelling. In her hand she carried her armour all complete, a prayer-book, a bible, and a book of hymns. These the footman had brought for her to the study door, but she had thought fit to enter her husband’s room with them in her own custody.

“Well, Mr. Thumble!” she said.

Mr. Thumble did not answer at once, thinking, probably, that the bishop might choose to explain the circumstances. But, neither did the bishop say any thing.

“Well, Mr. Thumble?” she said again; and then she stood looking at the man who had failed so disastrously.

“I have explained to the bishop,” said he. “Mr. Crawley has been contumacious,—very contumacious indeed.”

“But you preached at Hogglestock?”

“No, indeed, Mrs. Proudie. Nor would it have been possible, unless I had had the police to assist me.”

“Then you should have had the police. I never heard of anything so mismanaged in all my life,—never in all my life.” And she put her books down on the study table, and turned herself round from Mr. Thumble towards the bishop. “If things go on like this, my lord,” she said, “your authority in the diocese will very soon be worth nothing at all.” It was not often that Mrs. Proudie called her husband my lord, but when she did do so, it was a sign that terrible times had come;—times so terrible that the bishop would know that he must either fight or fly. He would almost endure anything rather than descend into the arena for the purpose of doing battle with his wife, but occasions would come now and again when even the alternative of flight was hardly left to him.

“But, my dear,—” began the bishop.

“Am I to understand that this man has professed himself to be altogether indifferent to the bishop’s prohibition?” said Mrs. Proudie, interrupting her husband and addressing Mr. Thumble.

“Quite so. He seemed to think that the bishop had no lawful power in the matter at all,” said Mr. Thumble.

“Do you hear that, my lord?” said Mrs. Proudie.

“Nor have I any,” said the bishop, almost weeping as he spoke.

“No authority in your own diocese!”

“None to silence a man merely by my own judgment. I thought, and still think, that it was for this gentleman’s own interest, as well as for the credit of the Church, that some provision should be made for his duties during his present,—present—difficulties.”

“Difficulties indeed! Everybody knows that the man has been a thief.”

“No, my dear; I do not know it.”

“You never know anything, bishop.”

“I mean to say that I do not know it officially. Of course I have heard the sad story; and though I hope it may not be the—”

“There is no doubt about its truth. All the world knows it. He has stolen twenty pounds, and yet he is to be allowed to desecrate the Church, and imperil the souls of the people!” The bishop got up from his chair and began to walk backwards and forwards through the room with short quick steps. “It only wants five days to Christmas Day,” continued Mrs. Proudie, “and something must be done at once. I say nothing as to the propriety or impropriety of his being out on bail, as it is no affair of ours. When I heard that he had been bailed by a beneficed clergyman of this diocese, of course I knew where to look for the man who would act with so much impropriety. Of course I was not surprised when I found that that person belonged to Framley. But, as I have said before, that is no business of ours. I hope, Mr. Thumble, that the bishop will never be found interfering with the ordinary laws of the land. I am very sure that he will never do so by my advice. But when there comes a question of inhibiting a clergyman who has committed himself as this clergyman unfortunately has done, then I say that that clergyman ought to be inhibited.” The bishop walked up and down the room throughout the whole of this speech, but gradually his steps became quicker, and his turns became shorter. “And now here is Christmas Day upon us, and what is to be done?” With these words Mrs. Proudie finished her speech.

“Mr. Thumble,” said the bishop, “perhaps you had better now retire. I am very sorry that you should have had so thankless and so disagreeable a task.”

“Why should Mr. Thumble retire?” asked Mrs. Proudie.

“I think it better,” said the bishop. “Mr. Thumble, good night.” Then Mr. Thumble did retire, and Mrs. Proudie stood forth in her full panoply of armour, silent and awful, with her helmet erect, and vouchsafed no recognition whatever of the parting salutation with which Mr. Thumble greeted her. “My dear, the truth is, you do not understand the matter,” said the bishop as soon as the door was closed. “You do not know how limited is my power.”

“Bishop, I understand it a great deal better than some people; and I understand also what is due to myself and the manner in which I ought to be treated by you in the presence of the subordinate clergy of the diocese. I shall not, however, remain here to be insulted either in the presence or in the absence of any one.” Then the conquered amazon collected together the weapons which she had laid upon the table, and took her departure with majestic step, and not without the clang of arms. The bishop, when he was left alone, enjoyed for a few moments the triumph of his victory.

But then he was left so very much alone! When he looked round about him upon his solitude after the departure of his wife, and remembered that he should not see her again till he should encounter her on ground that was all her own, he regretted his own success, and was tempted to follow her and to apologize. He was unable to do anything alone. He would not even know how to get his tea, as the very servants would ask questions, if he were to do so unaccustomed a thing as to order it to be brought up to him in his solitude. They would tell him that Mrs. Proudie was having tea in her little sitting-room upstairs, or else that the things were laid in the drawing-room. He did wander forth to the latter apartment, hoping that he might find his wife there; but the drawing-room was dark and deserted, and so he wandered back again. It was a grand thing certainly to have triumphed over his wife, and there was a crumb of comfort in the thought that he had vindicated himself before Mr. Thumble; but the general result was not comforting, and he knew from of old how short-lived his triumph would be.

But wretched as he was during that evening he did employ himself with some energy. After much thought he resolved that he would again write to Mr. Crawley, and summon him to appear at the palace. In doing this he would at any rate be doing something. There would be action. And though Mr. Crawley would, as he thought, decline to obey the order, something would be gained even by that disobedience. So he wrote his summons,—sitting very comfortless and all alone on that Sunday evening,—dating his letter, however, for the following day:—

Palace, December 20, 186––.

Reverend Sir,

I have just heard from Mr. Thumble that you have declined to accede to the advice which I thought it my duty to tender to you as the bishop who has been set over you by the Church, and that you yesterday insisted on what you believed to be your right, to administer the services in the parish church of Hogglestock. This has occasioned me the deepest regret. It is, I think, unavailing that I should further write to you my mind upon the subject, as I possess such strong evidence that my written word will not be respected by you. I have, therefore, no alternative now but to invite you to come to me here; and this I do, hoping that I may induce you to listen to that authority which I cannot but suppose you acknowledge to be vested in the office which I hold.

I shall be glad to see you on to-morrow, Tuesday, as near the hour of two as you can make it convenient to yourself to be here, and I will take care to order that refreshment shall be provided for yourself and your horse.

I am, Reverend Sir,

&c. &c. &c.,

Thos. Barnum.

“My dear,” he said, when he did again encounter his wife that night, “I have written to Mr. Crawley, and I thought I might as well bring up the copy of my letter.”

“I wash my hands of the whole affair,” said Mrs. Proudie—”of the whole affair!”

“But you will look at the letter?”

“Certainly not. Why should I look at the letter? My word goes for nothing. I have done what I could, but in vain. Now let us see how you will manage it yourself.”

The bishop did not pass a comfortable night; but in the morning his wife did read his letter, and after that things went a little smoother with him. She was pleased to say that, considering all things; seeing, as she could not help seeing, that the matter had been dreadfully mismanaged, and that great weakness had been displayed;—seeing that these faults had already been committed, perhaps no better step could now be taken than that proposed in the letter.

“I suppose he will not come,” said the bishop.

“I think he will,” said Mrs. Proudie, “and I trust that we may be able to convince him that obedience will be his best course. He will be more humble-minded here than at Hogglestock.” In saying this the lady showed some knowledge of the general nature of clergymen and of the world at large. She understood how much louder a cock can crow in its own farmyard than elsewhere, and knew that episcopal authority, backed by all the solemn awe of palatial grandeur, goes much further than it will do when sent under the folds of an ordinary envelope. But though she understood ordinary human nature, it may be that she did not understand Mr. Crawley’s nature.

But she was at any rate right in her idea as to Mr. Crawley’s immediate reply. The palace groom who rode over to Hogglestock returned with an immediate answer.

“My Lord”—said Mr. Crawley.

I will obey your lordship’s summons, and, unless impediments should arise, I will wait upon your lordship at the hour you name to-morrow. I will not trespass on your hospitality. For myself, I rarely break bread in any house but my own; and as to the horse, I have none.

I have the honour to be,

My lord, &c. &c.,

Josiah Crawley.

“Of course I shall go,” he had said to his wife as soon as he had had time to read the letter, and make known to her the contents. “I shall go if it be possible for me to get there. I think that I am bound to comply with the bishop’s wishes in so much as that.”

“But how will you get there, Josiah?”

“I will walk,—with the Lord’s aid.”

Now Hogglestock was fifteen miles from Barchester, and Mr. Crawley was, as his wife well knew, by no means fitted in his present state for great physical exertion. But from the tone in which he had replied to her, she well knew that it would not avail for her to remonstrate at the moment. He had walked more than thirty miles in a day since they had been living at Hogglestock, and she did not doubt but that it might be possible for him to do it again. Any scheme, which she might be able to devise for saving him from so terrible a journey in the middle of winter, must be pondered over silently, and brought to bear, if not slyly, at least deftly, and without discussion. She made no reply therefore when he declared that on the following day he would walk to Barchester and back,—with the Lord’s aid; nor did she see, or ask to see the note which he sent to the bishop. When the messenger was gone, Mr. Crawley was all alert, looking forward with evident glee to his encounter with the bishop,—snorting like a racehorse at the expected triumph of the coming struggle. And he read much Greek with Jane on that afternoon, pouring into her young ears, almost with joyous rapture, his appreciation of the glory and the pathos and the humanity, as also of the awful tragedy, of the story of Ĺ’dipus. His very soul was on fire at the idea of clutching the weak bishop in his hand, and crushing him with his strong grasp.

In the afternoon Mrs. Crawley slipped out to a neighbouring farmer’s wife, and returned in an hour’s time with a little story which she did not tell with any appearance of eager satisfaction. She had learned well what were the little tricks necessary to the carrying of such a matter as that which she had now in hand. Mr. Mangle, the farmer, as it happened, was going to-morrow morning in his tax-cart as far as Framley Mill, and would be delighted if Mr. Crawley would take a seat. He must remain at Framley the best part of the afternoon, and hoped that Mr. Crawley would take a seat back again. Now Framley Mill was only half a mile off the direct road to Barchester, and was almost half way from Hogglestock parsonage to the city. This would, at any rate, bring the walk within a practicable distance. Mr. Crawley was instantly placed upon his guard, like an animal that sees the bait and suspects the trap. Had he been told that farmer Mangle was going all the way to Barchester, nothing would have induced him to get into the cart. He would have felt sure that farmer Mangle had been persuaded to pity him in his poverty and his strait, and he would sooner have started to walk to London than have put a foot upon the step of the cart. But this lift half way did look to him as though it were really fortuitous. His wife could hardly have been cunning enough to persuade the farmer to go to Framley, conscious that the trap would have been suspected had the bait been made more full. But I fear,—I fear the dear good woman had been thus cunning,—had understood how far the trap might be baited, and had thus succeeded in catching her prey.

On the following morning he consented to get into farmer Mangle’s cart, and was driven as far as Framley Mill. “I wouldn’t think nowt, your reverence, of running you over into Barchester,—that I wouldn’t. The powny is so mortial good,” said farmer Mangle in his foolish good-nature.

Farmer Mangle and Mr. Crawley.

“And how about your business here?” said Mr. Crawley. The farmer scratched his head, remembering all Mrs. Crawley’s injunctions, and awkwardly acknowledged that to be sure his own business with the miller was very pressing. Then Mr. Crawley descended, terribly suspicious, and went on his journey.

“Anyways, your reverence will call for me coming back?” said farmer Mangle. But Mr. Crawley would make no promise. He bade the farmer not wait for him. If they chanced to meet together on the road he might get up again. If the man really had business at Framley, how could he have offered to go on to Barchester? Were they deceiving him? The wife of his bosom had deceived him in such matters before now. But his trouble in this respect was soon dissipated by the pride of his anticipated triumph over the bishop. He took great glory from the thought that he would go before the bishop with dirty boots,—with boots necessarily dirty,—with rusty pantaloons, that he would be hot and mud-stained with his walk, hungry, and an object to be wondered at by all who should see him, because of the misfortunes which had been unworthily heaped upon his head; whereas the bishop would be sleek and clean and well-fed,—pretty with all the prettinesses that are becoming to a bishop’s outward man. And he, Mr. Crawley, would be humble, whereas the bishop would be very proud. And the bishop would be in his own arm-chair,—the cock in his own farmyard, while he, Mr. Crawley, would be seated afar off, in the cold extremity of the room, with nothing of outward circumstances to assist him,—a man called thither to undergo censure. And yet he would take the bishop in his grasp and crush him,—crush him,—crush him! As he thought of this he walked quickly through the mud, and put out his long arm and his great hand, far before him out into the air, and, there and then, he crushed the bishop in his imagination. Yes, indeed! He thought it very doubtful whether the bishop would ever send for him a second time. As all this passed through his mind, he forgot his wife’s cunning, and farmer Mangle’s sin, and for the moment he was happy.

As he turned a corner round by Lord Lufton’s park paling, who should he meet but his old friend Mr. Robarts, the parson of Framley,—the parson who had committed the sin of being bail for him,—the sin, that is, according to Mrs. Proudie’s view of the matter. He was walking with his hand still stretched out,—still crushing the bishop, when Mr. Robarts was close upon him.

“What, Crawley! upon my word I am very glad to see you; you are coming up to me, of course?”

“Thank you, Mr. Robarts; no, not to-day. The bishop has summoned me to his presence, and I am on my road to Barchester.”

“But how are you going?”

“I shall walk.”

“Walk to Barchester. Impossible!”

“I hope not quite impossible, Mr. Robarts. I trust I shall get as far before two o’clock; but to do so I must be on my road.” Then he showed signs of a desire to go on upon his way without further parley.

“But, Crawley, do let me send you over. There is the horse and gig doing nothing.”

“Thank you, Mr. Robarts; no. I should prefer the walk to-day.”

“And you have walked from Hogglestock?”

“No;—not so. A neighbour coming hither, who happened to have business at your mill,—he brought me so far in his cart. The walk home will be nothing,—nothing. I shall enjoy it. Good morning, Mr. Robarts.”

But Mr. Robarts thought of the dirty road, and of the bishop’s presence, and of his own ideas of what would be becoming for a clergyman,—and persevered. “You will find the lanes so very muddy; and our bishop, you know, is apt to notice such things. Do be persuaded.”

“Notice what things?” demanded Mr. Crawley, in an indignant tone.

“He, or perhaps she rather, will say how dirty your shoes were when you came to the palace.”

“If he, or she, can find nothing unclean about me but my shoes, let them say their worst. I shall be very indifferent. I have long ceased, Mr. Robarts, to care much what any man or woman may say about my shoes. Good morning.” Then he stalked on, clutching and crushing in his hand the bishop, and the bishop’s wife, and the whole diocese,—and all the Church of England. Dirty shoes, indeed! Whose was the fault that there were in the church so many feet soiled by unmerited poverty, and so many hands soiled by undeserved wealth? If the bishop did not like his shoes, let the bishop dare to tell him so! So he walked on through the thick of the mud, by no means picking his way.

He walked fast, and he found himself in the close half an hour before the time named by the bishop. But on no account would he have rung the palace bell one minute before two o’clock. So he walked up and down under the towers of the cathedral, and cooled himself, and looked up at the pleasant plate-glass in the windows of the house of his friend the dean, and told himself how, in their college days, he and the dean had been quite equal,—quite equal, except that by the voices of all qualified judges in the university, he, Mr. Crawley, had been acknowledged to be the riper scholar. And now the Mr. Arabin of those days was Dean of Barchester,—travelling abroad luxuriously at this moment for his delight, while he, Crawley, was perpetual curate at Hogglestock, and had now walked into Barchester at the command of the bishop, because he was suspected of having stolen twenty pounds! When he had fully imbued his mind with the injustice of all this, his time was up, and he walked boldly to the bishop’s gate, and boldly rang the bishop’s bell.