The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER III.


The dinner-party at the rectory comprised none but the Grantly family. The marchioness had written to say that she preferred to have it so. The father had suggested that the Thornes of Ullathorne, very old friends, might be asked, and the Greshams from Boxall Hill, and had even promised to endeavour to get old Lady Lufton over to the rectory, Lady Lufton having in former years been Griselda’s warm friend. But Lady Hartletop had preferred to see her dear father and mother in privacy. Her brother Henry she would be glad to meet, and hoped to make some arrangement with him for a short visit to Hartlebury, her husband’s place in Shropshire,—as to which latter hint, it may, however, be at once said, that nothing further was spoken after the Crawley alliance had been suggested. And there had been a very sore point mooted by the daughter in a request made by her to her father that she might not be called upon to meet her grandfather, her mother’s father, Mr. Harding, a clergyman of Barchester, who was now stricken in years.—”Papa would not have come,” said Mrs. Grantly, “but I think,—I do think—” Then she stopped herself.

“Your father has odd ways sometimes, my dear. You know how fond I am of having him here myself.”

“It does not signify,” said Mrs. Grantly. “Do not let us say anything more about it. Of course we cannot have everything. I am told the child does her duty in her sphere of life, and I suppose we ought to be contented.” Then Mrs. Grantly went up to her own room, and there she cried. Nothing was said to the major on the unpleasant subject of the Crawleys before dinner. He met his sister in the drawing-room, and was allowed to kiss her noble cheek. “I hope Edith is well, Henry,” said the sister. “Quite well; and little Dumbello is the same, I hope?” “Thank you, yes; quite well.” Then there seemed to be nothing more to be said between the two. The major never made inquiries after the august family, or would allow it to appear that he was conscious of being shone upon by the wife of a marquis. Any adulation which Griselda received of that kind came from her father, and, therefore, unconsciously she had learned to think that her father was better bred than the other members of her family, and more fitted by nature to move in that sacred circle to which she herself had been exalted. We need not dwell upon the dinner, which was but a dull affair. Mrs. Grantly strove to carry on the family party exactly as it would have been carried on had her daughter married the son of some neighbouring squire; but she herself was conscious of the struggle, and the fact of there being a struggle produced failure. The rector’s servants treated the daughter of the house with special awe, and the marchioness herself moved, and spoke, and ate, and drank with a cold magnificence, which I think had become a second nature with her, but which was not on that account the less oppressive. Even the archdeacon, who enjoyed something in that which was so disagreeable to his wife, felt a relief when he was left alone after dinner with his son. He felt relieved as his son got up to open the door for his mother and sister, but was aware at the same time that he had before him a most difficult and possibly a most disastrous task. His dear son Henry was not a man to be talked smoothly out of, or into, any propriety. He had a will of his own, and having hitherto been a successful man, who in youth had fallen into few youthful troubles,—who had never justified his father in using stern parental authority,—was not now inclined to bend his neck. “Henry,” said the archdeacon, “what are you drinking? That’s ’34 port, but it’s not just what it should be. Shall I send for another bottle?”

“It will do for me, sir. I shall only take a glass.”

“I shall drink two or three glasses of claret. But you young fellows have become so desperately temperate.”

“We take our wine at dinner, sir.”

“By-the-by, how well Griselda is looking.”

“Yes, she is. It’s always easy for women to look well when they’re rich.” How would Grace Crawley look, then, who was poor as poverty itself, and who should remain poor, if his son was fool enough to marry her? That was the train of thought which ran through the archdeacon’s mind. “I do not think much of riches,” said he, “but it is always well that a gentleman’s wife or a gentleman’s daughter should have a sufficiency to maintain her position in life.”

“You may say the same, sir, of everybody’s wife and everybody’s daughter.”

“You know what I mean, Henry.”

“I am not quite sure that I do, sir.”

“Perhaps I had better speak out at once. A rumour has reached your mother and me, which we don’t believe for a moment, but which, nevertheless, makes us unhappy even as a report. They say that there is a young woman living in Silverbridge to whom you are becoming attached.”

“Is there any reason why I should not become attached to a young woman in Silverbridge?—though I hope any young woman to whom I may become attached will be worthy at any rate of being called a young lady.”

“I hope so, Henry; I hope so. I do hope so.”

“So much I will promise, sir; but I will promise nothing more.”

The archdeacon looked across into his son’s face, and his heart sank within him. His son’s voice and his son’s eyes seemed to tell him two things. They seemed to tell him, firstly, that the rumour about Grace Crawley was true; and, secondly, that the major was resolved not to be talked out of his folly. “But you are not engaged to any one, are you?” said the archdeacon. The son did not at first make any answer, and then the father repeated the question. “Considering our mutual positions, Henry, I think you ought to tell me if you are engaged.”

“I am not engaged. Had I become so, I should have taken the first opportunity of telling either you or my mother.”

“Thank God. Now, my dear boy, I can speak out more plainly. The young woman whose name I have heard is daughter to that Mr. Crawley who is perpetual curate at Hogglestock. I knew that there could be nothing in it.”

“But there is something in it, sir.”

“What is there in it? Do not keep me in suspense, Henry. What is it you mean?”

“It is rather hard to be cross-questioned in this way on such a subject. When you express yourself as thankful that there is nothing in the rumour, I am forced to stop you, as otherwise it is possible that hereafter you may say that I have deceived you.”

“But you don’t mean to marry her?”

“I certainly do not mean to pledge myself not to do so.”

“Do you mean to tell me, Henry, that you are in love with Miss Crawley?” Then there was another pause, during which the archdeacon sat looking for an answer; but the major said never a word. “Am I to suppose that you intend to lower yourself by marrying a young woman who cannot possibly have enjoyed any of the advantages of a lady’s education? I say nothing of the imprudence of the thing; nothing of her own want of fortune; nothing of your having to maintain a whole family steeped in poverty; nothing of the debts and character of the father, upon whom, as I understand, at this moment there rests a very grave suspicion of—of—of—what I’m afraid I must call downright theft.”

“Downright theft, certainly, if he were guilty.”

“I say nothing of all that; but looking at the young woman herself—”

“She is simply the best educated girl whom it has ever been my lot to meet.”

“Henry, I have a right to expect that you will be honest with me.”

“I am honest with you.”

“Do you mean to ask this girl to marry you?”

“I do not think that you have any right to ask me that question, sir.”

“I have a right at any rate to tell you this, that if you so far disgrace yourself and me, I shall consider myself bound to withdraw from you all the sanction which would be conveyed by my—my—my continued assistance.”

“Do you intend me to understand that you will stop my income?”

“Certainly I should.”

“Then, sir, I think you would behave to me most cruelly. You advised me to give up my profession.”

“Not in order that you might marry Grace Crawley.”

“I claim the privilege of a man of my age to do as I please in such a matter as marriage. Miss Crawley is a lady. Her father is a clergyman, as is mine. Her father’s oldest friend is my uncle. There is nothing on earth against her except her poverty. I do not think I ever heard of such cruelty on a father’s part.”

“Very well, Henry.”

“I have endeavoured to do my duty by you, sir, always; and by my mother. You can treat me in this way, if you please, but it will not have any effect on my conduct. You can stop my allowance to-morrow, if you like it. I had not as yet made up my mind to make an offer to Miss Crawley, but I shall now do so to-morrow morning.”

This was very bad indeed, and the archdeacon was extremely unhappy. He was by no means at heart a cruel man. He loved his children dearly. If this disagreeable marriage were to take place, he would doubtless do exactly as his wife had predicted. He would not stop his son’s income for a single quarter; and, though he went on telling himself that he would stop it, he knew in his own heart that any such severity was beyond his power. He was a generous man in money matters,—having a dislike for poverty which was not generous,—and for his own sake could not have endured to see a son of his in want. But he was terribly anxious to exercise the power which the use of the threat might give him. “Henry,” he said, “you are treating me badly, very badly. My anxiety has always been for the welfare of my children. Do you think that Miss Crawley would be a fitting sister-in-law for that dear girl upstairs?”

“Certainly I do, or for any other dear girl in the world; excepting that Griselda, who is not clever, would hardly be able to appreciate Miss Crawley, who is clever.”

“Griselda not clever! Good heavens!” Then there was another pause, and as the major said nothing, the father continued his entreaties. “Pray, pray think of what my wishes are, and your mother’s. You are not committed as yet. Pray think of us while there is time. I would rather double your income if I saw you marry any one that we could name here.”

“I have enough as it is, if I may only be allowed to know that it will not be capriciously withdrawn.” The archdeacon filled his glass unconsciously, and sipped his wine, while he thought what further he might say. Perhaps it might be better that he should say nothing further at the present moment. The major, however, was indiscreet, and pushed the question. “May I understand, sir, that your threat is withdrawn, and that my income is secure?”

“What, if you marry this girl?”

“Yes, sir; will my income be continued to me if I marry Miss Crawley?”

“No, it will not.” Then the father got up hastily, pushed the decanter back angrily from his hand, and without saying another word walked away into the drawing-room. That evening at the rectory was very gloomy. The archdeacon now and again said a word or two to his daughter, and his daughter answered him in monosyllables. The major sat apart moodily, and spoke to no one. Mrs. Grantly, understanding well what had passed, knew that nothing could be done at the present moment to restore family comfort; so she sat by the fire and knitted. Exactly at ten they all went to bed.

“Dear Henry,” said the mother to her son the next morning; “think much of yourself, and of your child, and of us, before you take any great step in life.”

“I will, mother,” said he. Then he went out and put on his wrapper, and got into his dog-cart, and drove himself off to Silverbridge. He had not spoken to his father since they were in the dining-room on the previous evening. When he started, the marchioness had not yet come downstairs; but at eleven she breakfasted, and at twelve she also was taken away. Poor Mrs. Grantly had not had much comfort from her children’s visits.