The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER IV.


Illustration rs Crawley had walked from Hogglestock to Silverbridge on the occasion of her visit to Mr. Walker, the attorney, and had been kindly sent back by that gentleman in his wife’s little open carriage. The tidings she brought home with her to her husband were very grievous. The magistrates would sit on the next Thursday,—it was then Friday,—and Mr. Crawley had better appear before them to answer the charge made by Mr. Soames. He would be served with a summons, which he could obey of his own accord. There had been many points very closely discussed between Walker and Mrs. Crawley, as to which there had been great difficulty in the choice of words which should be tender enough in regard to the feelings of the poor lady, and yet strong enough to convey to her the very facts as they stood. Would Mr. Crawley come, or must a policeman be sent to fetch him? The magistrates had already issued a warrant for his apprehension. Such in truth was the fact, but they had agreed with Mr. Walker, that as there was no reasonable ground for anticipating any attempt at escape on the part of the reverend gentleman, the lawyer might use what gentle means he could for ensuring the clergyman’s attendance. Could Mrs. Crawley undertake to say that he would appear? Mrs. Crawley did undertake either that her husband should appear on the Thursday, or else that she would send over in the early part of the week and declare her inability to ensure his appearance. In that case it was understood the policeman must come. Then Mr. Walker had suggested that Mr. Crawley had better employ a lawyer. Upon this Mrs. Crawley had looked beseechingly up into Mr. Walker’s face, and had asked him to undertake the duty. He was of course obliged to explain that he was already employed on the other side. Mr. Soames had secured his services, and though he was willing to do all in his power to mitigate the sufferings of the family, he could not abandon the duty he had undertaken. He named another attorney, however, and then sent the poor woman home in his wife’s carriage. “I fear that unfortunate man is guilty. I fear he is,” Mr. Walker had said to his wife within ten minutes of the departure of the visitor.

Mrs. Crawley would not allow herself to be driven up to the garden gate before her own house, but had left the carriage some three hundred yards off down the road, and from thence she walked home. It was now quite dark. It was nearly six in the evening on a wet December night, and although cloaks and shawls had been supplied to her, she was wet and cold when she reached her home. But at such a moment, anxious as she was to prevent the additional evil which would come to them all from illness to herself, she could not pass through to her room till she had spoken to her husband. He was sitting in the one sitting-room on the left side of the passage as the house was entered, and with him was their daughter Jane, a girl now nearly sixteen years of age. There was no light in the room, and hardly more than a spark of fire showed itself in the grate. The father was sitting on one side of the hearth, in an old arm-chair, and there he had sat for the last hour without speaking. His daughter had been in and out of the room, and had endeavoured to gain his attention now and again by a word, but he had never answered her, and had not even noticed her presence. At the moment when Mrs. Crawley’s step was heard upon the gravel which led to the door, Jane was kneeling before the fire with a hand upon her father’s arm. She had tried to get her hand into his, but he had either been unaware of the attempt, or had rejected it.

“Here is mamma, at last,” said Jane, rising to her feet as her mother entered the house.

“Are you all in the dark?” said Mrs. Crawley, striving to speak in a voice that should not be sorrowful.

“Yes, mamma; we are in the dark. Papa is here. Oh, mamma, how wet you are!”

“Yes, dear. It is raining. Get a light out of the kitchen, Jane, and I will go upstairs in two minutes.” Then, when Jane was gone, the wife made her way in the dark over to her husband’s side, and spoke a word to him. “Josiah,” she said, “will you not speak to me?”

“What should I speak about? Where have you been?”

“I have been to Silverbridge. I have been to Mr. Walker. He, at any rate, is very kind.”

“I don’t want his kindness. I want no man’s kindness. Mr. Walker is the attorney, I believe. Kind, indeed!”

“I mean considerate. Josiah, let us do the best we can in this trouble. We have had others as heavy before.”

“But none to crush me as this will crush me. Well; what am I to do? Am I to go to prison—to-night?” At this moment his daughter returned with a candle, and the mother could not make her answer at once. It was a wretched, poverty-stricken room. By degrees the carpet had disappeared, which had been laid down some nine or ten years since, when they had first come to Hogglestock, and which even then had not been new. Now nothing but a poor fragment of it remained in front of the fire-place. In the middle of the room there was a table which had once been large; but one flap of it was gone altogether, and the other flap sloped grievously towards the floor, the weakness of old age having fallen into its legs. There were two or three smaller tables about, but they stood propped against walls, thence obtaining a security which their own strength would not give them. At the further end of the room there was an ancient piece of furniture, which was always called “papa’s secretary,” at which Mr. Crawley customarily sat and wrote his sermons, and did all work that was done by him within his house. The man who had made it, some time in the last century, had intended it to be a locked guardian for domestic documents, and the receptacle for all that was most private in the house of some paterfamilias. But beneath the hands of Mr. Crawley it always stood open; and with the exception of the small space at which he wrote, was covered with dog’s-eared books, from nearly all of which the covers had disappeared. There were there two odd volumes of Euripides, a Greek Testament, an Odyssey, a duodecimo Pindar, and a miniature Anacreon. There was half a Horace,—the two first books of the Odes at the beginning, and the De Arte Poetica at the end having disappeared. There was a little bit of a volume of Cicero, and there were C├Žsar’s Commentaries, in two volumes, so stoutly bound that they had defied the combined ill-usage of time and the Crawley family. All these were piled upon the secretary, with many others,—odd volumes of sermons and the like; but the Greek and Latin lay at the top, and showed signs of most frequent use. There was one arm-chair in the room,—a Windsor-chair, as such used to be called, made soft by an old cushion in the back, in which Mr. Crawley sat when both he and his wife were in the room, and Mrs. Crawley when he was absent. And there was an old horsehair sofa,—now almost denuded of its horsehair,—but that, like the tables, required the assistance of a friendly wall. Then there was half a dozen of other chairs,—all of different sorts,—and they completed the furniture of the room. It was not such a room as one would wish to see inhabited by a beneficed clergyman of the Church of England; but they who know what money will do and what it will not, will understand how easily a man with a family, and with a hundred and thirty pounds a year, may be brought to the need of inhabiting such a chamber. When it is remembered that three pounds of meat a day, at ninepence a pound, will cost over forty pounds a year, there need be no difficulty in understanding that it may be so. Bread for such a family must cost at least twenty-five pounds. Clothes for five persons, of whom one must at any rate wear the raiment of a gentleman, can hardly be found for less than ten pounds a year a head. Then there remains fifteen pounds for tea, sugar, beer, wages, education, amusements, and the like. In such circumstances a gentleman can hardly pay much for the renewal of his furniture!

Mrs. Crawley could not answer her husband’s question before her daughter, and was therefore obliged to make another excuse for again sending her out of the room. “Jane, dear,” she said, “bring my things down to the kitchen and I will change them by the fire. I will be there in two minutes, when I have had a word with your papa.” The girl went immediately and then Mrs. Crawley answered her husband’s question. “No, my dear; there is no question of your going to prison.”

“But there will be.”

“I have undertaken that you shall attend before the magistrates at Silverbridge on Thursday next, at twelve o’clock. You will do that?”

“Do it! You mean, I suppose, to say that I must go there. Is anybody to come and fetch me?”

“Nobody will come. Only you must promise that you will be there. I have promised for you. You will go; will you not?” She stood leaning over him, half embracing him, waiting for an answer; but for a while he gave none. “You will tell me that you will do what I have undertaken for you, Josiah?”

“I think I would rather that they fetched me. I think that I will not go myself.”

“And have policemen come for you into the parish! Mr. Walker has promised that he will send over his phaeton. He sent me home in it to-day.”

“I want nobody’s phaeton. If I go I will walk. If it were ten times the distance, and though I had not a shoe left to my feet I would walk. If I go there at all, of my own accord, I will walk there.”

“But you will go?”

“What do I care for the parish? What matters it who sees me now? I cannot be degraded worse than I am. Everybody knows it.”

“There is no disgrace without guilt,” said his wife.

“Everybody thinks me guilty. I see it in their eyes. The children know of it, and I hear their whispers in the school, ’Mr. Crawley has taken some money.’ I heard the girl say it myself.”

“What matters what the girl says?”

“And yet you would have me go in a fine carriage to Silverbridge, as though to a wedding. If I am wanted there let them take me as they would another. I shall be here for them,—unless I am dead.”

At this moment Jane reappeared, pressing her mother to take off her wet clothes, and Mrs. Crawley went with her daughter to the kitchen. The one red-armed young girl who was their only servant was sent away, and then the mother and child discussed how best they might prevail with the head of the family. “But, mamma, it must come right; must it not?”

“I trust it will. I think it will. But I cannot see my way as yet.”

“Papa cannot have done anything wrong.”

“No, my dear; he has done nothing wrong. He has made great mistakes, and it is hard to make people understand that he has not intentionally spoken untruths. He is ever thinking of other things, about the school, and his sermons, and he does not remember.”

“And about how poor we are, mamma.”

“He has much to occupy his mind, and he forgets things which dwell in the memory with other people. He said that he had got this money from Mr. Soames, and of course he thought that it was so.”

“And where did he get it, mamma?”

“Ah,—I wish I knew. I should have said that I had seen every shilling that came into the house; but I know nothing of this cheque,—whence it came.”

“But will not papa tell you?”

“He would tell me if he knew. He thinks it came from the dean.”

“And are you sure it did not?”

“Yes; quite sure; as sure as I can be of anything. The dean told me he would give him fifty pounds, and the fifty pounds came. I had them in my own hands. And he has written to say that it was so.”

“But couldn’t this be part of the fifty pounds?”

“No, dear, no.”

“Then where did papa get it? Perhaps he picked it up and has forgotten?”

To this Mrs. Crawley made no reply. The idea that the cheque had been found by her husband,—had been picked up as Jane had said,—had occurred also to Jane’s mother. Mr. Soames was confident that he had dropped the pocket-book at the parsonage. Mrs. Crawley had always disliked Mr. Soames, thinking him to be hard, cruel, and vulgar. She would not have hesitated to believe him guilty of a falsehood, or even of direct dishonesty, if by so believing she could in her own mind have found the means of reconciling her husband’s possession of the cheque with absolute truth on his part. But she could not do so. Even though Soames had, with devilish premeditated malice, slipped the cheque into her husband’s pocket, his having done so would not account for her husband’s having used the cheque when he found it there. She was driven to make excuses for him which, valid as they might be with herself, could not be valid with others. He had said that Mr. Soames had paid the cheque to him. That was clearly a mistake. He had said that the cheque had been given to him by the dean. That was clearly another mistake. She knew, or thought she knew, that he, being such as he was, might make such blunders as these, and yet be true. She believed that such statements might be blunders and not falsehoods,—so convinced was she that her husband’s mind would not act at all times as do the minds of other men. But having such a conviction she was driven to believe also that almost anything might be possible. Soames may have been right, or he might have dropped, not the book, but the cheque. She had no difficulty in presuming Soames to be wrong in any detail, if by so supposing she could make the exculpation of her husband easier to herself. If villany on the part of Soames was needful to her theory, Soames would become to her a villain at once,—of the blackest dye. Might it not be possible that the cheque having thus fallen into her husband’s hands, he had come, after a while, to think that it had been sent to him by his friend, the dean? And if it were so, would it be possible to make others so believe? That there was some mistake which would be easily explained were her husband’s mind lucid at all points, but which she could not explain because of the darkness of his mind, she was thoroughly convinced. But were she herself to put forward such a defence on her husband’s part, she would in doing so be driven to say that he was a lunatic,—that he was incapable of managing the affairs of himself or his family. It seemed to her that she would be compelled to have him proved to be either a thief or a madman. And yet she knew that he was neither. That he was not a thief was as clear to her as the sun at noonday. Could she have lain on the man’s bosom for twenty years, and not yet have learned the secrets of the heart beneath? The whole mind of the man was, as she told herself, within her grasp. He might have taken the twenty pounds; he might have taken it and spent it, though it was not his own; but yet he was no thief. Nor was he a madman. No man more sane in preaching the gospel of his Lord, in making intelligible to the ignorant the promises of his Saviour, ever got into a parish pulpit, or taught in a parish school. The intellect of the man was as clear as running water in all things not appertaining to his daily life and its difficulties. He could be logical with a vengeance,—so logical as to cause infinite trouble to his wife, who, with all her good sense, was not logical. And he had Greek at his fingers’ ends,—as his daughter knew very well. And even to this day he would sometimes recite to them English poetry, lines after lines, stanzas upon stanzas, in a sweet low melancholy voice, on long winter evenings when occasionally the burden of his troubles would be lighter to him than was usual. Books in Latin and in French he read with as much ease as in English, and took delight in such as came to him, when he would condescend to accept such loans from the deanery. And there was at times a lightness of heart about the man. In the course of the last winter he had translated into Greek irregular verse the very noble ballad of Lord Bateman, maintaining the rhythm and the rhyme, and had repeated it with uncouth glee till his daughter knew it all by heart. And when there had come to him a five-pound note from some admiring magazine editor as the price of the same,—still through the dean’s hands,—he had brightened up his heart and had thought for an hour or two that even yet the world would smile upon him. His wife knew well that he was not mad; but yet she knew that there were dark moments with him, in which his mind was so much astray that he could not justly be called to account as to what he might remember and what he might forget. How would it be possible to explain all this to a judge and jury, so that they might neither say that he was dishonest, nor yet that he was mad? “Perhaps he picked it up, and had forgotten,” her daughter said to her. Perhaps it was so, but she might not as yet admit as much even to her child.

“It is a mystery, dear, as yet, which, with God’s aid, will be unravelled. Of one thing we at least may be sure; that your papa has not wilfully done anything wrong.”

“Of course we are sure of that, mamma.”

Mrs. Crawley had many troubles during the next four or five days, of which the worst, perhaps, had reference to the services of the Sunday which intervened between the day of her visit to Silverbridge, and the sitting of the magistrates. On the Saturday it was necessary that he should prepare his sermons, of which he preached two on every Sunday, though his congregation consisted only of farmers, brickmakers, and agricultural labourers, who would willingly have dispensed with the second. Mrs. Crawley proposed to send over to Mr. Robarts, a neighbouring clergyman, for the loan of a curate. Mr. Robarts was a warm friend to the Crawleys, and in such an emergency would probably have come himself; but Mr. Crawley would not hear of it. The discussion took place early on the Saturday morning, before it was as yet daylight, for the poor woman was thinking day and night of her husband’s troubles, and it had this good effect, that immediately after breakfast he seated himself at his desk, and worked at his task as though he had forgotten all else in the world.

And on the Sunday morning he went into his school before the hour of the church service, as had been his wont, and taught there as though everything with him was as usual. Some of the children were absent, having heard of their teacher’s tribulation, and having been told probably that he would remit his work; and for these absent ones he sent in great anger. The poor bairns came creeping in, for he was a man who by his manners had been able to secure their obedience in spite of his poverty. And he preached to the people of his parish on that Sunday, as he had always preached; eagerly, clearly, with an eloquence fitted for the hearts of such an audience. No one would have guessed from his tones and gestures and appearance on that occasion, that there was aught wrong with him,—unless there had been there some observer keen enough to perceive that the greater care which he used, and the special eagerness of his words, denoted a special frame of mind.

After that, after those church services were over, he sank again and never roused himself till the dreaded day had come.