The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER XI.


Tidings of Mr. Crawley’s fate reached the palace at Barchester on the afternoon of the day on which the magistrates had committed him. All such tidings travel very quickly, conveyed by imperceptible wires, and distributed by indefatigable message boys whom Rumour seems to supply for the purpose. Barchester is twenty miles from Silverbridge by road, and more than forty by railway. I doubt whether any one was commissioned to send the news along the actual telegraph, and yet Mrs. Proudie knew it before four o’clock. But she did not know it quite accurately. “Bishop,” she said, standing at her husband’s study door. “They have committed that man to gaol. There was no help for them unless they had forsworn themselves.”

“Not forsworn themselves, my dear,” said the bishop, striving, as was usual with him, by some meek and ineffectual word to teach his wife that she was occasionally led by her energy into error. He never persisted in the lessons when he found, as was usual, that they were taken amiss.

“I say forsworn themselves!” said Mrs. Proudie; “and now what do you mean to do? This is Thursday, and of course the man must not be allowed to desecrate the church of Hogglestock by performing the Sunday services.”

“If he has been committed, my dear, and is in prison,—”

“I said nothing about prison, bishop.”

“Gaol, my dear.”

“I say they have committed him to gaol. So my informant tells me. But of course all the Plumstead and Framley set will move heaven and earth to get him out, so that he may be there as a disgrace to the diocese. I wonder how the dean will feel when he hears of it! I do, indeed. For the dean, though he is an idle, useless man, with no church principles, and no real piety, still he has a conscience. I think he has a conscience.”

“I’m sure he has, my dear.”

“Well;—let us hope so. And if he has a conscience, what must be his feelings when he hears that this creature whom he brought into the diocese has been committed to gaol along with common felons.”

“Not with felons, my dear; at least, I should think not.”

“I say with common felons! A downright robbery of twenty pounds, just as though he had broken into the bank! And so he did, with sly artifice, which is worse in such hands than a crowbar. And now what are we to do? Here is Thursday, and something must be done before Sunday for the souls of those poor benighted creatures at Hogglestock.” Mrs. Proudie was ready for the battle, and was even now sniffing the blood afar-off. “I believe it’s a hundred and thirty pounds a year,” she said, before the bishop had collected his thoughts sufficiently for a reply.

“I think we must find out, first of all, whether he is really to be shut up in prison,” said the bishop.

“And suppose he is not to be shut up. Suppose they have been weak, or untrue to their duty—and from what we know of the magistrates of Barsetshire, there is too much reason to suppose that they will have been so; suppose they have let him out, is he to go about like a roaring lion—among the souls of the people?”

The bishop shook in his shoes. When Mrs. Proudie began to talk of the souls of the people he always shook in his shoes. She had an eloquent way of raising her voice over the word souls that was qualified to make any ordinary man shake in his shoes. The bishop was a conscientious man, and well knew that poor Mr. Crawley, even though he might have become a thief under terrible temptation, would not roar at Hogglestock to the injury of any man’s soul. He was aware that this poor clergyman had done his duty laboriously and efficiently, and he was also aware that though he might have been committed by the magistrates, and then let out upon bail, he should not be regarded now, in these days before his trial, as a convicted thief. But to explain all this to Mrs. Proudie was beyond his power. He knew well that she would not hear a word in mitigation of Mr. Crawley’s presumed offence. Mr. Crawley belonged to the other party, and Mrs. Proudie was a thorough-going partisan. I know a man,—an excellent fellow, who, being himself a strong politician, constantly expresses a belief that all politicians opposed to him are thieves, child-murderers, parricides, lovers of incest, demons upon the earth. He is a strong partisan, but not, I think, so strong as Mrs. Proudie. He says that he believes all evil of his opponents; but she really believed the evil. The archdeacon had called Mrs. Proudie a she-Beelzebub; but that was a simple ebullition of mortal hatred. He believed her to be simply a vulgar, interfering, brazen-faced virago. Mrs. Proudie in truth believed that the archdeacon was an actual emanation from Satan, sent to those parts to devour souls,—as she would call it,—and that she herself was an emanation of another sort, sent from another source expressly to Barchester, to prevent such devouring, as far as it might possibly be prevented by a mortal agency. The bishop knew it all,—understood it all. He regarded the archdeacon as a clergyman belonging to a party opposed to his party, and he disliked the man. He knew that from his first coming into the diocese he had been encountered with enmity by the archdeacon and the archdeacon’s friends. If left to himself he could feel and to a certain extent could resent such enmity. But he had no faith in his wife’s doctrine of emanations. He had no faith in many things which she believed religiously;—and yet what could he do? If he attempted to explain, she would stop him before he had got through the first half of his first sentence.

“If he is out on bail—,” commenced the bishop.

“Of course he will be out on bail.”

“Then I think he should feel—”

“Feel! such men never feel! What feeling can one expect from a convicted thief?”

“Not convicted as yet, my dear,” said the bishop.

“A convicted thief,” repeated Mrs. Proudie; and she vociferated the words in such a tone that the bishop resolved that he would for the future let the word convicted pass without notice. After all she was only using the phrase in a peculiar sense given to it by herself.

“A convicted thief,” repeated Mrs. Proudie.

“It won’t be proper, certainly, that he should do the services,” suggested the bishop.

“Proper! It would be a scandal to the whole diocese. How could he raise his head as he pronounced the eighth commandment? That must be at least prevented.”

The bishop, who was seated, fretted himself in his chair, moving about with little movements. He knew that there was a misery coming upon him; and, as far as he could see, it might become a great misery,—a huge blistering sore upon him. When miseries came to him, as they did not unfrequently, he would unconsciously endeavour to fathom them and weigh them, and then, with some gallantry, resolve to bear them, if he could find that their depth and weight were not too great for his powers of endurance. He would let the cold wind whistle by him, putting up the collar of his coat, and would encounter the winter weather without complaint. And he would be patient under the hot sun, knowing well that tranquillity is best for those who have to bear tropical heat. But when the storm threatened to knock him off his legs, when the earth beneath him became too hot for his poor tender feet,—what could he do then? There had been with him such periods of misery, during which he had wailed inwardly and had confessed to himself that the wife of his bosom was too much for him. Now the storm seemed to be coming very roughly. It would be demanded of him that he should exercise certain episcopal authority which he knew did not belong to him. Now, episcopal authority admits of being stretched or contracted according to the character of the bishop who uses it. It is not always easy for a bishop himself to know what he may do, and what he may not do. He may certainly give advice to any clergyman in his diocese, and he may give it in such form that it will have in it something of authority. Such advice coming from a dominant bishop to a clergyman with a submissive mind, has in it very much of authority. But Bishop Proudie knew that Mr. Crawley was not a clergyman with a submissive mind, and he feared that he himself, as regarded from Mr. Crawley’s point of view, was not a dominant bishop. And yet he could only act by advice. “I will write to him,” said the bishop, “and will explain to him that as he is circumstanced he should not appear in the reading desk.”

“Of course he must not appear in the reading desk. That scandal must at any rate be inhibited.” Now the bishop did not at all like the use of the word inhibited, understanding well that Mrs. Proudie intended it to be understood as implying some episcopal command against which there should be no appeal;—but he let it pass.

“I will write to him, my dear, to-night.”

“And Mr. Thumble can go over with the letter the first thing in the morning.”

“Will not the post be better?”

“No, bishop; certainly not.”

“He would get it sooner, if I write to-night, my dear.”

“In either case he will get it to-morrow morning. An hour or two will not signify, and if Mr. Thumble takes it himself we shall know how it is received. It will be well that Thumble should be there in person as he will want to look for lodgings in the parish.”

“But, my dear—”

“Well, bishop?”

“About lodgings? I hardly think that Mr. Thumble, if we decide that Mr. Thumble shall undertake the duty—”

“We have decided that Mr. Thumble should undertake the duty. That is decided.”

“But I do not think he should trouble himself to look for lodgings at Hogglestock. He can go over on the Sundays.”

“And who is to do the parish work? Would you have that man, a convicted thief, to look after the schools, and visit the sick, and perhaps attend the dying?”

“There will be a great difficulty; there will indeed,” said the bishop, becoming very unhappy, and feeling that he was driven by circumstances either to assert his own knowledge or teach his wife something of the law with reference to his position as a bishop. “Who is to pay Mr. Thumble?”

“The income of the parish must be sequestrated, and he must be paid out of that. Of course he must have the income while he does the work.”

“But, my dear, I cannot sequestrate the man’s income.”

“I don’t believe it, bishop. If the bishop cannot sequestrate, who can? But you are always timid in exercising the authority put into your hands for wise purposes. Not sequestrate the income of a man who has been proved to be a thief! You leave that to us, and we will manage it.” The “us” here named comprised Mrs. Proudie and the bishop’s managing chaplain.

Then the bishop was left alone for an hour to write the letter which Mr. Thumble was to carry over to Mr. Crawley,—and after a while he did write it. Before he commenced the task, however, he sat for some moments in his arm-chair close by the fire-side, asking himself whether it might not be possible for him to overcome his enemy in this matter. How would it go with him suppose he were to leave the letter unwritten, and send in a message by his chaplain to Mrs. Proudie, saying that as Mr. Crawley was out on bail, the parish might be left for the present without episcopal interference? She could not make him interfere. She could not force him to write the letter. So, at least, he said to himself. But as he said it, he almost thought that she could do these things. In the last thirty years, or more, she had ever contrived by some power latent in her to have her will effected. But what would happen if now, even now, he were to rebel? That he would personally become very uncomfortable, he was well aware, but he thought that he could bear that. The food would become bad,—mere ashes between his teeth, the daily modicum of wine would lose its flavour, the chimneys would all smoke, the wind would come from the east, and the servants would not answer the bell. Little miseries of that kind would crowd upon him. He had arrived at a time of life in which such miseries make such men very miserable; but yet he thought that he could endure them. And what other wretchedness would come to him? She would scold him,—frightfully, loudly, scornfully, and worse than all, continually. But of this he had so much habitually, that anything added might be borne also;—if only he could be sure that the scoldings should go on in private, that the world of the palace should not be allowed to hear the revilings to which he would be subjected. But to be scolded publicly was the great evil which he dreaded beyond all evils. He was well aware that the palace would know his misfortune, that it was known, and freely discussed by all, from the examining chaplain down to the palace boot-boy;—nay, that it was known to all the diocese; but yet he could smile upon those around him, and look as though he held his own like other men,—unless when open violence was displayed. But when that voice was heard aloud along the corridors of the palace, and when he was summoned imperiously by the woman, calling for her bishop, so that all Barchester heard it, and when he was compelled to creep forth from his study, at the sound of that summons, with distressed face, and shaking hands, and short hurrying steps,—a being to be pitied even by a deacon,—not venturing to assume an air of masterdom should he chance to meet a housemaid on the stairs,—then, at such moments as that, he would feel that any submission was better than the misery which he suffered. And he well knew that should he now rebel, the whole house would be in a turmoil. He would be bishoped here, and bishoped there, before the eyes of all palatial men and women, till life would be a burden to him. So he got up from his seat over the fire, and went to his desk and wrote the letter. The letter was as follows:—

The Palace, Barchester, –– December, 186––.

Reverend Sir,—[he left out the dear, because he knew that if he inserted it he would be compelled to write the letter over again]

I have heard to-day with the greatest trouble of spirit, that you have been taken before a bench of magistrates assembled at Silverbridge, having been previously arrested by the police in your parsonage house at Hogglestock, and that the magistrates of Silverbridge have committed you to take your trial at the next assizes at Barchester, on a charge of theft.

Far be it from me to prejudge the case. You will understand, reverend sir, that I express no opinion whatever as to your guilt or innocence in this matter. If you have been guilty, may the Lord give you grace to repent of your great sin and to make such amends as may come from immediate acknowledgment and confession. If you are innocent, may He protect you, and make your innocence to shine before all men. In either case may the Lord be with you and keep your feet from further stumbling.

But I write to you now as your bishop, to explain to you that circumstanced as you are, you cannot with decency perform the church services of your parish. I have that confidence in you that I doubt not you will agree with me in this, and will be grateful to me for relieving you so far from the immediate perplexities of your position. I have, therefore, appointed the Rev. Caleb Thumble to perform the duties of incumbent of Hogglestock till such time as a jury shall have decided upon your case at Barchester; and in order that you may at once become acquainted with Mr. Thumble, as will be most convenient that you should do, I will commission him to deliver this letter into your hand personally to-morrow, trusting that you will receive him with that brotherly spirit in which he is sent upon this painful mission.

Touching the remuneration to which Mr. Thumble will become entitled for his temporary ministrations in the parish of Hogglestock, I do not at present lay down any strict injunction. He must, at any rate, be paid at a rate not less than that ordinarily afforded for a curate.

I will once again express my fervent hope that the Lord may bring you to see the true state of your own soul, and that He may fill you with the grace of repentance, so that the bitter waters of the present hour may not pass over your head and destroy you.

I have the honour to be,

Reverend Sir,

Your faithful servant in Christ,

T. Barnum. [1]

The bishop had hardly finished his letter when Mrs. Proudie returned to the study, followed by the Rev. Caleb Thumble. Mr. Thumble was a little man, about forty years of age, who had a wife and children living in Barchester, and who existed on such chance clerical crumbs as might fall from the table of the bishop’s patronage. People in Barchester said that Mrs. Thumble was a cousin of Mrs. Proudie’s; but as Mrs. Proudie stoutly denied the connection, it may be supposed that the people of Barchester were wrong. And, had Mr. Thumble’s wife in truth been a cousin, Mrs. Proudie would surely have provided for him during the many years in which the diocese had been in her hands. No such provision had been made, and Mr. Thumble, who had now been living in the diocese for three years, had received nothing else from the bishop than such chance employment as this which he was now to undertake at Hogglestock. He was a humble, mild-voiced man, when within the palace precincts, and had so far succeeded in making his way among his brethren in the cathedral city as to be employed not unfrequently for absent minor canons in chanting the week-day services, being remunerated for his work at the rate of about two shillings and sixpence a service.

The bishop handed his letter to his wife, observing in an off-hand kind of way that she might as well see what he said. “Of course I shall read it,” said Mrs. Proudie. And the bishop winced visibly, because Mr. Thumble was present. “Quite right,” said Mrs. Proudie, “quite right to let him know that you knew that he had been arrested,—actually arrested by the police.”

“I thought it proper to mention that, because of the scandal,” said the bishop.

“Oh, it has been terrible in the city,” said Mr. Thumble.

“Never mind, Mr. Thumble,” said Mrs. Proudie. “Never mind that at present.” Then she continued to read the letter. “What’s this? Confession! That must come out, bishop. It will never do that you should recommend confession to anybody, under any circumstances.”

“But, my dear—”

“It must come out, bishop.”

“My lord has not meant auricular confession,” suggested Mr. Thumble. Then Mrs. Proudie turned round and looked at Mr. Thumble, and Mr. Thumble nearly sank amidst the tables and chairs. “I beg your pardon, Mrs. Proudie,” he said. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“The word must come out, bishop,” repeated Mrs. Proudie. “There should be no stumbling-blocks prepared for feet that are only too ready to fall.” And the word did come out.

“Now, Mr. Thumble,” said the lady, as she gave the letter to her satellite, “the bishop and I wish you to be at Hogglestock early to-morrow. You should be there not later than ten, certainly.” Then she paused until Mr. Thumble had given the required promise. “And we request that you will be very firm in the mission which is confided to you, a mission which, as of course you see, is of a very delicate and important nature. You must be firm.”

“I will endeavour,” said Mr. Thumble.

“The bishop and I both feel that this most unfortunate man must not under any circumstances be allowed to perform the services of the Church while this charge is hanging over him,—a charge as to the truth of which no sane man can entertain a doubt.”

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Proudie,” said Mr. Thumble.

“The bishop and I therefore are most anxious that you should make Mr. Crawley understand at once,—at once,” and the lady, as she spoke, lifted up her left hand with an eloquent violence which had its effect upon Mr. Thumble, “that he is inhibited,”—the bishop shook in his shoes,—”inhibited from the performance of any of his sacred duties.” Thereupon, Mr. Thumble promised obedience and went his way.