"So I have drawn up a short statement of the circumstances, which I hope may be read at the Board when the question of my dismissal comes before it."
"You mean to go, then?"
"Yes, Sir Raffle; I must go. The honour of a certain branch of my family demands that I should do so. As I have for some time been so especially under you, I thought it would be proper to show you what I have said before I send my letter in, and therefore I have brought it with me. Here it is." And Johnny handed to Sir Raffle an official document of large dimensions.
Sir Raffle began to be uncomfortable. He had acquired a character for tyranny in the public service of which he was aware, though he thought that he knew well that he had never deserved it. Some official big-wig,—perhaps that Chancellor of the Exchequer of whom he was so fond,—had on one occasion hinted to him that a little softness of usage would be compatible with the prejudices of the age. Softness was impossible to Sir Raffle; but his temper was sufficiently under his control to enable him to encounter the rebuke, and to pull himself up from time to time when he found himself tempted to speak loud and to take things with a high hand. He knew that a clerk should not be dismissed for leaving his office, who could show that his absence had been caused by some matter really affecting the interest of his family; and that were he to drive Eames to go on this occasion without leave, Eames would be simply called in to state what was the matter of moment which had taken him away. Probably he had stated that matter of moment in this very document which Sir Raffle was holding in his hand. But Sir Raffle was not willing to be conquered by the document. If it was necessary that he should give way, he would much prefer to give way,—out of his own good-nature, let us say,—without looking at the document at all. "I must, under the circumstances, decline to read this," said he, "unless it should come before me officially," and he handed back the paper.
"I thought it best to let you see it if you pleased," said John Eames. Then he turned round as though he were going to leave the room; but suddenly he turned back again. "I don't like to leave you, Sir Raffle, without saying good-by. I do not suppose we shall meet again. Of course you must do your duty, and I do not wish you to think that I have any personal ill-will against you." So saying, he put out his hand to Sir Raffle as though to take a final farewell. Sir Raffle looked at him in amazement. He was dressed, as has been said, in black, and did not look like the John Eames of every day to whom Sir Raffle was accustomed.
"I don't understand this at all," said Sir Raffle.
"I was afraid that it was only too plain," said John Eames.
"And you must go?"
"Oh, yes;—that's certain. I have pledged myself to go."
"Of course I don't know anything of this matter that is so important to your family."
"No; you do not," said Johnny.
"Can't you explain it to me then? so that I may have some reason,—if there is any reason."
Then John told the story of Mr Crawley,—a considerable portion of the story; and in his telling of it, I think it probable that he put more weight upon the necessity of his mission to Italy than it could have fairly been made to bear. In the course of the narration Sir Raffle did once contrive to suggest that a lawyer by going to Florence might do the business at any rate as well as John Eames. But Johnny denied this. "No, Sir Raffle, it is impossible; quite impossible," he said. "If you saw the lawyer who is acting in the matter, Mr Toogood, who is also my uncle, he would tell you the same." Sir Raffle had already heard something of the story of Mr Crawley, and was now willing to accept the sad tragedy of that case as an excuse for his private secretary's somewhat insubordinate conduct. "Under the circumstances, Eames, I suppose you must go; but I think you should have told me all about it before."
"I did not like to trouble you, Sir Raffle, with private business."
"It is always best to tell the whole of a story," said Sir Raffle. Johnny being quite content with the upshot of the negotiations accepted this gentle rebuke in silence, and withdrew. On the next day he appeared again at the office in his ordinary costume, and an idea crossed Sir Raffle's brain that he had been partly "done" by the affectation of a costume. "I'll be even with him some day yet," said Sir Raffle to himself.
"I've got my leave, boys," said Eames when he went out into the room in which his three friends sat.
"No!" said Cradell.
"But I have," said Johnny.
"You don't mean that old Huffle Scuffle has given it out of his own head?" said Fisher.
"Indeed he has," said Johnny; "and bade God bless me into the bargain."
"And you didn't give him the oysters?" said FitzHoward.
"Not a shell," said Johnny.
"I'm blessed if you don't beat cock-fighting," said Cradell, lost in admiration at his friend's adroitness.
We know how John passed his evening after that. He went first to see Lily Dale at her uncle's lodgings in Sackville Street, from thence he was taken to the presence of the charming Madalina in Porchester Terrace, and then wound up the night with his friend Conway Dalrymple. When he got to his bed he felt himself to have been triumphant, but in spite of his triumph he was ashamed of himself. Why had he left Lily to go to Madalina? As he thought of this he quoted to himself against himself Hamlet's often-quoted appeal of the two portraits. How could he not despise himself in that he could find any pleasure with Madalina, having a Lily Dale to fill his thoughts? "But she is not fair to me," he said to himself,—thinking thus to comfort himself. But he did not comfort himself.
On the next morning early his uncle, Mr Toogood, met him at the Dover Railway Station. "Upon my word, Johnny, you're a clever fellow," said he. "I never thought that you'd make it all right with Sir Raffle."
"As right as a trivet, uncle. There are some people, if you can only get to learn the length of their feet, you can always fit them with shoes afterwards."
"You'll go on direct to Florence, Johnny?"
"Yes, I think so. From what we have heard, Mrs Arabin must be either there or at Venice, and I don't suppose I could learn from any one at Paris at which town she is staying at this moment."
"Her address is Florence:—poste restante, Florence. You will be sure to find out at any of the hotels where she is staying, or where she has been staying."
"But when I have found her, I don't suppose she can tell me anything," said Johnny.
"Who can tell? She may or she may not. My belief is that the money was her present altogether and not his. It seems that they don't mix their moneys. He has always had some scruple about it because of her son by a former marriage, and they always have different accounts at their banker's. I found that out when I was at Barchester."
"But Crawley was his friend."
"Yes, Crawley was his friend; but I don't know that fifty-pound notes have always been so plentiful with him. Deans' incomes ain't what they were, you know."
"I don't know anything about that," said Johnny.
"Well; they are not. And he has nothing of his own, as far as I can learn. It would be just the thing for her to do,—to give the money to his friend. At any rate she will tell you whether it was so or not."
"And then I will go on to Jerusalem, after him."
"Should you find it necessary. He will probably be on his way back, and she will know where you can hit him on the road. You must make him understand that it is essential that he should be here some little time before the trial. You can understand, Johnny;"—and as he spoke Mr Toogood lowered his voice to a whisper, though they were walking together on the platform of the railway station, and could not possibly have been overheard by any one. "You can understand that it may be necessary to prove that he is not exactly compos mentis, and if so it will be essential that he should have some influential friend near him. Otherwise that bishop will trample him into dust." If Mr Toogood could have seen the bishop at this time and have read the troubles of the poor man's heart, he would hardly have spoken of him as being so terrible a tyrant.
"I understand all that," said Johnny.
"So that, in fact, I shall expect to see you both together," said Toogood.
"I hope the dean is a good fellow."
"They tell me he is a very good fellow."
"I never did see much of bishops or deans as yet," said Johnny, "and I should feel rather awe-struck travelling with one."
"I should fancy that a dean is very much like anybody else."
"But the man's hat would cow me."
"I daresay you'll find him walking about Jerusalem with a wide-awake on, and a big stick in his hand, probably smoking a cigar. Deans contrive to get out of their armour sometimes, as the knights of old used to do. Bishops, I fancy, find it more difficult. Well—good-by, old fellow. I'm very much obliged to you for going,—I am, indeed. I don't doubt but what we shall pull through, somehow."
Then Mr Toogood went home to breakfast, and from his own house he proceeded to his office. When he had been there an hour or two, there came to him a messenger from the Income-tax Office, with an official note addressed to himself by Sir Raffle Buffle,—a note which looked to be very official. Sir Raffle Buffle presented his compliments to Mr Toogood, and could Mr Toogood favour Sir R. B. with the present address of Mr John Eames. "Old fox," said Mr Toogood;—"but then such a stupid old fox! As if it was likely that I should have peached on Johnny if anything was wrong." So Mr Toogood sent his compliments to Sir Raffle Buffle, and begged to inform Sir R. B. that Mr John Eames was away on very particular family business, which would take him in the first instance to Florence;—but that from Florence he would probably have to go on to Jerusalem without the loss of an hour. "Stupid old fool!" said Mr Toogood, as he sent off his reply by the messenger.
Near the Close
I wonder whether any one will read these pages who has never known anything of the bitterness of a family quarrel? If so, I shall have a reader very fortunate, or else very cold-blooded. It would be wrong to say that love produces quarrels; but love does produce those intimate relations of which quarrelling is too often one of the consequences,—one of the consequences which frequently seem to be so natural, and sometimes seem to be unavoidable. One brother rebukes the other,—and what brothers ever lived together between whom there is no such rebuking?—then some warm word is misunderstood and hotter words follow and there is a quarrel. The husband tyrannizes, knowing that it is his duty to direct, and the wife disobeys, or only partially obeys, thinking that a little independence will become her,—and so there is a quarrel. The father, anxious only for his son's good, looks into that son's future with other eyes than those of his son himself,—and so there is a quarrel. They come very easily, these quarrels, but the quittance from them is sometimes terribly difficult. Much of thought is necessary before the angry man can remember that he too in part may have been wrong; and any attempt at such thinking is almost beyond the power of him who is carefully nursing his wrath, lest it cool! But the nursing of such quarrelling kills all happiness. The very man who is nursing his wrath lest it cool,—his wrath against one whom he loves perhaps the best of all whom it has been given him to love,—is himself wretched as long as it lasts. His anger poisons every pleasure of his life. He is sullen at his meals, and cannot understand his book as he turns its pages. His work, let it be what it may, is ill done. He is full of his quarrel,—nursing it. He is telling himself how much he has loved that wicked one, how many have been his sacrifices for that wicked one, and that now that wicked one is repaying him simply with wickedness! And yet the wicked one is at that very moment dearer to him than ever. If that wicked one could only be forgiven how sweet would the world be again! And yet he nurses his wrath.
So it was in these days with Archdeacon Grantly. He was very angry with his son. It is hardly too much to say that in every moment of his life, whether waking or sleeping, he was thinking of the injury that his son was doing him. He had almost come to forget the fact that his anger had first been roused by the feeling that his son was about to do himself an injury,—to cut his own throat. Various other considerations had now added themselves to that, and filled not only his mind but his daily conversation with his wife. How terrible would be the disgrace to Lord Hartletop, how incurable the injury to Griselda, the marchioness, should the brother-in-law of the one, and the brother of the other, marry the daughter of a convicted thief! "Of himself he would say nothing." So he declared constantly, though of himself he did say a great deal. "Of himself he would say nothing, though of course such a marriage would ruin him in the county." "My dear," said his wife, "that is nonsense. That really is nonsense. I feel sure there is not a single person in the county who would think of the marriage in such a light." Then the archdeacon would have quarrelled with his wife too, had she not been too wise to admit such a quarrel. Mrs Grantly was very wise and knew that it took two persons to make a quarrel. He told her over and over again that she was in league with her son,—that she was encouraging her son to marry Grace Crawley. "I believe that in your heart you wish it," he once said to her. "No, my dear, I do not wish it. I do not think it a becoming marriage. But if he does marry her, I should wish to receive his wife in my house, and certainly should not quarrel with him." "I will never receive her," the archdeacon had replied; "and as for him, I can only say that in such a case I will make no provision for his family."
It will be remembered that the archdeacon had on a former occasion instructed his wife to write to their son and tell him of his father's determination. Mrs Grantly had so manoeuvred that a little time had been gained, and that those instructions had not been insisted upon in all their bitterness. Since that time Major Grantly had renewed his assurance that he would marry Grace Crawley if Grace Crawley would accept him,—writing on this occasion direct to his father,—and had asked his father whether, in such a case, he was to look forward to be disinherited. "It is essential that I should know," the major had said, "because in such case I must make immediate measures for leaving this place." His father had sent back his letter, writing a few words at the bottom of it. "If you do as you propose above, you must expect nothing from me." The words were written in large round handwriting, very hurriedly, and the son when he received them perfectly understood the mood of his father's mind when he wrote them.
Then there came tidings, addressed on this occasion to Mrs Grantly, that Cosby Lodge was to be given up. Lady-day had come, and the notice, necessarily to be given at that period, was so given. "I know this will grieve you," Major Grantly had said, "but my father has driven me to it." This, in itself, was a cause of great sorrow, both to the archdeacon and to Mrs Grantly, as there were circumstances connected with Cosby Lodge which made them think that it was a very desirable residence for their son. "I shall sell everything about the place and go abroad at once," he said in a subsequent letter. "My present idea is that I shall settle myself at Pau, as my income will suffice for me to live there, and education for Edith will be cheap. At any rate I will not continue in England. I could never be happy here in circumstances so altered. Of course I should not have left my profession, unless I had understood from my father that the income arising from it would not be necessary to me. I do not, however, mean to complain, but simply tell you that I shall go." There were many letters between the mother and son in those days. "I shall stay till after the trial," he said. "If she will then go with me, well and good; but whether she will or not, I shall not remain here." All this seemed to Mrs Grantly to be peculiarly unfortunate, for had he not resolved to go, things might even yet have righted themselves. From what she could now understand of the character of Miss Crawley, whom she did not know personally, she thought it probable that Grace, in the event of her father being found guilty by the jury, would absolutely and persistently refuse the offer made to her. She would be too good, as Mrs Grantly put it to herself, to bring misery and disgrace into another family. But should Mr Crawley be acquitted, and should the marriage then take place, the archdeacon himself might probably be got to forgive it. In either case there would be no necessity for breaking up the house at Cosby Lodge. But her dear son Henry, her best beloved, was obstinate and stiff-necked, and would take no advice. "He is even worse than his father," she said, in her short-lived anger, to her own father, to whom alone at this time she could unburden her griefs, seeking consolation and encouragement.
It was her habit to go over to the deanery at any rate twice a week at this time, and on the occasion of one of the visits so made, she expressed very strongly her distress at the family quarrel which had come among them. The old man took his grandson's part through and through. "I do not at all see why he should not marry the young lady if he likes her. As for money, there ought to be enough without his having to look for a wife with a fortune."
"It is not a question of money, papa."
"And as to rank," continued Mr Harding, "Henry will not at any rate be going lower than his father did when he married you;—not so low indeed, for at that time I was only a minor canon, and Mr Crawley is in possession of a benefice."
"Papa, all this is nonsense. It is indeed."
"Very likely, my dear."
"It is not because Mr Crawley is only perpetual curate of Hogglestock, that the archdeacon objects to the marriage. It has nothing to do with that at all. At the present moment he is in disgrace."
"Under a cloud, my dear. Let us pray that it may be only a passing cloud."
"All the world thinks that he was guilty. And then he is such a man;—so singular, so unlike anybody else! You know, papa, that I don't think very much of money, merely as money."
"I hope not, my dear. Money is worth thinking of, but it is not worth very much thought."
"But it does give advantages, and the absence of such advantages must be very much felt in the education of a girl. You would hardly wish Henry to marry a young woman who, from want of money, had not been brought up among ladies. It is not Miss Crawley's fault, but such has been her lot. We cannot ignore these deficiencies, papa."
"Certainly not, my dear."
"You would not, for instance, wish that Henry should marry a kitchen-maid."
"But is Miss Crawley a kitchen-maid, Susan?"
"I don't quite say that."
"I am told that she has been educated infinitely more than most of the young ladies in the neighbourhood," said Mr Harding.
"I believe that her papa has taught her Greek; and I suppose she has learned something of French at that school in Silverbridge."
"Then the kitchen-maid theory is sufficiently disposed of," said Mr Harding, with mild triumph.
"You know what I mean, papa. But the fact is, that it is impossible to deal with men. They will never be reasonable. A marriage such as this would be injurious to Henry; but it will not be ruinous; and as to disinheriting him for it, that would be downright wicked."
"I think so," said Mr Harding.
"But the archdeacon will look at it as though it would destroy Henry and Edith altogether, while you speak of it as though it were the best thing in the world."
"If the young people love each other, I think it would be the best thing in the world," said Mr Harding.
"But, papa, you cannot but think that his father's wish should go for something," said Mrs Grantly, who, desirous as she was on the one side to support her son, could not bear that her husband should, on the other side, be declared to be altogether in the wrong.
"I do not know, my dear," said Mr Harding; "but I do think, that if the two young people are fond of each other, and if there is anything for them to live upon, it cannot be right to keep them apart. You know, my dear, she is the daughter of a gentleman." Mrs Grantly upon this left her father almost brusquely, without speaking another word on the subject; for, though she was opposed to the vehement anger of her husband, she could not endure the proposition now made by her father.
Mr Harding was at this time living all alone in the deanery. For some few years the deanery had been his home, and as his youngest daughter was the dean's wife, there could no more comfortable resting-place for the evening of his life. During the last month or two the days had gone tediously with him; for he had had the large house all to himself, and he was a man who did not love solitude. It is hard to conceive that the old, whose thoughts have been all thought out, should ever love to live alone. Solitude is surely for the young, who have time before them for the execution of schemes, and who can, therefore, take delight in thinking. In these days the poor old man would wander about the rooms, shambling from one chamber to another, and would feel ashamed when the servants met him ever on the move. He would make little apologies for his uneasiness, which they would accept graciously, understanding, after a fashion, why it was that he was uneasy. "He ain't got nothing to do," said the housemaid to the cook "and as for reading, they say that some of the young ones can read all day sometimes, and all night too; but bless you, when you're nigh eighty, reading don't go for much." The housemaid was right as to Mr Harding's reading. He was not one who had read so much in his earlier days as to enable him to make reading go far with him now that he was near eighty. So he wandered about the room, and sat here for a few minutes, and there for a few minutes, and though he did not sleep much, he made the hours of the night as many as possible. Every morning he shambled across from the deanery to the cathedral, and attended the morning service, sitting in the stall which he had occupied for fifty years. The distance was very short, not exceeding, indeed, a hundred yards from a side-door in the deanery to another side-door into the cathedral; but short as it was there had come to be a question whether he should be allowed to go alone. It had been feared that he might fall on his passage and hurt himself; for there was a step here, and a step there, and the light was not very good in the purlieus of the old cathedral. A word or two had been said once, and the offer of an arm to help him had been made; but he had rejected the proffered assistance, softly, indeed, but still firmly,—and every day he tottered off by himself, hardly lifting his feet as he went, and aiding himself on his journey by a hand upon the wall when he thought that nobody was looking at him. But many did see him, and they who knew him,—ladies generally of the city,—would offer him a hand. Nobody was milder in his dislikings than Mr Harding; but there were ladies in Barchester upon whose arm he would always decline to lean, bowing courteously as he did so, and saying a word or two of constrained civility. There were others whom he would allow to accompany him home to the door of the deanery, with whom he delighted to linger and chat if the morning was warm, and to whom he would tell little stories of his own doings in the cathedral services in the old days, when Bishop Grantly had ruled the diocese. Never a word did he say against Bishop Proudie, or against Bishop Proudie's wife; but the many words which he did say in praise of Bishop Grantly,—who, by his showing, was surely one of the best of churchmen who ever walked through this vale of sorrow,—were as eloquent in dispraise of the existing prelate as could ever have been any more clearly-pointed phrases. This daily visit to the cathedral, where he would say his prayers as he had said them for so many years, and listen to the organ, of which he knew all the power and every blemish as though he himself had made the stops and fixed the pipes, was the chief occupation of his life. It was a pity that it could not have been made to cover a larger portion of the day.
It was sometimes sad enough to watch him as he sat alone. He would have a book near him, and for a while would keep it in his hands. It would generally be some volume of good old standard theology with which he had been, or supposed himself to have been, conversant from his youth. But the book would soon be laid aside, and gradually he would move himself away from it, and he would stand about in the room, looking now out of a window from which he would fancy that he could not be seen, or gazing up at some print which he had known for years; and then he would sit down for a while in one chair, and for a while in another, while his mind was wandering back into old days, thinking of old troubles and remembering his old joys. And he had a habit, when he was sure that he that he was not watched, of creeping up to a great black wooden case, which always stood in one corner of the sitting-room which he occupied in the deanery. Mr Harding, when he was younger, had been a performer on the violoncello, and in this case there was still the instrument from which he had been wont to extract the sounds which he had so dearly loved. Now in these latter days he never made any attempt to play. Soon after he had come to the deanery there had fallen upon him an illness, and after that he had never again asked for his bow. They who were around him,—his daughter chiefly and her husband,—had given the matter much thought, arguing with themselves whether or no it would be better to invite him to resume the task he so loved; for of all the works of his life this playing on the violoncello had been the sweetest to him; but even before that illness his hand had greatly failed him, and the dean and Mrs Arabin had agreed that it would be better to let the matter pass without a word. He had never asked to be allowed to play. He had expressed no regrets. When he himself would propose that his daughter should "give them a little music,"—and he would make such a proposition on every evening that was suitable,—he would never say a word of those former performances at which he himself had taken a part. But it had become known to Mrs Arabin, through the servants, that he had once dragged the instrument forth from its case when he had thought the house to be nearly deserted; and a wail of sounds had been heard, very low, very short-lived, recurring now and again at fitful intervals. He had at those times attempted to play, as though with a muffled bow,—so that none should know of his vanity and folly. Then there had been further consultations at the deanery, and it had been again agreed that it would be best to say nothing to him of his music.
In these latter days of which I am now speaking he would never draw the instrument out of its case. Indeed he was aware that it was too heavy for him to handle without assistance. But he would open the prison door, and gaze upon the thing that he loved, and he would pass his fingers among the broad strings, and ever and anon he would produce from one of them a low, melancholy, almost unearthly sound. And then he would pause, never daring to produce two such notes in succession,—one close upon the other. And these last sad moans of the old fiddle were now known through the household. They were the ghosts of the melody of days long past. He imagined that his visits to the box were unsuspected,—that none knew of the folly of his old fingers which could not keep themselves from touching the wires; but the voice of the violoncello had been recognised by the servants and by his daughter, and when that low wail was heard through the house,—like the last dying note of a dirge,—they would all know that Mr Harding was visiting his ancient friend.
When the dean and Mrs Arabin had first talked of going abroad for a long visit, it had been understood that Mr Harding should pass the period of their absence with his other daughter at Plumstead; but when the time came he begged of Mrs Arabin to be allowed to remain in his old rooms. "Of course I shall go backwards and forwards," he had said. "There is nothing I like so much as a change now and then." The result had been that he had gone once to Plumstead during the dean's absence. When he had thus remonstrated, begging go be allowed to remain in Barchester, Mrs Arabin had declared her intention of giving up her tour. In telling her father of this she had not said that her altered purpose had arisen from her disinclination to leave him alone;—but he had perceived that it was so, and had then consented to be taken over to Plumstead. There was nothing, he said, which he would like so much as going over to Plumstead for four or five months. It had ended in his having his own way altogether. The Arabins had gone upon their tour, and he was left in possession of the deanery. "I should not like to die out of Barchester," he said to himself in excuse to himself for his disinclination to sojourn long under the archdeacon's roof. But, in truth, the archdeacon, who loved him well and who, after a fashion, had always been good to him,—who had always spoken of the connexion which had bound the two families together as the great blessing of his life,—was too rough in his greetings for the old man. Mr Harding had ever mixed something of fear with his warm affection for his elder son-in-law, and now in these closing hours of his life he could not avoid a certain amount of shrinking from that loud voice,—a certain inaptitude to be quite at ease in that commanding presence. The dean, his second son-in-law, had been a modern friend in comparison with the archdeacon; but the dean was more gentle with him; and then the dean's wife had ever been the dearest to him of human beings. It may be a doubt whether one of the dean's children was not now almost more dear, and whether in these days he did not have more free communication with that little girl than with any other human being. Her name was Susan, but he had always called her Posy, having himself invented for her that soubriquet. When it had been proposed to him to pass the winter and spring at Plumstead, the suggestion had been made alluring by a promise that Posy also should be taken to Mrs Grantly's house. But he, as we have seen, had remained at the deanery, and Posy had remained with him.
Posy was now five years old, and could talk well, and had her own ideas of things. Posy's eyes,—hers, and no others besides her own,—were allowed to see the inhabitant of the big black case; and now that the deanery was so nearly deserted, Posy's fingers had touched the strings and had produced an infantine moan. "Grandpa, let me do it again." Twang! It was not, however, in truth, a twang, but a sound as of a prolonged dull, almost deadly, hum-m-m-m-m! On this occasion the moan was not entirely infantine,—Posy's fingers having been something too strong,—and the case was closed and locked, and grandpa shook his head.
"But Mrs Baxter won't be angry," said Posy. Mrs Baxter was the housekeeper in the deanery, and had Mr Harding under her special charge.
"No, my darling; Mrs Baxter will not be angry, but we mustn't disturb the house."
"No," said Posy, with much of important awe in her tone; "we mustn't disturb the house; must we, grandpapa?" And so she gave in her adhesion to the closing of the case. But Posy could play cat's-cradle, and as cat's-cradle did not disturb the house at all, there was a good deal of cat's-cradle played in those days. Posy's fingers were so soft and pretty, so small and deft, that the dear old man delighted in taking the strings from them, and in having them taken from his own by those tender little digits.
On the afternoon after the conversation respecting Grace Crawley which is recorded in the early part of this chapter, a messenger from Barchester went over to Plumstead, and part of his mission consisted of a note from Mrs Baxter to Mrs Grantly, beginning, "Honoured Madam," and informing Mrs Grantly, among other things, that her "respected papa," as Mrs Baxter called him, was not quite so well as usual; not that Mrs Baxter thought there was much the matter. Mr Harding had been to the cathedral service, as was usual with him, but had come home leaning on a lady's arm, who had thought it well to stay with him at the door till it had been opened for him. After that "Miss Posy" had found him asleep, and had been unable,—or if not unable, unwilling, to wake him. "Miss Posy" had come down to Mrs Baxter somewhat in a fright, and hence this letter had been written. Mrs Baxter thought that there was nothing "to fright" Mrs Grantly, and she wasn't sure that she should have written at all only that Dick was bound to go over to Plumstead with the wool; but as Dick was going, Mrs Baxter thought it proper to send her duty, and to say that to her humble way of thinking perhaps it might be best that Mr Harding shouldn't go alone to the cathedral every morning. "If the dear reverend gentleman was to get a tumble, ma'am," said the letter, "it would be awkward." Then Mrs Grantly remembered that she had left her father almost without a greeting on the previous day, and she resolved that she would go over very early on the following morning,—so early that she would be at the deanery before her father should have gone to the cathedral.
"He ought to have come over here, and not stayed there by himself," said the archdeacon, when his wife told him of her intention.
"It is too late to think of that now, my dear; and one can understand, I think, that he should not like leaving the cathedral as long as he can attend it. The truth is he does not like being out of Barchester."
"He would be much better here," said the archdeacon. "Of course you can have the carriage and go over. We can breakfast at eight; and if you can bring him back with you, do. I should tell him that he ought to come." Mrs Grantly made no answer to this, knowing very well that she could not bring herself to go beyond the gentlest persuasion with her father, and on the next morning she was at the deanery by ten o'clock. Half-past ten was the hour at which the service began. Mrs Baxter contrived to meet her before she saw her father, and begged her not to let it be known that any special tidings of Mr Harding's failing strength had been sent from the deanery to Plumstead. "And how is my father?" asked Mrs Grantly. "Well, then, ma'am," said Baxter, "in one sense he's finely. He took a morsel of early lamb to his dinner yesterday, and relished it ever so well,—only he gave Miss Posy the best part of it. And then he sat with Miss Posy quite happy for an hour or so. And then he slept in his chair; and you know, ma'am, we never wakes him. And after that old Skulpit toddled up from the hospital,"—this was Hiram's Hospital, of which establishment, in the city of Barchester, Mr Harding had once been the warden and kind master, as has been told in former chronicles of the city,—"and your papa has said, ma'am, you know, that he is always to see any of the old men when they come up. And Skulpit is sly, and no better than he should be, and got money from your father, ma'am, I know. And then he had just a drop of tea, and after that I took him his glass of port wine with my own hands. And it touched me, ma'am, so it did, when he said, 'Oh, Mrs Baxter, how good you are; you know well what it is I like.' And then he went to bed. I listened hard,—not from idle curiosity, ma'am, as you, who know me, will believe, but just because it's becoming to know what he's about, as there might be an accident, you know, ma'am." "You are very good, Mrs Baxter, very good." "Thank ye, ma'am, for saying so. And so I listened hard; but he didn't go to his music, poor gentleman; and I think he had a quiet night. He doesn't sleep much at nights, poor gentleman, but he's very quiet; leastwise he was last night." This was the bulletin which Mrs Baxter gave to Mrs Grantly on that morning before Mrs Grantly saw her father.
She found him preparing himself for his visit to the cathedral. Some year or two,—but no more,—before the date of which we are speaking, he had still taken some small part in the service; and while he had done so he had of course worn his surplice. Living so close to the cathedral,—so close that he could almost walk out of the house into the transept,—he had kept his surplice in his own room, and had gone down in his vestment. It had been a bitter day to him when he had first found himself constrained to abandon the white garment which he loved. He had encountered some failure in the performance of the slight clerical task allotted to him, and the dean had tenderly advised him to desist. He did not utter one word of remonstrance. "It will perhaps be better," the dean had said. "Yes,—it will be better," Mr Harding had replied. "Few have had accorded to them the high privilege of serving their master in His house for so many years,—though few more humbly, or with lower gifts." But on the following morning, and for nearly a week afterwards, he had been unable to face the minor canon and the vergers, and the old women who knew him so well, in his ordinary black garments. At last he went down with the dean, and occupied a stall close to the dean's seat,—far away from that in which he had sat for so many years,—and in this seat he had said his prayers ever since that day. And now his surplices were washed and ironed and folded and put away; but there were moments in which he would stealthily visit them, as he also stealthily visited his friend in the black wooden case. This was very melancholy, and the sadness of it was felt by all those who lived with him; but he never alluded himself to any of those bereavements which age brought upon him. Whatever might be his regrets, he kept them ever within his own breast.
Posy was with him when Mrs Grantly went up into his room, holding for him his hat and stick while he was engaged in brushing a suspicion of dust from his black gaiters. "Grandpapa, here is aunt Susan," said Posy. The old man looked up with something,—with some slightest sign of that habitual fear which was always aroused within his bosom by visitations from Plumstead. Had Mrs Arabin thoroughly understood the difference in her father's feeling toward herself and toward her sister, I think she would hardly have gone forth upon any tour while he remained with her in the deanery. It is very hard sometimes to know how intensely we are loved, and of what value our presence is to those who love us! Mrs Grantly saw the look,—did not analyse it, did not quite understand it,—but felt, as she had so often felt before, that it was not altogether laden with welcome. But all this had nothing to do with the duty on which she had come; nor did it, in the slightest degree, militate against her own affection. "Papa," she said, kissing him, "you are surprised to see me so early?"
"Well, my dear, yes;—but very glad all the same. I hope everybody is well at Plumstead?"
"Everybody, thank you, papa."
"That is well. Posy and I are getting ready for church. Are we not, Posy?"
"Grandpapa is getting ready. Mrs Baxter won't let me go."
"No, my dear, no,—not yet, Posy. When Posy is a great girl she can go to the cathedral every day. Only then, perhaps, Posy won't want to go."
"I thought that, perhaps, papa, you would sit with me a little while this morning, instead of going to morning prayers."
"Certainly, my dear,—certainly. Only I do not like not going;—for who can say how often I may be able to go again? There is so little left, Susan,—so very little left."
After that she had not the heart to ask him to stay, and therefore she went with him. As they passed down the stairs and out of the doors she was astonished to find how weak were his footsteps,—how powerless he was against the slightest misadventure. On this very day he would have tripped at the upward step at the cathedral door had she not been with him. "Oh, papa," she said, "indeed, indeed, you should not come here alone." Then he apologised for his little stumble with many words and much shame, assuring her that anybody might trip on an occasion. It was purely an accident; and though it was a comfort to him to have had her arm, he was sure that he would have recovered himself even had he been alone. He always, he said, kept quite close to the wall, so that there might be no mistake,—no possibility of an accident. All this he said volubly, but with confused words, in the covered stone passage leading into the transept. And, as he thus spoke, Mrs Grantly made up her mind that her father should never again go to the cathedral alone. He never did go again to the cathedral—alone.
When they returned to the deanery, Mr Harding was fluttered, weary, and unwell. When his daughter left him for a few minutes he told Mrs Baxter in confidence the story of his accident, and his great grief that his daughter should have seen it. "Laws amercy, sir, it was a blessing she was with you," said Mrs Baxter; "it was, indeed, Mr Harding." Then Mr Harding had been angry, and spoke almost crossly to Mrs Baxter; but, before she left the room, he found an opportunity of begging her pardon,—not in a set speech to that effect, but by a little word of gentle kindness, which she had understood perfectly. "Papa," said Mrs Grantly to him as soon as she had succeeded in getting both Posy and Mrs Baxter out of the room,—against the doing of which, Mr Harding had manoeuvred with all his little impotent skill,—"Papa, you must promise me that you will not go to the cathedral again alone, till Eleanor comes home." When he heard the sentence he looked at her with blank misery in his eyes. He made no attempt at remonstrance. He begged for no respite. The word had gone forth, and he knew that it must be obeyed. Though he would have hidden the signs of his weakness had he been able, he would not condescend to plead that he was strong. "If you think it wrong, my dear, I will not go alone," he said. "Papa, I do; indeed I do. Dear papa, I would not hurt you by saying it if I did not know that I am right." He was sitting with his hand upon the table, and, as she spoke to him, she put her hand upon his, caressing it. "My dear," he said, "you are always right."
She left him again for awhile, having some business out in the city, and he was alone in his room for an hour. What was there left to him now in the world? Old as he was, and in some things almost childish, nevertheless, he thought of this keenly, and some half-realised remembrance of "the lean and slippered pantaloon" flitted across his mind, causing him a pang. What was there left to him now in the world? Posy and cat's-cradle! Then, in the midst of his regrets, as he sat with his back bent in his old easy-chair, with one arm over the shoulder of the chair, and the other hanging loose by his side, on a sudden there came across his face a smile as sweet as ever brightened the face of man or woman. He had been able to tell himself that he had no ground for complaint,—great ground rather for rejoicing and gratitude. Had not the world and all in it been good to him; had he not children who loved him, who had done him honour, who had been to him always a crown of glory, never a mark for reproach; had not his lines fallen to him in very pleasant places; was it not his happy fate to go and leave it all amidst the good words and kind loving cares of devoted friends? Whose latter days had ever been more blessed than his? And for the future—? It was as he thought of this that that smile came across his face,—as though it were already the face of an angel. And then he muttered to himself a word or two. "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace."
When Mrs Grantly returned she found him in jocund spirits. And yet she perceived that he was so weak that when he left his chair he could barely get across the room without assistance. Mrs Baxter, indeed, had not sent to her too soon, and it was well that the prohibition had come in time to prevent some terrible accident. "Papa," she said, "I think you had better go with me to Plumstead. The carriage is here, and I can take you home so comfortably." But he would not allow himself to be taken on this occasion to Plumstead. He smiled and thanked her, and put his hand into hers, and repeated his promise that he would not leave the house on any occasion without assistance, and declared himself specially thankful to her for coming to him on that special morning;—but he would not be taken to Plumstead. "When summer comes," he said, "then, if you will have me for a few days!"
He meant no deceit, and yet he had told himself within the last hour that he should never see another summer. He could not tell even his daughter that after such a life as this, after more than fifty years spent in the ministrations of his darling cathedral, it specially behoved him to die,—as he had lived,—at Barchester. He could not say this to his eldest daughter; but had his Eleanor been at home, he could have said it to her. He thought he might yet live to see his Eleanor once again. If this could be given to him he would ask for nothing more.
On the afternoon of the next day, Mrs Baxter wrote another letter, in which she told Mrs Grantly that her father had declared, at his usual hour of rising that morning, that as he was not going to the cathedral he would, he thought, lie in bed a little longer. And then he had lain in bed the whole day. "And, perhaps, honoured madam, looking at all things, it's best as he should," said Mrs Baxter.
Lady Lufton's Proposition
It was now known throughout Barchester that a commission was to be held by the bishop's orders, at which inquiry would be made,—that is, ecclesiastical inquiry,—as to the guilt imputed to Mr Crawley in the matter of Mr Soames's cheque. Sundry rumours had gone abroad as to quarrels which had taken place on the subject among certain clergymen high in office; but these were simply rumours, and nothing was in truth known. There was no more discreet clergyman in all the diocese than Dr Tempest, and not a word had escaped from him as to the stormy nature of that meeting in the bishop's palace, at which he had attended with the bishop,—and at which Mrs Proudie had attended also. When it is said that the fact of this coming commission was known to all Barsetshire, allusion is of course made to that portion of the inhabitants of Barsetshire to which clerical matters were dear;—and as such matters were specially dear to the inhabitants of the parish of Framley, the commission was discussed very eagerly in that parish, and was specially discussed by the Dowager Lady Lufton.
And there was a double interest attached to the commission in the parish of Framley by the fact that Mr Robarts, the vicar, had been invited by Dr Tempest to be one of the clergymen who were to assist in making the inquiry. "I also to propose to ask Mr Oriel of Greshamsbury to join us," said Dr Tempest. "The bishop wishes to appoint the other two, and has already named Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful, who are both residents in the city. Perhaps his lordship may be right in thinking it better that the matter should not be left altogether in the hands of clergymen who hold livings in the diocese. You are no doubt aware that neither Mr Thumble nor Mr Quiverful do hold any benefice." Mr Robarts felt,—as everybody else did feel who knew anything of the matter,—that Bishop Proudie was singularly ignorant in his knowledge of men, and that he showed his ignorance on this special occasion. "If he intended to name two such men he should at any rate have named three," said Dr Thorne. "Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful will simply be outvoted on the first day, and after that will give in their adhesion to the majority." "Mr Thumble, indeed!" Lady Lufton had said, with much scorn in her voice. To her thinking, it was absurd in the highest degree that such men as Dr Tempest and her Mr Robarts should be asked to meet Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful on a matter of ecclesiastical business. Outvoted! Of course whey would be outvoted. Of course they would be so paralysed by fear at finding themselves in the presence of real gentlemen, that they would hardly be able to vote at all. Old Lady Lufton did not in fact utter words so harsh as these; but thoughts as harsh passed through her mind. The reader therefore will understand that much interest was felt on the subject at Framley Court, where Lady Lufton lived with her son and daughter-in-law.
"They tell me," said Lady Lufton, "that both the archdeacon and Dr Tempest think it is right that a commission should be held. If so, I have no doubt that it is right."
"Mark says that the bishop could hardly do anything else," rejoined Mrs Robarts.
"I daresay not, my dear. I suppose the bishop has somebody near him to tell him what he may do, and what he may not do. It would be terrible to think of, if it were not so. But yet, when I hear that he has named such men as Mr Thumble and Mr Quiverful, I cannot but feel that the whole diocese is disgraced."
"Oh, Lady Lufton, that is such a strong word," said Mrs Robarts.
"It may be strong, but it is not the less true," said Lady Lufton.
And from talking on the subject of the Crawleys, Lady Lufton soon advanced, first to a desire for some action, and than to acting. "I think, my dear, I will go over and see Mrs Crawley," said Lady Lufton the elder to Lady Lufton the younger. Lady Lufton the younger had nothing to urge against this; but she did not offer to accompany the elder Lady. I attempted to explain in the early part of this story that there still existed a certain understanding between Mrs Crawley and Lord Lufton's wife, and that kindnesses occasionally passed from Framley Court to Hogglestock Parsonage; but on this occasion young Lady Lufton,—the Lucy Robarts who had once passed certain days of her life with the Crawleys at Hogglestock,—did not choose to accompany her mother-in-law; and therefore Mrs Robarts was invited to do so. "I think it may comfort her to know that she has our sympathy," the elder woman said to the younger as they made their journey together.
When the carriage stopped before the little wicket-gate, from whence a path led through a ragged garden from the road to Mr Crawley's house, Lady Lufton hardly knew how to proceed. The servant came to the door of the carriage, and asked for her orders. "H—m—m, ha, yes; I think I'll send in my card;—and say that I hope Mrs Crawley will be able to see me. Won't that be best; eh, Fanny?" Fanny, otherwise Mrs Robarts, said that she thought that would be the best; and the card and message were carried in.
It was happily the case that Mr Crawley was not at home. Mr Crawley was away at Hoggle End, reading to the brickmakers, or turning the mangles of their wives, or teaching them theology, or politics, or history, after his fashion. In these days he spent, perhaps, the happiest hours of his life down at Hoggle End. I say that his absence was a happy chance, because, had he been at home, he would certainly have said something, or done something, to offend Lady Lufton. He would either have refused to see her, or when seeing her he would have bade her hold her peace and not interfere with matters which did not concern her, or,—more probable still,—he would have sat still and sullen, and have spoken not at all. But he was away, and Mrs Crawley sent out word by the servant that she would be most proud to see her ladyship, if her ladyship would be pleased to alight. Her ladyship did alight, and walked into the parsonage, followed by Mrs Robarts.
Grace was with her mother. Indeed Jane had been there also when the message was brought in, but she fled into back regions, overcome by shame as to her frock. Grace, I think, would have fled too, had she not been bound in honour to support her mother. Lady Lufton, as she entered, was very gracious, struggling with all the power of her womanhood so to carry herself that there should be no outwardly visible sign of her rank or her wealth,—but not altogether succeeding. Mrs Robarts, on her first entrance, said only a word or two of greeting to Mrs Crawley, and kissed Grace, whom she had known intimately in early years. "Lady Lufton," said Mrs Crawley, "I am afraid this is a very poor place for you to come to; but you have known that of old, and therefore I need hardly apologise."
"Sometimes I like poor places best," said Lady Lufton. Then there was a pause, after which Lady Lufton addressed herself to Grace, seeking some subject for immediate conversation. "You have been down at Allington, my dear, have you not?" Grace, in a whisper, said that she had. "Staying with the Dales, I believe? I know the Dales well by name, and I have always heard that they are charming people."
"I like them very much," said Grace. And then there was another pause.
"I hope your husband is pretty well, Mrs Crawley?" said Lady Lufton.
"He is pretty well,—not quite strong. I daresay you know, Lady Lufton, that he has things to vex him?" Mrs Crawley felt that it was the need of the moment that the only possible subject of conversation in that house should be introduced; and therefore she brought it in at once, not loving the subject, but being strongly conscious of the necessity. Lady Lufton meant to be good-natured, and therefore Mrs Crawley would do all in her power to make Lady Lufton's mission easy to her.
"Indeed yes," said her ladyship; "we do know that."
"We feel so much for you and Mr Crawley," said Mrs Robarts; "and we are so sure that your sufferings are unmerited." This was not discreet on the part of Mrs Robarts, as she was the wife of one of the clergymen who had been selected to form the commission of inquiry; and so Lady Lufton told her on the way home.
"You are very kind," said Mrs Crawley. "We must only bear it with such fortitude as God will give us. We are told that He tempers the wind to the shorn lamb."
"And so He does my dear," said the old lady, very solemnly. "So He does. Surely you have felt that it is so?"
"I struggle not to complain," said Mrs Crawley.
"I know that you struggle bravely. I hear of you, and I admire you for it, and I love you." It was still the old lady who was speaking, and now she had at last been roused out of her difficulty as to words, and had risen from her chair, and was standing before Mrs Crawley. "It is because you do not complain, because you are so great and so good, because your character is so high, and your spirit so firm, that I could not resist the temptation of coming to you. Mrs Crawley, if you will let me be your friend, I shall be proud of your friendship."
"Your ladyship is too good," said Mrs Crawley.
"Do not talk to me after that fashion," said Lady Lufton. "If you do I shall be disappointed, and feel myself thrown back. You know what I mean." She paused for an answer; but Mrs Crawley had no answer to make. She simply shook her head, not knowing why she did so. But we may know. We can understand that she had felt that the friendship offered to her by Lady Lufton was an impossibility. She had decided within her own breast that it was so, though she did not know that she had come to such decision. "I wish you to take me at my word, Mrs Crawley," continued Lady Lufton. "What can we do for you? We know that you are distressed."
"Yes;—we are distressed."
"And we know how cruel circumstances have been to you. Will you not forgive me for being plain?"
"I have nothing to forgive," said Mrs Crawley.
"Lady Lufton means," said Mrs Robarts, "that in asking you to talk openly to her of your affairs, she wishes you to remember that— I think you know what we mean," said Mrs Robarts, knowing very well herself what she did mean, but not knowing at all how to express herself.
"Lady Lufton is very kind," said Mrs Crawley, "and so are you, Mrs Robarts. I know how good you both are, and for how much it behoves me to be grateful." These words were very cold, and the voice in which they were spoken was very cold. They made Lady Lufton feel that it was beyond her power to proceed with the work of her mission in its intended spirit. It is ever so much easier to proffer kindness graciously than to receive it with grace. Lady Lufton had intended to say, "Let us be women together;—women bound by humanity, and not separated by rank, and let us open our hearts freely. Let us see how we may be of comfort to each other." And could she have succeeded in this, she would have spread out her little plans of succour with so loving a hand that she would have conquered the woman before her. But the suffering spirit cannot descend from its dignity of reticence. It has a nobility of its own, made sacred by many tears, by the flowing of streams of blood from unseen wounds, which cannot descend from its dais to receive pity and kindness. A consciousness of undeserved woe produces a grandeur of its own, with which the high-souled sufferer will not easily part. Baskets full of eggs, pounds of eleemosynary butter, quarters of given pork, even second-hand clothing from the wardrobe of some richer sister,—even money, unsophisticated money, she could accept. She had learned to know that it was a portion of her allotted misery to take such things,—for the sake of her children and her husband,—and to be thankful for them. She did take them, and was thankful; and in the taking she submitted herself to the rod of cruel circumstances; but she could not even yet bring herself to accept spoken pity from a stranger, and to kiss the speaker.
"Can we not do something to help you?" said Mrs Robarts. She would not have spoken but that she perceived that Lady Lufton had completed her appeal, and that Mrs Crawley did not seem prepared to answer it.
"You have done so much to help us," said Mrs Crawley. "The things you have sent us have been very serviceable."
"But we mean something more than that," said Lady Lufton.
"I do not know what there is more," said Mrs Crawley. "A bit to eat and something to wear;—that seems to be all that we have to care for now."
"But we were afraid that this coming trial must cause you so much anxiety."
"Of course it causes anxiety;—but what can we do? It must be so. It cannot be put off, or avoided. We have made up our minds to it now, and almost wish that it would come quicker. If it were once over I think that he would be better whatever the result might be."
Then there was another lull in the conversation, and Lady Lufton began to be afraid that her visit would be a failure. She thought that perhaps she might get on better if Grace were not in the room, and she turned over in her mind various schemes for sending her away. And perhaps her task would be easier if Mrs Robarts also could be banished for a time. "Fanny, my dear," she said at last, boldly, "I know you have a little plan to arrange with Miss Crawley. Perhaps you will be more likely to be successful if you can take a turn with her alone." There was not much subtlety in her ladyship's scheme; but it answered the proposed purpose, and the two elder ladies were soon left face to face, so that Lady Lufton had a fair pretext for making another attempt. "Dear Mrs Crawley," she said, "I do so long to say a word to you, but I fear that I may be thought to interfere."
"Oh, no, Lady Lufton; I have no feeling of that kind."
"I have asked your daughter and Mrs Robarts to go out because I can speak more easily to you alone. I wish I could teach you to trust me."
"I do trust you."
"As a friend, I mean;—as a real friend. If it should be the case, Mrs Crawley, that a jury should give a verdict against your husband,—what will you do then? Perhaps I ought not to suppose that it is possible."
"Of course we know that it is possible," said Mrs Crawley. Her voice was stern, and there was in it a tone almost of offence. As she spoke she did not look at her visitor, but sat with her face averted and her arms akimbo on the table.
"Yes;—it is possible," said Lady Lufton. "I suppose there is not one in the county who does not truly wish it may not be so. But it is right to be prepared for all alternatives. In such case have you thought what you will do?"
"I do not know what they would do to him," said she.
"I suppose that for some time he would be—"
"Put in prison," said Mrs Crawley, speaking very quickly, bringing out the words with a sharp eagerness that was quite unusual to her. "They will send him to gaol. Is it not so, Lady Lufton?"
"I suppose it would be so; not for long I should hope; but I presume that such would be the sentence for some short period."
"And I might not go with him?"
"No, that would be impossible."
"And the house, and the living; would they let him have them again when he came out?"
"Ah; that I cannot say. That will depend much, probably, on what these clergymen will report. I hope he will not put himself in opposition to them."
"I do not know. I cannot say. It is probable that he may do so. It is not easy for a man so injured as he has been, and one at the same time so great in intelligence, to submit himself gently to such inquiries. When ill is being done to himself or others he is very prone to oppose it."
"But these gentlemen do not wish to do him ill, Mrs Crawley."
"I cannot say. I do not know. When I think of it I see that there is nothing but ruin on every side. What is the use of talking of it? Do not be angry, Lady Lufton, if I say that it is of no use."
"But I desire to be of use,—of real use. If it should be the case, Mrs Crawley, that your husband should be—detained at Barchester—"
"You mean imprisoned, Lady Lufton."
"Yes, I mean imprisoned. If it should be so, then do you bring yourself and your children,—all of them,—over to Framley, and I will find a home for you while he is lost to you."
"Oh, Lady Lufton; I could not do that."
"Yes, you can. You have not heard me yet. It would not be a comfort to you in such a home as that to sit at table with people who are partly strangers to you. But there is a cottage nearly adjoining to the house, which you shall have all to yourself. The bailiff lived in it once, and others have lived in it who belong to the place; but it is empty now and it shall be made comfortable." The tears were now running down Mrs Crawley's face, so that she could not answer a word. "Of course it is my son's property, and not mine, but he has commissioned me to say that it is most heartily at your service. He begs that in such a case you will occupy it. And I beg the same. And your old friend Lucy has desired me also to ask you in her name."
"Lady Lufton, I could not do that," said Mrs Crawley through her tears.
"You must think better of it, my dear. I do not scruple to advise you, because I am older than you, and have experience of the world." This, I think, taken in the ordinary sense of the words, was a boast on the part of Lady Lufton, for which but little true pretence existed. Lady Lufton's experience of the world at large was not perhaps extensive. Nevertheless she knew what one woman might offer to another, and what one woman might receive from another. "You would be better over with me, my dear, than you could be elsewhere. You will not misunderstand me if I say that, under such circumstances, it would do your husband good that you and your children should be under our protection during his period of temporary seclusion. We stand well in the county. Perhaps I ought not to say so, but I do not know how otherwise to explain myself; and when it is known, by the bishop and others, that you have come to us during that sad time, it will be understood that we think well of Mr Crawley, in spite of anything a jury may say of him. Do you see that, my dear? And we do think well of him. I have known of your husband for many years, though I have not personally had the pleasure of much acquaintance with him. He was over at Framley once at my request, and I had great occasion then to respect him. I do respect him; and I shall feel grateful to him if he will allow you to put yourself and your children under my wing, as being an old woman, should this misfortune fall upon him. We hope that it will not fall upon him; but it is always well to be provided for the worst."
In this way Lady Lufton at last made her speech and opened out the proposal with which she had come laden to Hogglestock. While she was speaking Mrs Crawley's shoulder was still turned to her; but the speaker could see that the quick tears were pouring themselves down the cheeks of the woman whom she addressed. There was a downright honesty of thorough-going well-wishing charity about the proposition which overcame Mrs Crawley altogether. She did not feel for a moment that it would be possible for her to go to Framley in such circumstances as those which had been suggested. As she thought of it all at the present moment, it seemed to her that her only appropriate home during the terrible period which was coming upon her, would be under the walls of the prison in which her husband would be incarcerated. But she fully appreciated the kindness which had suggested a measure, which, if carried into execution, would make the outside world feel that her husband was respected in the county, despite the degradation to which he was subjected. She felt all this, but her heart was too full to speak.
"Say that it shall be so, my dear," continued Lady Lufton. "Just give me one nod of assent, and the cottage shall be ready for you should it so chance that you should require it."
But Mrs Crawley did not give the nod of assent. With her face still averted, while the tears were still running down her cheeks, she muttered but a word or two. "I could not do that, Lady Lufton; I could not do that."
"You know at any rate what my wishes are, and as you become calmer you will think of it. There is quite time enough, and I am speaking of an alternative which may never happen. My dear friend Mrs Robarts, who is now with your daughter, wishes Miss Crawley to go over to Framley Parsonage while this inquiry among the clergymen is going on. They all say it is the most ridiculous thing in the world,—this inquiry. But the bishop you know is so silly! We all think that if Miss Crawley would go for a week or so to Framley Parsonage, that it will show how happy we all are to receive her. It should be while Mr Robarts is employed in his part of the work. What do you say, Mrs Crawley? We at Framley are all clearly of opinion that it will be best that it should be known that the people in the county uphold your husband. Miss Crawley would be back, you know, before the trial comes on. I hope you will let her come, Mrs Crawley?"
But even to this proposition Mrs Crawley could give no assent, though she expressed no direct dissent. As regarded her own feelings, she would much preferred to have been left to live through her misery alone; but she could not but appreciate the kindness which endeavoured to throw over her and hers in their trouble the aegis of first-rate county respectability. She was saved from the necessity of giving a direct answer to this suggestion by the return of Mrs Robarts and Grace herself. The door was opened slowly, and they crept into the room as though they were aware that their presence would be hardly welcomed.
"Is the carriage there, Fanny?" said Lady Lufton. "It is almost time for us to think of returning home."
Mrs Robarts said that the carriage was standing within twenty yards of the door.
"Then I think we will make a start," said Lady Lufton. "Have you succeeded in persuading Miss Crawley to come over to Framley in April?"
Mrs Robarts made no answer to this, but looked at Grace; and Grace looked down upon the ground.
"I have spoken to Mrs Crawley," said Lady Lufton, "and they will think of it." Then the two ladies took their leave, and walked out to their carriage.
"What does she say about your plan?" Mrs Robarts asked.
"She is too broken-hearted to say anything." Lady Lufton answered. "Should it happen that he is convicted, we must come over and take her. She will have no power to resist us in anything."
Mrs Dobbs Broughton Piles Her Fagots
The picture still progressed up in Mrs Dobbs Broughton's room, and the secret was still kept, or supposed to be kept. Miss Van Siever was, at any rate, certain that her mother had heard nothing of it, and Mrs Broughton reported from day to day that her husband had not as yet interfered. Nevertheless, there was in these days a great gloom upon the Dobbs Broughton household, so much so that Conway Dalrymple had more than once suggested to Mrs Broughton that the work should be discontinued. But the mistress of the house would not consent to this. In answer to these offers, she was wont to declare in somewhat mysterious language, that any misery coming upon herself was a matter of moment to nobody,—hardly even to herself, as she was quite prepared to encounter moral and social death without delay, if not an absolute physical demise; as to which latter alternative, she seemed to think that even that might not be so far distant as some people chose to believe. What was the cause of the gloom over the house neither Conway Dalrymple nor Miss Van Siever understood, and to speak the truth Mrs Broughton did not quite understand the cause herself. She knew well enough, no doubt, that her husband came home always sullen, and sometimes tipsy, and that things were not going well in the City. She had never understood much about the City, being satisfied with an assurance that had come to her in the early days from her friends, that there was a mine of wealth in Hook Court, from whence would always come for her use, house and furniture, a carriage and horses, dresses and jewels, which latter, if not quite real, should be manufactured of the best sham substitute known. Soon after her brilliant marriage with Mr Dobbs Broughton, she had discovered that the carriage and horses, and the sham jewels, did not lift her so completely into a terrestrial paradise as she had taught herself to expect that they would do. Her brilliant drawing-room, with Dobbs Broughton for a companion, was not an elysium. But though she had found out early in her married life that something was still wanting to her, she had by no means confessed to herself that the carriage and horses and sham jewels were bad, and it can hardly be said that she had repented. She had endeavoured to patch up matters with a little romance, and then had fallen upon Conway Dalrymple,—meaning no harm. Indeed, love with her, as it never could have meant much good, was not likely to mean much harm. That somebody should pretend to love her, to which pretence she might reply by a pretence of friendship,—this was the little excitement which she craved, and by which she had once flattered herself that something of an elysium might yet be created for her. Mr Dobbs Broughton had unreasonably expressed a dislike to this innocent amusement,—very unreasonably, knowing, as he ought to have known, that he himself did so very little towards providing the necessary elysium by any qualities of his own. For a few weeks this interference from her husband had enhanced the amusement, giving an additional excitement to the game. She felt herself to be a woman misunderstood and ill-used; and to some women there is nothing so charming as a little mild ill-usage, which does not interfere with their creature comforts, with their clothes, or their carriage, or their sham jewels; but suffices to afford them the indulgence of a grievance. Of late, however, Mr Dobbs Broughton had become a little too rough in his language, and things had gone uncomfortably. She suspected that Conway Dalrymple was not the only cause of all this. She had an idea that Mr Musselboro and Mrs Van Siever had it in their power to make themselves unpleasant, and that they were exercising this power. Of his business in the City her husband never spoke to her, nor she to him. Her own fortune had been very small, some couple of thousand pounds or so, and she conceived that she had no pretext on which she could, unasked, interrogate him about his money. She had no knowledge that marriage of itself had given her the right to such interference; and had such knowledge been hers she would have had no desire to interfere. She hoped that the carriage and sham jewels would be continued to her; but she did not know how to frame any question on the subject. Touching the other difficulty,—the Conway Dalrymple difficulty,—she had her ideas. The tenderness of her friendship had been trodden upon by and outraged by the rough foot of an overbearing husband, and she was ill-used. She would obey. It was becoming to her as a wife that she should submit. She would give up Conway Dalrymple, and would induce him,—in spite of his violent attachment to herself,—to take a wife. She herself would choose a wife for him. She herself would, with suicidal hands, destroy the romance of her own life, since an overbearing, brutal husband demanded that it should be destroyed. She would sacrifice her own feelings, and do all in her power to bring Conway Dalrymple and Clara Van Siever together. If, after that, some poet did not immortalise her friendship in Byronic verse, she certainly would not get her due. Perhaps Conway Dalrymple would himself become a poet in order that this might be done properly. For it must be understood that, though she expected Conway Dalrymple to marry, she expected also that he should be Byronically wretched after his marriage on account of his love for herself.
But there was certainly something wrong over and beyond the Dalrymple difficulty. The servants were not as civil as they used to be, and her husband, when she suggested to him a little dinner-party, snubbed her most unmercifully. The giving of dinner-parties had been his glory, and she had made the suggestion simply with the view of pleasing him. "If the world were going round the wrong way, a woman would still want a party," he had said, sneering at her. "It was of you I was thinking, Dobbs," she replied; "not of myself. I care little for such gatherings." After that she retired to her own room with a romantic tear in each eye, and told herself that, had chance thrown Conway Dalrymple into her way before she had seen Dobbs Broughton, she would have been the happiest woman in the world. She sat for a while looking into vacancy, and thinking that it would be very nice to break her heart. How should she set about it? Should she take to her bed and grow thin? She would begin by eating no dinner for ever so may days together. At lunch her husband was never present, and therefore the broken heart could be displayed at dinner without much positive suffering. In the meantime she would implore Conway Dalrymple to get himself married with as little delay as possible, and she would lay upon him her positive order to restrain himself from any word of affection addressed to herself. She, at any rate, would be pure, high-minded, and self-sacrificing,—although romantic and poetic also, as was her nature.
The picture was progressing, and so also, as it had come about, was the love-affair between the artist and his model. Conway Dalrymple had begun to think that he might, after all, do worse than make Clara Van Siever his wife. Clara Van Siever was handsome, and undoubtedly clever, and Clara Van Siever's mother was certainly rich. And, in addition to this, the young lady herself began to like the man into whose society she was thrown. The affair seemed to flourish, and Mrs Dobbs Broughton should have been delighted. She told Clara, with a very serious air, that she was delighted, bidding Clara, at the same time, to be very cautious, as men were so fickle, and as Conway Dalrymple, though the best fellow in the world, was not, perhaps, altogether free from that common vice of men. Indeed, it might have been surmised, from a word or two which Mrs Broughton allowed to escape, that she considered poor Conway to be more than ordinarily afflicted in that way. Miss Van Siever at first only pouted, and said that there was nothing in it. "There is something in it, my dear, certainly," said Mrs Dobbs Broughton; "and there can be no earthly reason why there should not be a great deal in it." "There is nothing in it," said Miss Van Siever, impetuously; "and if you will continue to speak of Mr Dalrymple in that way, I must give up the picture." "As for that," said Mrs Broughton, "I conceive that we are both of us bound to the young man now, seeing that he has given so much time to the work." "I am not bound to him at all," said Miss Van Siever.
Mrs Broughton also told Conway Dalrymple that she was delighted,—oh, so much delighted! He had obtained permission to come in one morning before the time of sitting, so that he might work at his canvas independently of his model. As was his custom, he made his own way upstairs and commenced his work alone,—having been expressly told by Mrs Broughton that she would not come to him till she brought Clara with her. But she did go up to the room in which the artist was painting, without waiting for Miss Van Siever. Indeed, she was at this time so anxious as to the future welfare of her two young friends that she could not restrain herself from speaking either to the one of to the other, whenever any opportunity for such speech came round. To have left Conway Dalrymple at work upstairs without going to him was impossible to her. So she went, and then took the opportunity of expressing to her friend her ideas as to his past and future conduct.
"Yes, it is very good; very good, indeed," she said, standing before the easel, and looking at the half-completed work. "I do not know that you ever did anything better."
"I never can tell myself till a picture is finished whether it is going to be good or not," said Dalrymple, thinking really of his picture and of nothing else.
"I am sure this will be good," she said, "and I suppose it is because you have thrown so much heart into it. It is not mere industry that will produce good work, nor yet skill, nor even genius; more than this is required. The heart of the artist must be thrust with all its gushing tides into the performance." By this time he knew all the tones of her voice and their various meanings, and immediately became aware that at the present moment she was intent upon something beyond the picture. She was preparing for a little scene, and was going to give him some advice. He understood it all, but as he was really desirous of working at his canvas, and was rather averse to having a scene at the moment, he made a little attempt to disconcert her. "It is the heart that gives success," she said, while he was considering how he might best put an extinguisher upon her romance for the occasion.
"Not at all, Mrs Broughton; success depends on elbow-grease."
"On what, Conway?"
"On elbow-grease,—hard work, that is,—and I must work hard now if I mean to take advantage of to-day's sitting. The truth is, I don't give enough hours of work to it." And he leaned upon his stick, and daubed away briskly at the background, and then stood for a moment looking at his canvas with his head a little on one side, as though he could not withdraw his attention for a moment from the thing he was doing.
"You mean to say, Conway, that you would rather that I should not speak to you."
"Oh, no, Mrs Broughton, I did not mean that at all."
"I won't interrupt you at your work. What I have to say is perhaps of no great moment. Indeed, words between you and me never can have much importance now. Can they, Conway?"
"I don't see that at all," said he, still working away with his brush.
"Do you not? I do. They should never amount to more,—they can never amount to more than the common ordinary courtesies of life; what I call the greetings and good-byings of conversation." She said this in a low, melancholy tone of voice, not intending to be in any degree jocose. "How seldom is it that conversation between ordinary friends goes beyond that."
"Don't you think it does?" said Conway, stepping back and taking another look at his picture. "I find myself talking to all manner of people about all manner of things."
"You are different from me. I cannot talk to all manner of people."
"Politics, you know, and art, and a little scandal, and the wars, with a dozen other things, make talking easy enough, I think. I grant you this, that it is very often a great bore. Hardly a day passes that I don't wish to cut out somebody's tongue."
"Do you wish to cut out my tongue, Conway?"
He began to perceive that she was determined to talk about herself, and that there was no remedy. He dreaded it, not because he did not like the woman, but from a conviction that she was going to make some comparison between herself and Clara Van Siever. In his ordinary humour he liked a little pretence at romance, and was rather good at that sort of love-making which in truth means anything but love. But just now he was really thinking of matrimony, and had on this very morning acknowledged to himself that he had become sufficiently attached to Clara Van Siever to justify him in asking her to be his wife. In his present mood he was not anxious for one of those tilts with blunted swords and half-severed lances in the lists of Cupid of which Mrs Dobbs Broughton was so fond. Nevertheless, if she insisted that he should now descend into the arena and go through the paraphernalia of a mock tournament, he must obey her. It is the hardship of men that when called upon by women for romance, they are bound to be romantic, whether the opportunity serves them or not. A man must produce romance, or at least submit to it, when duly summoned, even though he should have a sore-throat or a headache. He is a brute if he decline such an encounter,—and feels that, should he so decline persistently, he will ever after be treated as a brute. There are many Potiphar's wives who never dream of any mischief, and Josephs who are very anxious to escape, though they are asked to return only whisper for whisper. Mrs Dobbs Broughton had asked him whether he wished that her tongue should be cut out, and he had of course replied that her words had always been a joy to him,—never a trouble. It occurred to him as he made his little speech that it would only have served her right if he had answered her quite in another strain; but she was a woman, and was young and pretty, and was entitled to flattery. "They have always been a joy to me," he said, repeating his last words as he strove to continue his work.
"A deadly joy," she replied, not quite knowing what she herself meant. "A deadly joy, Conway. I wish with all my heart that we had never known each other."
"I do not. I will never wish away the happiness of my life, even should it be followed by misery."
"You are a man, and if trouble comes upon you, you can bear it on your own shoulders. A woman suffers more, just because another's shoulders may have to bear the burden."
"When she has got a husband, you mean?"
"Yes,—when she has a husband."
"It's the same with a man when he has a wife." Hitherto the conversation had had so much of milk-and-water in its composition that Dalrymple found himself able to keep it up and go on with his background at the same time. If she could only be kept in the same dim cloud of sentiment, if the hot rays of the sun of romance could be kept from breaking through the mist till Miss Van Siever should come, it might still be well. He had known her to wander about within the clouds for an hour together, without being able to find her way into the light. "It's all the same with a man when he has got a wife," he said. "Of course one has to suffer for two, when one, so to say, is two."
"And what happens when one has to suffer for three?" she asked.
"You mean when a woman has children?"
"I mean nothing of the kind, Conway; and you must know that I do not, unless your feelings are indeed blunted. But worldly success has, I suppose, blunted them."
"I rather fancy not," he said. "I think they are pretty nearly as sharp as ever."
"I know mine are. Oh, how I wish I could rid myself of them! But it cannot be done. Age will not blunt them,—I am sure of that," said Mrs Broughton. "I wish it would."
He had determined not to talk about herself if the subject could be in any way avoided; but now he felt that he was driven up into a corner;—now he was forced to speak to her of her own personality. "You have no experience yet as to that. How can you say what age will do?"
"Age does not go by years," said Mrs Dobbs Broughton. "We all know that. 'His hair was grey, but not with years.' Look here, Conway," and she moved back her tresses from off her temples to show him that there were grey hairs behind. He did not see them; and had they been very visible she might not perhaps have been so ready to exhibit them. "No one can say that length of years has blanched them. I have no secrets from you about my age. One should not be grey before one has reached thirty."
"I did not see a changed hair."
"'Twas the fault of your eyes, then, for there are plenty of them. And what is it has made them grey?"
"They say hot rooms will do it."
"Hot rooms! No, Conway, it does not come from heated atmosphere. It comes from a cold heart, a chilled heart, a frozen heart, a heart that is all ice." She was getting out of the cloud into the heat now, and he could only hope that Miss Van Siever would come soon. "The world is beginning with you, Conway, and you are as old as I am. It is ending with me, and yet I am as young as you are. But I do not know why I talk of all this. It is simply folly,—utter folly. I had not meant to speak of myself; but I did wish to say a few words to you of your own future. I suppose I may still speak to you as a friend?"
"I hope you will always do that."
"Nay,—I will make no such promise. That I will always have a friend's feeling for you, a friend's interest in your welfare, a friend's triumph in your success,—that I will promise. But friendly words, Conway, are sometimes misunderstood."
"Never by me," said he.
"No, not by you,—certainly not by you. I did not mean that. I did not expect that you should misinterpret them." Then she laughed hysterically,—a little low, gurgling, hysterical laugh; and after that she wiped her eyes, and then she smiled, and then she put her hand very gently upon his shoulder. "Thank God, Conway, we are quite safe there,—are we not?"
He had made a blunder, and it was necessary that he should correct it. His watch was lying in the trough of his easel, and he looked at it and wondered why Miss Van Siever was not there. He had tripped, and he must make a little struggle and recover his step. "As I said before, it shall never be misunderstood by me. I have never been vain enough to suppose for a moment that there was any other feeling,—not for a moment. You women can be so careful, while we men are always off our guard! A man loves because he cannot help it; but a woman has been careful, and answers him—with friendship. Perhaps I am wrong to say that I never thought of winning anything more; but I never think of winning more now." Why the mischief didn't Miss Van Siever come! In another five minutes, despite himself, he would be on his knees, making a mock declaration, and she would be pouring forth the vial of her mock wrath, or giving him mock counsel as to the restraint of his passion. He had gone through it all before, and was tired of it; but for his life he did not know how to help himself.
"Conway," said she, gravely, "how dare you address me in such language."
"Of course it is very wrong; I know that."
"I'm not speaking of myself now. I have learned to think so little of myself, as even to be indifferent to the feeling of the injury you are doing me. My life is a blank, and I almost think that nothing can hurt me further. I have not heart left enough to break; no, not enough to be broken. It is not of myself that I am thinking, when I ask you how you dare to address my in such language. Do you not know that it is an injury to another?"
"To what other?" asked Conway Dalrymple, whose mind was becoming rather confused, and who was not quite sure whether the other one was Mr Dobbs Broughton, or somebody else.
"To that poor girl who is coming here now, who is devoted to you, and to whom, I do not doubt, you have uttered words which ought to have made it impossible for you to speak to me as you spoke not a moment since."
Things were becoming very grave and difficult. They would have been very grave, indeed, had not some god saved him by sending Miss Van Siever to his rescue at this moment. He was beginning to think what he would say in answer to the accusation now made, when his eager ear caught the sound of her step upon the stairs; and before the pause in the conversation which the circumstances admitted had given place to the necessity for further speech, Miss Van Siever had knocked at the door and had entered the room. He was rejoiced, and I think that Mrs Broughton did not regret the interference. It is always well that these little dangerous scenes should be brought to sudden ends. The last details of such romances, if drawn out to their natural conclusions, are apt to be uncomfortable, if not dull. She did not want him to go down on his knees, knowing that the getting up again is always awkward.
"Clara, I began to think you were never coming," said Mrs Broughton, with her sweetest smile.
"I began to think so myself also," said Clara. "And I believe this must be the last sitting, or, at any rate, the last but one."
"Is anything the matter at home?" said Mrs Broughton, clasping her hands together.
"Nothing very much; mamma asked me a question or two this morning, and I said I was coming here. Had she asked me why, I should have told her."
"But what did she ask? What did she say?"
"She does not always make herself very intelligible. She complains without telling you what she complains of. But she muttered something about artists which was not complimentary, and I suppose therefore that she has a suspicion. She stayed ever so late this morning, and we left the house together. She will ask some direct question to-night, or before long, and then there will be an end of it."
"Let us make the best of our time, then," said Dalrymple; and the sitting was arranged; Miss Van Siever went down on her knees with her hammer in her hand, and the work began. Mrs Broughton had twisted a turban round Clara's head, as she always did on these occasions, and assisted to arrange the drapery. She used to tell herself as she did so, that she was like Isaac, piling the fagots for her own sacrifice. Only Isaac had piled them in ignorance, and she piled them conscious of the sacrificial flames. And Isaac had been saved; whereas it was impossible that the catching of any ram in any thicket could save her. But, nevertheless, she arranged the drapery with all her skill, piling the fagots ever so high for her own pyre. In the meantime Conway Dalrymple painted away, thinking more of his picture than he did of one woman or of the other.