"Why do you not turn round and speak to me properly?" she said.
"I do not want to speak to you at all," the bishop answered.
This was very bad;—almost anything would be better than this. He was sitting now over the fire, with his elbows on his knees, and his face buried in his hands. She had gone round the room so as to face him, and was now standing almost over him, but still she could not see his countenance. "This will not do at all," she said. "My dear, do you know that you are forgetting yourself altogether?"
"I wish I could forget myself."
"That might be all very well if you were in a position in which you owed no service to any one; or, rather, it would not be well then, but the evil would not be so manifest. You cannot do your duty in the diocese if you continue to sit there doing nothing, with your head upon your hands. Why do you not rally, and get to your work like a man?"
"I wish you would go away and leave me," he said.
"No, bishop. I will not go away and leave you. You have brought yourself to such a condition that it is my duty as your wife to stay by you; and if you neglect your duty, I will not neglect mine."
"It was you that brought me to it."
"No sir, that is not true. I did not bring you to it."
"It is the truth." And now he got up and looked at her. For a moment he stood upon his legs, and then sat down again with his face turned towards her. "It is the truth. You have brought on me such disgrace that I cannot hold up my head. You have ruined me. I wish I were dead; and it is all through you that I am driven to wish it."
Of all that she had suffered in her life this was the worst. She clasped both her hands to her side as she listened to him, and for a minute or two she made no reply. When he ceased from speaking he again put his elbows in his knees and again buried his face in his hands. What had she better do, or how was it expedient that she should treat him? At this crisis the whole thing was so important to her that she would have postponed her own ambition and would have curbed her temper had she thought that by doing so she might in any degree have benefited him. But it seemed to her that she could not rouse him by conciliation. Neither could she leave him as he was. Something must be done. "Bishop," she said, "the words that you speak are very sinful, very sinful."
"You have made them sinful," he said.
"I will not hear that from you. I will not indeed. I have endeavoured to do my duty by you, and I do not deserve it. I am endeavouring to do my duty now, and you must know that it would ill become me to remain quiescent while you are in such a state. The world around you is observing you, and knows that you are not doing your work. All I want of you is that you should arouse yourself, and go to your work."
"I could do my work very well," he said, "if you were not here."
"I suppose, then, you wish that I were dead?" said Mrs Proudie. To this he made no reply, nor did he stir himself. How could flesh and blood bear this,—female flesh and blood,—Mrs Proudie's flesh and blood? Now, at last, her temper once more got the better of her judgment, probably much to her immediate satisfaction, and she spoke out. "I'll tell you what it is, my lord; if you are imbecile, I must be active. It is very sad that I should have to assume your authority—"
"I will not allow you to assume my authority."
"I must do so, or else must obtain a medical certificate as to your incapacity, and beg that some neighbouring bishop may administer the diocese. Things shall not go on as they are now. I, at any rate, will do my duty. I shall tell Mr Thumble that he must go over to Hogglestock, and arrange for the duties of the parish."
"I desire that you will do no such thing," said the bishop, now again looking up at her.
"You may be sure that I shall," said Mrs Proudie, and then she left the room.
He did not even yet suppose that she would go about this work at once. The condition of his mind was in truth bad, and was becoming worse, probably, from day to day; but still he did make his calculations about things, and now reflected that it would be sufficient if he spoke to his chaplain to-morrow about Mr Crawley's letter. Since the terrible scene that Dr Tempest had witnessed, he had never been able to make up his mind as to what great step he would take, but he had made up his mind that some great step was necessary. There were moments in which he thought that he would resign his bishopric. For such resignation, without acknowledged incompetence on the score of infirmity, the precedents were very few; but even if there were no precedents, it would be better to do that than to remain where he was. Of course there would be disgrace. But then it would be disgrace from which he could hide himself. Now there was equal disgrace; and he could not hide himself. And then such a measure as that would bring punishment where punishment was due. It would bring his wife to the ground,—her who had brought him to the ground. The suffering should not be all his own. When she found that her income, and her palace, and her position were all gone, then perhaps she might repent the evil that she had done him. Now, when he was left alone, his mind went back to this, and he did not think of taking immediate measures,—measures on that very day,—to prevent the action of Mr Thumble.
But Mrs Proudie did take immediate steps. Mr Thumble was at this moment in the palace waiting for instructions. It was he who had brought Mr Crawley's letter to Mrs Proudie, and she now returned to him with that letter in her hand. The reader will know what was the result. Mr Thumble was sent off to Hogglestock at once on the bishop's old cob, and,—as will be remembered, fell into trouble on the road. Late in the afternoon, he entered the palace yard having led the cob by the bridle the whole way home from Hogglestock.
Some hour or two before Mr Thumble's return Mrs Proudie returned to her husband, thinking it better to let him know what she had done. She resolved to be very firm with him, but at the same time she determined not to use harsh language if it could be avoided. "My dear," she said, "I have arranged with Mr Thumble." She found him on this occasion sitting at his desk with papers before him, with a pen in his hand; and she could see at a glance that nothing had been written on the paper. What would she have thought had she known that when he placed the sheet before him he was proposing to consult the archbishop as to the propriety of his resignation! He had not, however, progressed so far as to write even the date of his letter.
"You have done what?" said he, throwing down the pen.
"I have arranged with Mr Thumble as to going out to Hogglestock," she said firmly. "Indeed he has gone already." Then the bishop jumped up from his seat, and rang the bell with violence. "What are you going to do?" said Mrs Proudie.
"I am going to depart from here," he said. "I will not stay here to be the mark of scorn for all men's fingers. I will resign the diocese."
"You cannot do that," said his wife.
"I can try, at any rate," said he. Then the servant entered. "John," said he, addressing the man, "let Mr Thumble know the moment he returns to the palace I wish to see him here. Perhaps he may not come to the palace. In that case let word be sent to his house."
Mrs Proudie allowed the man to go before she addressed her husband again. "What do you mean to say to Mr Thumble when you see him?"
"That is nothing to you."
She came up to him and put her hand upon his shoulder, and spoke to him very gently. "Tom," she said, "is that the way in which you speak to your wife?"
"Yes, it is. You have driven me to it. Why have you taken upon yourself to send that man to Hogglestock?"
"Because it was right to do so. I came to you for instructions, and you would give none."
"I should have given what instructions I pleased in proper time. Thumble shall not go to Hogglestock next Sunday."
"Who shall go, then?"
"Never mind. Nobody. It does not matter to you. If you will leave me now I shall be obliged to you. There will be an end of all this very soon,—very soon."
Mrs Proudie after this stood for a while thinking what she would say; but she left the room without uttering another word. As she looked at him a hundred different thoughts came into her mind. She had loved him dearly, and she loved him still; but she knew now,—at this moment felt absolutely sure,—that by him she was hated! In spite of all her roughness and temper, Mrs Proudie was in this like other women,—that she would fain have been loved had it been possible. She had always meant to serve him. She was conscious of that; conscious also in a way that, although she had been industrious, although she had been faithful, although she was clever, yet she had failed. At the bottom of her heart she knew that she had been a bad wife. And yet she had meant to be a pattern wife! She had meant to be a good Christian; but she had so exercised her Christianity that not a soul in the world loved her, or would endure her presence if it could be avoided! She had sufficient insight to the minds and feelings of those around her to be aware of this. And now her husband had told her that her tyranny to him was so overbearing that he must throw up his great position, and retire to an obscurity that would be exceptionally disgraceful to them both, because he could no longer endure the public disgrace which her conduct brought upon him in his high place before the world! Her heart was too full for speech; and she left him, very quietly closing the door behind her.
She was preparing to go up to her chamber, with her hand on the banisters and with her foot on the stairs, when she saw the servant who had answered the bishop's bell. "John," she said, "when Mr Thumble comes to the palace, let me see him before he goes to my lord."
"Yes, ma'am," said John, who well understood the nature of these quarrels between his master and his mistress. But the commands of the mistress were still paramount among the servants, and John proceeded on his mission with the view of accomplishing Mrs Proudie's behests. Then Mrs Proudie went upstairs to her chamber, and locked her door.
Mr Thumble returned to Barchester that day, leading the broken-down cob; and a dreadful walk he had. He was not good at walking, and before he came near Barchester had come to entertain a violent hatred for the beast he was leading. The leading of a horse that is tired, or in pain, or even stiff in his limbs, is not pleasant work. The brute will not accommodate his paces to the man, and will contrive to make his head very heavy on the bridle. And he will not walk on the part of the road which the man intends for him, but will lean against the man, and will make himself altogether disagreeable. It may be understood, therefore, that Mr Thumble was not in a good humour when he entered the palace yard. Nor was he altogether quiet in his mind as to the injury which he had done to the animal. "It was the brute's fault," said Mr Thumble. "It comes generally of not knowing how to ride 'em," said the groom. For Mr Thumble, though he often had a horse out of the episcopal stables, was not ready with his shillings to the man who waited upon him with the steed.
He had not, however, come to any satisfactory understanding respecting the broken knees when the footman from the palace told him that he was wanted. It was in vain that Mr Thumble pleaded that he was nearly dead with fatigue, that he had walked all the way from Hogglestock and must go home to change his clothes. John was peremptory with him, insisting that he must wait first upon Mrs Proudie and then upon the bishop. Mr Thumble might perhaps have turned a deaf ear to the latter command, but the former was one which he felt himself bound to obey. So he entered the palace, rather cross, very much soiled as to his outer man; and in this condition went up a certain small staircase which was familiar to him, to a small parlour which adjoined Mrs Proudie's room, and there awaited the arrival of the lady. That he should be required to wait some quarter of an hour was not surprising to him; but when half an hour was gone, and he remembered himself of his own wife at home, and the dinner which he had not yet eaten, he ventured to ring the bell. Mrs Proudie's own maid, Mrs Draper by name, came to him and said that she had knocked twice at Mrs Proudie's door and would knock again. Two minutes after that she returned, running into the room with her arms extended, and exclaiming, "Oh heavens, sir; mistress is dead!" Mr Thumble, hardly knowing what he was about, followed the woman into the bedroom, and there he found himself standing awe-struck before the corpse of her who had so lately been the presiding spirit of the palace.
The body was still resting on its legs, leaning against the end of the side of the bed, while one of the arms was close clasped round the bed-post. The mouth was rigidly closed, but the eyes were open as thought staring at him. Nevertheless there could be no doubt from the first glance that the woman was dead. He went up close to it, but did not dare to touch it. There was no one there as yet but he and Mrs Draper;—no one else knew what had happened.
"It's her heart," said Mrs Draper.
"Did she suffer from heart complaint?" he asked.
"We suspected it, sir, though nobody knew it. She was very shy of talking about herself."
"We must send for the doctor at once," said Mr Thumble. "We had better touch nothing till he is here." Then they retreated and the door was locked.
In ten minutes everybody in the house knew it except the bishop; and in twenty minutes the nearest apothecary with his assistant were in the room, and the body had been properly laid upon the bed. Even then the husband had not been told,—did not know either his relief or his loss. It was now past seven, which was the usual hour for dinner at the palace, and it was probable that he would come out of his room among the servants, if he were not summoned. When it was proposed to Mr Thumble that he should go in to him and tell him, he positively declined, saying that the sight which he had just seen and the exertions of the day together, had so unnerved him, that he had not physical strength for the task. The apothecary, who had been summoned in a hurry, had escaped, probably being equally unwilling to be the bearer of such a communication. The duty therefore fell to Mrs Draper, and under the pressing instance of the other servants she descended to her master's room. Had it not been that the hour of dinner had come, so that the bishop could not have been left much longer to himself, the evil time would have been still postponed.
She went very slowly along the passage, and was just going to pause ere she reached the room, when the door was opened and the bishop stood close before her. It was easy to be seen that he was cross. His hands and face were unwashed and his face was haggard. In these days he would not even go through the ceremony of dressing himself before dinner. "Mrs Draper," he said, "why don't they tell me that dinner is ready? Are they going to give me any dinner?" She stood a moment without answering him, while the tears streamed down her face. "What is the matter?" said he. "Has your mistress sent you here?"
"Oh laws!" said Mrs Draper,—and she put out her hands to support him if such support should be necessary.
"What is the matter?" he demanded angrily.
"Oh, my lord;—bear it like a Christian. Mistress isn't no more." He leaned back against the door-post and she took hold of him by the arm. "It was the heart, my lord. Dr Filgrave hisself has not been yet; but that's what it was." The bishop did not say a word, but walked back to his chair before the fire.
The bishop when he had heard of the tidings of his wife's death walked back to his seat over the fire, and Mrs Draper, the housekeeper, came and stood over him without speaking. Thus she stood for ten minutes looking down at him and listening. But there was no sound; not a word, nor a moan, nor a sob. It was as though he also were dead, but that a slight irregular movement of his fingers on the top of his bald head, told her that his mind and body were still active. "My lord," she said at last, "would you wish to see the doctor when he comes?" She spoke very low and he did not answer her. Then, after another minute of silence, she asked the same question again.
"What doctor?" he said.
"Dr Filgrave. We sent for him. Perhaps he is here now. Shall I go and see, my lord?" Mrs Draper found that her position there was weary and she wished to escape. Anything on his behalf requiring trouble or work she would have done willingly; but she could not stand there for ever watching the motion of his fingers.
"I suppose I must see him," said the bishop. Mrs Draper took this as an order for her departure and crept silently out of the room, closing the door behind her with the long protracted elaborate click which is always produced by an attempt at silence on such occasions. He did not care for noise or for silence. Had she slammed the door he would not have regarded it. A wonderful silence had come upon him which for the time almost crushed him. He would never hear that well-known voice again!
He was free now. Even in his misery,—for he was very miserable,—he could not refrain from telling himself that. No one could now press uncalled-for into his study, contradict him in the presence of those before whom he was bound to be authoritative, and rob him of all his dignity. There was no one else of whom he was afraid. She had at least kept him out of the hands of other tyrants. He was now his own master, and there was a feeling,—I may not call it of relief, for as yet there was more of pain in it than of satisfaction,—a feeling as though he had escaped from an old trouble at a terrible cost of which he could not as yet calculate the amount. He knew that he might now give up all idea of writing to the archbishop.
She had in some ways, and at certain periods of his life, been very good to him. She had kept his money for him and made things go straight, when they had been poor. His interests had always been her interests. Without her he would never have been a bishop. So, at least, he told himself now, and so told himself probably with truth. She had been very careful of his children. She had never been idle. She had never been fond of pleasure. She had neglected no acknowledged duty. He did not doubt that she was now on her way to heaven. He took his hands from his head, and clasping them together, said a little prayer. It may be doubted whether he quite knew for what he was praying. The idea of praying for her soul, now that she was dead, would have scandalised him. He certainly was not praying for his own soul. I think he was praying that God might save him from being glad that his wife was dead.
But she was dead;—and, as it were, in a moment! He had not stirred out of that room since she had been there with him. Then there had been angry words between them,—perhaps more determined enmity on his part than ever had before existed; and they had parted for the last time with bitter animosity. But he told himself that he had certainly been right in what he had done then. He thought he had been right then. And so his mind went back to the Crawley and Thumble question, and he tried to alleviate the misery which that last interview with his wife now created by assuring himself that he at least had been justified in what he had done.
But yet his thoughts were very tender to her. Nothing reopens the springs of love so fully as absence, and no absence so thoroughly as that which must needs be endless. We want that which we have not; and especially that which we can never have. She had told him in the very last moments of her presence with him that he was wishing that she were dead, and he had made her no reply. At the moment he had felt, with savage anger, that such was his wish. Her words had now come to pass, and he was a widower,—and he assured himself that he would give all that he possessed in the world to bring her back again.
Yes, he was a widower, and he might do as he pleased. The tyrant was gone, and he was free. The tyrant was gone, and the tyranny had doubtless been very oppressive. Who had suffered as he had done? But in thus being left without his tyrant he was wretchedly desolate. Might it not be that the tyranny had been good for him?—that the Lord had known best what wife was fit for him? Then he thought of a story which he had read,—and had well marked as he was reading,—of some man who had been terribly afflicted by his wife, whose wife had starved him and beaten him and reviled him; and yet this man had been able to thank God for having mortified him in the flesh. Might it not be that the mortification which he himself had doubtless suffered in his flesh had been intended for his welfare, and had been very good for him? But if this were so, it might be that the mortification was now removed because the Lord knew that his servant had been sufficiently mortified. He had not been starved or beaten, but the mortification had been certainly severe. Then there came words—into his mind, not into his mouth—"The Lord sent the thorn, and the Lord has taken it away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." After that he was very angry with himself, and tried to pray that he might be forgiven. While he was so striving there came a low knock at the door, and Mrs Draper again entered the room.
"Dr Filgrave, my lord, was not at home," said Mrs Draper; "but he will be sent the very moment he arrives."
"Very well, Mrs Draper."
"But, my lord, will you not come for your dinner? A little soup, or a morsel of something to eat, and a glass of wine, will enable your lordship to bear it better." He allowed Mrs Draper to persuade him, and followed her into the dining-room. "Do not go, Mrs Draper," he said; "I would rather that you should stay with me." So Mrs Draper stayed with him, and administered to his wants. He was desirous of being seen by as few eyes as possible in these first moments of his freedom.
He saw Dr Filgrave twice, both before and after the doctor had been upstairs. There was no doubt, Dr Filgrave said, that it was as Mrs Draper had surmised. The poor lady was suffering, and had for years been suffering, from heart-complaint. To her husband she had never said a word on the subject. To Mrs Draper a word had been said now and again,—a word when some moment of fear would come, when some sharp stroke of agony would tell of danger. But Mrs Draper had kept the secret of her mistress, and none of the family had known that there was aught to be feared. Dr Filgrave, indeed, did tell the bishop that he had dreaded all along exactly that which had happened. He had said the same to Mr Rerechild, the surgeon, when they two had had a consultation at the palace on the occasion of a somewhat alarming birth of a grandchild. But he mixed up this information with so much medical Latin, and was so pompous over it, and the bishop was so anxious to be rid of him, that his words did not have much effect. What did it all matter? The thorn was gone, and the wife was dead, and the widower must balance his gain and loss as best he might.
He slept well, but when he woke in the morning the dreariness of his loneliness was very strong on him. He must do something, and must see somebody, but he felt that he did not know how to bear himself in his new position. He must send of course for his chaplain, and tell his chaplain to open all letters and to answer them for a week. Then he remembered how many of his letters in days of yore had been opened and answered by the helpmate who had just gone from him. Since Dr Tempest's visit he had insisted that the palace letter-bag should always be brought in the first instance to him,—and this had been done, greatly to the annoyance of his wife. In order that it might be done the bishop had been up every morning an hour before his usual time; and everybody in the household had known why it was so. He thought of this now as the bag was brought to him on the first morning of his freedom. He could have it where he pleased now;—either in his bedroom or left for him untouched on the breakfast-table till he should go to it. "Blessed be the name of the Lord," he said as he thought of all this; but he did not stop to analyse what he was saying. On this morning he would not enjoy his liberty, but desired that the letter-bag might be taken to Mr Snapper, the chaplain.
The news of Mrs Proudie's death had spread all over Barchester on the evening of its occurrence, and had been received with that feeling of distant awe which is always accompanied by some degree of pleasurable sensation. There was no one in Barchester to lament a mother, or a sister, or a friend who was really loved. There were those, doubtless, who regretted the woman's death,—and even some who regretted it without any feeling of personal damage done to themselves. There had come to be around Mrs Proudie a party who thought as she thought on church matters, and such people had lost their head, and thereby their strength. And she had been staunch to her own party, preferring bad tea from a low-church grocer, to good tea from a grocer who went to the ritualistic church or to no church at all. And it is due to her to say that she did not forget those who were true to her,—looking after them mindfully where looking after might be profitable, and fighting their battles where fighting might be more serviceable. I do not think that the appetite for breakfast of any man or woman in Barchester was disturbed by the news of Mrs Proudie's death, but there were some who felt that a trouble had fallen on them.
Tidings of the catastrophe reached Hiram's Hospital on the evening of its occurrence,—Hiram's Hospital, where dwelt Mr and Mrs Quiverful with all their children. Now Mrs Quiverful owed a debt of gratitude to Mrs Proudie, having been placed in her present comfortable home by that lady's patronage. Mrs Quiverful perhaps understood the character of the deceased woman, and expressed her opinion respecting it, as graphically did any one in Barchester. There was the natural surprise felt at the Warden's Lodge in the Hospital when the tidings were first received there, and the Quiverful family was at first too full of dismay, regrets, and surmises to be able to give themselves impartially to criticism. But on the following morning, conversation at the breakfast-table naturally referring to the great loss which the bishop had sustained, Mrs Quiverful thus pronounced her opinion of her friend's character: "You'll find that he'll feel it, Q," she said to her husband, in answer to some sarcastic remark made by him as to the removal of the thorn. "He'll feel it, though she was almost too many for him while she was alive."
"I daresay he'll feel it at first," said Quiverful; "but I think he'll be more comfortable than he has been."
"Of course he'll feel it, and go on feeling it till he dies, if he's the man I take him to be. You're not to think that there has been no love because there used to be some words, that he'll find himself the happier because he can do things more as he pleases. She was a great help to him, and he must have known that she was, in spite of the sharpness of her tongue. No doubt her tongue was sharp. No doubt she was sharp. No doubt she was upsetting. And she could make herself a fool too in her struggles to have everything her own way. But, Q, there were worse women than Mrs Proudie. She was never one of your idle ones, and I'm quite sure that no man or woman ever heard her say a word against her husband behind his back."
"All the same, she gave him a terribly bad life of it, if all is true that we hear."
"There are men who must have what you call a terribly bad life of it, whatever way it goes with them. The bishop is weak, and he wants somebody near him to be strong. She was strong,—perhaps too strong; but he had his advantage out of it. After all I don't know that his life has been so terribly bad. I daresay he's had everything very comfortable about him. And a man ought to be grateful for that, though very few men ever are."
Mr Quiverful's predecessor at the Hospital, old Mr Harding, whose halcyon days in Barchester had been passed before the coming of the Proudies, was in bed playing cat's-cradle with Posy seated on the counterpane, when the tidings of Mrs Proudie's death were brought to him by Mrs Baxter. "Oh, sir," said Mrs Baxter, seating herself on a chair by the bed-side. Mr Harding liked Mrs Baxter to sit down, because he was almost sure on such occasions to have the advantage of a prolonged conversation.
"What is it, Mrs Baxter?"
"Is anything the matter?" And the old man attempted to raise himself in his bed.
"You mustn't frighten grandpa," said Posy.
"No, my dear; and there isn't nothing to frighten him. There isn't indeed, Mr Harding. They're all well at Plumstead, and when I heard from the missus at Venice, everything was going on well."
"But what is it, Mrs Baxter?"
"God forgive all her sins—Mrs Proudie ain't no more." Now there had been a terrible feud between the palace and the deanery for years, in carrying on which the persons of the opposed households were wont to express themselves with eager animosity. Mrs Baxter and Mrs Draper never spoke to each other. The two coachmen each longed for an opportunity to take the other before a magistrate for some breach of the law of the road in driving. The footmen abused each other, and the grooms occasionally fought. The masters and mistresses contented themselves with simple hatred. Therefore it was not surprising that Mrs Baxter in speaking of the death of Mrs Proudie, should remember first her sins.
"Mrs Proudie dead!" said the old man.
"Indeed, she is, Mr Harding," said Mrs Baxter, putting both her hands together piously. "We're just grass, ain't we, sir! and dust and clay and flowers of the field?" Whether Mrs Proudie had most partaken of the clayey nature or of the flowery nature, Mrs Baxter did not stop to consider.
"Mrs Proudie dead!" said Posy, with a solemnity that was all her own. "Then she won't scold the poor bishop any more."
"No, my dear; she won't scold anybody any more; and it will be a blessing for some, I must say. Everybody is always so considerate in this house, Miss Posy, that we none of us know nothing about what that is."
"Dead!" said Mr Harding again. "I think, if you please, Mrs Baxter, you shall leave me for little time, and take Miss Posy with you." He had been in the city of Barchester some fifty years, and here was one who might have been his daughter, who had come there scarcely ten years since, and who had now gone before him! He had never loved Mrs Proudie. Perhaps he had come as near to disliking Mrs Proudie as he had ever come to disliking any person. Mrs Proudie had wounded him in every part that was most sensitive. It would be long to tell, nor need it be told now, how she had ridiculed his cathedral work, how she had made nothing of him, how she had despised him, always manifesting her contempt plainly. He had been even driven to rebuke her, and it had perhaps been the only personal rebuke which he had ever uttered in Barchester. But now she was gone; and he thought of her simply as an active pious woman, who had been taken away from her work before her time. And for the bishop, no idea ever entered Mr Harding's mind as to the removal of a thorn. The man had lost his life's companion at that time of life when such a companion is most needed; and Mr Harding grieved for him with sincerity.
The news went out to Plumstead Episcopi by the postman, and happened to reach the archdeacon as he was talking to his sexton at the little gate leading into the churchyard. "Mrs Proudie dead!" he almost shouted, as the postman notified the fact to him. "Impossible!"
"It be so for zartain, yer reverence," said the postman, who was proud of his news.
"Heavens!" ejaculated the archdeacon, and then hurried in to his wife. "My dear," he said—and as he spoke he could hardly deliver himself of the words, so eager was he to speak them—"who do you think is dead? Gracious heavens! Mrs Proudie is dead!" Mrs Grantly dropped from her hand the teaspoonful of tea that was just going into the pot, and repeated her husband's words. "Mrs Proudie dead?" There was a pause, during which they looked into each other's faces. "My dear, I don't believe it," said Mrs Grantly.
But she did believe it very shortly. There were no prayers at Plumstead rectory that morning. The archdeacon immediately went out into the village, and soon obtained sufficient evidence of the truth of that which the postman had told him. Then he rushed back to his wife. "It's true," he said. "It's quite true. She's dead. There's no doubt about that. She's dead. It was last night about seven. That was when they found her, at least, and she may have died about an hour before. Filgrave says not more than an hour."
"And how did she die?"
"Heart-complaint. She was standing up, taking hold of the bedstead, and so they found her." Then there was a pause, during which the archdeacon sat down to his breakfast. "I wonder how he felt when he heard it?"
"Of course he was terribly shocked."
"I've no doubt he was shocked. Any man would be shocked. But when you come to think of it, what a relief!"
"How can you speak of it in that way?" said Mrs Grantly.
"How am I to speak of it in any other way?" said the archdeacon. "Of course I shouldn't go and say it out in the street."
"I don't think you ought to say it anywhere," said Mrs Grantly. "The poor man no doubt feels about his wife in the same way that anybody else would."
"And if any other poor man has got such a wife as she was, you may be quite sure that he would be glad to be rid of her. I don't say that he wished her to die, or that he would have done anything to contrive her death—"
"Gracious, archdeacon; do, pray, hold your tongue."
"But it stands to reason that her going will be a great relief to him. What has she done for him? She has made him contemptible to everybody in the diocese by her interference, and his life has been a burden to him through her violence."
"Is that the way you carry out your proverb of De mortuis?" asked Mrs Grantly.
"The proverb of De mortuis is founded on humbug. Humbug out of doors is necessary. It would not do for you and me to go into the High Street just now and say what we think about Mrs Proudie; but I don't suppose that kind of thing need to be kept up in here, between you and me. She was an uncomfortable woman,—so uncomfortable that I cannot believe that any one will regret her. Dear me! Only to think that she has gone! You may as well give me my tea."
I do not think that Mrs Grantly's opinion differed much from that expressed by her husband, or that she was, in truth, the least offended by the archdeacon's plain speech. But it must be remembered that there was probably no house in the diocese in which Mrs Proudie had been so thoroughly hated as she had been at the Plumstead rectory. There had been hatred in the deanery; but the hatred at the deanery had been mild in comparison with the hatred at Plumstead. The archdeacon was a sound friend; but he was also a sound enemy. From the very first arrival of the Proudies at Barchester, Mrs Proudie had thrown down her gauntlet to him, and he had not been slow in picking it up. The war had been internecine, and each had given the other terrible wounds. It had been understood that there should be no quarter, and there had been none. His enemy was now dead, and the archdeacon could not bring himself to adopt before his wife the namby-pamby everyday decency of speaking well of one of whom he had ever thought ill, or of expressing regret when no regret could be felt. "May all her sins be forgiven her," said Mrs Grantly. "Amen," said the archdeacon. There was something in the tone of his Amen which thoroughly implied that it was uttered only on the understanding that her departure from the existing world was to be regarded as an unmitigated good, and that she should, at any rate, never come back again to Barchester.
When Lady Lufton heard the tidings, she was not so bold in speaking of it as was her friend the archdeacon. "Mrs Proudie dead!" she said to her daughter-in-law. This was some hours after the news had reached the house, and when the fact of the poor lady's death had been fully recognised. "What will he do without her?"
"The same as other men do," said the young Lady Lufton.
"But, my dear, he is not the same as other men. He is not at all like other men. He is so weak that he cannot walk without a stick to lean upon. No doubt she was a virago, a woman who could not control her temper for a moment! No doubt she had led him a terrible life! I have often pitied him with all my heart. But, nevertheless, she was useful to him. I suppose she was useful to him. I can hardly believe that Mrs Proudie is dead. Had he gone, it would have seemed so much more natural. Poor woman. I daresay she had her good points." The reader will be pleased to remember that the Luftons had ever been strong partisans on the side of the Grantlys.
The news made its way even to Hogglestock on the same day. Mrs Crawley, when she heard it, went out after her husband, who was in the school. "Dead!" said he, in answer to her whisper. "Do you tell me that the woman is dead?" Then Mrs Crawley explained that the tidings were credible. "May God forgive her all her sins," said Mr Crawley. "She was a violent woman, certainly, and I think that she misunderstood her duties; but I do not say that she was a bad woman. I am inclined to think that she was earnest in her endeavours to do good." It never occurred to Mr Crawley that he and his affair had, in truth, been the cause of her death.
It was thus that she was spoken of for a few days; and then men and women ceased to speak much of her, and began to talk of the bishop instead. A month had not passed before it was surmised that a man so long accustomed to the comforts of married life would marry again; and even then one lady connected with low-church clergymen in and around the city was named as a probable successor to the great lady who was gone. For myself, I am inclined to think that the bishop will for the future be content to lean upon his chaplain.
The monument that was put up to our friend's memory in one of the side aisles of the choir of the cathedral was supposed to be designed and executed in good taste. There was a broken column, and on the column simply the words "My beloved wife!" Then there was a slab by the column, bearing Mrs Proudie's name, with the date of her life and death. Beneath this was the common inscription,—
Requiescat in pace.
The Obstinacy of Mr Crawley
Dr Tempest, when he heard the news, sent immediately to Mr Robarts, begging him to come over to Silverbridge. But this message was not occasioned solely by the death of Mrs Proudie. Dr Tempest had also heard that Mr Crawley had submitted himself to the bishop, that instant advantage,—and, as Dr Tempest thought, unfair advantage,—had been taken of Mr Crawley's submission, and that the pernicious Mr Thumble had been at once sent over to Hogglestock. Had these palace doings with reference to Mr Crawley been unaccompanied by the catastrophe which had happened, the doctor, much as he might have regretted them, would probably have felt that there was nothing to be done. He could not in such case have prevented Mr Thumble's journey to Hogglestock on the next Sunday, and certainly he could not have softened the heart of the presiding genius at the palace. But things were very different now. The presiding genius was gone. Everybody at the palace would for a while be weak and vacillating. Thumble would be then thoroughly cowed; and it might at any rate be possible to make some movement in Mr Crawley's favour. Dr Tempest, therefore, sent for Mr Robarts.
"I'm giving you a great deal of trouble, Robarts," said the doctor; "but then you are so much younger than I am, and I've an idea that you would do more for this poor man than any one else in the diocese." Mr Robarts of course declared that he did not begrudge his trouble, and that he would do anything in his power for the poor man. "I think that you should see him again, and that you should then see Thumble also. I don't know whether you can condescend to be civil to Thumble. I could not."
"I am not quite sure that incivility would not be more efficacious," said Mr Robarts.
"Very likely. There are men who are deaf as adders to courtesy, but who are compelled to obedience at once by ill-usage. Very likely Thumble is one of them; but of that you will be the best judge yourself. I would see Crawley first, and get his consent."
"That's the difficulty."
"Then I should go on without his consent, and I would see Thumble and the bishop's chaplain, Snapper. I think you might manage just at this moment, when they will all be a little abashed and perplexed by this woman's death, to arrange that simply nothing shall be done. The great thing will be that Crawley should go on with the duty till the assizes. If it should happen that he goes into Barchester, is acquitted, and comes back again, the whole thing will be over, and there will be no further interference in the parish. If I were you, I think I would try it." Mr Robarts said that he would try it. "I daresay Mr Crawley will be a little stiff-necked with you."
"He will be very stiff-necked with me," said Mr Robarts.
"But I can hardly think that he will throw away the only means he has of supporting his wife and children, when he finds that there can be no occasion for his doing so. I do not suppose that any person wishes him to throw up his work now that the poor woman has gone."
Mr Crawley had been almost in good spirits since the last visit which Mr Thumble had made him. It seemed as though the loss of everything in the world was in some way satisfactory to him. He had now given up his living by his own doing, and had after a fashion acknowledged his guilt by this act. He had proclaimed to all around him that he did not think himself to be any longer fit to perform the sacred functions of his office. He spoke of his trial as though a verdict against him must be the result. He knew that in going to prison he would leave his wife and children dependent on the charity of their friends,—on charity which they must condescend to accept, though he could not condescend to ask it. And yet he was able to carry himself now with a greater show of fortitude than had been within his power when the extent of his calamity was more doubtful. I must not ask the reader to suppose that he was cheerful. To have been cheerful under such circumstances would have been inhuman. But he carried his head on high, and walked firmly, and gave his orders at home with a clear voice. His wife, who was necessarily more despondent than ever, wondered at him,—but wondered in silence. It certainly seemed as though the very extremity of ill-fortune was good for him. And he was very diligent with his school, passing the greater part of the morning with the children. Mr Thumble had told him that he would come on Sunday, and that he would then take charge of the parish. Up to the coming of Mr Thumble he would do everything in the parish that could be done by a clergyman with a clear spirit and a free heart. Mr Thumble should not find that spiritual weeds had grown rank in the parish because of his misfortunes.
Mrs Proudie had died on the Tuesday,—that having been the day of Mr Thumble's visit to Hogglestock,—and Mr Robarts had gone over to Silverbridge, in answer to Dr Tempest's invitation, on the Thursday. He had not, therefore, the command of much time, it being his express object to prevent the appearance of Mr Thumble at Hogglestock on the next Sunday. He had gone to Silverbridge by railway, and had, therefore, been obliged to postpone his visit to Mr Crawley till the next day; but early on the Friday morning he rode over to Hogglestock. That he did not arrive there with a broken-kneed horse, the reader may be quite sure. In all matters of that sort, Mr Robarts was ever above reproach. He rode a good horse, and drove a neat gig, and was always well-dressed. On this account Mr Crawley, though he really liked Mr Robarts, and was thankful to him for many kindnesses, could never bear his presence with perfect equanimity. Robarts was no scholar, was not a great preacher, had obtained no celebrity as a churchman,—had, in fact, done nothing to merit great reward; and yet everything had been given to him with an abundant hand. Within the last twelvemonth his wife had inherited Mr Crawley did not care to know how many thousand pounds. And yet Mr Robarts had won all that he possessed by being a clergyman. Was it possible that Mr Crawley should regard such a man with equanimity? Robarts rode over with a groom behind him,—really taking the groom because he knew that Mr Crawley would have no one to hold his horse for him;—and the groom was the source of great offence. He come upon Mr Crawley standing at the school door, and stopping at once, jumped off his nag. There was something in the way in which he sprang out of the saddle and threw the reins to the man, which was not clerical in Mr Crawley's eyes. No man could be so quick in the matter of a horse who spent as many hours with the poor and with the children as should be spent by a parish clergyman. It might be probable that Mr Robarts had never stolen twenty pounds,—might never be accused of so disgraceful a crime,—but, nevertheless, Mr Crawley had his own ideas, and made his own comparisons.
"Crawley" said Robarts, "I am so glad to find you at home."
"I am generally to be found in the parish," said the perpetual curate of Hogglestock.
"I know you are," said Robarts, who knew the man well, and cared nothing for his friend's peculiarities when he felt his own withers to be unwrung. "But you might have been down at Hoggle End with the brickmakers, and then I should have had to go after you."
"I should have grieved—" began Crawley; but Robarts interrupted him at once.
"Let us go for a walk, and I'll leave the man with the horses. I've something special to say to you, and I can say it better out here than in the house. Grace is quite well, and sends her love. She is growing to look so beautiful!"
"I hope she may grow in grace with God," said Mr Crawley.
"She's as good a girl as I ever knew. By-the-by, you had Henry Grantly over here the other day?"
"Major Grantly, whom I cannot name without expressing my esteem for him, did do us the honour of calling upon us not very long since. If it be with reference to him that you have taken this trouble—"
"No, no; not at all. I'll allow him and the ladies to fight out that battle. I've not the least doubt in the world how that will go. When I'm told that she made a complete conquest of the archdeacon, there cannot be a doubt about that."
"A conquest of the archdeacon!"
But Mr Robarts did not wish to have to explain anything further about the archdeacon. "Were you not terribly shocked, Crawley," he asked, "when you heard of the death of Mrs Proudie?"
"It was sudden and very awful," said Mr Crawley. "Such deaths are always shocking. Not more so, perhaps, as regards the wife of a bishop, than with any other woman."
"Only we happened to know her."
"No doubt the finite and meagre nature of our feelings does prevent us from extending our sympathies to those whom we have not seen in the flesh. It should not be so, and would not with one who had nurtured his heart with the proper care. And we are prone to permit an evil worse than that to canker our regards and to foster and to mar our solicitudes. Those who are in high station strike us more by their joys and sorrows than do the poor and lowly. Were some young duke's wife, wedded but the other day, to die, all England would put on some show of mourning,—nay, would feel some true gleam of pity; but nobody cares for the widowed brickmaker seated with his starving infant on his cold hearth."
"Of course we hear more of the big people," said Robarts.
"Ay; and think more of them. But do not suppose, sir, that I complain of this man or that woman because his sympathies, or hers, run out of that course which my reason tells me they should hold. The man with whom it would not be so would simply be a god among men. It is in his perfection as a man that we recognise the divinity of Christ. It is in the imperfection of men that we recognise our necessity for a Christ. Yes, sir, the death of the poor lady at Barchester was very sudden. I hope that my lord the bishop bears with becoming fortitude the heavy misfortune. They say that he was a man much beholden to his wife,—prone to lean upon her in his goings out and comings in. For such a man such a loss is more dreadful perhaps than for another."
"They say she led him a terrible life, you know."
"I am not prone, sir, to believe much of what I hear about the domesticities of other men, knowing how little any other man can know of my own. And I have, methinks, observed a proneness in the world to ridicule that dependence on a woman which every married man should acknowledge in regard to the wife of his bosom, if he can trust her as well as love her. When I hear jocose proverbs spoken as to men, such as that in this house the grey mare is the better horse, or that in that house the wife wears that garment which is supposed to denote virile command, knowing that the joke is easy, and that meekness in a man is more truly noble than a habit of stern authority, I do not allow them to go far with me in influencing my judgment."
So spoke Mr Crawley, who never permitted the slightest interference with his own word in his own family, and who had himself been a witness of one of those scenes between the bishop and his wife in which the poor bishop had been so cruelly misused. But to Mr Crawley the thing which he himself had seen under such circumstances was as sacred as though it had come to him under the seal of confession. In speaking of the bishop and Mrs Proudie,—nay, as far as was possible in thinking of them,—he was bound to speak and to think as though he had not witnessed that scene in the palace study.
"I don't suppose that there is much doubt about her real character," said Robarts. "But you and I need not discuss that."
"By no means. Such discussion would be both useless and unseemly."
"And just at present there is something else that I specially want to say to you. Indeed, I went to Silverbridge on the same subject yesterday, and have come here expressly to have a little conversation with you."
"If it be about affairs of mine, Mr Robarts, I am indeed troubled in spirit that so great labour should have fallen upon you."
"Never mind my labour. Indeed your saying that is a nuisance to me, because I hoped that by this time you would have understood that I regard you as a friend, and that I think nothing any trouble that I do for a friend. You position just now is so peculiar that it requires a great deal of care."
"No care can be of any avail to me."
"There I disagree with you. You must excuse me, but I do; and so does Dr Tempest. We think that you have been a little too much in a hurry since he communicated to you the result of our first meeting."
"As how, sir?"
"It is, perhaps, hardly worth while for us to go into the whole question; but that man, Thumble, must not come here on next Sunday."
"I cannot say, Mr Robarts, that the Reverend Mr Thumble has recommended himself to me strongly either by his outward symbols of manhood or by such manifestation of his inward mental gifts as I have succeeded in obtaining. But my knowledge of him has been so slight, and has been acquired in a manner so likely to bias me prejudicially against him, that I am inclined to think my opinion should go for nothing. It is, however, the fact that the bishop has nominated him to this duty; and that, as I have myself simply notified my desire to be relieved from the care of the parish, on account of certain unfitness of my own, I am the last man who should interfere with the bishop in the choice of my temporary successor.
"It was her choice, not his."
"Excuse me, Mr Robarts, but I cannot allow that assertion to pass unquestioned. I must say that I have adequate cause for believing that he came here by his lordship's authority."
"No doubt he did. Will you just listen to me for a moment? Ever since this unfortunate affair of the cheque became known, Mrs Proudie has been anxious to get you out of the parish. She was a violent woman, and chose to take this matter up violently. Pray hear me out before you interrupt me. There would have been no commission at all but for her."
"The commission is right and proper and just," said Mr Crawley, who could not keep himself silent.
"Very well. Let it be so. But Mr Thumble's coming over here is not proper or right; and you may be sure the bishop does not wish it."
"Let him send any other clergyman whom he may think more fitting," said Mr Crawley.
"But we do not want him to send anybody."
"Somebody must be sent, Mr Robarts."
"No, not so. Let me go over and see Thumble and Snapper,—Snapper, you know, is the domestic chaplain; and all that you need do is to go on with your services on Sunday. If necessary, I will see the bishop. I think you may be sure that I can manage it. If not, I will come back to you." Mr Robarts paused for an answer, but it seemed for awhile that all Mr Crawley's impatient desire to speak was over. He walked on silently along the lane by his visitor's side, and when, after some five or six minutes, Robarts stood still in the road, Mr Crawley even then said nothing. "It cannot be but that you should be anxious to keep the income of the parish for your wife and children," said Mark Robarts.
"Of course, I am anxious for my wife and children," Crawley answered.
"Then let me do as I say. Why should you throw away a chance, even if it be a bad one? But here the chance is all in your favour. Let me manage it for you at Barchester."
"Of course I am anxious for my wife and children," said Crawley, repeating his words; "how anxious, I fancy no man can conceive who has not been near enough to absolute want to know how terrible is its approach when it threatens those who are weak and who are very dear! But, Mr Robarts, you spoke just now of the chance of the thing,—the chance of your arranging on my behalf that I should for a while longer be left in the enjoyment of the freehold of my parish. It seemeth to me that there should be no chance on such a subject; that in the adjustment of so momentous a matter there should be a consideration of right and wrong, and no consideration of aught beside. I have been growing to feel, for some weeks past, that circumstances,—whether through my own fault or not is an outside question as to which I will not further delay you by offering even an opinion,—that unfortunate circumstances have made me unfit to remain here as guardian of the souls of the people of this parish. Then there came to me the letter from Dr Tempest,—for which I am greatly beholden to him,—strengthening me altogether in this view. What could I do then, Mr Robarts? Could I allow myself to think of my wife and my children when such a question as that was before me for self-discussion?"
"I would,—certainly," said Robarts.
"No sir! Excuse the bluntness of my contradiction, but I feel assured that in such emergency you would look solely to duty,—as by God's help I will endeavour to do. Mr Robarts, there are many of us who in many things are much worse than we believe ourselves to be. But in other matters, and perhaps of larger moment, we can rise to ideas of duty as the need for such ideas comes upon us. I say not this at all as praising myself. I speak of men as I believe that they will be found to be;—of yourself, of myself, and of others who strive to live with clean hands and a clear conscience. I do not for a moment think that you would retain your benefice at Framley if there had come upon you, after much thought, an assured conviction that you could not retain it without grievous injury to the souls of others and grievous sin to your own. Wife and children, dear as they are to you and to me,—as dear to me as to you,—fade from the sight when the time comes for judgment on such a matter as that!" They were standing quite still now, facing each other, and Crawley, as he spoke with a low voice, looked straight into his friend's eyes, and kept his hand firmly fixed on his friend's arm.
"I cannot interfere further," said Robarts.
"No,—you cannot interfere further." Robarts, when he told the story of the interview to his wife that evening, declared that he had never heard a voice so plaintively touching as was the voice of Mr Crawley when he uttered those last words.
They turned back to the servant and the house almost without a word, and Robarts mounted without offering to see Mrs Crawley. Nor did Mr Crawley ask him to do so. It was better now that Robarts should go. "May God send you through all your troubles," said Mr Robarts.
"Mr Robarts, I thank you warmly for your friendship," said Mr Crawley. And then they parted. In about half an hour Mr Crawley returned to the house. "Now for Pindar, Jane," he said, seating himself at his old desk.
Mr Crawley's Last Appearance in His Own Pulpit
No word or message from Mr Crawley reached Barchester throughout the week, and on the Sunday morning Mr Thumble was under a positive engagement to go out to Hogglestock, and to perform the services of the church. Dr Tempest had been quite right in saying that Mr Thumble would be awed by the death of his patroness. Such was altogether the case, and he was very anxious to escape from the task he had undertaken at her instance, if it were possible. In the first place, he had never been a favourite with the bishop himself, and had now, therefore, nothing to expect in the diocese. The crusts from bits of loaves and the morsels of broken fishes which had come his way had all come from the bounty of Mrs Proudie. And then, as regarded this special Hogglestock job, how was he to get paid for it? Whence, indeed, was he to seek repayment for the actual money which he would be out of pocket in finding his way to Hogglestock and back again? But he could not get to speak to the bishop, nor could he induce any one who had access to his lordship to touch upon the subject. Mr Snapper avoided him as much as possible; and Mr Snapper, when he was caught and interrogated, declared that he regarded the matter as settled. Nothing could be in worse taste, Mr Snapper thought, than to undo, immediately after the poor lady's death, work in the diocese which had been arranged and done by her. Mr Snapper expressed his opinion that Mr Thumble was bound to go out to Hogglestock; and, when Mr Thumble declared petulantly that he would not stir a step out of Barchester, Mr Snapper protested that Mr Thumble would have to answer for it in this world and in the next if there were no services at Hogglestock on that Sunday. On the Saturday evening Mr Thumble made a desperate attempt to see the bishop, but was told by Mrs Draper that the bishop had positively declined to see him. The bishop himself probably felt unwilling to interfere with his wife's doings so soon after her death! So Mr Thumble, with a heavy heart, went across to the "Dragon of Wantly", and ordered a gig, resolving that the bill should be sent in to the palace. He was not going to trust himself again on the bishop's cob!
Up to Saturday evening Mr Crawley did the work of the parish, and on the Saturday evening he made an address to his parishioners from his pulpit. He had given notice among the brickmakers and labourers that he wished to say a few words to them in the schoolroom; but the farmers also heard of this and came with their wives and daughters, and all the brickmakers came, and most of the labourers were there, so that there was no room for them in the schoolhouse. The congregation was much larger than was customary even in the church. "They will come," he said to his wife, "to hear a ruined man declare his own ruin, but they will not come to hear the word of God." When it was found that the persons assembled were too many for the school-room, the meeting was adjourned to the church, and Mr Crawley was forced to get into his pulpit. He said a short prayer, and then he began his story.
His story as he told it then shall not be repeated now, as the same story has been told too often already in these pages. Surely it was a singular story for a parish clergyman to tell himself in so solemn a manner. That he had applied the cheque to his own purposes, and was unable to account for the possession of it, was certain. He did not know when or how he had got it. Speaking to them then in God's house he told them that. He was to be tried by a jury, and all he could do was to tell the jury the same. He would not expect the jury to believe him. The jury would, of course, believe only that which was proved to them. But he did expect his old friends at Hogglestock, who had known him so long, to take his word as true. That there was no sufficient excuse for his conduct, even in his own sight, this, his voluntary resignation of his parish, was, he said, sufficient evidence. Then he explained to them, as clearly as he was able, what the bishop had done, what the commission had done, and what he had done himself. That he spoke no word of Mrs Proudie to that audience need hardly be mentioned here. "And now, dearest friends, I leave you," he said, with that weighty solemnity which was so peculiar to the man, and which he was able to make singularly impressive even on such a congregation as that of Hogglestock, "and I trust that the heavy but pleasing burden of the charge which I have had over you may fall into hands better fitted than mine have been for such work. I have always known my own unfitness, by reason of the worldly cares with which I have been laden. Poverty makes the spirit poor, and the hands weak, and the heart sore,—and too often makes the conscience dull. May the latter never be the case with any of you." Then he uttered another short prayer, and, stepping down from the pulpit, walked out of the church, with his weeping wife hanging on his arm, and his daughter following them, almost dissolved in tears. He never again entered that church as the pastor of the congregation.
There was an old lame man from Hoggle End leaning on his stick near the door as Mr Crawley went out, and with him was his old lame wife. "He'll pull through yet," said the old man to his wife; "you'll see else. He'll pull through because he's so dogged. It's dogged as does it."
On that night the position of the members of Mr Crawley's household seemed to have changed. There was something almost of elation in his mode of speaking, and he said soft loving words, striving to comfort his wife. She, on the other hand, could say nothing to comfort him. She had been averse to the step he was taking, but had been unable to press her objection in opposition to his great argument as to duty. Since he had spoken to her in that strain which he had used with Robarts, she also had felt that she must be silent. But she could not even feign to feel the pride which comes from the performance of a duty. "What will he do when he comes out?" she said to her daughter. The coming out spoken of by her was the coming out of prison. It was natural enough that she should feel no elation.
The breakfast on Sunday morning was to her, perhaps, the saddest scene of her life. They sat down, the three together, at the usual hour,—nine o'clock,—but the morning had not been passed as was customary on Sundays. It had been Mr Crawley's practice to go into the school from eight to nine; but on this Sunday he felt, as he told his wife, that his presence would be an intrusion there. But he requested Jane to go and perform her usual task. "If Mr Thumble should come," he said to her, "be submissive to him in all things." Then he stood at his door, watching to see at what hour Mr Thumble would reach the school. But Mr Thumble did not attend the school on that morning. "And yet he was very express to me in his desire that I would not myself meddle with the duties," said Mr Crawley to his wife as he stood at the door,—"unnecessarily urgent, as I must say I thought at the time." If Mrs Crawley could have spoken out her thoughts about Mr Thumble at that moment, her words would, I think, have surprised her husband.
At breakfast there was hardly a word spoken. Mr Crawley took his crust and eat it mournfully,—almost ostentatiously. Jane tried and failed, and tried to hide her failure, failing in that also. Mrs Crawley made no attempt. She sat behind her teapot, with her hands clasped and her eyes fixed. It was as though some last day had come upon her,—this, the first Sunday of her husband's degradation. "Mary," he said to her, "why do you not eat?"
"I cannot," she replied, speaking not in a whisper, but in words which would hardly get themselves articulated. "I cannot. Do not ask me."
"For the honour of the lord, you will want the strength which bread alone can give you," he said, intimating to her that he wished her to attend the service.
"Do not ask me to be there, Josiah. I cannot. It is too much for me."
"Nay, I will not press it," he said. "I can go alone." He uttered no word expressive of a wish that his daughter should attend the church; but when the moment came, Jane accompanied him. "What shall I do, mamma?" she said, "if I find I cannot bear it?" "Try to bear it," the mother said. "Try for his sake. You are stronger than I am."
The tinkle of the church bell was heard at the usual time, and Mr Crawley, hat in hand, stood ready to go forth. He had heard nothing of Mr Thumble, but had made up his mind that Mr Thumble would not trouble him. He had taken the precaution to request his churchwarden to be early at the church, so that Mr Thumble might encounter no difficulty. The church was very near to the house, and any vehicle arriving might have been seen had Mr Crawley watched closely. But no one had cared to watch Mr Thumble's arrival at the church. He did not doubt that Mr Thumble would be at the church. With reference to the school, he had had some doubt.
But just as he was about to start he heard the clatter of a gig. Up came Mr Thumble to the door of the parsonage, and having come down from his gig was about to enter the house as though it were his own. Mr Crawley greeted him in the pathway, raising his hat from his head, and expressing a wish that Mr Thumble might not feel himself fatigued with his drive. "I will not ask you into my poor house," he said, standing in the middle of the pathway; "for that my wife is ill."
"Nothing catching, I hope?" said Mr Thumble.
"Her malady is of the spirit rather than of the flesh," said Mr Crawley. "Shall we go on to the church?"
"Certainly,—by all means. How about the surplice?"
"You will find, I trust, that the churchwarden has everything in readiness. I have notified to him expressly your coming, with the purport that it may be so."
"You'll take a part in the service, I suppose?" said Mr Thumble.
"No part,—no part whatever," said Mr Crawley, standing still for a moment as he spoke, and showing plainly by the tone of his voice how dismayed he was, how indignant he had been made, by so indecent a proposition. Was he giving up his pulpit to a stranger for any reason less cogent than one which made it absolutely imperative on him to be silent in that church which had so long been his own?
"Just as you please," said Mr Thumble. "Only it's rather hard lines to have to do it all myself after coming all the way from Barchester this morning." To this Mr Crawley condescended to make no reply whatever.
In the porch of the church, which was the only entrance, Mr Crawley introduced Mr Thumble to the churchwarden, simply by a wave of the hand, and then passed on with his daughter to a seat which opened upon the aisle. Jane was going on to that which she had hitherto always occupied with her mother in the little chancel; but Mr Crawley would not allow this. Neither to him nor to any of his family was there attached any longer the privilege of using the chancel of the church of Hogglestock.
Mr Thumble scrambled into the reading-desk some ten minutes after the proper time, and went through the morning service under, what must be admitted to be, serious difficulties. There were the eyes of Mr Crawley fixed upon him throughout the work, and a feeling pervaded him that everybody there regarded him as an intruder. At first this was so strong upon him that Mr Crawley pitied him, and would have encouraged him had it been possible. But as the work progressed, and as custom and the sound of his own voice emboldened him, there came to the man some touches of the arrogance which so generally accompanies cowardice, and Mr Crawley's acute ear detected the moment when it was so. An observer might have seen that the motion of his hands was altered as they were lifted in prayer. Though he was praying, even in prayer he could not forget the man who was occupying the desk.
Then came the sermon, preached very often before, lasting exactly half-an-hour, and then Mr Thumble's work was done. Itinerant clergymen, who preach now here and now there, as it had been the lot of Mr Thumble to do, have at any rate this belief,—that they can preach their sermons often. From the communion-table Mr Thumble had stated that, in the present peculiar circumstances of the parish, there would be no second service at Hogglestock for the present; and this was all he said or did peculiar to the occasion. The moment the service was over he got into his gig, and was driven back to Barchester.
"Mamma," said Jane, as they sat at their dinner, "such a sermon I am sure was never heard in Hogglestock before. Indeed, you can hardly call it a sermon. It was downright nonsense."
"My dear," said Mr Crawley energetically, "keep your criticisms for matters that are profane; then, though they be childish and silly, they may at least be innocent. Be critical on Euripides, if you must be critical." But when Jane kissed her father after dinner, she, knowing his humour well, felt assured that her remarks had not been taken altogether in ill part.
Mr Thumble was neither seen nor heard of again in the parish during the entire week.
Mrs Arabin Is Caught
One morning about the middle of April Mr Toogood received a telegram from Venice which caused him instantly to leave his business in Bedford Row and take the first train for Silverbridge. "It seems to me that this job will be a deal of time and very little money," said his partner to him, when Toogood on the spur of the moment was making arrangements for his sudden departure and uncertain period of absence. "That's about it," said Toogood. "A deal of time, some expense, and no returns. It is not the kind of business a man can live upon, is it?" The partner growled, and Toogood went. But we must go with Mr Toogood down to Silverbridge, and as we cannot make the journey in this chapter, we will just indicate his departure and then go back to John Eames, who, as will be remembered, was just starting for Florence when we last saw him.
Our dear old friend Johnny had been rather proud of himself as he started from London. He had gotten an absolute victory over Sir Raffle Buffle, and that alone was gratifying to his feelings. He liked the excitement of a journey, and especially of a journey to Italy; and the importance of the cause of his journey was satisfactory to him. But above all things he was delighted at having found that Lily Dale was pleased at his going. He had seen clearly that she was much pleased, and that she made something of a hero of him because of his alacrity in the cause of his cousin. He had partially understood,—had understood in a dim sort of way,—that his want of favour in Lily's eyes had come from some deficiency of his own in this respect. She had not found him to be a hero. She had known him first as a boy, with boyish belongings around him, and she had seen him from time to time as he became a man, almost with too much intimacy for the creation of that love with which he wished to fill her heart. His rival had come before her eyes for the first time with all the glories of Pall Mall heroism about him, and Lily in her weakness had been conquered by them. Since that she had learned how weak she had been,—how silly, how childish, she would say to herself when she allowed her memory to go back to the details of her own story; but not the less on that account did she feel the want of something heroic in a man before she could teach herself to look upon him as more worthy of her regard than other men. She had still unconsciously hoped in regard to Crosbie, but now that hope had been dispelled as unconsciously, simply by his appearance. There had been moments in which John Eames had almost risen to the necessary point,—had almost made good his footing on the top of some moderate, but still sufficient mountain. But there had still been a succession of little tumbles,—unfortunate slips for which he himself should not always have been held responsible; and he had never quite stood upright on his pinnacle, visible to Lily's eyes as being really excelsior. Of all this John Eames himself had an inkling which had often made him very uncomfortable. What the mischief was it she wanted of him; and what was he to do? The days for plucking glory from the nettle danger were clean gone by. He was well dressed. He knew a good many of the right sort of people. He was not in debt. He had saved an old nobleman's life once upon a time, and had been a good deal talked about on that score. He had even thrashed the man who had ill-treated her. His constancy had been as the constancy of a Jacob! What was it that she wanted of him? But in a certain way he did know what was wanted; and now, as he started for Florence, intending to stop nowhere till he reached that city, he hoped that by this chivalrous journey he might even yet achieve the thing necessary.
But on reaching Paris he heard tidings of Mrs Arabin which induced him to change his plans and make for Venice instead of for Florence. A banker at Paris, to who whom he brought a letter, told him that Mrs Arabin would now be found at Venice. This did not perplex him at all. It would have been delightful to have seen Florence,—but was more delightful still to see Venice. His journey was the same as far as Turin; but from Turin he proceeded through Milan to Venice, instead of going by Bologna to Florence. He had fortunately come armed with an Austrian passport,—as was necessary in those bygone days of Venetia's thraldom. He was almost proud of himself, as though he had done something great, when he tumbled in to his inn at Venice, without having been in a bed since he left London.
But he was barely allowed to swim in a gondola, for on reaching Venice he found that Mrs Arabin had gone back to Florence. He had been directed to the hotel which Mrs Arabin had used, and was there told that she had started the day before. She had received some letter, from her husband as the landlord thought, and had done so. That was all the landlord knew. Johnny was vexed, but became a little prouder than before as he felt it to be his duty to go on to Florence before he went to bed. There would be another night in a railway carriage, but he would live through it. There was just time to have a tub and a breakfast, to swim in a gondola, to look at the outside of the Doge's palace, and to walk up and down the piazza before he started again. It was hard work, but I think he would have been pleased had he heard that Mrs Arabin had retreated from Florence to Rome. Had such been the case, he would have folded his cloak around him, and have gone on,—regardless of brigands,—thinking of Lily, and wondering whether anybody else had ever done so much before without going to bed. As it was, he found that Mrs Arabin was at the hotel in Florence,—still in bed, as he had arrived early in the morning. So he had another tub, another breakfast, and sent up his card. "Mr John Eames",—and across the top of it he wrote, "has come from England about Mr Crawley." Then he threw himself on a sofa in the hotel reading-room, and went fast to sleep.
John had found an opportunity of talking to a young lady in the breakfast-room, and had told her of his deeds. "I only left London on Tuesday night, and I have come here taking Venice on the road."
"Then you have travelled fast," said the young lady.
"I haven't seen a bed, of course," said John.
The young lady immediately afterwards told her father. "I suppose he must be one of those Foreign Office messengers," said the young lady.
"Anything but that," said the gentleman. "People never talk about their own trades. He's probably a clerk with a fortnight's leave of absence, seeing how many towns he can do in the time. It's the usual way of travelling nowadays. When I was young and there were no railways, I remember going from Paris to Vienna without sleeping." Luckily for his present happiness, John did not hear this.
He was still fast asleep when a servant came to him from Mrs Arabin to say that she would see him at once. "Yes, yes; I'm quite ready to go on," said Johnny, jumping up, and thinking of the journey to Rome. But there was no journey to Rome before him. Mrs Arabin was almost in the next room, and there he found her.
The reader will understand that they had never met before, and hitherto knew nothing of each other. Mrs Arabin had never heard the name of John Eames till John's card was put into her hands, and would not have known his business with her had he not written those few words upon it. "You have come about Mr Crawley?" she said to him eagerly. "I have heard from my father that somebody was coming."
"Yes, Mrs Arabin; as hard as I could travel. I had expected to find you at Venice."
"Have you been at Venice?"
"I have just arrived from Venice. They told me at Paris I should find you there. However, that does not matter, as I have found you here. I wonder whether you can help us?"
"Do you know Mr Crawley? Are you a friend of his?"
"I never saw him in my life; but he married my cousin."
"I gave him the cheque, you know," said Mrs Arabin.
"What!" exclaimed Eames, literally almost knocked backwards by the easiness of the words which contained a solution for so terrible a difficulty. The Crawley case had assumed such magnitude, and the troubles of the Crawley family had been so terrible, that it seemed to him to be almost sacrilegious that words so simply uttered should suffice to cure everything. He had hardly hoped,—had at least barely hoped,—that Mrs Arabin might be able to suggest something which would put them all on a track towards discovery of the truth. But he found that she had the clue in her hand, and that the clue was one which required no further delicacy of investigation. There would be nothing more to unravel; no journey to Jerusalem would be necessary!
"Yes," said Mrs Arabin, "I gave it to him. They have been writing to my husband about it, and never wrote to me; and till I received a letter about it from my father, and another from my sister, at Venice the day before yesterday, I knew nothing of the particulars of Mr Crawley's trouble."
"Had you not heard that he had been taken before the magistrates?"
"No; not so much even as that. I had seen in Galignani something about a clergyman, but I did not know what clergyman; and I heard that there was something wrong about Mr Crawley's money, but there has always been something wrong about money with poor Mr Crawley; and as I knew that my husband had been written to also, I did not interfere, further than to ask the particulars. My letters have followed me about, and I only learned at Venice, just before I came here, what was the nature of the case."
"And did you do anything?"
"I telegraphed at once to Mr Toogood, who I understand is acting as Mr Crawley's solicitor. My sister sent me his address."
"He is my uncle."
"I telegraphed to him, telling him that I had given Mr Crawley the cheque, and then I wrote to Archdeacon Grantly giving him the whole history. I was obliged to come here before I could return home, but I intended to start this evening."
"And what is the whole history?" asked John Eames.
The history of the gift of the cheque was very simple. It has been told how Mr Crawley in his dire distress had called upon his old friend at the deanery asking for pecuniary assistance. This he had done with so much reluctance that his spirit had given way while he was waiting in the dean's library, and he had wished to depart without accepting what the dean was quite willing to bestow upon him. From this cause it had come to pass there had been no time for explanatory words, even between the dean and his wife,—from whose private funds had in truth come the money which had been given to Mr Crawley. For the private wealth of the family belonged to Mrs Arabin, and not to the dean; and was left entirely in Mrs Arabin's hands, to be disposed of as she might please. Previously to Mr Crawley's arrival at the deanery this matter had been discussed between the dean and his wife, and it had been agreed between them that a sum of fifty pounds should be given. It should be given by Mrs Arabin, but it was thought that the gift would come with more comfort to the recipient from the hands of his old friend than from those of his wife. There had been much discussion between them as to the mode in which this might be done with least offence to the man's feelings,—for they knew Mr Crawley and his peculiarities well. At last it was agreed that the notes should be put into an envelope, which envelope the dean should have ready with him. But when the moment came the dean did not have the envelope ready, and was obliged to leave the room to seek his wife. And Mrs Arabin explained to John Eames that even she had not had it ready, and had been forced to go to her own desk to fetch it. Then, at the last moment, with the desire of increasing the good to be done to people who were so terribly in want, she put the cheque for twenty pounds, which was in her possession as money of her own, along with the notes, and in this way the cheque had been given by the dean to Mr Crawley. "I shall never forgive myself for not telling the dean," she said. "Had I done that all this trouble would have been saved."
"But where did you get the cheque?" Eames asked with natural curiosity.
"Exactly," said Mrs Arabin. "I have got to show now that I did not steal it,—have I not? Mr Soames will indict me now. And, indeed, I have had some trouble to refresh my memory as to all the particulars, for you see it is more than a year past." But Mrs Arabin's mind was clearer on such matters than Mr Crawley's, and she was able to explain that she had taken the cheque as part of the rent due to her from the landlord of "The Dragon of Wantly", which inn was her property, having been the property of her first husband. For some years past there had been a difficulty about the rent, things not having gone at "The Dragon of Wantly" as smoothly as they had used to go. At once time the money had been paid half-yearly by the landlord's cheque on the bank of Barchester. For the last year-and-a-half this had not been done, and the money had come into Mrs Arabin's hands at irregular periods and in irregular sums. There was at this moment rent due for twelve months, and Mrs Arabin expressed her doubt whether she would get it on her return to Barchester. On the occasion to which she was now alluding, the money had been paid into her own hands, in the deanery breakfast-parlour, by a man she knew very well,—not the landlord himself, but one bearing the landlord's name, whom she believed to the landlord's brother, or at least his cousin. The man in question was named Daniel Stringer, and he had been employed in "The Dragon of Wantly", as a sort of clerk or managing man, as long as she had known it. The rent had been paid to her by Daniel Stringer quite as often as by Daniel's brother or cousin, John Stringer, who was, in truth, the landlord of the hotel. When questioned by John respecting the persons employed at the inn, she said that she did believe that there had been rumours of something wrong. The house had been in the hands of the Stringers for many years,—before the property had been purchased by her husband's father,—and therefore there had been an unwillingness to remove them; but gradually, so she said, there had come upon her and her husband a feeling that the house must be put into other hands. "But did you say nothing about the check?" John asked. "Yes, I said a good deal about it. I asked why a cheque of Mr Soames's was brought to me, instead of being taken to the bank for money; and Stringer explained to me that they were not very fond of going to the bank, as they owed money there, but that I could pay it into my account. Only I kept my account at the other bank."
"You might have paid it in there?" said Johnny.
"I suppose I might, but I didn't. I gave it to poor Mr Crawley instead,—like a fool, as I know now that I was. And so I have brought all this trouble on him and on her; and now I must rush home, without waiting for the dean, as fast as the trains will carry me."
Eames offered to accompany her, and this offer was accepted. "It is hard upon you, though," she said; "you will see nothing of Florence. Three hours in Venice, and six in Florence, and no hours at all anywhere else, will be a hard fate to you on your first trip to Italy." But Johnny said "Excelsior" to himself once more, and thought of Lily Dale, who was still in London, hoping that she might hear of his exertions; and he felt, perhaps, also that it would be pleasant to return with a dean's wife, and never hesitated. Nor would it do, he thought, for him to be absent in the excitement caused by the news of Mr Crawley's innocence and injuries. "I don't care a bit about that," he said. "Of course, I should like to see Florence, and, of course, I should like to go to bed; but I will live in hopes that I may do both some day." And so there grew to be a friendship between him and Mrs Arabin even before they had started.
He had driven through Florence; he saw the Venus de' Medici, and he saw the Seggiolia; he looked up from the side of the Duomo to the top of the Campanile, and he walked round the back of the cathedral itself; he tried to inspect the doors of the Baptistry, and declared that the "David" was very fine. Then he went back to the hotel, dined with Mrs Arabin, and started for England.
The dean was to have joined his wife at Venice, and then they were to have returned together, coming round by Florence. Mrs Arabin had not, therefore, taken her things away from Florence when she left it, and had been obliged to return to pick them up on her journey homewards. He,—the dean,—had been delayed in his Eastern travels. Neither Syria or Constantinople had got themselves done as quickly as he had expected, and he had, consequently, twice written to his wife, begging her to pardon the transgression of his absence for even yet a few days longer. "Everything, therefore," as Mrs Arabin said, "has conspired to perpetuate this mystery, which a word from me would have solved. I owe more to Mr Crawley than I can ever pay him."