"I can never bring myself to believe it, John," said Mary Walker, the pretty daughter of Mr George Walker, attorney of Silverbridge. Walker and Winthrop was the name of the firm, and they were respectable people, who did all the solicitors' business that had to be done in that part of Barsetshire on behalf of the Crown, were employed on the local business of the Duke of Omnium, who is great in those parts, and altogether held their heads up high, as provincial lawyers often do. They—the Walkers—lived in a great brick house in the middle of the town, gave dinners, to which the county gentlemen not unfrequently condescended to come, and in a mild way led the fashion in Silverbridge. "I can never bring myself to believe it, John," said Miss Walker.
"You'll have to bring yourself to believe it," said John, without taking his eyes from his book.
"A clergyman,—and such a clergyman too!"
"I don't see that that has anything to do with it." And as he now spoke, John did take his eyes off his book. "Why should not a clergyman turn thief as well as anybody else? You girls always seem to forget that clergymen are only men after all."
"Their conduct is likely to be better than that of other men, I think."
"I deny it utterly," said John Walker. "I'll undertake to say that at this moment there are more clergymen in debt in Barsetshire than there are either lawyers or doctors. This man has always been in debt. Since he has been in the county I don't think he has ever been able to show his face in the High Street of Silverbridge."
"John, that is saying more than you have a right to say," said Mrs Walker.
"Why, mother, this very cheque was given to a butcher who had threatened a few days before to post bills all about the county, giving an account of the debt that was due to him, if the money was not paid at once."
"More shame for Mr Fletcher," said Mary. "He has made a fortune as butcher in Silverbridge."
"What has that to do with it? Of course a man likes to have his money. He had written three times to the bishop, and he had sent a man over to Hogglestock to get his little bill settled six days running. You see he got it at last. Of course, a tradesman must look for his money."
"Mamma, do you think that Mr Crawley stole the cheque?" Mary, as she asked the question, came and stood over her mother, looking at her with anxious eyes.
"I would rather give no opinion, dear."
"But you must think something when everybody is talking about it, mamma."
"Of course my mother thinks he did," said John, going back to his book. "It is impossible that she should think otherwise."
"That is not fair, John," said Mrs Walker; "and I won't have you fabricate thoughts for me, or put the expression of them into my mouth. The whole affair is very painful, and as your father is engaged in the inquiry, I think that the less said about the matter in this house the better. I am sure that that would be your father's feeling."
"Of course I should say nothing about it before him," said Mary. "I know that papa does not wish to have it talked about. But how is one to help thinking about such a thing? It would be so terrible for all of us who belong to the Church."
"I do not see that at all," said John. "Mr Crawley is not more than any other man just because he's a clergyman. I hate all that kind of clap-trap. There are a lot of people here in Silverbridge who think the matter shouldn't be followed up, just because the man is in a position which makes the crime more criminal in him than it would be in another."
"But I feel sure that Mr Crawley has committed no crime at all," said Mary.
"My dear," said Mrs Walker, "I have just said that I would rather you would not talk about it. Papa will be in directly."
"I won't, mamma;—only—"
"Only! yes; just only!" said John. "She'd go on till dinner if any one would stay to hear her."
"You've said twice as much as I have, John." But John had left the room before his sister's words could reach him.
"You know, mamma, it is quite impossible not to help thinking of it," said Mary.
"I dare say it is, my dear."
"And when one knows the people it does make it so dreadful."
"But do you know them? I never spoke to Mr Crawley in my life, and I do not think I ever saw her."
"I knew Grace very well,—when she used to come first to Miss Prettyman's school."
"Poor girl. I pity her."
"Pity her! Pity is no word for it, mamma. My heart bleeds for them. And yet I do not believe for a moment that he stole the cheque. How can it be possible? For though he may have been in debt because they have been so very, very, poor; yet we all know that he has been an excellent clergyman. When the Robartses were dining here last, I heard Mrs Robarts say that for piety and devotion to his duties she had hardly ever seen any one equal to him. And the Robartses know more of them than anybody."
"They say that the dean is his great friend."
"What a pity it is that the Arabins should be away just now when he is in such trouble." And in this way the mother and daughter went on discussing the question of the clergyman's guilt in spite of Mrs Walker's previously expressed desire that nothing more might be said about it. But Mrs Walker, like many other mothers, was apt to be more free in converse with her daughter than she was with her son. While they were thus talking the father came in from his office, and then the subject was dropped. He was a man between fifty and sixty years of age, with grey hair, rather short, and somewhat corpulent, but still gifted with that amount of personal comeliness which comfortable position and the respect of others will generally seem to give. A man rarely carries himself meanly, whom the world holds high in esteem.
"I am very tired, my dear," said Mr Walker.
"You look tired. Come and sit down for a few minutes before you dress. Mary, get your father's slippers." Mary instantly ran to the door.
"Thanks, my darling," said the father. And then he whispered to his wife, as soon as Mary was out of hearing, "I fear the unfortunate man is guilty. I fear he is! I fear he is!"
"Oh, heavens! what will become of them?"
"What indeed? She has been with me to-day."
"Has she? And what could you say to her?"
"I told her at first that I could not see her, and begged her not to speak to me about it. I tried to make her understand that she should go to some one else. But it was of no use."
"And how did it end?"
"I asked her to go in to you, but she declined. She said you could do nothing for her."
"And does she think her husband guilty?"
"No, indeed. She think him guilty! Nothing on earth,—or from heaven either, as I take it, would make her suppose it to be possible. She came to me simply to tell me how good he was."
"I love her for that," said Mrs Walker.
"So did I. But what is the good of loving her? Thank you, dearest. I'll get your slippers for you some day, perhaps."
The whole county was astir in this matter of this alleged guilt of the Reverend Josiah Crawley,—the whole county, almost as keenly as the family of Mr Walker, of Silverbridge. The crime laid to his charge was the theft of a cheque for twenty pounds, which he was said to have stolen out of a pocket-book left or dropped in his house, and to have passed as money into the hands of one Fletcher, a butcher of Silverbridge, to whom he was indebted. Mr Crawley was in those days the perpetual curate of Hogglestock, a parish in the northern extremity of East Barsetshire; a man known by all who knew anything of him to be very poor,—an unhappy, moody, disappointed man, upon whom the troubles of the world always seemed to come with a double weight. But he had ever been respected as a clergyman, since his old friend Mr Arabin, the dean of Barchester, had given him the small incumbency which he now held. Though moody, unhappy, and disappointed, he was a hard-working, conscientious pastor among the poor people with whom his lot was cast; for in the parish of Hogglestock there resided only a few farmers higher in degree than field labourers, brickmakers, and such like. Mr Crawley had now passed some ten years of his life at Hogglestock; and during those years he had worked very hard to do his duty, struggling to teach the people around him perhaps too much of the mystery, but something also of the comfort, of religion. That he had became popular in his parish cannot be said of him. He was not a man to make himself popular in any position. I have said that he was moody and disappointed. He was even worse than this; he was morose, sometimes almost to insanity. There had been days in which even his wife had found it impossible to deal with him otherwise than as with an acknowledged lunatic. And this was known among the farmers, who talked about their clergyman among themselves as though he were a madman. But among the very poor, among the brickmakers of Hoggle End,—a lawless, drunken, terribly rough lot of humanity,—he was held in high respect; for they knew that he lived hardly, as they lived; that he worked hard, as they worked; and that the outside world was hard to him, as it was to them; and there had been an apparent sincerity of godliness about the man, and a manifest struggle to do his duty in spite of the world's ill-usage, which had won its way even with the rough; so that Mr Crawley's name had stood high with many in his parish, in spite of the unfortunate peculiarity of his disposition. This was the man who was now accused of stealing a cheque for twenty pounds.
But before the circumstances of the alleged theft are stated, a word or two must be said as to Mr Crawley's family. It is declared that a good wife is a crown to her husband, but Mrs Crawley had been much more than a crown to him. As had regarded all the inner life of the man,—all that portion of his life which had not been passed in the pulpit or in pastoral teaching,—she had been crown, throne, and sceptre all in one. That she had endured with him and on his behalf the miseries of poverty, and the troubles of a life which had known no smiles, is perhaps not to be alleged as much to her honour. She had joined herself to him for better or worse, and it was her manifest duty to bear such things; wives always have to bear them, knowing when they marry that they must take their chance. Mr Crawley might have been a bishop, and Mrs Crawley, when she married him, perhaps thought it probable that such would be his fortune. Instead of that he was now, just as he was approaching his fiftieth year, a perpetual curate, with an income of one hundred and thirty pounds per annum,—and a family. That had been Mrs Crawley's luck in life, and of course she bore it. But she had also done much more than this. She had striven hard to be contented, or, rather, to appear to be contented, when he had been most wretched and most moody. She had struggled to conceal from him her own conviction as to his half-insanity, treating him at the same time with the respect due to an honoured father of a family, and with the careful measured indulgence fit for a sick and wayward child. In all the terrible troubles of their life her courage had been higher than his. The metal of which she was made had been tempered to a steel which was very rare and fine, but the rareness and fineness of which he had failed to appreciate. He had often told her that she was without pride, because she was stooped to receive from others on his behalf and on behalf of their children, things which were needful, but which she could not buy. He had told her that she was a beggar, and that it was better to starve than to beg. She had borne the rebuke without a word in reply, and had then begged again for him, and had endured the starvation herself. Nothing in their poverty had, for years past, been a shame to her; but every accident of their poverty was still, and ever had been, a living disgrace to him.
They had had many children, and three were still alive. Of the eldest, Grace Crawley, we shall hear much in the coming story. She was at this time nineteen years old, and there were those who said that, in spite of her poverty, her shabby outward apparel, and a certain thin, unfledged, unrounded form of person, a want of fulness in the lines of her figure, she was the prettiest girl in that part of the world. She was living now at a school in Silverbridge, where for the last year she had been a teacher; and there were many in Silverbridge who declared that very bright prospects were opening to her,—that young Major Grantly of Cosby Lodge, who, though a widower with a young child, was the cynosure of all female eyes in and around Silverbridge, had found beauty in her thin face, and that Grace Crawley's fortune was made in the teeth, as it were, of the prevailing ill-fortune of her family. Bob Crawley, who was two years younger, was now at Marlbro' School, from whence it was intended that he should proceed to Cambridge, and be educated there at the expense of his godfather, Dean Arabin. In this also the world saw a stroke of good luck. But then nothing was lucky to Mr Crawley. Bob, indeed, who had done well at school, might do well at Cambridge,—might achieve great things there. But Mr Crawley would almost have preferred that the boy should work in the fields, than that he should be educated in a manner so manifestly eleemosynary. And then his clothes! How was he to be provided with clothes fit either for school or for college? But the dean and Mrs Crawley between them managed this, leaving Mr Crawley very much in the dark, as Mrs Crawley was in the habit of leaving him. Then there was a younger daughter, Jane, still at home, who passed her life between her mother's work-table and her father's Greek, mending linen, and learning to scan iambics,—for Mr Crawley in his early days had been a ripe scholar.
And now there had come upon them all this terribly-crushing disaster. That poor Mr Crawley had gradually got himself into a mess of debt at Silverbridge, from which he was quite unable to extricate himself, was generally known by all the world both of Silverbridge and Hogglestock. To a great many it was known that Dean Arabin had paid money for him, very much contrary to his own consent, and that he had quarrelled, or attempted to quarrel, with the dean in consequence,—had so attempted, although the money had in part passed through his own hands. There had been one creditor, Fletcher, the butcher of Silverbridge, who had of late been specially hard upon poor Crawley. This man, who had not been without good nature in his dealings, had heard stories of the dean's good-will and such like, and had loudly expressed his opinion that the perpetual curate of Hogglestock would show a higher pride in allowing himself to be indebted to a rich brother clergyman, than in remaining under thrall to a butcher. And thus a rumour had grown up. And then the butcher had written repeated letters to the bishop,—to Bishop Proudie of Barchester, who had at first caused his chaplain to answer them, and had told Mr Crawley somewhat roundly what was his opinion of a clergyman who eat meat and did not pay for it. But nothing that the bishop could say or do enabled Mr Crawley to pay the butcher. It was very grievous to such a man as Mr Crawley to receive these letters from such a man as Bishop Proudie; but the letters came, and made festering wounds, but then there was an end of them. And at last there had come forth from the butcher's shop a threat that if the money were not paid by a certain date, printed bills should be posted about the county. All who heard of this in Silverbridge were very angry with Mr Fletcher, for no one there had ever known a tradesman to take such a step before; but Fletcher swore that he would persevere, and defended himself by showing that six or seven months since, in the spring of the year, Mr Crawley had been paying money in Silverbridge, but had paid none to him,—to him who had been not only his earliest, but his most enduring creditor. "He got money from the dean in March," said Mr Fletcher to Mr Walker, "and he paid twelve pounds ten to Green, and seventeen pounds to Grobury, the baker." It was that seventeen pounds to Grobury, the baker, for flour, which made the butcher so fixedly determined to smite the poor clergyman hip and thigh. "And he paid money to Hall and to Mrs Holt, and to a deal more; but he never came near my shop. If he had even shown himself, I would not have said so much about it." And then a day before the date named, Mrs Crawley had come into Silverbridge, and had paid the butcher twenty pounds in four five-pound notes. So far Fletcher the butcher had been successful.
Some six weeks after this, inquiry began to be made as to a certain cheque for twenty pounds drawn by Lord Lufton on his bankers in London, which cheque had been lost in the early spring by Mr Soames, Lord Lufton's man of business in Barsetshire, together with a pocket-book in which it had been folded. This pocket-book Soames had believed himself to have left at Mr Crawley's house, and had gone so far, even at the time of the loss, as to express his absolute conviction that he had so left it. He was in the habit of paying a rentcharge to Mr Crawley on behalf of Lord Lufton, amounting to twenty pound four shillings, every half-year. Lord Lufton held the large tithes of Hogglestock, and paid annually a sum of forty pounds eight shillings to the incumbent. This amount was, as a rule, remitted punctually by Mr Soames through the post. On the occasion now spoken of, he had had some reason to visit Hogglestock, and had paid the money personally to Mr Crawley. Of so much there was no doubt. But he had paid it by a cheque drawn by himself on his own bankers at Barchester, and that cheque had been cashed in the ordinary way on the next morning. On returning to his own house in Barchester he had missed his pocket-book, and had written to Mr Crawley to make inquiry. There had been no money in it, beyond the cheque drawn by Lord Lufton for twenty pounds. Mr Crawley had answered this letter by another, saying that no pocket-book had been found in his house. All this had happened in March.
In October, Mrs Crawley paid twenty pounds to Fletcher, the butcher, and in November Lord Lufton's cheque was traced back through the Barchester bank to Mr Crawley's hands. A brickmaker of Hoggle End, much favoured by Mr Crawley, had asked for change over the counter of this Barchester bank,—not, as will be understood, the bank on which the cheque was drawn—and had received it. The accommodation had been refused to the man at first, but when he presented the cheque the second day, bearing Mr Crawley's name on the back of it, together with a note from Mr Crawley himself, the money had been given for it; and the identical notes so paid had been given to Fletcher, the butcher, on the next day by Mrs Crawley. When inquiry was made, Mr Crawley stated that the cheque had been paid to him by Mr Soames, on behalf of the rentcharge due to him by Lord Lufton. But the error of this statement was at once made manifest. There was the cheque, signed by Mr Soames himself, for the exact amount,—twenty pounds four shillings. As he himself declared, he had never in his life paid money on behalf of Lord Lufton by a cheque drawn by his lordship. The cheque given by Lord Lufton, and which had been lost, had been a private matter between them. His lordship had simply wanted change in his pocket, and his agent had given it to him. Mr Crawley was speedily shown to be altogether wrong in the statement made to account for possession of the cheque.
Then he became very moody and would say nothing further. But his wife, who had known nothing of his first statement when made, came forward and declared that she believed the cheque for twenty pounds to be part of a present given by Dean Arabin to her husband in April last. There had been, she said, great heartburnings about this gift, and she had hardly dared to speak to her husband on the subject. An execution had been threatened in the house by Grobury, the baker, of which the dean had heard. Then there had been some scenes at the deanery between her husband and the dean and Mrs Arabin, as to which she had subsequently heard much from Mrs Arabin. Mrs Arabin had told her that money had been given,—and at last taken. Indeed, so much had been very apparent, as bills had been paid to the amount of at least fifty pounds. When the threat made by the butcher had reached her husband's ears, the effect upon him had been very grievous. All this was the story told by Mrs Crawley to Mr Walker, the lawyer, when he was pushing his inquiries. She, poor woman, at any rate told all that she knew. Her husband had told her one morning, when the butcher's threat was weighing heavily on his mind, speaking to her in such a humour that she found it impossible to cross-question him, that he had still money left, though it was money which he had hoped that he would not be driven to use; and he had given her the four five-pound notes and had told her to go to Silverbridge and satisfy the man who was so eager for his money. She had done so, and had felt no doubt that the money so forthcoming had been given by the dean. That was the story told by Mrs Crawley.
But how could she explain her husband's statement as to the cheque, which had been shown to be altogether false? All this passed between Mr Walker and Mrs Crawley, and the lawyer was very gentle with her. In the first stages of the inquiry he had simply desired to learn the truth, and place the clergyman above suspicion. Latterly, being bound as he was to follow the matter up officially, he would not have seen Mrs Crawley had he been able to escape that lady's importunity. "Mr Walker," she had said, at last, "you do not know my husband. No one knows him but I. It is hard to have to tell you of all our troubles." "If I can lessen them, trust me that I will do so," said the lawyer. "No one, I think, can lessen them in this world," said the lady. "The truth is, sir, that my husband often knows not what he says. When he declared that the money had been paid to him by Mr Soames, most certainly he thought so. There are times when in his misery he knows not what he says,—when he forgets everything."
Up to this period, Mr Walker had not suspected Mr Crawley of anything dishonest, nor did he suspect him as yet. The poor man had probably received the money from the dean, and had told the lie about it, not choosing to own that he had taken money from his rich friend, and thinking that there would be no further inquiry. He had been very foolish, and that would be the end of it. Mr Soames was by no means so good-natured in his belief. "How should my pocket-book have got into Dean Arabin's hands?" said Mr Soames, almost triumphantly. "And then I felt sure at the time that I had left it at Crawley's house!"
Mr Walker wrote a letter to the dean, who at that moment was in Florence, on his way to Rome, from whence he was going on to the Holy Land. There came back a letter from Mr Arabin, saying that on the 17th of March he had given to Mr Crawley a sum of fifty pounds, and that the payment had been made with five Bank of England notes of ten pounds each, which had been handed by him to his friend in the library at the deanery. The letter was very short, and may, perhaps, be described as having been almost curt. Mr Walker, in his anxiety to do the best he could for Mr Crawley, had simply asked a question as to the nature of the transaction between the two gentlemen, saying that no doubt the dean's answer would clear up a little mystery which existed at present respecting a cheque for twenty pounds. The dean in answer simply stated the fact as it has been given above; but he wrote to Mr Crawley begging to know what was in truth this new difficulty, and offering any assistance in his power. He explained all the circumstances of the money, as he remembered them. The sum advanced had certainly consisted of fifty pounds, and there had certainly been five Bank of England notes. He had put the notes into an envelope, which he had not closed, but had addressed to Mr Crawley, and had placed this envelope in his friend's hands. He went on to say that Mrs Arabin would have written, but that she was in Paris with her son. Mrs Arabin was to remain in Paris during his absence in the Holy Land, and meet him in Italy on his return. As she was so much nearer at hand, the dean expressed a hope that Mrs Crawley would apply to her if there was any trouble.
The letter to Mr Walker was conclusive as to the dean's money. Mr Crawley had not received Lord Lufton's cheque from the dean. Then whence had he received it? The poor wife was left by the lawyer to obtain further information from her husband. Ah, who can tell how terrible were the scenes between that poor pair of wretches, as the wife endeavoured to learn the truth from her miserable, half-maddened husband! That her husband had been honest throughout, she had not any shadow of doubt. She did not doubt that to her at least he endeavoured to tell the truth, as far as his poor racked imperfect memory would allow him to remember what was true and what was not true. The upshot of it all was that the husband declared that he still believed that the money had come to him from the dean. He had kept it by him, not wishing to use it if he could help it. He had forgotten it,—so he said at times,—having understood from Arabin that he was to have fifty pounds, and having received more. If it had not come to him from the dean, then it had been sent to him by the Prince of Evil for his utter undoing; and there were times in which he seemed to think that such had been the manner in which the fatal cheque had reached him. In all that he said he was terribly confused, contradictory, unintelligible,—speaking almost as a madman might speak,—ending always in declaring that the cruelty of the world had been too much for him, that the waters were meeting over his head, and praying to God's mercy to remove him from the world. It need hardly be said that his poor wife in these days had a burden on her shoulders that was more than enough to crush any woman.
She at last acknowledged to Mr Walker that she could not account for the twenty pounds. She herself would write again to the dean about it, but she hardly hoped for any further assistance there. "The dean's answer is very plain," said Mr Walker. "He says that he gave Mr Crawley five ten-pound notes, and those five notes we have traced to Mr Crawley's hands." Then Mrs Crawley could say nothing further beyond making protestations of her husband's innocence.