The Last Chronicle of Barset CHAPTER VI.


It has already been said that Grace Crawley was at this time living with the two Miss Prettymans, who kept a girls’ school at Silverbridge. Two more benignant ladies than the Miss Prettymans never presided over such an establishment. The younger was fat, and fresh, and fair, and seemed to be always running over with the milk of human kindness. The other was very thin and very small, and somewhat afflicted with bad health;—was weak, too, in the eyes, and subject to racking headaches, so that it was considered generally that she was unable to take much active part in the education of the pupils. But it was considered as generally that she did all the thinking, that she knew more than any other woman in Barsetshire, and that all the Prettyman schemes for education emanated from her mind. It was said, too, by those who knew them best, that her sister’s good-nature was as nothing to hers; that she was the most charitable, the most loving, and the most conscientious of schoolmistresses. This was Miss Annabella Prettyman, the elder; and perhaps it may be inferred that some portion of her great character for virtue may have been due to the fact that nobody ever saw her out of her own house. She could not even go to church, because the open air brought on neuralgia. She was therefore perhaps taken to be magnificent, partly because she was unknown. Miss Anne Prettyman, the younger, went about frequently to tea-parties,—would go, indeed, to any party to which she might be invited; and was known to have a pleasant taste for pound-cake and sweet-meats. Being seen so much in the outer world, she became common, and her character did not stand so high as did that of her sister. Some people were ill-natured enough to say that she wanted to marry Mr. Winthrop; but of what maiden lady that goes out into the world are not such stories told? And all such stories in Silverbridge were told with special reference to Mr. Winthrop.

Miss Crawley, at present, lived with the Miss Prettymans, and assisted them in the school. This arrangement had been going on for the last twelve months, since the time in which Grace would have left the school in the natural course of things. There had been no bargain made, and no intention that Grace should stay. She had been invited to fill the place of an absent superintendent, first for one month, then for another, and then for two more months; and when the assistant came back, the Miss Prettymans thought there were reasons why Grace should be asked to remain a little longer. But they took great care to let the fashionable world of Silverbridge know that Grace Crawley was a visitor with them, and not a teacher. “We pay her no salary, or anything of that kind,” said Miss Anne Prettyman; a statement, however, which was by no means true, for during those four months the regular stipend had been paid to her; and twice since then, Miss Annabella Prettyman, who managed all the money matters, had called Grace into her little room, and had made a little speech, and had put a little bit of paper into her hand. “I know I ought not to take it,” Grace had said to her friend Anne. “If I was not here, there would be no one in my place.” “Nonsense, my dear,” Anne Prettyman had said; “it is the greatest comfort to us in the world. And you should make yourself nice, you know, for his sake. All the gentlemen like it.” Then Grace had been very angry, and had sworn that she would give the money back again. Nevertheless, I think she did make herself as nice as she knew how to do. And from all this it may be seen that the Miss Prettymans had hitherto quite approved of Major Grantly’s attentions.

But when this terrible affair came on about the cheque which had been lost and found and traced to Mr. Crawley’s hands, Miss Anne Prettyman said nothing further to Grace Crawley about Major Grantly. It was not that she thought that Mr. Crawley was guilty, but she knew enough of the world to be aware that suspicion of such guilt might compel such a man as Major Grantly to change his mind. “If he had only popped,” Anne said to her sister, “it would have been all right. He would never have gone back from his word.” “My dear,” said Annabella, “I wish you would not talk about popping. It is a terrible word.” “I shouldn’t, to any one except you,” said Anne.

There had come to Silverbridge some few months since, on a visit to Mrs. Walker, a young lady from Allington, in the neighbouring county, between whom and Grace Crawley there had grown up from circumstances a warm friendship. Grace had a cousin in London,—a clerk high up and well-to-do in a public office, a nephew of her mother’s,—and this cousin was, and for years had been, violently smitten in love for this young lady. But the young lady’s tale had been sad, and though she acknowledged feelings of most affectionate friendship for the cousin, she could not bring herself to acknowledge more. Grace Crawley had met the young lady at Silverbridge, and words had been spoken about the cousin; and though the young lady from Allington was some years older than Grace, there had grown up to be a friendship, and, as is not uncommon between young ladies, there had been an agreement that they would correspond. The name of the lady was Miss Lily Dale, and the name of the well-to-do cousin in London was Mr. John Eames.

At the present moment Miss Dale was at home with her mother at Allington, and Grace Crawley in her terrible sorrow wrote to her friend, pouring out her whole heart. As Grace’s letter and Miss Dale’s answer will assist us in our story, I will venture to give them both.

Silverbridge, –– December, 186––.

Dearest Lily,

I hardly know how to tell you what has happened, it is so very terrible. But perhaps you will have heard it already, as everybody is talking of it here. It has got into the newspapers, and therefore it cannot be kept secret. Not that I should keep anything from you; only this is so very dreadful that I hardly know how to write it. Somebody says,—a Mr. Soames, I believe it is,—that papa has taken some money that does not belong to him, and he is to be brought before the magistrates and tried. Of course papa has done nothing wrong. I do think he would be the last man in the world to take a penny that did not belong to him. You know how poor he is; what a life he has had! But I think he would almost sooner see mamma starving;—I am sure he would rather be starved himself, than even borrow a shilling which he could not pay. To suppose that he would take money [she had tried to write the word “steal” but she could not bring her pen to form the letters] is monstrous. But, somehow, the circumstances have been made to look bad against him, and they say that he must come over here to the magistrates. I often think that of all men in the world papa is the most unfortunate. Everything seems to go against him, and yet he is so good! Poor mamma has been over here, and she is distracted. I never saw her so wretched before. She had been to your friend, Mr. Walker, and came to me afterwards for a minute. Mr. Walker has got something to do with it, though mamma says she thinks he is quite friendly to papa. I wonder whether you could find out, through Mr. Walker, what he thinks about it. Of course, mamma knows that papa has done nothing wrong; but she says that the whole thing is most mysterious, and that she does not know how to account for the money. Papa, you know, is not like other people. He forgets things; and is always thinking, thinking, thinking of his great misfortunes. Poor papa! My heart bleeds so when I remember all his sorrows, that I hate myself for thinking about myself.

When mamma left me,—and it was then I first knew that papa would really have to be tried,—I went to Miss Annabella, and told her that I would go home. She asked me why, and I said I would not disgrace her house by staying in it. She got up and took me in her arms, and there came a tear out of both her dear old eyes, and she said that if anything evil came to papa,—which she would not believe, as she knew him to be a good man,—there should be a home in her house not only for me, but for mamma and Jane. Isn’t she a wonderful woman? When I think of her, I sometimes think that she must be an angel already. Then she became very serious,—for just before, through her tears, she had tried to smile,—and she told me to remember that all people could not be like her, who had nobody to look to but herself and her sister; and that at present I must task myself not to think of that which I had been thinking of before. She did not mention anybody’s name, but of course I understood very well what she meant; and I suppose she is right. I said nothing in answer to her, for I could not speak. She was holding my hand, and I took hers up and kissed it, to show her, if I could, that I knew that she was right; but I could not have spoken about it for all the world. It was not ten days since that she herself, with all her prudence, told me that she thought I ought to make up my mind what answer I would give him. And then I did not say anything; but of course she knew. And after that Miss Anne spoke quite freely about it, so that I had to beg her to be silent even before the girls. You know how imprudent she is. But it is all over now. Of course Miss Annabella is right. He has got a great many people to think of; his father and mother, and his darling little Edith, whom he brought here twice, and left her with us once for two days, so that she got to know me quite well; and I took such a love for her, that I could not bear to part with her. But I think sometimes that all our family are born to be unfortunate, and then I tell myself that I will never hope for anything again.

Pray write to me soon. I feel as though nothing on earth could comfort me, and yet I shall like to have your letter. Dear, dear Lily, I am not even yet so wretched but what I shall rejoice to be told good news of you. If it only could be as John wishes it! And why should it not? It seems to me that nobody has a right or a reason to be unhappy except us. Good-by, dearest Lily,

Your affectionate friend,

Grace Crawley.

P.S.—I think I have made up my mind that I will go back to Hogglestock at once if the magistrates decide against papa. I think I should be doing the school harm if I were to stay here.

The answer to this letter did not reach Miss Crawley till after the magistrates’ meeting on the Thursday, but it will be better for our story that it should be given here than postponed until the result of that meeting shall have been told. Miss Dale’s answer was as follows:—

Allington, –– December, 186––.

Dear Grace,

Your letter has made me very unhappy. If it can at all comfort you to know that mamma and I sympathize with you altogether, in that you may at any rate be sure. But in such troubles nothing will give comfort. They must be borne, till the fire of misfortune burns itself out.

I had heard about the affair a day or two before I got your note. Our clergyman, Mr. Boyce, told us of it. Of course we all know that the charge must be altogether unfounded, and mamma says that the truth will be sure to show itself at last. But that conviction does not cure the evil, and I can well understand that your father should suffer grievously; and I pity your mother quite as much as I do him.

As for Major Grantly, if he be such a man as I took him to be from the little I saw of him, all this would make no difference to him. I am sure that it ought to make none. Whether it should not make a difference in you is another question. I think it should; and I think your answer to him should be that you could not even consider any such proposition while your father was in so great trouble. I am so much older than you, and seem to have had so much experience, that I do not scruple, as you will see, to come down upon you with all the weight of my wisdom.

About that other subject I had rather say nothing. I have known your cousin all my life, almost; and I regard no one more kindly than I do him. When I think of my friends, he is always one of the dearest. But when one thinks of going beyond friendship, even if one tries to do so, there are so many barriers!

Your affectionate friend,

Lily Dale.

Mamma bids me say that she would be delighted to have you here whenever it might suit you to come; and I add to this message my entreaty that you will come at once. You say that you think you ought to leave Miss Prettyman’s for a while. I can well understand your feeling; but as your sister is with your mother, surely you had better come to us,—I mean quite at once. I will not scruple to tell you what mamma says, because I know your good sense. She says that as the interest of the school may possibly be concerned, and as you have no regular engagement, she thinks you ought to leave Silverbridge; but she says that it will be better that you come to us than that you should go home. If you went home, people might say that you had left in some sort of disgrace. Come to us, and when all this has been put right, then you go back to Silverbridge; and then, if a certain person speaks again, you can make a different answer. Mamma quite understands that you are to come; so you have only got to ask your own mamma, and come at once.

This letter, as the reader will understand, did not reach Grace Crawley till after the all-important Thursday; but before that day had come round, Grace had told Miss Prettyman,—had told both the Miss Prettymans—that she was resolved to leave them. She had done this without even consulting her mother, driven to it by various motives. She knew that her father’s conduct was being discussed by the girls in the school, and that things were said of him which it could not but be for the disadvantage of Miss Prettyman that any one should say of a teacher in her establishment. She felt, too, that she could not hold up her head in Silverbridge in these days, as it would become her to do if she retained her position. She did struggle gallantly, and succeeded much more nearly than she was herself aware. She was all but able to carry herself as though no terrible accusation was being made against her father. Of the struggle, however, she was not herself the less conscious, and she told herself that on that account also she must go. And then she must go also because of Major Grantly. Whether he was minded to come and speak to her that one other needed word, or whether he was not so minded, it would be better that she should be away from Silverbridge. If he spoke it she could only answer him by a negative; and if he were minded not to speak it, would it not be better that she should leave herself the power of thinking that his silence had been caused by her absence, and not by his coldness or indifference?

She asked, therefore, for an interview with Miss Prettyman, and was shown into the elder sister’s room, at eleven o’clock on the Tuesday morning. The elder Miss Prettyman never came into the school herself till twelve, but was in the habit of having interviews with the young ladies,—which were sometimes very awful in their nature,—for the two previous hours. During these interviews an immense amount of business was done, and the fortunes in life of some girls were said to have been there made or marred; as when, for instance, Miss Crimpton had been advised to stay at home with her uncle in England, instead of going out with her sisters to India, both of which sisters were married within three months of their landing at Bombay. The way in which she gave her counsel on such occasions was very efficacious. No one knew better than Miss Prettyman that a cock can crow most effectively in his own farmyard, and therefore all crowing intended to be effective was done by her within the shrine of her own peculiar room.

“Well, my dear, what is it?” she said to Grace. “Sit in the arm-chair, my dear, and we can then talk comfortably.” The teachers, when they were closeted with Miss Prettyman, were always asked to sit in the arm-chair, whereas a small, straight-backed, uneasy chair was kept for the use of the young ladies. And there was, too, a stool of repentance, out against the wall, very uncomfortable indeed for young ladies who had not behaved themselves so prettily as young ladies generally do.

Grace seated herself, and then began her speech very quickly. “Miss Prettyman,” she said, “I have made up my mind that I will go home, if you please.”

“And why should you go home, Grace? Did I not tell you that you should have a home here?” Miss Prettyman had weak eyes, and was very small, and had never possessed any claim to be called good-looking. And she assumed nothing of majestical awe from any adornment or studied amplification of the outward woman by means of impressive trappings. The possessor of an unobservant eye might have called her a mean-looking, little old woman. And certainly there would have been nothing awful in her to any one who came across her otherwise than as a lady having authority in her own school. But within her own precincts, she did know how to surround herself with a dignity which all felt who approached her there. Grace Crawley, as she heard the simple question which Miss Prettyman had asked, unconsciously acknowledged the strength of the woman’s manner. She already stood rebuked for having proposed a plan so ungracious, so unnecessary, and so unwise.

“I think I ought to be with mamma at present,” said Grace.

“Your mother has your sister with her.”

“Yes, Miss Prettyman; Jane is there.”

“If there be no other reason, I cannot think that that can be held to be a reason now. Of course your mother would like to have you always; unless you should be married,—but then there are reasons why this should not be so.”

“Of course there are.”

“I do not think,—that is, if I know all that there is to be known,—I do not think, I say, that there can be any good ground for your leaving us now,—just now.”

Then Grace sat silent for a moment, gathering her courage, and collecting her words; and after that she spoke. “It is because of papa, and because of this charge—”

“But, Grace—”

“I know what you are going to say, Miss Prettyman;—that is, I think I know.”

“If you will hear me, you may be sure that you know.”

“But I want you to hear me for one moment first. I beg your pardon, Miss Prettyman; I do indeed, but I want to say this before you go on. I must go home, and I know I ought. We are all disgraced, and I won’t stop here to disgrace the school. I know papa has done nothing wrong; but nevertheless we are disgraced. The police are to bring him in here on Thursday, and everybody in Silverbridge will know it. It cannot be right that I should be here teaching in the school, while it is all going on;—and I won’t. And, Miss Prettyman, I couldn’t do it,—indeed I couldn’t. I can’t bring myself to think of anything I am doing. Indeed I can’t; and then, Miss Prettyman, there are other reasons.” By the time that she had proceeded thus far, Grace Crawley’s words were nearly choked by her tears.

“And what are the other reasons, Grace?”

“I don’t know,” said Grace, struggling to speak through her tears.

“But I know,” said Miss Prettyman. “I know them all. I know all your reasons, and I tell you that in my opinion you ought to remain where you are, and not go away. The very reasons which to you are reasons for your going, to me are reasons for your remaining here.”

“I can’t remain. I am determined to go. I don’t mind you and Miss Anne, but I can’t bear to have the girls looking at me,—and the servants.”

Then Miss Prettyman paused awhile, thinking what words of wisdom would be most appropriate in the present conjuncture. But words of wisdom did not seem to come easily to her, having for the moment been banished by tenderness of heart. “Come here, my love,” she said at last. “Come here, Grace.” Slowly Grace got up from her seat and came round, and stood by Miss Prettyman’s elbow. Miss Prettyman pushed her chair a little back, and pushed herself a little forward, and stretching out one hand, placed her arm round Grace’s waist, and with the other took hold of Grace’s hand, and thus drew her down and kissed the girl’s forehead and lips. And then Grace found herself kneeling at her friend’s feet. “Grace,” she said, “do you not know that I love you? Do you not know that I love you dearly?” In answer to this Grace kissed the withered hand she held in hers, while the warm tears trickled down upon Miss Prettyman’s knuckles. “I love you as though you were my own,” exclaimed the schoolmistress; “and will you not trust me, that I know what is best for you?”

“I love you as though you were my own,” said the Schoolmistress.

“I must go home,” said Grace.

“Of course you shall, if you think it right at last; but let us talk of it. No one in this house, you know, has the slightest suspicion that your father has done anything that is in the least dishonourable.”

“I know that you have not.”

“No, nor has Anne.” Miss Prettyman said this as though no one in that house beyond herself and her sister had a right to have any opinion on any subject.

“I know that,” said Grace.

“Well, my dear. If we think so—”

“But the servants, Miss Prettyman?”

“If any servant in this house says a word to offend you, I’ll—I’ll—”

“They don’t say anything, Miss Prettyman, but they look. Indeed I’d better go home. Indeed I had!”

“Do not you think your mother has cares enough upon her, and burden enough, without having another mouth to feed, and another head to shelter? You haven’t thought of that, Grace!”

“Yes, I have.”

“And as for the work, whilst you are not quite well you shall not be troubled with teaching. I have some old papers that want copying and settling, and you shall sit here and do that just for an employment. Anne knows that I’ve long wanted to have it done, and I’ll tell her that you’ve kindly promised to do it for me.”

“No; no; no,” said Grace; “I must go home.” She was still kneeling at Miss Prettyman’s knee, and still holding Miss Prettyman’s hand. And then, at that moment, there came a tap at the door, gentle but yet not humble, a tap which acknowledged, on the part of the tapper, the supremacy in that room of the lady who was sitting there, but which still claimed admittance almost as a right. The tap was well known by both of them to be the tap of Miss Anne. Grace immediately jumped up, and Miss Prettyman settled herself in her chair with a motion which almost seemed to indicate some feeling of shame as to her late position.

“I suppose I may come in?” said Miss Anne, opening the door and inserting her head.

“Yes, you may come in,—if you have anything to say,” said Miss Prettyman, with an air which seemed to be intended to assert her supremacy. But, in truth, she was simply collecting the wisdom and dignity which had been somewhat dissipated by her tenderness.

“I did not know that Grace Crawley was here,” said Miss Anne.

“Grace Crawley is here,” said Miss Prettyman.

“What is the matter, Grace?” said Miss Anne, seeing the tears.

“Never mind now,” said Miss Prettyman.

“Poor dear, I’m sure I’m sorry as though she were my own sister,” said Anne. “But, Annabella, I want to speak to you especially.”

“To me, in private?”

“Yes, to you; in private, if Grace won’t mind?”

Then Grace prepared to go. But as she was going, Miss Anne, upon whose brow a heavy burden of thought was lying, stopped her suddenly. “Grace, my dear,” she said, “go upstairs into your room, will you?—not across the hall to the school.”

“And why shouldn’t she go to the school?” said Miss Prettyman.

Miss Anne paused a moment, and then answered,—unwillingly, as though driven to make a reply which she knew to be indiscreet. “Because there is somebody in the hall.”

“Go to your room, dear,” said Miss Prettyman. And Grace went to her room, never turning an eye down towards the hall. “Who is it?” said Miss Prettyman.

“Major Grantly is here, asking to see you,” said Miss Anne.