He had employed his time in consolidating a Proudie and Slope party—or rather a Slope and Proudie party, and he had not employed his time in vain. He did not meddle with the dean and chapter, except by giving them little teasing intimations of the bishop's wishes about this and the bishop's feelings about that, in a manner which was to them sufficiently annoying, but which they could not resent. He preached once or twice in a distant church in the suburbs of the city, but made no allusion to the cathedral service. He commenced the establishment of two "Bishop's Barchester Sabbath-day schools," gave notice of a proposed "Bishop's Barchester Young Men's Sabbath Evening Lecture Room," and wrote three or four letters to the manager of the Barchester branch railway, informing him how anxious the bishop was that the Sunday trains should be discontinued.
At the end of two months, however, the bishop and the lady reappeared, and as a happy harbinger of their return, heralded their advent by the promise of an evening party on the largest scale. The tickets of invitation were sent out from London—they were dated from Bruton Street, and were dispatched by the odious Sabbath-breaking railway, in a huge brown paper parcel to Mr. Slope. Everybody calling himself a gentleman, or herself a lady, within the city of Barchester, and a circle of two miles round it, was included. Tickets were sent to all the diocesan clergy, and also to many other persons of priestly note, of whose absence the bishop, or at least the bishop's wife, felt tolerably confident. It was intended, however, to be a thronged and noticeable affair, and preparations were made for receiving some hundreds.
And now there arose considerable agitation among the Grantlyites whether or no they would attend the episcopal bidding. The first feeling with them all was to send the briefest excuses both for themselves and their wives and daughters. But by degrees policy prevailed over passion. The archdeacon perceived that he would be making a false step if he allowed the cathedral clergy to give the bishop just ground of umbrage. They all met in conclave and agreed to go. They would show that they were willing to respect the office, much as they might dislike the man. They agreed to go. The old dean would crawl in, if it were but for half an hour. The chancellor, treasurer, archdeacon, prebendaries, and minor canons would all go, and would all take their wives. Mr. Harding was especially bidden to do so, resolving in his heart to keep himself far removed from Mrs. Proudie. And Mrs. Bold was determined to go, though assured by her father that there was no necessity for such a sacrifice on her part. When all Barchester was to be there, neither Eleanor nor Mary Bold understood why they should stay away. Had they not been invited separately? And had not a separate little note from the chaplain, couched in the most respectful language, been enclosed with the huge episcopal card?
And the Stanhopes would be there, one and all. Even the lethargic mother would so far bestir herself on such an occasion. They had only just arrived. The card was at the residence waiting for them. No one in Barchester had seen them. What better opportunity could they have of showing themselves to the Barchester world? Some few old friends, such as the archdeacon and his wife, had called and had found the doctor and his eldest daughter, but the elite of the family were not yet known.
The doctor indeed wished in his heart to prevent the signora from accepting the bishop's invitation, but she herself had fully determined that she would accept it. If her father was ashamed of having his daughter carried into a bishop's palace, she had no such feeling.
"Indeed, I shall," she had said to her sister who had gently endeavoured to dissuade her, by saying that the company would consist wholly of parsons and parsons' wives. "Parsons, I suppose, are much the same as other men, if you strip them of their black coats; and as to their wives, I dare say they won't trouble me. You may tell Papa I don't at all mean to be left at home."
Papa was told, and felt that he could do nothing but yield. He also felt that it was useless for him now to be ashamed of his children. Such as they were, they had become such under his auspices; as he had made his bed, so he must lie upon it; as he had sown his seed, so must he reap his corn. He did not indeed utter such reflexions in such language, but such was the gist of his thought. It was not because Madeline was a cripple that he shrank from seeing her made one of the bishop's guests, but because he knew that she would practise her accustomed lures, and behave herself in a way that could not fail of being distasteful to the propriety of Englishwomen. These things had annoyed but not shocked him in Italy. There they had shocked no one; but here in Barchester, here among his fellow parsons, he was ashamed that they should be seen. Such had been his feelings, but he repressed them. What if his brother clergymen were shocked! They could not take from him his preferment because the manners of his married daughter were too free.
La Signora Neroni had, at any rate, no fear that she would shock anybody. Her ambition was to create a sensation, to have parsons at her feet, seeing that the manhood of Barchester consisted mainly of parsons, and to send, if possible, every parson's wife home with a green fit of jealousy. None could be too old for her, and hardly any too young. None too sanctified, and none too worldly. She was quite prepared to entrap the bishop himself, and then to turn up her nose at the bishop's wife. She did not doubt of success, for she had always succeeded; but one thing was absolutely necessary; she must secure the entire use of a sofa.
The card sent to Dr. and Mrs. Stanhope and family had been so sent in an envelope having on the cover Mr. Slope's name. The signora soon learnt that Mrs. Proudie was not yet at the palace and that the chaplain was managing everything. It was much more in her line to apply to him than to the lady, and she accordingly wrote him the prettiest little billet in the world. In five lines she explained everything, declared how impossible it was for her not to be desirous to make the acquaintance of such persons as the Bishop of Barchester and his wife, and she might add also of Mr. Slope, depicted her own grievous state, and concluded by being assured that Mrs. Proudie would forgive her extreme hardihood in petitioning to be allowed to be carried to a sofa. She then enclosed one of her beautiful cards. In return she received as polite an answer from Mr. Slope—a sofa should be kept in the large drawing-room, immediately at the top of the grand stairs, especially for her use.
And now the day of the party had arrived. The bishop and his wife came down from town only on the morning of the eventful day, as behoved such great people to do, but Mr. Slope had toiled day and night to see that everything should be in right order. There had been much to do. No company had been seen in the palace since heaven knows when. New furniture had been required, new pots and pans, new cups and saucers, new dishes and plates. Mrs. Proudie had at first declared that she would condescend to nothing so vulgar as eating and drinking, but Mr. Slope had talked, or rather written her out of economy. Bishops should be given to hospitality, and hospitality meant eating and drinking. So the supper was conceded; the guests, however, were to stand as they consumed it.
There were four rooms opening into each other on the first floor of the house, which were denominated the drawing-rooms, the reception-room, and Mrs. Proudie's boudoir. In olden days one of these had been Bishop Grantly's bedroom, and another his common sitting-room and study. The present bishop, however, had been moved down into a back parlour and had been given to understand that he could very well receive his clergy in the dining-room, should they arrive in too large a flock to be admitted into his small sanctum. He had been unwilling to yield, but after a short debate had yielded.
Mrs. Proudie's heart beat high as she inspected her suite of rooms. They were really very magnificent, or at least would be so by candlelight, and they had nevertheless been got up with commendable economy. Large rooms when full of people and full of light look well, because they are large, and are full, and are light. Small rooms are those which require costly fittings and rich furniture. Mrs. Proudie knew this, and made the most of it; she had therefore a huge gas lamp with a dozen burners hanging from each of the ceilings.
People were to arrive at ten, supper was to last from twelve till one, and at half-past one everybody was to be gone. Carriages were to come in at the gate in the town and depart at the gate outside. They were desired to take up at a quarter before one. It was managed excellently, and Mr. Slope was invaluable.
At half-past nine the bishop and his wife and their three daughters entered the great reception-room, and very grand and very solemn they were. Mr. Slope was downstairs giving the last orders about the wine. He well understood that curates and country vicars with their belongings did not require so generous an article as the dignitaries of the close. There is a useful gradation in such things, and Marsala at 20s. a dozen did very well for the exterior supplementary tables in the corner.
"Bishop," said the lady, as his lordship sat himself down, "don't sit on that sofa, if you please; it is to be kept separate for a lady."
The bishop jumped up and seated himself on a cane-bottomed chair. "A lady?" he inquired meekly; "do you mean one particular lady, my dear?"
"Yes, Bishop, one particular lady," said his wife, disdaining to explain.
"She has got no legs, Papa," said the youngest daughter, tittering.
"No legs!" said the bishop, opening his eyes.
"Nonsense, Netta, what stuff you talk," said Olivia. "She has got legs, but she can't use them. She has always to be kept lying down, and three or four men carry her about everywhere."
"Laws, how odd!" said Augusta. "Always carried about by four men! I'm sure I shouldn't like it. Am I right behind, Mamma? I feel as if I was open;" and she turned her back to her anxious parent.
"Open! To be sure you are," said she, "and a yard of petticoat strings hanging out. I don't know why I pay such high wages to Mrs. Richards if she can't take the trouble to see whether or no you are fit to be looked at," and Mrs. Proudie poked the strings here, and twitched the dress there, and gave her daughter a shove and a shake, and then pronounced it all right.
"But," rejoined the bishop, who was dying with curiosity about the mysterious lady and her legs, "who is it that is to have the sofa? What's her name, Netta?"
A thundering rap at the front door interrupted the conversation. Mrs. Proudie stood up and shook herself gently, and touched her cap on each side as she looked in the mirror. Each of the girls stood on tiptoe and rearranged the bows on their bosoms, and Mr. Slope rushed upstairs three steps at a time.
"But who is it, Netta?" whispered the bishop to his youngest daughter.
"La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni," whispered back the daughter; "and mind you don't let anyone sit upon the sofa."
"La Signora Madeline Vicinironi!" muttered to himself the bewildered prelate. Had he been told that the Begum of Oude was to be there, or Queen Pomara of the Western Isles, he could not have been more astonished. La Signora Madeline Vicinironi, who, having no legs to stand on, had bespoken a sofa in his drawing-room! Who could she be? He however could now make no further inquiry, as Dr. and Mrs. Stanhope were announced. They had been sent on out of the way a little before the time, in order that the signora might have plenty of time to get herself conveniently packed into the carriage.
The bishop was all smiles for the prebendary's wife, and the bishop's wife was all smiles for the prebendary. Mr. Slope was presented and was delighted to make the acquaintance of one of whom he had heard so much. The doctor bowed very low, and then looked as though he could not return the compliment as regarded Mr. Slope, of whom, indeed, he had heard nothing. The doctor, in spite of his long absence, knew an English gentleman when he saw him.
And then the guests came in shoals: Mr. and Mrs. Quiverful and their three grown daughters. Mr. and Mrs. Chadwick and their three daughters. The burly chancellor and his wife and clerical son from Oxford. The meagre little doctor without incumbrance. Mr. Harding with Eleanor and Miss Bold. The dean leaning on a gaunt spinster, his only child now living with him, a lady very learned in stones, ferns, plants, and vermin, and who had written a book about petals. A wonderful woman in her way was Miss Trefoil. Mr. Finnie, the attorney, with his wife, was to be seen, much to the dismay of many who had never met him in a drawing-room before. The five Barchester doctors were all there, and old Scalpen, the retired apothecary and tooth-drawer, who was first taught to consider himself as belonging to the higher orders by the receipt of the bishop's card. Then came the archdeacon and his wife with their elder daughter Griselda, a slim, pale, retiring girl of seventeen who kept close to her mother, and looked out on the world with quiet watchful eyes, one who gave promise of much beauty when time should have ripened it.
And so the rooms became full, and knots were formed, and every newcomer paid his respects to my lord and passed on, not presuming to occupy too much of the great man's attention. The archdeacon shook hands very heartily with Dr. Stanhope, and Mrs. Grantly seated herself by the doctor's wife. And Mrs. Proudie moved about with well-regulated grace, measuring out the quantity of her favours to the quality of her guests, just as Mr. Slope had been doing with the wine. But the sofa was still empty, and five-and-twenty ladies and five gentlemen had been courteously warned off it by the mindful chaplain.
"Why doesn't she come?" said the bishop to himself. His mind was so preoccupied with the signora that he hardly remembered how to behave himself en bishop.
At last a carriage dashed up to the hall steps with a very different manner of approach from that of any other vehicle that had been there that evening. A perfect commotion took place. The doctor, who heard it as he was standing in the drawing-room, knew that his daughter was coming, and retired into the furthest corner, where he might not see her entrance. Mrs. Proudie perked herself up, feeling that some important piece of business was in hand. The bishop was instinctively aware that La Signora Vicinironi was come at last, and Mr. Slope hurried into the hall to give his assistance.
He was, however, nearly knocked down and trampled on by the cortege that he encountered on the hall steps. He got himself picked up, as well as he could, and followed the cortege upstairs. The signora was carried head foremost, her head being the care of her brother and an Italian manservant who was accustomed to the work; her feet were in the care of the lady's maid and the lady's Italian page; and Charlotte Stanhope followed to see that all was done with due grace and decorum. In this manner they climbed easily into the drawing-room, and a broad way through the crowd having been opened, the signora rested safely on her couch. She had sent a servant beforehand to learn whether it was a right- or a left-hand sofa, for it required that she should dress accordingly, particularly as regarded her bracelets.
And very becoming her dress was. It was white velvet, without any other garniture than rich white lace worked with pearls across her bosom, and the same round the armlets of her dress. Across her brow she wore a band of red velvet, on the centre of which shone a magnificent Cupid in mosaic, the tints of whose wings were of the most lovely azure, and the colour of his chubby cheeks the clearest pink. On the one arm which her position required her to expose she wore three magnificent bracelets, each of different stones. Beneath her on the sofa, and over the cushion and head of it, was spread a crimson silk mantle or shawl, which went under her whole body and concealed her feet. Dressed as she was and looking as she did, so beautiful and yet so motionless, with the pure brilliancy of her white dress brought out and strengthened by the colour beneath it, with that lovely head, and those large, bold, bright, staring eyes, it was impossible that either man or woman should do other than look at her.
Neither man nor woman for some minutes did do other.
Her bearers too were worthy of note. The three servants were Italian, and though perhaps not peculiar in their own country, were very much so in the palace at Barchester. The man especially attracted notice and created a doubt in the mind of some whether he were a friend or a domestic. The same doubt was felt as to Ethelbert. The man was attired in a loose-fitting, common, black-cloth morning-coat. He had a jaunty, fat, well-pleased, clean face on which no atom of beard appeared, and he wore round his neck a loose, black silk neck-handkerchief. The bishop essayed to make him a bow, but the man, who was well trained, took no notice of him and walked out of the room quite at his ease, followed by the woman and the boy.
Ethelbert Stanhope was dressed in light blue from head to foot. He had on the loosest possible blue coat, cut square like a shooting coat, and very short. It was lined with silk of azure blue. He had on a blue satin waistcoat, a blue neck-handkerchief which was fastened beneath his throat with a coral ring, and very loose blue trousers which almost concealed his feet. His soft, glossy beard was softer and more glossy than ever.
The bishop, who had made one mistake, thought that he also was a servant and therefore tried to make way for him to pass. But Ethelbert soon corrected the error.
Mrs. Proudie's Reception—Concluded
"Bishop of Barchester, I presume?" said Bertie Stanhope, putting out his hand frankly; "I am delighted to make your acquaintance. We are in rather close quarters here, a'nt we?"
In truth they were. They had been crowded up behind the head of the sofa—the bishop in waiting to receive his guest, and the other in carrying her—and they now had hardly room to move themselves.
The bishop gave his hand quickly, made his little studied bow, and was delighted to make—He couldn't go on, for he did not know whether his friend was a signor, or a count or a prince.
"My sister really puts you all to great trouble," said Bertie.
"Not at all!" The bishop was delighted to have the opportunity of welcoming La Signora Vicinironi—so at least he said—and attempted to force his way round to the front of the sofa. He had, at any rate, learnt that his strange guests were brother and sister. The man, he presumed, must be Signor Vicinironi—or count, or prince, as it might be. It was wonderful what good English he spoke. There was just a twang of foreign accent, and no more.
"Do you like Barchester, on the whole?" asked Bertie.
The bishop, looking dignified, said that he did like Barchester.
"You've not been here very long, I believe," said Bertie.
"No—not long," said the bishop and tried again to make his way between the back of the sofa and a heavy rector, who was staring over it at the grimaces of the signora.
"You weren't a bishop before, were you?"
Dr. Proudie explained that this was the first diocese he had held.
"Ah—I thought so," said Bertie, "but you are changed about sometimes, a'nt you?"
"Translations are occasionally made," said Dr. Proudie, "but not so frequently as in former days."
"They've cut them all down to pretty nearly the same figure, haven't they?" said Bertie.
To this the bishop could not bring himself to make any answer, but again attempted to move the rector.
"But the work, I suppose, is different?" continued Bertie. "Is there much to do here, at Barchester?" This was said exactly in the tone that a young Admiralty clerk might use in asking the same question of a brother acolyte at the Treasury.
"The work of a bishop of the Church of England," said Dr. Proudie with considerable dignity, "is not easy. The responsibility which he has to bear is very great indeed."
"Is it?" said Bertie, opening wide his wonderful blue eyes. "Well, I never was afraid of responsibility. I once had thoughts of being a bishop, myself."
"Had thoughts of being a bishop!" said Dr. Proudie, much amazed.
"That is, a parson—a parson first, you know, and a bishop afterwards. If I had once begun, I'd have stuck to it. But, on the whole, I like the Church of Rome the best."
The bishop could not discuss the point, so he remained silent.
"Now, there's my father," continued Bertie; "he hasn't stuck to it. I fancy he didn't like saying the same thing over so often. By the by, Bishop, have you seen my father?"
The bishop was more amazed than ever. Had he seen his father? "No," he replied; he had not yet had the pleasure: he hoped he might; and, as he said so, he resolved to bear heavy on that fat, immovable rector, if ever he had the power of doing so.
"He's in the room somewhere," said Bertie, "and he'll turn up soon. By the by, do you know much about the Jews?"
At last the bishop saw a way out. "I beg your pardon," said he, "but I'm forced to go round the room."
"Well—I believe I'll follow in your wake," said Bertie. "Terribly hot—isn't it?" This he addressed to the fat rector with whom he had brought himself into the closest contact. "They've got this sofa into the worst possible part of the room; suppose we move it. Take care, Madeline."
The sofa had certainly been so placed that those who were behind it found great difficulty in getting out; there was but a narrow gangway, which one person could stop. This was a bad arrangement, and one which Bertie thought it might be well to improve.
"Take care, Madeline," said he, and turning to the fat rector, added, "Just help me with a slight push."
The rector's weight was resting on the sofa and unwittingly lent all its impetus to accelerate and increase the motion which Bertie intentionally originated. The sofa rushed from its moorings and ran half-way into the middle of the room. Mrs. Proudie was standing with Mr. Slope in front of the signora, and had been trying to be condescending and sociable; but she was not in the very best of tempers, for she found that, whenever she spoke to the lady, the lady replied by speaking to Mr. Slope. Mr. Slope was a favourite, no doubt, but Mrs. Proudie had no idea of being less thought of than the chaplain. She was beginning to be stately, stiff, and offended, when unfortunately the castor of the sofa caught itself in her lace train, and carried away there is no saying how much of her garniture. Gathers were heard to go, stitches to crack, plaits to fly open, flounces were seen to fall, and breadths to expose themselves; a long ruin of rent lace disfigured the carpet, and still clung to the vile wheel on which the sofa moved.
So, when a granite battery is raised, excellent to the eyes of warfaring men, is its strength and symmetry admired. It is the work of years. Its neat embrasures, its finished parapets, its casemated stories show all the skill of modern science. But, anon, a small spark is applied to the treacherous fusee—a cloud of dust arises to the heavens—and then nothing is to be seen but dirt and dust and ugly fragments.
We know what was the wrath of Juno when her beauty was despised. We know to what storms of passion even celestial minds can yield. As Juno may have looked at Paris on Mount Ida, so did Mrs. Proudie look on Ethelbert Stanhope when he pushed the leg of the sofa into her lace train.
"Oh, you idiot, Bertie!" said the signora, seeing what had been done and what were to be the consequences.
"Idiot!" re-echoed Mrs. Proudie, as though the word were not half strong enough to express the required meaning; "I'll let him know—" and then looking round to learn, at a glance, the worst, she saw that at present it behoved her to collect the scattered debris of her dress.
Bertie, when he saw what he had done, rushed over the sofa and threw himself on one knee before the offended lady. His object, doubtless, was to liberate the torn lace from the castor, but he looked as though he were imploring pardon from a goddess.
"Unhand it, sir!" said Mrs. Proudie. From what scrap of dramatic poetry she had extracted the word cannot be said, but it must have rested on her memory, and now seemed opportunely dignified for the occasion.
"I'll fly to the looms of the fairies to repair the damage, if you'll only forgive me," said Ethelbert, still on his knees.
"Unhand it, sir!" said Mrs. Proudie with redoubled emphasis, and all but furious wrath. This allusion to the fairies was a direct mockery and intended to turn her into ridicule. So at least it seemed to her. "Unhand it, sir!" she almost screamed.
"It's not me; it's the cursed sofa," said Bertie, looking imploringly in her face and holding up both his hands to show that he was not touching her belongings, but still remaining on his knees.
Hereupon the Signora laughed; not loud, indeed, but yet audibly. And as the tigress bereft of her young will turn with equal anger on any within reach, so did Mrs. Proudie turn upon her female guest.
"Madam!" she said—and it is beyond the power of prose to tell of the fire which flashed from her eyes.
The signora stared her full in the face for a moment, and then turning to her brother said playfully, "Bertie, you idiot, get up."
By this time the bishop, and Mr. Slope, and her three daughters were around her, and had collected together the wide ruins of her magnificence. The girls fell into circular rank behind their mother, and thus following her and carrying out the fragments, they left the reception-rooms in a manner not altogether devoid of dignity. Mrs. Proudie had to retire and re-array herself.
As soon as the constellation had swept by, Ethelbert rose from his knees and, turning with mock anger to the fat rector, said: "After all it was your doing, sir—not mine. But perhaps you are waiting for preferment, and so I bore it."
Whereupon there was a laugh against the fat rector, in which both the bishop and the chaplain joined, and thus things got themselves again into order.
"Oh! my lord, I am so sorry for this accident," said the signora, putting out her hand so as to force the bishop to take it. "My brother is so thoughtless. Pray sit down, and let me have the pleasure of making your acquaintance. Though I am so poor a creature as to want a sofa, I am not so selfish as to require it all." Madeline could always dispose herself so as to make room for a gentleman, though, as she declared, the crinoline of her lady friends was much too bulky to be so accommodated.
"It was solely for the pleasure of meeting you that I have had myself dragged here," she continued. "Of course, with your occupation, one cannot even hope that you should have time to come to us, that is, in the way of calling. And at your English dinner-parties all is so dull and so stately. Do you know, my lord, that in coming to England my only consolation has been the thought that I should know you;" and she looked at him with the look of a she-devil.
The bishop, however, thought that she looked very like an angel and, accepting the proffered seat, sat down beside her. He uttered some platitude as to his deep obligation for the trouble she had taken, and wondered more and more who she was.
"Of course you know my sad story?" she continued.
The bishop didn't know a word of it. He knew, however, or thought he knew, that she couldn't walk into a room like other people, and so made the most of that. He put on a look of ineffable distress and said that he was aware how God had afflicted her.
The signora just touched the corner of her eyes with the most lovely of pocket-handkerchiefs. Yes, she said—she had been sorely tried—tried, she thought, beyond the common endurance of humanity; but while her child was left to her, everything was left. "Oh! my lord," she exclaimed, "you must see that infant—the last bud of a wondrous tree: you must let a mother hope that you will lay your holy hands on her innocent head and consecrate her for female virtues. May I hope it?" said she, looking into the bishop's eye and touching the bishop's arm with her hand.
The bishop was but a man and said she might. After all, what was it but a request that he would confirm her daughter?—a request, indeed, very unnecessary to make, as he should do so as a matter of course if the young lady came forward in the usual way.
"The blood of Tiberius," said the signora in all but a whisper; "the blood of Tiberius flows in her veins. She is the last of the Neros!"
The bishop had heard of the last of the Visigoths, and had floating in his brain some indistinct idea of the last of the Mohicans, but to have the last of the Neros thus brought before him for a blessing was very staggering. Still he liked the lady: she had a proper way of thinking and talked with more propriety than her brother. But who were they? It was now quite clear that that blue madman with the silky beard was not a Prince Vicinironi. The lady was married and was of course one of the Vicinironi's by right of the husband. So the bishop went on learning.
"When will you see her? said the signora with a start.
"See whom?" said the bishop.
"My child," said the mother.
"What is the young lady's age?" asked the bishop.
"She is just seven," said the signora.
"Oh," said the bishop, shaking his head; "she is much too young—very much too young."
"But in sunny Italy, you know, we do not count by years," and the signora gave the bishop one of her very sweetest smiles.
"But indeed, she is a great deal too young," persisted the bishop; "we never confirm before—"
"But you might speak to her; you might let her hear from your consecrated lips that she is not a castaway because she is a Roman; that she may be a Nero and yet a Christian; that she may owe her black locks and dark cheeks to the blood of the pagan Caesars, and yet herself be a child of grace; you will tell her this, won't you, my friend?"
The friend said he would, and asked if the child could say her catechism.
"No," said the signora, "I would not allow her to learn lessons such as those in a land ridden over by priests and polluted by the idolatry of Rome. It is here, here in Barchester, that she must first be taught to lisp those holy words. Oh, that you could be her instructor!"
Now, Dr. Proudie certainly liked the lady, but, seeing that he was a bishop, it was not probable that he was going to instruct a little girl in the first rudiments of her catechism; so he said he'd send a teacher.
"But you'll see her yourself, my lord?"
The bishop said he would, but where should he call.
"At Papa's house," said the Signora with an air of some little surprise at the question.
The bishop actually wanted the courage to ask her who was her papa, so he was forced at last to leave her without fathoming the mystery. Mrs. Proudie, in her second best, had now returned to the rooms, and her husband thought it as well that he should not remain in too close conversation with the lady whom his wife appeared to hold in such slight esteem. Presently he came across his youngest daughter.
"Netta," said he, "do you know who is the father of that Signora Vicinironi?"
"It isn't Vicinironi, Papa," said Netta; "but Vesey Neroni, and she's Doctor Stanhope's daughter. But I must go and do the civil to Griselda Grantly; I declare nobody has spoken a word to the poor girl this evening."
Dr. Stanhope! Dr. Vesey Stanhope! Dr. Vesey Stanhope's daughter, of whose marriage with a dissolute Italian scamp he now remembered to have heard something! And that impertinent blue cub who had examined him as to his episcopal bearings was old Stanhope's son, and the lady who had entreated him to come and teach her child the catechism was old Stanhope's daughter! The daughter of one of his own prebendaries! As these things flashed across his mind, he was nearly as angry as his wife had been. Nevertheless, he could not but own that the mother of the last of the Neros was an agreeable woman.
Dr. Proudie tripped out into the adjoining room, in which were congregated a crowd of Grantlyite clergymen, among whom the archdeacon was standing pre-eminent, while the old dean was sitting nearly buried in a huge arm chair by the fire-place. The bishop was very anxious to be gracious, and, if possible, to diminish the bitterness which his chaplain had occasioned. Let Mr. Slope do the fortiter in re, he himself would pour in the suaviter in modo.
"Pray don't stir, Mr. Dean, pray don't stir," he said as the old man essayed to get up; "I take it as a great kindness, your coming to such an omnium gatherum as this. But we have hardly got settled yet, and Mrs. Proudie has not been able to see her friends as she would wish to do. Well, Mr. Archdeacon, after all, we have not been so hard upon you at Oxford."
"No," said the archdeacon, "you've only drawn our teeth and cut out our tongues; you've allowed us still to breathe and swallow."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the bishop; "it's not quite so easy to cut out the tongue of an Oxford magnate—and as for teeth—ha, ha, ha! Why, in the way we've left the matter, it's very odd if the heads of colleges don't have their own way quite as fully as when the hebdomadal board was in all its glory; what do you say, Mr. Dean?"
"An old man, my lord, never likes changes," said the dean.
"You must have been sad bunglers if it is so," said the archdeacon; "and indeed, to tell the truth, I think you have bungled it. At any rate, you must own this; you have not done the half what you boasted you would do."
"Now, as regards your system of professors—" began the chancellor slowly. He was never destined to get beyond such beginning.
"Talking of professors," said a soft clear voice, close behind the chancellor's elbow; "how much you Englishmen might learn from Germany; only you are all too proud."
The bishop, looking round, perceived that that abominable young Stanhope had pursued him. The dean stared at him as though he were some unearthly apparition; so also did two or three prebendaries and minor canons. The archdeacon laughed.
"The German professors are men of learning," said Mr. Harding, "but—"
"German professors!" groaned out the chancellor, as though his nervous system had received a shock which nothing but a week of Oxford air could cure.
"Yes," continued Ethelbert, not at all understanding why a German professor should be contemptible in the eyes of an Oxford don. "Not but what the name is best earned at Oxford. In Germany the professors do teach; at Oxford, I believe, they only profess to do so, and sometimes not even that. You'll have those universities of yours about your ears soon, if you don't consent to take a lesson from Germany."
There was no answering this. Dignified clergymen of sixty years of age could not condescend to discuss such a matter with a young man with such clothes and such a beard.
"Have you got good water out at Plumstead, Mr. Archdeacon?" said the bishop by way of changing the conversation.
"Pretty good," said Dr. Grantly.
"But by no means so good as his wine, my lord," said a witty minor canon.
"Nor so generally used," said another; "that is, for inward application."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the bishop, "a good cellar of wine is a very comfortable thing in a house."
"Your German professors, Sir, prefer beer, I believe," said the sarcastic little meagre prebendary.
"They don't think much of either," said Ethelbert, "and that perhaps accounts for their superiority. Now the Jewish professor—"
The insult was becoming too deep for the spirit of Oxford to endure, so the archdeacon walked off one way and the chancellor another, followed by their disciples, and the bishop and the young reformer were left together on the hearth-rug.
"I was a Jew once myself," began Bertie.
The bishop was determined not to stand another examination, or be led on any terms into Palestine, so he again remembered that he had to do something very particular, and left young Stanhope with the dean. The dean did not get the worst of it for Ethelbert gave him a true account of his remarkable doings in the Holy Land.
"Oh, Mr. Harding," said the bishop, overtaking the ci-devant warden; "I wanted to say one word about the hospital. You know, of course, that it is to be filled up."
Mr. Harding's heart beat a little, and he said that he had heard so.
"Of course," continued the bishop; "there can be only one man whom I could wish to see in that situation. I don't know what your own views may be, Mr. Harding—"
"They are very simply told, my lord," said the other; "to take the place if it be offered me, and to put up with the want of it should another man get it."
The bishop professed himself delighted to hear it; Mr. Harding might be quite sure that no other man would get it. There were some few circumstances which would in a slight degree change the nature of the duties. Mr. Harding was probably aware of this, and would, perhaps, not object to discuss the matter with Mr. Slope. It was a subject to which Mr. Slope had given a good deal of attention.
Mr. Harding felt, he knew not why, oppressed and annoyed. What could Mr. Slope do to him? He knew that there were to be changes. The nature of them must be communicated to the warden through somebody, and through whom so naturally as the bishop's chaplain? 'Twas thus he tried to argue himself back to an easy mind, but in vain.
Mr. Slope in the meantime had taken the seat which the bishop had vacated on the signora's sofa, and remained with that lady till it was time to marshal the folk to supper. Not with contented eyes had Mrs. Proudie seen this. Had not this woman laughed at her distress, and had not Mr. Slope heard it? Was she not an intriguing Italian woman, half wife and half not, full of affectation, airs, and impudence? Was she not horribly bedizened with velvet and pearls, with velvet and pearls, too, which had not been torn off her back? Above all, did she not pretend to be more beautiful than her neighbours? To say that Mrs. Proudie was jealous would give a wrong idea of her feelings. She had not the slightest desire that Mr. Slope should be in love with herself. But she desired the incense of Mr. Slope's spiritual and temporal services, and did not choose that they should be turned out of their course to such an object as Signora Neroni. She considered also that Mr. Slope ought in duty to hate the signora, and it appeared from his manner that he was very far from hating her.
"Come, Mr. Slope," she said, sweeping by and looking all that she felt, "can't you make yourself useful? Do pray take Mrs. Grantly down to supper."
Mrs. Grantly heard and escaped. The words were hardly out of Mrs. Proudie's mouth before the intended victim had stuck her hand through the arm of one of her husband's curates and saved herself. What would the archdeacon have said had he seen her walking downstairs with Mr. Slope?
Mr. Slope heard also, but was by no means so obedient as was expected. Indeed, the period of Mr. Slope's obedience to Mrs. Proudie was drawing to a close. He did not wish yet to break with her, nor to break with her at all, if it could be avoided. But he intended to be master in that palace, and as she had made the same resolution it was not improbable that they might come to blows.
Before leaving the signora he arranged a little table before her and begged to know what he should bring her. She was quite indifferent, she said—nothing—anything. It was now she felt the misery of her position, now that she must be left alone. Well, a little chicken, some ham, and a glass of champagne.
Mr. Slope had to explain, not without blushing for his patron, that there was no champagne.
Sherry would do just as well. And then Mr. Slope descended with the learned Miss Trefoil on his arm. Could she tell him, he asked, whether the ferns of Barsetshire were equal to those of Cumberland? His strongest worldly passion was for ferns—and before she could answer him he left her wedged between the door and the sideboard. It was fifty minutes before she escaped, and even then unfed.
"You are not leaving us, Mr. Slope," said the watchful lady of the house, seeing her slave escaping towards the door, with stores of provisions held high above the heads of the guests.
Mr. Slope explained that the Signora Neroni was in want of her supper.
"Pray, Mr. Slope, let her brother take it to her," said Mrs. Proudie, quite out loud. "It is out of the question that you should be so employed. Pray, Mr. Slope, oblige me; I am sure Mr. Stanhope will wait upon his sister."
Ethelbert was most agreeably occupied in the furthest corner of the room, making himself both useful and agreeable to Mrs. Proudie's youngest daughter.
"I couldn't get out, madam, if Madeline were starving for her supper," said he; "I'm physically fixed, unless I could fly."
The lady's anger was increased by seeing that her daughter also had gone over to the enemy, and when she saw, that in spite of her remonstrances, in the teeth of her positive orders, Mr. Slope went off to the drawing-room, the cup of her indignation ran over, and she could not restrain herself. "Such manners I never saw," she said, muttering. "I cannot and will not permit it;" and then, after fussing and fuming for a few minutes, she pushed her way through the crowd and followed Mr. Slope.
When she reached the room above, she found it absolutely deserted, except by the guilty pair. The signora was sitting very comfortably up to her supper, and Mr. Slope was leaning over her and administering to her wants. They had been discussing the merits of Sabbath-day schools, and the lady had suggested that as she could not possibly go to the children, she might be indulged in the wish of her heart by having the children brought to her.
"And when shall it be, Mr. Slope?" said she.
Mr. Slope was saved the necessity of committing himself to a promise by the entry of Mrs. Proudie. She swept close up to the sofa so as to confront the guilty pair, stared full at them for a moment, and then said, as she passed on to the next room, "Mr. Slope, his lordship is especially desirous of your attendance below; you will greatly oblige me if you will join him." And so she stalked on.
Mr. Slope muttered something in reply, and prepared to go downstairs. As for the bishop's wanting him, he knew his lady patroness well enough to take that assertion at what it was worth; but he did not wish to make himself the hero of a scene, or to become conspicuous for more gallantry than the occasion required.
"Is she always like this?" said the signora.
"Yes—always—madam," said Mrs. Proudie, returning; "always the same—always equally adverse to impropriety of conduct of every description;" and she stalked back through the room again, following Mr. Slope out of the door.
The signora couldn't follow her, or she certainly would have done so. But she laughed loud, and sent the sound of it ringing through the lobby and down the stairs after Mrs. Proudie's feet. Had she been as active as Grimaldi, she could probably have taken no better revenge.
"Mr. Slope," said Mrs. Proudie, catching the delinquent at the door, "I am surprised you should leave my company to attend on such a painted Jezebel as that."
"But she's lame, Mrs. Proudie, and cannot move. Somebody must have waited upon her."
"Lame," said Mrs. Proudie; "I'd lame her if she belonged to me. What business had she here at all?—such impertinence—such affectation."
In the hall and adjacent rooms all manner of cloaking and shawling was going on, and the Barchester folk were getting themselves gone. Mrs. Proudie did her best to smirk at each and every one as they made their adieux, but she was hardly successful. Her temper had been tried fearfully. By slow degrees the guests went.
"Send back the carriage quick," said Ethelbert, as Dr. and Mrs. Stanhope took their departure.
The younger Stanhopes were left to the very last, and an uncomfortable party they made with the bishop's family. They all went into the dining-room, and then the bishop observing that "the lady" was alone in the drawing-room, they followed him up. Mrs. Proudie kept Mr. Slope and her daughters in close conversation, resolving that he should not be indulged, nor they polluted. The bishop, in mortal dread of Bertie and the Jews, tried to converse with Charlotte Stanhope about the climate of Italy. Bertie and the signora had no resource but in each other.
"Did you get your supper at last, Madeline?" said the impudent or else mischievous young man.
"Oh, yes," said Madeline; "Mr. Slope was so very kind as to bring it me. I fear, however, he put himself to more inconvenience than I wished."
Mrs. Proudie looked at her but said nothing. The meaning of her look might have been thus translated; "If ever you find yourself within these walls again, I'll give you leave to be as impudent and affected and as mischievous as you please."
At last the carriage returned with the three Italian servants, and La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni was carried out, as she had been carried in.
The lady of the palace retired to her chamber by no means contented with the result of her first grand party at Barchester.
Slope versus Harding
Two or three days after the party, Mr. Harding received a note begging him to call on Mr. Slope, at the palace, at an early hour on the following morning. There was nothing uncivil in the communication, and yet the tone of it was thoroughly displeasing. It was as follows:
MY DEAR MR. HARDING,
Will you favour me by calling on me at the palace to-morrow morning at 9:30 A.M. The bishop wishes me to speak to you touching the hospital. I hope you will excuse my naming so early an hour. I do so as my time is greatly occupied. If, however, it is positively inconvenient to you, I will change it to 10. You will, perhaps, be kind enough to let me have a note in reply.
Believe me to be, My dear Mr. Harding, Your assured friend, OBH. SLOPE
The Palace, Monday morning, 20th August, 185—
Mr. Harding neither could nor would believe anything of the sort, and he thought, moreover, that Mr. Slope was rather impertinent to call himself by such a name. His assured friend, indeed! How many assured friends generally fall to the lot of a man in this world? And by what process are they made? And how much of such process had taken place as yet between Mr. Harding and Mr. Slope? Mr. Harding could not help asking himself these questions as he read and re-read the note before him. He answered it, however, as follows:
I will call at the palace to-morrow at 9:30 A.M. as you desire.
High Street, Barchester, Monday
And on the following morning, punctually at half-past nine, he knocked at the palace door and asked for Mr. Slope.
The bishop had one small room allotted to him on the ground-floor, and Mr. Slope had another. Into this latter Mr. Harding was shown and asked to sit down. Mr. Slope was not yet there. The ex-warden stood up at the window looking into the garden, and could not help thinking how very short a time had passed since the whole of that house had been open to him, as though he had been a child of the family, born and bred in it. He remembered how the old servants used to smile as they opened the door to him; how the familiar butler would say, when he had been absent a few hours longer than usual, "A sight of you, Mr. Harding, is good for sore eyes;" how the fussy housekeeper would swear that he couldn't have dined, or couldn't have breakfasted, or couldn't have lunched. And then, above all, he remembered the pleasant gleam of inward satisfaction which always spread itself over the old bishop's face whenever his friend entered his room.
A tear came into each eye as he reflected that all this was gone. What use would the hospital be to him now? He was alone in the world, and getting old; he would soon, very soon have to go and leave it all, as his dear old friend had gone; go, and leave the hospital, and his accustomed place in the cathedral, and his haunts and pleasures, to younger and perhaps wiser men. That chanting of his! Perhaps, in truth, the time for it was gone by. He felt as though the world were sinking from his feet; as though this, this was the time for him to turn with confidence to those hopes which he had preached with confidence to others. "What," said he to himself, "can a man's religion be worth if it does not support him against the natural melancholy of declining years?" And as he looked out through his dimmed eyes into the bright parterres of the bishop's garden, he felt that he had the support which he wanted.
Nevertheless, he did not like to be thus kept waiting. If Mr. Slope did not really wish to see him at half-past nine o'clock, why force him to come away from his lodgings with his breakfast in his throat? To tell the truth, it was policy on the part of Mr. Slope. Mr. Slope had made up his mind that Mr. Harding should either accept the hospital with abject submission, or else refuse it altogether, and had calculated that he would probably be more quick to do the latter, if he could be got to enter upon the subject in an ill-humour. Perhaps Mr. Slope was not altogether wrong in his calculation.
It was nearly ten when Mr. Slope hurried into the room and, muttering something about the bishop and diocesan duties, shook Mr. Harding's hand ruthlessly and begged him to be seated.
Now the air of superiority which this man assumed did go against the grain with Mr. Harding, and yet he did not know how to resent it. The whole tendency of his mind and disposition was opposed to any contra-assumption of grandeur on his own part, and he hadn't the worldly spirit or quickness necessary to put down insolent pretensions by downright and open rebuke, as the archdeacon would have done. There was nothing for Mr. Harding but to submit, and he accordingly did so.
"About the hospital, Mr. Harding?" began Mr. Slope, speaking of it as the head of a college at Cambridge might speak of some sizarship which had to be disposed of.
Mr. Harding crossed one leg over another, and then one hand over the other on the top of them, and looked Mr. Slope in the face; but he said nothing.
"It's to be filled up again," said Mr. Slope. Mr. Harding said that he had understood so.
"Of course, you know, the income will be very much reduced," continued Mr. Slope. "The bishop wished to be liberal, and he therefore told the government that he thought it ought to be put at not less than L450. I think on the whole the bishop was right, for though the services required will not be of a very onerous nature, they will be more so than they were before. And it is, perhaps, well that the clergy immediately attached to the cathedral town should be made as comfortable as the extent of the ecclesiastical means at our disposal will allow. Those are the bishop's ideas, and I must say mine also."
Mr. Harding sat rubbing one hand on the other, but said not a word.
"So much for the income, Mr. Harding. The house will, of course, remain to the warden, as before. It should, however, I think, be stipulated that he should paint inside every seven years, and outside every three years, and be subject to dilapidations, in the event of vacating, either by death or otherwise. But this is a matter on which the bishop must yet be consulted."
Mr. Harding still rubbed his hands and still sat silent, gazing up into Mr. Slope's unprepossessing face.
"Then, as to the duties," continued he, "I believe, if I am rightly informed, there can hardly be said to have been any duties hitherto," and he gave a sort of half-laugh, as though to pass off the accusation in the guise of a pleasantry.
Mr. Harding thought of the happy, easy years he had passed in his old home; of the worn-out, aged men whom he had succoured; of his good intentions; and of his work, which had certainly been of the lightest. He thought of these things, doubting for a moment whether he did or did not deserve the sarcasm. He gave his enemy the benefit of the doubt, and did not rebuke him. He merely observed, very tranquilly, and perhaps with too much humility, that the duties of the situation, such as they were, had, he believed, been done to the satisfaction of the late bishop.
Mr. Slope again smiled, and this time the smile was intended to operate against the memory of the late bishop rather than against the energy of the ex-warden; so it was understood by Mr. Harding. The colour rose to his cheeks, and he began to feel very angry.
"You must be aware, Mr. Harding, that things are a good deal changed in Barchester," said Mr. Slope.
Mr. Harding said that he was aware of it. "And not only in Barchester, Mr. Harding, but in the world at large. It is not only in Barchester that a new man is carrying out new measures and casting away the useless rubbish of past centuries. The same thing is going on throughout the country. Work is now required from every man who receives wages, and they who have to superintend the doing of work, and the paying of wages, are bound to see that this rule is carried out. New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed and are now forthcoming in the church, as well as in other professions."
All this was wormwood to our old friend. He had never rated very high his own abilities or activity, but all the feelings of his heart were with the old clergy, and any antipathies of which his heart was susceptible were directed against those new, busy, uncharitable, self-lauding men, of whom Mr. Slope was so good an example.
"Perhaps," said he, "the bishop will prefer a new man at the hospital?"
"By no means," said Mr. Slope. "The bishop is very anxious that you should accept the appointment, but he wishes you should understand beforehand what will be the required duties. In the first place, a Sabbath-day school will be attached to the hospital."
"What! For the old men?" asked Mr. Harding.
"No, Mr. Harding, not for the old men, but for the benefit of the children of such of the poor of Barchester as it may suit. The bishop will expect that you shall attend this school, and that the teachers shall be under your inspection and care."
Mr. Harding slipped his topmost hand off the other and began to rub the calf of the leg which was supported.
"As to the old men," continued Mr. Slope, "and the old women who are to form a part of the hospital, the bishop is desirous that you shall have morning and evening service on the premises every Sabbath, and one weekday service; that you shall preach to them once at least on Sundays; and that the whole hospital be always collected for morning and evening prayer. The bishop thinks that this will render it unnecessary that any separate seats in the cathedral should be reserved for the hospital inmates."
Mr. Slope paused, but Mr. Harding still said nothing.
"Indeed, it would be difficult to find seats for the women; on the whole, Mr. Harding, I may as well say at once, that for people of that class the cathedral service does not appear to me the most useful—even if it be so for any class of people."
"We will not discuss that, if you please," said Mr. Harding.
"I am not desirous of doing so; at least, not at the present moment. I hope, however, you fully understand the bishop's wishes about the new establishment of the hospital; and if, as I do not doubt, I shall receive from you an assurance that you accord with his lordship's views, it will give me very great pleasure to be the bearer from his lordship to you of the presentation to the appointment."
"But if I disagree with his lordship's views?" asked Mr. Harding.
"But I hope you do not," said Mr. Slope.
"But if I do?" again asked the other.
"If such unfortunately should be the case, which I can hardly conceive, I presume your own feelings will dictate to you the propriety of declining the appointment."
"But if I accept the appointment and yet disagree with the bishop, what then?"
This question rather bothered Mr. Slope. It was true that he had talked the matter over with the bishop and had received a sort of authority for suggesting to Mr. Harding the propriety of a Sunday school and certain hospital services, but he had no authority for saying that these propositions were to be made peremptory conditions attached to the appointment. The bishop's idea had been that Mr. Harding would of course consent and that the school would become, like the rest of those new establishments in the city, under the control of his wife and his chaplain. Mr. Slope's idea had been more correct. He intended that Mr. Harding should refuse the situation, and that an ally of his own should get it, but he had not conceived the possibility of Mr. Harding openly accepting the appointment and as openly rejecting the conditions.
"It is not, I presume, probable," said he, "that you will accept from the hands of the bishop a piece of preferment with a fixed predetermination to disacknowledge the duties attached to it."
"If I become warden," said Mr. Harding, "and neglect my duty, the bishop has means by which he can remedy the grievance."
"I hardly expected such an argument from you, or I may say the suggestion of such a line of conduct," said Mr. Slope with a great look of injured virtue.
"Nor did I expect such a proposition."
"I shall be glad at any rate to know what answer I am to make to his lordship," said Mr. Slope.
"I will take an early opportunity of seeing his lordship myself," said Mr. Harding.
"Such an arrangement," said Mr. Slope, "will hardly give his lordship satisfaction. Indeed, it is impossible that the bishop should himself see every clergyman in the diocese on every subject of patronage that may arise. The bishop, I believe, did see you on the matter, and I really cannot see why he should be troubled to do so again."
"Do you know, Mr. Slope, how long I have been officiating as a clergyman in this city?" Mr. Slope's wish was now nearly fulfilled. Mr. Harding had become angry, and it was probable that he might commit himself.
"I really do not see what that has to do with the question. You cannot think the bishop would be justified in allowing you to regard as a sinecure a situation that requires an active, man merely because you have been employed for many years in the cathedral."
"But it might induce the bishop to see me, if I asked him to do so. I shall consult my friends in this matter, Mr. Slope; but I mean to be guilty of no subterfuge—you may tell the bishop that as I altogether disagree with his views about the hospital, I shall decline the situation if I find that any such conditions are attached to it as those you have suggested;" and so saying, Mr. Harding took his hat and went his way.
Mr. Slope was contented. He considered himself at liberty to accept Mr. Harding's last speech as an absolute refusal of the appointment. At least, he so represented it to the bishop and to Mrs. Proudie.
"That is very surprising," said the bishop.
"Not at all," said Mrs. Proudie; "you little know how determined the whole set of them are to withstand your authority."
"But Mr. Harding was so anxious for it," said the bishop.
"Yes," said Mr. Slope, "if he can hold it without the slightest acknowledgement of your lordship's jurisdiction."
"That is out of the question," said the bishop.
"I should imagine it to be quite so," said the chaplain.
"Indeed, I should think so," said the lady.
"I really am sorry for it," said the bishop.
"I don't know that there is much cause for sorrow," said the lady. "Mr. Quiverful is a much more deserving man, more in need of it, and one who will make himself much more useful in the close neighbourhood of the palace."
"I suppose I had better see Quiverful?" said the chaplain.
"I suppose you had," said the bishop.
The Rubbish Cart
Mr. Harding was not a happy man as he walked down the palace pathway and stepped out into the close. His preferment and pleasant house were a second time gone from him, but that he could endure. He had been schooled and insulted by a man young enough to be his son, but that he could put up with. He could even draw from the very injuries which had been inflicted on him some of that consolation which we may believe martyrs always receive from the injustice of their own sufferings, and which is generally proportioned in its strength to the extent of cruelty with which martyrs are treated. He had admitted to his daughter that he wanted the comfort of his old home, and yet he could have returned to his lodgings in the High Street, if not with exaltation, at least with satisfaction, had that been all. But the venom of the chaplain's harangue had worked into his blood, and sapped the life of his sweet contentment.
"New men are carrying out new measures and are carting away the useless rubbish of past centuries!" What cruel words these had been; and how often are they now used with all the heartless cruelty of a Slope! A man is sufficiently condemned if it can only be shown that either in politics or religion he does not belong to some new school established within the last score of years. He may then regard himself as rubbish and expect to be carted away. A man is nothing now unless he has within him a full appreciation of the new era, an era in which it would seem that neither honesty nor truth is very desirable, but in which success is the only touchstone of merit. We must laugh at everything that is established. Let the joke be ever so bad, ever so untrue to the real principles of joking; nevertheless we must laugh—or else beware the cart. We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or else we are nought. New men and new measures, long credit and few scruples, great success or wonderful ruin, such are now the tastes of Englishmen who know how to live. Alas, alas! Under such circumstances Mr. Harding could not but feel that he was an Englishman who did not know how to live. This new doctrine of Mr. Slope and the rubbish cart, new at least at Barchester, sadly disturbed his equanimity.
"The same thing is going on throughout the whole country! Work is now required from every man who receives wages!" And had he been living all his life receiving wages and doing no work? Had he in truth so lived as to be now in his old age justly reckoned as rubbish fit only to be hidden away in some huge dust-hole? The school of men to whom he professes to belong, the Grantlys, the Gwynnes, and the old high set of Oxford divines, are afflicted with no such self-accusations as these which troubled Mr. Harding. They, as a rule, are as satisfied with the wisdom and propriety of their own conduct as can be any Mr. Slope, or any Dr. Proudie, with his own. But unfortunately for himself Mr. Harding had little of this self-reliance. When he heard himself designated as rubbish by the Slopes of the world, he had no other resource than to make inquiry within his own bosom as to the truth of the designation. Alas, alas! The evidence seemed generally to go against him.
He had professed to himself in the bishop's parlour that in these coming sources of the sorrow of age, in these fits of sad regret from which the latter years of few reflecting men can be free, religion would suffice to comfort him. Yes, religion could console him for the loss of any worldly good, but was his religion of that active sort which would enable him so to repent of misspent years as to pass those that were left to him in a spirit of hope for the future? And such repentance itself, is it not a work of agony and of tears? It is very easy to talk of repentance, but a man has to walk over hot ploughshares before he can complete it; to be skinned alive as was St. Bartholomew; to be stuck full of arrows as was St. Sebastian; to lie broiling on a gridiron like St. Lorenzo! How if his past life required such repentance as this? Had he the energy to go through with it?
Mr. Harding, after leaving the palace, walked slowly for an hour or so beneath the shady elms of the close and then betook himself to his daughter's house. He had at any rate made up his mind that he would go out to Plumstead to consult Dr. Grantly, and that he would in the first instance tell Eleanor what had occurred.
And now he was doomed to undergo another misery. Mr. Slope had forestalled him at the widow's house. He had called there on the preceding afternoon. He could not, he had said, deny himself the pleasure of telling Mrs. Bold that her father was about to return to the pretty house at Hiram's Hospital. He had been instructed by the bishop to inform Mr. Harding that the appointment would now be made at once. The bishop was of course only too happy to be able to be the means of restoring to Mr. Harding the preferment which he had so long adorned. And then by degrees Mr. Slope had introduced the subject of the pretty school which he hoped before long to see attached to the hospital. He had quite fascinated Mrs. Bold by his description of this picturesque, useful, and charitable appendage, and she had gone so far as to say that she had no doubt her father would approve, and that she herself would gladly undertake a class.
Anyone who had heard the entirely different tone and seen the entirely different manner in which Mr. Slope had spoken of this projected institution to the daughter and to the father could not have failed to own that Mr. Slope was a man of genius. He said nothing to Mrs. Bold about the hospital sermons and services, nothing about the exclusion of the old men from the cathedral, nothing about dilapidation and painting, nothing about carting away the rubbish. Eleanor had said to herself that certainly she did not like Mr. Slope personally, but that he was a very active, zealous clergyman and would no doubt be useful in Barchester. All this paved the way for much additional misery to Mr. Harding.
Eleanor put on her happiest face as she heard her father on the stairs, for she thought she had only to congratulate him; but directly she saw his face she knew that there was but little matter for congratulation. She had seen him with the same weary look of sorrow on one or two occasions before, and remembered it well. She had seen him when he first read that attack upon himself in "The Jupiter" which had ultimately caused him to resign the hospital, and she had seen him also when the archdeacon had persuaded him to remain there against his own sense of propriety and honour. She knew at a glance that his spirit was in deep trouble.
"Oh, Papa, what is it?" said she, putting down her boy to crawl upon the floor.
"I came to tell you, my dear," said he, "that I am going out to Plumstead: you won't come with me, I suppose?"
"To Plumstead, Papa? Shall you stay there?"
"I suppose I shall, to-night: I must consult the archdeacon about this weary hospital. Ah me! I wish I had never thought of it again."
"Why, Papa, what is the matter?"
"I've been with Mr. Slope, my dear, and he isn't the pleasantest companion in the world, at least not to me." Eleanor gave a sort of half-blush, but she was wrong if she imagined that her father in any way alluded to her acquaintance with Mr. Slope.
"He wants to turn the hospital into a Sunday-school and a preaching-house, and I suppose he will have his way. I do not feel myself adapted for such an establishment, and therefore, I suppose, I must refuse the appointment."
"What would be the harm of the school, Papa?"
"The want of a proper schoolmaster, my dear."
"But that would of course be supplied."
"Mr. Slope wishes to supply it by making me his schoolmaster. But as I am hardly fit for such work, I intend to decline."
"Oh, Papa! Mr. Slope doesn't intend that. He was here yesterday, and what he intends—"
"He was here yesterday, was he?" asked Mr. Harding.
"And talking about the hospital?"
"He was saying how glad he would be, and the bishop too, to see you back there again. And then he spoke about the Sunday-school; and to tell the truth I agreed with him; and I thought you would have done so too. Mr. Slope spoke of a school, not inside the hospital, but just connected with it, of which you would be the patron and visitor; and I thought you would have liked such a school as that; and I promised to look after it and to take a class—and it all seemed so very—. But, oh, Papa! I shall be so miserable if I find I have done wrong."
"Nothing wrong at all, my dear," said he gently, very gently rejecting his daughter's caress. "There can be nothing wrong in your wishing to make yourself useful; indeed, you ought to do so by all means. Everyone must now exert himself who would not choose to go to the wall." Poor Mr. Harding thus attempted in his misery to preach the new doctrine to his child. "Himself or herself, it's all the same," he continued; "you will be quite right, my dear, to do something of this sort; but—"
"I am not quite sure that if I were you I would select Mr. Slope for my guide."
"But I never have done so and never shall."
"It would be very wicked of me to speak evil of him, for to tell the truth I know no evil of him; but I am not quite sure that he is honest. That he is not gentlemanlike in his manners, of that I am quite sure."
"I never thought of taking him for my guide, Papa."
"As for myself, my dear," continued he, "we know the old proverb—'It's bad teaching an old dog tricks.' I must decline the Sunday-school, and shall therefore probably decline the hospital also. But I will first see your brother-in-law." So he took up his hat, kissed the baby, and withdrew, leaving Eleanor in as low spirits as himself.
All this was a great aggravation to his misery. He had so few with whom to sympathize that he could not afford to be cut off from the one whose sympathy was of the most value to him. And yet it seemed probable that this would be the case. He did not own to himself that he wished his daughter to hate Mr. Slope, yet had she expressed such a feeling there would have been very little bitterness in the rebuke he would have given her for so uncharitable a state of mind. The fact, however, was that she was on friendly terms with Mr. Slope, that she coincided with his views, adhered at once to his plans, and listened with delight to his teaching. Mr. Harding hardly wished his daughter to hate the man, but he would have preferred that to her loving him.
He walked away to the inn to order a fly, went home to put up his carpet-bag, and then started for Plumstead. There was, at any rate, no danger that the archdeacon would fraternize with Mr. Slope; but then he would recommend internecine war, public appeals, loud reproaches, and all the paraphernalia of open battle. Now that alternative was hardly more to Mr. Harding's taste than the other.
When Mr. Harding reached the parsonage, he found that the archdeacon was out, and would not be home till dinnertime, so he began his complaint to his elder daughter. Mrs. Grantly entertained quite as strong an antagonism to Mr. Slope as did her husband; she was also quite as alive to the necessity of combating the Proudie faction, of supporting the old church interest of the close, of keeping in her own set such of the loaves and fishes as duly belonged to it; and was quite as well prepared as her lord to carry on the battle without giving or taking quarter. Not that she was a woman prone to quarrelling, or ill-inclined to live at peace with her clerical neighbours; but she felt, as did the archdeacon, that the presence of Mr. Slope in Barchester was an insult to everyone connected with the late bishop, and that his assumed dominion in the diocese was a spiritual injury to her husband. Hitherto people had little guessed how bitter Mrs. Grantly could be. She lived on the best of terms with all the rectors' wives around her. She had been popular with all the ladies connected with the close. Though much the wealthiest of the ecclesiastical matrons of the county, she had so managed her affairs that her carriage and horses had given umbrage to none. She had never thrown herself among the county grandees so as to excite the envy of other clergymen's wives. She never talked too loudly of earls and countesses, or boasted that she gave her governess sixty pounds a year, or her cook seventy. Mrs. Grantly had lived the life of a wise, discreet, peace-making woman, and the people of Barchester were surprised at the amount of military vigour she displayed as general of the feminine Grantlyite forces.
Mrs. Grantly soon learned that her sister Eleanor had promised to assist Mr. Slope in the affairs of the hospital school, and it was on this point that her attention first fixed itself.
"How can Eleanor endure him?" said she.
"He is a very crafty man," said her father, "and his craft has been successful in making Eleanor think that he is a meek, charitable, good clergyman. God forgive me, if I wrong him, but such is not his true character in my opinion."
"His true character, indeed!" said she, with something approaching scorn for her father's moderation. "I only hope he won't have craft enough to make Eleanor forget herself and her position."
"Do you mean marry him?" said he, startled out of his usual demeanour by the abruptness and horror of so dreadful a proposition.
"What is there so improbable in it? Of course that would be his own object if he thought he had any chance of success. Eleanor has a thousand a year entirely at her own disposal, and what better fortune could fall to Mr. Slope's lot than the transferring of the disposal of such a fortune to himself?"
"But you can't think she likes him, Susan?"
"Why not?" said Susan. "Why shouldn't she like him? He's just the sort of man to get on with a woman left, as she is, with no one to look after her."
"Look after her!" said the unhappy father; "don't we look after her?"
"Ah, Papa, how innocent you are! Of course it was to be expected that Eleanor should marry again. I should be the last to advise her against it, if she would only wait the proper time, and then marry at least a gentleman."
"But you don't really mean to say that you suppose Eleanor has ever thought of marrying Mr. Slope? Why, Mr. Bold has only been dead a year."
"Eighteen months," said his daughter. "But I don't suppose Eleanor has ever thought about it. It is very probable, though, that he has; and that he will try and make her do so; and that he will succeed too, if we don't take care what we are about."
This was quite a new phase of the affair to poor Mr. Harding. To have thrust upon him as his son-in-law, as the husband of his favourite child, the only man in the world whom he really positively disliked, would be a misfortune which he felt he would not know how to endure patiently. But then, could there be any ground for so dreadful a surmise? In all worldly matters he was apt to look upon the opinion of his eldest daughter as one generally sound and trustworthy. In her appreciation of character, of motives, and the probable conduct both of men and women, she was usually not far wrong. She had early foreseen the marriage of Eleanor and John Bold; she had at a glance deciphered the character of the new bishop and his chaplain; could it possibly be that her present surmise should ever come forth as true?
"But you don't think that she likes him?" said Mr. Harding again.
"Well, Papa, I can't say that I think she dislikes him as she ought to do. Why is he visiting there as a confidential friend, when he never ought to have been admitted inside the house? Why is it that she speaks to him about your welfare and your position, as she clearly has done? At the bishop's party the other night I saw her talking to him for half an hour at the stretch."
"I thought Mr. Slope seemed to talk to nobody there but that daughter of Stanhope's," said Mr. Harding, wishing to defend his child.
"Oh, Mr. Slope is a cleverer man than you think of, Papa, and keeps more than one iron in the fire."
To give Eleanor her due, any suspicion as to the slightest inclination on her part towards Mr. Slope was a wrong to her. She had no more idea of marrying Mr. Slope than she had of marrying the bishop, and the idea that Mr. Slope would present himself as a suitor had never occurred to her. Indeed, to give her her due again, she had never thought about suitors since her husband's death. But nevertheless it was true that she had overcome all that repugnance to the man which was so strongly felt for him by the rest of the Grantly faction. She had forgiven him his sermon. She had forgiven him his Low Church tendencies, his Sabbath-schools, and puritanical observances. She had forgiven his pharisaical arrogance, and even his greasy face and oily, vulgar manners. Having agreed to overlook such offences as these, why should she not in time be taught to regard Mr. Slope as a suitor?
And as to him, it must also be affirmed that he was hitherto equally innocent of the crime imputed to him. How it had come to pass that a man whose eyes were generally so widely open to everything around him had not perceived that this young widow was rich as well as beautiful, cannot probably now be explained. But such was the fact. Mr. Slope had ingratiated himself with Mrs. Bold, merely as he had done with other ladies, in order to strengthen his party in the city. He subsequently amended his error, but it was not till after the interview between him and Mr. Harding.
The New Champion
The archdeacon did not return to the parsonage till close upon the hour of dinner, and there was therefore no time to discuss matters before that important ceremony. He seemed to be in an especial good humour, and welcomed his father-in-law with a sort of jovial earnestness that was usual with him when things on which he was intent were going on as he would have them.
"It's all settled, my dear," said he to his wife as he washed his hands in his dressing-room, while she, according to her wont, sat listening in the bedroom; "Arabin has agreed to accept the living. He'll be here next week." And the archdeacon scrubbed his hands and rubbed his face with a violent alacrity, which showed that Arabin's coming was a great point gained.
"Will he come here to Plumstead?" said the wife.
"He has promised to stay a month with us," said the archdeacon, "so that he may see what his parish is like. You'll like Arabin very much. He's a gentleman in every respect, and full of humour."
"He's very queer, isn't he?" asked the lady.
"Well—he is a little odd in some of his fancies, but there's nothing about him you won't like. He is as staunch a churchman as there is at Oxford. I really don't know what we should do without Arabin. It's a great thing for me to have him so near me, and if anything can put Slope down, Arabin will do it."
The Reverend Francis Arabin was a fellow of Lazarus, the favoured disciple of the great Dr. Gwynne, a High Churchman at all points—so high, indeed, that at one period of his career he had all but toppled over into the cesspool of Rome—a poet and also a polemical writer, a great pet in the common-rooms at Oxford, an eloquent clergyman, a droll, odd, humorous, energetic, conscientious man, and, as the archdeacon had boasted of him, a thorough gentleman. As he will hereafter be brought more closely to our notice, it is now only necessary to add that he had just been presented to the vicarage of St. Ewold by Dr. Grantly, in whose gift as archdeacon the living lay. St. Ewold is a parish lying just without the city of Barchester. The suburbs of the new town, indeed, are partly within its precincts, and the pretty church and parsonage are not much above a mile distant from the city gate.
St. Ewold is not a rich piece of preferment—it is worth some three or four hundred a year at most, and has generally been held by a clergyman attached to the cathedral choir. The archdeacon, however, felt, when the living on this occasion became vacant, that it imperatively behoved him to aid the force of his party with some tower of strength, if any such tower could be got to occupy St. Ewold's. He had discussed the matter with his brethren in Barchester, not in any weak spirit as the holder of patronage to be used for his own or his family's benefit, but as one to whom was committed a trust on the due administration of which much of the church's welfare might depend. He had submitted to them the name of Mr. Arabin, as though the choice had rested with them all in conclave, and they had unanimously admitted that, if Mr. Arabin would accept St. Ewold's, no better choice could possibly be made.
If Mr. Arabin would accept St. Ewold's! There lay the difficulty. Mr. Arabin was a man standing somewhat prominently before the world, that is, before the Church of England world. He was not a rich man, it is true, for he held no preferment but his fellowship; but he was a man not over-anxious for riches, not married of course, and one whose time was greatly taken up in discussing, both in print and on platforms, the privileges and practices of the church to which he belonged. As the archdeacon had done battle for its temporalities, so did Mr. Arabin do battle for its spiritualities, and both had done so conscientiously; that is, not so much each for his own benefit as for that of others.
Holding such a position as Mr. Arabin did, there was much reason to doubt whether he would consent to become the parson of St. Ewold's, and Dr. Grantly had taken the trouble to go himself to Oxford on the matter. Dr. Gwynne and Dr. Grantly together had succeeded in persuading this eminent divine that duty required him to go to Barchester. There were wheels within wheels in this affair. For some time past Mr. Arabin had been engaged in a tremendous controversy with no less a person than Mr. Slope, respecting the apostolic succession. These two gentlemen had never seen each other, but they had been extremely bitter in print. Mr. Slope had endeavoured to strengthen his cause by calling Mr. Arabin an owl, and Mr. Arabin had retaliated by hinting that Mr. Slope was an infidel. This battle had been commenced in the columns of "The Jupiter," a powerful newspaper, the manager of which was very friendly to Mr. Slope's view of the case. The matter, however, had become too tedious for the readers of "The Jupiter," and a little note had therefore been appended to one of Mr. Slope's most telling rejoinders, in which it had been stated that no further letters from the reverend gentlemen could be inserted except as advertisements.
Other methods of publication were, however, found, less expensive than advertisements in "The Jupiter," and the war went on merrily. Mr. Slope declared that the main part of the consecration of a clergyman was the self-devotion of the inner man to the duties of the ministry. Mr. Arabin contended that a man was not consecrated at all, had, indeed, no single attribute of a clergyman, unless he became so through the imposition of some bishop's hands, who had become a bishop through the imposition of other hands, and so on in a direct line to one of the apostles. Each had repeatedly hung the other on the horns of a dilemma, but neither seemed to be a whit the worse for the hanging; and so the war went on merrily.
Whether or no the near neighbourhood of the foe may have acted in any way as an inducement to Mr. Arabin to accept the living of St. Ewold, we will not pretend to say; but it had at any rate been settled in Dr. Gwynne's library, at Lazarus, that he would accept it, and that he would lend his assistance towards driving the enemy out of Barchester, or, at any rate, silencing him while he remained there. Mr. Arabin intended to keep his rooms at Oxford and to have the assistance of a curate at St. Ewold, but he promised to give as much time as possible to the neighbourhood of Barchester, and from so great a man Dr. Grantly was quite satisfied with such a promise. It was no small part of the satisfaction derivable from such an arrangement that Bishop Proudie would be forced to institute into a living immediately under his own nose the enemy of his favourite chaplain.
All through dinner the archdeacon's good humour shone brightly in his face. He ate of the good things heartily, he drank wine with his wife and daughter, he talked pleasantly of his doings at Oxford, told his father-in-law that he ought to visit Dr. Gwynne at Lazarus, and launched out again in praise of Mr. Arabin.
"Is Mr. Arabin married, Papa?" asked Griselda.
"No, my dear, the fellow of a college is never married."
"Is he a young man, Papa?"
"About forty, I believe," said the archdeacon.
"Oh!" said Griselda. Had her father said eighty, Mr. Arabin would not have appeared to her to be very much older.
When the two gentlemen were left alone over their wine, Mr. Harding told his tale of woe. But even this, sad as it was, did not much diminish the archdeacon's good humour, though it greatly added to his pugnacity.
"He can't do it," said Dr. Grantly over and over again, as his father-in-law explained to him the terms on which the new warden of the hospital was to be appointed; "he can't do it. What he says is not worth the trouble of listening to. He can't alter the duties of the place."
"Who can't?" asked the ex-warden.
"Neither the bishop nor the chaplain, nor yet the bishop's wife, who, I take it, has really more to say to such matters than either of the other two. The whole body corporate of the palace together have no power to turn the warden of the hospital into a Sunday-schoolmaster."
"But the bishop has the power to appoint whom he pleases, and—"
"I don't know that; I rather think he'll find he has no such power. Let him try it, and see what the press will say. For once we shall have the popular cry on our side. But Proudie, ass as he is, knows the world too well to get such a hornet's nest about his ears."
Mr. Harding winced at the idea of the press. He had had enough of that sort of publicity, and was unwilling to be shown up a second time either as a monster or as a martyr. He gently remarked that he hoped the newspapers would not get hold of his name again, and then suggested that perhaps it would be better that he should abandon his object. "I am getting old," said he, "and after all I doubt whether I am fit to undertake new duties."
"New duties?" said the archdeacon; "don't I tell you there shall be no new duties?"
"Or perhaps old duties either," said Mr. Harding; "I think I will remain content as I am." The picture of Mr. Slope carting away the rubbish was still present to his mind.
The archdeacon drank off his glass of claret and prepared himself to be energetic. "I do hope," said he, "that you are not going to be so weak as to allow such a man as Mr. Slope to deter you from doing what you know it is your duty to do. You know it is your duty to resume your place at the hospital now that parliament has so settled the stipend as to remove those difficulties which induced you to resign it. You cannot deny this, and should your timidity now prevent you from doing so, your conscience will hereafter never forgive you," and as he finished this clause of his speech, he pushed over the bottle to his companion.
"Your conscience will never forgive you," he continued. "You resigned the place from conscientious scruples, scruples which I greatly respected, though I did not share them. All your friends respected them, and you left your old house as rich in reputation as you were ruined in fortune. It is now expected that you will return. Dr. Gwynne was saying only the other day—"
"Dr. Gwynne does not reflect how much older a man I am now than when he last saw me."
"Old—nonsense," said the archdeacon; "you never thought yourself old till you listened to the impudent trash of that coxcomb at the palace."
"I shall be sixty-five if I live till November," said Mr. Harding.
"And seventy-five, if you live till November ten years," said the archdeacon. "And you bid fair to be as efficient then as you were ten years ago. But for heaven's sake let us have no pretence in this matter. Your plea of old age is a pretence. But you're not drinking your wine. It is only a pretence. The fact is, you are half-afraid of this Slope, and would rather subject yourself to comparative poverty and discomfort than come to blows with a man who will trample on you, if you let him."
"I certainly don't like coming to blows, if I can help it."
"Nor I neither—but sometimes we can't help it. This man's object is to induce you to refuse the hospital, that he may put some creature of his own into it; that he may show his power and insult us all by insulting you, whose cause and character are so intimately bound up with that of the chapter. You owe it to us all to resist him in this, even if you have no solicitude for yourself. But surely, for your own sake, you will not be so lily-livered as to fall into this trap which he has baited for you and let him take the very bread out of your mouth without a struggle."
Mr. Harding did not like being called lily-livered, and was rather inclined to resent it. "I doubt there is any true courage," said he, "in squabbling for money."
"If honest men did not squabble for money, in this wicked world of ours, the dishonest men would get it all, and I do not see that the cause of virtue would be much improved. No—we must use the means which we have. If we were to carry your argument home, we might give away every shilling of revenue which the church has, and I presume you are not prepared to say that the church would be strengthened by such a sacrifice." The archdeacon filled his glass and then emptied it, drinking with much reverence a silent toast to the well-being and permanent security of those temporalities which were so dear to his soul.
"I think all quarrels between a clergyman and his bishop should be avoided," said Mr. Harding.
"I think so too, but it is quite as much the duty of the bishop to look to that as of his inferior. I tell you what, my friend; I'll see the bishop in this matter—that is, if you will allow me—and you may be sure I will not compromise you. My opinion is that all this trash about the Sunday-schools and the sermons has originated wholly with Slope and Mrs. Proudie, and that the bishop knows nothing about it. The bishop can't very well refuse to see me, and I'll come upon him when he has neither his wife nor his chaplain by him. I think you'll find that it will end in his sending you the appointment without any condition whatever. And as to the seats in the cathedral, we may safely leave that to Mr. Dean. I believe the fool positively thinks that the bishop could walk away with the cathedral if he pleased."
And so the matter was arranged between them. Mr. Harding had come expressly for advice, and therefore felt himself bound to take the advice given him. He had known, moreover, beforehand that the archdeacon would not hear of his giving the matter up, and accordingly, though he had in perfect good faith put forward his own views, he was prepared to yield.
They therefore went into the drawing-room in good humour with each other, and the evening passed pleasantly in prophetic discussions on the future wars of Arabin and Slope. The frogs and the mice would be nothing to them, nor the angers of Agamemnon and Achilles. How the archdeacon rubbed his hands and plumed himself on the success of his last move. He could not himself descend into the arena with Slope, but Arabin would have no such scruples. Arabin was exactly the man for such work, and the only man whom he knew that was fit for it.