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  • 1857
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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 not 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 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 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.

CHAPTER XII

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 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 9.30am. 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 give me 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, as follows:

“Dear Sir,–I will call at the palace to-morrow at 9.30 AM as you desire.

“Truly yours, S. HARDING”

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 for 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 his eyes 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, in truth, the time for it had 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 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 all 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 airy superiority which this man assumed, did go against the grain of 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 college at Cambridge might speak of some sizarship which had to be disposed of.

Mr Harding crossed one leg over the other, 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 is 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 L 450. I think on the whole the bishop was right; for though the service 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 comfortable to 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 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 house; 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 those 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; and so it was understood by Mr Harding. The colour rose in his cheeks, and he began to feel very angry.

‘You should 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 superintended the doing of the work, and the paying of the 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.

‘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 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 part of the hospital, the bishop is desirous that you shall have morning and evening service on the premises every Sabbath, and one week-day 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; and, 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 to be 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 will 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 of 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 those 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 condition.

‘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 very 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 that 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.

CHAPTER XIII

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 injuries of their own sufferings, and which is generally proportioned in it 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 exultation, at least with satisfaction, had that been all. But the venom of the chaplain’s harangue had worked into his blood, and had sapped the life of his sweet contentment.

‘New men are carrying out new measures, and are eating 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 ear 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 every thing 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 now measures, long credit and few scruples, great success and wonderful ruin, such are now the tastes of Englishmen who know how to live. Alas, alas! under the 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 recourse 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 the 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 had 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, would 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 tonight: 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.

‘Well, papa.’

‘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.

‘Yes, papa.’

‘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 that I have done wrong.’

‘Nothing wrong at all, my dear,’ said he, gently, very gently rejecting his daughter’s caresses. ‘There can be nothing wrong in your wishing to make yourself useful; indeed, you ought to do so by all means. Every one 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–‘

‘Well, papa.’

‘I am not quite sure that if I were you I would select Mr Slope for my guide.’

‘But I have never 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 gentleman-like 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 a bad thing teaching an old dog new 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 sympathise, 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 fraternise 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 dinner-time, 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 combatting the Proudie faction, of supporting the old church interest of the close, of keeping in her own set much 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 every one 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 had 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 learnt that her sister Eleanor had promised to assist Mr Slope in the affairs of the hospital; and it was on this point that her attention soon 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 of 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 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 widely open to everything 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 attended his error; but it was not till after the interview with him and Mr Harding.

CHAPTER XIV

THE NEW CAMPAIGN

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 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 good humour.’

‘He’s very queer, isn’t he?’ asked the wife.

‘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’s 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 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 daily 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 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 Dr Proudie would be forced to institute into a living, immediately under his own nose, the enemy of his favourite chaplain.

All through the 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 Dr 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 can 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 is your duty to do. You know that 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 only 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 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 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 discussion on the future wars of Arabin and Slope. The frogs had 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.

The archdeacon’s good humour and high buoyancy continued till, when reclining on his pillow, Mrs Grantly commenced to give him her view of the state of affairs in Barchester. And then certainly he was startled. The last words he said that night were as follows:–

‘If she does, by heaven, I’ll never speak to her again. She dragged me into the mire once, but I’ll not pollute myself with such filth as that–‘ And the archdeacon gave a shudder which shook the whole room, so violently was he convulsed with the thought which then agitated his mind.

Now in this matter, the widow Bold was scandalously ill-treated by her relatives. She had spoken to the man three or four times, and had expressed her willingness to teach in a Sunday-school. Such was the full extent of her sins in the matter of Mr Slope. Poor Eleanor! But time will show.

The next morning Mr Harding returned to Barchester, no further word having been spoken in his hearing respecting Mr Slope’s acquaintance with his younger daughter. But he observed that the archdeacon at breakfast was less cordial than he had been on the preceding evening.

CHAPTER XV

THE WIDOW’S SUITORS

Mr Slope lost no time in availing himself of the bishop’s permission to see Mr Quiverful, and it was in his interview with this worthy pastor that he first learned that Mrs Bold was worth the wooing. He rode out to Puddingdale to communicate to the embryo warden the good will of the bishop in his favour, and during the discussion on the matter, it was unnatural that the pecuniary resources of Mr Harding and his family should become the subject of remark.

Mr Quiverful, with his fourteen children and his four hundred a year, was a very poor man, and the prospect of this new preferment, which was to be held together with his living, was very grateful to him. To what clergyman so circumstanced would not such a prospect be very grateful? But Mr Quiverful had long been acquainted with Mr Harding, and had received kindness at his hands, so that his heart misgave him as he thought of supplanting a friend at the hospital. Nevertheless, he was extremely civil, cringingly civil, to Mr Slope; treated him quite as the great man; entreated this great man to do him the honour to drink a glass of sherry, at which, as it was very poor Marsala, the now pampered Slope turned up his nose; and ended by declaring his extreme obligation to the bishop and Mr Slope, and his great desire to accept the hospital, if–if it were certainly the case that Mr Harding had refused it.

What man, as needy as Mr Quiverful, would have been more disinterested?

‘Mr Harding did positively refuse it,’ said Mr Slope, with a certain air of offended dignity, ‘when he heard of the conditions to which the appointment is now subjected. Of course, you understand, Mr Quiverful, that the same conditions will be imposed on yourself.’

Mr Quiverful cared nothing for the conditions. He would have undertaken to preach any number of sermons Mr Slope might have chosen to dictate, and to pass every remaining hour of his Sundays within the walls of a Sunday school. What sacrifices, or, at any rate, what promises, would have been too much to make for such an addition to his income, and for such a house! But his mind still recurred to Mr Harding.

‘To be sure,’ said he; ‘Mr Harding’s daughter is very rich, and why should he trouble himself with the hospital?’

‘You mean Mrs Grantly,’ said Slope.

‘I meant the widowed daughter,’ said the other. ‘Mrs Bold has twelve hundred a year of her own, and I suppose Mr Harding means to live with her.’

‘Twelve hundred a year of her own!’ said Slope, and very shortly afterwards took his leave, avoiding, as far as it was possible for him to do, any further allusion to the hospital. Twelve hundred a year, said he to himself, as he rode slowly home. If it were the fact that Mrs Bold had twelve hundred a year of her own, what a fool would he be to oppose her father’s return to his old place. The train of Mr Slope’s ideas will probably be plain to all my readers. Why should he not make the twelve hundred a year his own? And if he did so, would it not be well for him to have a father-in-law comfortably provided with the good things of this world? Would it not, moreover, be much more easy for him to gain his daughter, if he did all in his power to forward his father’s views?

These questions presented themselves to him in a very forcible way, and yet there were many points of doubt. If he resolved to restore to Mr Harding his former place, he must take the necessary steps for doing so at once; he must immediately talk over the bishop, quarrel on the matter with Mrs Proudie whom he knew he could not talk over, and let Mr Quiverful know that he had been a little too precipitate as to Mr Harding’s positive refusal. That he could effect all this, he did not doubt; but he did not wish to effect it for nothing. He did not wish to give way to Mr Harding, and then be rejected by the daughter. He did not wish to lose one influential friend before he had gained another.

And thus he rode home, meditating the many things in his mind. It occurred to him that Mrs Bold was sister-in-law to the archdeacon; and that not even for twelve hundred a year would he submit to that imperious man. A rich wife was a great desideratum to him, but success in his profession was still greater; there were, moreover, other rich women who might be willing to become wives; and after all, this twelve hundred a year might, when inquired into, melt away into some small sum utterly beneath his notice. Then also he remembered that Mrs Bold had a son.

Another circumstance also much influenced him, though it was one which may almost be said to have influenced him against his will. The vision of Signora Neroni was perpetually before his eyes. It would be too much to say that Mr Slope was lost in love, but yet he thought, and kept continually thinking, that he had never seen so beautiful a woman. He was a man whose nature was open to such impulses, and the wiles of the Italianised charmer had been thoroughly successful in imposing upon his thoughts. We will not talk of his heart: not that he had no heart, but because his heart had little to do with his present feelings. His taste had been pleased, his eyes charmed, and his vanity gratified. He had been dazzled by a sort of loveliness which he had never before seen, and had been caught by an easy, free, voluptuous manner which was perfectly new to him. He had never been so tempted before, and the temptation was now irresistible. He had not owned to himself that he cared for this woman more than for others around him; but yet he thought often of the time when he might see her next, and made, almost unconsciously, little cunning plans for seeing her frequently.

He had called at Dr Stanhope’s house the day after the bishop’s party, and then the warmth of his admiration had been fed with fresh fuel. If the signora had been kind in her manner, and flattering in her speech when lying upon the bishop’s sofa, with the eyes of so many on her, she had been much more so in her mother’s drawing-room, with no one present but her sister to repress either her nature or her art. Mr Slope had thus left her quite bewildered, and could not willingly admit into his brain any scheme, a part of which would be the necessity of abandoning all further special relationship with this lady.

And so he slowly rode along very meditative.

And here the author must beg it to be remembered that Mr Slope was not in all things a bad man. His motives, like those of most men, were mixed; and though his conduct was generally very different from that which we would wish to praise, it was actuated perhaps as often as that of the majority of the world by a desire to do his duty. He believed in the religion which he taught, harsh, unpalatable, uncharitable as that religion was. He believed those whom he wished to get under his hoof, the Grantlys and Gwynnes of the church, to be the enemies of that religion. He believed himself to be the pillar of strength, destined to do great things; and with that subtle, selfish, ambiguous sophistry to which the minds of all men are so subject, he had taught himself to think that in doing much for the promotion of his own interests he was doing much also for the promotion of religion. Mr Slope had never been an immoral man. Indeed, he had resisted temptations to immorality with a strength of purpose that was creditable to him. He had early in life devoted himself to works which were not compatible with the ordinary pleasures of youth, and he had abandoned such pleasures not without a struggle. It must therefore be conceived that he did not admit to himself that he warmly admired the beauty of a married woman without heartfelt stings of conscience; and to pacify that conscience, he had to teach himself that the nature of his admiration was innocent.

And thus he rode along meditative and ill at ease. His conscience had not a word to say against his choosing the widow and her fortune. That he looked upon as a godly work rather than otherwise; as a deed which, if carried through, would redound to his credit as a Christian. On that side lay no future remorse, no conduct which he might probably have to forget, no inward stings. If it should turn out to be really the fact that Mrs Bold had twelve hundred a year at her own disposal, Mr Slope would rather look upon it as a duty which he owed his religion to make himself the master of the wife and the money; as a duty, too, in which some amount of self-sacrifice would be necessary. He would have to give up his friendship with the signora, his resistance to Mr Harding, his antipathy–no, he found on mature self-examination, that he could not bring himself to give up his antipathy to Dr Grantly. He would marry the lady as the enemy of her brother-in-law, if such an arrangement suited her; if not, she must look elsewhere for a husband.

It was with such resolve as this that he reached Barchester. He would at once ascertain what the truth might be as to the lady’s wealth, and having done this, he would be ruled by circumstances in his conduct respecting the hospital. If he found that he could turn round and secure the place for Mr Harding without much self-sacrifice, he would do so; but if not, he would woo the daughter in opposition to the father. But in no case would he succumb to the archdeacon.

He saw his horse taken round to the stable, and immediately went forth to commence his inquiries. To give Mr Slope his due, he was not a man who ever let much grass grow under his feet.

Poor Eleanor! She was doomed to be the intended victim of more schemes than one.

About the time that Mr Slope was visiting the vicar of Puddingdale, a discussion took place respecting her charms and wealth at Dr Stanhope’s house in the close. There had been morning callers there, and people had told some truth and also some falsehood respecting the property which John Bold had left behind him. By degrees the visitors went, and as the doctor went with them, and as the doctor’s wife had not made her appearance, Charlotte Stanhope and her brother were left together. He was sitting idly at the table, scrawling caricatures of Barchester notable, then yawning, then turning over a book or two, and evidently at a loss how kill some time without much labour.

‘You haven’t done much, Bertie, about getting any orders,’ said his sister.

‘Orders!’ said he; ‘who on earth is there at Barchester to give some orders? Who among the people here could possibly think it worth his while to have his head done into marble?’

‘Then you mean to give up your profession,’ said she.

‘No, I don’t,’ said he, going on with some absurd portrait of the bishop. ‘Look at that, Lotte; isn’t it the little man all over, apron and all? I’d go on with my profession at once, as you call it, if the governor would set me up with a studio in London; but as to sculpture at Barchester–I suppose half the people here don’t know what a torso means.’

‘The governor will not give you a shilling to start you in London,’ said Lotte. ‘Indeed, he can’t give you what would be sufficient, for he has not got it. But you might start yourself very well, if you pleased.’

‘How the deuce am I to do it?’ said he.

‘To tell you the truth, Bertie, you’ll never make a penny by any profession.’

‘That’s what I often think myself,’ said he, not in the least offended. ‘Some men have a great gift of making money, but they can’t spend it. Others can’t put two shillings together, but they have a great talent for all sorts of outlay. I begin to think that my genius is wholly in the latter line.’

‘How do you mean to live then?’ asked the sister.

‘I suppose I must regard myself as a young raven, and look for heavenly manna; besides, we have all got something when the governor goes.’

‘Yes–you’ll have enough to supply yourself with gloves and boots; that is, if the Jews have not got the possession of it all. I believe they have the most of it already. I wonder, Bertie, at your indifference; that you, with your talents and personal advantages, should never try to settle yourself in life. I look forward with dread to the time when the governor must go. Mother, and Madeline, and I,–we shall be poor enough, but you will have absolutely nothing.’

‘Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,’ said Bertie.

‘Will you take my advice?’ said the sister.

‘Cela depend,’ said the brother.

‘Will you marry a wife with money?’

‘At any rate,’ said he, ‘I won’t marry one without; wives with money a’nt so easy to get now-a-days; the parsons pick them all up.’

‘And a parson will pick up the wife I meant for you, if you do not look quickly about it; the wife I mean is Mrs Bold.’

‘Whew-w-w-w!’ whistled Bertie, ‘a widow!’

‘She is very beautiful,’ said Charlotte.

‘With a son and heir already to my hand,’ said Bertie.

‘A baby that will very likely die,’ said Charlotte.

‘I don’t see that,’ said Bertie. ‘But however, he may live for me–I don’t wish to kill him; only, it must be owned that a ready-made family is a drawback.’

‘There is only one after all,’ pleaded Charlotte.

‘And that a very little one, as the maid-servant said,’ rejoined Bertie.

‘Beggars mustn’t be choosers, Bertie; you can’t have everything.’

‘God knows I am not unreasonable,’ said he, ‘nor yet opinionated; and if you’ll arrange it for me, Lotte, I’ll marry the lady. Only mark this: the money must be sure, and the income at my own disposal, at any rate for the lady’s life.’

Charlotte was explaining to her brother that he must make love for himself if he meant to carry on the matter, and was encouraging him to so, by warm eulogiums on Eleanor’s beauty, when the signora was brought into the drawing-room. When at home, and subject to the gaze of none but her own family, she allowed herself to be dragged about by two persons, and her two bearers now deposited her on the sofa. She was not quite so grand in her apparel as she had been at the bishop’s party, but yet she was dressed with much care, and though there was a look of care and pain about her eyes, she, was, even by daylight, extremely beautiful.

‘Well, Madeline; so I’m going to be married,’ Bertie began, as soon as the servants had withdrawn.

‘There’s no other foolish thing left, that you haven’t done,’ said Madeline, ‘and therefore you are quite right to try that.’

‘Oh, you think it’s a foolish thing, do you?’ said he. ‘There’s Lotte advising me to marry by all means. But on such a subject your opinion ought to be the best; you have experience to guide you.’

‘Yes, I have,’ said Madeline, with a sort of harsh sadness in her tone, which seemed to say–What is it to you if I am sad? I have never asked your sympathy.

Bertie was sorry when he saw that she was hurt by what he said, and he came and squatted on the floor close before her face to make his peace with her.

‘Come, Mad, I was only joking; you know that. But in sober earnest, Lotte is advising me to marry. She wants me to marry Mrs Bold. She’s a widow with lots of tin, a fine baby, a beautiful complexion, and the George and Dragon hotel up in High Street. By Jove, Lotte, if I marry her, I’ll keep the public house myself–it’s just the life that suits me.’

‘What?’ said Madeline, ‘that vapid swarthy creature in the widow’s cap, who looked as though her clothes had been stuck on her back with a pitchfork!’ The signora never allowed any woman to be beautiful.

‘Instead of being vapid,’ said Lotte, ‘I call her a very lovely woman. She was by far the loveliest woman in the rooms the other night; that is, excepting you, Madeline.’

Even the compliment did not soften the asperity of the maimed beauty. ‘Every woman is charming according to Lotte,’ she said; ‘I never knew an eye with so little true appreciation. In the first place, what woman on earth could look well in such a thing as that she had on her head?’

‘Of course she wears a widow’s cap; but she’ll put that off when Bertie marries her.’

‘I don’t see any “of course” in it,’ said Madeline. ‘The death of twenty husbands should not make me undergo such a penance. It is as much a relic of paganism as the sacrifice of a Hindu woman at the burning of her husband’s body. If not so bloody, it is quite as barbarous, and quite as useless.’

‘But you don’t blame her for that,’ said Bertie. ‘She does it because it’s the custom of the country. People would think ill of her if she didn’t do it.’

‘Exactly,’ said Madeline. ‘She is just one of those English nonentities who would tie her head up in a bag for three months every summer, if her mother and her grandmother had tied up their heads before her. It would never occur to her, to think whether there was any use in submitting to such a nuisance.’

‘It’s very hard, in a country like England, for a young woman to set herself in opposition to the prejudices of that sort,’ said the prudent Charlotte.

‘What you mean is, that it’s very hard for a fool not to be a fool,’ said Madeline.

Bertie Stanhope had so much knocked about the world from his earliest years, that he had not retained much respect for the gravity of English customs; but even to his mind an idea presented itself, that, perhaps in a wife, true British prejudice would not in the long run be less agreeable than Anglo-Italian freedom from restraint. He did not exactly say so, but he expressed the idea in another way.

‘I fancy,’ said he, ‘that if I were to die, and then walk, I should think that my widow looked better in one of those caps than any other kind of head-dress.’

‘Yes–and you’d fancy also that she could do nothing better than shut herself up and cry for you, or else burn herself. But she would think differently. She’d probably wear one of those horrid she-helmets, because she’d want the courage not to do so; but she’d wear it with a heart longing for the time when she might be allowed to throw it off. I hate such shallow false pretences. For my part, I would let the world say what it pleased, and show no grief if I felt none;–and perhaps not, if I did.’

‘But wearing a widow’s cap won’t lessen her fortune,’ said Charlotte.

‘Or increase it,’ said Madeline. ‘Then why on earth does she do it?’

‘But Lotte’s object is to make her put it off,’ said Bertie.

‘If it be true that she has got twelve hundred a year quite at her own disposal, and she be not utterly vulgar in her manners, I would advise you to marry her. I dare say she is to be had for the asking; and as you are not going to marry her for love, it doesn’t much matter whether she is good-looking or not. As to your really marrying a woman for love, I don’t believe you are fool enough for that.’

‘Oh, Madeline!’ cried her sister.

‘And oh, Charlotte!’ said the other.

‘You don’t mean to say that no man can love a woman unless he is a fool?’

‘I mean very much the same thing,–that any man who is willing to sacrifice his interest to get possession of a pretty face is a fool. Pretty faces are to be had cheaper than that. I hate your mawkish sentimentality, Lotte. You know as well as I do in what way husbands and wives generally live together; you know how far the warmth of conjugal affection can withstand the trial of a bad dinner, of a rainy day, or of the least privation which poverty brings with it; you know what freedom a man claims for himself, what slavery he would exact from his wife if he could! And you know also how wives generally obey. Marriage means tyranny on one side and deceit on the other. I say that a man is a fool to sacrifice his interests for such a bargain. A woman, too generally, has no other way of living.’

‘But Bertie has no other way of living,’ said Charlotte.

‘Then, in God’s name, let him marry Mrs Bold,’ said Madeline. And so it was settled between them.

But let the gentle-hearted reader be under no apprehension whatsoever. It is not destined that Eleanor shall marry Mr Slope or Bertie Stanhope. And here, perhaps, it may be allowed to the novelist to explain his views on a very important point in the art of telling tales. He ventures to reprobate that system which goes so far to violate all proper confidence between the author and his readers, by maintaining nearly to the end of the third volume a mystery as to the fate of their favourite personage. Nay, more, and worse than this, is too frequently done. Have not often the profoundest efforts of genius been used to baffle the aspirations of the reader, to raise false hopes and false fears, and to give rise to expectations which are never realised? Are not promises all but made of delightful horrors, in lieu of which the writer produces nothing but commonplace realities in his final chapter? And is there not a species of deceit in this to which the honesty of the present age should lend no countenance?

And what can be the worth of that solicitude which a peep into the third volume can utterly dissipate? What the value of those literary charms which are absolutely destroyed by their enjoyment? When we have once learnt what was the picture before which was hung Mrs Radcliffe’s solemn curtain, we feel no further interest about either the frame or the veil. They are to us, merely a receptacle for old bones, and inappropriate coffin, which we would wish to have decently buried out of our sight.

And then, how grievous a thing it is to have the pleasure of your novel destroyed by the ill-considered triumph of a previous reader. ‘Oh, you needn’t be alarmed, for Augusta, of course, she accepts Gustavus in the end.’ ‘How very ill-natured you are, Susan,’ says Kitty, with tears in her eyes; ‘I don’t care a bit about it now.’ Dear Kitty, if you will read my book, you may defy the ill-nature of your sister. There shall be no secret that she can tell you. Nay, take the last chapter, if you please–learn from its pages all the results of our troubled story, and the story shall have lost none of its interest, if indeed, there be any interest in it to lose.

Our doctrine is, that the author and the reader should move along together in full confidence with each other. Let the personages of the drama undergo ever so completely a comedy of errors among themselves, but let the spectator never mistake the Syracusan for the Ephesian; otherwise he is one of the dupes, and the part of a dupe is never dignified.

I would not for the value of this chapter have it believed by a single reader that my Eleanor could bring herself to marry Mr Slope, or that she should be sacrificed to a Bertie Stanhope. But among the good folk of Barchester many believed both the one and the other.

CHAPTER XVI

BABY WORSHIP

‘Diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, dum, dum, dum,’ said, or sung Eleanor Bold.

‘Diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, dum, dum, dum,’ continued Mary Bold, taking up the second part in the concerted piece.

The only audience at the concert was the baby, who however gave such vociferous applause, that the performers presuming it to amount to an encore, commenced again.

‘Diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, dum, dum, dum: hasn’t he got lovely legs?’ said the rapturous mother.

‘H’m, ‘m, ‘m, ‘m, ‘m,’ simmered Mary, burying her lips in the little fellow’s fat neck, by way of kissing him.

‘H’m, ‘m, ‘m, ‘m, ‘m,’ simmered the mamma, burying her lips also in his fat round short legs. ‘He’s a dawty little bold darling, so he is; and he has the nicest little pink legs in all the world, so he has;’ and the simmering and the kissing went on over again, and as though the ladies were very hungry, and determined to eat him.

‘Well, then, he’s his own mother’s own darling: well, he shall–oh, oh,–Mary, Mary–did you ever see? What am I to do? My naughty, naughty, naughty little Johnny.’ All these energetic exclamations were elicited by the delight of the mother in finding that her son was strong enough and mischievous enough, to pull all her hair out from under her cap. ‘He’s been and pulled down all mamma’s hair, and he’s the naughtiest, naughtiest, naughtiest little man that ever, ever, ever, ever, ever–‘

A regular service of baby worship was going on. Mary Bold was sitting on a low easy chair, with the boy in her lap, and Eleanor was kneeling before the object of her idolatry. As she tried to cover up the little fellow’s face with her long, glossy, dark brown locks, and permitted him to pull them hither and thither, as he would, she looked very beautiful in spite of the widow’s cap which she still wore. There was a quiet, enduring, grateful sweetness about her face, which grew so strongly upon those who knew her, as to make the great praise of her beauty which came from her old friends, appear marvellously exaggerated to those who were only slightly acquainted with her. Her loveliness was like that of many landscapes, which require to be often seen to be fully enjoyed. There was a depth of dark clear brightness in her eyes which was lost upon a quick observer, a character about her mouth which only showed itself to those with whom she familiarly conversed, a glorious form of head the perfect symmetry of which required the eyes of an artist for its appreciation. She had none of that dazzling brilliancy, of that voluptuous Rubens beauty, of that pearly whiteness, and those vermilion tints, which immediately entranced with the power of a basilisk men who came within reach of Madeline Neroni. It was all be impossible to resist the signora, but no one was called upon for any resistance towards Eleanor. You might begin to talk to her as though she were your sister, and it would not be till your head was on your pillow, that the truth and intensity of her beauty would flash upon you; that the sweetness of her voice would come upon your ear. A sudden half-hour with the Neroni, was like falling into a pit; an evening spent with Eleanor like an unexpected ramble in some quiet fields of asphodel.

‘We’ll cover him up till there shan’t be a morsel of his little ‘ittle, ‘ittle, ‘ittle nose to be seen,’ said the mother, stretching her streaming locks over the infant’s face. The child screamed with delight, and kicked till Mary Bold was hardly able to hold him.

At this moment the door opened, and Mr Slope was announced. Up jumped Eleanor, and with a sudden quick motion of her hands pushed back her hair over her shoulders. It would have been perhaps better for her that she had not, for she thus showed more of her confusion than she would have done had she remained as she was. Mr Slope, however, immediately recognised the loveliness, and thought to himself, that irrespective of her fortune, she would be an inmate that a man might well desire for his house, a partner for his bosom’s care very well qualified to make care lie easy. Eleanor hurried out of the room to re-adjust her cap, muttering some unnecessary apology about her baby. And while she was gone, we will briefly go back and state what had been hitherto the results of Mr Slope’s meditations on his scheme of matrimony.

His inquiries as to the widow’s income had at any rate been so far successful as to induce him to determine to go on with the speculation. As regarded Mr Harding, he had also resolved to do what he could without injury to himself. To Mrs Proudie he determined not to speak on the matter, at least not at present. His object was to instigate a little rebellion on the part of the bishop. He thought that such a state of things would be advisable, not only in respect to Messrs Harding and Quiverful, but also in the affairs of the diocese generally. Mr Slope was by no means of the opinion that Dr Proudie was fit to rule, but he conscientiously thought it wrong that his brother clergy should be subjected to petticoat government. He therefore made up his mind to infuse a little of his spirit into the bishop, sufficient to induce him to oppose his wife, though not enough to make him altogether insubordinate.

He had therefore taken the opportunity of again speaking to his lordship about the hospital, and had endeavoured to make it appear that after all it would be unwise to exclude Mr Harding from the appointment. Mr Slope, however, had a harder task than he had imagined. Mrs Proudie, anxious to assume to herself as much as possible of the merit of patronage, had written to Mrs Quiverful, requesting her to call at the palace; and had then explained to that matron, with much mystery, condescension, and dignity, the good that was in store for her and her progeny. Indeed Mrs Proudie had been so engaged at the very time that Mr Slope had been doing the same with her husband at Puddingdale Vicarage, and had thus in a measure committed herself. The thanks, the humility, the gratitude, the surprise of Mrs Quiverful had been very overpowering; she had all but embraced the knees of her patroness; and had promised that the prayers of fourteen unprovided babes (so Mrs Quiverful had described her own family, the eldest of which was a stout young woman of three-and-twenty) should be put up to heaven morning and evening for the munificent friend whom God had sent to them. Such incense as this was not unpleasing to Mrs Proudie, and she made the most of it. She offered her general assistance to the fourteen unprovided babes, if, as she had no doubt, she should find them worthy; expressed a hope that the eldest of them would be fit to undertake tuition in her Sabbath schools, and altogether made herself a very great lady in the estimation of Mrs Quiverful.

Having done this, she thought it prudent to drop a few words before the bishop, letting him know that she had acquainted the Puddingdale family with their good fortune; so that he might perceive that he stood committed to the appointment. The husband well understood the rule of his wife, but he did not resent it. He knew that she was taking the patronage out of his hands; he was resolved to put an end to her interference, and re-assume his powers. But then he thought this was not the best time to do it. He put off the evil hour, as many a man in similar circumstances has done before him.

Such having been the case, Mr Slope, naturally encountered a difficulty in talking over the bishop, a difficulty indeed which he found could not be overcome except at the cost of a general outbreak at the palace. A general outbreak at the present moment might be good policy, but it also might not. It was at any rate not a step to be lightly taken. He began by whispering to the bishop that he feared the public opinion would be against him if Mr Harding did not reappear at the hospital. The bishop answered with some warmth that Mr Quiverful had been promised the appointment on Mr Slope’s advice. ‘Not promised!’ said Mr Slope. ‘Yes, promised,’ replied the bishop, ‘and Mrs Proudie has seen Mrs Quiverful on the subject.’ This was quite unexpected on the part of Mr Slope, but his presence of mind did not fail him, and he turned the statement to his own account.

‘Ah, my lord,’ said he, ‘we shall all be in scrapes if the ladies interfere.’

This was too much in unison with his lordship’s feelings to be altogether unpalatable, and yet such an allusion to interference demanded a rebuke. My lord was somewhat astounded also, though not altogether made miserable, by finding that there was a point of difference between his wife and his chaplain.

‘I don’t know what you mean by interference,’ said the bishop mildly. ‘When Mrs Proudie heard that Mr Quiverful was to be appointed, it was not unnatural that she should wish to see Mrs Quiverful about the schools. I really cannot say that I see any interference.’

‘I only speak, my lord, for your own comfort,’ said Slope; ‘for your own comfort and dignity in the diocese. I can have no other motive. As far as personal feelings go, Mrs Proudie is the best friend I have. I must always remember that. But still, in my present position, my first duty is to your lordship.’

‘I am sure of that, Mr Slope, I am quite sure of that;’ said the bishop mollified: ‘and I really think that Mr Harding should have the hospital.’

‘Upon my word, I am inclined to think so. I am quite prepared to take upon myself the blame of first suggesting Mr Quiverful’s name. But since doing so, I have found that there is so strong a feeling in the diocese in favour of Mr Harding, that I think your lordship should give way. I hear also that Mr Harding has modified his objections he first felt to your lordship’s propositions. And as to what has passed between Mrs Proudie and Mrs Quiverful, the circumstance may be a little inconvenient, but I really do not think that that should weigh in a matter of so much moment.’

And thus the poor bishop was left in a dreadfully undecided state as to what he should do. His mind, however, slightly inclined itself to the appointment of Mr Harding, seeing that by such a step, he should have the assistance of Mr Slope in opposing Mrs Proudie.

Such was the state of affairs at the palace, when Mr Slope called at Mrs Bold’s house, and found her playing with her baby. When she ran out of the room, Mr Slope began praising the weather to Mary Bold, then he praised the baby and kissed him, and then he praised the mother, and then he praised Miss Bold herself. Mrs Bold, however, was not long before she came back.

‘I have to apologise for calling at so very early an hour,’ began Mr Slope, ‘but I was really so anxious to speak to you that I hope you and Miss Bold will excuse me.’

Eleanor muttered something in which the words ‘certainly’, and ‘of course’, and ‘not early at all’, were just audible, and then apologised for her own appearance, declaring with a smile, that her baby was becoming such a big boy that he was quite unmanageable.

‘He’s a great bit naughty boy,’ said she to the child; ‘and we must sent him away to a great big rough romping school, where they have great big rods, and do terrible things to naughty boys who don’t do what their own mammas tell them;’ and she then commenced another course of kissing, being actuated thereto by the terrible idea of sending her child away which her own imagination had depicted.

‘And where the masters don’t have such beautiful long hair to be dishevelled,’ said Mr Slope, taking up the joke and paying a compliment at the same time.

Eleanor thought he might as well have left the compliment alone; but she said nothing and looked nothing, being occupied as she was with the baby.

‘Let me take him,’ said Mary. ‘His clothes are nearly off his back with his romping,’ and so saying she left the room with the child. Miss Bold had heard Mr Slope say he had something pressing to say to Eleanor, and thinking that she might be de trop, took the opportunity of getting herself out of the room.

‘Don’t be long, Mary,’ said Eleanor, as Miss Bold shut the door.

‘I am glad, Mrs Bold, to have the opportunity of having ten minutes’ conversation with you alone,’ began Mr Slope. ‘Will you let me openly ask you a plain question?’

‘Certainly,’ said she.

‘And I am sure you will give me a plain and open answer.’

‘Either that or none at all,’ said she, laughing.

‘My question is this, Mrs Bold; is your father really anxious to get back to the hospital?’

‘Why do you ask me?’ said she. ‘Why don’t you ask himself?’

‘My dear Mrs Bold, I’ll tell you why. There are wheels within wheels, all of which I would explain to you, only I fear there is not time. It is essentially necessary that I should have an answer to this question, otherwise I cannot know how to advance your father’s wishes; and it is quite impossible that I should ask himself. No one can esteem your father more than I do, but I doubt if this feeling is reciprocal.’ It certainly was not. ‘I must be candid with you as the only means of avoiding ultimate consequences, which may be most injurious to Mr Harding. I fear there is a feeling, I will not even call it a prejudice, with regard to myself in Barchester, which is not in my favour. You remember the sermon–‘

‘Oh! Mr Slope, we need not go back to that,’ said Eleanor.

‘For one moment, Mrs Bold. It is not that I may talk of myself, but because it is so essential that you should understand how matters stand. That sermon may have been ill-judged,–it was certainly misunderstood; but I will say nothing about that now; only this, that it did give rise to a feeling against myself which your father shares with others. It may be that he has proper cause, but the result is that he is not inclined to meet me on friendly terms. I put it to yourself whether you do not know this to be the case.’

Eleanor made no answer, and Mr Slope, in the eagerness of his address, edged his chair a little nearer to the widow’s seat, unperceived by her.

‘Such being so,’ continued Mr Slope, ‘I cannot ask him this question as I can ask it of you. In spite of my delinquencies since I came to Barchester you have allowed me to regard you as a friend.’ Eleanor made a little motion with her head which was hardly confirmatory, but Mr Slope if he noticed it, did not appear to do so. ‘To you I can speak openly, and explain the feelings of my heart. This your father would not allow. Unfortunately the bishop has thought it right that this matter of the hospital should pass through my hands. There have been some details to get up with which he would not trouble himself, and thus it has come to pass that I was forced to have an interview with your father on the matter.’

‘I am aware of that,’ said Eleanor.

‘Of course,’ said he. ‘In that interview Mr Harding left the impression on my mind that he did not wish to return to the hospital.’

‘How could that be?’ said Eleanor, at last stirred up to forget the cold propriety of demeanour which she had determined to maintain.

‘My dear Mrs Bold, I give you my word that such was the case,’ said he, again getting a little nearer to her. ‘And what is more than that, before my interview with Mr Harding, certain persons at the palace, I do not mean the bishop, had told me that such was the fact. I own, I hardly believed it; I own, I thought that your father would wish on every account, for conscience’ sake, for the sake of those old men, for old association, and the memory of dear days gone by, on every account I thought that he would wish to resume his duties. But I was told that such was not his wish; and he certainly left me with the impression that I had been told the truth.’

‘Well!’ said Eleanor, now sufficiently roused on the matter.

‘I fear Miss Bold’s step,’ said Mr Slope, ‘would it be asking too great a favour to beg you to–I know you can manage anything with Miss Bold.’

Eleanor did not like the word manage, but still she went out, and asked Mary to leave them alone for another quarter of an hour.

‘Thank you, Mrs Bold,–I am so very grateful for this confidence. Well, I left your father with this impression. Indeed, I may say that he made me understand that he declined the appointment.’

‘Not the appointment,’ said Eleanor. ‘I am sure he did not decline the appointment. But he said that he would not agree,–that is, that he did not like the scheme about the schools, and the services, and all that. I am quite sure he never said he wished to refuse the place.’

‘Oh, Mrs Bold!’ said Mr Slope, in a manner almost impassioned. ‘I would not, for the world, say to so good a daughter a word against so good a father. But you must, for his sake, let me show you exactly how the matter stands at present. Mr Harding was a little flurried when I told him of the bishop’s wishes about the school. I did so, perhaps, with less caution because you yourself had so perfectly agreed with me on the same subject. He was a little put out and spoke warmly. “Tell the bishop,” said he, “that I quite disagree with him,–and shall not return to the hospital as such conditions are attached to it.” What he said was to that effect; indeed, his words were, if anything, stronger than those. I had no alternative but to repeat them to his lordship, who said that he could look on them in no other light than a refusal. He also had heard the report that your father did not wish for the appointment, and putting all these things together, he thought he had not choice but to look for some one else. He has consequently offered the place to Mr Quiverful.’

‘Offered the place to Mr Quiverful!’ repeated Eleanor, her eyes suffused with tears. ‘Then, Mr Slope, there is an end of it.’

‘No, my friend–not so,’ said he. ‘It is to prevent such being the end of it that I am now here. I may at any rate presume that I have got an answer to my question, and that Mr Harding is desirous of returning.’

‘Desirous of returning–of course he is,’ said Eleanor; ‘of course he wishes to have back his house and his income, and his place in the world; to have back what he gave up with such self-denying honesty, if he can have them without restraints on his conduct to what at his age it would be impossible that he should submit. How can the bishop ask a man of his age to turn schoolmaster to a pack of children?’

‘Out of the question,’ said Mr Slope, laughing slightly; ‘of course no such demand shall be made on your father. I can at any rate promise you that I will not be the medium of any so absurd a requisition. We wished your father to preach in the hospital, as the inmates may naturally be too old to leave it; but even that shall not be insisted on. We wished also to attach a Sabbath-day school to the hospital, thinking that such an establishment could not but be useful under the surveillance of so good a clergyman as Mr Harding, and also under your own. But, dear Mrs Bold; we won’t talk of those things now. One thing is clear; we mustdo what we can to annul this rash offer the bishop made to Mr Quiverful. Your father wouldn’t see Quiverful, would he? Quiverful is an honourable man, and would not, for a moment, stand in your father’s way.’

‘What?’ said Eleanor; ‘ask a man with fourteen children to give up his preferment! I am quite sure he will do no such thing.’

‘I suppose not,’ said Slope; and he again drew near to Mrs Bold, so that now they were very close to each other. Eleanor did not think much about it, but instinctively moved away a little. How greatly would she have increased the distance could he have guessed what had been said about her at Plumstead! ‘I suppose not. But it is out of the question that Quiverful should supersede your father–quite out of the question. The bishop has been too rash. An idea occurs to me, which may, perhaps, with God’s blessing, put us right. My dear Mrs Bold, would you object to seeing the bishop yourself?’

‘Why should not my father see him?’ said Eleanor. She had once before in her life interfered with her father’s affairs, and then not to much advantage. She was older now, and felt that she should take no step in a matter so vital to him without his consent.

‘Why, to tell the truth,’ said Mr Slope, with a look of sorrow, as though he greatly bewailed the want of charity in his patron, ‘the bishop fancies he has cause of anger against your father. I fear an interview would lead to further ill will.’

‘Why,’ said Eleanor, ‘my father is the mildest, the gentlest man living.’

‘I only know,’ said Slope, ‘that he has the best of daughters. So you would not see the bishop? As to getting an interview, I could manage that for you without the slightest annoyance to yourself.’

‘I could do nothing, Mr Slope, without consulting my father.’

‘Ah!’ said he, ‘that would be useless; you would then only be your father’s messenger. Does anything occur to yourself? Something must be done. Your father shall not be ruined by so ridiculous a misunderstanding.’

Eleanor said that nothing occurred to her, but that it was very hard; and the tears came to her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. Mr Slope would have given much to have had the privilege of drying them; but he had tact enough to know that he had still a great deal to do before he could even hope for any privilege with Mrs Bold.

‘It cuts me to the heart to see you so grieved,’ said he. ‘But pray let me assure you that your father’s interests shall not be sacrificed if it be possible for me to protect them. I will tell the bishop openly what are the facts. I will explain to him that he has hardly the right to appoint any other than your father, and will show him that if he does so he will be guilty of great injustice–and you, Mrs Bold, you will have the charity at any rate to believe this of me, that I am truly anxious for your father’s welfare,–for his and for your own.’

The widow hardly knew what answer to make. She was quite aware that her father would not be at all thankful to Mr Slope; she had a strong wish to share her father’s feelings; and yet she could not but acknowledge that Mr Slope was very kind. Her father, who was generally charitable to all men, who seldom spoke ill of any one, had warned against Mr Slope, and yet she did not know how to abstain from thanking him. What interest could he have in the matter but that which he professed? Nevertheless there was that in his manner which even she distrusted. She felt, and she did not know why, that there was something about him which ought to put her on her guard.

Mr Slope read all this in her hesitating manner just as plainly as though she had opened her heart to him. It was the talent of the man that he could so read the inward feelings of women with whom he conversed. He knew that Eleanor was doubting him, and that if she thanked him she would only do so because she could not help it; but yet this did not make him angry or even annoy him. Rome was not built in a day.

‘I did not come for thanks,’ continued he, seeing her hesitation; ‘and do not want them–at any rate before they are merited. But this I do want, Mrs Bold, that I may make myself friends in this fold to which it has pleased God to call me as one of the humblest of his shepherds. If I cannot do so, my task here must indeed be a sad one. I will at any rate endeavour to deserve them.’

‘I’m sure,’ said she, ‘you will soon make plenty of friends.’ She felt herself obliged to say something.

‘That will be nothing unless they are such as will sympathise with my feelings; unless they are such as I can reverence and admire–and love. If the best and purest turn away from me, I cannot bring myself to be satisfied with the friendship of the less estimable. In such case I must live alone.’

‘Oh! I’m sure you will not do that, Mr Slope.’ Eleanor meant nothing, but it suited him to appear that some special allusion had been intended.

‘Indeed, Mrs Bold, I shall live alone, quite alone as far as the heart is concerned, if those with whom I yearn to ally myself turn away from me. But enough of this; I have called you my friend, and I hope you will not contradict me. I trust the time may come when I may also call your father so. My God bless you, Mrs Bold, you and your darling boy. And tell your father from me that what can be done for his interest shall be done.’

And so he took his leave, pressing the widow’s hand rather more closely than usual. Circumstances, however, seemed just then to make this intelligible, and the lady did not feel called on to resent it.

‘I cannot understand him,’ said Eleanor to Mary Bold, a few minutes afterwards. ‘I do not know whether he is a good man or a bad man–whether he is true or false.’

‘Then give him the benefit of the doubt,’ said Mary, ‘and believe the best.’

‘On the whole I think I do,’ said Eleanor. ‘I think I do believe that he means well–and if so, it is a shame that we should revile him, and make him miserable while he is among us. But, oh Mary, I fear papa will be disappointed in the hospital.’

CHAPTER XVII

WHO SHALL BE COCK OF THE WALK?

All this time things were going on somewhat uneasily at the palace. The hint or two which Mr Slope had given was by no means thrown away upon the bishop. He had a feeling that if he ever meant to oppose the now almost unendurable despotism of his wife, he must lose no further time in doing so; that if he even meant to be himself master in his own diocese, let alone his own house, he should begin at once. It would have been easier to have done so from the day of his consecration than now, but easier now than when Mrs Proudie should have succeeded in thoroughly mastering the diocesan details. Then the proffered assistance of Mr Slope was a great thing for him, a most unexpected and invaluable aid. Hitherto he had looked on the two as allied forces; and had considered that as allied they were impregnable. He had begun to believe that his only chance of escape would be by the advancement of Mr Slope to some distant and rich preferment. But now it seemed that one of his enemies, certainly the least potent of them, but nevertheless one very important, was willing to desert his own camp. He walked up and down his little study, almost thinking that the time had come