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CHAPTER XXXII A NEW CANDIDATE FOR ECCLESIASTICAL HONOURS
The dean's illness occasioned much mental turmoil in other places besides the deanery and adjoining library, and the idea which occurred to the meagre little prebendary about Mr Slope did not occur to him alone.
The bishop was sitting listlessly in his study when the news reached him of the dean's illness. It was brought to him by Mr Slope, who of course was not the last person in Barchester to hear it. It was also not slow in finding its way to Mrs Proudie's ears. It may be presumed that there was not just much friendly intercourse between these two rival claimants for his lordship's obedience. Indeed, though living in the same house, they had not met since the stormy interview between them in the bishop's study on the preceding day.
On that occasion, Mrs Proudie had been defeated. That from her standards was a subject of great sorrow to that militant lady; but though defeated, she was not overcome. She felt that she might yet recover her lost ground, that she might yet hurl Mr Slope down to the dust from which she had picked him, and force her sinning lord to sue for pardon in sackcloth and ashes.
On that memorable day, memorable for his mutiny and rebellion against her high behests, he had carried his way with a high hand, and had really begun to think it possible that the days of his slavery were counted. He had begun to hope that he was now about to enter into a free land, a land delicious with milk which he himself might quaff, and honey which would not tantalise him by being only honey to the eye. When Mrs Proudie banged the door, as she left his room, he felt himself every inch a bishop. To be sure his spirit had been a little cowed by his chaplain's subsequent lecture; but on the whole he was highly pleased with himself, and flattered himself that the worst was over. 'Ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute', he reflected; and now that his first step had been so magnanimously taken, all the rest would follow easily.
He met his wife as a matter of course at dinner, where little or nothing was said that could ruffle the bishop's happiness. His daughters and the servants were present and protected him.
He made one or two trifling remarks on the subject of his projected visit to the archbishop, in order to show to all concerned that he intended to have his own way; and the very servants perceiving the change transferred a little of their reverence from their mistress to their master. All which the master perceived; and so also did the mistress. But Mrs Proudie bided her time.
After dinner he returned to his study where Mr Slope soon found him, and there they had tea together and planned many things. For some few minutes the bishop was really happy; but as the clock on the chimney piece warned him that the stilly hours of night were drawing on, as he looked at his chamber candlestick and knew that he must use it, his heart sank within him again. He was as a ghost, all whose power of wandering free through these upper regions ceases at cock-crow; or rather he was the opposite of the ghost, for till cock-crow he must again be a serf. And would that be all? Could he trust himself to come down to breakfast a free man in the morning?
He was nearly an hour later than usual, when he betook himself to his rest. Rest! What rest? However, he took a couple of glasses of sherry, and mounted the stairs. Far be it from us to follow him thither. There are some things which no novelist, no historian, should attempt; some few scenes in life's drama which even no poet should dare to paint. Let that which passed between Dr Proudie and his wife on this night be understood to be among them.
He came down the following morning a sad and thoughtful man. He was attenuated in appearance; one might almost say emaciated. I doubt whether his now grizzled looks had not palpably become more grey than on the preceding evening. At any rate he had aged materially. Years do not make a man old gradually and at an even pace. Look through the world and see if this is not so always, except in those rare cases in which the human being lives and dies without joys and without sorrows, like a vegetable. A man shall be possessed of florid youthful blooming health till it matters not what age. Thirty - forty - fifty, then comes some nipping frost, some period of agony, that robs the fibres of the body of their succulence, and the hale and hearty man is counted among the old.
He came down and breakfasted alone; Mrs Proudie being indisposed took her coffee in her bed-room, and her daughters waited upon her there. He ate his breakfast alone, and then, hardly knowing what he did, he betook himself to his usual seat in his study. He tried to solace himself with his coming visit to the archbishop. That effort of his own free will at any rate remained to him as an enduring triumph. But somehow, now that he had achieved it, he did not seem to care so much about it. It was his ambition that had prompted him to take his place at the arch-episcopal table, and his ambition was now quite dead within him.
He was thus seated when Mr Slope made his appearance with breathless impatience.
'My lord, the dean is dead.'
'Good heavens,' exclaimed the bishop, startled out of his apathy by an announcement so sad and so sudden.
'He is either dead or now dying. He has had an apoplectic fit, and I am told that there is not the slightest hope; indeed, I do not doubt that by this time he is no more.'
Bells were rung, and servants were immediately sent to inquire. In the course of the morning, the bishop, leaning on his chaplain's arm, himself called at the deanery door. Mrs Proudie sent to Miss Trefoil all manner of offers of assistance. The Miss Proudies sent also, and there was immense sympathy between the palace and the deanery. The answer to all inquiries was unvaried. The dean was just the same; and Sir Omicron Pie was expected there by the 9.15pm train.
And then Mr Slope began to meditate, as others also had done, as to who might possibly be the new dean; and it occurred to him, as it had also occurred to others, that it might be possible that he should be the new dean himself. And then the question as to the twelve hundred, or fifteen hundred, or two thousand, ran in his mind, as it had run through those of the other clergymen in the cathedral library.
Whether it might be two thousand, of fifteen, or twelve hundred, it would in any case undoubtedly be a great thing for him, if he could get it. The gratification to his ambition would be greater even than that of his covetousness.
How glorious to out-top the archdeacon in his own cathedral city; to sit above prebendaries and canons, and have the cathedral pulpit and all the cathedral services altogether at his own disposal!
But it might be easier to wish for this than to obtain it. Mr Slope, however, was not without some means of forwarding his views, and he at any rate did not let the grass grow under his feet. In the first place he thought - and not vainly - that he could count upon what assistance the bishop could give him. He immediately changed his views with regard to his patron; he made up his mind that if he became dean, he would hand his lordship back to his wife's vassalage; and he thought it possible that his lordship might not be sorry to rid himself of one of his mentors. Mr Slope had also taken some steps towards making his name known to other men in power. There was a certain chief-commissioner of national schools who at the present moment was presumed to stand especially high in the good graces of the government big wigs, and with him Mr Slope had contrived to establish a sort of epistolary intimacy. He thought that he might safely apply to Sir Nicholas Fitzhiggin; and he felt sure that if Sir Nicholas chose to exert himself, the promise of such a piece of preferment would be had for the asking for.
Then he also had the press at his bidding, or flattered himself that he had so. The daily Jupiter had taken his part in a very thorough manner in those polemical contests of his with Mr Arabin; he had on more than one occasion absolutely had an interview with a gentleman on the staff of the paper, who, if not the editor, was as good as the editor; and had long been in the habit of writing telling letters with his initials, and sent to his editorial friend with private notes signed in his own name. Indeed, he and Mr Towers - such was the name of the powerful gentleman of the press with whom he was connected - were generally very amiable with each other. Mr Slope's little productions were always printed and occasionally commented upon; and thus, in a small sort of way, he had become a literary celebrity. This public life had great charms for him, though it certainly also had its drawbacks. On one occasion, when speaking in the presence of reporters, he had failed to uphold and praise and swear by that special line of conduct which had been upheld and praised and sworn by in the Jupiter, and then he had been much surprised and at the moment not a little irritated to find himself lacerated most unmercifully by his old ally. He was quizzed and bespattered and made a fool of, just as though, or rather than if, he had been a constant enemy instead of a constant friend. He had hitherto not learnt that a man who aspires to be on the staff of the Jupiter must surrender all individuality. But ultimately this little castigation had broken no bones between him and his friend Mr Towers. Mr Slope was one of those who understood the world too well to show himself angry with such a potentate as the Jupiter. He had kissed the rod that scourged him, and now thought that he might fairly look for his reward. He determined that he would at once let Mr Towers know that he was a candidate for the place which was about to be become vacant. More than one place of preferment had lately been given away much in accordance with advice tendered to the government in the columns of the Jupiter.
But it was in incumbent on Mr Slope first to secure the bishop. He specially felt that it behoved him to do this before the visit to the archbishop was made. It was really quite providential that the dean should have fallen ill just at the very nick of time. If Dr Proudie could be instigated to take the matter up warmly, he might manage a good deal while staying at the archbishop's palace. Feeling this very strongly Mr Slope determined to sound the bishop out that very afternoon. He was to start on the following morning to London, and therefore not a moment could be lost with safety.
He went into the bishop's study about five o'clock, and found him still sitting alone. It might have been supposed that he had hardly moved since the little excitement occasioned by the walk to the dean's door. He still wore on his face that dull dead look of half unconscious suffering. He was doing nothing, reading nothing, thinking of nothing, but simply gazing on vacancy when Mr Slope for the second time that day entered his room.
'Well, Slope,' said he, somewhat impatiently; for, to tell the truth, he was not anxious just at present to have much conversation with Mr Slope.
'Your lordship will be sorry to hear that as yet the poor dean has shown no signs of amendment.'
'Oh - ah - hasn't he? Poor man! I'm sure I'm very sorry. I suppose Sir Omicron has not arrived yet?'
'No; not till the 9.15pm train.'
'I wonder they didn't have a special. They say Dr Trefoil is very rich.'
'Very rich, I believe,' said Mr Slope. 'But the truth is, all the doctors in London can do no good; no other good than to show that every possible care has been taken. Poor Dr Trefoil is not long for this world, my lord.'
'I suppose not - I suppose not.'
'Oh no; indeed, his best friends could not wish that he should outlive such a shock, for his intellect cannot possibly survive it.'
'Poor man, poor man!' said the bishop.
'It will naturally be a matter of much moment to your lordship who is to succeed him,' said Mr Slope. 'It would be a great thing if you could secure the appointment for some person of your own way of thinking on important points. The party hostile to us are very strong here in Barchester - much too strong.'
'Yes, yes. If poor Dr Trefoil is to go, it will be a great thing to get a good man in his place.'
'It will be everything to your lordship to get a man on whose co-operation you can reckon. Only think what trouble we might have if Dr Grantly, or Dr Hyandry, or any of that way of thinking, were to get it.'
'It is not very probable that Lord - will give it to any of that school; why should he?'
'No. Not probable; certainly not; but it's possible. Great interest will probably be made. If I might venture to advise your lordship, I would suggest that you should discuss the matter with his grace next week. I have no doubt that your wishes, if made known and backed by his grace, would be paramount with Lord - '
'Well, I don't know that; Lord - has always been very kind to me, very kind. But I am unwilling to interfere in such matters unless asked. And indeed, if asked, I don't know whom, at this moment, I should recommend.'
Mr Slope, even Mr Slope, felt at present rather abashed. He hardly knew how to frame his little request in language sufficiently modest. He had recognised and acknowledged, to himself the necessity of shocking the bishop in the first instance by the temerity of his application, and his difficulty was how best to remedy that by his adroitness and eloquence. 'I doubted myself,' said he, 'whether your lordship would have any one immediately in your eye, and it is on this account that I venture to submit to you an idea that I have been turning over in my own mind. If poor Dr Trefoil must go, I really do not see why, with your lordship's assistance, I should not hold the preferment myself.'
'You!' exclaimed the bishop, in a manner that Mr Slope could hardly have considered complimentary.
The ice was now broken, and Mr Slope became fluent enough. 'I have been thinking of looking for it. If your lordship will press the matter on the archbishop, I do not doubt but that I shall succeed. You see I shall count upon assistance from the public press; my name is known, I may say, somewhat favourably known to that portion of the press which is now most influential with the government, and I have friends also in the government. But, it is from your hands that I would most willingly receive the benefit. And, which should ever be the chief consideration in such matters, you must know better than any other person whatsoever what qualifications I possess.'
The bishop sat for a while dumfounded. Mr Slope dean of Barchester! The idea of such a transformation of character would never have occurred to his own unaided intellect. At first he went on thinking why, for what reasons, on what account, Mr Slope should be dean of Barchester. But by degrees the direction of his thoughts changed, and he began to think why, for what reasons, on what account, Mr Slope should not be dean of Barchester. As far as he himself, the bishop, was concerned, he could well spare the services of his chaplain. The little idea of using Mr Slope as a counterpoise to his wife had well nigh evaporated. He had all but acknowledged the futility of the scheme. If indeed he could have slept in his chaplain's bed-room instead of his wife's there might have been something in it. But - -. And thus as Mr Slope as speaking, the bishop began to recognise the idea that that gentleman might become dean of Barchester without impropriety; not moved, indeed, by Mr Slope's eloquence, for he did not follow the tenor of his speech; but led thereto by his own cogitation.
'I need not say,' continued Mr Slope, 'that it would be my chief desire to act in all matters connected with cathedral as far as possible in accordance with your views. I know your lordship so well (and I hope you know me well enough to have the same feelings), that I am satisfied that my being in that position would add materially to your own comfort, and enable you to extend the sphere of your useful influence. As I said before, it is not desirable that there should be but one opinion among the dignitaries in the same diocese. I doubt much whether I would accept such an appointment in any diocese in which I should be constrained to differ much from the bishop. In this case there would be a delightful uniformity of opinion.'
Mr Slope perfectly well perceived that the bishop did not follow a word that he said, but nevertheless he went on talking. He knew it was necessary that Dr Proudie should recover from his surprise, and he knew also that he must give him the opportunity of appearing to have been persuaded by argument. So he went on, and produced a multitude of fitting reasons all tending to show that no one on earth could make so good a dean of Barchester as himself, that the government and the public would assuredly coincide in desiring that he, Mr Slope, should be dean of Barchester; but that for high considerations of ecclesiastical polity, it would be especially desirable that this piece of preferment should be so bestowed through the instrumentality of the bishop of the diocese.
'But I really don't know what I could do in the matter,' said the bishop.
'If you would mention it to the archbishop; if you would tell his grace that you consider such an appointment very desirable, that you have it much at heart with a view of putting an end to the schism in the diocese; if you did this with your usual energy, you would probably find no difficulty in inducing his grace to promise that he would mention it to Lord -. Of course you would let the archbishop know that I am not looking for the preferment solely through his intervention; that you do not exactly require him to ask it as a favour; that you expect I shall get it through other sources, as is indeed the case; but that you are very anxious that his grace should express his approval of such an arrangement to Lord - '
It ended by the bishop promising to do as he was told. Not that he so promised without a stipulation. 'About that hospital,' he said, in the middle of the conference. 'I was never so troubled in my life;' which was about the truth. 'You haven't spoken to Mr Harding since I saw you?'
Mr Slope assured his patron that he had not.
'Ah well then - I think upon the whole it will be better to let Mr Quiverful have it. It has been half promised to him, and he has a large family and is very poor. I think on the whole it will be better to make out the nomination for Mr Quiverful.'
'But, my lord,' said Mr Slope, still thinking that was bound to make a fight for his own view on this matter, and remembering that it still behoved him to maintain his lately acquired supremacy over Mrs Proudie, lest he should fail in his views regarding the deanery, 'but, my lord, I am really much afraid - '
'Remember, Mr Slope, 'I can hold out not sort of hope to you in this matter of succeeding poor Dr Trefoil. I will certainly speak to the archbishop, as you wish it, but I cannot think - '
'Well, my lord,' said Mr Slope, fully understanding the bishop, and in his turn interrupting him, 'perhaps your lordship is right about Mr Quiverful. I have no doubt I can easily arrange matters with Mr Harding, and I will make out the nomination for your signature as you direct.'
'Yes, Slope, I think that will be best; and you may be sure that any little that I can do to forward your views shall be done.'
And so they parted.
Mr Slope had now much business to handle. He had to make his daily visit to the signora. This common prudence should have now induced him to omit, but he was infatuated; and could not bring himself to be commonly prudent. He determined therefore that he would drink tea at the Stanhope's; and he determined also, or thought that he determined, that having done so he would go thither no more. He had also to arrange his matters with Mrs Bold. He was of the opinion that Eleanor would grace the deanery as perfectly as she would the chaplain's cottage; and he thought, moreover, that Eleanor's fortune would excellently repair and dilapidations and curtailments in the dean's stipend which might have been made by that ruthless ecclesiastical commission.
Touching Mrs Bold his hopes now soared high. Mr Slope was one of the numerous multitude of swains who think that all is fair in love, and he had accordingly not refrained from using the services of Mrs Bold's own maid. From her he had learnt much of what had taken place at Plumstead; not exactly with truth, for the 'own maid' had not been able to divine the exact truth, but with some sort of similitude to it. He had been told that the archdeacon and Mrs Grantly and Mr Harding and Mr Arabin had all quarrelled with 'missus' for having received a letter from Mr Slope; that 'missus' had positively refused to give the letter up; that she had received from the archdeacon the option of giving up either Mr Slope and his letter, or the society of Plumstead rectory; and that 'missus' had declared with much indignation, that 'she didn't care a straw for the society of Plumstead rectory,' and that she wouldn't give up Mr Slope for any of them.
Considering the source from whence this came, it was not quite so untrue as might have been expected. It showed pretty plainly what had been the nature of the conversation in the servants' hall; and coupled as it was with the certainty of Eleanor's sudden return, it appeared to Mr Slope to be so far worthy of credit as to justify him in thinking that the fair widow would in all human probability accept his offer.
All this work had therefore to be done. It was desirable he thought that he should make his offer before it was known that Mr Quiverful was finally appointed to the hospital. In his letter to Eleanor he had plainly declared that Mr Harding was to have the appointment. It would be very difficult to explain this away; and were he to write another letter to Eleanor, telling the truth and throwing the blame on the bishop, it would naturally injure him in her estimation. He determined therefore to let that matter disclose itself as it would, and to lose no time in throwing himself at her feet.
Then he had to solicit the assistance of Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggin and Mr Towers, and he went directly from the bishop's presence to compose his letters to those gentlemen. As Mr Slope was esteemed as an adept at letter writing, they shall be given in full.
'Palace, Barchester, Sept 185-, '(Private)
'My dear Sir Nicholas, - I hope that the intercourse which has been between us will preclude you from regarding my present application as an intrusion. You cannot I imagine have yet heard that poor dear old Dr Trefoil has been seized with apoplexy. It is a subject of profound grief to every one in Barchester, for he has always been an excellent man - excellent as man and as a clergyman. He is, however, full of years, and his life could not under any circumstances have been much longer spared. You may probably have known him.
'There is, it appears, no probable chance of his recovery. Sir Omicron Pie is, I believe, at present with him. At any rate the medical men here have declared that one or two days more must limit the tether of his mortal coil. I sincerely trust that his soul may wing its flight to that haven where it may for ever be at rest and for ever be happy.
'The bishop has been speaking to me about the preferment, and he is anxious that it should be conferred on me. I confess that I can hardly venture, at my age, to look for such advancement; but I am so far encouraged by his lordship, that I believe I shall be induced to do so. His lordship goes to London tomorrow, and is intent on mentioning the subject to the archbishop.
'I know well how deservedly great is your weight with the present government. In any matter touching church preferment you would of course be listened to. Now that the matter has been put into my head, I am of course anxious to be successful. If you can assist me by your good word, you will confer on me one additional favour.
'I had better add, that Lord - cannot as yet know of this piece of preferment having fallen in, or rather of the certainty of falling (for poor dear Dr Trefoil is past hope). Should Lord - first hear it from you, that might probably bee thought to give you a fair claim to express your opinion.
'Of course our grand object is, that we should all be of one opinion in church matters. This is most desirable at Barchester; it is this that makes our good bishop so anxious about it. You may probably think it expedient to point this out to Lord - if it shall be in your power to oblige me by mentioning the subject to his lordship.
'Believe me, my dear Sir Nicholas, 'Your most faithful servant, OBADIAH SLOPE.'
His letter to Mr Towers was written in quite a different strain. Mr Slope conceived that he completely understood the difference in character and position of the two men whom he addressed. He knew that for such a man as Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggin a little flummery was necessary, and that it might be of the easy everyday description. Accordingly, his letter to Sir Nicholas was written currente calamo, with very little trouble. But to such a man as Mr Towers it was not so easy to write a letter that should be effective and yet not offensive, that should carry its point without undue interference. It was not difficult to flatter Dr Proudie, or Sir Nicholas Fitzwhiggin, but very difficult to flatter Mr Towers without letting the flattery declare itself. This, however, had to be done. Moreover, this letter must in appearance at least, be written without effort, and be fluent, unconstrained, and demonstrative of no doubt or fear on the part of the writer. Therefor the epistle to Mr Towers was studied, and recopied, and elaborated at the cost of so many minutes, that Mr Slope had hardly time to dress himself and reach Dr Stanhope's that evening.
When dispatched it ran as follows:-
'Barchester, Sept 185- (He purposely omitted any allusion to the 'palace', thinking that Mr Towers might not like it. A great man, he remembered, had been once much condemned for dating a letter from Windsor Castle.)
'My dear Sir, - We were all a good deal shocked here this morning by hearing that poor old Dean Trefoil had been stricken with apoplexy. The fit took him about 9am. I am writing now to save the post, and he is still alive, but past all hope, or possibility, I believe, of living. Sir Omicron Pie is here, or will be very shortly; but all that even Sir Omicron can do, is to ratify the sentence of his less distinguished brethren that nothing can be done. Poor Dr Trefoil's race on this side of the grave is run. I do not know whether you knew him. He was a good, quiet, charitable man, of the old school of course, as any clergyman over seventy years of age must necessarily be.
'But I do not write merely with the object of sending you such news as this: doubtless some one of your Mercuries will have seen and heard and reported so much; I write, as you usually do yourself, rather with a view to the future than to the past.
'Rumour is already rife her as to Dr Trefoil's successor, and among those named as possible future deans your humble servant is, I believe, not the least frequently spoken of; in short, I am looking for the preferment. You may probably know that since Bishop Proudie came to this diocese, I have exerted myself a good deal; and I may certainly say not without some success. He and I are nearly always of the same opinion on points of doctrine as well as church discipline, and therefore I have had, as his confidential chaplain, very much in my own hands; but I confess to you that I have a higher ambition than to remain the chaplain of any bishop.
'There are no positions in which more energy is now needed than in those of our deans. The whole of our enormous cathedral establishments have been allowed to go to sleep, - nay, they are all but dead and ready for the sepulchre! And yet of what prodigious moment they might be made, if, as we intend, they were so managed as to lead the way and show an example for all our parochial clergy!
'The bishop here is most anxious for my success; indeed, he goes to-morrow to press the matter on the archbishop. I believe also I may count on the support of at least one of the most effective member of the government. But I confess the support of the Jupiter, if I be thought worthy of it, would be more gratifying to me than any other; more gratifying if by it I should be successful; and more gratifying also, if, although, so supported, I should be unsuccessful.
'The time has, in fact, come in which no government can venture to fill up the high places of the Church in defiance of the public press. The age of honourable bishops and noble deans has gone by; and any clergyman however humbly born can now hope for success, if his industry, talent, and character, be sufficient to call forth the manifest opinion of the public in his favour.
'At the present moment we all feel that any counsel given in such matters by the Jupiter has the greatest weight, - is, indeed, generally followed; and we feel also - I am speaking of clergymen of my own age and standing - that it should be so. There can be no patron less interested than the Jupiter, and none that more thoroughly understands the wants of the people.
'I am sure you will not suspect me of asking from you any support which the paper with which you are connected cannot conscientiously give me. My object in writing is to let you know that I am a candidate for the appointment. It is for you to judge whether or no you can assist my views. I should not, of course, have written to you on such a matter had I not believed (and I have had good reason so to believe) that the Jupiter approves of my views on ecclesiastical polity.
'The bishop expresses a fear that I may be considered too young for such a station, my age being thirty-six. I cannot think that at the present day any hesitation need be felt on such a point. The public has lost its love for antiquated servants. If a man will ever be fit to do good work he will be fit at thirty-six years of age.
'Believe me very faithfully yours, OBADIAH SLOPE
'T. TOWERS, Esq., 'Middle Temple.'
Having thus exerted himself, Mr Slope posted his letters, and passed the remainder of the evening at the feet of his mistress.
Mr Slope will be accused of deceit in his mode of canvassing. It will be said that he lied in the application he made to each of his three patrons. I believe it must be owned that he did so. He could not hesitate on account of his youth, and yet, be quite assured that he was not too young. He could not count chiefly on the bishop's support, and chiefly also on that of the newspaper. He did not think that the bishop was going to press the matter on the archbishop. It must be owned that in his canvassing Mr Slope was as false as he well could be.
Let it, however, be asked of those who are conversant with such matters, whether he was more false than men usually are on such occasions. We English gentlemen hate the name of a lie; but how often do we find public men who believe each other's words?
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXIII MRS PROUDIE VICTRIX