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CHAPTER XXXIV OXFORD - THE MASTER AND TUTOR OF LAZARUS
Mr Arabin, as we have said, had but a sad walk of it under the trees of Plumstead churchyard. He did not appear to any of the family till dinner time, and then he assumed, as far as their judgment went, to be quite himself. He had, as was his wont, asked himself a great many questions, and given himself a great many answers; and the upshot of this was that he had set himself down for an ass. He had determined that he was much too old and much to rusty to commence the manouvres of lovemaking; that he had let the time slip through his hands which should have been used for such purposes; and that now he must lie on his bed as he had made it. Then he asked himself whether in truth he did love this woman; and he answered himself, not without a long struggle, but at last honestly, that he certainly did love her. He then asked himself whether he did not also love her money; and he again answered himself that he did so. But here he did not answer honestly. It was and ever had been his weakness to look for impure motives for his own conduct. No doubt, circumstanced as he was, with a small living and a fellowship, accustomed as he had been to collegiate luxuries and expensive comforts, he might have hesitated to marry a penniless woman had he felt ever so strong a predilection for the woman herself; no doubt Eleanor's fortune put all such difficulties out of the question; but it was equally without doubt that his love for her had crept upon him without the slightest idea on his part that he could ever benefit his own condition by sharing her wealth.
When he had stood on the hearth-rug, counting the pattern, and counting also the future chances of his own life, the remembrances of Mrs Bold's comfortable income had not certainly damped his first assured feeling of love for her. And why should it have done so? Need it have done so with the purest of men? Be that as it may, Mr Arabin decided against himself; he decided that it had done so in his case, and that he was not the purest of men.
He also decided, which was more to his purpose, that Eleanor did not care a straw for him, and that very probably did not care a straw for his rival. Then he made up his mind not to think of her any more, and went on thinking of her till he was almost in a state to drown himself in the little brook which was at the bottom of the archdeacon's grounds.
And ever and again his mind would revert to the Signora Neroni, and he would make comparisons between her and Eleanor Bold, not always in favour of the latter. The signora had listened to him, and flattered him, and believed in him; at least she had told him so. Mrs Bold had also listened to him, but had never flattered him; had not always believed in him: and now had broken from him in violent rage. The signora, too, was the more lovely woman of the two, and had also the additional attraction of her affliction; for to him it was an attraction.
But he never could have loved the Signora Neroni as he felt that he now loved Eleanor! and so he flung stones into the brook, instead of flinging in himself, and sat down on its margin as sad a gentleman as you shall meet in a summer's day.
He heard the dinner-bell ring from the churchyard, and he knew that it was time to recover his self possession. He felt that he was disgracing himself in his own eyes, that he had been idling his time and neglecting the high duties which he had taken upon himself to perform. He should have spent the afternoon among the poor at St Ewold's, instead of wandering about Plumstead, an ancient love-lorn swain, dejected and sighing, full of imaginary sorrows and Wertherian grief. He was thoroughly ashamed of himself, and determined to lose no time in retrieving his character, so damaged in his own eyes. Thus when he appeared at dinner he was as animated as ever, and was the author of most of the conversation which graced the archdeacon's board on that evening. Mr Harding was ill at ease and sick at heart, and did not care to appear more comfortable than he really was; what little he did say was said to his daughter. He thought the archdeacon and Mr Arabin had leagued together against Eleanor's comfort; and his wish now was to break away from the pair, and undergo in his Barchester lodgings whatever Fate had in store for him. He hated the name of the hospital; his attempt to regain his lost inheritance there had brought upon him so much suffering. As far as he was concerned, Mr Quiverful was now welcome to the place.
And the archdeacon was not very lively. The poor dean's illness was of course discussed in the first place. Dr Grantly did not mention Mr Slope's name in connexion with the expected event of Dr Trefoil's death; he did not wish to say anything about Mr Slope just at present, nor did he wish to make known his own sad surmises; but the idea that his enemy might possibly become Dean of Barchester made him very gloomy. Should such an even take place, such a dire catastrophe come about, there would be an end to his life as far as his life was connected with the city of Barchester. He must give up all his old haunts, all his old habits, and live quietly as a retired rector at Plumstead. It had been a severe trial for him to have Dr Proudie in the palace; but with Mr Slope also in the deanery, he felt that he should be unable to draw his breath in Barchester close.
Thus it came to pass that in spite of the sorrow at his heart, Mr Arabin was apparently the gayest of the party. Both Mr Harding and Mrs Grantly were in a slight degree angry with him on account of his want of gloom. To the one it appeared as though he were triumphing at Eleanor's banishment, and to the other that he was not affected as he should have been by all the sad circumstances of the day, Eleanor's obstinacy, Mr Slope's success, and the poor dean's apoplexy. And so they were all at cross purposes.
Mr Harding left the room almost together with the ladies, and the archdeacon opened his heart to Mr Arabin. He still harped upon the hospital. 'What did that fellow mean,' said he, 'by saying in his letter to Mrs Bold, that if Mr Harding would call on the bishop it would be all right? Of course I would not be guided by anything he might say; but still it may be well that Mr Harding should see the bishop. It would be foolish to let the thing slip through our fingers because Mrs Bold is determined to make a fool of herself.'
Mr Arabin hinted that he was not quite so sure that Mrs Bold would make a fool of herself. He said that he was not convinced that she did regard Mr Slope so warmly as she was supposed to do. The archdeacon questioned and cross-questioned him about this, but elicited nothing; and at least remained firm in his own conviction that he was destined, malgre lui, to be the brother-in-law of Mr Slope. Mr Arabin strongly advised that Mr Harding should take no step regarding the hospital in connexion with, or in consequence of, Mr Slope's letter. 'If the bishop really means to confer the appointment on Mr Harding,' argued Mr Arabin, 'he will take care to let him have some other intimation than a message conveyed through a letter to a lady. Were Mr Harding to present himself at the palace he might merely be playing Mr Slope's game;' and thus it was settled that nothing should be done till the great Dr Gwynne's arrival, or at any rate without that potentate's sanction.
It was droll how these men talked of Mr Harding as though he were a puppet, and planned their intrigues and small ecclesiastical manouvres without dreaming of taking him into their confidence. There was a comfortable house and income in question, and it was very desirable, and certainly very just, that Mr Harding should have them; but that, at present, was not the main point; it was expedient to beat the bishop, and if possible to smash Mr Slope. Mr Slope had set up, or was supposed to have set up, a rival candidate. Of all things the most desirable would have been to have had Mr Quiverful's appointment published to the public, and then annulled by the clamour of an indignant world, loud in the defence of Mr Harding's rights. But of such an event the chance was small; a slight fraction only of the world would be indignant, and that fraction would be one not accustomed to loud speaking. And then the preferment had in a sort of way been offered to Mr Harding, and had in a sort of way been refused by him.
Mr Slope's wicked, cunning hand had been peculiarly conspicuous in the way in which this had been brought to pass, and it was the success of Mr Slope's cunning which was so painfully grating the feelings of the archdeacon. That which of all things he most dreaded was that he should be out-generalled by Mr Slope: and just at present it appeared probable that Mr Slope would turn his flank, steal a march on him, cut off his provisions, carry his strong town by a coup de main, and at last beat him thoroughly in a regular pitched battle. The archdeacon felt that his flank had been turned when desired to wait on Mr Slope instead of the bishop, that a march had been stolen when Mr Harding was induced to refuse the bishop's offer, that his provisions would be cut off when Mr Quiverful got the hospital, that Eleanor was the strong town doomed to be taken, and that Mr Slope, as Dean of Barchester, would be regarded by all the world as the conqueror in that final conflict.
Dr Gwyinne was the Deus ex machina who was to come down upon the Barchester stage, and bring about deliverance from these terrible evils. But how can melodramatic denouments be properly brought about, how can vice and Mr Slope be punished, and virtue and the archdeacon be rewarded, while the avenging god is laid up with the gout? In the mean time evil may be triumphant, and poor innocence, transfixed to the earth by an arrow from Dr Proudie's quiver, may be dead upon the ground, not to be resuscitated even by Dr Gwynne.
Two or three days after Eleanor's departure, Mr Arabin went to Oxford, and soon found himself closeted with the august head of his college. It was quite clear that Dr Gwynne was not very sanguine as to the effects of his journey to Barchester, and not over anxious to interfere with the bishop. He had had the gout but was very nearly convalescent, and Mr Arabin at once saw that had the mission been one of which the master thoroughly approved, he would before this have been at Plumstead.
As it was, Dr Gwynne was resolved to visiting his friend, and willingly promised to return to Barchester with Mr Arabin. He could not bring himself to believe that there was any probability that Mr Slope would be made Dean of Barchester. Rumour, he said, had reached even his ears not at all favourable to that gentleman's character, and he expressed himself strongly of the opinion that any such appointment was quite out of the question. At this stage of the proceedings, the master's right-hand man, Tom Staple, was called in to assist at the conference. Tom Staple was the Tutor of Lazarus, and moreover a great man at Oxford. Though universally known by a species of nomenclature as very undignified. Tom Staple was one who maintained a high dignity in the University. He was, as it were, the leader of the Oxford tutors, a body of men who consider themselves collectively as being by very little, if at all, second in importance to the heads themselves. It is not always the case that the master, or warden, or provost, or principal can hit it off exactly with his tutor. A tutor is by no means indisposed to have a will of his own. But at Lazarus they were great friends and firm allies at the time of which we are writing.
Tom Staple was a hale strong man of about forty-five; short in stature, swarthy in face, with strong sturdy black hair, and crisp black beard, of which very little was allowed to show itself in the shape of whiskers. He always wore a white neckcloth, clean indeed, but not tied with that scrupulous care which now distinguishes some of our younger clergy. He was, of course, always clothed in a seemly suit of solemn black. Mr Staple was a decent cleanly liver, not over addicted to any sensuality; but nevertheless a somewhat warmish hue was beginning to adorn his nose, the peculiar effect, as his friends averred, of a certain pipe of port introduced into the cellars of Lazarus the very same year in which the tutor entered in as a freshman. There was also, perhaps with a little redolence of port wine, as it were the slightest possible twang, in Mr Staple's voice.
In these days Tom Staple was not a very happy man; University reform had long been his bugbear, and now was his bane. It was not with him as with most others, an affair of politics, respecting which, when the need existed, he could, for parties' sake or on behalf of principle, maintain a certain amount of necessary zeal; it was not with him a subject for dilettante warfare, and courteous common-place opposition. To him it was life and death. He would willingly have been a martyr in the cause, had the cause admitted of martyrdom.
At the present day, unfortunately, public affairs will allow of no martyrs, and therefore it is that there is such a deficiency of zeal. Could gentlemen of L 10,000 a year have died on their own door-steps in defence of protection, no doubt some half-dozen glorious old baronets would have so fallen, and the school of protection would at this day have been crowded with scholars. Who can fight strenuously in any combat in which there is no danger? Tom Staple would have willingly been impaled before a Committee of the House, could he by such self-sacrifice have infused his own spirit into the component members of the hebdomadal board.
Tom Staple was one of those who in his heart approved of the credit system which had of old been in vogue between the students and tradesmen of the University. He knew and acknowledged to himself that it was useless in these degenerate days publicly to contend with the Jupiter on such a subject. The Jupiter had undertaken to rule the University, and Tom Staple was well aware that the Jupiter was too powerful for him. But in secret, and among his safe companions, he would argue that the system of credit was an ordeal good for young men to undergo.
The bad men, said he, and the weak and worthless, blunder into danger and burn their feet; but the good men, they who have any character, they who have that within them which can reflect credit in their Alma Mater, they come through scatheless. What merit will there be to a young man to get through safely, if he guarded and protected and restrained like a school-boy? By so doing, the period of the ordeal is only postponed, and the manhood of the man will be deferred from the age of twenty to that of twenty-four. If you bind him with leading-strings at college, he will break loose while eating for the bar in London; bind him there, and he will break loose afterwards, when he is a married man. The wild oats must be sown somewhere. 'Twas thus that Tom Staple would argue of young men; not, indeed, with much consistency, but still with some practical knowledge of the subject gathered from long experience.
And now Tom Staple proffered such wisdom as he had for the assistance of Dr Gwynne and Mr Arabin.
'Quite out of the question,' said he, arguing that Mr Slope could not possibly be made the new Dean of Barchester.
'So I think,' said the master. 'He has no standing, and, if all I hear be true, very little character.'
'As to character,' said Tom Staple, 'I don't think much of that. They rather like loose parsons for deans; a little fast living, or a dash of infidelity, is no bad recommendation to a cathedral close. But they couldn't make Mr Slope; the last two deans have been Cambridge men; you'll not show me an instance of their making three men running from the same University. We don't get out share, and never shall, I suppose; but we must at least have one out of the three.'
'These sort of rules are all gone out by now,' said Mr Arabin.
'Everything has gone by, I believe,' said Tom Staple. 'The cigar has been smoked out, and we are the ashes.'
'Speak for yourself, Staple,' said the master.
'I speak for all,' said the tutor stoutly. 'It is coming to that, that there will be no life left anywhere in the country. No one is any longer fit to rule himself, or those belonging to him. The Government is to find us all in everything, and the press is to find the Government. Nevertheless, Mr Slope won't be Dean of Barchester.'
'And who will be the warden of the hospital?' said Mr Arabin.
'I hear that Mr Quiverful is already appointed,' said Tom Staple.
'I think not,' said the master. 'And I think, moreover, that Dr Proudie will not be so short-sighted as to run against such a rock; Mr Slope should himself have sense enough to prevent it.'
'But perhaps Mr Slope may have no objection to see his patron on a rock,' said the suspicious tutor.
'What could he get by that?' asked Mr Arabin.
'It is impossible to see the doubles of such a man,' said Mr Staple. 'It seems quite clear that Bishop Proudie is altogether in his hands, and it is equally clear that he has been moving heaven and earth to get this Mr Quiverful into the hospital, although he must know that such an appointment would be most damaging to the bishop. It is impossible to understand such a man, and dreadful to think,' added Mr Staple, sighing deeply, 'that the welfare and fortunes of good men may depend on his intrigues.'
Dr Gwynne or Mr Staple were not in the least aware, nor even was Mr Arabin that this Mr Slope, of whom they were talking, had been using his utmost efforts to put their own candidate into the hospital; and that in lieu of being a permanent in the palace, his own expulsion therefrom had been already decided on by the high powers of the diocese.
'I'll tell you what,' said the tutor, 'if this Quiverful is thrust into the hospital and Dr Trefoil must die, I should not wonder if the Government were to make Mr Harding Dean of Barchester. They would feel bound to do something for him after all that was said when he resigned.'
Dr Gwynne at the moment made no reply to this suggestion; but it did not the less impress itself on his mind. If Mr Harding could not be warden of the hospital, why should he not be Dean of Barchester?
And so the conference ended without any very fixed resolution, and Dr Gwynne and Mr Arabin prepared for their journey to Plumstead on the morrow.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXV MISS THORNE'S FETE CHAMPETRE