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CHAPTER XLVII THE DEAN ELECT
During the entire next week Barchester was ignorant who was to be its new dean on Sunday morning. Mr Slope was decidedly the favourite; but he did not show himself in the cathedral, and then he sank a point or two in the betting. On Monday, he got a scolding from the bishop in the hearing of the servants, and down he went till nobody would have him at any price; but on Tuesday he received a letter, in an official cover, marked private, by which he fully recovered his place in the public favour. On Wednesday, he was said to be ill, and that did not look well; but on Thursday morning he went down to the railway station, with a very jaunty air; and when it was ascertained that he had taken a first-class ticket for London, there was no longer any room for doubt on the matter.
While matters were in this state of ferment at Barchester, there was not much mental comfort at Plumstead. Our friend the archdeacon had many grounds for inward grief. He was much displeased at the result of Dr Gwynne's diplomatic mission to the palace, and did not even scruple to say to his wife that had he gone himself he would have managed the affair much better. His wife did not agree with him, but that did not mend the matter.
Mr Quiverful's appointment to the hospital was, however, a fait accompli, and Mr Harding's acquiescence in that appointment was not less so. Nothing would induce Mr Harding to make a public appeal against the bishop; and the Master of Lazarus quite approved of his not doing so.
'I don't know what has come to the Master,' said the archdeacon over and over again. 'He used to be ready enough to stand up for his order.'
'My dear archdeacon,' Mrs Grantly would say in reply, 'what is the use of always fighting? I really think the Master is right.' The Master, however, had taken steps of his own, of which neither the archdeacon nor his wife knew anything.
'Then Mr Slope's successes were henbane to Dr Grantly; and Mrs Bold's improprieties were as bad. What would be all the world to Archdeacon Grantly if Mr Slope should become the Dean of Barchester and marry his wife's sister! He talked of it, and talked of it till he was nearly ill. Mrs Grantly almost wished that the marriage was done and over, so that she might hear no more about it.
And there was yet another ground of misery which cut him to the quick, nearly as closely as either of the two others. That paragon of a clergyman, whom he had bestowed upon St Ewold's, that college friend of whom he had boasted so loudly, that ecclesiastical knight before whose lance Mr Slope was to fall and bite the dust, that worthy bulwark of the church as it should be, that honoured representative of Oxford's best spirit, was - so at least his wife had told him half a dozen times - misconducting himself!
Nothing had been seen of Mr Arabin at Plumstead for the last week, but a good deal had, unfortunately, been heard of him. As soon as Mrs Grantly had found herself alone with the archdeacon, on the evening of the Ullathorne party, she had expressed herself very forcibly as to Mr Arabin's conduct on that occasion. He had, she declared, looked and acted and talked very unlike a decent parish clergyman. At first the archdeacon had laughed at this, and assured her that she need not trouble herself; that Mr Arabin would be found to be quite safe. But by degrees he began to find out that his wife's eyes had been sharper than his own. Other people coupled the signora's name with that of Mr Arabin. The meagre little prebendary who lived in the close, told him to a nicety how often Mr Arabin had visited at Dr Stanhope's, and how long he had remained on the occasion of each visit. He had asked after Mr Arabin at the cathedral library, and an officious little vicar choral had offered to go and see whether he could be found at Dr Stanhope's. Rumour, when she has contrived to sound the first note on her trumpet, soon makes a loud peal audible enough. It was too clear that Mr Arabin had succumbed to the Italian woman, and that the archdeacon's credit would suffer fearfully if something were not done to rescue the brand from the burning. Besides, to give the archdeacon his due, he was really attached to Mr Arabin, and grieved greatly at his backsliding.
They were sitting talking over their sorrows, in the drawing-room before dinner on that day after Mr Slope's departure for London; and on this occasion Mrs Grantly spoke her mind freely. She had opinions of her own about parish clergymen, and now thought it right to give vent to them.
'It you would have been led by me, archdeacon, you would never have put a bachelor into St Ewold's.'
'But, my dear, you don't mean to say that all bachelor clergymen misbehave themselves.'
'I don't know that clergymen are so much better than other men,' said Mrs Grantly. 'It's all very well with a curate whom you have under your own eye, and whom you can get rid of if he persists in improprieties.'
'But Mr Arabin was a fellow, and couldn't have had a wife.'
'Then I would have found some one who could.'
'But, my dear, are fellows never to get livings?'
'Yes, to be sure they are, when they got engaged. I never would put a young man into a living unless he were married, or engaged to be married. Now here is Mr Arabin. The whole responsibility lies upon you.'
'There is not at this moment a clergyman in all Oxford more respected for morals and conduct than Arabin.'
'Oh, Oxford!' said the lady, with a sneer. 'What men choose to do at Oxford, nobody ever hears of. A man may do very well at Oxford who would bring disgrace on a parish; and, to tell you the truth, it seems to me that Mr Arabin is just such a man.'
The archdeacon groaned deeply, but he had no further answer to make.
'You really must speak to him, archdeacon. Only think what the Thornes will say if they hear that their parish clergyman spends his whole time philandering with this woman.'
The archdeacon groaned again. He was a courageous man, and knew well enough how to rebuke the younger clergymen of the diocese when necessary. But there was that about Mr Arabin which made the doctor feel that it would be very difficult to rebuke him with good effect.
'You can advise him to find a wife for himself, and he will understand well enough what that means,' said Mrs Grantly.
The archdeacon had nothing for it but groaning. There was Mr Slope; he was going to be made dean; he was going to take a wife; he was bout to achieve respectability and wealth; and excellent family mansion, and a family carriage; he would soon be among the comfortable elite of the ecclesiastical world of Barchester; whereas his own protege, the true scion of the true church, by whom he had sworn, would still be a poor vicar, and that with a very indifferent character for moral conduct! It might be all very well recommending Mr Arabin to marry, but how would Mr Arabin when married support a wife?
Things were ordering themselves thus at Plumstead drawing-room when Dr and Mrs Grantly were disturbed in their sweet discourse by the quick rattle of a carriage and a pair of horses on the gravel sweep. The sound was not that of visitors, whose private carriages are generally brought up to country-house doors with demure propriety, but belonged rather to some person or persons who were in a hurry to reach the house, and had not intention of immediately leaving it. Guests invited to stay a week, and who were conscious of arriving after the first dinner bell, would probably approach in such a manner. So might arrive an attorney with the news of a granduncle's death, or a son from college with all the fresh honours of a double first. No one would have had himself driven to the door of a country house in such a manner who had the slightest doubt of his own right to force an entry.
'Who is it?' said Mrs Grantly, looking at her husband.
'Who on earth can it be?' said the archdeacon to his wife. He then quietly got up and stood with the drawing-room door open in his hand. 'Why, it is your father!'
It was indeed Mr Harding, and Mr Harding alone. He had come by himself in a post-chaise with a couple of horses from Barchester, arriving almost after dark, and evidently full of news. His visits had usually been made in the quietest manner; he had rarely presumed to come without notice, and had always been driven up in a modest old green fly, with one horse, that hardly made itself heard as it crawled up to the hall door.
'Good gracious, Warden, is it you?' said the archdeacon, forgetting in his surprise the events of the last few years. 'But come in; nothing is the matter, I hope?'
'We are very glad you are come, papa,' said his daughter. 'I'll go and get your room ready at once.'
'I an't warden, archdeacon,' said Mr Harding. 'Mr Quiverful is warden.'
Oh, I know, I know,' said the archdeacon, petulantly. 'I forgot all about it at the moment. Is anything the matter?'
'Don't go at the moment, Susan,' said Mr Harding; 'I have something to tell you.'
'The dinner bell will ring in five minutes,' said she.
'Will it?' said Mr Harding. 'Then, perhaps I had better wait.' he was big with news which he had come to tell, but which he knew could not be told without much discussion. He had hurried away to Plumstead as fast as two horses could bring him, and now, finding himself there, he was willing to accept the reprieve which dinner would give him.
'If you have anything of moment to tell us, said the archdeacon, 'pray let us hear it at once. Has Eleanor gone off?'
'No, she has not,' said Mr Harding, with a look of great disclosure.
'Has Slope been made dean?'
'No, he has not; but - '
'But what?' said the archdeacon, who was becoming very impatient.
'They have - '
'They have what?' said the archdeacon.
'They have offered it to me,' said Mr Harding, with a modesty which almost prevented his speaking.
'Good heavens!' said the archdeacon, and sank back exhausted in an easy-chair.
'My dear, dear, father,' said Mrs Grantly, and threw her arms around his neck.
'So I thought I had better come out and consult with you at once,' said Mr Harding.
'Consult!' shouted the archdeacon. 'But, my dear Harding, I congratulate you with my whole heart - with my whole heart. I do indeed. I never heard anything in my life that gave me so much pleasure;' and he got hold of both his father-in-law's hands, and shook them as though he were going to shake them off, and walked round and round the room, twirling a copy of the Jupiter over his head, to show his extreme exultation.
'But - ' began Mr Harding.
'But me no buts,' said the archdeacon. 'I never was so happy in my life. It was just the proper thing to do. Upon my honour, I'll never say another word against Lord - the longest day I have to live.'
'That's Dr Gwynne's doing, you may be sure,' said Mrs Grantly, who greatly liked the master of Lazarus, he being an orderly married man with a large family.
'I suppose it is,' said the archdeacon.
'Oh, papa, I am so truly delighted,' said Mrs Grantly, getting up and kissing her father.
'But, my dear,' said Mr Harding. It was all in vain that he strove to speak; nobody would listen to him.
'Well, Mr Dean,' said the archdeacon, triumphing; 'the deanery gardens will be some consolation for the hospital elms. Well, poor Quiverful! I won't begrudge him his good fortune any longer.'
No, indeed,' said Mrs Grantly. 'Poor woman, she has fourteen children. I am sure I am very glad they have got it.'
'So am I,' said Mr Harding.
'I would give twenty pounds,' said the archdeacon, 'to see how Mr Slope will look when he hears it.' The idea of Mr Slope's discomfiture formed no small part of the archdeacon's pleasure.
At last Mr Harding was allowed to go up-stairs and wash his hands, having, in fact, said very little of all that he had come out to Plumstead on purpose to say. Nor could anything more be said till the servants were gone after dinner. The joy of Dr Grantly was so uncontrollable that he could not refrain from calling his father-in-law Mr Dean before the men; and therefore, it was soon matter for discussion in the lower regions how Mr Harding, instead of his daughter's future husband, was to be the new dean, and various were the opinions on the matter. The cook and butler, who were advanced in years, thought that it was just as it should be; but the footman and lady's maid, who were younger, thought it was a great shame that Mr Slope should lose his chance.
'He's a mean chap all the same,' said the footman; 'and it an't along of him that I says so. But I always did admire the missus's sister; and she'd well become the situation.'
While these were the ideas down-stairs, a very great difference of opinion existed above. As soon as the cloth was drawn and the wine on the table, Mr Harding made for himself the opportunity of speaking. It was, however, with much troubling that he said -
'It's very kind of Lord - very kind, and I feel it deeply, most deeply. I am, I must confess, gratified by the offer - '
'I should think so,' said the archdeacon.
'But, all the same, I am afraid that I can't accept it.'
The decanter almost fell from the archdeacon's had upon the table; and the start he made was so great as to make his wife jump from her chair. Not accept the deanship! If it really ended in this, there would be no longer any doubt that his father-in-law was demented. The question now was whether a clergyman with low rank, and preferment amounting to less than 200 pounds a year, should accept high rank, 1200 pounds a year, and one of the most desirable positions which his profession had to afford!
'What!' said the archdeacon, gasping for breath, and staring at his guest as though the violence of his emotion had almost thrown him into a fit.
'I do not find myself fit for new duties,' urged Mr Harding.
'New duties! what duties?' said the archdeacon, with unintended sarcasm.
'Oh, papa,' said Mrs Grantly, 'nothing can be easier that what a dean has to do. Surely you are more active than Dr Trefoil.'
'He won't have half as much to do as at present,' said Dr Grantly.
'Did you see what the Jupiter said the other day about young men?'
'Yes; and I saw that the Jupiter said all that it could to induce the appointment of Mr Slope. Perhaps you would wish to see Mr Slope made dean.'
Mr Harding made no reply to this rebuke, though he felt it strongly. He had not come over to Plumstead to have further contention with his son-in-law about Mr Slope, so he allowed it to pass by.
'I know I cannot make you understand my feeling,' he said, 'for we have been cast in different moulds. I may wish that I had your spirit and energy and power of combatting; but I have not. Every day that is added to my life increases my wish for peace and rest.'
'And where on earth can a man have peace and rest if not in a deanery?' said the archdeacon.
'People will say I am too old for it.'
'Good heavens! What people? What need you care for any people?'
'But I think myself I am too old for any new place.'
'Dear papa,' said Mrs Grantly, 'men ten years older than you have been appointed to new situations day after day.'
'My dear,' said he, 'it is impossible that I should make you understand my feelings, nor do I pretend to any great virtue in the matter. The truth is, I want the force of character which might enable me to stand against the spirit of the times. The call on all sides now is for young men, and I have not the nerve to put myself in opposition to the demand. Were the Jupiter, when it hears of my appointment, to write article after article, setting forth my incompetency, I am sure it would cost me my reason. I ought to be able to bear with such things, you will say. Well, my dear, I own that I ought. But I feel my weakness and I know that I can't. And, to tell you the truth, I know no more than a child what the dean has to do.'
'Pshaw!' exclaimed the archdeacon.
'Don't be angry with me, archdeacon; don't let us quarrel about it, Susan. If you knew how keenly I feel the necessity of having to disoblige you in this matter, you would not be angry with me.'
This was a dreadful blow to Dr Grantly. Nothing could possibly have suited him better than having Mr Harding in the deanery. Though he had never looked down on Mr Harding on account of his great poverty, he did fully recognise the satisfaction of having those belonging to him in comfortable positions. It would be much more suitable that Mr Harding should be dean of Barchester than vicar of St Cuthbert's and precentor to boot. And then the great discomfiture of that arch enemy of all that was respectable in Barchester, of that new low church clerical parvenu that had fallen amongst them, that alone would be worth more, almost than the situation itself. It was frightful to think that such unhoped for good fortune should be marred by the absurd crotchets and unwholesome hallucinations by which Mr Harding allowed himself to be led astray. To have the cup so near his lips and then to lose the drinking of it, was more than Dr Grantly could endure.
And yet it appears as though he would have to endure it. In vain he threatened and in vain he coaxed. Mr Harding did not indeed speak with perfect decision of refusing the proffered glory, but he would not speak with anything like decision of accepting it. When pressed again and again, he would again and again allege that he was wholly unfitted to new duties. It was in vain that the archdeacon tried to insinuate, though he could not plainly declare, that there were no new duties to perform. It was in vain he hinted that in all cases of difficulty he, the archdeacon, was willing and able to guide a weak-minded dean. Mr Harding seemed to have a foolish idea, not only that there were new duties to do, and that no one should accept the place who was not himself prepared to do them.
The conference ended in an understanding that Mr Harding should at once acknowledge the letter he had received from the minister's private secretary, and should beg that he might be allowed two days to make up his mind; and that during those two days the matter should be considered.
On the following morning the archdeacon was to drive Mr Harding back to Barchester.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XLVIII MISS THORNE SHOWS HER TALENT FOR MATCH-MAKING