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CHAPTER LI MR SLOPE BIDS FAREWELL TO THE PALACE AND ITS INHABITANTS
We must now take leave of Mr Slope, and of the bishop, and of Mrs Proudie. These leave-takings in novels are as disagreeable as they are in real life; not so sad, indeed, for they want the reality of sadness; but quite as perplexing, and generally less satisfactory. What novelist, what Fielding, what Scott, what George Sand, or Sue, or Duncan, can impart an interest to the last chapter of his fictitious history? Promises of two children and superhuman happiness are of no avail, nor assurance of extreme respectability carried to an age far exceeding that usually allotted to mortals. The sorrows of our heroes and heroines, they are you delight, oh public! their sorrows, or their sins, or their absurdities; not their virtues, good sense, and consequent rewards. When we begin to tint our final pages with couleur de rose, as in accordance with fixed rule we must do, we altogether extinguish our own powers of pleasing. When we become dull we offend your intellect; and we must become dull or we should offend your taste. A late writer, wishing to sustain his interest to the last page, hung his hear at the end of the third volume. The consequence was, that no one should read his novel. And who can apportion out and dovetail his incidents, dialogues, characters, and descriptive morsels, so as to fit them all exactly into 439 pages, without either compressing them unnaturally, or extending them artificially at the end of his labour? Do I not myself know that I am at this moment in want of a dozen pages, and that I am sick with cudgelling my brains to find them? And then when everything is done, the kindest-hearted critic of them all invariably twit us with the incompetency and lameness of our conclusion. We have either become idle and neglected it, or tedious and over-laboured it. It is insipid or unnatural, over-strained or imbecile. It means nothing, or attempts too much. The last scene of all, as all last scenes we fear must be:
'Is second childishness, and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.'
I can only say that if some critic, who thoroughly knows his work, and has laboured on it till experience has made him perfect, will write the last fifty pages of a novel in the way they should be written. I, for one, will in future do my best to copy the example. Guided by my own lights only, I despair of success.
For the last week or ten days, Mr Slope had seen nothing of Mrs Proudie, and very little of the bishop. He still lived in the palace, and still went through his usual routine work; but the confidential doings of the diocese had passed into other hands. He had seen this clearly, and marked it well; but it had not much disturbed him. He had indulged in other hopes till the bishop's affairs had become dull to him, and he was moreover aware that, as regarded the diocese, Mrs Proudie had checkmated him. It has been explained, in the beginning of these pages, how three or four were contending together as to who, in fact, should be bishop of Barchester.
Each of them had now admitted to himself (or boasted to herself) that Mrs Proudie was victorious in the struggle. They had gone through a competitive examination of considerable severity, and she had come forth the winner, facile princeps. Mr Slope had, for a moment, run her hard, but it was only for a moment. It had become, as it were, acknowledged that Hiram's hospital should be the testing point between them, and now Mr Quiverful was already in the hospital, the proof of Mrs Proudie's skill and courage.
All this did not break Mr Slope's spirit, because he had other hopes. But, alas, at last there came to him a note from his friend Sir Nicholas, informing him that the deanship was disposed of. Let us give Mr Slope his due. He did not lie prostrate, under this blow, or give himself to vain lamentations; he did not henceforward despair of life, and call upon gods above and gods below to carry him off. He sat himself down in his chair, counted out what monies he had in hand, for present purposes, and what others were coming to him, bethought himself as to the best sphere for his future exertions, and at once wrote off a letter to a rich sugarrefiner's wife in Baker Street, who, as he well knew, was much given to the entertainment and encouragement of serious young evangelical clergymen. He was again, he said, 'upon the world, having found the air of a cathedral town, and the very nature of cathedral services, uncongenial to his spirit'; and then he sat awhile, making firm resolves as to his manner of parting from the bishop, and also as to his future conduct.
'At last he rose, and twitched his mantle blue,
To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures new.'
Having received a formal command to wait upon the bishop, he rose and proceeded to obey it. He rang the bell and desired the servant to inform his master that if it suited his lordship, he, Mr Slope, was ready to wait upon him. The servant, who well understood that Mr Slope was no longer in the ascendant, brought back a message, saying that, 'his lordship desired that Mr Slope would attend him immediately in his study.' Mr Slope waited about ten minutes more to prove his independence, and then went into the bishop's room. There, as had expected, he found Mrs Proudie, together with her husband.
'Hum, ha - Mr Slope, please take a chair,' said the gentleman bishop.
'Pray be seated, Mr Slope,' said the lady bishop.
'Thank ye, thank ye,'said Mr Slope, and walking round to the fire, he threw himself into one of the arm-chairs that graced the hearth-rug.
'Mr Slope,' said the bishop, 'it has become necessary that I should speak to you definitively on a matter that has for some time been pressing itself on my attention.'
'May I ask whether the subject is in any way connected with myself?' said Mr Slope.
'It is so - certainly, - yes, it certainly is connected with yourself, Mr Slope.'
'Then, my lord, if I may be allowed to express a wish, I would prefer that no discussion on the subject should take place between us in the presence of a third party.'
'Don't alarm yourself, Mr Slope,' said Mrs Proudie, 'no discussion is at all necessary. The bishop merely intends to express his own wishes.'
'I merely intend, Mr Slope, to express my own wishes - no discussion will be at all necessary,' said the bishop, reiterating his wife's words.
'That is more, my lord, than we any of us can be sure of,' said Mr Slope; 'I cannot, however, force Mrs Proudie to leave the room; nor can I refuse to remain here, if it be your lordship's wish that I should do so.'
'It is certainly his lordship's wish,'said Mrs Proudie.
'Mr Slope,' began the bishop, in a solemn, serious voice, 'it grieves me to have to find fault. It grieves me much to find fault with a clergyman; but especially so with a clergyman in your position.'
'Why, what have I done amiss, my lord?' demanded Mr Slope, loudly.
'What have you done amiss, Mr Slope?' said Mrs Proudie, standing erect before the culprit, and raising that terrible forefinger. 'Do you dare to ask the bishop what you have done amiss? does not your conscience - '
'Mrs Proudie, pray let it be understood, once for all, that I will have no words with you.'
'Ah, sire, but you will have words,' said she; 'you must have words. Why have you had so may words with that Signora Neroni? Why have you disgraced yourself, you a clergyman, by constantly consorting with such a woman as that - with a married woman - with one altogether unfit for a clergyman's society?'
'At any rate, I was introduced to her in your drawing-room,' returned Mr Slope.
'And shamefully you behave there,' said Mrs Proudie, 'most shamefully. I was wrong to allow you to remain in the house a day after what I then saw. I should have insisted on your instant dismissal.'
'I have yet to learn, Mrs Proudie, that you have the power to insist either on my going from hence or on my staying here.'
'What!' said the lady; 'I am not to have the privilege of saying who shall and who shall not frequent my own drawing-room! I am not to save my servants and dependents from having their morals corrupted by improper conduct! I am not to save my own daughters from impurity! I will let you see, Mr Slope, whether I have the power or whether I have not. You will have the goodness to understand that you no longer fill any situation about the bishop; and as your room will be immediately wanted in the palace for another chaplain, I must ask you to provide yourself with apartments as soon as may be convenient to you.'
'My lord,' said Mr Slope, appealing to the bishop, and so turning his back completely on the lady, 'will you permit me to ask that I may have from your own lips and decision that you may have come to on this matter?'
'Certainly, Mr Slope, certainly,' said the bishop; 'that is but reasonable. Well, my decision is that you had better look for some other preferment. For the situation which you have lately held I do not think you are well suited.'
'And what, my lord, has been my fault?'
'That Signora Neroni is one fault,' said Mrs Proudie; 'and a very abominable fault she is; very abominable, and very disgraceful. Fie, Mr Slope, fie! You an evangelical clergyman indeed!'
'My lord, I desire to know for what fault I am turned out of your lordship's house.'
'You hear what Mrs Proudie says,' said the bishop.
'When I publish the history of this transaction, my lord, as I decidedly shall do in my own vindication, I presume you will not wish me to state that you have discarded me at your wife's bidding - because she has objected to my being acquainted with another lady, the daughter of one of the prebendaries of the chapter?'
'You may publish as you please, sir,' said Mrs Proudie. 'But you will not be insane enough to publish any of your doings in Barchester. Do you think I have not heard of your kneelings at that creature's feet - that is if she has any feet - and of your constant slobbering over her hand? I advise you to beware, Mr Slope, of what you do and say. Clergymen have been unfrocked for less than what you have been guilty of.'
'My lord, if this goes on I shall be obliged to indict this woman-Mrs Proudie I mean - for defamation of character.'
'I think, Mr Slope, you had better now retire,' said the bishop. 'I will enclose to you a cheque for any balance that may be due to you; and, under the present circumstances, it will of course be better for all parties that you should leave the palace at the earliest possible moment.'
'If, however, you wish to remain in this neighbourhood,' said Mrs Proudie, 'and will solemnly pledge yourself never again to see that woman, and will promise also to be more circumspect in your conduct, the bishop will mention your name to Mr Quiverful, who now wants a curate at Puddingdale. The house is, I imagine, quite sufficient for your requirements: and there will moreover by a stipend of fifty pounds a year.'
'May God forgive you, madam, for the manner in which you have treated me,' said Mr Slope, looking at her with a very heavenly look; 'and remember this, madam, that you yourself may still have a fall;' and he looked at her with a very worldly look. 'As to the bishop, I pity him!' And so saying, Mr Slope left the room. Thus ended the intimacy of the Bishop of Barchester with his confidential chaplain.
Mrs Proudie was right in this; namely, that Mr Slope was not insane enough to publish to the world any of his doings in Barchester. He did not trouble his friend Mr Towers with any written statement of the iniquity of Mrs Proudie, or the imbecility of her husband. He was aware that it would be wise in him to drop for the future all allusions to his doings in the cathedral city. Soon after the interview just recorded, he left Barchester, shaking the dust off his feet as he entered the railway carriage; and he gave no longing lingering look after the cathedral towers, as the train hurried him quickly out of their sight.
It is well known that the family of the Slopes never starve; they always fall on their feet like cats, and let them fall where they will, they live on the fat of the land. Our Mr Slope did so. On his return to town he found that the sugar-refiner had died, and that the widow was inconsolable; or, in other words, in want of consolation. Mr Slope consoled her, and soon found himself settled with much comfort in the house in Baker Street. He possessed himself, also before long, of a church in the vicinity of the New Road, and become known to fame as one of the most eloquent preachers and pious clergymen in that part of the metropolis. There let us leave him.
Of the bishop and his wife very little further need be said. From that time forth nothing material occurred to interrupt the even course of their domestic harmony. Very speedily, a further vacancy on the bench of bishops gave Dr Proudie the seat in the House of Lords, which he at first so anxiously longed for. But by this time, he had become a wiser man. He did certainly take his seat, and occasionally registered a vote in favour of Government view on ecclesiastical matters.
But he had thoroughly learnt that his proper sphere of action lay in close contiguity with Mrs Proudie's wardrobe. He never again aspired to disobey, or seemed even to wish for autocratic diocesan authority. If ever he thought of freedom, he did so, as men think of the millennium, as of a good time which may be coming, but which nobody expects to come in their day. Mrs Proudie might be said still to bloom, and was, at any rate, strong; and the bishop had no reason to apprehend that he would be speedily visited with the sorrows of a widower's life.
He is still bishop of Barchester. He has so graced that throne, that the Government has been adverse to translate him, even to higher duties. There may he remain, under safe pupilage, till the new-fangled manners of the age have discovered him to be superannuated, and bestowed on him a pension. As for Mrs Proudie, our prayers for her are that she may live for ever.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER LII THE NEW DEAN TAKES POSSESSION OF THE DEANERY AND THE NEW WARDEN OF THE HOSPITAL