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.



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