Before she started for Ullathorne, Mrs Proudie, careful soul, caused two letters to be written, one by herself and one by her lord, to the inhabitants of Puddingdale vicarage, which made happy the hearth of those within it.
As soon as the departure of the horses left the bishop's stable-groom free for other services, that humble denizen of the diocese started on the bishop's own pony with the two despatches. We have had so many letters lately that we will spare ourselves these. That from the bishop was simply a request that Mr Quiverful would wait upon his lordship the next morning at 11 A.M.; and that from the lady was as simply a request that Mrs Quiverful would do the same by her, though it was couched in somewhat longer and more grandiloquent phraseology.
It had become a point of conscience with Mrs Proudie to urge the settlement of this great hospital question. She was resolved that Mr Quiverful should have it. She was resolved that there should be no more doubt or delay; no more refusals and resignations, nor more secret negotiations carried on by Mr Slope on his own account in opposition to her behests.
'Bishop,' she said, immediately after breakfast, on the morning of that eventful day, 'have you signed the appointment yet?'
'No, my dear, not yet; it is not exactly signed as yet.'
'Then do it,' said the lady.
The bishop did it; and a very pleasant day indeed he spent at Ullathorne. And when he got home he had a glass of hot negus in his wife's sitting-room, and read the last number of the 'Little Dorrit' of the day with great inward satisfaction. Oh, husbands, oh, my marital friends, what great comfort is there to be derived from a wife well obeyed!
Much perturbation and flutter, high expectation and renewed hopes, were occasioned at Puddingdale, by the receipt of those episcopal dispatches. Mrs Quiverful, whose careful ear caught the sound of the pony's feet as he trotted up to the vicarage kitchen door, brought them in hurriedly to her husband. She was at the moment concocting the Irish stew destined to satisfy the noonday want of fourteen young birds, let alone the parent couple. She had taken the letters from the man's hands between the folds of her capacious apron, so as to save them from the contamination of the stew, and in this guise she brought them to her husband's desk.
They at once divided the spoil, each taking that addressed to the others. 'Quiverful,'said she with impressive voice, 'you are to be at the palace at eleven to-morrow.'
'And so are you, my dear,' said he, almost gasping with the importance of the tidings: and then they exchanged letters.
'She'd never have sent for me again,' said the lady, 'if it wasn't all right.'
'Oh! My dear, don't be too certain,' said the gentleman. 'Only think if it should be wrong.'
'She'd never have sent for me, Q., if it wasn't all right,' again argued the lady. 'She's stiff and hard and proud as pie-crust, but I think she's right at bottom.' Such was Mrs Quiverful's verdict about Mrs Proudie, to which in after times she always adhered. People when they get their income doubled usually think that those through whose instrumentality this little ceremony is performed are right at bottom.
'Oh, Letty!' said Mr Quiverful, rising from his well-worn seat.
'Oh, Q!' said Mrs Quiverful; and then the two, unmindful of the kitchen apron, the greasy fingers, and the adherent Irish stew, threw themselves warmly into each other's arms.
'For heaven's sake, don't let any one cajole you out of it again,' said the wife.
'Let me alone for that,' said the husband, with a look of almost fierce determination, pressing his fist as he spoke rigidly on his desk, as though he had Mr Slope's head below his knuckles, and meant to keep it there.
'I wonder how soon it will be,' said she.
'I wonder whether it will be at all,' said he, still doubtful.
'Well, I won't say too much,' said the lady. 'The cup has slipped twice before, and it may fall altogether this time; but I'll not believe it. He'll give you the appointment to-morrow. You'll find he will.'
'Heaven send he may,' said Mr Quiverful, solemnly. And who that considers the weight of the burden on this man's back, will say that the prayer was an improper one? There were fourteen of them--fourteen of them living--as Mrs Quiverful had so powerfully urged in the presence of the bishop's wife. As long as promotion cometh from any human source, whether north or south, east or west, will not such a claim as this hold good, in spite of all our examination tests, detur digniori's and optimist tendencies? It is fervently to be hoped that it may. Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for change we sink to something lower.
And then the pair sitting down lovingly together, talked over all their difficulties, as they so often did, and all their hopes, as they so seldom were able to do.
'You had better call on that man, Q, as you come away from the palace,' said Mrs Quiverful, pointing to an angry call for money from the Barchester draper, which the postman had left at the vicarage that morning. Cormorant that he was, unjust, hungry cormorant! When rumour first got abroad that the Quiverfuls were to go to the hospital this fellow with fawning eagerness had pressed his goods upon the wants of the poor clergyman. He had done so, feeling that he should be paid from the hospital funds, and flattering himself that a man with fourteen children, and money wherewithal to clothe them, could not but be an excellent customer. As soon as the second rumour reached him, he applied for his money angrily.
'And the 'fourteen'--or such of them as were old enough to hope and discuss their hopes, talked over their golden future. The tall-grown girls whispered to each other of possible Barchester parties, of possible allowances for dresses, of a possible piano--the one they had in the vicarage was so weather-beaten with storms of years and children as to be no longer worthy of the name--of the pretty garden, and the pretty house. 'Twas of such things it most behoved them to whisper.
And the younger fry, they did not content themselves with whispers, but shouted to each other of their new playground beneath our dear ex-warden's well-loved elms, of their future own gardens, of marbles to be procured in the wished-for city, and of the rumour which had reached them of a Barchester school.
'Twas in vain that their cautious mother tried to instil into their breasts the very feeling she had striven to banish from that of their father; 'twas in vain that she repeated to the girls that 'there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip'; 'twas in vain she attempted to make the children believe that they were to live at Puddingdale all their lives. Hopes mounted high and would not have themselves quelled. The neighbouring farmers heard this news, and came in to congratulate them. 'Twas Mrs Quiverful herself who had kindled the fire, and in the first outbreak of her renewed expectations she did it so thoroughly, that it was quite past her power to put it out again.
Poor matron! Good honest matron! Doing thy duty in the state to which thou hast been called, heartily if not contentedly; let the fire burn on--on this occasion the flames will not scorch; they shall warm thee and thine. 'Tis ordained that the husband of thine, that Q of thy bosom, shall reign supreme for some years to come over the bedesmen of Hiram's hospital.
And the last in all Barchester to mar their hopes, had he heard and seen all that had passed at Puddingdale that day, would have been Mr Harding. What wants had he to set in opposition to those of such a regiment of young ravens? There are fourteen of them living! With him at any rate, let us say, that the argument would have been sufficient for the appointment of Mr Quiverful.
In the morning, Q and his wife kept their appointments with that punctuality which bespeaks an expectant mind. The friendly farmer's gig was borrowed, and in that they went, discussing many things by the way. They had instructed the household to expect them back by one, and injunctions were given to the eldest pledge to have ready by that accustomed hour the remainder of the huge stew which the provident mother had prepared on the previous day. The hands of the kitchen clock came round to two, three, four, before the farmer's gig-wheels were agin heard at the vicarage gate. With what palpitating hearts were the returning wanderers greeted!
'I suppose, children, 'you all thought we were never coming back any more?' said the mother, as she slowly let down her solid foot till it rested on the step of the gig. 'Well, such a day as we've had!' and then leaning heavily on a big boy's shoulder, she stepped once more on terra firma.
There was no need for more than the tone of her voice to tell them that all was right. The Irish stew might burn itself to cinders now.
Then there was such kissing and hugging, such crying and laughing. Mr Quiverful could not sit still at all, but kept walking from room to room, then out into the garden, then down the avenue into the road, and then back again to his wife. She, however, lost no time so idly.
'We must go to work at once, girls; and that in earnest. Mrs Proudie expects us to be in the hospital house on the 15th of October.'
Had Mrs Proudie expressed a wish that they should all be there on the next morning, the girls would have had nothing to say against it.
'And when will the pay begin?' asked the eldest boy.
'To-day, my dear,' said the gratified mother.
'Oh,--that is jolly,' said the boy.
'Mrs Proudie insisted on our going down to the house,' continued the mother; 'and when there I thought I might save a journey by measuring some of the rooms and windows; so I got a knot of tape from Bobbins. Bobbins is as civil as you please, now.'
'I wouldn't thank him,' said Letty the younger.
'Oh, that's the way of the world, my dear. They all do just the same. You might just as well be angry with the turkey cock for gobbling at you. It's the bird's nature.' And as she enunciated to her bairns the upshot of her practical experience, she pulled from her pocket the portions of tape which showed the length and breadth of the various rooms at the hospital house.
And so we will leave her happy in her toils.
The Quiverfuls had hardly left the palace, and Mrs Proudie was still holding forth on the matter to her husband, when another visitor was announced in, the person of Dr Gwynne. The master of Lazarus had asked for the bishop, and not for Mrs Proudie, and therefore, when he was shown into the study, he was surprised rather than rejoiced to find the lady there.
But we must go back a little, and it shall be but a little, for a difficulty begins to make itself manifest in the necessity of disposing of all our friends in the small remainder of this one volume. Oh, that Mr Longman would allow me a fourth! It should transcend the other three as the seventh heaven transcends all the lower stages of celestial bliss.
Going home in the carriage that evening from Ullathorne, Dr Gwynne had not without difficulty brought round his friend the archdeacon to a line of tactics much less bellicose than that which his own taste would have preferred. 'It will be unseemly in us to show ourselves in a bad humour; and moreover we have no power in this matter, and it will therefore be bad policy to act as though we had.' 'Twas thus the master of Lazarus argued. 'If,' he continued, 'the bishop is determined to appoint another to the hospital, threats will not prevent him, and threats should not be lightly used by an archdeacon to his bishop. If he will place a stranger in the hospital, we can only leave him to the indignation of others. It is probable that such a step may not eventually injure your father-in-law. I will see the bishop, if you will allow me,--alone.' At this the archdeacon winced visibly; 'yes, alone; for so I shall be calmer: and then I shall at any rate learn what he does mean to do in the matter.
The archdeacon puffed and blew, put up the carriage window and then put it down again, argued the matter up to his own gate, and at last gave way. Everybody was against him; his own wife, Mr Harding, and Dr Gwynne.
'Pray keep him out of hot water, Dr Gwynne,' Mrs Grantly had said to her guest. 'My dearest madam, I'll do my best,' the courteous master had replied. 'Twas thus he did it; and earned for himself the gratitude of Mrs Grantly.
And now we may return to the bishop's study.
Dr Gwynne had certainly not foreseen the difficulty which here presented itself. He,--together with all the clerical world of England,--had heard it rumoured about that Mrs Proudie did not confine herself to her wardrobes, still-rooms, and laundries; but yet it had never occurred to him that if he called on a bishop at one o'clock in the day, he could by any possibility find himself closeted with his wife; or that if he did so, the wife would remain longer than necessary to make her curtsey. It appeared, however, as though in the present case Mrs Proudie had no idea of retreating.
The bishop had been very much pleased with Dr Gwynne on the preceding day, and of course thought that Dr Gwynne had been very much pleased with him. He attributed the visit solely to compliment, and thought it was an extremely gracious and proper thing for the master of Lazarus to drive over from Plumstead specially to call at the palace so soon after his arrival in the country. The fact that they were not on the same side either in politics or doctrines made the compliment the greater. The bishop, therefore, was all smiles. And Mrs Proudie, who liked people with good handles to their names, was also very well disposed to welcome the master of Lazarus.
'We had a charming party at Ullathorne, Master, had we not?' said she. 'I hope Mrs Grantly got home without fatigue.'
Dr Gwynne said that they had all been a little tired, but were none the worse this morning.
'An excellent person, Miss Thorne,' suggested the bishop.
'An exemplary Christian, I am told,' said Mrs Proudie.
Dr Gwynne declared that he was very glad to hear it.
'I have not seen her Sabbath-day schools yet,' continued the lady, 'but I shall make a point of doing so before long.'
Dr Gwynne merely bowed at this intimation. He had something of Mrs Proudie and her Sunday schools, both from Dr Grantly and Mr Harding.
'By the bye, Master,' continued the lady, 'I wonder whether Mrs Grantly would like me to drive over and inspect her Sabbath-day school. I hear that it is most excellently kept.'
Dr Gwynne really could not say. He had no doubt Mrs Grantly would be most happy to see Mrs Proudie any day Mrs Proudie would do her the honour of calling: that was, of course, if Mrs Grantly should happen to be at home.
A slight cloud darkened the lady's brow. She saw that her offer was not taken in good part. This generation of unregenerated vipers was still perverse, stiffnecked, and hardened in their antiquity. 'The archdeacon, I know,' said she, 'sets his face against these institutions.'
At this Dr Gwynne laughed slightly. It was but a smile. Had he given his cap for it he could not have helped it.
Mrs Proudie frowned again. '"Suffer little children, and forbid them not,"' said she. 'Are we not to remember that, Dr Gwynne? "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Are we not to remember that, Dr Gwynne?' And at each of these questions she raised at him a menacing forefinger.
'Certainly, madam, certainly,' said the master, 'and so does the archdeacon, I am sure, on week days as well as on Sundays.'
'On week days you can't take heed not to despise them,' said Mrs Proudie, 'because they are out in the fields. On week days they belong to their parents, but on Sundays they ought to belong to the clergyman.' And the finger was again raised.
The master began to understand and to share the intense disgust which the archdeacon always expressed when Mrs Proudie's name was mentioned. What was he to do with such a woman as this? To take his hat and go would have been his natural resource; but then he did not wish to be foiled in his subject.
'My lord,' said he, 'I wanted to ask you a question on business, if you would spare me one moment's leisure. I know I must apologise for so disturbing you; but in truth, I will not detain you five minutes.'
'Certainly, Master, certainly,' said the bishop; 'my time is quite yours--pray make no apology, pray make no apology.'
'You have a great deal to do just at the present moment, bishop. Do not forget how extremely busy you are at present,' said Mrs Proudie, whose spirit was now up; for she was angry with her visitor.
'I will not delay his lordship much above a minute,' said the master of Lazarus, rising from his chair, and expecting that Mrs Proudie would now go, or else that the bishop would lead the way into another room.
But neither event seemed likely to occur, and Dr Gwynne stood for a moment silent in the middle of the room.
'Perhaps it's about Hiram's Hospital,' suggested Mrs Proudie.
Dr Gwynne, lost in astonishment, and not knowing what else on earth to do, confessed that his business with the bishop was connected with Hiram's Hospital.
'His lordship has finally conferred the appointment on Mr Quiverful this morning,' said the lady.
Dr Gwynne made a simple reference to the bishop, and finding that the lady's statement was formally confirmed, he took his leave. 'That comes of the reform bill,' he said to himself as he walked down the bishop's avenue. 'Well, at any rate the Greek play bishops were not so bad as that.'
It has been said that Mr Slope, as he started for Ullathorne, received a despatch from his friend Mr Towers, which had the effect of putting him in that high good-humour which subsequent events somewhat untowardly damped. It ran as follows. Its shortness will be its sufficient apology:
My dear Sir,--I wish you every success. I don't know that I can help you, but if I can I will. 'Yours ever' T.T. '30/9/185-'
There was more in this than in all Sir Nicholas Fitzwiggin's flummery; more than in all the bishop's promises, even had they been ever so sincere; more than in any archbishop's good work, even had it been possible to obtain it. Tom Towers would do for him what he could.
Mr Slope had from his youth upwards been a firm believer in the public press. He had dabbled in it himself ever since he had taken his degree, and regarded it as the great arranger and distributor of all future British terrestrial affairs whatever. He had not yet arrived at the age, an age which sooner or later comes to most of us, which dissipates the golden dreams of youth. He delighted in the idea of wresting power from the hands of his country's magnates, and placing it in a custody which was at any rate nearer to his own reach. Sixty thousand broad sheets dispersing themselves daily among his reading fellow-citizens, formed in his eyes a better depot for supremacy than a throne at Windsor, a cabinet in Downing Street, or even an assembly at Westminster. And on this subject we must not quarrel with Mr Slope, for the feeling is too general to be met with disrespect.
Tom Towers was as good, if not better than his promise. On the following morning the Jupiter, spouting forth public opinion with sixty thousand loud clarions, did proclaim to the world that Mr Slope was the fittest man for the vacant post. It was pleasant for Mr Slope to read the following line in the Barchester news-room, which he did within thirty minutes after the morning train from London had reached the city.
"It is just now five years since we called the attention of our readers to the quiet city of Barchester. From that day to this, we have in no way meddled with the affairs of that happy ecclesiastical community. Since then, an old bishop has died there, and a young bishop has been installed; but we believe we did not do more than give some customary record of the interesting event. Nor are we about to meddle very deeply in the affairs of the diocese. If any of the chapter feel a qualm of conscience on reading this, let it be quieted. Above all, let the mind of the new bishop be at rest. We are now not armed for war, but approach the revered towers of the old cathedral with an olive-branch in our hands.
'It will be remembered that at the time alluded to, now five years past, we had occasion to remark on the state of a charity at Barchester called Hiram's Hospital. We thought that it was maladministered, and that the very estimable and reverend gentleman who held the office of warden was somewhat too highly paid for duties which were somewhat too easily performed. This gentleman--and we say it in all sincerity and with no touch of sarcasm--had never looked on the matter in this light before. We do not wish to take praise to ourselves whether praise is due or not. But the consequence of our remark was, that the warden did look into the matter, and finding on doing so that he himself could come to no other opinion than that expressed by us, he very creditably threw up the appointment. The then bishop then as creditably declined to fill the vacancy till the affair was put on a better footing. Parliament then took it up; and we have now the satisfaction of informing our readers that Hiram's Hospital will be immediately re-opened under new auspices. Heretofore, provision was made for the maintenance of twelve old men. This will now be extended to the fair sex, and twelve elderly women if any such can be found in Barchester, will be added to the establishment. There will be a matron; there will, it is hoped, be schools attached for the poorest of the children of the poor, and there will be a steward. The warden, for there will still be a warden, will receive an income more in keeping with the extent of the charity than that heretofore paid. The stipend we believe will be L 450. We may add that the excellent house which the former warden inhabited will still be attached to the situation.
'Barchester hospital cannot perhaps boast a world-wide reputation; but as we advertised to its state of decadence, we think it right also to advert to its renaissance. May it go up and prosper. Whether the salutary reform which has been introduced within its walls has been carried as far as could have been desired, may be doubtful. The important question of the school appears to be somewhat left to the discretion of the new warden. This might have been made the most important part of the establishment, and the new warden, whom we trust we shall not offend by the freedom of our remarks, might have been selected with some view to his fitness as schoolmaster. But we will not now look a gift horse in the mouth. May the hospital go on and prosper! The situation of warden has of course been offered to the gentleman who so honourable vacated it five years since; but we are given to understand that he has declined it. Whether the ladies who have been introduced, be in his estimation too much for his powers of control, whether it be that the diminished income does not offer to him sufficient temptation to resume the old place, or that he has in the meantime assumed other clerical duties, we do not know. We are, however, informed that he has refused the offer, and that the situation has been accepted by Mr Quiverful, the vicar of Puddingdale.
'So much we think is due to Hiram redivivus. But while we are on the subject of Barchester, we will venture with all respectful humility to express our opinion on another matter, connected with the ecclesiastical polity of that ancient city. Dr Trefoil, the dean, died yesterday. A short record of his death, giving his age, and the various pieces of preferment which he has at different times held, will be found in another column in this paper. The only fault we knew in him was his age, and as that is a crime of which we may all hope to be guilty, we will not bear heavily on it. May he rest in peace! But though the great age of an expiring dean cannot be made matter of reproach, we are not inclined to look on such a fault as at all pardonable in a dean just brought to the birth. We do hope the days of sexagenarian appointments are past. If we want deans, we must want them for some purpose. That purpose will necessarily be better fulfilled by a man of forty than by a man of sixty. If we are to pay deans at all, we are to pay them for some sort of work. That work, be it what it may, will be best performed by a workman in the prime of life. Dr Trefoil, we see, was eighty when he died. As we have as yet completed no plan for positioning superannuated clergymen, we do not wish to get rid of any existing deans of that age. But we prefer having as few such as possible. If a man of seventy be now appointed, we beg to point out to Lord--that he will be past all use in a year or two, if indeed he is not so at the present moment. His lordship will allow us to remind him that all men are not evergreens like himself.
'We hear that Mr Slope's name has been mentioned for this preferment. Mr Slope is at present chaplain to the bishop. A better man could hardly be selected. He is a man of talent, young, active, and conversant with the affairs of the cathedral; he is moreover, we conscientiously believe, a truly pious clergyman. We know that his services in the city of Barchester have been highly appreciated. He is an eloquent preacher and a ripe scholar. Such a selection as this would go far to raise the confidence of the public in the present administration of church patronage, and would teach men to believe that from henceforth the establishment of our church will not afford easy couches to worn-out clerical voluptuaries.'
Standing at a reading-desk in the Barchester news-room, Mr Slope digested this article with considerable satisfaction. What was therein said as the hospital was now comparatively matter of indifference to him. He was certainly glad that he had not succeeded in restoring to the place the father of that virago who had so audaciously outraged all decency in his person; and was so far satisfied. But Mrs Proudie's nominee was appointed, and he was so far dissatisfied. His mind, however, was now soaring above Mrs Bold or Mrs Proudie.
He was sufficiently conversant with the tactics of the Jupiter to know that the pith of the article would lie in the last paragraph. The place of honour was given to him, and it was indeed as honourable as even he could have wished. He was very grateful to his friend Mr Towers, and with full heart looked forward to the day when he might entertain him in princely style at his own full-spread board in the deanery dining-room.
It had been well for Mr Slope that Dr Trefoil had died in the autumn. Those caterers for our morning repast, the staff of the Jupiter, had been sorely put to it for the last month to find a sufficiency of proper pabulum. Just then there was no talk of a new American president. No wonderful tragedies had occurred on railway trains in Georgia, or elsewhere. There was a dearth of broken banks, and a dead dean with the necessity for a live one was a godsend. Had Dr Trefoil died in June, Mr Towers would probably not have known so much about the piety of Mr Slope.
And here we will leave Mr Slope for a while in his triumph; explaining, however, that his feelings were not altogether of a triumphant nature. His rejection by the widow, or rather the method of his rejection, galled him terribly. For days to come he positively felt the sting upon his cheek, whenever he thought of what had been done to him. He could not refrain from calling her by harsh names, speaking to himself as he walked through the streets of Barchester. When he said his prayers, he could not bring himself to forgive her. When he strove to do so, his mind recoiled from the attempt, and in lieu of forgiving, ran off in a double spirit of vindictiveness, dwelling on the extent of the injury he had received. And so his prayers dropped senseless from his lips.
And then the signora; what would he not have given to be able to hate her also? As it was, he worshipped the very sofa on which she was ever lying. And thus it was not all rose colour with Mr Slope, although his hopes ran high.
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