Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

CHAPTER XXXI

The Bishop’s Library

And thus the pleasant party at Plumstead was broken up. It had been a very pleasant party as long as they had all remained in good humour with one another. Mrs. Grantly had felt her house to be gayer and brighter than it had been for many a long day, and the archdeacon had been aware that the month had passed pleasantly without attributing the pleasure to any other special merits than those of his own hospitality. Within three or four days of Eleanor’s departure, Mr. Harding had also returned, and Mr. Arabin had gone to Oxford to spend one week there previous to his settling at the vicarage of St. Ewold’s. He had gone laden with many messages to Dr. Gwynne touching the iniquity of the doings in Barchester palace and the peril in which it was believed the hospital still stood in spite of the assurances contained in Mr. Slope’s inauspicious letter.

During Eleanor’s drive into Barchester she had not much opportunity of reflecting on Mr. Arabin. She had been constrained to divert her mind both from his sins and his love by the necessity of conversing with her sister and maintaining the appearance of parting with her on good terms. When the carriage reached her own door, and while she was in the act of giving her last kiss to her sister and nieces, Mary Bold ran out and exclaimed:

“Oh, Eleanor, have you heard? Oh, Mrs. Grantly, have you heard what has happened? The poor dean!”

“Good heavens!” said Mrs. Grantly. “What — what has happened?”

“This morning at nine he had a fit of apoplexy, and he has not spoken since. I very much fear that by this time he is no more.”

Mrs. Grantly had been very intimate with the dean, and was therefore much shocked. Eleanor had not known him so well; nevertheless, she was sufficiently acquainted with his person and manners to feel startled and grieved also at the tidings she now received. “I will go at once to the deanery,” said Mrs. Grantly; “the archdeacon, I am sure, will be there. If there is any news to send you, I will let Thomas call before he leaves town.” And so the carriage drove off, leaving Eleanor and her baby with Mary Bold.

Mrs. Grantly had been quite right. The archdeacon was at the deanery. He had come into Barchester that morning by himself, not caring to intrude himself upon Eleanor, and he also immediately on his arrival had heard of the dean’s fit. There was, as we have before said, a library or reading-room connecting the cathedral with the dean’s house. This was generally called the bishop’s library, because a certain bishop of Barchester was supposed to have added it to the cathedral. It was built immediately over a portion of the cloisters, and a flight of stairs descended from it into the room in which the cathedral clergymen put their surplices on and off. As it also opened directly into the dean’s house, it was the passage through which that dignitary usually went to his public devotions. Who had or had not the right of entry into it, it might be difficult to say, but the people of Barchester believed that it belonged to the dean and the clergymen of Barchester believed that it belonged to the chapter.

On the morning in question most of the resident clergymen who constituted the chapter, and some few others, were here assembled, and among them as usual the archdeacon towered with high authority. He had heard of the dean’s fit before he was over the bridge which led into the town and had at once come to the well-known clerical trysting place. He had been there by eleven o’clock and had remained ever since. From time to time the medical men who had been called in came through from the deanery into the library, uttered little bulletins, and then returned. There was, it appears, very little hope of the old man’s rallying, indeed no hope of anything like a final recovery. The only question was whether he must die at once speechless, unconscious, stricken to death by his first heavy fit, or whether by due aid of medical skill he might not be so far brought back to this world as to become conscious of his state and enabled to address one prayer to his Maker before he was called to meet Him face to face at the judgement seat.

Sir Omicron Pie had been sent for from London. That great man had shown himself a wonderful adept at keeping life still moving within an old man’s heart in the case of good old Bishop Grantly, and it might be reasonably expected that he would be equally successful with a dean. In the meantime Dr. Fillgrave and Mr. Rerechild were doing their best, and poor Miss Trefoil sat at the head of her father’s bed, longing, as in such cases daughters do long, to be allowed to do something to show her love — if it were only to chafe his feet with her hands, or wait in menial offices on those autocratic doctors — anything so that now in the time of need she might be of use.

The archdeacon alone of the attendant clergy had been admitted for a moment into the sick man’s chamber. He had crept in with creaking shoes, had said with smothered voice a word of consolation to the sorrowing daughter, had looked on the distorted face of his old friend with solemn but yet eager scrutinising eye, as though he said in his heart “and so some day it will probably be with me,” and then, having whispered an unmeaning word or two to the doctors, had creaked his way back again into the library.

“He’ll never speak again, I fear,” said the archdeacon as he noiselessly closed the door, as though the unconscious dying man, from whom all sense had fled, would have heard in his distant chamber the spring of the lock which was now so carefully handled.

“Indeed! Indeed! Is he so bad?” said the meagre little prebendary, turning over in his own mind all the probable candidates for the deanery and wondering whether the archdeacon would think it worth his while to accept it. “The fit must have been very violent.”

‘When a man over seventy has a stroke of apoplexy, it seldom comes very lightly,” said the burly chancellor.

“He was an excellent, sweet-tempered man,” said one of the vicars choral. “Heaven knows how we shall repair his loss.”

“He was indeed,” said a minor canon, “and a great blessing to all those privileged to take a share in the services of our cathedral. I suppose the government will appoint, Mr. Archdeacon. I trust we may have no stranger.”

“We will not talk about his successor,” said the archdeacon, “while there is yet hope.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” said the minor canon. “It would be exceedingly indecorous; but —”

“I know of no man,” said the meagre little prebendary, “who has better interest with the present government than Mr. Slope.”

“Mr. Slope,” said two or three at once almost sotto voce. “Mr. Slope Dean of Barchester!”

“Pooh!” exclaimed the burly chancellor.

“The bishop would do anything for him,” said the little prebendary.

“And so would Mrs. Proudie,” said the vicar choral.

“Pooh!” said the chancellor.

The archdeacon had almost turned pale at the idea. What if Mr. Slope should become Dean of Barchester? To be sure there was no adequate ground, indeed no ground at all, for presuming that such a desecration could even be contemplated. But nevertheless it was on the cards. Dr. Proudie had interest with the government, and the man carried as it were Dr. Proudie in his pocket. How should they all conduct themselves if Mr. Slope were to become Dean of Barchester? The bare idea for a moment struck even Dr. Grantly dumb.

“It would certainly not be very pleasant for us to have Mr. Slope at the deanery,” said the little prebendary, chuckling inwardly at the evident consternation which his surmise had created.

“About as pleasant and as probable as having you in the palace,” said the chancellor.

“I should think such an appointment highly improbable,” said the minor canon, “and, moreover, extremely injudicious. Should not you, Mr. Archdeacon?”

“I should presume such a thing to be quite out of the question,” said the archdeacon, “but at the present moment I am thinking rather of our poor friend who is lying so near us than of Mr. Slope.”

“Of course, of course,” said the vicar choral with a very solemn air; “of course you are. So are we all. Poor Dr. Trefoil; the best of men, but —”

“It’s the most comfortable dean’s residence in England,” said a second prebendary. “Fifteen acres in the grounds. It is better than many of the bishops’ palaces.”

“And full two thousand a year,” said the meagre doctor.

“It is cut down to £1,200,” said the chancellor.

“No,” said the second prebendary. “It is to be fifteen. A special case was made.”

“No such thing,” said the chancellor.

“You’ll find I’m right,” said the prebendary.

“I’m sure I read it in the report,” said the minor canon.

“Nonsense,” said the chancellor. “They couldn’t do it. There were to be no exceptions but London and Durham.”

“And Canterbury and York,” said the vicar choral modestly.

“What do you say, Grantly?” said the meagre little doctor.

“Say about what?” said the archdeacon, who had been looking as though he were thinking about his friend the dean but who had in reality been thinking about Mr. Slope.

“What is the next dean to have, twelve or fifteen?”

“Twelve,” said the archdeacon authoritatively, thereby putting an end at once to all doubt and dispute among his subordinates as far as that subject was concerned.

“Well, I certainly thought it was fifteen,” said the minor canon.

“Pooh!” said the burly chancellor. At this moment the door opened and in came Dr. Fillgrave.

“How is he?” “Is he conscious?” “Can he speak?” “I hope not dead?” “No worse news, Doctor, I trust?” “I hope, I trust, something better, Doctor?” said half a dozen voices all at once, each in a tone of extremest anxiety. It was pleasant to see how popular the good old dean was among his clergy.

“No change, gentlemen; not the slightest change. But a telegraphic message has arrived — Sir Omicron Pie will be here by the 9.15 P.M. train. If any man can do anything, Sir Omicron Pie will do it. But all that skill can do has been done.”

“We are sure of that, Dr. Fillgrave,” said the archdeacon; “we are quite sure of that. But yet you know —”

“Oh, quite right,” said the doctor, “quite right — I should have done just the same — I advised it at once. I said to Rerechild at once that with such a life and such a man, Sir Omicron should be summoned — of course I knew expense was nothing — so distinguished, you know, and so popular. Nevertheless, all that human skill can do has been done.”

Just at this period Mrs. Grantly’s carriage drove into the close, and the archdeacon went down to confirm the news which she had heard before.

By the 9.15 P.M. train Sir Omicron Pie did arrive. And in the course of the night a sort of consciousness returned to the poor old dean. Whether this was due to Sir Omicron Pie is a question on which it may be well not to offer an opinion. Dr. Fillgrave was very clear in his own mind, but Sir Omicron himself is thought to have differed from that learned doctor. At any rate Sir Omicron expressed an opinion that the dean had yet some days to live.

For the eight or ten next days, accordingly, the poor dean remained in the same state, half-conscious and half-comatose, and the attendant clergy began to think that no new appointment would be necessary for some few months to come.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:43