Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

CHAPTER V

A Morning Visit

It was known that Dr. Proudie would immediately have to reappoint to the wardenship of the hospital under the act of Parliament to which allusion has been made; no one imagined that any choice was left to him — no one for a moment thought that he could appoint any other than Mr. Harding. Mr. Harding himself, when he heard how the matter had been settled, without troubling himself much on the subject, considered it as certain that he would go back to his pleasant house and garden. And though there would be much that was melancholy, nay, almost heartrending, in such a return, he still was glad that it was to be so. His daughter might probably be persuaded to return there with him. She had, indeed, all but promised to do so, though she still entertained an idea that that greatest of mortals, that important atom of humanity, that little god upon earth, Johnny Bold her baby, ought to have a house of his own over his head.

Such being the state of Mr. Harding’s mind in the matter, he did not feel any peculiar personal interest in the appointment of Dr. Proudie to the bishopric. He, as well as others at Barchester, regretted that a man should be sent among them who, they were aware, was not of their way of thinking; but Mr. Harding himself was not a bigoted man on points of church doctrine, and he was quite prepared to welcome Dr. Proudie to Barchester in a graceful and becoming manner. He had nothing to seek and nothing to fear; he felt that it behoved him to be on good terms with his bishop, and he did not anticipate any obstacle that would prevent it.

In such a frame of mind he proceeded to pay his respects at the palace the second day after the arrival of the bishop and his chaplain. But he did not go alone. Dr. Grantly proposed to accompany him and Mr. Harding was not sorry to have a companion, who would remove from his shoulders the burden of the conversation in such an interview. In the affair of the consecration Dr. Grantly had been introduced to the bishop, and Mr. Harding had also been there. He had, however, kept himself in the background, and he was now to he presented to the great man for the first time.

The archdeacon’s feelings were of a much stronger nature. He was not exactly the man to overlook his own slighted claims, or to forgive the preference shown to another. Dr. Proudie was playing Venus to his Juno, and he was prepared to wage an internecine war against the owner of the wished-for apple, and all his satellites, private chaplains, and others.

Nevertheless, it behoved him also to conduct himself towards the intruder as an old ‘archdeacon should conduct himself to an incoming bishop; and though he was well aware of all Dr. Proudie’s abominable opinions as regarded dissenters, church reform, the hebdomadal council, and such like; though he disliked the man, and hated the doctrines, still he was prepared to show respect to the station of the bishop. So he and Mr. Harding called together at the palace.

His lordship was at home, and the two visitors were shown through the accustomed hall into the well-known room where the good old bishop used to sit. The furniture had been bought at a valuation, and every chair and table, every bookshelf against the wall, and every square in the carpet was as well known to each of them as their own bedrooms. Nevertheless they at once felt that they were strangers there. The furniture was for the most part the same, yet the place had been metamorphosed. A new sofa had been introduced, a horrid chintz affair, most unprelatical and almost irreligious; such a sofa as never yet stood in the study of any decent High Church clergyman of the Church of England. The old curtains had also given way. They had, to be sure, become dingy, and that which had been originally a rich and goodly ruby had degenerated into a reddish brown. Mr. Harding, however, thought the old reddish-brown much preferable to the gaudy buff-coloured trumpery moreen which Mrs. Proudie had deemed good enough for her husband’s own room in the provincial city of Barchester.

Our friends found Dr. Proudie sitting on the old bishop’s chair, looking very nice in his new apron; they found, too, Mr. Slope standing on the hearth-rug, persuasive and eager, just as the archdeacon used to stand; but on the sofa they also found Mrs. Proudie, an innovation for which a precedent might in vain be sought in all the annals of the Barchester bishopric!

There she was, however, and they could only make the best of her. The introductions were gone through in much form. The archdeacon shook hands with the bishop, and named Mr. Harding, who received such an amount of greeting as was due from a bishop to a precentor. His lordship then presented them to his lady wife; the archdeacon first, with archidiaconal honours, and then the precentor with diminished parade. After this Mr. Slope presented himself. The bishop, it is true, did mention his name, and so did Mrs. Proudie too, in a louder tone, but Mr. Slope took upon himself the chief burden of his own introduction. He had great pleasure in making himself acquainted with Dr. Grantly; he had heard much of the archdeacon’s good works in that part of the diocese in which his duties as archdeacon had been exercised (thus purposely ignoring the archdeacon’s hitherto unlimited dominion over the diocese at large). He was aware that his lordship depended greatly on the assistance which Dr. Grantly would be able to give him in that portion of his diocese. He then thrust out his hand and, grasping that of his new foe, bedewed it unmercifully. Dr. Grantly in return bowed, looked stiff, contracted his eyebrows, and wiped his hand with his pocket-handkerchief. Nothing abashed, Mr. Slope then noticed the precentor and descended to the grade of the lower clergy; He gave him a squeeze of the hand, damp indeed, but affectionate, and was very glad to make the acquaintance of Mr. — oh yes, Mr. Harding; he had not exactly caught the name. “Precentor in the cathedral,” surmised Mr. Slope. Mr. Harding confessed that such was the humble sphere of his work. “Some parish duty as well,” suggested Mr. Slope. Mr. Harding acknowledged the diminutive incumbency of St. Cuthbert’s. Mr. Slope then left him alone, having condescended sufficiently, and joined the conversation among the higher powers.

There were four persons there, each of whom considered himself the most important personage in the diocese — himself, indeed, or herself, as Mrs. Proudie was one of them — and with such a difference of opinion it was not probable that they would get on pleasantly together. The bishop himself actually wore the visible apron and trusted mainly to that — to that and his title, both being facts which could not be overlooked. The archdeacon knew his subject and really understood the business of bishoping, which the others did not, and this was his strong ground. Mrs. Proudie had her sex to back her, and her habit of command, and was nothing daunted by the high tone of Dr. Grantly’s face and figure. Mr. Slope had only himself and his own courage and tact to depend on, but he nevertheless was perfectly self-assured and did not doubt but that he should soon get the better of weak men who trusted so much to externals, as both bishop and archdeacon appeared to do.

“Do you reside in Barchester, Dr. Grantly?” asked the lady with her sweetest smile.

Dr. Grantly explained that he lived in his own parish of Plumstead Episcopi, a few miles out of the city. Whereupon the lady hoped that the distance was not too great for country visiting, as she would be so glad to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Grantly. She would take the earliest opportunity, after the arrival of her horses at Barchester; their horses were at present in London; their horses were not immediately coming down, as the bishop would be obliged, in a few days, to return to town. Dr. Grantly was no doubt aware that the bishop was at present much called upon by the “University Improvement Committee:” indeed, the committee could not well proceed without him, as their final report had now to be drawn up. The bishop had also to prepare a scheme for the “Manufacturing Towns Morning and Evening Sunday School Society,” of which he was a patron, or president, or director, and therefore the horses would not come down to Barchester at present; but whenever the horses did come down, she would take the earliest opportunity of calling at Plumstead Episcopi, providing the distance was not too great for country visiting.

The archdeacon made his fifth bow — he had made one at each mention of the horses — and promised that Mrs. Grantly would do herself the honour of calling at the palace on an early day. Mrs. Proudie declared that she would be delighted: she hadn’t liked to ask, not being quite sure whether Mrs. Grantly had horses; besides, the distance might have been, &c. &c.

Dr. Grantly again bowed but said nothing. He could have bought every individual possession of the whole family of the Proudies and have restored them as a gift, without much feeling the loss; and had kept a separate pair of horses for the exclusive use of his wife since the day of his marriage, whereas Mrs. Proudie had been hitherto jobbed about the streets of London at so much a month, during the season, and at other times had managed to walk, or hire a smart fly from the livery stables.

“Are the arrangements with reference to the Sabbath-day schools generally pretty good in your archdeaconry?” asked Mr. Slope.

“Sabbath-day schools!” repeated the archdeacon with an affectation of surprise. “Upon my word, I can’t tell; it depends mainly on the parson’s wife and daughters. There is none at Plumstead.”

This was almost a fib on the part of the archdeacon, for Mrs. Grantly has a very nice school. To be sure it is not a Sunday-school exclusively and is not so designated, but that exemplary lady always attends there for an hour before church, and hears the children say their catechism, and sees that they are clean and tidy for church, with their hands washed and their shoes tied; and Grisel and Florinda, her daughters, carry thither a basket of large buns, baked on the Saturday afternoon, and distribute them to all the children not especially under disgrace, which buns are carried home after church with considerable content, and eaten hot at tea, being then split and toasted. The children of Plumstead would indeed open their eyes if they heard their venerated pastor declare that there was no Sunday-school in his parish.

Mr. Slope merely opened his wide eyes wider and slightly shrugged his shoulders. He was not, however, prepared to give up his darling project.

“I fear there is a great deal of Sabbath travelling here,” said he. “On looking at the ‘Bradshaw,’ I see that there are three trains in and three out every Sabbath. Could nothing be done to induce the company to withdraw them? Don’t you think, Dr. Grantly, that a little energy might diminish the evil?”

“Not being a director, I really can’t say. But if you can withdraw the passengers, the company I dare say will withdraw the trains,” said the doctor. “It’s merely a question of dividends.”

“But surely, Dr. Grantly,” said the lady; “surely we should look at it differently. You and I, for instance, in our position: surely we should do all that we can to control so grievous a sin. Don’t you think so, Mr. Harding?” and she turned to the precentor, who was sitting mute and unhappy.

Mr. Harding thought that all porters and stokers, guards, brakesmen, and pointsmen ought to have an opportunity of going to church, and he hoped that they all had.

“But surely, surely,” continued Mrs. Proudie, “surely that is not enough. Surely that will not secure such an observance of the Sabbath as we are taught to conceive is not only expedient but indispensable; surely —”

Come what come might, Dr. Grantly was not to be forced into a dissertation on a point of doctrine with Mrs. Proudie, nor yet with Mr. Slope, so without much ceremony he turned his back upon the sofa and began to hope that Dr. Proudie had found that the palace repairs had been such as to meet his wishes.

“Yes, yes,” said his lordship; upon the whole he thought so — upon the whole, he didn’t know that there was much ground for complaint; the architect, perhaps, might have — but his double, Mr. Slope, who had sidled over to the bishop’s chair, would not allow his lordship to finish his ambiguous speech.

“There is one point I would like to mention, Mr. Archdeacon. His lordship asked me to step through the premises, and I see that the stalls in the second stable are not perfect.”

“Why — there’s standing there for a dozen horses,” said the archdeacon.

“Perhaps so,” said the other; “indeed, I’ve no doubt of it; but visitors, you know, often require so much accommodation. There are so many of the bishop’s relatives who always bring their own horses.”

Dr. Grantly promised that due provision for the relatives’ horses should be made, as far at least as the extent of the original stable building would allow. He would himself communicate with the architect.

“And the coach-house, Dr. Grantly,” continued Mr. Slope; “there is really hardly room for a second carriage in the large coach-house, and the smaller one, of course, holds only one.”

“And the gas,” chimed in the lady; “there is no gas through the house, none whatever, but in the kitchen and passages. Surely the palace should have been fitted through with pipes for gas, and hot water too. There is no hot water laid on anywhere above the ground-floor; surely there should be the means of getting hot water in the bedrooms without having it brought in jugs from the kitchen.”

The bishop had a decided opinion that there should be pipes for hot water. Hot water was very essential for the comfort of the palace. It was, indeed, a requisite in any decent gentleman’s house.

Mr. Slope had remarked that the coping on the garden wall was in many places imperfect.

Mrs. Proudie had discovered a large hole, evidently the work of rats, in the servants’ hall.

The bishop expressed an utter detestation of rats. There was nothing, he believed, in this world that he so much hated as a rat.

Mr. Slope had, moreover, observed that the locks of the outhouses were very imperfect: he might specify the coal-cellar and the woodhouse.

Mrs. Proudie had also seen that those on the doors of the servants’ bedrooms were in an-equally bad condition; indeed, the locks all through the house were old-fashioned and unserviceable.

The bishop thought that a great deal depended on a good lock and quite as much on the key. He had observed that the fault very often lay with the key, especially if the wards were in any way twisted.

Mr. Slope was going on with his catalogue of grievances when he was somewhat loudly interrupted by the archdeacon, who succeeded in explaining that the diocesan architect, or rather his foreman, was the person to be addressed on such subjects, and that he, Dr. Grantly, had inquired as to the comfort of the palace merely as a point of compliment. He was sorry, however, that so many things had been found amiss: and then he rose from his chair to escape.

Mrs. Proudie, though she had contrived to lend her assistance in recapitulating the palatial dilapidations, had not on that account given up her hold of Mr. Harding, nor ceased from her cross-examinations as to the iniquity of Sabbatical amusements. Over and over again had she thrown out her “Surely, surely,” at Mr. Harding’s devoted head, and ill had that gentleman been able to parry the attack.

He had never before found himself subjected to such a nuisance. Ladies hitherto, when they had consulted him on religious subjects, had listened to what he might choose to say with some deference, and had differed, if they differed, in silence. But Mrs. Proudie interrogated him and then lectured. “Neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant,” said she impressively, and more than once, as though Mr. Harding had forgotten the words. She shook her finger at him as she quoted the favourite law, as though menacing him with punishment, and then called upon him categorically to state whether he did not think that travelling on the Sabbath was an abomination and a desecration.

Mr. Harding had never been so hard pressed in his life. He felt that he ought to rebuke the lady for presuming so to talk to a gentleman and a clergyman many years her senior, but he recoiled from the idea of scolding the bishop’s wife, in the bishop’s presence, on his first visit to the palace; moreover, to tell the truth, he was somewhat afraid of her. She, seeing him sit silent and absorbed, by no means refrained from the attack.

“I hope, Mr. Harding,” said she, shaking her head slowly and solemnly, “I hope you will not leave me to think that you approve of Sabbath travelling,” and she looked a look of unutterable meaning into his eyes.

There was no standing this, for Mr. Slope was now looking at him, and so was the bishop, and so was the archdeacon, who had completed his adieux on that side of the room. Mr. Harding therefore got up also and, putting out his hand to Mrs. Proudie, said: “If you will come to St. Cuthbert’s some Sunday, I will preach you a sermon on that subject.”

And so the archdeacon and the precentor took their departure, bowing low to the lady, shaking hands with the lord, and escaping from Mr. Slope in the best manner each could. Mr. Harding was again maltreated, but Dr. Grantly swore deeply in the bottom of his heart, that no earthly consideration should ever again induce him to touch the paw of that impure and filthy animal.

And now, had I the pen of a mighty poet, would I sing in epic verse the noble wrath of the archdeacon. The palace steps descend to a broad gravel sweep, from whence a small gate opens out into the street, very near the covered gateway leading into the close. The road from the palace door turns to the left, through the spacious gardens, and terminates on the London road, half a mile from the cathedral.

Till they had both passed this small gate and entered the close, neither of them spoke a word, but the precentor clearly saw from his companion’s face that a tornado was to be expected, nor was he himself inclined to stop it. Though by nature far less irritable than the archdeacon, even he was angry: he even — that mild and courteous man — was inclined to express himself in anything but courteous terms.

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