Intimation had been sent from the palace to Dr Tempest of Silverbridge of the bishop’s intention that a commission should be held by him, as rural dean, with other neighbouring clergymen, as assessors with him, that inquiry might be made on the part of the Church into the question of Mr Crawley’s guilt. It must be understood that by this time the opinion had become very general that Mr Crawley had been guilty — that he had found the cheque in his house, and that he had, after holding it for many months, succumbed to temptation, and applied it to his own purposes. But various excuses were made for him by those who so believed. In the first place it was felt by all who really knew anything of the man’s character, that the very fact of his committing such a crime proved him to be hardly responsible for his actions. He must have known, had not all judgment in such matters been taken from him, that the cheque would certainly be traced back to his hands. No attempt had been made in the disposing of it to dispose of it in such a way that the trace should be obliterated. He had simply given it to a neighbour with a direction to have it cashed, and had written his own name on the back of it. And therefore, though there could be no doubt as to the theft in the mind of those who supposed that he had found the cheque in his own house, yet the guilt of the theft seemed to be almost annihilated by the folly of the thief. And then his poverty, and his struggles, and the sufferings of his wife, were remembered; and stories were told from mouth to mouth of his industry in his profession, of his great zeal among the brickmakers of Hoggle End, of acts of charity done by him which startled the people of the district into admiration:— how he had worked with his own hands for the sick poor to whom he could not give relief in money, turning a woman’s mangle for a couple of hours, and carrying a boy’s load along the lanes. Dr Tempest and others declared that he had derogated from the dignity of his position as an English parish clergyman by such acts; but, nevertheless, the stories of these deeds acted strongly on the minds of both men and women, creating an admiration for Mr Crawley which was much stronger than the condemnation of his guilt.
Even Mrs Walker and her daughter, and the Miss Prettymans, had so far given way that they had ceased to asseverate their belief in Mr Crawley’s innocence. They contented themselves with simply expressing a hope that he would be acquitted by a jury, and that when he should be so acquitted the thing might be allowed to rest. If he had sinned, no doubt he had repented. And then there were serious debates whether he might not have stolen the money without much sin, being mad or half-mad — touched with madness when he took it; and whether he might not, in spite of such temporary touch of madness, be well fitted for his parish duties. Sorrow had afflicted him grievously; but that sorrow, though it had incapacitated him for the management of his own affairs, had not rendered him unfit for the ministration of his parish. Such were the arguments now used in his favour by the women around him; and the men were not keen to contradict them. The wish that he should be acquitted and allowed to remain in his parsonage was very general.
When therefore it became known that the bishop had decided to put on foot another investigation, with the view of bringing Mr Crawley’s conduct under ecclesiastical condemnation, almost everybody accused the bishop of persecution. The world of the diocese declared that Mrs Proudie was at work, and that the bishop himself was no better than a puppet. It was in vain that certain clear headed men among the clergy, of whom Dr Tempest himself was one, pointed out that the bishop after all might perhaps be right; — that if Mr Crawley were guilty, and if he should be found to have been so by a jury, it might be absolutely necessary that an ecclesiastical court should take some cognizance of the crime beyond that of taken by the civil law. ‘The jury,’ said Dr Tempest, discussing the case with Mr Robarts and other clerical neighbours —‘the jury may probably find him guilty and recommend to him mercy. The judge will have heard his character, and will have been made acquainted with the manner of his life, and will deal as lightly with the case as the law will allow him. For aught I know he may be imprisoned for a month. I wish it might be for no more than a day — or an hour. But when he comes out from his month’s imprisonment — how then? Surely it should be a case for ecclesiastical inquiry, whether a clergyman who has committed a theft should be allowed to go into his pulpit directly he comes out of prison?’ But the answer to this was that Mr Crawley had always been a good clergyman, was a good clergyman at this moment, and would be a good clergyman when he did come out of prison.
But Dr Tempest, though he had argued in this way, was by no means eager for the commencement of the commission over which he was to be called upon to preside. In spite of such arguments as the above, which came from the man’s head when his head was brought to bear on the matter, there was a thorough desire within his heart to oppose the bishop. He had no strong sympathy with Mr Crawley, as had others. He would have had Mr Crawley silenced without regret, presuming Mr Crawley to be guilty. But he had a much stronger feeling with regard to the bishop. Had there been any question of silencing the bishop — could it have been possible to take steps in that direction — he would have been very active. It may therefore be understood that in spite of his defence of the bishop’s present proceedings as to the commission, he was anxious that the bishop should fail, and anxious to put impediments in the bishop’s way, should it appear to him that he could do so with justice. Dr Tempest was well known among his parishioners to be hard and unsympathetic, some said unfeeling also, and cruel; but it was admitted by those who disliked him the most that he was both practical and just, and that he cared for the welfare of many, though he was rarely touched by the misery of one. Such was the man who was rector of Silverbridge and rural dean in the district, and who was now called upon by the bishop to assist him in making further inquiry as to this wretched cheque for twenty pounds.
Once at this period Archdeacon Grantly and Dr Tempest met each other and discussed the question of Mr Crawley’s guilt. Both these men were inimical to the present bishop of the diocese, and both had perhaps respected the old bishop beyond all other men. But they were different in this, that the archdeacon hated Dr Proudie as a partisan — whereas Dr Tempest opposed the bishop on certain principles which he endeavoured to make clear, at any rate to himself. ‘Wrong!’ said the archdeacon, speaking of the bishop’s intention of issuing a commission —‘of course he’s wrong. How could anything right come from him or from her? I should be sorry to have to do his bidding.’
‘I think you are a little hard upon Bishop Proudie,’ said Dr Tempest.
‘One cannot be hard upon him,’ said the archdeacon. ‘He is so scandalously weak, and she is so radically vicious, that they cannot but be wrong together. The very fact that such a man should be a bishop among us is to me terribly strong evidence of evil days coming.’
‘You are more impulsive than I am,’ said Dr Tempest. ‘In this case I am sorry for the poor man, who is, I am sure, honest in the main. But I believe that in such a case your father would have done just what the present bishop is doing; — that he could have done nothing else; and as I think that Dr Proudie is right I shall do all that I can to assist him in the commission.’
The bishop’s secretary had written to Dr Tempest, telling him of the bishop’s purpose; and now, in one of the last days in March, the bishop himself wrote to Dr Tempest, asking him to come over to the palace. The letter was worded most courteously, and expressed very feelingly the great regret which the writer felt at being obliged to take these proceedings against a clergyman in his diocese. Bishop Proudie knew how to write such a letter. By the writing of such letters, and by the making of speeches in the same strain, he had become Bishop of Barchester. Now, in this letter, he begged Dr Tempest to come over to him, saying how delighted Mrs Proudie would be to see him at the palace. Then he went on to explain the great difficulty which he felt, and great sorrow also, in dealing with this matter of Mr Crawley. He looked, therefore, confidently for Dr Tempest’s assistance. Thinking to do the best for Mr Crawley, and anxious to enable Mr Crawley to remain in quiet retirement till the trial should be over, he had sent a clergyman over to Hogglestock, who would have relieved Mr Crawley from the burden of the church-services; — but Mr Crawley would have none of this relief. Mr Crawley had been obstinate and overbearing, and had persisted in claiming his right to his own pulpit. Therefore was the bishop obliged to interfere legally, and therefore was he under the necessity of asking Dr Tempest to assist him. Would Dr Tempest come over on the Monday, and stay till Wednesday?
The letter was a very good letter, and Dr Tempest was obliged to do as he was asked. He so far modified the bishop’s proposition that he reduced the sojourn at the palace by one night. He wrote to say that he would have the pleasure of dining with the bishop and Mrs Proudie on the Monday, but would return home on the Tuesday, as soon as the business in hand would permit him. ‘I shall get on very well with him,’ he said to his wife, before he started; ‘but I am afraid of the woman. If she interferes there will be a row.’ ‘Then, my dear,’ said his wife, ‘there will be a row, for I am told that she always interferes.’ On reaching the palace half-an-hour before dinner-time, Dr Tempest found that other guests were expected, and on descending to the great yellow drawing-room, which was used only on state occasions, he encountered Mrs Proudie, and two of her daughters arrayed in full panoply of female armour. She received him with her sweetest smiles, and if there had been any former enmity between Silverbridge and the palace, it was now all forgotten. She regretted greatly that Mrs Tempest had not accompanied the doctor; — for Mrs Tempest also had been invited. But Mrs Tempest was not quite as well as she might have been, the doctor had said, and very rarely slept away from home. And then the bishop came in and greeted his guest with his pleasantest good humour. It was quite a sorrow to him that Silverbridge was so distant, and that he saw so little of Dr Tempest; but he hoped that that might be somewhat mended now, and that leisure might be found for social delights; — to all which Dr Tempest said but little, bowing to the bishop at each separate expression of his lordship’s kindness.
There were guests there that evening who did not often sit at the bishop’s table. The archdeacon and Mrs Grantly had been summoned from Plumstead, and had obeyed the summons. Great as was the enmity between the bishop and the archdeacon, it had never quite taken the form of open palpable hostility. Each, therefore, asked the other to dinner perhaps once every year; and each went to the other, perhaps, once in two years. And Dr Thorne from Chaldicotes was there but without his wife, who in these days was up in London. Mrs Proudie always expressed a warm friendship for Mrs Thorne, and on this occasion loudly regretted her absence. ‘You must tell her, Dr Thorne, how exceedingly much we miss her.’ Dr Thorne, who was accustomed to hear his wife speak of her dear friend Mrs Proudie with almost unmeasured ridicule, promised that he would do so. ‘We are sorry the Lufton’s couldn’t come to us,’ said Mrs Proudie — not alluding to the dowager, of whom it was well known that no earthly inducement would have sufficed to make her put her foot within Mrs Proudie’s room —‘but one of the children is ill, and she couldn’t leave him.’ But the Greshams were there from Boxall Hill, and the Thornes from Ullathorne, and, with the exception of a single chaplain, who pretended to carve, Dr Tempest and the archdeacon were the only clerical guests at the table. From all which Dr Temple knew that the bishop was anxious to treat him with special consideration on the present occasion.
The dinner was rather long and ponderous, and occasionally, most dull. The archdeacon talked a good deal, but a bystander with an acute ear might have understood from the tone of his voice that he was not talking as he would have talked among friends. Mrs Proudie felt this, and understood it, and was angry. She could never find herself in the presence of the archdeacon without becoming angry. Her accurate ear would always appreciate the defiance of episcopal authority, as now existing in Barchester, which was concealed, or only half concealed, by all the archdeacon’s words. But the bishop was not so keen, nor so easily roused, to wrath; and though the presence of the enemy did to a certain degree cow him, he strove to fight against the feeling with renewed good-humour.
‘You have improved so upon the old days,’ said the archdeacon, speaking of some small matter with reference to the cathedral, ‘that one hardly knows the old place.’
‘I hope we have not fallen off,’ said the bishop, with a smile.
‘We have improved, Dr Grantly,’ said Mrs Proudie, with great emphasis on her words. ‘What you say is true. We have improved.’
‘Not a doubt about that,’ said the archdeacon. Then Mrs Grantly interposed, strove to change the subject, and threw oil upon the waters.
‘Talking of improvements,’ said Mrs Grantly, ‘what an excellent row of houses they have built at the bottom of High Street. ‘I wonder who is to live in them?’
‘I remember when that was the very worst part of town,’ said Dr Thorne.
‘And now they’re asking seventy pounds apiece for houses which did not cost above six hundred each to build,’ said Mr Thorne of Ullathorne, with that seeming dislike of modern success which is evinced by most of the elders of the world.
‘And who is to live in them,’ asked Mrs Grantly.
‘Two have them have been already taken by clergymen,’ said the bishop, in a tone of triumph.
‘Yes,’ said the archdeacon, ‘and the houses in the Close which used to be the residences of the prebendaries have been leased out to tallow-chandlers and retired brewers. That comes of the working of the Ecclesiastical Commission.’
‘And why not?’ demanded Mrs Proudie.
‘Why not, indeed, if you like to have tallow-chandlers next door to you?’ said the archdeacon. ‘In the old days, we would sooner have had our brethren near to us.’
‘There is nothing, Dr Grantly, so objectionable in a cathedral town as a lot of idle clergymen,’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘It is beginning to be a question to me,’ said the archdeacon, ‘whether there is any use in clergymen at all for the present generation.’
‘Dr Grantly, those cannot be your real sentiments,’ said Mrs Proudie. Then Mrs Grantly, working hard in her vocation as a peacemaker, changed the conversation again and began to talk of the American war. But even that was made a matter of discord on church matters — the archdeacon professing an opinion that the Southerners were Christian gentlemen, and the Northerners idle snobs; whereas Mrs Proudie had an idea that the Gospel was preached with genuine zeal in the Northern States. And at each such outbreak the poor bishop would laugh uneasily, and say a word or two to which no one paid much attention. And so the dinner went on, not always in the most pleasant manner for those who preferred continued good-humour to the occasional excitement of a half-suppressed battle.
Not a word was said about Mr Crawley. When Mrs Proudie and the ladies left the dining-room, the bishop strove to get up a little lay conversation. He spoke to Mr Thorne about his game, and to Dr Thorne about his timber, and even to Mr Gresham about his hounds. ‘It is not so very many years, Mr Gresham,’ said he, ‘since the Bishop of Barchester was expected to keep hounds himself,’ and the bishop laughed at his own joke.
‘Your lordship shall have them back at the palace next season,’ said young Frank Gresham, ‘if you will promise to do the county justice.’
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ laughed the bishop. ‘What do you say, Mr Tozer?’ Mr Tozer was the chaplain on duty.
‘I have not least objection in the world, my lord,’ said Mr Tozer, ‘to act as second whip.’
‘I’m afraid you’ll find them an expensive adjunct to the episcopate,’ said the archdeacon. And then the joke was over; for there had been a rumour, now for some years prevalent in Barchester, that Bishop Proudie was not liberal in his expenditure. As Mr Thorne said afterwards to his cousin the doctor, the archdeacon might have spared that sneer. ‘The archdeacon will never spare the man who sits in his father’s seat,’ said the doctor. ‘The pity of it is that men who are so thoroughly different in all their sympathies should ever be brought into contact.’ ‘Dear, dear,’ said the archdeacon, as he stood afterwards on the rug before the drawing-room fire, ‘how many of rubbers of whist I have seen played in this room.’ ‘I sincerely hope that you will never see another played here,’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘I’m quite sure that I shall not,’ said the archdeacon. For this last sally his wife scolded him bitterly on the way home. ‘You know very well,’ she said, ‘that the times are changed, and that if you were Bishop of Barchester yourself, you would not have whist played in the palace.’ ‘I only know,’ said he, ‘that when we had the whist we had the true religion along with it, and some good sense and good feeling also.’ ‘You cannot be right to sneer at others for doing what you would do yourself,’ said his wife. Then the archdeacon threw himself sulkily into the corner of his carriage, and nothing more was said between him and his wife about the bishop’s dinner-party.
Not a word was spoken that night about Mr Crawley; and when that obnoxious guest from Plumstead was gone, Mrs Proudie resumed her good-humour towards Dr Tempest. So intent was she on conciliating him that she refrained even from abusing the archdeacon, whom she knew to have been intimate for very many years with the rector of Silverbridge. In her accustomed moods she would have broken forth in loud anger, caring nothing for old friendships; but at present she was thoughtful of the morrow, and desirous that Dr Tempest should, if possible, meet her in a friendly humour when the great discussion as to Hogglestock should be opened between them. But Dr Tempest understood her bearing, and as he pulled on his nightcap made certain resolutions of his own as to the morrow’s proceedings. ‘I don’t suppose she will dare to interfere,’ he had said to his wife; ‘but if she does I shall certainly tell the bishop that I cannot speak on the subject in her presence.’
At breakfast on the following morning there was no one present but the bishop, Mrs Proudie, and Dr Tempest. Very little was said at the meal. Mr Crawley’s name was not mentioned, but there seemed to be a general feeling among them that there was a task hanging over them which prevented any general conversation. The eggs were eaten and the coffee was drunk, but the eggs and the coffee disappeared almost in silence. When these ceremonies had been altogether completed, and it was clearly necessary that something further should be done, the bishop spoke: ‘Dr Tempest,’ he said, ‘perhaps you will join me in my study at eleven. We can then say a few words to each other about the unfortunate matter on which I shall have to trouble you.’ Dr Tempest said he would be punctual to his appointment, and then the bishop withdrew, muttering something as to the necessity of looking at his letters. Dr Tempest took a newspaper in his hand, which had been brought in by a servant, but Mrs Proudie did not allow him to read it. ‘Dr Tempest,’ she said, ‘this is a matter of most vital importance. I am quite sure that you feel that it is so.’
‘What matter, madam?’ said the doctor.
‘This terrible affair of Mr Crawley’s. If something is not done the whole diocese will be disgraced.’ Then she turned for an answer, but receiving none she was obliged to continue. ‘Of the poor man’s guilt there can, I fear, be no doubt.’ Then there was another pause, but still the doctor made no answer. ‘And if he be guilty,’ said Mrs Proudie, resolving that she would ask a question that must bring forth some reply, ‘can any experienced clergyman think that he can be fit to preach from the pulpit of a parish church? I am sure that you must agree with me, Dr Tempest? Consider the souls of the people!’
‘Mrs Proudie,’ said he, ‘I think that we had better not discuss the matter.’
‘Not discuss it?’
‘I think that we had better not do so. If I understand the bishop aright, he wishes it that I should take some step in the matter.’
‘Of course he does.’
‘And therefore I must decline to make it a matter of common conversation.’
‘Common conversation, Dr Tempest! I should be the last person in the world to make it a matter of common conversation. I regard this as by no means a common conversation. God forbid that it should be a common conversation. I am speaking very seriously with reference to the interests of the Church, which I think will be endangered by having among her active servants a man who has been guilty of so base a crime as theft. Think of it, Dr Tempest. Theft! Stealing money! Appropriating to his own use a cheque for twenty pounds which did not belong to him! And then telling such terrible falsehoods about it! Can anything be worse, anything more scandalous, anything more dangerous? Indeed, Dr Tempest, I do not regard this as any common conversation.’ The whole of this speech was not made at once, fluently, or without a break. From stop to stop Mrs Proudie paused, waiting for her companion’s words; but as he would not speak she was obliged to continue. ‘I am sure that you cannot but agree with me, Dr Tempest?’ she said.
‘I am quite sure I will not discuss it with you,’ said the doctor, very brusquely.
‘And why not? Are you not here to discuss it?’
‘Not with you, Mrs Proudie. You must excuse me for saying so, but I am not here to discuss any such matter with you. Were I to do so, I should be guilty of a very great impropriety.’
‘All these things are in common between me and the bishop,’ said Mrs Proudie, with an air that was intended to be dignified, but which nevertheless displayed her rising anger.
‘As to that I know nothing, but they cannot be in common between you and me. It grieves me much that I should have to speak to you in such a strain, but my duty allows me no alternative. I think, if you will permit me, I will take a turn round the garden before I keep my appointment with his lordship.’ And so saying he escaped from the lady without hearing her further remonstrance.
It still wanted an hour to the time named by the bishop, and Dr Tempest used it in preparing for his withdrawal from the palace as soon as his interview with the bishop should be over. After what had passed he thought he would be justified in taking his departure without bidding adieu formally to Mrs Proudie. He would say a word or two, explaining his haste, to the bishop; and then, if he could get out of the house at once, it might be that he would never see Mrs Proudie again. He was rather proud of his success in their late battle, but he felt that, having been so completely victorious, it would be foolish in him to risk his laurels in the chance of another encounter. He would say not a word of what had happened to the bishop, and he thought it probable that neither would Mrs Proudie speak of it — at any rate till after he was gone. Generals who are beaten out of the field are not quick to talk of their own repulses. He, indeed, had not beaten Mrs Proudie out of the field. He had, in fact, himself run away. But he had left his foe silenced; and with such a foe, and in such a contest, that was everything. He put up his portmanteau, therefore, and prepared for his final retreat. Then he rang his bell and desired the servant to show him to the bishop’s study. The servant did so, and when he entered the room the first thing he saw was Mrs Proudie sitting in an arm-chair near the window. The bishop was also in the room, sitting with his arms upon the writing-table, and his head upon his hands. It was very evident that Mrs Proudie did not consider herself to have been beaten and that she was prepared for another battle. ‘Will you sit down, Dr Tempest?’ she said, motioning him with her hand to a chair opposite to that occupied by the bishop. Dr Tempest sat down. He felt that at the moment he had nothing else to do, and that he must restrain any remonstrance that he might make till Mr Crawley’s name should be mentioned. He was almost lost in admiration of the woman. He had left her, as he thought, utterly vanquished and prostrated by his determined but uncourteous usage of her; and here she was, present again on the field of battle as though she had never been wounded. He could see that there had been words between her and the bishop, and that she had carried a point on which the bishop had been very anxious to have his own way. He could perceive at once that the bishop had begged her to absent herself and was greatly chagrined that he should not have prevailed with her. There she was — and as Dr Tempest was resolved that he would neither give advice nor receive instructions respecting Mr Crawley in her presence, he could only draw upon his courage and his strategy for the coming warfare. For a few moments no one said a word. The bishop felt that if Dr Tempest would only begin, the work on hand might be got through, even in his wife’s presence. Mrs Proudie was aware that her husband should begin. If he would do so, and if Dr Tempest would listen and then reply, she might gradually make her way into the conversation; and if her words were once accepted then she could say all that she desired to say; then she could play her part and become somebody in the episcopal work. When once she should have been allowed liberty of speech, the enemy would be powerless to stop her. But all this Dr Tempest understood quite as well as she understood it, and had they waited till night he would not have been the first to mention Mr Crawley’s name.
The bishop sighed aloud. The sigh might be taken as expressing grief over the sin of an erring brother whose conduct they were then to discuss, and was not amiss. But when the sigh with its attendant murmurs had passed away it was necessary that some initiative step should be taken. ‘Dr Tempest,’ said the bishop, ‘what are we to do about this poor stiff-necked gentleman?’ Still Dr Tempest did not speak. ‘There is no clergyman in the diocese,’ continued the bishop, ‘in whose prudence and wisdom I have more confidence than in yours. And I know, too, that you are by no means disposed to severity where severe measures are not necessary. What ought we to do? If he has been guilty, he should not surely return to his pulpit after the expiration of such punishment as the law of this country may award him.’
Dr Tempest looked at Mrs Proudie, thinking that she might perhaps say a word now; but Mrs Proudie knew her part better and was silent. Angry as she was, she contrived to hold her peace. Let the debate once begin and she would be able to creep into it, and then to lead it — and so she would hold her own. But she had met a foe as wary as herself. ‘My lord,’ said the doctor, ‘it will perhaps be well that you should communicate your wishes to me in writing. If it be possible for me to comply with them I will do so.’
‘Yes; — exactly; no doubt; — but I thought that perhaps we might better understand each other if we had a few words of quiet conversation upon the subject. I believe you know the steps that I have —’
But here the bishop was interrupted. Dr Tempest rose from his chair, and advancing to the table put both hands upon it. ‘My lord,’ he said, ‘I feel myself compelled to say that which I would very much rather leave unsaid, were it possible. I feel the difficulty, and I may say delicacy, of my position; but I should be untrue to my conscience and to my feeling of what is right in such matters, if I were take any part on a discussion on this matter in the presence of — a lady.’
‘Dr Tempest, what is your objection?’ said Mrs Proudie, rising from her chair, and coming also to the table, so that from thence she might confront her opponent; and as she stood opposite to Dr Tempest she also put both her hands upon the table.
‘My dear, perhaps you will leave us for a few moments,’ said the bishop. Poor bishop! Poor weak bishop! As the words came from his mouth he knew that they would be spoken in vain, and that if so, it would have been better for him to have left them unspoken.
‘Why should I be dismissed from your room without a reason?’ said Mrs Proudie. ‘Cannot Dr Tempest understand that a wife may share her husband’s counsels — as she must share his troubles? If he cannot, I pity him very much as to his own household.’
‘Dr Tempest,’ said the bishop, ‘Mrs Proudie takes the greatest possible interest in everything concerning the diocese.’
‘I am sure, my lord,’ said the doctor, ‘that you will see how unseemly it would be that I should interfere in any way between you and Mrs Proudie. I certainly will not do so. I can only say again that if you will communicate with me your wishes in writing, I will attend to them — if it be possible.’
‘You mean to be stubborn,’ said Mrs Proudie, whose prudence was beginning to give way under the great provocation to which her temper was being subjected.
‘Yes, madam; if it is to be called stubbornness, I must be stubborn. My lord, Mrs Proudie spoke to me on this subject in the breakfast-room after you had left it, and I then ventured to explain to her that in accordance with such light as I have on the matter, I could not discuss it in her presence. I greatly grieve that I failed to make myself understood by her — as, otherwise, this unpleasantness might have been spared.’
‘I understood you very well, Dr Tempest, and I think you to be a most unreasonable man. Indeed, I might use a much harsher word.’
‘You may use any word you please, Mrs Proudie,’ said the doctor.
‘My dear, I really think you had better leave us for a few minutes,’ said the bishop.
‘No, my lord — no,’ said Mrs Proudie, turning round upon her husband. ‘Not so. It would be most unbecoming that I should be turned out of a room in this palace by an uncourteous word from a parish clergyman. It would be unseemly. If Dr Tempest forgets his duty, I will not forget mine. There are other clergymen in the diocese besides Dr Tempest who can undertake the very easy task of this commission. As for his having been appointed rural dean I don’t know how many years ago, it is matter of no consequence whatever. In such a preliminary inquiry any three clergymen will suffice. It need not be done by the rural dean at all.’
‘I will not be turned out of this room by Dr Tempest; — and that is enough.’
‘My lord,’ said the doctor, ‘you had better write to me as I proposed to you just now.’
‘His lordship will not write. His lordship will do nothing of the kind,’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘My dear!’ said the bishop, driven in his perplexity beyond all carefulness of reticence. ‘My dear, I do wish you wouldn’t — I do indeed. If you would only go away!’
‘I will not go away, my lord,’ said Mrs Proudie.
‘But I will,’ said Dr Tempest, feeling true compassion for the unfortunate man whom he saw writhing in agony before him. ‘It will manifestly be for the best that I should retire. My lord, I wish you good morning. Mrs Proudie, good morning.’ And so he left the room.
‘A most stubborn and a most ungentlemanlike man,’ said Mrs Proudie, as soon as the door was closed behind the retreating rural dean. ‘I do not think that in the whole course of my life I ever met with anyone so insubordinate and so ill-mannered. He is worse than the archdeacon.’ As she uttered these words she paced about the room. The bishop said nothing; and when she herself had been silent for a few minutes she turned upon him. ‘Bishop,’ she said, ‘I hope that you agree with me. I expect that will agree with me in a matter that is so of much moment to my comfort, and I may say to my position generally in the diocese. Bishop, why do you not speak?’
‘You have behaved in such a way that I do not know that I shall ever speak again,’ said the bishop.
‘What is that you say?’
‘I say that I do not know how I shall ever speak again. You have disgraced me.’
‘Disgraced you! I disgrace you! It is you that disgrace yourself by saying such words.’
‘Very well. Let it be so. Perhaps you will go away now and leave me to myself. I have got a bad headache, and I can’t talk any more. Oh dear, oh dear, what will he think of it?’
‘And you mean to tell me that I have been wrong?’
‘Yes, you have been wrong — very wrong. Why didn’t you go away when I asked you? You are always being wrong. I wish I had never come to Barchester. In any other position I should not have felt it so much. As it is I do not know how I can ever show my face again.’
‘Not have felt what so much, Mr Proudie?’ said the wife, going back in the excitement of her anger to the nomenclature of old days. ‘And this is to be my return for all my care in your behalf! Allow me to tell you, sir, that in any position in which you may be placed I know what is due to you, and that your dignity will never lose anything in my hands. I wish that you were as well able to take care of it yourself.’ Then she stalked out of the room, and left the poor man alone.
Bishop Proudie sat alone in his study throughout the whole day. Once or twice in the course of the morning his chaplain came to him on some matter of business, and was answered with a smile — the peculiar softness of which the chaplain did not fail to attribute the right cause. For it was soon known throughout the household that there had been a quarrel. Could he quite have made up his mind to do so — could he have resolved that it would be altogether better to quarrel with his wife — the bishop would have appealed to the chaplain, and have asked at any rate for sympathy. But even yet he could not bring himself to confess his misery, and to own himself to another to be the wretch that he was. Then during the long hours of the day he sat thinking of it all. How happy could he be if it were only possible for him to go away, and become even a curate in a parish, without his wife! Would there ever come to him a time of freedom? Would she ever die? He was older than she, and of course he would die first. Would it not be a fine thing if he could die at once, and thus escape from his misery.
What could he do, even supposing himself strong enough to fight the battle? He could not lock her up. He could not even very well lock her out of his room. She was his wife, and must have the run of the house. He could not altogether debar her from the society of the diocesan clergymen. He had, on this very morning, taken strong measures with her. More than once or twice he had desired her to leave the room. What was there to be done with a woman who would not obey her husband — who would not even leave him to the performance of his own work? What a blessed thing it would be if a bishop could go away from his home to his work every day like a clerk in a public office — as a stone-mason does! But there was no such escape for him. He could not go away. And how was he to meet her again on this very day?
And then for hours he thought of Dr Tempest and Mr Crawley, considering what he had better do to repair the shipwreck of the morning. At last he resolved that he would write to the doctor; and before he had again seen his wife, he did write his letter, and he sent it off. In this letter he made no direct illusion to the occurrence of the morning, but wrote as though there had not been any fixed intention of a personal discussion between them. ‘I think it will be better that there should be a commission,’ he said, ‘and I would suggest that you should have four other clergymen with you. Perhaps you will select two yourself out of your rural deanery; and, if you do not object, I will name as the other two Mr Thumble and Mr Quiver, who are both resident in the city.’ As he wrote these two names he felt ashamed of himself, knowing that he had chosen the two men as being special friends of his wife, and feeling that he should have been brave enough to throw aside all considerations of his wife’s favour — especially at this moment, in which he was putting on his armour to do battle against her. ‘It is not probable,’ he continued to say in his letter, ‘that you will be able to make your report until after the trial of this unfortunate gentleman shall have taken place, and a verdict shall have been given. Should he be acquitted, that, I imagine, should end the matter. There can be no reason why we should attempt to go beyond the verdict of a jury. But should he be found guilty, I think we ought to be ready with such steps as it will be becoming for us to take at the expiration of any sentence which may be pronounced. It will be, at any rate, expedient that in such a case the matter should be brought before an ecclesiastical court.’ he knew well as he wrote this, that he was proposing something much milder than the course intended by his wife when she had instigated him to take proceedings in the matter; but he did not much regard that now. Though he had been weak enough to name certain clergymen as assessors with the rural dean, because he thought that by doing so he would to a certain degree conciliate his wife — though he had been so far a coward, yet he was resolved that he would not sacrifice to her his own judgment and his own conscience in his manner of proceeding. He kept no copy of his letter, so that he might be unable to show her his very words when she should ask to see them. Of course he would tell her what he had done; but in telling her he would keep to himself what he had said as to the result of an acquittal in a civil court. She need not yet be told that he had promised to take such a verdict as sufficing also for an ecclesiastical acquittal. In this spirit his letter was written and sent off before he again saw his wife.
He did not meet her till they came together in the drawing-room before dinner. In explaining the whole truth as to circumstances as they existed at the palace at the moment, it must be acknowledged that Mrs Proudie herself, great as was her courage, and wide as were the resources which she possessed within herself, was somewhat appalled by the position of affairs. I fear that it may now be too late for me to excite much sympathy in the mind of any reader on behalf of Mrs Proudie. I shall never be able to make her popular. But she had virtues, and their existence now made her unhappy. She did regard the dignity of her husband, and she felt at the present moment that she had almost compromised it. She did also regard the welfare of the clergymen around her, thinking of course in a general way that certain of them who agreed with her were the clergymen whose welfare should be studied, and that certain of them who disagreed with her were the clergymen whose welfare should be postponed. But now an idea made its way into her bosom that she was not perhaps doing the best for the welfare of the diocese generally. What if it should come to pass that all the clergymen of the diocese should refuse to open their mouths in her presence on ecclesiastical subjects, as Dr Tempest had done? This special day was not one on which she was well contented with herself, though by no means on that account was her anger mitigated against the offending rural dean.
During dinner she struggled to say a word or two to her husband, as though there had been no quarrel between them. With him the matter had gone so deep that he could not answer her in the same spirit. There were sundry members of the family present — daughters, and a son-in-law, and a daughter’s friend who was staying with them; but even in the hope of appearing to be serene before them he could not struggle through his deep despondence. He was very silent, and to his wife’s words he answered hardly anything. He was courteous and gentle with them all, but he spoke as little as was possible, and during the evening he sat alone, with his head leaning on his hand — not pretending even to read. He was aware that it was too late to make even an attempt to conceal his misery and his disgrace from his own family.
His wife came to him that night in his dressing-room in a spirit of feminine softness that was very unusual with her. ‘My dear,’ said she, ‘let us forget what occurred this morning. If there has been anger, we are bound as Christians to forget it.’ She stood over him as she spoke, and put her hand upon his shoulder almost caressingly.
‘When a man’s heart is broken, he cannot forget it,’ was his reply. She still stood by him, and still kept her hand upon him: but she could think of no other words of comfort to say. ‘I will go to bed,’ he said. ‘It is the best place for me.’ Then she left him, and he went to bed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01