The party met the next morning at breakfast; and a very sombre affair it was,—very unlike the breakfasts at Plumstead Episcopi.
There were three thin, small, dry bits of bacon, each an inch long, served up under a huge old plated cover; there were four three-cornered bits of dry toast, and four square bits of buttered toast; there was a loaf of bread, and some oily-looking butter; and on the sideboard there were the remains of a cold shoulder of mutton. The archdeacon, however, had not come up from his rectory to St Paul's Churchyard to enjoy himself, and therefore nothing was said of the scanty fare.
The guests were as sorry as the viands;—hardly anything was said over the breakfast-table. The archdeacon munched his toast in ominous silence, turning over bitter thoughts in his deep mind. The warden tried to talk to his daughter, and she tried to answer him; but they both failed. There were no feelings at present in common between them. The warden was thinking only of getting back to Barchester, and calculating whether the archdeacon would expect him to wait for him; and Mrs Grantly was preparing herself for a grand attack which she was to make on her father, as agreed upon between herself and her husband during their curtain confabulation of that morning.
When the waiter had creaked out of the room with the last of the teacups, the archdeacon got up and went to the window as though to admire the view. The room looked out on a narrow passage which runs from St Paul's Churchyard to Paternoster Row; and Dr Grantly patiently perused the names of the three shopkeepers whose doors were in view. The warden still kept his seat at the table, and examined the pattern of the tablecloth; and Mrs Grantly, seating herself on the sofa, began to knit.
After a while the warden pulled his Bradshaw out of his pocket, and began laboriously to consult it. There was a train for Barchester at 10 a.m. That was out of the question, for it was nearly ten already. Another at 3 p.m.; another, the night-mail train, at 9 p.m. The three o'clock train would take him home to tea, and would suit very well.
"My dear," said he, "I think I shall go back home at three o'clock to-day. I shall get home at half-past eight. I don't think there's anything to keep me in London."
"The archdeacon and I return by the early train to-morrow, papa; won't you wait and go back with us?"
"Why, Eleanor will expect me tonight; and I've so much to do; and—"
"Much to do!" said the archdeacon sotto voce; but the warden heard him.
"You'd better wait for us, papa."
"Thank ye, my dear! I think I'll go this afternoon." The tamest animal will turn when driven too hard, and even Mr Harding was beginning to fight for his own way.
"I suppose you won't be back before three?" said the lady, addressing her husband.
"I must leave this at two," said the warden.
"Quite out of the question," said the archdeacon, answering his wife, and still reading the shopkeepers' names; "I don't suppose I shall be back till five."
There was another long pause, during which Mr Harding continued to study his Bradshaw.
"I must go to Cox and Cummins," said the archdeacon at last.
"Oh, to Cox and Cummins," said the warden. It was quite a matter of indifference to him where his son-in-law went. The names of Cox and Cummins had now no interest in his ears. What had he to do with Cox and Cummins further, having already had his suit finally adjudicated upon in a court of conscience, a judgment without power of appeal fully registered, and the matter settled so that all the lawyers in London could not disturb it. The archdeacon could go to Cox and Cummins, could remain there all day in anxious discussion; but what might be said there was no longer matter of interest to him, who was so soon to lay aside the name of warden of Barchester Hospital.
The archdeacon took up his shining new clerical hat, and put on his black new clerical gloves, and looked heavy, respectable, decorous, and opulent, a decided clergyman of the Church of England, every inch of him. "I suppose I shall see you at Barchester the day after to-morrow," said he.
The warden supposed he would.
"I must once more beseech you to take no further steps till you see my father; if you owe me nothing," and the archdeacon looked as though he thought a great deal were due to him, "at least you owe so much to my father;" and, without waiting for a reply, Dr Grantly wended his way to Cox and Cummins.
Mrs Grantly waited till the last fall of her husband's foot was heard, as he turned out of the court into St Paul's Churchyard, and then commenced her task of talking her father over.
"Papa," she began, "this is a most serious business."
"Indeed it is," said the warden, ringing the bell.
"I greatly feel the distress of mind you must have endured."
"I am sure you do, my dear;"—and he ordered the waiter to bring him pen, ink, and paper.
"Are you going to write, papa?"
"Yes, my dear;—I am going to write my resignation to the bishop."
"Pray, pray, papa, put it off till our return;—pray put it off till you have seen the bishop;—dear papa! for my sake, for Eleanor's!—"
"It is for your sake and Eleanor's that I do this. I hope, at least, that my children may never have to be ashamed of their father."
"How can you talk about shame, papa?" and she stopped while the waiter creaked in with the paper, and then slowly creaked out again; "how can you talk about shame? you know what all your friends think about this question."
The warden spread his paper on the table, placing it on the meagre blotting-book which the hotel afforded, and sat himself down to write.
"You won't refuse me one request, papa?" continued his daughter; "you won't refuse to delay your letter for two short days? Two days can make no possible difference."
"My dear," said he naïvely, "if I waited till I got to Barchester, I might, perhaps, be prevented."
"But surely you would not wish to offend the bishop?" said she.
"God forbid! The bishop is not apt to take offence, and knows me too well to take in bad part anything that I may be called on to do."
"Susan," said he, "my mind on this subject is made up; it is not without much repugnance that I act in opposition to the advice of such men as Sir Abraham Haphazard and the archdeacon; but in this matter I can take no advice, I cannot alter the resolution to which I have come."
"But two days, papa—"
"No;—nor can I delay it. You may add to my present unhappiness by pressing me, but you cannot change my purpose; it will be a comfort to me if you will let the matter rest": and, dipping his pen into the inkstand, he fixed his eyes intently on the paper.
There was something in his manner which taught his daughter to perceive that he was in earnest; she had at one time ruled supreme in her father's house, but she knew that there were moments when, mild and meek as he was, he would have his way, and the present was an occasion of the sort. She returned, therefore, to her knitting, and very shortly after left the room.
The warden was now at liberty to compose his letter, and, as it was characteristic of the man, it shall be given at full length. The official letter, which, when written, seemed to him to be too formally cold to be sent alone to so dear a friend, was accompanied by a private note; and both are here inserted.
The letter of resignation ran as follows:—
Chapter Hotel, St. Paul's, London, August, 18–– My Lord Bishop,
It is with the greatest pain that I feel myself constrained to resign into your Lordship's hands the wardenship of the hospital at Barchester, which you so kindly conferred upon me, now nearly twelve years since.
I need not explain the circumstances which have made this step appear necessary to me. You are aware that a question has arisen as to the right of the warden to the income which has been allotted to the wardenship; it has seemed to me that this right is not well made out, and I hesitate to incur the risk of taking an income to which my legal claim appears doubtful.
The office of precentor of the cathedral is, as your Lordship is aware, joined to that of the warden; that is to say, the precentor has for many years been the warden of the hospital; there is, however, nothing to make the junction of the two offices necessary, and, unless you or the dean and chapter object to such an arrangement, I would wish to keep the precentorship. The income of this office will now be necessary to me; indeed, I do not know why I should be ashamed to say that I should have difficulty in supporting myself without it.
Your Lordship, and such others as you may please to consult on the matter, will at once see that my resignation of the wardenship need offer not the slightest bar to its occupation by another person. I am thought in the wrong by all those whom I have consulted in the matter; I have very little but an inward and an unguided conviction of my own to bring me to this step, and I shall, indeed, be hurt to find that any slur is thrown on the preferment which your kindness bestowed on me, by my resignation of it. I, at any rate for one, shall look on any successor whom you may appoint as enjoying a clerical situation of the highest respectability, and one to which your Lordship's nomination gives an indefeasible right.
I cannot finish this official letter without again thanking your Lordship for all your great kindness, and I beg to subscribe myself—
Your Lordship's most obedient servant,
Septimus Harding, Warden of Barchester Hospital, and Precentor of the Cathedral He then wrote the following private note:—
My dear Bishop,
I cannot send you the accompanying official letter without a warmer expression of thanks for all your kindness than would befit a document which may to a certain degree be made public. You, I know, will understand the feeling, and, perhaps, pity the weakness which makes me resign the hospital. I am not made of calibre strong enough to withstand public attack. Were I convinced that I stood on ground perfectly firm, that I was certainly justified in taking eight hundred a year under Hiram's will, I should feel bound by duty to retain the position, however unendurable might be the nature of the assault; but, as I do not feel this conviction, I cannot believe that you will think me wrong in what I am doing.
I had at one time an idea of keeping only some moderate portion of the income; perhaps three hundred a year, and of remitting the remainder to the trustees; but it occurred to me, and I think with reason, that by so doing I should place my successors in an invidious position, and greatly damage your patronage.
My dear friend, let me have a line from you to say that you do not blame me for what I am doing, and that the officiating vicar of Crabtree Parva will be the same to you as the warden of the hospital.
I am very anxious about the precentorship: the archdeacon thinks it must go with the wardenship; I think not, and, that, having it, I cannot be ousted. I will, however, be guided by you and the dean. No other duty will suit me so well, or come so much within my power of adequate performance.
I thank you from my heart for the preferment which I am now giving up, and for all your kindness, and am, dear bishop, now as always—
Yours most sincerely, Septimus Harding London,—August, 18––
Having written these letters and made a copy of the former one for the benefit of the archdeacon, Mr Harding, whom we must now cease to call the warden, he having designated himself so for the last time, found that it was nearly two o'clock, and that he must prepare for his journey. Yes, from this time he never again admitted the name by which he had been so familiarly known, and in which, to tell the truth, he had rejoiced. The love of titles is common to all men, and a vicar or fellow is as pleased at becoming Mr Archdeacon or Mr Provost, as a lieutenant at getting his captaincy, or a city tallow-chandler in becoming Sir John on the occasion of a Queen's visit to a new bridge. But warden he was no longer, and the name of precentor, though the office was to him so dear, confers in itself no sufficient distinction; our friend, therefore, again became Mr Harding.
Mrs Grantly had gone out; he had, therefore, no one to delay him by further entreaties to postpone his journey; he had soon arranged his bag, and paid his bill, and, leaving a note for his daughter, in which he put the copy of his official letter, he got into a cab and drove away to the station with something of triumph in his heart.
Had he not cause for triumph? Had he not been supremely successful? Had he not for the first time in his life held his own purpose against that of his son-in-law, and manfully combated against great odds,—against the archdeacon's wife as well as the archdeacon? Had he not gained a great victory, and was it not fit that he should step into his cab with triumph?
He had not told Eleanor when he would return, but she was on the look-out for him by every train by which he could arrive, and the pony-carriage was at the Barchester station when the train drew up at the platform.
"My dear," said he, sitting beside her, as she steered her little vessel to one side of the road to make room for the clattering omnibus as they passed from the station into the town, "I hope you'll be able to feel a proper degree of respect for the vicar of Crabtree."
"Dear papa," said she, "I am so glad."
There was great comfort in returning home to that pleasant house, though he was to leave it so soon, and in discussing with his daughter all that he had done, and all that he had to do. It must take some time to get out of one house into another; the curate at Crabtree could not be abolished under six months, that is, unless other provision could be made for him; and then the furniture:—the most of that must be sold to pay Sir Abraham Haphazard for sitting up till twelve at night. Mr Harding was strangely ignorant as to lawyers' bills; he had no idea, from twenty pounds to two thousand, as to the sum in which he was indebted for legal assistance. True, he had called in no lawyer himself; true, he had been no consenting party to the employment of either Cox and Cummins, or Sir Abraham; he had never been consulted on such matters;—the archdeacon had managed all this himself, never for a moment suspecting that Mr Harding would take upon him to end the matter in a way of his own. Had the lawyers' bills been ten thousand pounds, Mr Harding could not have helped it; but he was not on that account disposed to dispute his own liability. The question never occurred to him; but it did occur to him that he had very little money at his banker's, that he could receive nothing further from the hospital, and that the sale of the furniture was his only resource.
"Not all, papa," said Eleanor pleadingly.
"Not quite all, my dear," said he; "that is, if we can help it. We must have a little at Crabtree,—but it can only be a little; we must put a bold front on it, Nelly; it isn't easy to come down from affluence to poverty."
And so they planned their future mode of life; the father taking comfort from the reflection that his daughter would soon be freed from it, and she resolving that her father would soon have in her own house a ready means of escape from the solitude of the Crabtree vicarage.
When the archdeacon left his wife and father-in-law at the Chapter Coffee House to go to Messrs Cox and Cummins, he had no very defined idea of what he had to do when he got there. Gentlemen when at law, or in any way engaged in matters requiring legal assistance, are very apt to go to their lawyers without much absolute necessity;—gentlemen when doing so, are apt to describe such attendance as quite compulsory, and very disagreeable. The lawyers, on the other hand, do not at all see the necessity, though they quite agree as to the disagreeable nature of the visit;—gentlemen when so engaged are usually somewhat gravelled at finding nothing to say to their learned friends; they generally talk a little politics, a little weather, ask some few foolish questions about their suit, and then withdraw, having passed half an hour in a small dingy waiting-room, in company with some junior assistant-clerk, and ten minutes with the members of the firm; the business is then over for which the gentleman has come up to London, probably a distance of a hundred and fifty miles. To be sure he goes to the play, and dines at his friend's club, and has a bachelor's liberty and bachelor's recreation for three or four days; and he could not probably plead the desire of such gratifications as a reason to his wife for a trip to London.
Married ladies, when your husbands find they are positively obliged to attend their legal advisers, the nature of the duty to be performed is generally of this description.
The archdeacon would not have dreamt of leaving London without going to Cox and Cummins; and yet he had nothing to say to them. The game was up; he plainly saw that Mr Harding in this matter was not to be moved; his only remaining business on this head was to pay the bill and have done with it; and I think it may be taken for granted, that whatever the cause may be that takes a gentleman to a lawyer's chambers, he never goes there to pay his bill.
Dr Grantly, however, in the eyes of Messrs Cox and Cummins, represented the spiritualities of the diocese of Barchester, as Mr Chadwick did the temporalities, and was, therefore, too great a man to undergo the half-hour in the clerk's room. It will not be necessary that we should listen to the notes of sorrow in which the archdeacon bewailed to Mr Cox the weakness of his father-in-law, and the end of all their hopes of triumph; nor need we repeat the various exclamations of surprise with which the mournful intelligence was received. No tragedy occurred, though Mr Cox, a short and somewhat bull-necked man, was very near a fit of apoplexy when he first attempted to ejaculate that fatal word—resign!
Over and over again did Mr Cox attempt to enforce on the archdeacon the propriety of urging on Mr Warden the madness of the deed he was about to do.
"Eight hundred a year!" said Mr Cox.
"And nothing whatever to do!" said Mr Cummins, who had joined the conference.
"No private fortune, I believe," said Mr Cox.
"Not a shilling," said Mr Cummins, in a very low voice, shaking his head.
"I never heard of such a case in all my experience," said Mr Cox.
"Eight hundred a year, and as nice a house as any gentleman could wish to hang up his hat in," said Mr Cummins.
"And an unmarried daughter, I believe," said Mr Cox, with much moral seriousness in his tone. The archdeacon only sighed as each separate wail was uttered, and shook his head, signifying that the fatuity of some people was past belief.
"I'll tell you what he might do," said Mr Cummins, brightening up. "I'll tell you how you might save it:—let him exchange."
"Exchange where?" said the archdeacon.
"Exchange for a living. There's Quiverful, of Puddingdale;—he has twelve children, and would be delighted to get the hospital. To be sure Puddingdale is only four hundred, but that would be saving something out of the fire: Mr Harding would have a curate, and still keep three hundred or three hundred and fifty."
The archdeacon opened his ears and listened; he really thought the scheme might do.
"The newspapers," continued Mr Cummins, "might hammer away at Quiverful every day for the next six months without his minding them."
The archdeacon took up his hat, and returned to his hotel, thinking the matter over deeply. At any rate he would sound Quiverful. A man with twelve children would do much to double his income.