The parties most interested in the movement which is about to set Barchester by the ears
were not the foremost to discuss the merit of the question, as is often the case; but when
the bishop, the archdeacon, the warden, the steward, and Messrs Cox and Cummins, were
all busy with the matter, each in his own way, it is not to be supposed that Hiram's
bedesmen themselves were altogether passive spectators. Finney, the attorney, had been
among them, asking sly questions, and raising immoderate hopes, creating a party hostile
to the warden, and establishing a corps in the enemy's camp, as he figuratively calls it to
himself. Poor old men: whoever may be righted or wronged by this inquiry, they at any
rate will assuredly be only injured: to them it can only be an unmixed evil. How can their
lot be improved? all their wants are supplied; every comfort is administered; they have
warm houses, good clothes, plentiful diet, and rest after a life of labour; and above all,
that treasure so inestimable in declining years, a true and kind friend to listen to their
sorrows, watch over their sickness, and administer comfort as regards this world, and the
world to come!
John Bold sometimes thinks of this, when he is talking loudly of the rights of the
bedesmen, whom he has taken under his protection; but he quiets the suggestion within
his breast with the high-sounding name of justice: 'Fiat justitia ruat coelum.' These old
men should, by rights, have one hundred pounds a year instead of one shilling and
sixpence a day, and the warden should have two hundred or three hundred pounds instead
of eight hundred pounds. What is unjust must be wrong; what is wrong should be righted;
and if he declined the task, who else would do it?
'Each one of you is clearly entitled to one hundred pounds a year by common law': such
had been the important whisper made by Finney into the ears of Abel Handy, and by him
retailed to his eleven brethren.
Too much must not be expected from the flesh and blood even of John Hiram's
bedesmen, and the positive promise of one hundred a year to each of the twelve old men
had its way with most of them. The great Bunce was not to be wiled away, and was
upheld in his orthodoxy by two adherents. Abel Handy, who was the leader of the
aspirants after wealth, had, alas, a stronger following. No less than five of the twelve
soon believed that his views were just, making with their leader a moiety of the hospital.
The other three, volatile unstable minds, vacillated between the two chieftains, now led
away by the hope of gold, now anxious to propitiate the powers that still existed.
It had been proposed to address a petition to the bishop as visitor, praying his lordship to
see justice done to the legal recipients of John Hiram's Charity, and to send copies of this
petition and of the reply it would elicit to all the leading London papers, and thereby to
obtain notoriety for the subject. This it was thought would pave the way for ulterior legal
proceedings. It would have been a great thing to have had the signatures and marks of all
the twelve injured legatees; but this was impossible: Bunce would have cut his hand off
sooner than have signed it. It was then suggested by Finney that if even eleven could be