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17. Who Shall Be Cock Of The Walk?
All this time things were going on somewhat uneasily at the palace. The hint or two
which Mr Slope had given was by no means thrown away upon the bishop. He had a
feeling that if he ever meant to oppose the now almost unendurable despotism of his
wife, he must lose no further time in doing so; that if he even meant to be himself
master in his own diocese, let alone his own house, he should begin at once. It would
have been easier to have done so from the day of his consecration than now, but easier
now than when Mrs Proudie should have succeeded in thoroughly mastering the
diocesan details. Then the proffered assistance of Mr Slope was a great thing for him, a
most unexpected and invaluable aid. Hitherto he had looked on the two as allied forces;
and had considered that as allied they were impregnable. He had begun to believe that
his only chance of escape would be by the advancement of Mr Slope to some distant
and rich preferment. But now it seemed that one of his enemies, certainly the least
potent of them, but nevertheless one very important, was willing to desert his own
camp. He walked up and down his little study, almost thinking that the time had come
when he would be able to appropriate to his own use the big room upstairs, in which his
predecessor had always sat.
As he resolved these things in his mind a note was brought to him from Archdeacon
Grantly, in which that divine begged his lordship to do him the honour of seeing him on
the morrow--would his lordship have the kindness to name the hour? Dr Grantly's
proposed visit would have reference to the re-appointment of Mr Harding to the
wardenship of Hiram's hospital. The bishop having read this note was informed that the
archdeacon's servant was waiting for an answer.
Here at once a great opportunity offered itself to the bishop of acting on his own
responsibility. He bethought himself of his new ally, and rang the bell for Mr Slope. It
turned out that Mr Slope was not in the house; and then, greatly daring, the bishop with
his own unassisted spirit wrote a note to the archdeacon saying that he would see him,
and naming the hour for doing so. Having watched from his study-window that the
messenger got safely off the premises with this despatch, he began to turn over in his
mind what step he should next take.
To-morrow he would have to declare to the archdeacon either that Mr Harding should
have the appointment, or that he should not have it. The bishop felt that he could not
honestly throw over Mr Quiverful without informing Mrs Proudie, and he resolved at last
to brave the lioness in her own den and tell her that circumstances were such that it
behoved him to reappoint Mr Harding. He did not feel that he should at all derogate from
his new courage by promising Mrs Proudie that the very first piece of available
preferment at his disposal should be given to Quiverful to atone for the injury done to
him. If he could mollify the lioness with such a sop, how happy would he think his first
efforts had been?